Ah Warmachine. Currently my favourite and most played wargame, those familiar with 40K and other Games Workshop systems will be relatively intimidated by the apparent complexity of Warmachine. In this article I will be looking to cut through some of this complexity and go over the basics including a brief introduction to the factions and a brief synopsis of how a game will generally go.
The beauty of Warmachine is its scalability, it is entirely possible to play the game using nothing more than the contents of the £35 faction boxes which generally contain a Warcaster, Warjack and some heavy infantry, typically these games will work out at approximately 15 points, with games typically going up in increments of 15, 20, 35 and 50+ as your model collection grows and the more experienced you get. The small 'battlebox' games will take anything from 30 to 45mins while larger games can take several hours.
Unlike Games Workshop's games, the space required to play a game of Warmachine is much less, typically a GW game will require a 6x4' table to get a balanced game. Warmachine is balanced for a 4x4' table with a relatively sparse scattering of terrain, usually four or five pieces of terrain will be adequate for a decent game.
Before we go any further, I will start by talking briefly about the factions, the factions in Warmachine play very differently and have distinctly different units and playstyles:
Khador- My faction of choice, Khador are kind of like Steampunk Soviets, they're all about heavily armoured heavy warjacks, solid heavy infantry and viable light infantry swarms. Where other factions worry about finesse, Khador are a sledgehammer. Their warcasters favour spells that focus on one aspect of their army, a lot of them do nothing for their units, buffing themselves and damaging the enemy. Not so good at the 'control' style of play, their playbook is swayed heavily in favour of attrition and caster assassinations. They are also the only faction with no light warjacks and no arc nodes. They also have a thing for ice.
Protectorate of Menoth- My secondary faction, The Protectorate are religious zealots with a thing for fire. They can throw out a lot of continuous fire effects that can cause additional damage each turn, they don't do heavy armour quite as well as Khador but make up for it by having more variety in the form of versatile light warjacks and a broad range of diverse infantry, their warcasters have a decent mix of board control and unit buffs with one or two offensive spells thrown in.
Retribution of Scyrah- Elves in every way, these are a hyper-specialised faction, there is no 'general purpose' unit in Retribution. To an extent they rely on defensive tricks like their Polarity Shield spell that stops things from being charged and energy shields to protect against blast damage. Their warjacks have decent armour but a very small damage grid, again relying on energy shields to absorb incoming damage. Their warcasters play a control game very well but often lack the punch to carry out assassination runs as well as other factions and fall apart too quickly to win an attrition game. Most Retribution victories come from Scenario and carefully thought out caster kills.
Cygnar- Khador's opposite number. These guys are kind of like a knightly order and have warjacks that represent this with shields, swords and spears making regular appearances. They are also the strongest ranged faction in the game with a lot of strong long ranged units including a few powerful light warjacks and good ranged infantry. Their warcasters concentrate more on buffing their units than any other faction. Their 'thing' is electricity and focus manipulation.
Cryx- A faction of steampunk undead, a lot of players consider Cryx to be overpowered and in some ways they are right, their units are decent, cheap and have a wide variety of interesting tricks and have the potential to hit very hard. Although they are powerful they are quite easy to play badly, a lot of their heavy hitters are glass cannons and won't stand up to much retaliation should they fail to kill their targets. Their biggest strength is the sheer volume of board control and debuffs their warcasters can throw out with their cheap and plentiful arc nodes to tip the game in their favour.
Mercenaries- Jacks of all trades, masters of none. The Mercs are a faction I'm not overly familiar with, they are broadly divided into four subfactions that can do a bit of everything but don't really excel at anything either. Their warjacks are mediocre but reasonable, having a few interesting tricks, their infantry is middle of the road and their warcasters have some decent tricks but not on the same scale as Retribution and Cryx. Their biggest strength comes from their broad range of characters and solos that can add a lot of unpredictability and specialisation to a Merc force. Mercenaries can also be used by other factions, with units and characters having restriction on which factions can hire them.
Convergence of Cyriss- The brand new faction, out at the end of June 2013, not much is known about these yet save they have a very interesting 'Metropolis' style clockwork mechanica visual stlye and some unusual mechanics that make them even more reliant on the warcaster than any other faction.
To make the rest of this article easier to understand I will go through some of the terminology and unit types you are likely to see in a typical game:
Warcaster- The central unit in your force, your warcaster has a range of spells that can be used to buff your own units, damage or debuff enemy units, some even give you a degree of control over the battlefield itself. they also have a feat that they can use once per game to get a sizeable advantage over your opponent. You need to be careful though, although they can take a lot of damage, if your warcaster is killed the game is lost.
Warjacks- Big walking tanks with thick armour and powerful weapons, they have a damage grid that allows them to take damage to different locations, with crippled locations having a drastic effect on combat effectiveness. They need to be allocated focus to do anything interesting. Without focus they can advance and make one attack with each weapon. With focus they can run, buy additional attacks in combat and perform special attacks such as throws, headbutts, armlocks and headlocks. Some Warjacks are also Arc Nodes.
Arc Nodes- These allow a warcaster to extend their effective range by casting their spells through one of these, using the arc node instead of the caster as the origin point of the spell.
Focus- The most important thing in Warmachine by a long way, each warcaster is allocated a pool of focus points at the start of each turn which can then be allocated to warjacks or used to cast spells. Any left over is added as an 'overboost' to the casters armour.
Solos- While most infantry come in small units, solos are independent models, often with plenty of special rules and abilities to help them survive, these are often cheap and useful additions to any force.
Infantry- As the name suggests, these are the 'basic troops' of warmachine, typically mounted on a small base, they make up the meat of your force and can get a lot of versatility through unit attachments and beneficial character solos.
Heavy Infantry- Typically on a medium base, these units are far tougher and consequently more expensive than the standard infantry, these almost always have a very specific role to fill and abilities and stats geared towards doing it well.
Colossals- Huge special warjacks that tower over everything else on the board, these have a plethora of special rules that allow them more freedom of movement and immunity to certain status effects. They also have two full damage grids making them very hard to kill, consequently they are very expensive and have a huge damage output potential.
The core mechanic of Warmachine is based on 2d6. If you like rolling fistfulls of dice, this game is not for you, the most dice you can possibly roll for one thing is five d6, and that's very rare. Typically you will be rolling two and adding a statistic, looking to beat your opponents statistic, lets look at an example:
My unit wants to take a ranged shot at my opponents model, first I check to see if I'm in range, I measure the distance between the models and compare it to the weapons RNG value, if it is equal to or under that value I look up the RAT (Ranged ATtack) value and add 2d6. With this total I then compare it to my opponents DEF (DEFence), if the result is equal to or greater than this value I have scored a hit.
Now that I have scored a hit I want to do some damage to it so I look up my weapons STR (STRength) and add 2d6, with this result I subtract my target's ARM (ARMour), if the result is positive I have done that many points of damage to my opponent. One point is usually enough to kill basic infantry but Warjacks, Warcasters and Heavy Infantry have more than one damage point.
Another thing i like about Warmachine is that every unit has its own character and special abilities to reflect that, some squads of infantry are able to focus their ranged fire onto one target to stand a better chance of hitting and doing more damage, others can swap their melee attacks for one single powerful attack, some can't be targeted beyond a certain distance while others can lock their shields together to form a solid wall of defence.
What makes Warmachine stand out for me is the variety of scenarios and objective games, which make the standard 'kill each other' that so many wargames boil down to less valid. Area control is the name of the game in most of these in various forms, often you will have to divide your force between multiple objectives forcing you to weigh up the tactical advantages of knocking your opponent off all of the objectives versus simply hanging onto and establishing yourself on the ones you have. Others such as the 'Mosh Pit' have a single zone in the middle of the board, the goal being simple- to be the only one in the circle. Although the scenarios have a nicely varied set of objectives it is always possible to win the game by eliminating your opponents warcaster which is often a high stakes, high reward style of play.
Another thing I feel I should mention is the modularity of the game. You will only every need to buy a rulebook and your chosen faction book (even then the faction book is kind of optional), when you buy a unit from the larges box set to the smallest blister it will include a unit card containing everything you will need to use that unit in the game, the stats, damage grid, points cost, field allowance, every special rule and every ability the unit has. This allows Privateer Press to continually release more content for the game without having to constantly release expansion books. There is also a very useful app available for Android and iOS released by Privateer Press called War Room that allows you to purchase complete faction decks online and construct army lists. It also includes a summary of all of the special rules used in the game and has an interface to help you track damage on units dynamically during a game, the app itself is free but the faction decks cost around £4.75 each.
A special mention should also go to Hordes. Hordes uses a slightly different mechanic called Fury but is essentially the same game. They are so similar that they are cross compatible, you can play a game of Warmachine against a Hordes player without any issues. I don't know enough about Hordes or its factions to feel confident to comment on it though.
If Warmachine appeals to you, head on over to www.privateerpress.com and check it out.
*images courtesy of Privater Press