I’m pleased to have the first guest post on the blog, from Age of Darkness co-host and long term Warhammer fan Darren [ Twitter | Blue Sky ]. Within this post Darren talks about The Old World release day at Warhammer World on 20th January 2024
Entering the event
This event – and this is a theme I will return to a lot – was very busy! In fact, I would say that this is the busiest event at Warhammer World in all my time that I have attended Open Days and Celebration events. It is no coincidence that part of this ‘busyness’ was linked to the fact that this was an un-ticketed event so attendance was only limited by the health and safety regulations surrounding the number of people allowed inside the venue.
Due to prior experience, I made sure I got to Warhammer World with plenty of time before opening. I was still expecting a reasonable number of people in the queue ahead of me and I wasn’t disappointed. What was extremely surprising was how many people kept joining the queue behind. By the time the doors opened the line stretched out of the main car park and in front of the main office building – the longest queue for any Open Day that I have seen.
The front-of-house staff filtered people in. This was better than at previous Open Days when the doors opening generally indicated a mass rugby scrum barrelling for the shop or figure cabinets. By filtering people inside it felt like a calmer entry – at least until you reached the shop. Yes, it meant entry was slower, but it felt less stressful.
One issue outside in the queue was no staff monitoring it. This meant at several points I saw people who had arrived later see people they knew further forward in the queue and jumped in. Personally, this is a big bugbear of mine and feel its significantly unfair for those who were patiently waiting by arriving earlier. Having staff monitoring the queue would have prevented this.
The queue outside also took a long time to reduce. By the time I was finished in the shop and went through to Bugman’s for some refreshment – about an hour and a half after I arrived in the store – the queue was still stretching around the car park. Clearly this event was proving popular.
Organisation of venue.
The internal organisation of these events has changed a lot over time. For this event, the backroom (staff canteen area during the working week) was turned over to the hobby area and base exchange. The shop was – well, the shop – and the main gaming area was divided into open gaming tables, the painting competition, demo games, model cabinets showing off the Brettonians, Tomb Kings and Orcs and Goblins as well as large displays showing the lore for each of these factions.
Compared to more recent Open Days / Events such as the Kill Team Open Day, Warhammer World Birthday Celebration and New Year’s Open Day, the internal organisation was much better.
By having the Hobby Area out of the way, it meant that the main venue space was dedicated to aspects of the gaming and lore and had more physical room. Other than the issues surrounding shop queuing (something I will discuss below) this gave more space to wonder around and look at the various open gaming, take part in the demo games or read the lore / look at the gorgeous models from the Specialist Games painting team.
Queuing was certainly a major theme of the first part of the day – certainly until around lunchtime. I didn’t attend Warhammer Fest last year but heard stories – and saw social media demonstrating – the number of queues at that event. Sadly, it appears that the events team at the Old World Release Day had not anticipated the number of attendees and not planned clear queuing routes for the shop.
Warhammer World only has a limited number of tills – to be honest, it doesn’t need a lot for a normal day. However, for the first part of the day, the number of tills were woefully too few. I do want to say the staff were amazing at responding and coping with the – clearly – larger than expected number of people. However, there was a clear feeling that in the first hour they were overwhelmed.
The initial queue for the shop spread into Bugman’s quite rapidly. Due to this, the staff moved the back of the queue into the main gaming venue. However, once the initial movement took place, it didn`t appear as if staff were directing people to where the back of the queue was and I`m sure some people accidently jumped it as there was no clear indication of direction of movement.
Perhaps having 3 or 4 temporary tills set up in place of the unused open gaming tables would have alleviated the press slightly. Certainly, having a clear plan in-case of excessive numbers of people and where to place them without interfering with movement around the venue or potential blocking of key health-and-safety areas should have been considered.
I do want to give praise for the shop staff however. They were happy to stop and chat about the releases; ensured that the stock was constantly topped up and clarified about the releases or organisation of the venue. Special mention needs to go out to the staff member who came round with water while people were queuing to pay. It was hugely appreciated and little things like that make a huge difference.
The hobby area was certainly busy throughout the day and by having it in a separate area, it felt calm and relaxed away from the bustle of the main venue. Having seen some of the results on social media, it certainly looked like a success, and these are always popular at every event. It’s also great for younger gamers to be involved in and pick up some tips from the longbeards.
I will point out that the open gaming tables were generally under-used and at no point were full to capacity. Perhaps this space could have been reduced and more demo games put on? I will also point out that a lot of the armies on the open tables were lovely and a mix of armies being used. It did leave a bit of bad taste seeing unpainted armies on a couple of tables. On a day which was meant to be celebrating a release, I think some minimum painting standards should have been enforced.
The demo games were split into two-types. Firstly, there were mini-participation games each focusing on different parts of the game itself. This was similar to the Horus Heresy Open Day and worked really well. If you were brand new to the game, you could start with the basics; gamers who were more familiar with the older editions could focus on areas that more interested them. Sign up seemed to work well and be efficient and queues surrounding this were minimal.
The second type was a large demo, narrative game from Mini-Wargaming. In many ways this was good as it allowed you to talk to non-GW staff about their experience with the game so far and also see different armies beyond the Brettonians and Tomb Kings. However, it was on a very small table allowing very little manoeuvrer and anyone who played Fantasy of-old will tell you that movement is king. Potentially, by removing some of the Open Gaming tables and giving Mini-Wargaming more space this game could have become a bigger spectacle. I will say though that the table looked gorgeous and contained some classic Fantasy scenery as well as some scratch-built terrain demonstrating the best of what a classic Warhammer Fantasy table could look like.
I’ll be honest and say that I didn’t look much at the painting competition. From a distance the cabinets looked reasonably bare but they may have filled up after I left. I’d be interested to hear any thoughts of this painting competition.
Special mention needs to go to Nick Bayton and Simon Grant from Warhammer+ for running a special jousting participation game. This was loud, enthusiastic and full of silly moments just like the best of the participation games from Games Day in the past. Nick and Si kept this going all day never dropping in excitement and keen. This is one of the best things about Open Days and gives lasting memories of the event – something to bare in mind for the future.
This comes to my biggest gripe of this – and all recent Open Days, including Warhammer Fest. The best aspect of the old-style Open Days was access to the Studio Teams: the game designers, sculptors, artists and painters behind the scenes. As long as you recognised that there was certain information and topics that couldn`t be discussed (release schedules / upcoming projects being the two key ones) and you focused on aspects that could be discussed such as the models on display; rules currently released; design processes etc, the insights that could be gained were invaluable. More importantly, it was clear that the Studio Teams were as enthusiastic about the hobby as any gamer present. I`ve been fortunate enough to speak to a number of the Studio Teams over the years and every conversation has been a delight, pleasure and hugely insightful and inspired changes to my hobby process for the future.
Seeing cabinets of the models was wonderful and being able to see the new Old World exhibition piece before its inclusion in the museum was gorgeous. Seeing the diorama up close allowed you to see all the little details you might miss in the museum such as tunnelling tomb spiders or peasantry forming a shield-wall. The only thing that would have made it better was having some of the exhibition team on hand to discuss things with – similar to my point about Studio Team inclusion above.
One improvement of the model cabinets to previous events was their greater accessibility. Unlike some previous Open Days, the cabinets were arranged so that it was easier to get around them, allowing more people to access them and see the models inside. In addition to this it was fantastic to see the next army being released also on display along with some of the old-school sculpts being re-released alongside it (Marauder Giant – be still my beating heart). Previous Open Days have not really shown upcoming, soon-to-be released models so it was a good touch to see the Orcs and Goblins being shown off.
I have been lucky to be able to attend Forge World and Games Workshop Open Days, Warhammer Fests and Weekenders for a number of years. I have seen various changes throughout the years – some better than others. The last 2-3 Open Days prior to this one were no-where near as successful as the ones pre-Pandemic. However, the Old World Release Day was perhaps the closest in feel to the old ones.
An emphasis on demo games, lore and upcoming model releases helped with this and there was certainly a real-buzz in the atmosphere that I haven’t felt since the last Forge World Open Day in 2018(?). The venue staff were helpful and kept their enthusiasm throughout the day despite the challenges.
And there were certainly challenges.
Its clear the events team had not planned for such a highly attended event. This is likely to be down to the fact that it was un-ticketed and so you could just arrive. Certainly, chatting to some of the staff, they were shocked by how much Old World product was being bought. Some people just turned up; made their purchases and left but the majority remained behind. Stock was not an issue (beyond the card packs which are always under-estimated how many will sell – GW should realise this by now!) and copies of rule books, army lists and battalion boxes kept being restocked throughout the day.
My two big criticisms of the day were: 1. More planning around queuing. There must be greater awareness of where a queue ends and starts and the direction it is going so that it does not negatively impact on other activities. 2. Lack of Studio Team staff to discuss the hobby with. This was the greatest attraction of past events and adds so much more value to the day.
However, it was amazing to see the community getting behind the Old World. It clearly took Warhammer World by storm and seeing the explosion on social media demonstrates the love for the game. GW clearly have a hit on their hands. Nearly everyone I spoke to was extremely positive about what they had read and the people playing the game really enjoyed it. As one person said, ‘its like the ‘best of’ Fantasy editions’. Personally, I can’t wait to get more games in.
Overall, I enjoyed the day far more than other recent Open Days despite the challenges around the organisation of queuing. I hope we continue to see more of these in the future but certainly more pre-emptive planning needs to take place.