Warhammer and the Working Class

Discourse Miniatures

May 1, 2022

Truly, there is no community more eager for exploitation than that of the Warhammer community. Warhammer is a miniatures wargame, and it has grown in popularity over the last few years. No longer confined only to the dank basements of software engineers, now it lies in the basements of social media influencers too. And of course, anyone elbow deep in niche British subcultures has heard of it, but for those who haven’t, here’s a quick explanation.

Miniature wargames take place on a tabletop. A kitchen table will do, but often wargamers prefer larger tables for larger games. Players command armies of miniature figures that they have built and painted and do battle against one another to see who is the victor, determining success and failure by the roll of (often many) dice. Miniature wargaming is a close cousin of the popular Dungeons and Dragons, but where it differs is in scale. Where Dungeons & Dragons players roleplay as a single character, miniature wargamers command armies. And it can be big – sometimes battles will be waged across huge tables filled with hundreds of hand-painted miniatures!

And increasingly, as more Instagrammers, tweeters, and YouTubers have been covering beautifully painted miniatures engaged in epic battles, the size of the hobby has grown exponentially (or, the viewing audience has at least). It is a hobby that generates a unique experience because the joy to be found within doesn’t start with the game at the table. It begins with the building of an army out of plastic, metal, or resin and then painting that army to be customized to reflect a certain story or setting. This could be anything from flamboyant - but historically accurate - French army colored with bright blues and vibrant reds to something more fantastical such as a legion of the undead, with grim blacks and foreboding grime splattered upon them. The choice is yours.

This is the true essence of wargaming: it is ultimately a hobby about constructing narratives, with plenty of DIY craft and tabletop strategy thrown in.

Games Workshop’s Walled Garden

And it is occupied by a behemoth. Though there are hundreds of companies that sell miniature figures, craft tools, paints, and rulesets for play, none have succeeded to the extent that Games Workshop has with their most popular product: Warhammer 40,000 (often abbreviated to just 40k), a sci-fi wargame set in a grim future where disagreement can only be settled with war. It is distinctly British, with echoes of the 1980s British counterculture that also imbued 2000 AD: Judge Dredd.

In fact, Warhammer 40k is so popular that many wargamers have not only never played a different miniature wargame but are not even aware that other wargames exist! This state of ignorance is tacitly encouraged by Games Workshop themselves who conspicuously never refer to miniature wargaming in any of their marketing materials. Instead, they seek to synonymize the entire hobby with their own brand, referring to miniature wargaming as the ‘Warhammer’ hobby.