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  • Writer's pictureAlex Payne

The riddle of The Old World: Warhammer's strangest game

The Warhammer Old World Map

The oddity that is Warhammer: The Old World

When the return of the Old World was announced, back in 2019, I hadn't even returned to the hobby. In fact, the Old World itself had fallen into decline, died, been broken apart in the fires of rebranding and become the Mortal Realms during my decade long hiatus.

So while news of its fate was something of a shock, news of a return certainly peaked my interest.

As further details began to dribble through during the intervening four year period, however, my enthusiasm waned. Much has been written online about some of the challenging aspects of the Old World's launch, so I won't pick through it all laboriously here. In summary:

Warhammer: The Old World is a game which, at time of launch, has two actually purchasable factions. It requires circa £90* up-front to get hold of the rules, which are - to put it mildly - not exactly welcoming to new players with a ruleset several hundred pages long.

Warhammer the Old World legacy factions

Seven well-loved factions are simply not being supported beyond an initial PDF download of their rules - and with no model support whatsoever. The model support that we do have news of is almost entirely reruns of some truly ancient miniatures, from as far back as the 1980s, including miniatures cast in actual, honest to god metal. And of the two factions actually released, stock levels are vanishingly low, with most third party retailers not even selling them online.

"The model support that we do have news of is almost entirely reruns of some truly ancient miniatures, from as far back as the 1980s, including miniatures cast in actual, honest to god metal."

By all accounts, my recent prediction about the fate of the game looked secure. The Old World has lovely artwork, sure (maps! Egyptian skellibobs! PONIES!) but otherwise appears to be an utterly bizarre product. An attempt to resurrect a game which the creators themselves killed due to embarrassingly low sales nearly a decade before, marketed heavily - and I mean, heavily - on nostalgia and the goodwill of a die-hard fanbase.

Warhammer: The Old World factions Tomb Kings and Bretonnians

It also relies on those folks who have continued playing the game through fan-supported rules with their existing armies since the dawn of Age Of Sigmar to want to add to their collections or start whole new (old) armies wholesale with its return. There would be new blood, of course, like those entranced by the Warhammer World setting through the Total War games, but the nature of the rules and the structure of the game speak to a core audience of more experienced gamers than fresh faces.

"There would be new blood, of course, but the nature of the rules and the structure of the game spoke to a core audience of more experienced gamers."

Add on top all of that the extra spice of the value of it all: is asking consumers to pay 2024 prices for a 20 year old product a fair - and prudent - business decision? I was, as I think many in the hobby-sphere where, unimpressed.**

Surely then, this was a disaster waiting to happen.

And then Saturday 6th January happened. And I realised how wrong I was.

Hour long queues and the Old World "wave"

On the Saturday in question I through I'd check in with the launch, just to see how it was all going.

And holy moly.

By the time I checked, everything was pretty much gone. Both boxes had long since vanished, along with nearly everything associated the range, from metal peasants to even-more metal ushabti. Stories abounded about spending over an hour in Warhammer's fabulous new queuing system (and oh boy, are we gonna talk about that another time) and anti-influencer sentiments were running high as friendly instagram folks brandished shiny new boxes no fan seemed to have acquired.

Clearly, the Old World was a roaring success. Demand was through the roof and smarter minds than mine over at Lenton Road are at this very moment furiously scrambling for more production capacity.

Now a large part of that could be put down to scarcity bias. Products sure do tend to look a lot more popular if there's barely enough of them to go around. But hour-long wait times on the GW website tell a truer picture, I feel. So too does the general level of interest in Old World-themed battle reports on YouTube, which have been both prevalent and popular since the launch.

In the following week or so I have spoken firsthand with friends who - during the marketing build-up - shared my increasing ennui about the Old World as a game and who are now drinking in Old World battle-reports and articles online, and dreaming of a return-to-sale of the Bretonnian Box. I listened to a lovely episode of the 6+++ Show, in which the competitive 40k discourse got derailed for a good 20 minutes to discuss the Old World and which armies all of the participants fancied returning to or picking up on.

As the dust settles on that chaos, the big question I take is less the how, and more the why. Why does the Old World resonate so clearly in 2024?

Why is the Old World?

I set out, in true Hobby Journalist mode, to find out why. In search of answers, I turned to The Community™. A highly professional poll of gamers with their fingers on the pulse of all things hobby*** turned up some interesting commentary on why they would (and wouldn't) be getting back into the Old World. Here's what some friendly folks in my own hobby circles had to say...

Nostalgia is most certainly an aspect of the appeal. Like myself, many folks took a hobby break in their early/mid twenties and the return of real Warhammer fantasy, the game that introduced many of us to the hobby, still holds a strong appeal.

"Fantasy was the thing that got me into the hobby, and having a square based army of elves was something I really wanted as a kiddo. The idea of finally achieving that square based, regimental, dream army of Nagarond is very appealing."

The relative uniqueness of the Warhammer Fantasy style in comparison to their now regular "skirmish game" offering is also a considerable draw.

"It’s a complex gaming system that works quite differently from 40k and AoS. Big regimented blocks has a very different feel and game style of the more skirmish-y nature of other warhammer systems."

Conversely, alongisde more routine concerns around painting and hobby capacity**** and the aforementioned concern over those factions which aren't returning, there is perhaps a feeling that the Old World as a setting might be somewhat played out in comparison to ongoing settings such as AOS and 40k.

"The lore of the Old World is now kinda done. One of the thing I really enjoy about 40K is the evolving stories and lore. With the Old World having already ended there’s a limit to the adventures I can learn about and I already know quite a bit about the Old World lore."

In conclusion: a brave Old World

Whatever the true scale of the Old World's initial appeal, the next big test of its staying power is what comes next. The demand is apparently there, and in greater numbers than even the marketing cogitators of GW could forsee. Although there is no news on further army boxes, returning models or maybe - just maybe - a u-turn on the "legends" factions at present, I have to image that news will be fast-tracked to keep the interest flowing. Perhaps details of the return of the Tomb King or Bretonnia boxes, or similar bundles for fan favourites (ish) like High Elves or their beardy nemeses, the Dwarfs.

If not, the good will and nostalgia will only sustain the game for so long. There is a lot of interest right now, certainly, but the long term concerns around support, cost and accessibility of the game remain, just below the surface.

Let's hope it doesn't result in the End Times all over again.


Until next time,


*You can split the rulebook, of course, and don't need the additional pamphlet. But my point stands - this is a hefty upfront investment.

**I watched Joe and Liam of the Liam and Joe Show go back and forth on the topic of value for a £170 box of near 30 year old skeletons for two hours and I'm still not sure either way.

***Quick whatsapp to my local gaming group. Whatever. Still better than most of what passes for journalism these days. Tell me when I'm telling lies.

****As if that ever stopped anyone, let's be real

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