War games could be fighting a losing battle

ARE THE seductive charms of Lara Croft - the curvaceous star of Tomb-Raider II - overcoming the eternal appeal of toy soldiers for the hearts, minds and pockets of millions of young boys?

Yesterday the prospect struck hard at investors in Games Workshop, the Nottingham-based company that specialises in table-top fantasy games played with armies of metal and plastic models of goblins and orcs or sci-fi creatures like space wolves and blood angels.

Tom Kirby, the chairman, who six months ago sold 200,000 shares at 705p, warned that profits in the year just ending would fall short of the pounds 13m the City had been expecting, although they will still exceed the pounds 11.2m it made in the previous year.

He blamed mundane factors including the effect of a strong pound on profits, two-thirds of which are earned outside the UK, as well as stock problems caused by moving into new premises. Analysts say the company is paying the price for pushing up prices too aggressively last year. The shares dived 225p to 632.5p, wiping pounds 70m, or more than 25 per cent, off the value of the company.

Games Workshop rejects the idea that teenage tastes are changing. Parents buy computer games for their children, who play them on their own as an alternative to watching TV. Each game requires a certain level of skill and, once reached, the player loses interest and looks for a new challenge.

War games are a hobby rather than a pastime. Games are played by two or more children, fighting battles with formal rules, using armies of toys that children buy, assemble and paint themselves.

GW's main games are Warhammer 40,000, a sci-fi game with armies of space-age creatures and Warhammer Fantasy, a similar game set in the age of myths and legends. Last month it launched Blood Bowl, a game based on American football, and it hopes to tap markets in China and Japan which could dwarf its existing sales in Europe and North America.

Investment column, page 22