Saturday, 20 February 2016

Give us your money!

When I were but a young lad this was nowt but fields and we lived in a cardboard box in middle of road! Maybe not. But it was a long time a go. The above advert or a very similar one appeared in a Dragon magazine in the late 80's. At the time my mum would take me and my brother shopping at the  big Asda in Edinburgh. I was of the age that she could trust me (a bit) and I managed to convince her that I could just stand and read the Magazines while she was off doing the shopping bit. Dragon was monthly and was mostly dedicated to D&D so I had ample opportunity to read through the magazine on our fortnightly visits. I witnessed all kinds of gaming weirdness in that magazine, from being introduced to TMNT a couple of years before they appeared on TV to Superhero RPG's and all manner of weird adds for bizarre companies and shops in the Uk that might as well as have been on Mars for a young boy stuck in central belt Scotland. The above advert made an impression though. The fantasy regiments box was my first war-games purchase. Don't get me wrong, I'd inherited some figures from a cousin and had started to play RPG's at school but it was't until I saw this ad and started to flick through White Dwarf, when it appeared on the shelves near Dragon, that I got sucked in to Citadel land.

And do you know what I think made that happen? 

The adverts. 

During the late 80's the guys at citadel moved on from black and white sketches of their figures

and from the black and white photography

and started to produce full colour, page sized adverts for each new range. These eye catching and easily recognisable adverts were often one of the highlights of a new edition of White Dwarf. Each page contained examples of the new models painted by one of the studio crew and displayed in neat little rows, each with their own name and uniquely styled title at the top.

Each page was framed with a coloured background and some kind of decorative border (often ripped parchment for the fantasy releases) and the Graphic Designer often went to town producing a spiffing logo that years later are still burned into our collective conciousnesses. I miss these logo's they are so evocative of the period, playful and bright. 

Occasionally one page would be split between two ranges each with their own title and these would somehow feel a little less special as if they weren't worthy of full page each.

Spreads like the page below had me coming back to them again and again as I peered at the paint work and worked out how long I'd have to save my pennies before I could afford enough of the figures to make up a regiment or how I could make my limited collection of paints stretch to replicating the studio paint jobs.

Occasionally the adverts would contain more than just the figures. Sometimes you'd get a piece of writing that in a few short lines, would paint a verbal picture of the world in which the mighty fighting figures would find themselves. In addition you may even be given stats that could be used in a game!

You have to give the company their due. As a piece of advertising what more could you want? A look at some brand new deadly warrior that hits all the 'Cooooool!!' buttons in your tiny teenage mind, a bit of fluff that made your itchy dice finger desperate to re-enact and the all important information that you needed to use them in one of you and your mates games! And look mum, they are only 39p each! (or 50p or whatever 65p for a chaos warrior. Those guys are expensive!)

Even war machines got the full colour treatment; the actual implement of doom only taking up a third of the page with the fluff info and big, bright, bold logo taking up the rest.

The adverts for various releases round about the Realm of Chaos release have a special place in  my heart. The set of thugs below for instance are a great example. The 24 thugs would make a great regiment and you ponder about the backstory behind each individual. Why is he green? Does he need a club if he has a claw? Is it a hook, is it hand, is he tapping someone on the shoulder? Is his beard mutated? Thing is, I hardly see these figures appearing on eBay. Finding them to complete this page of figures would be an ordeal! If only i'd spent my 15 quid more wisely as a teen.

These adverts were the main reason, at the time, for having in house painters. A lot of people hark back to 'Eavy Metal as their great memory of painting in White Dwarf but for me it was all about these pages of multicoloured brilliance. This was truly what a warhammer painter was aiming at achieving, not Blanchelike conversion madness but a quality paint job that makes the figures ping off the page. An example of the in house teams art is the Harlequins who were supposedly painted by one of the team over a single weekend!

The importance of these pages still linger on today. Many collectors base their hoarding on completing a page of figures. Filling in gaps in their collection based on the figures featured in one of the adverts.

I can imagine the satisfaction of finally having all the figures in your hand after all these years. From dreaming of owning the very figures on the page to actually having them in your hand must be a surreal feeling. When you reflect on this then you can also begin to understand the wish to stick to the 'Official' colour scheme. Your mind won't let you imagine any other colour scheme for a figure you've lusted after for decades.

The photography and presentation improved over the years. The Marines and Orks are crowded onto the page, the marine logo is almost illegible and the black background is playing havoc with the images of the figures.

On this one however the figures are pictured front on with far more flattering writing are given enough space to breath on the page. The Logo introduces the figures but doesn't interfere. The light background and makes the figures brighter and the quality of the image is far less grainy. Problem is there is already a hint at the future. What have they forgotten on this page?
The beginning of the end.

Eventually the painting in white dwarf was confined to 'eavy Metal or battle reports and the showcase of individual paint jobs started to disappear. New releases were displayed as black and white photos in the back pages of the White Dwarf and these catalogue pages were a sad shadow of what we had been treated to for so many years. As I look back on it now it was the profusion of the black and white catalogue pages that started to turn me off buying White Dwarf. I remember being disgusted at being 'sold to', at spending my hard earned pocket money on glorified sales pamphlets, at the shear laziness of the approach that they had to the figures at the time.

But in fairness, that's what White Dwarf and Citadel and been doing all along. Selling me stuff. I just didn't realise it at the time. The quality of these adverts is proven by the very fact the 25-30 years later, these are still the very figures that we are lusting after. That for many of us, these figures and ranges will never be bettered. That this was a 'Golden Age' of fantasy wargaming.

And it was a Golden Age, not for the products themselves but for the way the were advertised to a million proto-nerds around the world. We saw amazing glimpses of the kinds of figures we wanted to own and paint jobs we wanted to reproduce and the images and the lust burned themselves into our memories to the point that we still get those same feelings now.

Dragon Magazine has a lot to answer for.

P.S. A lot of these figures are still around. Not just the bare metal ones or poor sad individuals lurking under several layers of Humbrol, but the actual figures that were painted by the citadel team and photographed for the adverts. Bryan Ansell has a lot of them at his house, otherwise known as the Headquarters of Wargames Foundry where Oldhammer Weekend/BOYL is held every year. If you can't make it there you could do worse than checking out Eldritch Epistles where our Hero Steve is given access to Bryan's collection to not only dig out unreleased gems but to take new photos of the classic figures that appear in all those glorious adverts.


  1. Spot on. These colour adverts from the magazines of the 80's left a huge impression upon me. It made me become a collector and a painter (alongside the gaming). Still true today..

  2. Those are brilliant ads. I seem to recall (and this comes from an interview James did on his Realm of Chaos blog with Darren Matthews) that DM painted the Harlequins. They are very well done considering they were all done over a weekend.

  3. You lived in a cardboard box? Luxury! We lived in a rolled up newspaper.

    Great article and some interesting points. Having regressed (progressed?) to oldhammer since recen fantasy event I can totally support some of the points you have made. My froends and I are Unwittingly returning to a point where the game felt like it was more than a money generator.

  4. IMHO it was all down hill not long after the "suggested for mature readers" label was dropped from their products.

  5. The fantasy regioments was my first purchase of any size too. You've played against some of the orcs.


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