Warmachine – A Review Part 2

Warmachine-LogoMuch much later than I had planned – mainly because I kept putting off reading the rules – part 2 of my Warmachine starter set review covers the background and core rules. Part 1 can be read here.

Just to clarify, the starter set only contains a mini rulebook so the fluff has been left out but, as I had a full version handy, I thought it better to cover the background too.

Now I’ve spoken about my frustrations with the Warmachine background before and, to be brutally honest, they haven’t gone anywhere. It just feels woolly and incomplete. There’s some very good ideas in there but the incoherent vagueness of the world war that’s about to start (because it’s not that clear) bugs the shit out of me. The game just can’t seem to decide what scale of warfare is or has broken out as it doesn’t match up with the size of game it seems to want you to play.

I’ve been informed by Adam of War More Radio (and fellow ODAM panellist), who is far more learned on Warmachine than I, that the army books flesh things out and explain the conflicts in greater detail. This annoys me for two reasons. 1. Gamers should have a solid understanding of the world they’re being asked to invest in from just reading the core rules. It’s a problem I’m finding more and more common in games. The rules are solid but the fluff just isn’t tight enough. 2. The army books are more expensive than the rule book. I know the company is called Privateer but they’re taking it a tad too literally methinks…

That rather large grumble aside, the background and factions are diverse in look and ethos. Strangely I found myself being far more interested in Khador the Cryx as the others seem a bit Mary Sue by comparison. Being the evil doers in the story means they have a bit more grit to them than the blue armoured, big goggled, ginger haired smugness of the Cygnar. They deserve Khador’s boot up their ass if you ask me…

But moving on.

Having attempted to read the rules before I side stepped the profoundly irritating ‘Page 5’, and just focussed on the nitty-gritty. One of the first things that hits you is the sheer volume of icons denoting special rules or special effects. There are dozens of the bloody things, each of them similar enough to be slightly overwhelming. Granted you don’t need to know them all at once but it begs the question; why the feck are they right at the start of the rules to scare off the novice gamer. It also suffers from that time-honoured writing blunder of listing the basic rules without actually explaining them.

In many ways the Warmachine rulebook is like the Lord of the Rings. If you can muddle through the waffle you get to the good bit because the rules actually aren’t bad. Granted they are blatantly overwhelmingly geared towards Warjacks with pages of rules that only apply to them. This isn’t a bad thing per se, as it’s clearly the Privateer’s wet dream that gave birth to Warmachine as a game, and the care and consideration in those rules does mean you can have a lot of fun.

For example, if your Warjack has a free hand you can grab an enemy Warjacks weapon or head. If you fancy you can pick up some poor bastard and lob them across the board or, if you’re feeling cheeky you can slam you Warjacks into someone and smear them across a wall. Which is nice. Stuff like this is good. The damage mechanic is a tad fussy though, geared around keeping the big metal bastards alive for as long as possible and requires colouring in which personally I think needs be consigned to primary school but that’s very much a preference thing.

The biggest issue I have with Warmachine is the Warcasters. Not that they’re overpowered monsters that can bust shit up left right and centre. I’m all for that. It’s the fact that their demise knocks out your Warjacks as well. A lucky shot can completely bugger your chances of winning the game. In the same way that Warjacks is the main features of the game, Warcasters is rusty old linchpin holding the whole thing together. Other games are guilty of what I like to call a Snap-fast mechanic. In that there is one almighty blaring flaw that buggers the game that the developer either plays down how bad it is or just ignores it. DzC is guilty of it too.

However, it’s a preference thing and so people clearly do enjoy the whole ‘do or die’ scenario Warcasters represent. Plus, rather cleverly, the Warcaster you choose dictates the type of force you can take which not only means that one Menoth force could be dramatically different to another it also gives context for forces within the same faction to have a scrap. It does also mean you’ll end up buying lots of models so you can field variations within your force.

That said, Warmachine works well enough. Game play is turn based but works by completing movements and actions unit by unit rather than movement and action phases. It allows for a fairly free-flowing tactical game as players can re-prioritise and re-task their units as the flow of combat dictates. It’s a smashing together of turn based and alternate activations essentially.

The stats and the bulk of the rules are pretty standard stuff and easy enough to grasp. The rules for all the stuff the Warjacks can do is where it excels. The turn system works fine and the apparent small size of games compared to other 28/30mm scale games out there means games move quickly. I’m just not convinced by the sheer volume of special rules. It feels like every unit has something to make them special in some way. A gun isn’t just a gun, it’s a gun that shoots lightning and orgasms or some such. The problem is that it detracts from the units that actually are special and because the faction lists are just full of bloody stupid icons rather than paragraphs explaining the rule, there’ll be no shortage of rule flicking.

Warmachine as a set of rules isn’t bad. Pretty good in fact. The predisposition of the writers to make the Warjacks mad as bat shit means that the game is at its best when it’s just them running about the place. And the starter sets available rather backs that thinking up. It runs the risk of being a bit of a one trick pony however, but the sheer volume of equally mad constructs available keeps things interesting. Not to mention the recent addition of Colossals. For me, though, it’s let down by fluff that isn’t quite strong enough which is a big deal for me.

If, however, what you want is a game that allows you to field bonkers units and bonkers constructs then Warmachine is your game. The way in which Warcasters are used from both a force formation perspective as well as interesting, even if it does mean putting all your eggs in one basket. In fairness the volume of boosters, special rules and the aforementioned attention to detail with some of the rules means it does have a slight RPG twist to it.

I’ve been very unkind towards Warmachine over the last 18 months or so. And as most of my gripes are geared around the fluff I’m not really taking any of it back, but the rules are solid albeit tailored for a particular type of game and gamer. And with the sheer volume of force combinations available it’s very easy to see why it’s such a popular tournament game.

The Warmachine 2 player starter box is available from Firestorm Games priced £62.96

7 thoughts on “Warmachine – A Review Part 2

  1. I find it interesting that you dislike the Iron kingdom setting’s fluff so much. I find the 40k fluff irritatingly inconsequential, since you have a million planets that get constantly obliterated for absolutely arbitrary reasons, but is OK cause we have another million of them to go on with (nothing really matters at that point). Even more irritating is the constant ‘retconning’ that happens with every codex release (Necrons for example)… Anyway I can agree the 40k setting has more depth at the moment, mainly due to GW being around for 30+ years and Black library providing hundreds of novels to flesh out that world, but I can’t agree that ‘in the grim dark of the future there is ONLY war’ is a much better ‘state’, than the seasonal wars that go on in the Warmachine setting… Also most of the ‘world fluff’ about the Iron kingdoms is in the RPG books, rather than the faction specific books, but that is a different discussion…
    That said, I am into Warmachine primarily for the rule system and ascetic of the setting; to each his own I guess:)
    Anyway, keep up the good rants and cheers:)

    1. You have a point about worlds being burned a dozen at a time. And also about GW having 30 years and hundreds of novels to fall back on. But for me that means competitors have to bring a far stronger product to market now than they did and for me the fluff just didn’t do it for me. And the fact that the bulk of it is in the RPG is even worse as gamers, to fully understand the world their gaming in, has to buy a book they won’t even use.

      But like you, I think the best bit about the game is the rules and I suspect why the tournament side of the Warmachine hobby is so strong. Thanks for commenting.

  2. To me the issue with the Warmachine rulebook is that if i was new and i just picked that up there isn’t enough world building fluff and the fluff provided isn’t interesting enough to grab you (well it wasn’t in my case) whereas i would doubt anyone could complain about a lack of world building fluff in the Warhammer Fantasy or 40k rulebooks…hell even Malifaux provided better world building fluff in their first rulebook (the writing style leaves a little to be desired though)

    The rules are fun though, and while i don’t personally like the miniatures i can understand why people do.

    Also the only other issue i have is one i have with a lot of recent game, there is basically no unit customisation… true you can get a unit attachment but that is it…that is one thing i love more than anything in the rules of 40k and warhammer fantasy…

  3. I’ve not read a lot of the background but what I have read have been quite interesting and it’s definitely a universe with it’s own character. Also GW’s fluff is much more established, and also more or less static, whereas PP’s story line does evolve (which is why you can take different versions of some casters to represent their career/character development). The story feels incomplete because it isn’t finished yet, whereas part of what makes 40k so grimdark is that it is an essentially stagnant universe. And I think Warmachine scores over Firestorm Armada, where the background as actually quite generic and there is not much connection between fluff and models.

    Having played a demo game once, I’d agree that the rules are pretty solid (and easy to learn) but like you I’m slightly put off by the overwhelming focus on warjacks, especially as the actual ‘jack models are amongst some of the most ‘meh’ in the range. I’m sure that you could take a mostly-infantry army but I’m not sure there are many ‘casters that would have much synergy with that. That said I do quite like the basic principle of the warcaster working in synergy with the rest of his force – especially the jacks. However, the rules for ‘jacks are fiddly and like you I’m not keen on the scatter-gun approach to handing out special abilities to absolutely everything.

    It is good that tier-lists encourage the creating of ‘fluffy’ armies themed around particular warcasters and that there is so much variation in how to build and play a single faction because of how warcasters work. But like belverker I’m put off a bit by the lack of customisation.

    1. As you say, you haven’t read it. I know the fluff is evolving but that’s not my beef. It feels vague and woolly, like they’re unsure of their own creation. It lacks the richness of not just Games Workshop’s products but others in the market.

      And the fact remains that you cannot bring something to market that can’t compete with the market leader’s fluff on some level. Whether or not it’s ‘stagnant’ or not.

    2. There are casters that are very much infantry focussed in the game so you can make do with minimal/no jacks if that is your thing. The jacks were beefed up in Mk2 because they were easily beaten by infantry in Mk1. Khador has Irusk for instance that is very much an infantry support caster. In Hordes you have Morvhanna who is an infantry warlock too, so you can find your niche. Hordes is almost a direct crossover so if you don’t like jacks you might like warbeasts. The Fury mechanic is very different to Focus.

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