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Friday, September 24, 2010

Manifesto (on Page 5)

People call it plastic crack. Lots of people call it a hobby, or a lifestyle, or a career, or a state of mind. Some people call it pointless. Most people call it bloody expensive. Everybody calls it Warhammer.

Warhammer is an institution, a legacy stretching back to the earliest days of tabletop cooperative and competitive games. It was around at the start of the industry, and it’ll likely be around at the end, too, if that ever comes. It’s the common denominator for war-gamers the world over, and you can get in a pick-up game just about anywhere if you know which rocks to look under.

But it’s missing something.

Games Workshop has been around since 1975, and in the thirty years hence have produced eight editions of their flagship Warhammer Fantasy Battles game, five of their wildly-popular Warhammer 40,000, dozens of “Specialist” niche games set in one or the other or neither setting, a few of which have even gotten second or third editions themselves. They have also licensed content to several other companies who have produced a plethora of sourcebooks, role-playing games, novels, video and board games, and many other miscellaneous products.

I’ve been a GW “hobbyist” [1] for roughly half of those thirty years, and in hindsight have always felt that something was lacking from their activities. I could never quite place what it was, however.

Then a few months ago, I discovered WARMACHINE, [2] and what Warhammer has been lacking all along.

Publisher Privateer Press calls it The Five Rules of Page 5 in their introductory section of the game’s newest edition, WARMACHINE Prime Mk. II. What began as a tongue-in-cheek “manifesto” of the game’s guiding philosophy ten years ago has grown and evolved into a declaration of war against the so-called grognards who populate the customer base of the hobby gaming world.

To WARMACHINE players, it is simply known as Page 5, and can be summed up in a single phrase of such sublime elegance I can’t believe nobody’s thought of it before:

“Play like you’ve got a pair.”

Page 5 is about respect, you see. It’s about the mutual understanding that Privateer Press shares with its players, you share with your opponent, and we all share with each other. Respect for the game, respect for your opponent, respect for yourself.

And that, my friend, is what Games Workshop has been missing all along.

The Five Rules of Page 5 set the stage for what to expect from WARMACHINE, as well as setting the tone for the book. It’s a black, sardonic wit that makes its points with a sledgehammer but never forgets where it’s from or what it’s about, calling back shades of the manliest speech ever. [3]

The Five Rules are:

1: Thou Shalt Not Whine –because nobody likes a whiner. WARMACHINE is a game about face-smashing aggression and bludgeoning your opponent senseless with steel and fire. Everything is broken. Everything is overpowered. Get over it.

2: Come Heavy, Or Don’t Come At All –WARMACHINE favors the aggressor. It’s not about turtling up in your base or camping your objectives –if you try, you will lose. You’ve got to let it all hang out and take risks if you want to win. Try to play it safe and you’ll get ground into the dirt beneath your opponent’s four-ton iron heel.

3: Give As Good As You Get –A great man once said “it’s not about how hard you can hit; it’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward.” If the fight isn’t hard, if you’re not walking away from each and every one beaten black and blue, you’re not challenging up the ladder.

4: Win Graciously And Lose Valiantly –You’re going to lose. In fact, you’re going to get beaten so hard you’ll be left reeling. Take it like a man, then dish it right back. Nobody likes a sore loser or a sore winner, so whatever the outcome, respect your opponent for the accomplished competitor he or she is.

And finally, 5: Page 5 Is Not An Excuse –This is the big one. Page 5 is not license to be a jerk. Page 5 is not permission to be a jackass, to run the clock or game the scenario or rules lawyer your opponent to death. Page 5 isn’t about discrimination or bashing your opponent to inflate your own self-absorbed, petty little ego. If that’s how you get your rocks off, get the hell out of my game.

Page 5 is the spirit of competition, the spirit of fun. It’s not something you beat your opponent with and it’s never a shield to hide behind and if you try… you’ll get exactly what you deserve like a Juggernaut in a tube sock to the back of the head.

No quarter asked, no quarter given. Balls-out, all-or-nothing, fire-breathing, adrenaline-fuelled aggression, but always, always tempered with that one singularly important thing: respect.

And all the whining, all the moaning about ‘OP’ this and ‘broken’ that and ‘unfair’ whatever among the GW community… I’m amazed I didn’t figure it out sooner. It’s so obvious. That’s what’s wrong with Warhammer. That’s what’s always been wrong with Warhammer. GW forums are stuffed to bursting with the latest unbeatable combo or power-play or gushing about the new uber-unit. Nobody cares about having a good fight, they only care about surgically-precise uncounterable wins. Nobody cares about taking an ancient, out-of-date army or unit and twisting it until it’s armor-plated, spiked death on wheels just to see if they can. Nobody cares about winning (or losing!) the bloodiest, most brutal fight imaginable. Nobody cares about whether or not either player had any fun.

It’s the same problem as every MMO I’ve ever played- the pursuit of perfection becomes such a priority that fun is left in the dust of the race to get to the next boss, the next piece of gear, the next shinier new mount or tabard or title.

That’s not what I play these games. That’s not why these games were meant to be played. Get in there! Take a beating! Give it back! Kick faces in! Have a blast!

And always.


Respect your opponent.

[1] see also; slave, servitor, punching bag

[2] Yes, all caps. According to publisher Privateer Press, it’s a necessary function to contain all of the awesomeness of the game.

[3] See here. (NSFW profanity warning. Lots of it.)

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