Games Workshop, Oldhammer, blister packs and the death of metal – without the rose tinted spectacles

There’s a few people (and not just those who consider themselves ‘Oldhammer’ purists) that think Games Workshop is a mono posed plastic shadow of it’s former multitudinous metal self.

Time and time again the cries go up when people of a certain age still interested in GW miniatures talk about today’s output from GW in comparison to the past.

“Metal miniatures are all I want to collect because I prefer the weight and feel of them.”

“I’m searching for a Tim Prow C666 Invisible Chaos Aardvark Man that Phil Lewis told me he photographed in 1985. The original mould and initial castings all disappeared soon after, and when Phil’s photos came back from Boots they were all mysteriously overexposed. One day I will find it…”

“Citadel finecast figures have more casting flaws than a snapped up Aero chocolate bar. Never again, I’ll stick with metal.”

“I had 3 suitcases of metal in my Mother’s attic that I’m now finally stripping the Humbrol enamel off. I plan to paint them properly using only the first 2 Citadel paint sets I’ve bought off eBay. I’ve no need for new figures or paint.”

“£15 for 1 plastic Chaos hero?? I can remember buying 3 metal Chaos Warriors and still getting change from £2.”

And on and on the talk goes…

I can understand and empathise with all this. That’s perfectly fine. There’s something else I hear however that really does bother me.

“back in the 1980s Warhammer Fantasy Battle units consisted of individual models without the blocks of uniform dull figures you see today. The individuality of units was the essential essence of Warhammer 1st/2nd/3rd edition. Today’s Warhammer regiments are characterless, samey and positively vanilla in comparison…”

This is a false dichotomy. Most of those voices decrying the lack of individuality attributed to the modern models seem to forget that the original units sold specifically for Warhammer – the Regiments of Renown boxed sets – consisted of 8 identical troopers with only 1 choice of either Leader, Champion, Standard Bearer or Musician in the box. It was a fair few years later that some of those original packs finally included the whole range of command figures but still contained the 8 identical troopers.

It didn’t improve much beyond that. Later boxed sets of regiments (such as Harboth’s Orc Archers or Prince Ulther’s Imperial Dwarfs) comprised of rank and file troopers that came from an identical standard model with small changes modelled in the armour, equipment, etc. This offered a little more individuality than the original mono posed Renown troopers but not a lot.

Of course the other option was to either mix other figures into those regiments or to build regiments entirely from the C ranges of Citadel Miniatures. And so we can talk about the Blister Pack…

The year is 1986. It’s April. America has just bombed Libya, GW have just released the Skaven, George Michael is at number 1 in the UK charts with ‘A Different Corner’ and we’re in a small Stockport shop called ‘Model Mania’ on a Saturday morning.

The 14 year old me is rocking Nike squash trainers, cheap jeans bought from the market, a Vega cagoule and the beginnings of a mullet. My bmx is parked outside, sensibly padlocked up of course – this is the 80s not the 50s after all.

The Sales assistant is only about 19yrs old but wears a checked shirt, brown tie, fetching green v-neck sweater with elbow patches, Farah trousers and sensible shoes. He looks very smart but I’m puzzled as to what his Father will be wearing today.

Me – “Good Morning to you again Sir! I’d like to purchase a unit of 30 archers this time please.”

Sales Assistant – “Oh…It’s you again. As you know we sell them in blister packs of 4 random figures”

Me – “Marvellous. Can you help me scour through all the packs? I don’t want to duplicate any archers or get more than 1 swordman with a bow that I’ll use as a champion. Remember I need 1 champion and 29 individual archers, the other figure in the pack armed with a halberd or spear will go in the Puma shoebox where all the other unneeded models I’ve bought in blister packs have gone.”

Sales Assistant – “Check the spinning rack thing with all the figures on yourself. They’re all we have.”

Me – “Ok. Clearly you’re more of a railway enthusiast then…”

The early mixed blister packs were a great marketing ploy to sell more figures, tempting you to buy more and start new units with the unwanted extras. Those 4 random dwarven crossbowers that came with the 20 dwarven axemen you actually wanted could surely be used as a new regiment if you bought a few more?

Today GW does what it’s always done since the release of Warhammer in 1982, supplying regiments to use in the game.

Yes, metal has gone except for a few ‘website only’ special items, notably 4 metal Chaos Warriors that in my opinion aren’t even in the top 5 of Jes Goodwin’s Chaos Warrior sculpts.
The advancement of plastic technology and the prohibitive cost of metal have been mooted as the main reasons behind it’s withdrawal as their primary material. This makes perfect sense to me.

Yes, blister packs have gone but how was that the best way to supply figures for a wargame anyway? They were a throwback to the days when fantasy miniature collectors changed from AD&D players buying individual figures for use on coffee tables with hex paper to a younger market spending pocket money on sets of figures for use in Warhammer 2nd edition. Because GW didn’t have enough of their own stores at this point to service demand these kids bought most of their gaming materials from other retailers wanting a slice of the 80s fantasy boom. These retailers expected higher levels of packaging production to put on their shelves than a set of fishing tackle trays used in the early GW stores to hold miniatures.

Blister packs weren’t really suited to anyone assembling regiments yet their use persisted until recently. The costs to both the customer AND Games Workshop for the manufacture, picking, packing, shipping and stacking of all those little packages must have been tremendous and inevitably unprofitable compared to putting plastic sprues in a cardboard box.

To me the advantage of modern units over the original metal figures, either blister packed or Renown Regiments is quite pronounced. There’s usually the chance to not only alter poses slightly, but also heads, weapons, etc. Not just with those that come in the box, but using alternative manufacturer’s bits too, adding much more interesting individuality.

This level of alteration is way higher than what is considered Oldhammer’s crowning glory of regiments specifically for Warhammer – the boxed sets (Ruglud’s Armoured Orcs etc) that appeared from about 1987 onwards.
Despite some pretty clunky sculpting these sets are considered by some to be part of the ‘Golden Age of Warhammer’, yet modern regiments that allow much more variation and show far superior sculpting skills evoke at best apathy or at worst snobbish derision from certain quarters. How so?

I don’t understand the mind set of gamers or painters that look on Games Workshop today as some sort of Evil Empire intent on spoiling everyone’s fun and scamming money. Yes, all the humour left Warhammer years ago and was replaced by skulls. And then those skulls were replaced by skulls too.
Let’s be honest though, the 1980’s GW humour was puerile schoolboy dross heavily reliant on puns based on the culture and celebrities of the time. Ian McGregor and Milk Marketing Board references have hardly stood the comedic test of time.
Things took a real turn for the worse though in the early 1990s. If you continue with the puerile humour, drop the puns, blend it with prose seemingly crafted by BiL’s Goobidegook you create a whole new level of crass used continuously throughout White Dwarf until I for one couldn’t take anymore and gave up buying it forever in May 1994. I shall attempt a paraphrase of White Dwarf’s early 1990’s vernacular…

‘Da Orc Boyz are gonna poke doze stoopid Gobboes wiv dere spiky fings’.

Oh how we laughed. Pass me another skull please – just as long as it wasn’t sculpted in this period by Gary Morley.

And yes, there’s no reason now to buy another edition of the Warhammer rules when you’re perfectly happy with the version you own, or you have no desire to play a game in a GW store, or you’ve moved on to another ruleset completely. £45 for the latest rulebook and £30 an army book on top is a pretty expensive outlay for sure. If you don’t have a copy of Warhammer and fancy giving ‘Oldhammer’ a go try picking up a second hand copy of Warhammer 3rd Edition, Stillman’s Armies book and the two Realm of Chaos volumes that you’ll need on eBay. I doubt you’ll see much change from £150.

Yes, there’s no need to buy their current paint range if you have the old one. If you don’t then Vallejo’s Model Color/Game Color, Cote d’arms and Army Painter ranges have many of the same colours at lower prices/larger pots. None of these are available locally to me to buy off the shelf. GW paint is, which I happily use because it’s a good product.

The fact is Games Workshop still make some great figures usable as units in most fantasy games. True, not all ranges are good of course, for instance they haven’t produced a decent Ogre since Jes Goodwin’s C23 batch back in 1985, but that’s always been the nature of miniature figurine/toy soldier sculpting, you can’t win em’ all.

Just how long they’ll continue to support the fantasy game in it’s current incarnation is also under speculation, fuelled by the ‘End of Times’ total annihilation of the ‘good guys’. However for now at least the entire range of modern Warhammer armies appears to still be in full production.

Anyway, compare the following with the awful mishmash of Chaos Warriors they produced from the 80s & early 90s like Panedal, Kaleb Daark and pretty much the whole set of 1991 Chaos Warriors.

These modern models look like the black hearted murder machines that Chaos Warriors should be. They’re much more befitting of the whole Chaos Pantheon they represent than some of the past cartoony efforts.



5 thoughts on “Games Workshop, Oldhammer, blister packs and the death of metal – without the rose tinted spectacles

  1. Azazel

    Such an interesting post!

    I agree in part and disagree as well with other elements. I do agree that there is an element of the “Oldhammer” community that is almost a caricature of itself. On the other hand, some of the older metal figures had a lot more character and provided us with a lot more versatility.

    Sometimes the character of the old models is at least 50% nostalgia for the days of our lost youth (and sometimes more than 50%) so I think a straight head is required as well – and let’s face it, sometimes older models are indeed better – the ogres you mention for starters! I do still love my old metal RT-era Marines despite the fact that the newer plastics are far better and more adaptable sculpts. Indeed, I think it’s possible to think highly of old and new both – often for different reasons.

    Then again, I’m not exactly a “purist”. 😉


    1. Somet Post author

      You’re absolutely right that nostalgia plays a big part of people’s love of Citadel miniatures from the 80s. I can understand that and indeed I still enjoy what many people describe as the ‘Oldhammer scene’.
      Like you I’m not a purist though. There’s hundreds of miniatures from the years 1984-1991 that I would suggest are classics but that doesn’t mean today’s plastic ranges (not just the GW range, but other manufacturers too) don’t have loads to offer both the gamer and collector. To ignore that in preference of older lead miniatures is of course a personal choice but when people try and suggest they do this purely because modern plastics lack character or versatility is unfair. Today’s plastics especially when kit bashed can produce amazing results full of individuality and character. As you say it makes more sense to enjoy the best of both worlds!



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