A Mini (Warcraft) Adventure

By Kieron Gillen on February 16th, 2008 at 5:46 pm.

Alec is so much better at this than me.

News broke last weekend that Upper Deck Entertainment would be making a licenced World of Warcraft miniatures game, imaginatively names “World of Warcraft Minis”. I meant to blog it at the time, but thinking about it got me thinking about the whole nature of these licenced games, who they’re for and so on. Mainly because there’s not much to say about it. The game seems to be a small party thing (rather than the army-sized Games Workshop Warhammer things), with pre-painted figures from international scultptors and paintjob-design from Ex-GW Mike McVey and the Studio McVey. Characters include “Warchief Thrall and fan-favorite Leeroy Jenkins”. The latter strikes me as perhaps pushing a running joke too far, but as devoted worshippers of Horace the Endless Bear, RPS are hardly in the position to judge at that. More news will surface before its release in Fall (Or “Autumn”).

But what it got me thinking – who actually buys this stuff?

By “this stuff” I mean licenced games products per se. Almost any successful game will have some manner of spin-off. You see novels. You see comics. You see collectible figures. You see T-shirts. You see board-games. You see role-playing games. If you can have a character from a game inserted into another medium, you’ll see it done. However, the one place you won’t see it is… well, anywhere in my house.

Thinking back, I realise this isn’t quite true. I’ve read some novels from gaming worlds before, but they weren’t videogames worlds – they’re from my dirty past in the world of pen and paper books. I’ve read some of the Warhammer fiction when I was, like all too many British kids, in thrall to Games Workshop. I read some of the Dragonlance or Forgotten Realms books – though that wasn’t anything to do with playing the games, as I hadn’t touched trad D&D at that point. It was just fantasy adventure to feed my thirst for sword slashing and similar.

But since those teenage years, I’ve got little or no interest in this stuff. I think this may be part of my brain which believes that fiction is created primarily for its format it was born in, and derivative works are fundamentally uninteresting. In other words, as much as I like Bioshock, I don’t need to read the book of it. I suspect thats’ actually just snobby bullshit. That said, nothing has challenged my snobby bullshit – whatever (say) comic fiction which spins off a game world which has landed in my hands has been drastically underwhelming. We talked about Marvel’s recent Halo comic before, which is a perfect example. Bendis and Maleev are highly talented creators who have both done brilliant work. This isn’t among them, and when I read it I tend to approach it with my second-career comic-writer head on rather than my reader head – that is, I’m thinking “How would I have done this, if I had to?”. Which isn’t much fun, and certainly isn’t healthy.

So this is more of an open question: Who out there buys licensed game stuff. If you do, why do you? Is there any good stuff which I’m missing out on? Is there some particularly horrific ones which are worth giggling at (Which is a queue for Richard Cobbett to drag out his anecdotes about the Planescape: Torment novel which gives the nameless one a name)? And if you’re like me, why don’t you buy them and what would make you do otherwise? Also, if there was a licenced RPS RPG, who would buy?

Tell me, people.

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40 Comments »

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  1. Noc says:

    The nature of cross-media licensed products aside, I still can’t get around the fact that they’re making a Warcraft Table-top Miniatures game.

    I mean, wasn’t the original Warcraft (and Starctaft, etc) a cross-media product to bring a tabletop wargame that involved less craftiness and more hammering into the realm of moving sprites on a computer screen?

  2. Gnarf says:

    I think I’ve got some authentic fake coin lying around somewhere, from when I accidentally bought the collector’s edition of Oblivion (in retrospect, just buying Oblivion can as well be considered an accident).

    The Alien Hominid and Castle Crashers figurines look kinda nice. My nephew’s got some Pikmin and Animal Crossing ones. They’re quite cool. I wouldn’t mind some of those.

    So I dunno. I’m not not buying things because they’re licensed game rubbish. But because they’re rubbish. Like, trying to make a decent game out of World of Warcraft is preposterous, so I’ll pass on that tabletop thing.

  3. Charles says:

    Umm… Who buys it? How about ppl who like table-top games, are interested in trying out a new system, and aren’t adverse to Warcraft’s fantasy trappings?

    duh?

  4. Mr. Softpants says:

    Noc, that and Warcraft is originally a bastardization of Warhammer to begin with. Years ago GW turned Blizzard down to make a game for them. So Blizzard changed the name from War”hammer” to War”craft”.

    There were lawsuits through out Blizzards career even when Stacraft was released. These were never spoken about and settled out of court. I would have liked to know how much Blizzard paid them.

  5. Kieron Gillen says:

    Charles: Yeah, but why do you go for that over another system if you’re already interested in the form? I mean, clearly, the Warhammer RPG is for people who want to roleplay in the Warhammer world. But I’m just interested in hearing from people who did that and – just as much – whether what they paid for was what they wanted.

    KG

  6. Raskolnikov says:

    Mr. Softpants, I keep hearing this in various places, but I remain unconvinced. Is this actually how it happened, or is it just some internet based urban legend? It’s believable, but I’ve not seen any actual evidence that this is what ocurred. If there were any court cases suerly there’s some documentation, even if they were settled out of court.

  7. Seniath says:

    I will admit, I’m one for buying gaming tat. Mostly just posters and tee shirts, but I have bought the occasional novel (tho, in truth, these are usually just published fanfic), and back in the heyday of my youth (read: 3-4 years ago) my walls were lined with various game related models , including an obscene amount of Resident Evil stuff. As for the whys, well I think it was a mixture of a way of expressing my like for the games in question.

    I’ve cut back now, though <.<

  8. Homunculus says:

    The only bit of supplemental games related cruft I’ve ever bought outside of my callow teens is the new Warhammer 40,000 Dark Heresy rpg game book thing. No intention of ever playing it, just liked loved the background fiction it presented in its words, pictures and layout. It’s really quite classy, and, as a result of being so impressed, I’ll probably wind up accumulating all the other background books as they dribble out over the course of the rest of the year. Curiously, and this references the peculiar snobbery about the whole business, I’d never buy any of the novels or other frightful tat, though.

    Vermintharax, eh.

  9. Kieron Gillen says:

    Hom: Yeah, I’ve just bought that as well. Doesn’t count :)

    And, yeah, that off the cuff mention of Vermintharax sent me straight to google and there were no hits. And it hasn’t been mentioned on their forum either.

    THE TEASES.

    KG

  10. Homunculus says:

    Tell me there’ll be Skaven in that new Blood Bowl game. They’re so…squishy. And squeaky. And sneaky.

  11. deathcakes says:

    I’ve still got a Max Payne limited edition mousemat, which has seen me through a good five years now, but since that came free with the game I’m not sure it counts… Although I did buy the special edition Red Alert 2 just for the tesla trooper that came with

  12. Merlin says:

    Am I misremembering completely, or didn’t a lot of people have good things to say about the old Sonic The Hedgehog comic? Not that I’ve ever read it, but I seem to remember people lauding it as that rarest of things – a decent comic aimed at kids.

    Actually, maybe take a look at manga generally for examples of good game spin off media? I bet there’s some okay Pokemon manga out there, if that’s your thing. I flipped through a Warcraft manga once and that seemed pretty competently done, too.

  13. malkav11 says:

    I used to read D&D fiction before I came to the realization that it was mostly quite dreadful. I actually own some Battletech, Shadowrun, and Dark Conspiracy books. Battletech and Dark Conspiracy because they were written by Michael A. Stackpole, who’s one of a tiny handful of authors in the world of licensed fiction who’s actually quite decent – not top-tier, really, but very readable. Shadowrun because I love the setting a lot more than I love the game. And I’ve been reading (and indeed bought an omnibus of) Warhammer 40K fiction with one or two Warhammer Fantasy novels thrown in because they either sounded interesting or another second-tier author I like wrote them. (Richard Lee Byers, in this case, who wrote an excellent Wraith the Oblivion trilogy. I own that too. Plus Greg Stolze’s Demon the Fallen trilogy. And I have/had some other World of Darkness fiction but a lot of it wasn’t good enough to rate continuing to own.) 40K stuff has mostly been pretty good, and of course the setting is amazing. I particularly recommend Sandy Mitchell’s Ciaphas Cain books, which are kind of 40K’s version of Flashman. Heck, there are some Star Wars books by people like Stackpole, Byers, Matthew Stover, and Greg Keyes that are pretty good too.

    So I can get into the fiction, if it’s written well. But the only licensed RPG (that didn’t start as an RPG license) that I’ve had any interest in is Dark Heresy, because of the awesome that is 40K. I don’t get the, e.g., Buffy or Firefly or World of Warcraft or Everquest RPGs. Licensed based on TV or novels mostly seems to promote playing in a world where other characters have center stage. I don’t know how fun that would be…and that’s assuming that the rules being used were any good, which isn’t the case all that often. And I don’t know why I’d want to roleplay in Everquest’s world at all – talk about generic and uninteresting…it can be a fun MMO sometimes, but it’s a terrible setting. WoW’s has been fleshed out a bit more, but it’s still a setting designed for Blizzard to make computer games with. That has different needs than tabletop roleplaying.

    I don’t see any particular reason to write off board or miniature or card games based on a license automatically, though. If the core rules being used are solid, the license matters only in that it gives context to those rules. The WoW boardgame is quite fun, for example, if a bit long. And i hear good things about the Starcraft boardgame. The Warcraft boardgame, though, kinda sucks.

  14. Benjamin Gilbert says:

    I think there’s a plethora of good, licensed spin off stuff out there that maybe you’re just missing out on, or simply your tastes differ. When I was 12 or maybe a bit younger, I feverishly read through the Doom novels and loved every bit (until the ending of the last book, so disappointing.)

    Roughly a year ago (I’m 23 now) I read through all the Halo novels and though they’re not exactly Pulitzer work, they’re not terrible either. I thoroughly enjoy the story of Halo though — I followed the ARG’s (ilovebees, etc) and was one of the guys on bungie.net everyday looking at whatever they wrote regarding Halo 2/3. My feeling on the graphic novel for Halo is similar, except the production is top notch.

    To answer your question more specifically though, the kind of person who buys this stuff is a huge fan of a particular series that doesn’t mind a bit of half-quality writing on occasion to tell a good story overall. I’m not expecting Nietzsche when I read Eric Nylund (author of many Halo novels), I’m expecting Halo to be fleshed out. On that level, it delivers through and through, though someone who’s not so into the series who reviews one of the books may find it schlock writing. It really depends, right?

    To qualify a bit, I’m a journalism major and I’ve read plenty of classic literature and all that good stuff. On the side of graphic novels, I’m a big Preacher fan and while I’m not an expert on gns by any means, I’d say I have a fairly decent knowledge of some good ones. Anyways, I’m willing to bet if you bought Bioshock in a store, you probably got the Limited Edition with the Big Daddy statue. Mine stands guard proudly over my dvds. Hope that’s enough of an answer!

  15. Noc says:

    @ Softpants:

    …a tabletop miniature game that involves less craftiness and more hammering…

    I thought someone would pick up on that, but apparently I was being too subtle.

    Actually on topic, however, I’ve had trouble taking, say, 40k’s fiction seriously, simply because the setting is so absurd. There are a couple gems in the background stuff (I stumbled across a copy of “The Imperial Infantryman’s Uplifting Primer” a while back), but mostly the setting just seemed to be a series of excuses to stage really awesome battles.

    And I think that’s what makes or breaks the viability of cross-media ports, honestly – the setting. If you’ve got a world that’s interesting and vivid enough, then it doesn’t matter if you’re setting a book or a movie or a game or a miniatures war-game in it . . . a well-done product set in the world is going to be interesting.

    The Halo books are actually a really good example of this: the first one, which is all about the development of the Spartans, and the series of events that landed everyone on Halo at that particular time, was a good read. The second one, which was just a retelling of the game in prose form, kind of sucked. Since a novel is quite a different beast from an action-based FPS, trying to translate the action of the latter verbatim to prose tends to fall flat. As much fun as it is to read about someone shooting things, and reminiscing to doing just the same in a video game, it doesn’t really make for particularly good reading.

    The setting, however, and the characters, remain interesting. Or did until the sequals took the thing and punched it full of cliches and plot holes.

  16. Kieron Gillen says:

    40k’s backstory is absurd. GLORIOUSLY ABSURD.

    KG

  17. Seniath says:

    I once made the mistake of Wiking Dawn of War. Having never played anything in the 40k universe outside of the rather thin on the ground (story wise) Space Crusade when I was about 10, I spent the next few hours clicking around and soaking it all in. That I was actually supposed to be revising at the time was of no concern. Cracking stuff, in a very cliched, popcorn way.

  18. Al says:

    Indeed, as a recovering tabletop gamer, one of the things that still keeps me tied to the 40k based games is the sheer overblown absurd nature of the background. On the other hand, things like the Imperial Armour series, and the Imperial Infantryman’s Uplifting Primer, do actually give a scale of reality to the whole affair- in that they give an idea of the millions upon millions of men that a single planetary surface campaign involves. The game scale, even in Battlefleet Gothic (the spaceship game), never quite does true justice to the scale and absurdity of the background. Remeber, this is a future where the surface of the earth is a single city, with a throne upon it on the scale of Everest.

  19. Kieron Gillen says:

    Hell yeah. 40k is a universe whereJesus is kept hanging onto life by the sacrifice of 1000 psychics a day, gathered from across the universe in enormous black ships.

    It is MENTAL.

    Er… we’re getting off topic.

    KG

  20. Zaptrack says:

    I judge things based on other things at this. Could you take away the thing it’s based on and still have a good story/game/movie?

    And the 40k universe is so rediculous it’s hilarious. I swear games workshop, and all it’s writers, must have been hitting the beer/vodka/wine so hard it actually gained physical form and offered up the idea of orkz.

  21. Homunculus says:

    Man.

    Look what I did.

  22. Lorc says:

    Hate to be the bearer of bad news Homunculus and Kieron, but the 40k rpg (and its publishing division) was canned the week it was released. http://belloflostsouls.blogspot.com/2008/01/rip-dark-heresy-12008-92008.html
    So, no trickle of supplements to buy I’m afraid.

  23. Sucram says:

    Yeah you just made me look up Dark Heresy… must. not. give. any. more. money. to. blood. sucking. gahhh.

    It’s like everytime I see this and go Oooooo. Then have to remind myself that a bigger part of me like to have money, to eat.

  24. Kieron Gillen says:

    Lorc: Oh, I know. Amazing to see. Sells out on the day its released and they cancel the line.

    Probably for the best, for my wallet, methinks. Still, it’s a really, genuinely lovely book.

    KG

  25. John P (Katsumoto) says:

    I’m hoping this Warcraft Minis thing ends up a bit like Warhammer Quest – you only need a limited amount of models to have a fun game, its like playing a co-op rpg, only on the tabletop and not the monitor (!!!11) and, for the ultimate in nerdery, it was even possible to play by yourself. Hmmmmmmmm. I still think not painting them yourself misses out half the fun, though.

  26. Will Tomas says:

    Since someone mentioned it, and no-one else seems to have commented on it, yes, Sonic The Comic was wonderful. I read it when I was 10-11ish (end of primary school), and it was great. It was also written by British writers, one of whom, Mark Millar, has gone on to be a luminary in the wider superhero comics world. The Streets of Rage strip he wrote was brilliantly dark. Bleak world-view, drugs, guns, torture, extortion, gangs. And good characterisation.

    The Sonic strips were great too – lots of inventive sci-fi ideas, and interesting characterisation (the fact that it was made in the Megadrive era meant they had a complete blank slate on the characters, to a point), and an evolving storyline that took in Sonic CD, Sonic 3/& Knuckles, and made them stories. It also didn’t adhere to any of SEGA’s official view (that being Sonic happens on Earth), going down the Mobius/Dr Robotnik/no humans route that I think started with Stay Sonic. It died out around Dreamcast-time. Although by that time I’d moved on. It had the odd dodgy strip, but it was something special. Maybe I’m being a bit sentimental about it, but I suspect if I read it now I still wouldn’t be embarrassed about loving it when I was 10…

  27. Devin says:

    Kieron, I can’t believe you’re still falling for that Jesus-Is-The-Emperor line.

    Everyone knows the Emperor is Elvis.

    It all fits. “He walked among men, and they did not know him, but some saw him as a king?” Clearly Elvis.

    Back on topic, though. GW back when it had something worth buying hired Kim Newman (Is Kim Newman known to RPS? He should be) to write some Warhammer novels. Well worth it. They were published under the name “Jack Yeovil” but they may be out now under his own name. One of them even has a really atrociously wonderful Dirty Harry parody.

    Similarly, there’s some setting material for Call of Cthulhu, sort of a modern conspiracy thing, called Delta Green. One of the creators, John Tynes, wrote a novel called Rules of Engagement that’s actually one of my favorite books (admittedly, “my favorite books” is a list rivaled in length only by the trillions of monkeys required to type all of the words RPS writes each day).

    Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay isn’t exactly set in the world of Warhammer Fantasy Battles. Most of the old WFRP material is non-canon from the perspective of the current battlegame. For instance, in the battlegame, the Holy Roman Emperor (only, you know, not quite) is a virile young man who rides a griffin and swings a tremendous hammer. In WFRP, he’s a feeble, aging man driven half-mad by his lack of a suitable heir and his illegitimate, mutant son.

    Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay is for people who really wanted to like Warhammer, but just couldn’t anymore. It’s a grotesquerie of early modern Germany, which didn’t used to be something you could find in roleplaying games. (Too much Tolkienesque sad-eyed-wizard pap, into which the battlegame rapidly descended.)

    Dark Heresy is for people who want to discover the true powers of the Emperor’s last surviving gold lame jumpsuit.

    Let’s see, I think that’s about all the tat I care about… Oh, wait, I’ve got a Planescape: Torment tattoo, does that count?

  28. malkav11 says:

    That reminds me – when I was a lot younger and still bought books from the Scholastic catalog (or, more properly, bothered my mother into doing so), I bought a Megaman novelization and enjoyed it quite thoroughly. I don’t think I’d be able to tolerate it today, even if I still had it. But it was at one time part of my life.

    And I’ve never played any of the main series Megaman games. Not one. I’ve played a tiny amount of Legends and a little bit of the one spinoff series remake for PSP…I forget what it’s called. That’s it.

  29. CitizenErazed says:

    I own a quite ridiculous amount of Star Wars EU fiction (X-Wing, NJO, Legacy, Thrawn Trilogy, etc etc), so I’m definitely a target for this sort of thing, but I’ve never found myself pulled in by it. I own the Civilisation CCG, but that’s only because it came with Chronicles. Likewise I have the Big Daddy figurine, and a little plastic Master Chief, but that’s only because they came with something.

    I personally find it interesting that it seems to work one way – games spun off from things, such as the X-Wing series of games or any one of the other million Star Wars games, not to mention Dawn of War for the WH40k universe, but not the other. I’ve read a couple of the fiction books and whilst they’re generally not bad, they don’t really add anything new to a universe. Mass Effect: Revelations, for example. It’s a good book, but given that the parts of it that you need to know about are explained at length in the game, it’s not really worth reading it if you’re reading it simply because you want to know ‘more’ about the universe it’s set in.

  30. Kieron Gillen says:

    Devlin: The Emperor is Jesus and Elvis and every other divinity ever! Like, obv.

    A Planescape Tattoo very much counts.

    KG

  31. Mike says:

    I got into gaming through sonic comics actually. I also discovered star wars at the age of 7 through little figures so i guess mechandise can pull you in. I’m not a serious gamer and haven’t bought a game since orange box so I don’t think I would buy anything connected with a game.

  32. drunkymonkey says:

    I’ve bought a few Warcraft novels during my stint in Azeroth. I’ve only stomached two and a half, but they’re a mixed bunch. Lord of the Clans, which should, considering the story, have been brilliant beyond belief, was mind-numbingly simply-written, and had some truly dire dialogue. Po-faced all the way.

    But then you have Cycle of Hatred, which at times reads like an absolute cracker. Funny, likeable characters, and a rewarding read – it was a refreshing relief to read that after my sights were set so low after LotC.

    But why did I buy ‘em? Simple. I love the Warcraft world, and I also love reading. Mixing the two seems like a natural way of going about things, especially considering when I trawl through Borders and Waterstones the majority of fantasy I see (which, by the way, is my favourite genre out there) look to be taking themselves too seriously, with, you know, very little humour about them. As I like to make every literary purchase count (one of the reasons it’s taken me so long to buy anything more after I finished the Discworld series to the point at which it is now), I went with a universe I know I like.

    And the miniatures? Maybe. I’ll see how I feel when they do come out. It’d be nice to have a one of Thrall (<3), but spending money on things I’ll only ever look at seems a bit banal.

  33. Dorian Cornelius Jasper says:

    Well, this is somewhat out of this blog’s typical readership idiom, but…

    I’ve about a half dozen toys sitting on a shelf, some of which depict console game characters. Invariably, they’re all female, and all of Japanese make. Interpret that as you will.

    Also, does Warhammer Historical count as anything spin-offish, or does it merely count as “painfully niche?”

  34. James says:

    Hrm. I pick up the odd bit and pieces of gaming knick-knacks, most of them coming out of collectors edition games (Which I compulsively feel the need to purchase over standard editions, does that count?). The two most prominent ones on my desk at the moment are the nice Big Daddy figurine from the Bioshock CE and a particularly lovely Altair figurine I found for sale in my local games store. I can’t say I’ve ever bought a tie-in novel before, though.

    As to why I buy them, I’m not entirely sure. I’m a habitual collector and hoarder, and have the occasional amount of disposable income, so I suppose they are the two main reasons. I suppose it’s just that I enjoy scattering a handful of nice figurines around my desk to make it feel more like it’s mine.

  35. Rockeye says:

    I’ve never bought any of the spin-off merchandising, though I do remember having a brilliant Virtua Fighter poster on my wall when I was a teenager. I think it came with a magazine.

    I did make myself a Sonic 2 t-shirt with fabric paints when I was 10 though.

  36. Homunculus says:

    This is substantially tempting.

  37. heartless_ says:

    At my FLGS (friendly local game store), people play what is popular and currently that is Warcraft related games. It really annoys me, because the Warcraft games from UDE and the board game are fairly poor games IMHO. However, I don’t blame people, because no game is fun if there is no one around to play with.

  38. Evan says:

    I would use these minis for some PnP action.

  39. Nick says:

    I absolutely love this stuff, I’m just looking for an excuse to buy ‘toys’. I even overcame my scepticism about the novels based on WoW and bought and read the lot, enjoying the majority of it and now I’ve started on the Warhammer ones.

    There’s no doubt that this kind of stuff is squarely aimed at fans of the IP in its original medium (computer game, wargame etc.), but the fact that they keep producing it suggests there is profit in it. The last Halo novel got onto The NY Time bestseller list http://www.shacknews.com/laryn.x?story=50000 . Not sure how many they need to sell to get on it, mind.

  40. PoC says:

    When I was a kid, I was very interested in the line of Mario Choose-Your-Own-Adventure books, and the Sonic comics. In fact, I still sporadically read the Sonic Comics–the comic’s been going for fifteen years now, and the lead writer’s struck the balance between all-ages stories and compelling long-term character arcs. Long-term character arcs concerning cyborg monkeys, faster than the speed of sound hedgehogs, and mutant magic foxes. At any rate, I’d say the appeal of both sets of books was roughly the same–I got into them for the chance to expand the universe I was familiar with in games, and they stayed with me because they were also good in their own right.