Games Workshop and WizKids announced a multi-year partnership on October 19th. The joint venture will see the New Jersey-based WizKids expand Games Workshop’s (GW) Warhammer 40K IP into new formats including “Dice Building Games™, board games and more!” according to the official press release.
Also mentioned is the re-release of The Fury of Dracula and Relic. These two boardgames originated at GW and were most recently published by Fantasy Flight Games, which produces the popular Star Wars: X-Wing miniatures space combat game.
“We’re thrilled to be working with Games Workshop and the Warhammer 40,000 license. This beloved franchise is known the world over and our partnership will allow us to create amazing products and experiences for fans everywhere.”
– Justin Ziran, president of WizKids.
42 Years of Games Workshop
In some ways, the partnership represents a return to its roots for GW. Founded in 1975, Games Workshop originally made wooden versions of traditional boardgames, including Go, Nine Man’s Morris and Backgammon. In 1976, the company became the UK distributor for TSR’s Dungeons and Dragons and other titles.
Three years later, in 1979, Games Workshop founded Citadel Miniatures to create a range of fantasy figures for use with D&D and other games. Along with their own unique figures, Citadel produced licensed ranges from D&D, Judge Dredd, Dr. Who and Lord of the Rings. Games Workshop absorbed Citadel some years later. In 2001, the company obtained the license to create miniatures and games based on the new Lord of the Rings movie series.
The Nottingham-based company’s core game property is the Warhammer Fantasy Battle (WHFB) miniatures game. First published in 1983, it has gone through eight editions before being replaced by Warhammer Age of Sigmar. Between 1986 and 2009, the company released a trio of fantasy role-playing scenarios based on the larger game, but they never achieved the same level of popularity.
Unlike a lot of popular fantasy miniature games, WHFB was the first to offer a grim, gritty world. Where D&D was inspired by Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, WHFB took much of its inspiration from Michael Moorcock’s Elric of Melibone series and its cursed hero fighting against the forces of Chaos.
Warhammer’s dystopian theme carried over into its SciFi incarnation, Warhammer 40,000. Better known as Warhammer 40K or simply WH40K, it first hit the shelves in 1986. It is set 38,000 years in mankind’s future. It pitted humans, elves, orcs and originally, dwarfs against each other in battles on distant planets. The dwarf faction soon disappeared and the Imperium, Eldar and Ork factions faced each other as well as the forces of Chaos. Over the years, additional races have come and gone. GW grew the Warhammer 40K franchise through books, comics and video games. The board game Relic is set in the same universe. Over the years, the company has published other board and miniature games based on the setting, even if not actually part of the main rule set.
Warhammer 40K is currently on its 8th edition of the rules. As with the rule changes to its fantasy sibling, veteran players frequently complain that the real purpose of the changes is to compel players to buy new miniatures and rule books. Indeed, the company does focus a lot of its marketing effort on younger players. Much of the family-friendly outreach is done through Warhammer-branded brick-and-mortar stores world wide. Cynics portray the marketing plan as encouraging young boys to get their parents to shell out for the latest, coolest minis. However, even if the long-time players feel shunned and move on, Games Workshop posted over £118 million ($156M) in gross sales in 2016.
Founded in 2000, New Jersey-based WizKids is the younger partner in this deal. It is the creator of the Collectible Miniatures Games (CMG). They debuted with Mage Knight. Taking a page from Pokemon, Yu-Gi-Oh and other Collectible Card Games (CCG) players would buy “blind” boxes of pre-painted miniatures hoping to get the rarer, more powerful ones. WizKids grew rapidly, becoming one of the top 10 game publishers in 2001. It was purchased by sports card company Topps in 2003. Over the next five years, it produced licensed games based on Star Wars, Battlestar Galactica and Halo among others. Almost every Marvel and DC character appeared in HeroClix form. However, in 2008 Topps shut WizKids down due to the Great Recession.
National Entertainment Collectibles Association (NECA) rescued the company in 2009. Previewing the deal at San Diego Comic-Con, a new range of DC and Marvel figures were revealed. While most of WizKids’ figures feature their patented Combat Dial System, other games are built around custom dice. Both formats include Lord of the Rings, Marvel and DC games.
A space battle game, Star Trek: Attack Wing, is a relatively new and popular game. A variant, Dungeons & Dragons: Attack Wing substitutes TNG-era starships for fantasy flying creatures including dragons.
Past Joint Ventures
This is not Games Workshop’s first time licensing out its intellectual property. It partnered with Milton Bradley to create HeroQuest in 1989. It resembled D&D by having players collaborate as a party against the monsters, controlled by a game master. Like D&D, players chose from the usual archetypes; barbarian, dwarf, elf and etc. GW designed the miniatures and the plastic pieces were in the same style as their regular product line. Unlike D&D, the game did not include role-playing. The partnership yielded a number of expansion sets before the agreement ended.
The recent agreement between Games Workshop and Fantasy Flight Games may have ended because of the latter’s new Star Wars ground combat game. Star Wars: Legion miniature battle game joins the publisher’s Star Wars Role-Playing Game. While GW has not offered an RPG since 2009, Legion can be seen as a direct competitor to Warhammer 40K.
In this regard, GW’s new partnership makes sense. WizKids’ business model focuses less on creating its own world settings. Instead, it has been very successful in porting others’ IP into its game mechanics. It remains the industry leader in collectible miniatures games. Their “clicky base” miniatures and custom dice games are completely new formats for Warhammer 40K. Perhaps most importantly, WizKids distribution channels take them to toy shops as well as game shops. This opens up new audiences to the Warhammer setting.
As mentioned earlier, the WH40K setting is grim. WizKids may downplay this aspect in their releases. That is one reason for the hesitance expressed by many its fans regarding this news. With the first games due out in mid-2018, only time will tell if these new games prove popular. If this joint venture is successful, then it is possible that more GW IP will follow, including the fantasy products and possibly Battlefleet Gothic, a beloved cult classic WH40K-themed space ship battle game. It would be ironic if it were implemented using the Attack Wing rules, as those are licensed from Fantasy Flight and used in its Star Wars: X-Wing and Armada games.