Victory Points is a new weekly column here at The Escapist, where veteran miniatures gamer Joe Perez gives out wisdom and advice about the craft, art, and play of miniatures games – from Warhammer to Warmachine, Infinity to Flames of War.
Warmachine and Hordes are one of the most popular miniatures skirmish wargames on the market today, but not too many people outside of the minis hobby know about them – or how easy they are to start playing. They’re a tabletop wargame by Privateer Press that takes place in a magical steampunk style world. Units range from regular military style units of gunners and pikemen to mechanical steam and magic powered constructs as well as dragons and undead monstrosities. They’re a 30mm wargame played on a four foot square playing area. When first taking a look at the game, it is easy to write it off as the same as all the other tabletop wargames, but there are a number of things that set it apart from the rest.
First and foremost, Warmachine and Hordes are companion games. They both are capable of standing alone in their own right, but can be played against each other as they share the same basic rule sets. This is also maintained by the game worlds stories as forces of both Warmachine and Hordes routinely square off, and are all intimately interwoven. Warmachine is more about the, well, machines of war that combine science and magic to engage in battle across the game’s world. Hordes deals more with the monstrous side of combat, with hulking huge monstrosities and creatures of incredible power. The game combines fantasy and science fiction giving you everything from androids to elves as well as giant robots of destruction and tremendous dragons. It has a little something for almost everyone.
Emphasis is placed on skirmish sized battles, smaller engagements between forces, as opposed to large unwieldy armies that players may be used to in other game systems. This is shown by the point cost of the forces you control having a minimum of 15 points, to the tournament level totals of 35 and 50. The forces you wield however, tend to be tougher as well. Comprising of units, characters, and machines of war that all can take multiple points of damage before they are removed from play. While the game does allow for larger engagements up to whatever size the opponents agree upon, these smaller games are the focus of the rules. For those of you who are used to other games the point value may seem a bit low, but you are still able to field a number of units and special characters to have a complete army. All stats for all units and characters are included when you purchase the models, contained on easy to read and transport cards. You are not required to purchase supplement books just to use the models in your armies.
The game has the distinctive feature in the inclusion of warcasters and warlocks, and their attached battlegroups. Warnouns are powerful spellcasters and generals who have learned to control warjacks and warbeasts. They can fill multiple roles from front line fighters dealing massive damage in melee and range or welding destructive magics to rain down devastation on their opponents, to support roles of healing and buffing their units. Each caster has a list of spells that they can utilize as well as a special feat that can be used once per game that has the potential to change the entire engagement for a small duration.
Warcasters control either large engines of war called Warjacks or creatures from the wild trained for war called Warbeasts. Warcasters use a resource to power these behemoths and make their attacks hit harder, make them move faster or to perform special attacks. This is a rule in the game called boosting: Normally all attack and damage roles in the game are made using two six sided dice, however casters and other characters that use focus or fury can spend a point of the resource to add an additional six sided dice to the roll and include it in the results. This allows for players to make more calculated plays and reduces the need to rely on pure luck to always hit your attacks or to deal damage. The resource is finite, so players have to choose carefully when to boost and when to save it for other things or use it to boost.
Due to the size of encounters, there is a lot more emphasis on aggressive play. To do this, the game relies on scenarios, which are included in both the rule books as well as available for free download from the Privateer Press site. In each scenario there are objectives or scoring zones which are always placed between the two forces about to face off. This ensures that players have to engage one another, or at the very least move towards one another, in order to score points. Some scenarios introduce something called a “Kill Box” which deals damage to all models left in the deployment zones after a certain number of turns has passed, adding incentive to moving your units forwards. On top of scenario play, there is a rule that is always in effect and that is if you kill your opponent’s warcaster you win the game. When the warcaster dies, the troops are without leadership, warjacks lose the source of magic fueling them and warbeasts run amok no longer contained by the warlock’s willpower. These are called assassinations, and add a very interesting dynamic to the game when you consider that the caster is generally both the most powerful piece of your force. Players have to think carefully about where to place their casters to obtain the maximum effect of their spells and abilities while simultaneously keeping them safe. It helps ensure that no matter how bad of a game you may be having, you always have a chance to pull out a victory.
A Living Game
Some may find this interesting, but over the course of the last 10 years that the game has been around, the story of the game has been constantly evolving. Every new book or unit is accompanied by fluff explaining that units place in the game world as a whole. Characters grow and become more powerful as time goes on, often having multiple versions, and this allows for the constant additions of new models, new forces and new scenarios. Force books as well as the rule book itself contain quite a bit of the story surrounding the game world, and help to explain how each faction interacts with one another and why exactly each faction fights.
It’s a distinct difference to note compared to other mini wargames, where the story remains unchanged for incredible lengths of time. This is a big thing because it helps to keep the game fresh and feeling new and exciting, even for players that have been participating with it for years. One of the problems that many tabletop war games face is a feeling of being stale after long periods of time, and they tend to focus on gaining new players instead of keeping the old ones. Here, Privateer Press endeavors to keep things fresh and exciting as often as they can.
There is also a lot of care taken in balancing the game with rules and model stats, and errata is released whenever updates are made or new mechanics or abilities added. Privateer Press also goes out of their way to respond to players when rules questions come up and ensure that the answers are distributed quickly. While skewed armies are possible, defeated skewed lists are equally as possible. The game is overall quite well balanced and places a lot of emphasis on strategic play and decision making over anything else.
Entry into the game is fairly easy and rather inexpensive when compared to other miniature wargames. Battleboxes are available and contain a warcaster and a battle group as well as a quick set of rules and stat cards for all models included. In one box you get almost everything that you need to get started playing right away. Battle boxes can be purchased for $49.99 USD directly from Privateer Press, or potentially cheaper from your local gaming store or online retailers. There is a box for every faction in the game, and each is specifically designed to give you an idea of how the faction works with their particular mechanics and background story. As far as miniature wargames are concerned, that is far cheaper than the barrier of entry somewhere else.
You will also need around four six sided dice, tokens to track focus and fury and status effects and a ruler or tape measure of some sort and a dry erase marker to mark off damage. Tokens can be purchased for your faction that include all status effects you will need for all of your games for as long as you play as well as points for fury and focus and blank tokens that you can write on with dry erase markers. While not necessary, they do make things much easier. You can also use beads, pennies or really anything else you want to count as your focus and fury and just use scraps of paper for your abilities and status effects.
Playing the game, you feel more like a commander and less as if you’re just rolling dice for the sake of rolling dice. One of the largest problems in a game in which you rely on dice to carry out your actions is the feeling of being at the complete mercy of random number generation. While there is still an element of chance in Warmachine and Hordes, you can take measures to lessen impact a failed roll will have. The inclusion of multiple ways to win a game at any given point in time helps to make players feel more in control of their forces and allows you never really feel completely defeated. There have been games where I was losing the scenario only to pull out a last second assassination run, and I have had the same trick pulled on me. Games feel engaging all the way to the end, and players feel involved and invested in the game the entire way through. It is rare that players feel completely overrun, or that games feel one sided.
So go out there and get casting.