Saturday 22 March 2014

Acceptable in the 80s: The First Warhammer Battle Reports

The publication of the Dwarf Mountaineer rules in White Dwarf 116 was, in my opinion, the last fresh rule release for Warhammer Fantasy Battle Third Edition. There were more articles to come, however these were all tasters for forthcoming publications (such as The Lost and the Damned) rather than something totally new to the game. 
There were other fantasy rules and scenarios after WD116, but much of this was related to Heroquest and its follow up, Advanced Heroquest rather than WFB3 itself. Apart from some background material, the Marauder Miniatures line and a few odds and sods (mostly scenery building or army painting articles) Third Edition was 'done' as a game. The future would very much be Rogue Trader, and the big box games.
However, during this time a new idea crept into White Dwarf. An idea that began with rather charitable beginnings but would later grow to be an ubiquitous part of WD and one that became much derided. I speak of the battle report!

Many of you will be surprised to find out that the battle report wasn't always part of White Dwarf's regular output, and indeed did not become a regular feature at all until well into the 1990s. As far as I can tell, the first recognisable battle report appeared in White Dwarf 107 and was actually a report of a fundraiser rather than a design choice made by Games Workshop. The Roundabout Youth Club organised a twenty-four hour game of WFB3 as part of ITV's Telethon (no, I don't remember them either!) and an overview to the action was written up by Robin (future GW employee and White Dwarf editor) Dews.

Looking back over the article again, what really surprises me about the very first battle report is how many of the key features of the future were in place. There are photographs of the action (well, grainy back and white jobs - it was the '80s!) and difficult to interpret maps of the battlefield. Actually, this is rather cruel an observation as with a little effort it is possible to work out most of the movements of the troops during the game on the map, especially with the addition of a key. The piece also begins with a little bit of narrative to get the battle going, and this story is returned to several times during the article. In later years, the narrative became my preferred part of the battle reports that I would read, but as GW and WD began to lose writers who could actually 'write' these became rather generic and dull, at least to me anyway. 

Reading through the article's introduction brings back a great deal of memories of my own gaming in the 1980s. The plaster covered polystyrene tiles being once such fond memory. Now these were really good value and are still available, see here for example. I think I may well do a few old school experiments with these in the summer months and try and create a Carik Mound of my own. Another things that strikes me is the willingness to just chuck everything on the table and just get on with it. No rules lawyers here. No armybooks or rare choices either, if the group wanted to field it, it went on the table. A quick look through the opposing forces reminds us all what fantasy battles looked like back then, with the 'goodies' a collection of knights, humans, dwarfs and halflings and the 'baddies' practically everything else, including an undead war mammoth!

Unlike some of the appalling Battle Reports in the last issues of WD that I read, this battle is told as a narrative. You can feel that conflict slowly build and read about some of the more titanic events that happened due to the lively style in which the report is written in. There were no 'my orcs moved 6" fowards and I rolled to see what affect my Staff of Bamwham would have on the... zzzzzzzzzzzz'. But perhaps the most telling detail of this 'first battle report' is presented to us in one of the final sentences: 'Thanks too, to GW for several copies of WFBIII and about 200 figures.'

Imagine that in these corporate times.

Ten issues later, another battle report was published in White Dwarf. Again, it wasn't an official 'studio' game but a retelling of a game played at Games Day '89. In those days there were no tournaments as we have today, for they had something even better - the Osprey World Warhammer Fantasy Battle Championships! 

Yes, there was a Warhammer World Champion!

It seems that this article was intended to be one of several write ups about the battles fought in this World Championships, though only this one seems to have seen the light of day. Its a far more professional effort by Peter Morrison, with a detailed look at the army compositions (and some of the rules behind them) as well as some excellent artwork that looks drawn specifically for the article. I find the army lists really interesting here, as we can see how veteran players were constructing their forces for the skaven and wood elves in the late 80s. Anyone considering building a similar force as part of the Oldhammer Community may well want to have a more detailed look at these. There are, alas, no photographs of the game, but there are plenty of characterful maps to help show what was going on. 

Like the previous battle report, there is an interesting nugget for us old schoolers residing in the last paragraph of this battle report. 'This battle was a credit to both players, who conducted themselves in a sportsmanlike manner and avoided the temptation of trying to find gimmick armies.'

It seems that the 'cheese' build or 'loop-hole' brigade existed in the glory days of the 1980s after all! 

A few months later, in White Dwarf 123 Peter Morrison returned with a final 'Third Edition' battle report. There is no mention of the games being held at the Derby Rooms here, so I cannot state whether this was a game carried out at the World Championships or just an 'in-house' game of some sort. The article follows a very similar pattern as the previous one, with troop choices, detailed army lists (useful this time for Chaos and Goblinoid players), tactics and a detailed look at the battle itself. Again, the artwork supporting the article is excellent, and by Gary Chalk, though if these pieces were commissioned for the article I do not know - they look rather Warhammer Armies to me. 

Before I depart I would like to ask you a question. What is your opinion of battle reports? Do you enjoy them? Did you enjoy these? Or are you like me, and find them rather insipid and dull. An in the age of social media and all the apps at our disposal, what are your thoughts about what the future of battle reports might be?

Do tell!



  1. Battle report 123 (if I remember correctly) was the final battle to determine the winner in one of the first Warhammer Fantasy Battle tournaments organised in the UK. It was semi-official, but for the life of me I can't remember what the tournament was called.

    I loved the sketch drawings in that particular report. For months afterwords, I tried to recreate the slightly top-down style of the illustrations in the corners and back pages or school jotters during idle moments in class.

  2. Those were the days!
    Great post, I'm going to have to go flick through a few old WDs now...

  3. Battle reports have always been dull for me. I like reading how people compose their forces, but reliving someone else's game holds no attraction for me!

  4. I used to love Battle Reports, not for the game results or tactics but more for the pictures of the game itself.

  5. some of the old battle reports were my favourite parts of the once great white dwarf, some of the bretonian one were very well written stories in there own right.

  6. There was a golden age of battle reports in the early 90's but then the format of White Dwarf changed and the reports became less interesting; it also became more apparent that the games were rigged in favour of whichever army had a new product out that month. Perhaps they were always rigged but they seemed to be legitimate in the earlier days.

  7. I like to read battle reports. The early ones were in my humble opinion more like telling a story rather then the last ones which seem only to kick the sale of new models going.
    When I play it is more for developing a story and a background, so all my regiments, heroes etc. have names. I can understand that GW wants to sell figures but I enjoy the articles about building scenery converting models and of course battles told in a more heroic style than a simple " I roll double six and killes the chaos knights".
    It sounds more interesting to write "Snoggi Grimtongue and his lads charge blind with rage into the Death Wardens and hacked them to bloody shreds bellowing their war cries".

  8. WD107 has a much more interesting, and perhaps significant, article from a strictly 'Realm of Chaos' perspective. There's a Renegades army list which in the style of 'Slaves to Darkness' (where even the RT lists look like they've come from 'Warhammer Armies') that doesn't particularly resemble any of the versions in 'Lost and the Damned'

  9. The Clash of Evil was the first battle report I read and I loved it at the time. I do think Kelvin's right that the early 90's reports were better but, for me, it's a nostalgic classic!

  10. i love the old battle reports . i used to play warhammer in the 80s and remember reading these ones in white dwarf at the time, i enjoyed them then very much , and liked reading them again all these years later