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Only War for Christmas: How to Defend Warhammer for Teenage Boys

Tuesday, December 1st, 2015 | Posted by M Harold Page

Kurtzhau army

…telling stories, reading books, engaging with craft…

Older relative: “Well I’m not buying him  (nose wrinkle) Warhammer.”

Fellow parent: “Oh God, Warhammer. We’re trying to steer him away from that!”

Another parent: “But it’s sooo expensive.”

It’s the run up to Christmas and people want to know what older and teenage boys want, and — just like with books — the boys, the geeky ones at least, want the wrong things.

Except of course, I think these are right things and I want to yell:

There’s this thing you can get that coaches boys in applied game theory, and keeps them telling stories, reading books, engaging with craft, and gathering with friends away from a screen (sometimes even organising them). It also enables them to talk to older boys and adults as peers, and take their place in a multi-generational community… No, it’s not an educational game. No… it’s not an after school club… It’s… Warhammer!!!

Kurtzhau Gaming Convention

…a two-day mini-wargames convention in his bedroom (Day 2: Other 3 players are out of shot)

In the last year or so I’ve watched “Kurtzhau”, my 12-year-old son, not only beat adult gamers and learn from his defeats, but also apply strategic thinking to homework planning, savings (in order to buy Warhammer figures, naturally), and to the challenges of after-school Maths Club where they are exploring game theory through puzzles.

He’s also written “lore” for his army, built and painted figures to his own colour scheme, organised a two-day mini-wargames convention in his bedroom (where he has a 6 x 4 table), and started sallying into the adult world of gaming cafes and wargames conventions. Meanwhile he can carry on technical conversations with my friends… it’s as if he’s joined the geek version of the village cricket team.

So, yes I think Warhammer is a good idea. You probably do too, since you have read beyond the cut. Shall we blast through some of the objections that pop up during this season?

2015-01-03 14.56.52

…sallying into the adult world of gaming cafes and wargames conventions.

Isn’t It All a Bit… Gendered?

Yes, Warhammer and table top battle games seem to be a predominantly (but not entirely male) activity. However, the same goes for most sports teams. Some people find value in same-sex “safe spaces”, and it’s not an either/or situation — you can go off gaming “with the lads” and still pursue less obviously masculine activities. (Kurtzhau, for example, is a keen cook, baker and epicurean tea drinker.)

The flipside is that the Warhammer community is incredibly inclusive.  Age, looks, fashion sense, disability, social anxiety… nobody cares as long as you can roll a dice and hold your own. And those women who do choose to step up to the table find a welcome as fellow gamers — and gaming itself, to which Warhammer is a gateway, has become increasingly “co-ed” (thank God).

Don’t Wargamers Grow Up to be Nerdy Loser Manchildren?

Interesting question. I’d have to ask my gaming friends, but right now they’re not online because they’re busy working as civil servants, managers in the city, social work directors, psychiatrists… most of them are married (or equivalent), some of them have children. Immature adult men nestle in most corners of our culture, and I don’t think Warhammer is particularly prone to this.

Xbox1

A decent army… the cost of a modern games console with a few games

But Aren’t Boys Better Running Around Doing Sport?

They do this too! However, tabletop gaming equips them for the things that sooner or later they’ll have to do in the real world while not running around.

OK But Wouldn’t Chess Be Better?

Again, it’s not either/or. However chess lacks the imaginative element and the community. In real life, strategy has to cope with chance, which chess doesn’t model. Finally, chess doesn’t make you build your army, juggling points and real money.

Ah Money. It’s SO Expensive!

My mates reckon you can build a decent army for £300, roughly $600. (HINT: You can do it for considerably less if you are a young gamer with older family friends who also game.) That’s the cost of a modern games console with a few games! You grow bored of video games and consoles go out of date, but the figures you paint at 13 will still do you good service at 23. As you get older, your army will evolve (which is how Kurtzhau ends up with cast-offs), but it’s still cheaper than playing golf.

Ultimately, underlying most of these objections is the assumption that, without Warhammer, teenage boys would do something else “more worthwhile” with their spare time.  However, unless you police them 24/7, including when they are at other people’s houses, that “something else” will be YouTube, video games (including Grand Theft Auto), channel hopping, and looking for… inappropriate material on the Internet.

And, of course, Warhammer is worthwhile.

What objections to Warhammer or gaming in general have you encountered? How did you reply? Extra points if you are a female tabletop gamer! (I’ve talked about teenage boys because that’s what I’m experiencing right now. However, Kurtzhau’s little sister “Morgenstern” is already collecting Pokemon cards, so I’m braced for another round of similar exchanges, this time with a dose of gender stereotyping thrown in.)


M Harold Page is the sword-wielding author of Swords vs Tanks (“Holy ****!” – Charles Stross) as well as four other traditionally-published novels. He has pledged to put the Heavy Metal back into whatever adventure genres are foolish enough to stumble across his path. To hear about his latest releases and dive over to his blog and click “Get Updates”.

8 Comments »

  1. As the mother of an 8-year-old who refused to go to a boy scout campout preparatory to attending a football game, because the dates conflicted with the beloved family trip to Balticon, I fully expect Warhammer to be part of my two sons’ upbringing. For all the reasons you identify, I’m in favor. Plus, he’s less likely to blow himself up playing Warhammer than pursuing his passion for chemistry (the upside of which is that now I know all my household smoke detectors are in good working order).

    Warhammer’s not among the RPGs my husband and I grew up playing, but the spouse still has the miniatures he painted for D&D at 13. I find them kind of charming. Growing up as a geeky boy into a geeky man does put one at risk of marrying a geeky woman. Not everyone would consider this a downside.

    We’re not quite far enough along for objections to Warhammer, specifically, to come our way. My kids are only 5 and 8. Enough of our relatives have urged us to channel the boys’ tendency to clobber each other by enrolling them in martial arts classes, I think the family might be downright relieved if the boys directed their interest in violence into moving figures around on a tabletop.

    Comment by Sarah Avery - December 1, 2015 11:45 pm

  2. Interesting argument and I agree in the most part. Only issue is where I stay with a 21/1 exchange rate to the £ it’s prohibitively expensive which leads to a kind of closed society of super geeks/rules lawyer types who tend to be somewhat arrogant. If it were cheaper I reckon it would indeed be more accessible.

    That said one gripe I have and it’s a just a perception so happy if someone sets me right here: Warhammer gets re booted way to often. I understand the business rationale but once again if you lash out on rules and army books and indeed specialist minis only to find that after a few games they become obsolete, it can be annoying. Once again it comes to coverage, if tons of people play it’s probably a non issue as finding a group playing same setup would be easier.

    Comment by Tiberius - December 2, 2015 1:33 am

  3. @Sarah

    Sounds awfully familiar. Kurtzhau is already making noises about Eastercon where 12+s can be free range.

    I think wargaming requires less planning and maturity than GMing a RPG, hence it’s popularity. However, and ADULT can GM quite young children using a lite system. Morgenstern found FATE quite intuitive when she was 7, and there are other even lighter systems.

    (I tend to download a one page dungeon and go from there.)

    Comment by M Harold Page - December 2, 2015 4:23 am

  4. @Tiberius

    I personally don’t particularly like Warhammer for the reasons you state. It’s the Windows of the gaming world – it’s the standard, but most people can see its flaws.

    I’m more drawn to the Firestorm series by Spartan Games, which has the advantage of being free to download – I think they make their money on the figures.

    Also, for anybody with kids who have old fashioned 20mm model soldiers, take a look at the FUBAR rules which are one-page and free.

    Comment by M Harold Page - December 2, 2015 4:25 am

  5. Will check it out Harold. Ah fond memories of building them 1/72 airfix “little soldier” kits. Had endless fun with them when I was a kid, although the wargaming we did usually revolved around your accuracy with a pingpong ball rather than your dice skills.

    Slightly OT here but my fave mini game is still ICE’s Silent Death. Hugely playable and not a rocket science system to learn.

    Comment by Tiberius - December 2, 2015 10:25 am

  6. Usual one as a ‘grown up’ gamer I hear is ‘but wargaming is for children’- to which I either respond with the XKCD line ‘We’re the adults now, we get to decide what that means’ or CS Lewis’ ‘Worrying about what does and does not make us seem mature is a hallmark of immaturity’.

    I concur with everything said here (red letter day!). Whilst it can be expensive, and there are cheaper and arguably better systems out there, 40K and WFB can be done reasonably cheaply (ebay is your friend) and I maintain that GW are still probably making the best SF models out there, though others are catching up. Dystopian Wars from Spartan is excellent.

    @Tiberius – whilst the update of systems does get aggravating, I’ve not had any particular models rendered completely obsolete and I think 40K’s ruleset is now reasonably set.

    Comment by timinthehat - December 7, 2015 12:28 pm

  7. I moved away from WHFB in the 90s, mainly due to the hassle of the rules, as one of my frequent opponents lost his entire army list when it moved to 4th edition (yes, he is still bitter).

    Since then I leaned toward skirmish games like Mordheim (dead now), Frostgrave (really feels like Mordheim, except currently humans only) and A Song of Blade and Heroes (open ended skirmish rules).

    The nice thing about skirmish rules is the low initial entry cost (12-15 guys), and you can always build new warbands later.

    Comment by JLB - December 8, 2015 1:58 pm

  8. @JLB

    I wrote a Frostgrave short for their recent anthology. I am itching to play the game, but Kurtzhau won’t touch Fantasy at the moment.

    Comment by M Harold Page - December 8, 2015 2:25 pm


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