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"Pink isn't a color. It's a lifestyle." - Chumbalaya
"...generalship should be informing list building." - Sir Biscuit
"I buy models with my excess money" - Valkyrie whilst a waitress leans over him

Monday, July 18, 2011

Warmachine – Is it Right For You? Part 1

Dreadnoughts or Warjacks? Which do you prefer?
In his now semi-infamous rant, VT2 recently railed against all of the faults, perceived or real, of Warmachine/Hordes and its players, in trying to explain why he doesn't like the system. Some of his points were valid, if difficult to discern beneath the sarcasm, and some of them were simply wrong (or at best, misinformed). In this article I'll try to address some of these issues and explain them a bit more clearly. I'll also point out some of the differences between Warmachine/Hordes and 40k/Fantasy, so that new players can be more informed about whether or not Warmahordes is right for them.

Here are what I see as some of the key points of Warmahordes, that really distinguish between it and 40k/Fantasy, aside from the obvious factions and fluff.

1. Warmachine is centered around heroic individuals, that lead and support your force.
2. Changing casters can completely change the style of play of an army.
3. When these individuals die, you lose the game, regardless of the condition of the rest of your army.
4. Each model/unit does all phases of activation at a time, rather than army-wide move-shoot-combat.
5. You-go/I-go system, with no dice control outside of your turn.
6. Knowledge of both your army and your opponent's army is vital
7. Warmachine is a skirmish level game = few miniatures. Not truly epic!

One might add to that:
8. Sculpts are, on average, of superior quality (though this is, of course, in the eye of the beholder).
and 9. Privateer Press is a company that appears to value interaction with their customers.
but I wouldn't want to sound too much like what VT2 would call a "fanboi." Let's start with #1.

1. Warmachine is centered around heroic individuals, that lead and support your force.
Whatever force you choose, whatever faction you play, it will include a warcaster or warlock. These are the heroic individuals that lead the force, support it with various rules and spells, and occasionally do the deed of killing the opposing caster themselves. Mandatory, much like an HQ.

I will specify here what I mean by "heroic," as VT2 makes the point that in at least the GW sense, most of these individuals are not truly "heroic." As an example, let's use Lord Draigo, of the Grey Knights. Draigo is the utter epitome of heroism - he can take on otherworldly demi-gods and win, he can live forever, he's revered by all, etc. etc. Rules-wise, he has the best wargear, the Grandmaster special abilities, a better statline than comparable characters, and so on.

Not this badass...
for a reason!
Warmachine characters are not that kind of heroic. The PP characters are a step above the normal soldiers of the kingdom, and able to do things that very few else in their world can do, but they're not gods, and they have weaknesses. They have better equipment than the grunts and even elites, but it's not infinitely better.  They're human beings (/elfs/trolls/dragonspawn/liches), not mini-gods or genetically modified super-monsters. To me, that does make the game more interesting – the warcaster or warlock isn't the guy who can take on an opposing army and win by himself, but someone with limitations. If you want the person leading your army to be the most utter badass ever, one who can tank whole armies by themselves, Warmahordes is not for you.

I will note here that each character does often have special rules, in addition to their spells and weapons, that can help or support certain types of troops. Counter to what VT2 believes, no tiers are required for this. For example, Feora, Protector of the Flame grants Fearless to all Flameguard models in her control as a passive ability. Grand Exemplar Kreoss gives all Exemplar models in his army immunity to continuous effects as a passive ability.  In addition, each caster has a unique spell list, with at least one signature spell that's not found anywhere else in the game. The particular spells on a caster's list can be what makes a caster very good (Major Victoria Haley of Cygnar, for instance) or very poor (Captain E. Dominic Darius, also of Cygnar, for instance).

2. Changing casters can completely change the style of play of an army.
Casters are extremely varied within a faction, even from one incarnation of the character to the next (known as their Epic form). Their different abilities, stats, and spell lists means that they can use the same models in different ways. This is both similar and different to 40k. The best corollary I can think of are the different special characters in the Codex: Space Marines and how they modify Chapter Tactics. A Vulkan army will play very differently from a Pedro army, and indeed taking different warcasters can lead to a very different army.  However, you'll often want different models in each SM list to take the most advantage, while the same models can work just as well in a Warmachine list with different casters. Sticking with Menoth, let's consider how this might work with Temple Flameguard, a basic 4/6 point unit with Reach, Shield Wall, and combined melee attacks.

She only wishes her troops had meltaguns!
If the commander of the army is Feora, Priestess of the Flame, then the Flameguard will take on a more offensive role. Feora often wants to be pushing forward into the midfield and plays a very aggressive game, and so the Flameguard are often running and charging, rather than using their shield wall ability. Feora supports them offensively by the spell Ignite, which gives them additional power on their attacks, and makes sure they'll stick around by passively granting them Fearless, but does little for them defensively.

In contrast, what if the commander of the army was Grand Scrutator Severius, a much more backfield caster? Here, the Flameguard are going to be much more defensive in general, acting as a screen and protection to keep anything from getting through to Severius. They might be moving slower and using their Shield Wall ability much more. In addition, Severius can support them defensively using Defenders Ward, which boosts both the defense and armor of the Flameguard, but has little to specifically support them offensively other than his control-wide boost spell. One unit, two very different uses with only the change of a warcaster. If this type of army-flexibility is appealing to you, then maybe Warmahordes is a good fit. Bonus - you don't have to repaint your entire army color scheme to avoid being called a WAAC counts-as jerk!

3. When these individuals die, you lose the game, regardless of the condition of the rest of your army.
A very large difference between 40k/Fantasy and Warmahordes is that the game ends, period, upon the death of your main caster. It doesn't matter what the rest of your army is like, how dominant a position on the board you have; if your caster dies, you lose. To be fair, a lot of people do get unhappy about “caster kill = win.” This is particularly true when they've been dominating a game, hardly losing any models, and their opponent somehow sees an opening and with a few lucky rolls, kills your caster and wins. One can feel almost cheated. If this really ruins the game for you, then maybe Warmachine is not a system you want to play.

Allister Caine in another life?
As VT2 noted, casters can be rather squishy. They're decently armored, they'll stand up to a bunch of grunt attacks, but if a heavy jack/beast or charging weapon-master gets to wail on them, they'll probably go down. In his eyes, this is a turn-off – heroic characters should be heroic, it should take a serious effort to take them down rather than a couple of lucky shots from a warjack. Warmahordes characters are much more on the equivalent survivability level of a Guard or Eldar character than a Marine or Grey Knight character.

However, unlike VT2, I don't believe this is a bad thing. This makes it much more difficult to play – how close do I dare get to the front lines with my caster? How much focus/fury should I spend this turn, leaving me open to retaliation on my opponent's? What type of models should I put in this list, to support my caster/let my caster support? Casters aren't designed to do everything on their own. It also means that if you're playing a scenario that your army cannot or has a very difficult time winning, you still have a chance of winning the game, no matter what.

For now, this article has gone on long enough, so let's pause, and I'll pick up the rest of the points in my next article.

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