Tuesday, June 24, 2014

The sad sad state of battle reports

Battle Reports have been a feature in White Dwarf for decades now, and with the devolved state of the feature, I lament the aspects that made them popular in the first place. The earliest Battle Reports had very little in the way of photos and mostly consisted of drawings depicting the action along with maps and diagrams. They were well laid out and served to educate the reader in the many ways that the game being presented is played. Typically, they started off with one or two writers, who were usually also the players in the game being presented, selecting their army lists and telling us why they chose what they chose for their army. These players used to be members of the GW's Game Design Team, or writers of White Dwarf, each going after the other's guy's blood in 28mm heroic scale. 

The terrain-heavy '90s...
In the beginning their photography was limited somewhat, so you got true photos of the game in action, with dice, pencils, lists, templates, etc., present,  as well as the nicer 'staged' photos presenting the best in 'eavy Metal studio miniatures, along with the scenery pieces and a painted backdrop. I guess the old studio space was limited in how they could stage the entire board in a way where they could show turn-by-turn action, so they resorted to using diagrams with a unique key to indicate specific units. All of this worked to tell the story of the game. 

Vehicle rules so awesome that model's weren't required! 

I recall the battle reports in the latter days of Warhammer 40,000's 1st edition (by this point 'Rogue Trader' had quietly been dropped), as they sort of play-tested out for us the rules that would appear in the Vehicle Manual and Battle Manual which would further evolve into Warhammer 40,000 2nd Edition. By that point, the Battle Report had become a key feature of White Dwarf, not just for filler, but as the photos became more prevalent, they became an alternate model showcase as well as helping players understand the rules. These early reports were fun and exciting to read, even if they probably played the game 2-3 times until they got the game they wanted to actually write about. It didn't matter: the guys who wrote the rules and background were showing us how they played this game! I remember we would sometimes settle rule disputes (albeit minor ones) by referring to some of these battle reports. As far back as 2nd edition, battle reports were used to show us how the new releases of that month worked in the game. Even back then players were suspicious that the new Codex/Army Book tended to win that month's game... 

A tactical review? Does the current WD team grasp this idea?

As time went on, and the games evolved, obviously they needed to show us something in White Dwarf other than Night Fight again, so they started to present unique scenarios and themes for their battle reports which led to such iconic presentations as "Last Stand at Glazer's Creek", "Massacre at Big Toof River", "Massacre at Sanctuary 101" and others. They would continue to do this after 40k's 3rd edition, but they started to loosen up a bit on the diagrams with the map keys but instead began to show us the full table (or bits of it) in a turn-by-turn manner. This was definitely a bit more exciting from a visual standpoint, but the battle reports started to lose their strategic value. 

White Dwarf 226. 
There are noted exceptions, particularly WD 226, the first 40k 3rd edition issue which stands out to me because it was very specific in teaching 40K players how the new edition worked and what made it different from the previous edition. This was so well done that it could have been packaged with that edition's starter set as a 'how to play a game' guide. I would say that what was done there should still be replicated every few months (December issue?) to help introduce new players to the game and hobby.

As time went on, the Battle Reports sort of became a bit more 'ho-hum' but still made for decent reading. Indeed, sometimes the battle report felt forced, as if the guys doing them were painfully slogging through the writing of them. Corners were obviously being cut, and written content was being reduced in favor of more pictures!

"You, intern! Want to prove your worth? You get to write this month's Battle Report!" -Random WD Editor

By this point, the battle report had evolved into platform to sell the latest product more so than showing us readers how the game should be properly played. 

Then came the new White Dwarf team and their funky yellow-orange logo, and we started to get Battle Reports that focused less on strategy, or even the rules of the game, and more on pushing the new product harder than it has ever been pushed before. But then, it seems in this dawning era of Unbound army selection, the whole game is now this 'BUY IT NOW' pseudo-ad campaign. *sigh* -Honestly, this whole topic has been pounded to death on other blogs and forums, and I'm loathe to bring that discussion here, but one can't discuss the current condition of the Battle Report concept without honestly pointing out what it has blatantly turned into. 

In 2014 the battle report is more pictures. Granted they're nice, high quality, over-scaled, super-staged, and presented at a size made more to fill page space than any other reason I can invent. With the tastiest reading usually reduced to a stupidly small font in a box or a sidebar. Regardless, you might get a write-up by a player telling us why they selected a given unit or model for their army ("..because it's new!"), a few game high-lights, and, that's it. Nothing to be excited about. No unique background or character, only the vaguest of themes. These games rarely stick to such concepts as a Force Organization Chart or "points" and they tended to have wonky objectives, goals or conditions that you just won't see your fellow gamers agreeing to in local pickup games. Now, in hindsight, and dare I say in their defense, I think this is because they were already play-testing the 7th edition and were attempting to warm the WD reader base to the concept (albeit loosely). Which from what I saw in various places around the 'net at the time it had the reverse effect ("The White Dwarf writers can't even be bothered to play a proper game!"). What did it for me was Warhammer Visions #1. This presented the worst idea for a "battle report" that I have yet to see, and it convinced me to never pick up another issue of that pointless publication (a rant for another time?).

My point to this whole post?  I miss the old Battle Reports. The style, the presentation, the care and the fun: all elements that made the battle report an essential read every month. And I see no reason why we can't have them back and still include the current amount of pics that show off all of the new models if that's what is required by the share holders or whatever, but damn it, I want to read a report, not scraps of one hidden in the captions and sidebars of the current pic-fest.  

My painting of a Squat...um, short viking guy with gun... 
Look, I understand how time-consuming these things can be to create. Before this blog, ok waaaay before this blog, back in the '90s a friend and I were working to put together our own 40K Fanzine and were going to feature battle reports. Looking back on it, we were fairly low tech to say the least, but what we did was design a grid, and we would draw out the map each round in an effort to mimic the diagrams that White Dwarf used at the time. We really wanted to push the games more complicated rules, wargear combos, etc, as well as show off other elements that were our own creations that we would present in the articles (Death Worlds as armies, Rattling PDFs, Squats, Pygmy Blood Bowl Teams, Etc.). So, I would take my notes and drawings, and write up a battle report, as well as a fictional story to go along with it, and since I didn't have a camera, I would draw the action in spot illustrations and paintings. These are far more involved than anything I have done for this blog and they took hours to complete. We never published a single issue of the fanzine, but I at least got to respect what it takes to write up one of these battle reports. 

It's sad when the battle reports I do for this blog (and they're really more like highlights commenting on what I recall vs. reading from detailed notes or making a comment on a pic I snapped, than my idea of true BR but still...) are more content-filled and readable than the stuff in the current GW periodicals. Sad indeed. 

All images taken from the web by people who stole the images from White Dwarf which is owned by Games Workshop. I do not challenge their ownership of these images, and use them here for review purposes only.

The painting of the Viking Guy with a Gun is mine however. 


Da Masta Cheef said...

Easily your best post yet sir, bravo!!!

And yes you are quite correct. Back when i still subscribed to WD (so many years ago) I stopped reading why they took what minis in their armies because I got sick of reading 'and who could resist these great new miniatures!'. It felt like marketing was writing the article (which I'm sure they were).

The latest WD 'bat rep' is an army list and photos, yawn...you're right, our half-assed blog bat-reps are way more involved than anything WD has these days...

neverness said...

Thank you.

I think I got across some of the passion I feel about it. It's an aspect of the hobby that has degraded far too much. I might be in the minority ('Hit'-counts are higher for my modeling posts than BR posts) with this point of view, but then a lot of today's players might never have seen how these were properly done back in the day!

This is also the reason why I look forward to your battle reports as well Cheef!

Marazico said...

Absolutely true. How I miss Reports like the first one of the newly discovered Tyranids in 2nd Edition. It was written like a film, featuring suspense, laughter, glorious heroes and apparently no happy end (at least not for the beaten eldar and imperial forces). This report alone made me want to play the game. Just to relive this Report. (O.K. until now I didn`t, but I still have that WD Issue an read it from time to time).

So the big question is: Why can't we have any more of these? a.) Customers don't want to read text, 'cause it makes their brain hurt. b.) GW can't produce them anymore, 'cause its all about shareholdervalue and not customersvalue c.) the relentless wars of the 40K Century has destroyed all knowledge about doing stuff like that. (At least we can print photos, dudes!)

We should keep up this question. Because the old times really were good times (like the old people say!)

neverness said...

Thanks Marazico,
And you're right, we should keep up the question. The irony to a.) is that the rules they try to sell has a ton of words in them, and the codex supplements are supposed to work in conjunction with them. A well-written battle-report can help over-come the confusion that new players might have with trying to grasp the rules. And, to your point, inspire a new player to have a game as epic as the one they just read.

Angelic Despot said...

Great article - I really miss the interesting - old - battle reports. The funny thing is, I bet they were actually better at selling things than the newer, marketting-driven versions are.

When you read an interesting battle report, you're inspired to play, buy, paint, etc. And of course buy the next White Dwarf and the cycle repeats.

Dull 'new shiny stuff looks great in photos' reports end up putting people off the reports, and don't inspire play - or sales.

Archon Voril said...

The newer bat-rep format ( sell, sell, sell) is what really threw me off of them for a long time.

neverness said...

Thanks. The models are great, rarely is that disputed, but White Dwarf needs to embrace all the aspects of Warhammer/40k not just point to the new Codex/Armybooks or Black Library products... The old BRs utilized the background and should players how to truly forge a narrative!

Anonymous said...

But now you can read or see battle reports all over the internet for free...and some are really good efforts.

neverness said...

True, but they aren't official, or written by the people who produce the game. Also, at $4 a week, when WD has a BR feature, it should live up to it's title. That's not a slam on those other reports BTW.

Hive Angel said...

Interesting take on the subject while comparing the old stuff to the new stuff. I gave up on reading battle reports somewhere in 4th edition or so when they switched to pictures of the action with walls of text.

I tend to not make reports anymore due to the time they take and or the thought not mny read them.

neverness said...

But Hive Angel, I always get a kick out of your Battle Reports, especially when you're fighting Eldar! :)

Goddenzilla said...

Just wanted to say that I read this post and it inspired me to write one for my own fledgling Blog! Thanks Neverness! :)