Alas, poor WizKids Games

On November 10, 2008 the gaming company WizKids Games was shut down. Topps Company, which took over WizKids in 2002, announced that WizKids "will immediately cease operations and discontinue its product lines."

WizKids Games burst onto the gaming scene in 2000 with their first game, Mage Knight Rebellion. This game was a miniatures game, set in a sword-and-sorcery world (though with guns), where people costructed armies of figures from different factions. The figures were plastic (making them cheaper than many other miniature games out there) and pre-painted (which was great for folks like me who couldn't paint well on tiny figures), but what set them apart were the simple-but-brilliant bases.

Every figure's base had all the statistics for that figure -- speed, attack value, defensive value, damage, and if they had a ranged attack or could fly -- shown in an L-shaped gap on the base. (Special abilities are shown by color and explained on a separate card.) As a figure takes damage, the player turns the base a number of clicks equal to damage, revealing the new stats for the figure. Instead of referring to rulebooks or sheets of paper for each unit, everything is shown on the figure itself!

WizKids used these bases for several other lines of games. Mechwarrior: Dark Age was based on Battletech and had three types of units: giant 'mechs, vehicles, and infantry. Marvel HeroClix and D.C. HeroClix games brought the heroes from the comics onto the game table; and since the figures could be mixed together, comic book fans could create wild mixes of units, go with themed teams, and finally determine if the Avengers could defeat the Justice League. HorrorClix had evil monsters and fleeing mortals competing.

Not all went perfectly for WizKids. Mage Knight Rebellion eventually underwent a reboot -- turning to Mage Knight 2.0 -- before being discontinued. While Mechwarrior: Dark Age and the HeroClix games did quite well, there were a number of failures: Crimson Skies (which was adapted for the XBox), Shadowrun Duels (whose large figures work very well as Shadowrun action figures, not so well for playing), Creepy Freaks (gross monsters for kids), and even MLB SportsClix. They tried a few non-miniature games as well, including the board game Tsuro and a collectable card game based on the new Battlestar Galactica .

I lost interest in most WizKids games a while back. A few years after their beginning WizKids adopted a policy of "planned obsolescence," making all figures tournament-illegal after two years. They claimed it was to level the playing field (literally) for new players, but I thought it was a way to force people to buy new figures every few years.

Still, it's sad to see WizKids Games fold. The company managed to make miniature gaming far more accessible and inexpensive, and having everything listed on the base simplified gaming enormously. Topps will "pursue strategic alternatives so that viable brands and properties... can continue without noticeable disruption" -- I'm sure HeroClix will continue; not so confident about MechWarrior and HorrorClix -- but this remains an ominous event for the gaming community in this troubled economy. While I did drop most of WizKids' games (I still play Tsuro, and the Dwarven Steam Behemoth is so beautiful I kept it), I enjoyed putting together teams and armies, I had lots of nice games against other players, and I enjoyed collecting their figures. WizKids Games, you will be missed.

James Lynch

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