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"Pink isn't a color. It's a lifestyle." - Chumbalaya
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"I buy models with my excess money" - Valkyrie whilst a waitress leans over him

Monday, August 15, 2011

Warmachine – Is it Right For You? Part III

Temple Flameguard Standard Bearer

This is it, finally, the last and long-awaited finale to this brief series. The previous two can be found here and here. We've discussed most of the most important ways in which Warhammer is different from Warmachine and Hordes. For this article, we'll focus on 7, 8, and 9:

7. Warmachine is a skirmish level game = few miniatures. Not truly epic!
8. Sculpts are, on average, of superior quality (though this is, of course, in the eye of the beholder).
9. Privateer Press is a company that appears to value interaction with their customers.

Clearly, these are more opinion-based, but I think cases can be made on the whole to support my arguments.

7. Warmachine is a skirmish level game = few miniatures. Not truly epic!
Warmachine is, at its core, a game designed to be played at low point levels. Ranging from 15 points (which is approximately battlebox sized) to 50 points (most competitive tournaments), the number of models in the army could be as low as 3, and rarely goes above 30-40 models. You don't get the sense of sweeping clashes, where the fate of nations is decided – rather, it's small forces, tactical strikes, singular objectives, and brief skirmishes. If you like your games to have a truly “epic” feel, then perhaps Warmachine is not for you.

Knights Exemplar Errant Senechal
It is true, though, that “epic” can be in the eye of the beholder. A few models staving off a swarm of Mechanithralls or rampaging trolls, or trying desperately to break through a line and destroy an objective, can be epic. The game does lend itself to creating such scenarios easily. Warmachine does have a relatively new variant called “Unbound,” designed for games with at least 3 casters per side and upwards of 150 points – the jury is still out on whether or not it's really that great, but the rules were released very recently in PP's gaming magazine.

I would also argue that there are few “epic” games out there, at least in a miniature sense. Clearly, Epic 40k is fairly epic, as is Apocalypse, and arguably Storm of Magic and/or various other expansions/summer campaigns that GW has put on. Are those competitive? No, for the most part not really – maybe Epic 40k, but again this is a Specialist game. Typical 40k/Fantasy – not so epic, I believe. And PP does put on periodic campaigns that players from around the US can report in on to address battles in the fictional world, much like GW has done with Eye of Terror and such.

Protectorate of Menoth Vanquisher Warjack
If you like collecting and playing with large armies, Warmachine is not for you. Having said that, there are a lot of benefits to playing with a skirmish-level force. Less models means less to paint – which means either you can a)get what you have painted quicker, or b)take the same amount of time and give each model serious attention. Conversions stand out a lot more in a smaller force. Games move much quicker – if a 1850-2000 point 40k game takes 2-2.5 hrs, a 50 point Warmachine game might take 30-40 minutes, which means you can get in four times the amount of games. That's four times quicker you can get used to the system, work out kinks in your army build, or simply play different opponents. It means you can change around the whole army by changing 5 different models, as opposed to multiple units or vehicles.

One last difference is that, because the game is skirmish-level and small, spamming the same unit over and over again tends not to work very well. Units need to be flexible, and each has strengths and weaknesses – while some units are better than others, there's nothing like Razorback spam or Long Fang spam. This is further limited by a field allowance – an army can only contain so many of a particular unit. Common units might be FA 3, while some are FA 2 or 1, and character units can only ever be taken once. Unit attachments, which give some units a lot of power and flexibility, can also usually just be taken once. The armies that do spam a particular unit, typically in specific tier lists which expand FA, do so knowing that there's definitely going to be horrible matchups – for instance, an eKreoss Exemplar spam list going up against the Khador caster pIrusk, with his many guns and difficult-terrain-causing abilities.

Avatar of Menoth. Minor conversion work
done to increase
the length of the sword.
8. Sculpts are, on average, of superior quality (though this is, of course, in the eye of the beholder).
VT2 made a claim, in his article long ago, that the Warmachine sculpts were goofy and low quality. While this is aesthetics, and of course varies from person to person, I'm of the opinion that across the line, Warmachine has superior sculpts on average than 40K or Fantasy. Part of this again is that GW spends most of its sculpting power on the HQ sculpts, with some extra on some elite models and specialists. But for every hit, they have quite a few misses – Wracks, the Storm Raven, the Dreadknight “baby sling”, etc. Most Space Marines aren't particularly amazing design wise, either. Perhaps this is changing, and better sculpts have been coming out lately from GW, but I believe this is because of the amazing models seen in PP games, Malifaux, and even Confrontation, as well as better software becoming available to do sculpting and design.

While PP is a young company, and they've certainly had their fair share of sculpting issues (Behemoth's goofy raised foot, Kayazy assassins, most of the early Nyss models), there's definitely a lot of solid sculpting across the lines. The Menoth Knights Exemplar and the Harbinger of Menoth were the models that absolutely sold me on the game in the first place, and more often than not it's the jaw-dropping sculpts that drag people in. Because there are less models in general, each of them has to have a good amount of attention put into them when being made.
Warcaster Servath Reznik, High Executioner of Menoth,
Director of Public Relations for the Northern Crusade (!)
Again, though, this is all opinion. If you don't like the looks of Warmachine or Hordes models, then don't play this game. You will not enjoy playing with models you don't like. Having said that, there's definitely a variety of styles throughout all the different factions available – spawned monstrosities, druids with capes and naturalistic patterns, brutish monsters of muscle, spiky and twisted regimentation, russian soldiers with fur hats, soldiers with lightning guns, proud crusaders, necromantic monsters, and simple soldiers-for-hire. Odds are something will strike your fancy, and odds are equally as good that you can make a playable, decent army out of just those models.

9. Privateer Press is a company that appears to value interaction with their customers.
Again, in VT2's epic rant, he goes off on Warmachine players who constantly heap scorn on GW and its games, while singing praises of PP, and claims that the company is just as crappy as GW and cares even less. While I agree that people putting down GW games (especially to people playing the game and minding their own business) is foolish, as most of us started with them and still play their games, GW hasn't helped their case by releasing systems and army lists that constantly seem to lack actual play testing, FAQs that answer common-sense questions or in fact make an army worse (looking at Nid players here), not releasing models for an army (again, Nids), and pushing expansions that seem like almost pure money grabs (Storm of Magic). It's been ages since GW actually sponsored a competitive tournament (no, Ard Boyz doesn't really count). The new rule set for Fantasy seems to have driven more people away from the game than to it. It's widely seen that aside from possibly Dark Eldar, Xenos races have been getting a big finger from GW, while Space Marines of various colors and flavors get improvements. If you're not part of that favored group, it's not surprising you might be looking down on GW these days.

Part of the reason that PP has been so successful, I suspect, is that they actually do respond to their customers. They solicit feedback from the community – heck, they had a field-test between Mark I and Mark II of the rules that they gave out to anyone who wanted it and asked for thoughts and results. Can you imagine GW doing something like that? The people who design games at PP come out to events and actually talk with people. They're personable. They pay people to promote their game in FLGS', teaching new players and running tournaments. They release errata and FAQs every couple of months, rather than every year. They update all the factions in a system simultaneously, ensuring that everyone has something new to play with and no one faction has to wait 2+ years for an update.

Knights Exemplar Bastions
GW used to be like this. They used to have Outriders that came around and promoted the hobby and ran tournaments. Hell, they used to give a damn about tournaments. They encouraged other businesses to sell their product, rather than trying to force people to buy directly from them. White Dwarf actually used to have articles that weren't simply trying to sell the latest product, but had good tactics articles, or lessons on painting, or army lists that were built from the designer's own collections. You could talk to people in the company, and they actually listened. It's not a surprise that companies that try to be friendly to their customers generate people who like to talk about the company in positive terms.

GW still makes a good product, a fun game, and miniatures that are for the most part designed well. No one wants this to go away, not the PP fanbois nor PP itself. And PP has faults of its own, to be sure. But really, it's not surprising that when one company seems to have given up trying to go beyond making money and another company is responsive and dynamic, that the first will get negative talk and the second positive. Sometimes these complaints and praises are deserved. But, much like those that talk about being “born-again,” it's easy to talk about nothing else, and this should be avoided for the sake of those around you that just don't give a damn.

So in the end, should you play Warmachine?

Ultimately, the choice is yours. It's a fun skirmish-level game, with interesting sculpts, a different but just as solid rule set, a focus on moderately-heroic individuals supported by some troops and jacks/beasts, and a company that interacts with its customers. Personally, I enjoy it – it's a great break from 40k, and the models and stories are intriguing. Throughout the article I've put pictures from my own collection of miniatures from the Protectorate of Menoth, painted in a variant scheme called the Umber Guard. I hope you enjoyed this series, and as always feel free to leave thoughts, opinions, and questions in the comments!

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