From Tabletop to Console: Games Workshop’s Warhammer Fantasy Battle
In 1983 Games Workshop first released the Warhammer Fantasy Battle game and the first run of the miniatures used to play. Over two decades later the tabletop game is still going strong and the company, founded by John Peake and the duo behind the Fighting Fantasy make your own adventure book series Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone, has branches in 21 countries.
In 1995 the first video game products were released for the Warhammer Fantasy franchise. Warhammer: Shadow of the Horned Rat, developed by Mindscape, was released in November 1995 and was the first video game to emulate the tactical nature of the tabletop war game. Warhammer: Shadow of the Horned Rat was a real-time tactics game for the Windows and PlayStation platforms which has been re-released on PC by the people at GOG.com.
The game sought to emulate the tabletop game with its unit types and tactical nature, whilst also emulating a proper war scenario with the player being faced with a permanent loss of troops that had to be replaced with funds gained throughout the game, units gaining combat experience and becoming better over time and troop injury.
In the same year, Blood Bowl was released. Blood Bowl was an American football game set in the Warhammer Fantasy setting that first saw the tabletop in 1987 with its most recent edition announced in 2016. Blood Bowl works similarly to real American football with the exception that a major tactic in the game is to intentionally injure the opponent’s team.
Both games represented their respective entries to the Warhammer Fantasy franchise. Blood Bowl, unfortunately, suffered from a glaring review in the 1995 issue #220 Dragon magazine where Paul Murphy reviewed the game calling it a “disappointment” and encouraging readers to “play the board game, it’s better”. This is interesting as it shows that the game did not manage to portray the original source material properly in rules or pacing, issues that have been fixed in the game’s 2015 sequel.
The remainder of the 1990s saw the release of another RTT game by the name of Warhammer: Dark Omen. This game was the spiritual successor to the Shadow of the Horned Rat, using 3D rendered freely rotatable and zoomable isometric perspective it advanced on the standard set by its predecessor by adding terrain features, buildings and more units to the game.
Another Warhammer Fantasy Battle side title that has been given video game representation is Mordheim. In 1999 Mordheim was created by Games Workshop as a skirmish variant of the traditional Warhammer Fantasy Battle game, set 500 years prior to the established “present” in Warhammer Fantasy lore. Released in 2015 with the title Mordheim: City of the Damned is a tactical role-playing game that utilises a 3D rendered environment and many of the features of the successful 90s titles including the recruitment and permanent death state of units in your warband. Though the game is to be ported to Xbox One in the latter part of this year the game received some negative reviews stating that the game was dull and combat was, in essence, boring. This coupled with the discontinuation of the tabletop game in 2004 has seen many fans of the Warhammer franchise turn a blind eye.
In October 2015 Warhammer: The End Times – Vermintide was released. This game featured elements of the plot of the running final edition of the classic Warhammer Fantasy Battle rules system, nicknamed The End Times. This multiplayer only game was the Warhammer Fantasy franchise’s first foray into the first-person shooter genre (though they had found success in the genre with their Warhammer 40,000 IP). The game was designed similarly to Left 4 Dead, in which players face off against hordes of enemies as they try to progress from level to level. The Fatshark game was given the accolade “Best Game at PAX” in 2015 though was criticized later for balance issues when some of the levels proved extremely difficult. This game is to be released on PS4 and Xbox One this year.
Warhammer Fantasy Battle had one foray into the Massively Multiplayer Online market with Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning. Only managing to survive five years, between 2008 and 2013, the game had stellar reviews with Gamespy calling it one of the “best MMO experiences we’ve had in a long time”. However, due to the license with Games Workshop running its course, the game was inevitably shut down and discontinued.
The thing that seemed clear with Games Workshop licensed games is that they wanted to portray their tabletop game and its setting faithfully and have made huge strides to do so culminating in the 2016 release with Total War: Warhammer. This real-time strategy game borrowed heavily from the experience gained by the Total War veterans at Creative Assembly making the game very well received by fans of both Warhammer and Total War games. With the game released only a month ago, the general consensus among players is that the game is thoroughly enjoyable and the game currently has an 86% Metacritic review and an 8.6 from IGN.
The Warhammer Fantasy Battle franchise is well represented in the Total War adaption, known by fans as Total Warhammer, with the tactical elements of unit distribution and general balance being a fantastic likeness to the tabletop game itself. With its first expansion lending the game to five playable factions; the Empire of Man, Dwarves, “Greenskins” (Orcs and Goblins), Vampire Counts and the DLC Chaos Warriors, the game has a lot of room for further expansion. The developers have left support for mods and Steam Workshop features for fans to create and add to the game themselves. Even this shows similarity to the unique customizability of the forces you as a player can use in the traditional tabletop war game.
The journey for Games Workshop’s Warhammer Fantasy Battle franchise from tabletop phenomenon to video game has been one of constant adaption and effort, using the most up to date features and technologies available to create a faithful digital rendition of the beloved tabletop game. With Total Warhammer out fans can look forward to the DLC that will no doubt be brought into this already masterfully designed game.