Warhammer Fantasy Battle – A Review

TaleOfTwoArmies copyTo kick off A Tale of Two Armies I wanted to look at the very game we’d be collecting armies for. Of course I mean none other than Warhammer Fantasy Battle.

Warhammer-logo

As mentioned in the launch article, Lee & I both played various editions of Warhammer but as the years wore on the game fell by the wayside for us at one stage or another in favour of games our friends played more. Returning to the game came with a lot of assumed knowledge and half remembered facts and reading the latest edition of the rules it was struck by how different the game is compared to the last time I played.

Those who have continually played may disagree but the changes that I have noticed has changed Warhammer dramatically. It has become the ‘grown-ups’ game that the Games Workshop had been steering it towards for some years.

Let’s start from the top. Or the front. It is a bloody massive book. I thought the 40k rulebook was thick but crap on a crust it’s a big book. Now that presents the obvious problem that it’ll be a bastard to transport but you know what, it’s not going to make that much difference when you think how much a 3,000 point army can weigh. For me the real issue is that it’s such a pretty book that I’d worry about it getting beaten up carrying it around.

And I really do mean it’s a pretty book. It’s just nice to hold and flick through. That’s not to say it’s not without its indulgences. It has 75 pages of pictures. That’s a lot of parchment that isn’t entirely necessary. And half that could have knocked a fiver off the price. But that aside the Warhammer rule book is completely gorgeous.

But on to the game itself. It’s as much as I remember but there’s a few subtle changes that have been made in this iteration that totally changes how one would approach the game. For a start, charges are now movement plus 2D6. This, on average, makes infantry faster, heavy cavalry roughly the same and fast or Elven cavalry a touch slower. The important thing is that it games are no longer dictated by who gets in the first round of charges of the game. More so as the other big change is that all combat is fought in initiative order. So even if you do get the drop on your opponent you won’t get to put the boot in first.

These two rule changes alone are some of the most significant of the bunch and turns Warhammer from a game that was little more than a race to get the charge in which benefited some and properly screwed over others into something infinitely more tactical. With combat now fought in initiative order it actually encourages armies to play to their strengths rather than forcing them to be little more than delivery mechanisms for utterly wanky, beardy, units or a catch-all army of blandness forced to be a little bit of everything. And deployment could well be the most important thing you do all game.

Combined with the relaxing of the army building rules means that for the first time I feel like players can actually collect the armies they want rather than the armies they think they need. And more so than ever Warhammer becomes the game it was always meant to be: a delicately laid plans, deployments and then the elaborate dance of units…before they all kick each other’s heads in.

There’s other new rules like Hordes and Steadfast which put a greater emphasis on bigger units. As with Apocalypse there is a point of view that this is commercially motivated but I don’t think that’s entirely true or fair. I actually think this is more to reflect the battles depicted in the artwork and the novels. It does make certain armies much harder nuts to crack, but in light of the changes above that’s not entirely unfair. And it’s also not without its disadvantages either. Large units are vulnerable to mobbing and the Steadfast rule could stop a unit running when you’d rather it did.

There’s a smattering of new special rules to go with the rule tweaks. For a start anything with the word monster or monstrous in its classification is bloody horrid and has made me even more determined to fill my army with Skullcrushers and Dragonogres. But fear not as even the lowly infantry gets some love as all units now, not just those with long pointy sticks, get to fight with at least two ranks, the second rank getting a single supporting attack per model. This overwhelmingly benefits basic blokes as they’ll be in march larger units and only have one attack to begin with don’t lose anything, units like Chaos Warriors and Saurus really will being in smaller units and having to sacrifice dice. That said, a horde unit of either of these would just be mental.

And the changes don’t end there. Magic is no longer the army spanking bore it use to be. No longer will Vampire Counts and Elves table armies with a turn or really good spell casting. Bonus dice to power pools are no longer a given but a dice roll. Dispel pools are bigger and the miscast table is hilariously destructive. The point is that I no longer feel like I need to field a level 2 spell caster tooled with dispel scrolls just to protect my units rather than because magic forms a part of my battle plan. Again, it comes back to that important aspect of gamers being allowed to field what they want rather than what they’re being railroaded into taking.

But that’s not all. A huge amount of space has been given over to scenarios and campaigns. I really feel like this rule book is the first time they took the Warhammer world seriously. Or, more to the point, taking playing games set in the Warhammer world seriously. This is corroborated by the utterly gorgeous and coherent background section of the book. I know some gamers aren’t on board with buying the full version of the book when they’ve bought half a dozen similar ones but it is at the expense on watching the background grow and improve and it most certainly has done that.

The barrier for me with Warhammer has always been the background. It’s always felt vague and woolly. The Sigmar & Nagash trilogies drew me in and excited me hugely but there wasn’t the material there, at the time, to back it up. All that has changed. It’s been lovingly expanded on and has been beautifully presented. Add that to the aforementioned campaign and scenario improvements (and there are some really good ones in there now) and I could actually see myself writing a Warhammer campaign. And considering I started playing Warhammer about 20 years ago that really does say something.

I know I’m late to the party. I know that reviews for Warhammer came out 2 years ago with its release, but you know what? I don’t care because I have had the tremendous pleasure of rediscovering a game I thought I’d parted companies with forever. But better than that I’ve found that, whilst I’ve been away, it’s grown and matured into something far more tactical and challenging than I thought it could be. And I could not be more excited for what comes next.

This does mean that Warhammer Fantasy won’t be for everyone but I do think that those considering Warhammer but concerned it’s just 40k with swords and dragons should put those fears aside. Yes at its heart it is the same basic mechanic but it’s so much greater than the sum of its parts. It has borrowed some good bits from 40k and 40k from it but they are very different games. Very different games. And I’ve got to say, I think I might just prefer the game of Warhammer. It remains to be seen if I’ll embrace the background as completely as I have 40k’s but based on what I’ve seen so far, there’s a fair chance.

This edition of Warhammer Fantasy Battle looks utterly brilliant. It’s well written, well presented and has been taken to a new and exciting place tactically speaking whilst successfully moving the game into a space for larger engagements and far more interesting armies.

The Warhammer Fantasy Battle rulebook is available from Firestorm Games priced £40.50.

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2 thoughts on “Warhammer Fantasy Battle – A Review

  1. A nice review that sums things up pretty well. What you may find though, referring specifically to what you read about spells, is that you’ll want to be taking a level 4 rather than a level 2. You might think you can get away with not having a dispel scroll (and you can) but the first few times you get Purple Sunned, Dwellered or Pitted you’ll be wishing you took something with a decent chance of dispelling it. I know you’re going to be playing with friends rather than a super competitive tourney environment but these things still can and will happen and you could find it unfairly colours your view of the system.

    1. I have to agree with this. You’ve gotta bring a level 4 or houserule the big spells or the game can be shafted before its really started to be about the blocks and units. I’m hoping 9th edition will sort the magic phase & other pieces out rather than being another overhaul.

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