White Dwarf 383–Reviewed!

I can’t believe I missed it! I missed it by a week! I missed the release day of the December, 2011 White Dwarf issue (if you live in North America, the issue I’m talking about is #383). It totally flew below my radar, and I just realised it was on the shelves seven days after the fact! Mind you, with last month’s issue being not much more than a bunch of forgettable articles, wrapped in Necrons and drizzled in retcon, there’s only so much guilt I can feel about being late picking up this month’s issue.

You know, if you can't be bothered to strive for the level of quality on a Magic: the Gathering card, what's the point of putting 'art' on the cover?

The issue itself comes poly-bagged, just like last month’s did. However, instead of a Christmas “wish list” mini-catalogue, this month includes a campaign booklet for Dreadfleet, which….I’ll talk more about at the end of this issue’s contents run down.

Page 0: Message from the editor, telling me this issue is “revisiting” all the articles of 2011…considering this year’s track record, I wonder if I should even keep flipping through the book—but enough editorialising on my part, this is supposed to be me just listing off the magazine’s contents.

 Page  1:    Table of Contents

Pgs 2-10: New Releases (the 5 splash pages reveal just how few releases there are this month).

Pgs 11-13: New Releases – Fantasy Flight Games & Black Library. Bill King answers 5 Questions and they call it an interview.

Pgs 14-19: Warhammer: Denizens of the Forest Depths. Light fluff piece on Beastmen and a sample army list.

Pgs 20-27: Warhammer: Bloodied in the Badlands: A summation of the new expansion and the developers’ experiences playing in a BitB campaign.

Pgs 28-31: Warhammer: Rules for the Jabberslythe, Cygor & Ghorgon (so anyone can use them in Storm of Magic).

Pgs 32-33: Advert: Games Day Monster Conversion Contest.

Pgs 34-53: Warhammer: Battle Report – Ogre Kingdoms/Orcs & Goblins vs. Daemons of Chaos/Warriors of Chaos…and I guess it’s a Storm of Magic battle but built up more as a Bloodied in the Badlands battle…?

Pgs 54-57: Blanchitsu: John Blanche focuses on two studio painters and their techniques.

Pgs 58-65: Warhammer 40k: New Apocalypse datasheets: 2 each for Grey Knights, Sisters of Battle and Dark Eldar.

Pgs 66-67: Advert: Forge World’s Contemptor Dreadnoughts range.

Pgs 68-73: Warhammer 40k: Necrons vs. Black Templars linked-battles campaign.

Pgs 74-77: ‘Eavy Metal: “Article” revealing to us that the purpose of the ‘Eavy Metal team is to paint miniatures for GW.

Pgs 78-83: Modeling Workshop: Painting Warhammer’s Skullvane Manse scenery piece.

Pgs 84-91: Modeling Workshop: How to paint the Ogre Kingdoms’ Thundertusk.

Pgs 92-97: Lord of the Rings SBG: Battle Report: Lonely Mountain Dwarves vs. Moria Goblins and a Dragon.

Pgs 98-103: Painting Masters: ‘Eavy Metal’s Neil Green.

  Page 104:  Advert: Hobby Centre Birthday Celebration locations.

Pgs 105-119: The Augury (adverts & independent stores’ event info).

Pg 120: Also known as the inside of the back cover. Picture of Dwarfs defending against Skaven (possibly at Bugman’s Brewery?). Also mentioned is that next month’s White Dwarf is going to be late: it won’t be available until January 7th, 2012.

Bonus Booklet: Dreadfleet: Into the Maelstrom supplement. Remember, just like it says on the booklet’s back cover: now’s your “last chance to buy” (so… you’d best hurry!).

I thought it being called a supplement, it would somehow ADD to the issue. Sigh.

Thoughts on the Issue

On first blush, this issue looks to have a little extra value: a magazine and a supplement booklet! The issue is generally a little more on the ‘plus’ side of middle-of-the-road…sort of. The book has three conceivable pluses:

  1. If you play Storm of Magic, the rules for the Beastmen monsters will be appreciated.
  2. If you play 40k Apocalypse (does anyone even engage in that any more?) the new data sheets are likewise pretty cool—if you play one of those three armies—though, if the internet is to be believed, who doesn’t play Grey Knights these days?

THIS is the only Apocalypse Grey Knights formation that will satisfy me if I can't have the "Dipped in the Blood of the Sisters of Battle They Just Killed" Grey Knights formation.

The 3rd conceivable plus—at least the one I see as a plus—is an article by John Blanche this month. Whether you like his art or not, it is John Blanche’s vision that has fuelled 40k all these years. Any company can make monastic space knights (and many do). John Blanche’s vision made monastic space knights fit into an entire universe and set 40k apart from the crowd. Anyways, his article offers the sage advice to paint models in a way that works for you (not so sage, really; but the bit after is revealing). Blanche reveals that for years he always tried to have his models match the style, if not quality, of the ‘Eavy Metal studio. He’s realised he should just paint his models in his style instead of trying to match (and fail) the ‘Eavy Metal style—with ever-disappointing results. That’s the sage advice. 

I always value finding out why people do the things they do, what informed them to act that way. That’s why I always like the articles where developers reveal the reasons behind their rules—which GW stopped doing a decade ago—and I like when a painter talks about not what he painted but why he paints how he does. The best we get now are developers telling us their new rules as a means of soliciting sales for new product, and painters walking us through the twenty steps of painting a miniature. It should come as no surprise that the last half of Blanchitsu didn’t hold my interest as well as the first half, being more about two painters in the spotlight talking about how they paint and less on how they came about to painting that way (still, the painters reveal more than any games developers have in the last decade…so I’ll be careful of just how critical I am of this article).

Oddly noteworthy: Jervis Johnson’s Standard Bearer column was nowhere to be found in this issue. Hopefully, Jervis has left on some sort of sabbatical with aims of writing more inspired Standard Bearer columns rather than the poorly disguised sales pitches that his column has become. I enjoy his column—when Jervis is inspired and not simply trying to take a gaming truism, connect it to a new product or new GW sales initiative and then tell us how that truism is at the core of the new product / initiative. Hopefully, this month doesn’t mark the month that Standard Bearer was sent off to the glue factory.

Picture unrelated...?

Summary: reprinting some monster rules and having John Blanche weigh in on painting models does little to keep me from feeling that White Dwarf doesn’t care whether people buy the magazine or not. Don’t get me wrong, they provided some definite (albeit unintentional) Plan 9 From Outer Space, laughingly bad writing in the “Four Ways Necrons can Face Off Against Black Templars and We’ll Call it a Campaign” article (in a big highlight-box, the Necron Lord, Imotekh, is quoted as referring to the Black Templars as “Sombre Fellows”).

As with Padme’s will to live, in one definable moment, so did my fear of Necrons drop through the floor.

My fear of Darth Vader was replaced by a fear of George Lucas' writing.

So, if you weren’t dazzled by the Apocalypse datasheets or the rules for the three big Beastmen monsters, it’s easy to see that this issue continues with what has become a tradition at White Dwarf: demonstrating that they don’t want you to like the magazine—to be fair, this issue isn’t as much a throw-away as last December’s issue: an issue that offered very little in content beyond thirty pages of battle reports between *gasp* the White Dwarf staff and the games developers (seriously, when this is used as the “angle” of battle reports every single month for a year, it’s not an angle; it’s a format! Did I mention this month’s battle report is between the ‘Dwarf staff and the games developers…as is the write up about Blood in the Badlands…ugh).

But with articles like “The ‘Eavy Metal team: what do they do?” taking up a few pages this month, how can this issue not feel phoned in?

My “Street Beef”

The Dread Fleet Supplement: the cover calls it a supplement; but I think GW’s definition of a supplement is different than everyone else’s in the world of gaming. It should come as no surprise that by “supplement” Games Workshop and/or White Dwarf really means a fifteen-page essay on some games some guys played of Dreadfleet. Essentially, it’s presented in battle-report format but meant to cover the twelve-game campaign that entails the box game. The fully played-out campaign—as played through by some White Dwarf staff guys—condenses down the twelve missions into the highlights of just three games. I went from being eyebrow-raisingly intrigued over the possibility that GW came out with an alternate mini-campaign for the Dreadfleet game…to eyeball-rollingly unimpressed that it was merely GW shilling a slow-selling board game.

(It needs to be said that fundamentally, I have no problems with Dreadfleet. I suspect I’d enjoy playing it, but I just don’t understand why GW thought keeping their NOT-Space Hulk board game such a big secret and trying to drum up interest only after the game came out was such a good plan. I mean, if they’re been reading over the shoulder of Fantasy Flight Games to find out just how much board games are a hot commodity right now, you’d think they’d have also read up on how to make it so that their newest item for the board-game market was also a hot commodity.)

Of course, one of the key problems facing Dreadfleet (in my scotch-addled brain, anyways) is that the only people who would have cared about this corpse of Man-O-War floating to the surface that is, ideologically, Dreadfleet are the same people that GW chased out of all their stores (and customer base) years ago because those customers weren’t twelve years old. It’s no surprise that the clientele GW has planted and grown over the last decade wholly don’t care about a board game that revives (and quite likely improves on) Man-O-War.

Let’s not forget that Dreadfleet’s marketing plan was essentially a sequel too: the first time GW announced a secret release and we weren’t allowed to know what it was until the reveal, the cheekiness of the plan was genius. (It helped that it was Space Hulk and a 40k-based game—talk about hedging your bets!) The second time they did it, the law of diminishing returns that applies to sequels kicked in—and the cheekiness of the marketing began to smack more of arrogance. I mean, it’s almost Christmas and everyone still has Dreadfleet on their shelves (not a bad thing—except GW ostensibly produced it to sell out…just read all the taglines on the website and in the magazine).

So…is #383 Worth it?

I liked John Blanche’s article. I see the value in the Apocalypse data sheets and in printing the monster rules. I even liked some of the painting tips inside the Painting Skullvane Manse article. And honestly, I’m curious about Games Workshop’s renewed interest in the Lord of the Rings Strategy Battle Game (is War of the Ring officially dead now?)

The Dreadfleet supplement is the reveal: this issue was totally phoned in …via another phone’s receiver held into the transmitter of the first phone. This issue continues in the legacy of Games Workshop, as a company, not giving even one fuck about the magazine—like perhaps the magazine was the vehicle that allowed them to lose money for taxation purposes, so they no longer try to make it even remotely palatable for fear it might please some fans and FOOOM! GW loses their tax shelter / loophole / magazine due to it being too successful. …Which, of course, would result in much gnashing of “Group’s” corporate teeth and mass layoffs once more among the GW studio (the ones that escaped the round of 2006 layoffs).

Wrapping it up (because I’ve typed WAY more than I intended to and feel I’m coming across WAY more angry than I actually am…though as someone on the 11th Company’s online forum suggested: perhaps I hate GW so much because I love GW so much), I don’t think I’d recommend this month’s issue to anyone—unless that person is really after those new Apocalypse data sheets.


2 responses to “White Dwarf 383–Reviewed!

  1. WOTR just doesn’t get played at 3000+ points, so the game mechanics don’t work properly, so it doesn’t catch half the amount of money it was intended to (low points levels=not many models, not may players=not many models), so it’s dead. Damn. The only GW game I really like.

    • Yeah, War of the Rings seems to fly best at just about 2000 points (I’d bet it’s pretty great at 2500); I think at those levels does the game possibly balance itself out (regarding the craziness of Ringwraith and generic spell-caster costs).

      Too bad it’s just lying in the water right now–I kind of thought Battlehosts helped achieve a bit more balance too.

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