Dreadfleet doesn’t get enough credit, mainly because it was released at the lowest point in GW’s history. 2011 was a time when GW was pushing prices up, it was doing everything it could to stop online retailers from selling at a discount and withholding as much information as it could to stop internet leaks. Dreadfleet released to no fanfare, no release hype, no previews, it was just there on store shelves one day and Games Workshop gave a shocked Pikachu face when no one bought it.
Behind the disappointing company policies lay a game of depth and charm that stood out amongst the corporate banality. Each ship was fantastically detailed and thematic and the scenarios were innovative and enjoyable. The rules set was simple and offered randomness with many instances of small variance. In a world where a one on a D6 meant a quarter of an army’s points were just obliterated on turn one to a single cannonball, the systems of Dreadfleet felt exciting without feeling as swingy as other games at the time.
4. Epic 40,000
Andy Chambers and Jervis Johnson called this the best rules they’ve ever created. The game was another example of a fantastic system that just failed to take off. In the 90s 40k was still a very measured and controlled tabletop experience, unlike today where GW tries to push multi hundred dollar kits the size of your forearm into games where so many models are taken you can barely fit them onto the tabletop. To get a truly epic scale in the 40K universe you needed a game like Epic 40,000. It expanded the universe to include many of the titans, flyers and super heavies we know now today. The models were great and the game allowed scenarios that could previously only exists in your imagination. Future releases failed to capture the streamlined simplicity and have all failed because of it.
3. Warhammer 40,000
I had a tough time with this. I honestly can’t tell you what I think the best edition is. Sadly, I feel like most of the Charm happened during 2nd edition, but this was when rules were so obtuse that armor penetration stats were in ridiculous formats like “D6 + 2D12 +D4 +8”. Third edition streamlined rules away from early 90s absurdity and might have had the best of both worlds, but since then 40K has been somewhat stale. The 6th and 7th editions were widely regarded as being awful with the former lasting less than 2 years. Any attempt at giving modern factions unique flavor feels constrained by the mandate that “Space Marines have to always do it better”. All this aside, you can’t deny that this is GWs most successfully product. With GW seeming to be in the middle of a transition towards respectable policies, I’m keeping an eye on 40K with the hope to one day return when they stop trying to shove Imperium factions down my throat.
This is the greatest campaign system GW has ever made. Mad Max with Orks may sound amazing but even that line can’t begin to approach the games genius. Orks have always been some of the most characterful models in any Warhammer range and they can hold their own in a game centered entirely around them. A modest 100-point army size streamlines list building but also left enough depth that I was constantly creating warbands in my head as I fell asleep. The campaign system offered some of the most imaginative progression we’ve ever seen. Injuries and skills had so much flavor that a gaming group really got to know the legendary individuals of a person’s squad. Gorkamorka created an epic story that hasn’t been matched by Modheim or Necromunda.
1. Warhammer Fantasy
This is really where it all started, the system that predates anything else on this list. Even though the world was torn apart, the core of Warhammer Fantasy’s spirit still comes through in Age of Sigmar. After half a decade we’re starting to see a gaming system that is surpassing the later Warhammer Fantasy editions that precipitated its collapse. Like 40k, Fantasy felt like it had most of its charm in the 90s. 5th edition had the most flavor but some of the most obtuse rules. 6th edition gutted much of the rule bloat but also a lot of the flavor of its armies. Warhammer could have had its golden years in 7th edition with the closest it every came to an elegant ruleset, but the great balance massacre of 2008 saw Vampire Counts, Deamons and Dark elves creating one of the least balanced systems in and GW game. But these are bumps that are expected in a game that’s one on for as long as it has. Through all its ups and downs Fantasy was the game I was drawn to the most. Its lore has influenced countless people and should be considered on par with Lord of the Rings and Warcraft as the great fantasy influencers of the 20th century. Nothing in tabletop gaming has been able to match the feel of rows of troops, majestic monsters, and spectacular magic in the way Warhammer Fantasy has.