Friday, November 30, 2012

The problem with The Hobbit

I for one am a huge Lord of the Rings fan. Tolkien is a literary god and Peter Jackson has made movie classics with Tolkien's work. I first fell in love with the LotR world when I read The Hobbit back in third grade. I loved the Rankin Bass animated films from the 70's, and still have copies of them today that I plan to share with my son (Down Down to Goblin Town, Down Down to Goblin Town! You go my lad! Ho-Ho my lad!)

When the movies came out years ago I was STOKED. They were amazing. Simply amazing. Sure there are plenty of differences from the book, but they do a good job of telling the tale and capturing the epic struggle between good and evil. The problem is though that the epic struggle depicted in the books and movies is very much a narrow and personal one, influenced greatly by a select few individuals at every decisive point. While making for a great movie, book or RPG, this translates poorly into a table top wargame.

Yes, it is this argument again, but bear with me for a while if you would.

So Games Workshop has 3 core systems. First and foremost is their flagship. Their BRAND. Warhammer 40k. It has inspired an entire genre of Sci-fi, Grim Dark, with its own line of novels at the core. In addition there are all sorts of video games and specialists games (which we will revist here shortly). All of this spawns from vast ammounts of proprietary intellectual property and a highly unique view of Science Fiction and the future as a whole.
 Next comes Warhammer Fantasy Battles. Considered the slightly more advanced game, it has a smaller player base but shares much of the same unique IP as its futuristic cousin, especially CHAOS. And it too has specialist games, some of them with very fanatical fan bases (Blood Bowl!)
You have to play to understand that this truly is the greatest GW game ever made
The greatest thing about these systems is the fact that GW can do what ever it wants with the models and it defines its own look and story. And it is ever expanding. There are always new characters, new stories, and new possibilities.

Furthermore, both translate really really well into a table top wargame system. Niether of them are particularly character driven. They are faction driven. What is more important, the tale of Commissar Cain or the feel you get in his novels about the Imperial Guard. In the long run, the Cain doesn't really matter. He is an interesting character, but the Imperium marches on with or without him. This translates well into the table top, where characters can die and the bad guys can win. GW makes their bad guys cool and detailed and strangely empathetic (IE Malus Darkblade). So it is okay when they win a game. And the good guys are slowing loosing anyway, so it is to be expected even. Read any BL book and a main character WILL DIE. It is a given fact and another factor to the faction versus character driven story.
This is where Lord of the Rings games differ. It is a set story with a beggining, middle and end and if any of the characters deviates from the set story, it is unbelievable. And the world is set up to be more character intensive any ways. There is never suppossed to be appeal to the bad guy and empathy with orks or wild men. And the good guys are all suppossed to be outnumbered epic heroes of lore. Not a faceless mass of infantry. So playing a table top wargame where the bad guys are suppossed to win 50% of the time if the game is balanced properly just makes it unbelievable, where as an RPG where you are the good guys and the DM is the bad guys, you should ultimately overcome the challenges set before you, like they do in the book, movie and video games.
This makes me want to watch a movie and read a book, not play a game
So how does this come back to the Hobbit. Well, GW now has tons of new minis and source books to release, that will be drawn out over YEARS as the Hobbit is a multi-part movie. But it will not revolutionize the LotR game in any major way, not like APOC and Flyers has for 40k for instance. They can't even really spin specialist games off of it. The game is already suppossed to be a more skirmish style, and they did a massive battles expansion already, which still doesn't fit in well with LotR for all the reasons stated above. They tried a scale game, Battle of Five Armies, but that is lack luster and based on a single event and very inflexible as a result. Sure they could try with Pelinor Fields, but that would suffer the same. And besides, Battle of Five Armies is the Hobbit, so this ship has already sailed.

But the ship that has sailed the furthest is IP. The books are already all written, the movies all filmed. There is viturally nothing except a game system that GW can add to it, and while the game system is important, it is not what attracted you to the hobby, otherwise we would all just do this game on computers or with proxies. But GW proprietary property does not suffer this limitation. It has so many opportunities for expansion. All of which are being squandered on support of the Hobbit and LotR franchise in my opinion.

This is where specialist games can come back in for GW. If they were treated as a whole like a 3rd Core system instead of a 3rd wheel I think they could be a boon to the GW franchise. Why just collect Blood Angels when you can have the entire chapter for Epic and the Fleet for BFG. Only 1 hour left at your club, why nto wrap up the night with a game of Necromunda or Bloodbowl. A slow and steady release and update schedule for these games could keep people interested, garner attention from new comers and please and hold the interest of veterans. And they fit in with the image and methodology of GW. They can grow and change and their image is GW's to determine.
Your IP is what makes you Genuine GW, not the IP of Tolkien and New Line Cinema
LotR and the Hobbit will never again grow after the Hobbit is done. LotR has been diminishing for years now and it will bounce back and then linger even longer untill it has been milked for every penny it is worth. The truly unfortunate thing is that in this time, the GW IP assets in the SG range will do what they have been doing, they will become further irrelevant and decrepit, rather than being used as tools to enhance the true assets of the GW brand. SG can only add to 40k and WHFB, while the Hobbit can only prolong the inevitable demise of the LotR franchise.
Lord of the Rings Strategy Battle Game was made by the dead and the dead keep it!