The Lost City of Ulfenkarn

Yesterday I managed to knock off work early – which is nothing short of a miracle at the moment I can tell you – and spent my hard-won free time assembling some of the models from the new Cursed City game. Let me say this first and foremost, they are downright gorgeous miniatures and will be a real pleasure to paint. However, having found myself enough time to catch up on world events I also discovered this week’s big news – that Cursed City has mysteriously vanished, as though into thin air.

Cursed City Skeletons

I must admit, I wasn’t the slightest bit surprised that the game sold out so quickly. This has been a trend with recent releases from Games Workshop, with supply being far outstripped by demand – particularly on these boxed sets. Knowing that I wanted a copy, and reasoning that I would treat myself and get it straight away rather than wait until whenever it came back into stock, I set an alarm to remind myself and was waiting, wallet in hand, as soon as it went up for pre-order. I did not for a second imagine however that once it had sold out it would be gone forever. Indeed Games Workshop were quite openly promoting the idea that this game would be around for a while. It seemed natural to expect that this successor to Blackstone Fortress would be available in the long term, and just like Blackstone Fortress would have plenty of expansions to enjoy in the months and years to come. To illustrate the point here are a few comments that were made by Games Workshops promotional team on social media over recent weeks (cropped to protect the privacy of those members of the public who were being replied to).

FB Comment 1FB Comment 2FB Comment 3

Based on that one could be forgiven for assuming that you could take your time before ordering, plan your budget and buy a copy when it suited you, rather than having to shell out mere seconds after discovering the (not insignificant) cost of the damn thing. However the message from Games Workshop has now changed radically. As far as I’m aware the only official statement from GW has been this “tweet” posted on Twitter, which makes it clear that the game is now gone and gone forever…

Twitter Comment

Nor have they tried to make this announcement obvious. Instead it’s hidden away in a reply to a comment on a different topic, on a social media platform that many people don’t use (I know precisely zero people with a Twitter account) where it would be remarkably easy for it to go overlooked. Not that it has of course, judging by all the chatter that’s been generated online and the number of angry comments that appeared in that Twitter thread alone.

“But the plans were on display…”
“On display? I eventually had to go down to the cellar to find them.”
“That’s the display department.”
“With a flashlight.”
“Ah, well, the lights had probably gone.”
“So had the stairs.”
“But look, you found the notice, didn’t you?”
“Yes,” said Arthur, “yes I did. It was on display in the bottom of a locked filing cabinet stuck in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door saying ‘Beware of the Leopard.”

Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

I Hear You're Racist Now

So what happened? Frankly your guess is as good as mine, although lots of people are guessing and very few of them are giving GW the benefit of the doubt. They say there’s no such thing as bad publicity but right now it looks a lot like GW just spent the last couple of months drumming up interest, generating hype and focussing the attention of their fanbase on what then proved to be a spectacular own goal. It’s similar to the situation that arose with Indomitus last summer – with a few key differences. For one thing Indomitus was the “launch box” for the latest edition of Warhammer 40k – and that remains GW’s goose that lays the golden eggs, the behemoth that – regardless of what you think of it – dwarfs everything else in the miniature’s hobby without breaking a sweat. It was always going to be popular. Secondly GW made it very clear that Indomitus was going to be a limited release – and much as I disapprove of limited run releases at least they were upfront about it. Thirdly, when it sold out in precisely 3.5 seconds – reportedly making an absolute mint for GW in the process – they kept it on sale for a few weeks on a “made to order” basis. This time around none of that has happened.

Instead the game has vanished like a vampire caught in the rays of the morning sun, and GW would appear to be engaged in pretending it never happened. Scent of a Gamer reports that references to the game are even being removed from GW’s various websites and social media platforms. The past has never been altered. Oceania has always been at war with Eastasia. There never was a Cursed City and there’s nothing to see here…

Zombies

Based on what we, as outsiders, can see this appears to have been a last minute decision, made after the game launch was already well underway. Despite all the (completely understandable) ire that’s being flung in GW’s direction I don’t see any evidence that they set out to lie to their fanbase, although the above screenshots demonstrate that time has indeed made liars of them. We live in a world where politicians cry “Fake news” every time they encounter a story they dislike, NGO’s promote a platform of “no debate” rather than attempt to convince a sceptical public that their ideologies have merit, and campaigners will stubbornly repeat “That never happens” regardless of how much evidence is brought to them that the thing they want to assure us never happens actually happens all the bloody time. Is it any wonder that businesses too prefer to obfuscate their way out of trouble? Equally is it any surprise that a public which trawls through a slurry pit of conflicting lies and counter-lies on the daily news might be feeling averse to bullshit? I, at least, will attempt to be honest with you and say I really don’t know and can’t guess at what happened. Perhaps some catastrophic breakage occurred which left the mould needed to cast the models beyond repair? Perhaps they strayed into someone else’s Intellectual Property and found themselves at risk of being sued – just a little bit ironic given their past behaviour – although I admit I can’t see what exactly that might be.

Witch Hunter

Regardless of what happened I managed to snag myself a copy so I can now sit here, looking over the rage and disappointment that GW have spun for themselves like the smug, self-satisfied bastard I am. As I’ve previously mentioned the models in this box are amazing and I’m looking forward to getting to work on them – although I acknowledge that this will no doubt rub salt in the wounds of those who missed out.

Anyway, I’m off to pat myself on the back for having managed to quote both George Orwell and Douglas Adams in this post, then cry in the shower whilst muttering “Must get clean, must get clean” (a normal side-effect to looking at Twitter and no cause for alarm) before getting back to painting my lovely, and apparently now very rare, miniatures. If you have a Sherlock Holmes style deerstalker, or a tinfoil hat for that matter, feel free to wear them and expound on your pet theories in the comment’s section below. It may well be that they are as close to the truth of what happened as we ever come – although I’d have loved to be a fly on GW’s office wall over the last few days…


37 responses to “The Lost City of Ulfenkarn

  • Alex

    Just as planned I’ll wager… I reckon they’ll do another run – just wait & see how fast that sells out!!

  • theimperfectmodeller

    The lesson I would take from thsi in the future would be to buy at least two in future with the aim of painting one and keeping the other as an investment. I bet anyone wishing to part with one would make a small fortune at some point. 🙂 £££

    • Wudugast

      Oh there’s always one! 😀 Scalpers mate, they’re already a thing – same idea as ticket touts at gigs, they snap these things up and then sell them on ebay for a much inflated price. They get a bad press (funnily enough) but they’re a symptom not a cause. And I must admit I’ve bought the odd model thinking “that’ll be worth something someday” so I’m no innocent. This time around GW actually limited sales of this box to one per order to put a lid on these shenanigans.

      • theimperfectmodeller

        What can I say, I worked for a Bank. Business is business. 😉

      • Faust

        Yea, the stupid 2016/2017 Blood Bowl rollouts were dumb. I’m not sure what scalpers decide to target, but it is seemingly random and catches you off guard at the worst of time. The Lizardmen dice were a prime example. BB16 edition had been out for years and no more scalping issues, then *whammo!* all the Lizardmen team dice are GONE right away! I had planned on waiting a week or two to pick those up. Annoying. GW really needs to work on that business model. I don’t want to play the FOMO game, and if they keep doing that then they are going to continue to lose sales on my end.

      • Wudugast

        I’m purely speculating here but I would theorise that if the dice released alongside previous teams didn’t sell quickly enough to satisfy the moneymen they would insist that fewer dice were manufactured for later teams like the lizardmen. At the same time the scalpers would recognise that if someone has all the themed dice for all the teams apart from the lizardmen then they’d be willing to pay through the nose to complete their collection. Combine the two and throw in the increasing distrust which is impacting GW’s customers, who can now never be quite sure how long something will be available for and you have a recipe for things selling out very fast indeed. Indomitus selling out as fast as it did sent a bit of a panic through GW’s fan base and then Cursed City being billed as a permanent addition to the range only to be redesignated as a limited edition product after it had already sold out just made things worse.

        I’m of the same attitude as yourself though – if I want something then I want to look forward to being able to buy and enjoy it, rather than stressing over whether or not I’ll even be quick enough grab one, let alone being able to budget for it. Take the new “launch set” for AoS for example. Those orcs are amazing, and in the past I would either have bought a copy and split it with a mate who wanted the stormcasts, or picked up the orc half on ebay (for a reasonable price because there would be plenty of them available) or even talked myself into trying something new and getting some more stormcasts to add to my nascent collection of them. I’ll probably still do something like that but there’s no way I’m giving myself an ulcer trying to get the “launch set”, it’s just not worth the grief. They’ve announced that all the models will be available separately later so assuming that’s true I’ll just wait and pick them up then. There’s few things that can put me off faster than a company starts trying to use FOMO to get a sale out of me.

      • Faust

        In the ‘digital age’ of everything available all the time via digital means, the ‘FOMO’ marketing/production strategy seems really odd and antiquated. Granted, a good number of people did miss out on toilet paper not too long ago. But again, that just makes people really upset and why upset your fan base?At least they aren’t playing the ‘random stuff in boxes’ game yet, like Magic the Gathering, Heroclix, etc. But maybe that’s just around the corner! 😉

      • Wudugast

        Oh don’t give them ideas, that would be the absolute pits! Actually they did do that with the Space Marines heroes kits. I’ve never understood the appeal of the whole “blind buy” thing, what’s the aim exactly – to demonstrate that you’ve got so much money you can buy something without knowing what you’re getting? If you want to gamble away and have a flutter on the horses like a normal person! :-p

    • davekay

      I caught myself about to preorder two and decide that would be silly! I missed out on dozens of dollars!

      • Faust

        And if you had bought it, they would have had an overstock and you’d be stuck asking the people above you if they can really store your stuff now! 😉

  • Leif Eriksson

    I’m sure it’s got something to do with Brexit, as speculated by other people. Printing in China incurred a fine or import duty or something they hadn’t calculated for.

    • Wudugast

      Aye, I can see that – Brexit is certainly causing issues for a lot of businesses. Regardless of what you think of it politically there’s no denying it’s having an impact on companies – particularly in combination with covid. Mind you I’m surprised if it caught GW unawares given how much international import/export they do. Very worrying though, if the cost was significant enough for them to decide to drop a main line item like this after all the time and money that must have been sunk into it (and whatever expansions there may or may not have been). Hopefully this isn’t something that will go on to impact any of their other smaller lines (Necromunda, Blood Bowl, Adeptus Titanicus, Warcry – all the stuff I’m most excited about basically…).

  • Gavroche

    It’s still on “made to order” pre-order on plenty of third party webshops though…

    Brexit probably has something to do with the limited availability. I managed to order a copy via GW’s webshop (not a smooth process, clearly they were unprepared for the rush!) but delivery is getting delay after delay. I hope it will eventually arrive. (I live in the EU)

    • Wudugast

      Yeah, getting it through GW’s site was a bit of a headache wasn’t it – it seemed to crash about once every ten seconds and my heart was in my mouth that it was about to say “Sold Out” whilst I was still struggling through the checkout. Not a fun experience. Hope your copy reaches you eventually – I’m in the same boat but in the opposite direction, there’s a number of miniatures from EU based companies that I’d really like to get but I worry about being hit with customs costs, things getting stuck in transit etc etc. Crazy times…

      • Gavroche

        Avoiding customs charges is one of the reasons I ordered directly from GW, they promise you won’t incur any.

        Hope that’s true, if you add everything up (administrative costs, VAT often on top of the VAT you already paid abroad, and if it’s a relatively expensive item actual import duties) it can be quite high. I haven’t bought anything directly from the UK since Brexit, but a friend of mine who did ended up paying almost double for his order (not GW or gaming-related).

  • daggerandbrush

    I chime in and can say that I have very reliable insider information that this indeed a well planned promo strategy. Soon GW will reveal that they have thousands of copies left, stored in a complex deep beneath the earth. It is also were their enemies are kept and forced to design new shoulder pads for Space Marines. I also learned that this is connected to a 4d chess player named W. Apparently he controls the company since its inception, releasing small bits of instructions via White Dwarf. You have to read the third wors on the third line on every third page (commercials included). If you don’t believe me, look on YouTube and Facebook, you will find the truth soon enough. (this is the Internet, so obviously just kidding).

    • Wudugast

      Yeah, I can believe all of that. Have you noticed that the trouble only started after they started installing 5G masts in Nottingham? Coincidence? I don’t think so! Wake up sheeple!

  • davekay

    It’s been strange for sure, and the communications void from GW is in contrast to more recent events, such as Indomitus. I hope they make some kind of official statement about this – where people can see it.

    • Wudugast

      Yeah, they’ve been better with communications in recent years but the total radio silence on this one is a bit weird to say the least, and it’s only driving speculation. It’s also leaving people with the strong impression that GW have been dishonest with them. Missing out sucks but we’re all grownups, we can handle that – but missing out because the company lied is making people justifiably angry. Plus, if they just told us what happened people would probably have forgotten about it by next week but instead human nature is working again them here – people love a mystery!

  • Mikko

    Really weird, this one! Doesn’t seem like usual GW strategy, nor clever drumming up of interest.

    • Wudugast

      Exactly. It seems like a clever (even Machiavellian) way to drum up interest but in what – there’s nothing there to sell. Now if they do what they did with Space Hulk all those years ago and find a few crates that had been mysteriously overlooked in their warehouse in the week before Christmas…

  • Kuribo

    Its pretty crazy, innit? I completely agree that this is a PR nightmare they have created. I hope that those who get the game really enjoy it and the hunt proves worth it. The last speculation I heard (before I left the Cursed City FB group as I figure the negativity there would be pretty constant for a while and I’m not planning on getting the game after all so I have no business staying in there) is that GW has a production problem and so they temporarily cancelling it and will re-launch it again later. That seems like a plausible reason for canceling it but if they knew they had a problem with meeting demand, they surely could have handled that more effectively than this you would have to think!

    I do wonder if some people who were hyped for Cursed City now won’t bother getting it at all. I was hyped and was absolutely convinced I would get it but I’ve heard a lot of the criticisms for previous Warhammer Quest games and I started to think maybe it wasn’t right for me and I talked myself out of it. Other people really wanted it, couldn’t get it, and now they might be so mad, they don’t even want to bother with it which is understandable. It will be hard to get as excited in six months as we were before. Critics will pick apart the game and help people know just how good it is or isn’t too… It will be very interesting to see what happens from here. Regardless of all of that, I hope you enjoy your copy and I know I will certainly look forward to you painting it all up! 🙂

    • Leif Eriksson

      Yeah, I’m in that camp. I just can’t be bothered hunting it down and maybe paying scalpers extra for it. I’ll just buy something else instead, Aliens: Another glorious day in the corps is a good game I hear.

      • Wudugast

        Aye, I think if I didn’t have it there’s no way I’d be paying scalper prices for it now. It looks like a good game but the amount GW was asking for it was pushing their luck to begin with I thought – if they’d charged twice as much for it as they did there’s no way I would have given it a second look – so why would I pay some cheeky chappie on ebay that much? For me it’s all about the miniatures but if I was really keen to just play the game, rather than paint the models, I might try to track down a copy of the tiles and rules separately, then proxie/kitbash all the models – that looks very doable. Otherwise like you say there’s plenty of other games and other miniatures out there. 🙂

    • Wudugast

      I can only imagine what a Cursed City facebook group would be like at the moment. I’ve seen a lot of really impressive, creative and inspirational stuff getting shared in facebook groups so I’m not doing them down but they do seem to tend towards negativity and hostility – I think if I’d joined one I’d be out of there toot-sweet too. I reckon they might be onto something though, I wouldn’t be surprised if the game reappears later, especially given the amount of money they must have invested in it and the fact that it was clearly a last minute change of plans. They do seem to be having all kinds of issues at the moment, there was an email saying that they might be very slow getting products sent out this month and now they’ve paused everything for at least a fortnight. Not that the latter is a bad thing, when I got into the hobby we had releases once a month – the way it’s been lately it’s been hard to keep up with the things I’m interested in let alone everything else. Anyway, despite their PR team being in full-on “everything is fine and going exactly as we planned” I do suspect something is going on in the background, but despite all the theories (both wild and plausible) I doubt we’ll ever know. I do hope that if they do bring it back they’re able to shake off the bad PR that’s surrounding it at the moment although I suspect that might be a curse (boom boom) that continues to haunt it for a while.

      Anyway, I can appreciate why you’ve decided it isn’t for you – I do that quite a lot to be honest. I keep a note of everything that’s coming up that I know I’m interested in (as a way of planning my purchases, doing a bit of budgeting and not letting the “to paint” pile run away with itself) and whenever they do a preview about 90% of the new models go on the list. Do I buy even a fraction of them? Of course I don’t – but the new stuff is always the coolest stuff and looking costs nothing. 🙂 I feel pretty confident that I’ll enjoy this one though – the models are gorgeous and that’s where I’ll get my fun is painting them. As for gaming with them, well that’s a secondary consideration at best for me but I know we enjoyed Blackstone Fortress a lot so I reckon it’s a safe bet that we’ll enjoy these – and if not I can always find a home for them in a Warcry warband or two.

      • Kuribo

        I completely agree with everything you said about this all damaging their reputation. It seems like they need to slow down and be a little more thoughtful about how they’re releasing products to make sure they aren’t burning bridges along the way. That will surely make them the most money over an extended period of time whereas other decisions they’re making seem to be geared towards making as much right now as possible but less later on as people get burned by those products. That’s just my feeling though!

        I think the more Warhammer games you play, the more value you’ll get from Cursed City. Since I would just be playing the board game, I fear that I’d play it 4-5 times and be done with it. That isn’t worth the time I’d spend painting all of the minis so that is a big reason why I’m steering clear. I think you’ll get plenty of use no matter what, especially considering you enjoyed Blackstone Fortress 🙂

  • Jenn

    Something clearly went wrong somewhere along the line.
    I, like you, however am in smug mode and throughly enjoying my copy.
    Might even indulge myself in a manic, evil laugh later today when I think about it some more.

    • Wudugast

      You should definitely indulge in a maniacal laugh or two, in fact I think I’ll join you. After all, it’s what Radukar would do so it’s the best way to get into the spirit of the thing!

      Looking forward to seeing what you do with your models:-)

  • Faust

    I had thought about getting it, but mainly because I haven’t played ‘Warhammer Quest’ games since the 90s. No real love for the minis per se. Then I off handedly heard about the PoopShow! Which makes me glad that I didn’t even really bother. I still might track down one of their previous Quest games to see how the mechanics are, but I’ve still got a fair amount to play as is.

    • Wudugast

      Well, I’ll hold up my hands and confess that I’m the worst person to ask about rules and game mechanics. If there’s any complexity to the rules whatsoever my brain just makes unpleasant grinding noises and I have to go an lie down. All I can say is we had a lot of fun playing Blackstone Fortress, and we’ll definitely play it again. Cursed City looked fairly similar but with some nice twists. I can definitely foresee us having a lot of fun playing it, especially on winter nights when its dark and cold outside and something spooky and atmospheric will be just the ticket. 🙂 I missed out on WHQ back in the 90s but my partner played them, she says she can’t really remember how closely they compare to the modern versions though.

      • Faust

        The early HQ games are interesting..the first establishes most of the mechanics, had a good variety of monsters. Then Advanced Heroquest with a more GW spin on the rules and the only monsters you got were Skaven! I think the rules sort of took off from there but also went a bit overboard. We actually took those rules and crafted our own game. When WHQ came out, we didn’t actually
        play it, but looked at it to see if there was anything we could maybe use in our own game (answer:
        Not really). There is (or was) a phone app version of the game that gives a good feel of it.

      • Wudugast

        Just discovered I actually have the computer game version of WHQ (got it free with White Dwarf a few months ago) – not sure how closely it compares to the tabletop version but now you’ve reminded me about it I’ll give it a shot at some point. 🙂

      • Faust

        I think they are pretty close to the older (original WHQ) tabletop version. The newer one uses a dice pool mechanic that is very different, from what I’ve read.

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