The first thing that happens to you after getting into Warhammer is forming a pile of shame of unpainted miniatures. The second thing is an intense desire to visit the home of the wargame: Warhammer World. Not only is this the location of publisher Games Workshop’s head office, but a place for fans to gather in awe at all the Warhammer products you could ever imagine. It’s an attraction that anyone can visit for regular games if you’re local, or a one-off religious experience if you’re making the trip to Nottingham.
The home of the wargame had been on my list as somewhere to visit for a while now - so I was ecstatic when Realms of Ruin developer Frontier recently invited us up to see the Age of Sigmar video game and learn more about the world they were working in. (Disclaimer: Frontier provided entry and accommodation.) After the trip I was left with a huge appreciation for what they had on display, to the point I think I’d recommend it to even totally tabletop-averse friends and family. I loved Warhammer World - and I think maybe your nan will too.
The second you walk in, the whole place feels like wargaming Disneyland. The canteen that’s open for locals and visitors to get a lunch worthy of any dwarf has a great stone fireplace and hanging candle lights, while the gaming room that hosts tournaments, local league games and casual nights is an endless vista of tables towering with terrain. Just walking around is an experience. But it’s the museum that really makes it worth the trip. Whether you’re a diehard Space Marines fan with countless hours of 40k under your belt or know Warhammer better as a vague concept - a mysterious enigma that involves small toys and lots of dice - you’ll find yourself taken in by the display. It’s genuinely a curated exhibit with a team of staff working full-time to put it together. Like any collection, exhibits are rotated, a story is created and cleaning it all is actually one of the most fascinating parts of the trip - at least to me.
The whole place feels like wargaming Disneyland.
When you first enter the museum, you’re aptly met with the very beginnings of Warhammer. There’s eighties fantasy art on the boxes, round dwarves fighting in taverns and Ork Squigs that have endearing Play-Doh-esque sculpts. It’s an interesting look at not only Warhammer’s journey through the decades, but fantasy and tabletop gaming in general. The old miniatures are a far cry from the sleek boxes and moulds we’re used to now, but there’s something charming about them. They feel much more homemade, with some janky faces and squat little bodies. Seeing them got me even more excited for the upcoming The Old World, which will revamp classic Warhammer Fantasy’s factions and game rules. I’ve seen the pink Élisse Duchaard model, I’m ready to play.
After I got over reminiscing about the past, it was time for the real show. Warhammer World is probably best known for its dramatic dioramas that show the scale of possibility with the game. This is where the trip becomes something less for diehard tabletop fans and more of a real museum exhibit that could get anyone excited.
The dioramas may use miniatures, but they are huge. Hundreds of pieces make up vast scenes depicting moments from across Warhammer lore. Ghostly Nighthaunts pour across a map glowing a vivid green. Every tiny detail feels like a still from some epic fantasy scene. Each tiny rock that’s kicked out the way as a horse charges by or hidden room you can just peer into has all been considered. They expect you to spend a long time analysing these and it shows.
Each scene tells a story. I only know snippets of Warhammer lore but found myself enchanted, analysing the pieces from every angle so I could see all the hidden elements and work out everything that led up to that moment of paused chaos. You don’t need to know why Tyranids and Space Marines are fighting, you don’t even need to know the factions’ names. Without sounding pretentious, these are more like looking at art in a gallery. Context helps, but the level of detail to soak up means you can enjoy just staring at the things.
The dioramas are more like looking at art in a gallery.
The curator leading our tour talked us through the creation of these sets and why they put just so much effort into them. It all comes down to capturing the feel of playing Warhammer. That’s the endgame of all the hours and work. When players put miniatures down they don’t see small groups of plastic scuffling about an old table - instead, they’re on the last line of defence in a crumbling city, monsters screaming around the corner, ships crashing through the sky, and wind, rain, plumes of dust billowing from great warmachines raging through a battlefield.
The reason so many of us adore tabletop games is this feeling: imagination is often more appealing than digital. A video game can have incredible graphics, fantastic sound design and killer voice work, but somehow the Theatre of the Mind - the idea of bringing a tabletop game world to life in your imagination - still manages to create something truly special. It’s hard to describe to those who haven’t tried it, but just look at the cultish obsession some of your friends have with their weekly D&D game. When you try it, you’re hooked.
That passionate love is what Warhammer World manages to really capture. Yes, sometimes play is just about laughing with friends over dice and drinks as we move plastic on a table, but it’s the possibility of what it can be - of the excitement and drama we can create with just minis and our minds - that these dioramas drill home.
If anything can get you to try Warhammer or reinstate a love of it, these vast displays are it. I’ve never seen something that can so accurately capture why many of us love these games. Why we’re still playing with toys well into adulthood. Finally there is a chance to show people on the outside what we all see on the inside.
I’ve never seen something that so accurately captures why many of us love these games.
As well as being amazing displays to gawk at, they allow us to show people why we love the hobby. Your nan can not only enjoy amazing art, but finally understand what all this Warhammer and tabletop nonsense means. Museums are for learning, after all.
There are smaller displays of incredibly-painted miniatures to show off what Citadel paints can really do under good supervision, alongside a truly breathtaking display that takes up a room with thousands of miniatures. But size doesn’t necessarily matter here. Each display captures the dizzying feel of getting lost in a game.
Like stepping out of the cinema and seeing day has turned to night, as you come out of play giddy on a shared imagined world, you step out of the Warhammer museum with a newfound sense of love for the hobby. Hopefully the friend you brought along feels the same. Do they do senior discounts on visits? I guess now is my time to find out.