How many people have played Mordheim? Yes? No? You’re not sure? Is it Warhammer Skirmish? Well the truth is, essentially, it is Warhammer Skirmish but at the same time it’s so much more than Warhammer Skirmish. And that which sets the two very similar systems apart is that which elevates Mordheim above its counterpart and most other fantasy skirmish games – character. It’s this character that I will discuss a little to try to impart upon you just why it’s so much fun and why it should be the most important element of any game you play.
Just for those who don’t know, Mordheim and Warhammer Skirmish both use the same basic rules as Warhammer Fantasy, adding some complexity to enable the individual models to do a little more than simply march around and charge/shoot each other. Mordheim was actually created first, believe it or not, being released as a full boxed game with rules for campaigns, scenarios, character progression etc. Then backed up by new releases and expansions. A while later Games Workshop then took the decision to release a somewhat stripped down version of these rules in the back of the Warhammer Fantasy Rulebook, and with the winds of change blowing against the Specialist Games range, Mordheim was subsequently left to gather dust in a corner of their website before being killed off completely.
Here is where the difference between the two becomes apparent as the sections Games Workshop decided to leave out of the WFB were actually the best parts – and not just for Mordheim, but for all games. The thing that made Mordheim great wasn’t the basic rules or the models or the terrain, (which were all good as well) it was the individual character that evolved around each of your heroes as you played games with them. It made you want to play more and more just to see what happened to them next, akin to a cheesy soap opera. Only with far more decapitating and shouting. Each of your Heroes began to develop their own personalities and story arcs as they, and other heroes, developed fears and hatreds towards one and another. The random nature of the character progression through skills and stat increases means that you often have to play in a style different to what you would want, or equip models other than you had intended. So much so that the Heroes begin to take on a life of their own, their individual character and abilities determining what you do with them: ‘Should I move my Leader on top of that table and blast away with his pistols? Probably not, he’ll be an easy target. But it’s what he would do, so that’s what I will do’ is a common train of thought.
You might be familiar with my Warband leader, Baron Ludwig von Bomberg – a wealthy Marienburger, who’s also a bit of a drunken womaniser. He didn’t start this way though, oh no, not even close. Almost everyone at some point in their gaming lives will want a mighty champion leading their troops, armed to the teeth and as hard as nails, and I was no different in this instance. But it didn’t take long for his obvious lack of ability with his pistols to become a point of hilarious interest. His stats and equipment meant he should have been dropping fools left, right and centre but this was never the case, to the point where the other Chaps began to joke that he must be pissed all the time and that’s why he kept missing. And it stuck. His stats and skills have improved significantly since then but his effect on the game has roughly stayed the same. No matter how hard I try, he’s still never really that good.
An element of the campaign rules which adds to your games enormously is the Heroes injury table. I shit you not, there’s nothing funnier than watching what happens to your opponents heroes after you’ve kicked the crap out of them in the game. Neil, of The Chaps, has a Skaven hero that’s now has -1 movement, -1 toughness and -1 something else, and is known as Mr Glass for his obvious fragility. He’s still a whopping Strength 7 with his flail so he still has his uses, but must be nurtured carefully into combat, which is made all the harder (and funnier) but the fact he can’t run the aforementioned -1 Movement, all as a result of the injuries he has suffered during his long career. All laughing and joking is done in good fun, there’s no spitefulness involved – and you know that you’ll be on the receiving end next week so laugh while you can is generally the rule. But again, it all adds to the character of the game and the personality of each model.
Mordheim is a game that has this character and personality intrinsically woven into its identity and would be a hollow shell without it. Warhammer Skirmish stands as a testament to what happens to games when you remove that element which is a shame as it’s decent enough addition to the WFB rules – but alas, only a shadow when compared with its predecessor and a poor replacement. There shouldn’t be many reasons why players can’t impart a certain degree of character to all the games they play – the simple naming of your characters does wonders as you immediately start to note their performance on a more personal level.
Keeping track of kills/deaths or playing units according to their character rather than what might necessarily be in the best interest of winning (within reason, of course) are all ways raising a wargame above a competition between players and showing it to be a more a way of telling a story and enjoying it. If I’m honest about it, Mordheim was the first game that made me realise losing could be just as fun as winning and that winning wasn’t everything. Once you unburden yourself of that pressure to succeed every time you play, you will enjoy your games far more and focus on the special moments that make the game worth playing instead of bragging rights. The challenge, in all games, now being to play a characterful force while remaining competitive – not necessarily always winning, but not having my arse handed to me on a regular basis either.
For me, Mordheim is right up there in my ‘best wargames ever’ category (along with most of the Specialist Games really) but you don’t have to agree with me on that. I just hope you agree that the more character you can impart on a game the better it will be.
Mordheim for the Chaps and I will never really die, but all the same I must impart a heartfelt cheerio as the funereal barge of the Specialist Games range drifts into the sunset.