Thursday, 21 August 2014

Retail Detail: What GW shops were like in the 1980s!

In the days of strange opening hours, one man stores and aggressive sales tactics, its easy to forget just how fantastic going into a GW store was back in the 1980s and very early 1990s. The walls of blisters, the stacks of big box games, the strange, random fantasy stuff that you have never seen or heard anything about before, roleplaying games, computer games, books, funky t-shirts, painted models (which you could actually SELL to the store) and loads of punters. I can recall it was actually difficult to get into some of the shops due the the ranks of shell-suit clad youths with centre parted haircuts that stood in your way. If you are in need of any more nostalgia, have a look at this post about Guy Carpenter's time in GW retail. Well worth a read! 

What we have to look at today are extracts from the 'Spotlight' articles White Dwarf ran in the 1980s and early 1990s. The premise was simple: to document that goings on in and around a particular store, here in the UK and in the US too. What follows is a quick look at the Nottingham and Fairfax stores. 

Nottingham's article has some really interesting little nuggets of history. Firstly, have a read through the gaming league information. Considering this is just one shop, there are enough players for all the major systems to have their own actual league, as well as named rising stars of the gaming scene mention in the article. This kind of culture around a store was still around when I returned to the hobby in 2004 and I can remember the gaming room in the Poole store very well. The internet has largely replaced the need to find fellow fans of games but a space to actually play in is still essential to this hobby. 

There is also mention here of 'The Citadel Miniatures Museum' where all the classic '80s miniatures would be displayed for viewing. Now, its hard to comment here about this. Is this an early attempt at the miniatures gallery at Warhammer World? Or something different? Truth be told though, the museum this article describes is indeed under construction as we speak and will be housed at the Wargames Foundry in the coming years. Exciting!

This second page contains some interesting stuff too. The first thing that strikes is the small number of actual GW stores. The Forthcoming Events just for this store put the current social calendar at GW to shame, with painting competitions (with prizes, judged by actual Studio staff), region heats for GD and the Marauder Blade, as well as modelling workshops with Tony Cottrell and an auction! Hang on a minute, that is a great idea for a future Oldhammer Day! An old school auction!

And lo-and-behold, Nottingham's Official Robin Hood and friend to Oldhammer, Tim Pollard makes a rather roguish (or should that be rakish?) appearance among the staff at the shop too! Can you spot him? His interview is well worth a read if you have missed it as is his collection of original artwork. I wonder if the number of staff is in anyway suggestive of how busy the shop actually was then, especially as the store had both a manager and an assistant manager!

Its much the same on the other side of the Atlantic, with gaming leagues aplenty and regular in-store events to help draw you into the hobby. Obviously, they didn't have the access to GW worthies as easily as the UK stores but they made a real effort to create a sense of community. Its a little known fact that Design Studio types, such as Jervis Johnson and John Blanche, actually did US tours at this time. No doubt flying over on Concord's business class and visiting each US store in turn. Andy Craig, Tim Prow and the other 'Eavy metal boys had to make do with smaller tours of the UK. 

Aside from the Leagues, there are loads of other fun sounding things going on. Special mention should be made of Megabowl and Deathbowl, two Bloodbowl variants that I can recall from the old days that are seldom mentioned today. Megabowl was created by putting two astrogranite (polystyrene) sets together for a four way mash up with four teams playing while Deathbowl included all of the traps from Dungeonbowl on the playing surface. The other in-store games exhibit more variation and imagination that the battle reports from the last issues of WD I bought. And, I really like the idea of 'The Pit', a kind of gladiatorial battle which would make a welcome competition for an Oldhammer Weekend wouldn't it? Hmmm... Some thought required there.

Another familiar face appears here from Games Workshop history, none other than Tim Olsen, who we last saw serving Ben Elton is this amusing video about the early days of miniature/RPG gaming and was an employee in the original shop in London. Its well worth viewing the other two parts as well, especially if Treasure Trap was your thing! 

And here I shall leave you. Though I have one thing left to say... If you thought that the days of playing Space Hulk, or Adeptus Mechanicus or WFB in front of walls of metal blister packs was over... You'd be wrong


  1. I think I miss most the energy every store seemed to have, and how they felt like more of an open community space, back when there were more different games available of course, and so a little more variety, even unpredictability in what might be going on when you turned up. Also, and it's more abstract, it seems there's more of a sense of the game worlds in a column of blister packs than on a shelf of boxes, because you can see not only the actual mini inside, but the mini nearly complete. The possible variation in the actual contents made it more tactile too, needing to rummage a bit to compare.

  2. After I get through reviewing the WHFB 3e rulebook on my website, The Word of Stelios, I might have start researching what exactly happened with GW over the years and how they started alienating their fanbase. The first (and last) time I visited a the nearby GW store, I wasn't impressed at all. I was expecting more painted miniatures to be showcased, and more gaming tables (there were just two).

    Just lots of expensive product and no "soul" to the place. Maybe its different elsewhere, though.

  3. I've said this before but it bears repeating: I can't abide Ben Elton.

    1. Can you bear to repeat why? Is he one of the customers....or someone who led you astray? Sorry, lack frame of reference over here across the pond......but well shun him for you! ;)

  4. You know, I always loved it when they highlighted the stores. Its what drove me from "wouldn't it be cool" to I want to work there. The energy and pulse of a gaming store has long been with me, first as a neophyte seeing worlds opened before me, then as an employee in hs/college, then as a manager, then going to Baltimore, then going out west and gettingvinto a store again, to returning to the tundra and helping a friend with his store. Over 30 years now and i have seen a ton of them. Took a ten hour trip to Toronto just to get to a GW lead sale once. Was so mad they only had stores on east and west coast when i was younger. And so thrilled to visit them in Europe, first Germany and then England. From dingy holes in the wall, to ecclectic piles you never knew what youd find, to dingy comics stores that might have something, to train stores that carried enough to let you know they could get it, to full-on wargaming stores that made you drool and your allowance seem so paltry, their is a certain vibe, an essence to them. Conversations are the same, each store had one stereotype after another, and just the joy of even sitting in one and chatting while painting or playing, or just watching the owner/manager opening the new shipments (or being the one everyone is waiting on). So much that the newer Gw stores seem to lack. I got to work and play at Fairfax a little bit, but Id still love to go back and spend an afternoon at Nottingham back then. But I'm old....and happy :)