If you could pick one defining product from GW's history, what would it be? I suppose that would depend on what you would consider 'defining' to actually mean, for me at least, the word refers to that singular release which, for what ever reason, outshines all of the others. Many of you may well point me towards the Realm of Chaos books, particularly the first volume Slaves to Darkness, as a seminal release. And you may well be right, but for old Orlygg nothing outshines Warhammer Townscape.
I cannot really communicate how much joy this release has brought me over the years, though sitting here now I am struggling to determine exactly why I love the book (which it essentially is I suppose) as deeply as I do. Sure nostalgia plays a big, big part and I guess it is here that I must begin, as understanding why someone adores a particular football team, song or meal is laced with memory so I guess I better start sharing mine.
Like many of us, my first exposure to Townscape came via White Dwarf magazine. I lived too far away from Wonderworld (my local friendly gaming store in the 1980s) to browse items off the shelf or actually talk to another with a deeper knowledge of GW products than my own. Of course, in the pre-internet days mass communication of this nature was only possible through print media, and the monthly journey to the newsagent for my copy of White Dwarf was an adventure in itself.
The advert above was my first exposure to the book. And it captured my imagination in a way that still inspires me 27 year later. The look of those buildings, all different, impressively stacked row on row filled my mind with wonderous possibility. I could have my 'own' fantasy town? A town complete with temples, houses, halls and inns - all of which I could build myself with the help of my trusty prit-stick and PVA bottle?
Of course, it wasn't available yet, was it? Not that that mattered one iota as I didn't have a great deal of cash back then. Still, with Christmas around the corner I knew exactly what I wanted Father Christmas to bring me in my stocking so promptly informed Mum or Dad what I was after. While I waited for the year to turn, I scoured White Dwarf for further adverts or images that would relay to me what I was getting. I knew a fair bit about constructing card buildings as I had a long fascination with those cardboard castle kits you could pick up for a few quid at a National Trust site. And my own father had built cardstock buildings for his model railways too. Though a far smaller scale and rather bland and uninteresting, I had built signal boxes and station platforms before and new the basics about cutting, scouring and gluing (well, at least I thought I did).
Christmas game and I recognised the shape and size of a GW book under the tree almost straightaway. It was the first item that I opened and I can recall my mother being somewhat puzzled why I had shown little interest in unwrapping anything else. Of course, my parents were extremely reluctant to allow me to get my scissors, knives and glues out during Christmas morning and I had a frustrating wait until the afternoon before I could get started.
Being young, I chose the largest possible building to start with - the notoriously hard to build Watermill. Having cut out a few of the pieces I quickly gave up on the model due to its sheer complexity. Instead, I built the gatehouse model with the tunnel passing through it. I didn't realise at the time that many of the buildings in the set came from prior releases and this was why I recalled seeing a photograph of some skaven in front of it. It wasn't long until I have built about eight or nine of the buildings (mostly houses) and had a larger collection of them than painted figures! Those initial builds saw some serious gaming action and I can remember fighting battle after battle on my bedroom floor with the buildings dotted around.
What happened to those first builds? God only knows but they were pretty grottily built if truth be told. My scoring was often rushed and my gluing skills were not what I thought they were. Slapdash may be the right word when describing those early efforts but the buildings I had in my possession I loved so, so much and used to proudly take them around my friend's houses for adventures.
Later on in the '90s I built the remaining buildings. It was during one long summer that I rediscovered the book in my cupboard and that sense of wonderous joy filled me again. That fantastic feeling of limitless possibility. Of course, my natural compulsion to 'make and do' was also a huge draw and I spent many happy afternoon sat out in the sun assembling the remaining buildings. My skills have moved on considerably in the previous years so these models were much better constructed - though I still hadn't learnt the importance of basing the buildings to make them stronger.
Those models travelled around with me for a few years until I stored them in my dad's attic. The place wasn't particularly dry and the old card models went damp and mouldy. Dad chucked them out for being a health hazard. I wasn't that fussed at the time.
Throughout the rest of the '90s the interest was always there at a low level. If I saw anything remotely GW like I would snap it up from car boot sales or charity shops but booze and girls now occupied my waking hours and old metal men and their support products were of little interest. After I was married and found myself in possession of more cash and my own home, eBay called to me repeatedly in search of Townscape. I wanted to feel that excitement again - even if the book itself just sat on my shelf. But tracking down a complete copy of Townscape was much, much harder than I expected, even in the pre-Oldhammer days when very few people actually wanted old GW stuff.
From time to time, half complete sets would come up for sale and after about 18 months of searching I managed to piece together the book once again - this being my 'never to cut up' edition. I am happy to say that it safe with me here as I type. I love flicking through the book and spotting all of the little GW in-jokes on the signage and posters, stuff that went way over my head back in the day. I am also lucky enough to have a three-quarters complete version as well, and it its from this copy that my card stock buildings that you see in the background of my miniature shots come from.
Despite my love of these card buildings, I had only actually built three of them to date; the yellow faced house you can see in the photograph above, the watchtower and the rough inn from McDeath. This all changed yesterday when I had the entire morning and afternoon to myself. Wife and kids had taken a trip into London and this left me with plenty of time to spare. I have been suffering a great deal over the last year or so with what I thought was a hernia, and the associated pain and discomfort made it difficult to sit and work for any great length of time. The complete rest I had over the Christmas break meant that I was feeling pretty good and was looking forwards to spending a rare bit of hobby time at my bureau. Of course, the lure of Townscape over such an event was impossible to resist and as I am resurrecting my McDeath project, I decide to build the remaining models required.
The stone toll house and the infamous windmill.
I ended up building a little more than that. Both the buildings I needed were spread over two pages so I decided to build everything else printed on to the card as well so I ended up with a couple of tents, a doghouse and the outside lavatory.
And here they all are based on thin card taken from the back of a pad of paper. They are not quite finished yet either, the white score lines are quite obvious once the buildings are assembled and I find them quite unseemly. Using a little watered down black paint, it is easy to paint over these and give the models a little more depth that helps finish them off. Now you may well be wondering why I keep calling the windmill model infamous - well if you ever built this thing back in the day you will no doubt recall that it was forever falling over. The sails made the construction quite top heavy. I used a lump of old metal model to add a little weight to the base and this has really helped make the mill more stable.
As the McDeath scenarios require this building to double as the malthouse (to do this, you remove the sails) I didn't want to attach them permanently. I used a small piece of balsa wood and a drawing pin to create a detachable sail. Both the wood and the pin will be painted black at a later date.
I still have plenty more card buildings to put together but I shall save them for another day. Sitting surrounded with all the cut of strips of card, my ruler and knife with the sweet smell of copydex in my nostrils was fantastic and left me feeling suitably energised about what my next hobby project would be. As I put away both of my Townscape copies I started thinking if it is 'normal' to love a set of card buildings quite so much.
Was there more than pure nostalgia at play?
Looking over the book with fresh eyes what really appeals to me now is the variety of the building types. There are loads of simple dwellings in which the common man of the Warhammer world would have dwelt. Some are ramshackle, while others are far larger and more opulent. But they all seem real and are not overpowered with skills, astronomical symbolism or burning braziers. Reality is, for me at least, essential to any successful fantasy setting. If you cannot believe in it, if it doesn't make sense then how can the fantastic elements work? Normality is essential for the incredible to appear incredible!
I guess the range and simplicity of the models is a big draw.
The artwork also rings a chord in me and the look of the models seems to compliment the painted Citadel miniatures in my collection. They make the perfect backdrop to you latest work. Despite not being overdesigned, there are lots of humourous details hidden away on the cardstock buildings, my favourite being the Slann in Space pub sign and the wanted Perry brothers posters.
I suppose to answer my question, it is normal to love Warhammer Townscape so much because it is a fantastic product. Even thirty years later, if you can find a copy in reasonable condition you could make an entire town's worth of models. And that is a lot of models for any wargaming table. With a little work, you can add additional tiles, weeds, moss or even drain pipes if you were so inclined.
Warhammer Townscape is old school Warhammer at its very best and deserves to be in the collection of any serious enthusiast.
I am so glad that it is in mine and I love it!