In the past few decades Warhammer has grown from a niche hobby to a cultural juggernaut, and transcended its tabletop origins.
The Warhammer universe(s?) that Games Workshop has created has brought joy and happiness to millions people the world around. From humble miniatures they’ve grown an empire (and killed a few along the way, RIP Old World). I’ve been playing Warhmmer for around 2 decades and when I think of it I generally tend to think of the tabletop game. I’d guess that’s what most of our readers think of first, we do after all focus on the games and miniatures. Yet Warhammer encompasses so much more than the tabletop game these days, so much in fact that I wonder if the tabletop games are still the center of the universe.
The Old Days
Looking back its not hard to see the days when the tabletop games were the center around which everything revolved. Not too long ago there wasn’t much else. Black Library put out books and comics here and there, but they weren’t the massive power house of toaday. Before Gaunts Ghosts and the Heresy Books they tended to put out a lot of random stuff, of variable quality. There were video games also, but they were mostly directed at giving warhammer fans new ways to interact when you couldn’t play on the tabletop, and they were a small part of the whole. Same with RPGS like Warhammer Roleplay or the various broad games. In fact by the time Warhammer reached maturity in the late 90s, with 40K’s 3rd Edition, and WFB’s 6th, these games were mostly relics of the past. The wargame and the models were the core of it all.
A Niche Hobby
For most of the time I’ve played Warhammer gems its been a relatively unknown niche hobby. Most people would give me blank looks when I said I played Warhammer, or talked about Games Workshop. I’ve heard it was a little different in the UK were GW is based, but as an American it was unknown. Game stores and some hobby stores might know about it, but it was often overshadowed by the far more popular card games like Magic or Pokemon.
Over the last decade or so Warhammer’s place in popular culture has transformed. It’s slowly moved for the niche hobby of the past to a well know bit of pop culture. A lot of things have combined to push this move. The internet and the rise of meme culture has played a big part, 40K has some great memes thanks to the over top the art work and nature of the lore. A host of video games, included big AAA titles like Dawn of War and Warhammer Total War have spread the game through video gamers. Black Library started putting out really good books, books that you might read because you like Sci-Fi, not just because you like 40K. The rise of Cosplay has showed Warhammer’s amazing costumes to millions. As a whole nerd culture has grown much more mainstream and Warhammer has gone with it. These days if I told a random person my age I play Warhammer, theres a pretty good chance they’ve heard of it. But heres the thing, none of that has been due to the tabletop.
No Longer The Center of the Universe
All this growth of Warhammer as a popular culture icon, and its growing popularity has been thanks to pretty much everything besides the tabletop game. While its impossible to find any number, It would be interesting to chart the growth of the tabletop players to the millions of non tabletop Warhammer fans out there. I have a funny feeling the ratio is swinging away from the tabletop community year after year.
The Living Dead
But Abe, you might say, isn’t it all about the tabletop in the end? Isn’t the whole goal to get people interested in Warhammer and then suck them into the tabletop game? Or at least to give tabletop players something else to spend money on? That might have once been true, but its clearly no longer true. Just look at video games. We are about to get a 2nd Battlefleet Gothic Game soon, thats a game you can’t play on the table top any more. It exists solely as a video game.
Or more telling look at Warhammer Total War, or any of the other games based on WFB and the Old World, games which are still coming out. Thats a dead game and a dead setting. Warhammer Fantasy has been dead for years now, you aren’t going to convert players of Warhammer Total War over to WFB players, because WFB isn’t a game, and due to the massive setting differences you aren’t likely to convert them to AoS either. For games like Warhammer Fantasy, Battlefleet Gothic and Mordheim, the tabletop can’t be the center of the universe because the tabletop doesn’t exist.
Moving On From the Tabletop
For now is still mostly focused on the tabletop, though more and more of their revenue comes from licensing. I’m not sure this will always be the case though. GW has been playing around a lot of new products, they’ve also been pushing more and more licensing. The success of Warhammer Fantasy in video games and other media, proves that the setting and fandom goes far beyond the tabletop crowd. In fact you don’t even need a table top game to keep a Warhammer setting alive and growing. Warhammer has outgrown the tabletop and has become something greater.
You don’t even need a table top game to
keep a Warhammer setting alive and growing.
In fact right now there are probably Warhammer fans who don’t even know about the tabletop games. There are certainly many many fans who don’t play the games. Even if GW stayed focused on models and wargaming, Warhammer as a whole may keep growing beyond it. There may come a time, not too long from now when the table top game is a small niche part of the overall Warhammer fandom. If that seems like something to worry about, don’t. The upshot is that millions of people will come to love the same things you do and enjoy the same amazing settings, the heroes and villains, that you love. It means a larger community for you to enjoy. Its a good thing, I promise.
Let us know if you think the tabletop is still the core of the Warhammer Experience, down the comments!