Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Little Wars

In a culture dominated by virtual diversions and mass marketing, Warhammer has acquired an ardent following by being tactile and mysterious, using no advertising at all. Games Workshop, the British company that makes it, has licensed two video-game versions, but it is usually played with three-dimensional figures by opponents who face each other across a real-life table.

The armies consist of tiny metal and plastic models, measured in millimeters. The soldiers, often nasty-looking creatures operating arsenals of weapons, have gross or sanguinary names, like Snotlings, Tyranids and Chaos, but they are assembled by their generals with glue and then painted with delicate brushes, often with obsessive precision.

Warhammer begins with a fairly simple set of rules: dice are thrown, imaginary shots are fired, soldiers are moved. But the game quickly becomes complex and arcane as different armies are assigned special rules that modify the basic principles of battle. There are thousands of figures and dozens of armies, each with its own lore, abilities and point values, explained in a series of 64-page manuals called codexes and army books, which include tips on painting and modeling techniques. ...

Like the Space Center, Warhammer is something of a throwback, combining a futuristic vision with nostalgia. It updates the toy soldiering made popular a century ago by H. G. Wells in "Little Wars" and Lord Baden-Powell, the founder of the Boy Scouts.
Toys for boys.

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