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

Shell Case Shorts 12 – Winner

And so this humble competition draws to a close but with not one but two superb winning entries. I really couldn’t decide between them so as there was 5 lovely books on offer I decided to award prizes to both.

The first story is a Warmachine offering from Twitter favourite, #warmonger and all round nice guy Mike aka @MrChom. The second winning entry will be posted separately.

So first up I give you…

Widowmakersby Mike Chomyk

Stanislav ran his hand over the ice cold frame of the Juggernaut. Its heartfire extinguished, its cold empty eyes stared at the grey sky. Anyone glancing would barely have seen Stanislav, his white ankle length duster draped over the snow around him. The coat was meticulously patterned to break up his shape from a distance and fool the eye into believing he was nothing more than another patch of snow and rocks.

‘Legion’ he said quietly, observing the scorch marks and deep gouges in the juggernaut’s frame. ‘I do not know if this one can be saved, he is old, his heartfire has gone out. If we move his cortex to a new frame he may not survive, Natalya’, he added, turning his head to the officer crouched beside him. Her breath hung in the air as she crouched, her back to him, covering the ground he could not see with her rifle. Her brown hair hung in a loose ponytail behind her, its end dusted with snow and ice.

‘Then we move, Stanislav. Whatever immobilised him may still be watching. The Legion may look blind and diseased but we know they see better than even we do. We must return to camp and see what the Koldun thinks to this.’ She replied, keeping her eyes trained on the horizon of the depression they found themselves in.

It was a long cold journey back to the camp. They were currently housed the burned husk of the border fort Kapitan Natalya Matovy and her crack team of Widowmakers had initially been ordered to reinforce. Dusk became darkness across the frozen landscape and the Widowmakers were bathed in the pale silver of moonlight. They moved with a quiet reassurance, barely shadows across the land. Matovy was rightly proud of her team, they were veterans, crack shots, the best that Khador had to offer. Often times, as now, her orders were unspoken as the four of them moved from cover to cover and always on watch for nearby threats.

Koldun Lord Berezov looked at them as they returned, his face underlit from the sickly pale glow of the fire lit in front of the Officers’ tents. He was a tall man, his face sunken behind a thin brown beard. He was young for his office but his voice carried age beyond his years.

‘Report, Kapitan Matovy.’ He ordered as she approached.

‘The Legion ambushed and killed the forces sent out to deal with them leaving little for us to find. We retrieved a unit patch of one Northern 12th Division rifleman, there were also some cogs and pistons from the fort’s Destroyer and the almost intact frame of a Juggernaut. All were marked with signs of Legion. It would appear that the Legion in this area have become very good at clearing their tracks. While we saw signs of battle, and of their victory we saw no signs of them at all.’

‘The Legion have always been clever at hiding themselves when they do not wish to be found’ He looked thoughtful for a moment. ‘This Juggernaut…did you preserve his cortex?’

‘My men are not mechaniks, my Lord. We know how unstable the Cortexes can be. His heartfire was long out, we were worried that if we attempted to move his cortex it might crack…or worse’

Berezov pinched the bridge of his nose and sighed, obviously tired. ‘Very well, Kapitan. Sleep now; in the morning you will lead myself, some Kossites, and some Rifles to this Juggernaut. Empress knows we need every cortex we can find at the moment. I will retire also and see you and your men in the morning’ Matovy cracked off a sharp salute at her dismissal, the Greylord merely nodded in acceptance and then turned to enter the nearby tent.

That night her sleep was fitful. She had seen her share of combat. She had held the line as wave after wave of Mechanithralls had crashed against the might of the Khadoran army in full swing, she had been well and truly alone in the Thornwood, lost and low on ammo…knowing that the druids of the Circle hunted her. These Legion should be no worse and yet they somehow were. She had seen their beasts, all muscle and sinew, rip through Imperial warjacks like they were nothing more than paper and good wishes. She had watched with horror as men, still not quite dead, were taken and plunged into the spawning pots these abominations carried with them, had seen the lingering looks on the men’s faces as they sunk into the gory fluid that filled them. She had even witnessed one Legion swordsman be shot down only for one of the deadly Incubi to spring forward in his place…a mass of quivering slavering flesh that devoured all in its wake.

In the morning a cold light filtered through into the tents and the Widowmakers emerged to find a fresh dusting of snow had settled overnight. This was not unusual in the north but it would make progress more slow. The Kossites would be able to keep up, they were hardy people who knew how to traverse rough terrain but the Winterguard were a unit from Korsk also sent to reinforce the fort. They were cold, and hungry, and their simple boots were no match for the lands they walked. Matovy smiled as she gulped down a mouthful of Uiske offered from Stanislav’s hip flask but cursed the fact her team would have to babysit these men. At least the Greylord could look after himself, he was no warcaster but no one reached the rank of Koldun Lord without powerful magical abilities.

Koldun Lord Berezov emerged from his tent in full dress which was just as well, his long cloak and layered shirts would prevent the worst of the chill from hitting him.

‘Kapitan Matovy!’

‘Yes, Lord’

‘See to it that Lieutenants Ulyanov and Demerov are ready to leave. You will be briefing them on my plan and seeing to it that it is carried out. Your Widowmakers will lead the way; ten Kossites will run as detached units to your men, Ulyanov and twenty Rifle Corps will bring up the rear, the rest to be left here. I will, of course, be travelling between you with Zelnikov and Uzman of the Mechanikal Assembly in case this Juggernaut can be retrieved.’ Matovy saluted Berezov again and headed off to talk to Lieutenant Demerov, she had a feeling that Lieutenant Nikolai Demerov would not be happy about having men detached to accompany the widowmakers.

‘Natalya, this is lunacy, you know my men work better together. I’ll tell this greylord idiot myself if you refuse to!’

‘Calm yourself Nikolai.’ replied Matovy. Demerov was clearly fuming. Part of the irregular Kossites he wore a mixture of skins and leathers to keep in the heat that bulked him up to be a fearsome presence. Matovy re-shouldered her rifle as she tried to calm him, ‘I know you work better together but this Greylord seems determined to present as wide a front as possible to prevent ambush…he does not want his four best rifles all on one flank.’

Demerov sneered at this ‘Natalya, you have spent too long with these people, not only is their strange approximation of what might be called tactics making sense in your mind but you also seem to think that that garbage you call a rifle has somehow made you into a better shot than any of those you worked with for so long. You disgrace us.’

Matovy made to turn away and adjust her rifle but ducked down and swung the butt from a low stance into Demerov’s jaw. He tumbled back into the snow dazed and bleeding, his thin grey hair flapping in the breeze. ‘Do not forget, Nikolai, that I do not THINK I am a better shot. You forget your place. You are fat and old, Lieutenant; you have grown soft without Cygnarans to fight.’ Demerov lay in the snow and slowly focussed on her; he then began to smile.

‘You have not forgotten how to fight dishonourably…perhaps one day you may even be called Kossite once more. We will do as is asked, but know that it is under protest’ He stood and spat blood into the snow at her feet before heading back to his unit.

As Demerov skulked away Matovy turned her attentions to a third man who had watched the discussion. ‘I trust, Lieutenant Ulyanov that I will not need to take such measures to confirm your orders?’

‘We would be delighted to be the rear-guard for you, Kapitan Matovy.’ He stood, uncomfortable for a second, before continuing ‘May I ask, Kapitan, do you know Lieutenant Demerov?’

‘Know him? You might say that. He was my superior officer once before I left for the Widowmakers. I don’t think it ever really sat well with him that I could be promoted this high while he was left where he was. You are dismissed Lieutenant Ulyanov.’ Ulyanov saluted and returned to the waiting rifle section to talk them through their mission for the day.

The journey to the site of the battle was as slow as Matovy had feared. Patches of deeper snow necessitated that the Widowmakers and Kossites slow down for the Rifle Corps to stay within a supportable distance, and Koldun Lord Berezov’s insistence on travelling by horseback meant that the forward scouting elements had to be as far forward as possible using runners to communicate and stay in formation lest he be spotted before they could spot incoming threats.

It was past midday when they arrived at the wreck of the Juggernaut. Matovy had sent her men and the Kossites to occupy positions in amongst nearby rocks and a stand of trees. The Koldun Lord smiled as he neared the downed Juggernaut.

‘He misses his master, Koldun Medin. He saw him die, and then the Legion punctured his boiler and left him to go out.’

Matovy shivered slightly. The faraway look of a magician communicating with a cortex had always bothered her. She felt the Radiance in her pocket and said a small prayer in the hope that they would make it out of this safely.

‘Uzman, Zelnikov, he thinks his main damage is the boiler, can it be fixed?’

Two stocky men in overcoats dismounted their horses and approached the Juggernaut to inspect it. There was a brief exchange in Umbrean before one opened up in thickly accented Khadoran ‘We can fix him for now. He will be able to walk back so long as he is left to thaw for long enough and does not build up too much pressure, we cannot weld the boiler damage in this cold, merely solder and rivet.’

‘Then do so, and make haste. He has shown me that Legion patrol this area’ the two mechanics looked at each other and quickly began to set up their tools and get work underway on the juggernaut.

The Koldun Lord inspected the work as it went on; hammering, shaping, and the application of rods of metal to melt between the boiler and the patches. Many of the Rifle Corps began to mumble under their breath about being sent to save an ancient piece of junk, and the time it was taking. The cold was getting to them, and they had little to do but stand around and wait for orders to return to the fort. Matovy smiled; they were recruits…fine shots, yes, but they had seen no battles. They had not seen what a warjack could do, how it could turn the tides of battle, even one so old as the Juggernaut. Where Cygnar had scrapped its opposite number, the Nomad, Khador’s Juggernaut class had lived on as dangerous echo of a violent time. They had their quirks but left to their own devices their formidable strength was undeniable and for all their cortex shock technology even Cygnar had yet to find a quick way to cripple the chassis quickly and reliably.

Molten metal ran out of some of the joints and dribbled down into the snow leaving a hissing pool of water near where the ruined warjack lay. It seemed like hours but eventually the Mechaniks declared that the Juggernaut could be brought back online. Matovy sent runners out to warn her scouts…this was the most dangerous part of the operation. Until now there had only been noise and bodies to show where they were, a lit boiler on the other hand would give the Legion a marker that would be seen for miles in any direction. Riflemen were instructed to down rifles to give the Juggernaut water and coal from the supply sled the Mechaniks had brought with them.

‘We are ready, greylord, we await your command’ said Uzman as Zelnikov cleaned away their tools.

They Greylord looked at the Juggernaut again, ‘Then get it moving.’ he said.

The fire was lit and the two mechaniks looked on nervously as the water began to heat. Slowly life returned to the Juggernaut’s eyes, its heartfire restored.

‘It will be some time before he is able to move, 20 maybe 30 minutes, and that presumes his leg joint will hold up when he stands…some of the gouges run quite deep’ said Uzman, his nerves showing as the Juggernaut continued to warm. The trail of smoke began to spread into the cold grey sky. The sun edged to the horizon; the ground was bathed in a fiery orange glow, silence had descended; the only noise was the hissing of the Juggernaut’s boiler as its pressure rose. Breaths hung frozen in the air; still, quiet…Matovy could almost feel something was coming.

The chill was drawing in now, what had been mere discomfort in Matovy’s mind was now almost a physical presence screaming at her, but she could see nothing. It was then that Uzman keeled over with a gurgling cry, an arrow sticking through his back. Matovy reacted in an instant, running to the greylord and shoulder pulling him from his horse as an arrow sailed through where he had been sitting.

‘Rifles! Form up!’ It was Lieutenant Ulyanov. His men formed rank, freezing hands struggling to load their cloth-wrapped rifles. Arrows rained down on them, they had virtually no cover where they were but the legion archers had to contend with avoiding being silhouetted against the setting sun.

‘FIRE!’ he screamed, the rifle corps rippled out with fire, six of their number were already down and the cold was not helping their aim. Shots ricocheted off the rocks pinning the archers in place and downing one even as another four of the rifles fell. Matovy began to assume a firing position and wondered what had happened to her men and the Kossites that were with them. Surely they would have heard something if these archers had found them, even if they were caught unaware.

She raised her rifle to her eye, the small Radiance from her pocket pressed into the palm of her right hand, she saw a flicker amongst the rocks and fired, an archer fell clutching his neck. Beside her the Koldun had raised himself up to his full height once more and Matovy felt a twist in her gut as his eyes glowed blue and a blast of cold belched from his hand. The rocks in front of them shattered like they were no more than thin glass, the archers behind them met this pure and cruel cold head on. Several of the archers, like the rocks they used as cover, shattered before the arcane power, these were the lucky ones; those further away looked to have been blinded or were breaking out in cold burns on their exposed skin.

The archers had lost the element of surprise and with a lack of co-ordination began to flee their position from the top of the depression towards a nearby ravine. Matovy recognised this for what it was; this force had just been scouts. She knew they had to be stopped.

‘Ulyanov, have your men advance to that ridge and fire at will, stop them all before they reach the ravine!’ she cried. He moved what remained of his men forwards, half their number already lost to the punishing hail of arrows. Matovy headed for the ridgeline and saw similar fleeing figures from the areas the other troops had been in; clearly they too had been ambushed and driven off the attacks. The archers ran, knowing that the shadows on the lower ground would make it harder to be hit; this did not stop Matovy stopping another four before the ravine, a similar number from the rifles and the Kossite/Widowmaker teams meant only two escaped alive.

‘They know we are here now’ Berezov said, his face pale and worried. ‘There will be more, we must pull back to camp, it is defensible.’ He turned to Matovy and spoke ‘Kapitan, you will withdraw your men. Any bodies or wounded to go on the supply sled. We must hurry.’ The greylord was tired, she could see it. His spells had taken out as many archers as the all the rifle corps combined but at a huge cost to him. She sent her runners out and soon the troops returned from their positions. Casualties had been lighter there but these were men used to cold hard winters and long tedious waits on the hunt. Where the Rifle Corps had been distracted these men had seen the incoming Nyss archers, and stalked them. Only once the fighting began elsewhere had they used that moment of surprise to take down most of the attackers. One of her own men, Valentin, was down; he had been a good friend and drunk well. Three of the Kossites were dead…Demerov sadly not amongst them, she thought.

The Juggernaut, almost forgotten in the fight, clenched one of its mighty fists and rose. As it stood it vented its steam in a low bellowing roar, raising its head to look at Koldun Berezov in as close to a gesture of respect as its cortex could manage.

‘Good. We can move now.’ Berezov turned to Matovy ‘have three Kossites accompany Ulyanov as spotters with the rifles, Kapitan Matovy, your men will accompany myself and the Juggernaut…’ Berezov’s eyes turned far away again ‘…’Topor’. Two Kossites will be sent back to the fort at full speed to gain reinforcements, the rest will scout the ground ahead for threats.’

‘Yes, my Lord’ replied Matovy snapping off a quick salute and returning to prepare the remaining troops for a run to the fortress.

It was a long and hard fight in the retreat. Nyss archers sprang from nowhere to pick off one or two of the rearmost Winterguard, their bodies left behind in the snow as their numbers dwindled. Matovy could see them fall but the range was too great to shoulder her rifle and help. She sent forward runners and pulled back half the Kossites to aid the failing rearguard action, grim-faced men and women trudged back past her to join the inexperienced rifles and bolstered their strength in the fight.

The journey was longer and harder than it had felt in the morning but at last the pale light of the fires of the camp were visible on the horizon. The men were exhausted, ammunition was running low, of the twenty riflemen only five survived, half the number that had left where the Juggernaut was found. Even the Kossites’ fabled hardyness could not save them from the fire from the stands of trees and rocks that littered this place, several of their number had been left bleeding in the snow during the retreat without the time to save them. The attack slackened off as the fresh Kossites from the camp joined them, and vanished entirely as they rejoined the camp.

Berezov looked down at Matovy from his horse ‘This is not over Kapitan. They felled the garrison here, then they burned down the tower…they will be back and in greater numbers.’ He looked off to the dark horizon they had come from and shook his head ‘…have the remaining men prepare barricades and send a messenger back to the nearest town telling them this place has fallen. We must rest here tonight, the men can march no more’. Matovy could see in his eyes a sort of desperation; he knew they were going to die. Deep down in his soul Berezov knew help would never arrive in time and the Legion would destroy them all.

Men slept poorly or not at all as those who had stayed at the remains of the fortifications hastily used rubble to block easy access and began to use planking, logs, and offcuts to fill the rest. It would not hold in the face of a concerted assault but the point was merely to look like it was at least partially defended. A defensive trench was cut in front of the tower, enough to contain rifles sufficient for a fairly withering fire to be laid down on the approach.

Matovy slept fitfully, her skin crawled as her mind’s eye showed her every man they’d lost on the march back. Every man who’d been lost to Urcaen looked blankly past her, their wounds still open, blood no longer flowing, dustings of ice fringing their clothes, hands, and mouths. In the dream she turned and was met with a bright light, too bright to look at but neither burning nor blinding. It infused her, strengthened her… and then it spoke, strong and masculine but with a darker feminine echo ‘You were meant for more than this’.

Matovy was wondering what this meant when she was shaken awake by Stanislav.

‘Kapitan, Kapitan! A Legion force approaches from the horizon, Koldun Lord Berezov demands your attendance’ Matovy pulled herself together, the dream fading with her haste and headed out to the fortifications.

The area itself had been nothing more than a tower with a curtain wall surrounding a small courtyard being used as a rough stable, the small sleeping quarters and armoury being underground. The tower itself was relatively sound but missing its top level, overnight what had been the previous Kapitan’s quarters had had the walls levelled to use as a heightened platform for the lookouts and snipers. Stanislav lead her there. As she passed through the courtyard she could see holes in the walls had been filled, the one major gap in the west wall having been covered with around 7 feet of planking and with a rough firing step placed inside.

They ascended what remained of the tower and arrived before Berezov, he stood next to Leiutenant Ulyanov and brooded as he looked through a spyglass into the distance.

‘Good morning, Kapitan. Tell me what you see on the horizon.’ Matovy moved towards the rough attempt at battlements and peered through her rifle’s scope. She could see the oncoming troops. Legion archers and swordsmen, numerous smaller ‘Shredder’ warbeasts, and one large Carnivean flanked by several Shepherds.

‘I see a well-armed force we need to take down from range, Koldun Lord. We are vastly outnumbered, and there is no retreat from here. I suggest we begin cutting down what we can.’ Berezov nodded at this, he had seen death before, dealt death before, but this was the first time he had had to face odds like this, and it showed. He had originally only been deployed to the fort to be the eyes and ears of the Greylords Covenant, to replace his predecessor and report unusual activity from the Legion to Korsk. If he lived it seemed he would have a lot to report this time, Matovy thought.

‘Ulyanov, send ten of your men into that trench, have the rest take up positions on the walls. Matovy, your men are to line this tower top. Aim for squad leaders and beast handlers…after that pick your targets at will.’ Both saluted and went about their duties.

It was very manner of fact. They knew the Legion were coming, it would take them ten to fifteen minutes even at a dead run. Plenty of time to get men in place and as prepared as could be. The wounded were propped up against the walls if they could hold a rifle or were left in the small stable area if they could not. Every man and woman there knew what was outside, could see it coming closer and closer. Suddenly in the distance there was a ripple on the flank of the incoming force. A few seconds later the cracks of rifle fire could be heard. Demerov’s Kossites had lain in wait overnight outside the tower. Camouflaged and snowed over they were almost invisible in the field and an entire unit of archers fell after passing their rifles.

Matovy sighted in on the Kossites from her position atop the tower once more and watched as a unit of swordsmen ran to engage them, blades flashing in the low morning sun. She saw the Kossites reload and fire again, the first rank of Swordsmen fell from their shots before the Kossites turned and ran. The main body of the Legion was still headed for the fort but Demerov’s men had successfully drawn off some. As they ran Ulyanov signalled to the men in the yard and two great Khadoran mortars rang out. There were not many shells for these great guns and the Legion had done their best to prevent them being fired again when they sacked the fort but working through the night the men had righted and repaired them.

The shells dipped and landed short of the incoming Nyss, blasts sending some of them tumbling. The mortars rang out again, as often as the gunners could manage. Shells ripped through the Legion lines but their pace only grew. At last they were in range of the trenches, fire burst out and rained down from the snipers on the tower. Bodies fell, twisted and awkward but still the numbers were greater, the charge broke through the trench, and the Legion were at the wall. Lacking the Iron Fangs for such a defensive action the remaining riflemen retreated to the courtyard even as the Carnivean smashed through the barricades.

Matovy had picked off Shepherds and leaders throughout the assault but now she followed as the Greylord ran to the courtyard. They flew down the stairs and could hear the Carnivean smashing through everything it could find. Men, machines, mortars, all were brushed aside by the behemoth that stood before them. Berezov reached the courtyard and once more used his arcane powers to attack the legion. Some froze, many died, and the beast turned to face him. With a roar and a blast of heat the Carnivean made Berezov no more.

Matovy cried out ‘Fall back to the stables!’ and the remaining defenders gathered there as the legion relentlessly pushed on. Men fell, screams came from above everything, Matovy frantically reloaded her rifle and the beast backhanded her body through the stable wall into the Juggernaut. She slipped into unconsciousness and once more the bright light returned to her dreams.

Ulyanov could do nothing as Matovy was flung across the stables into the useless hunk of metal with a sickening thud. The Koldun’s death had left it inert, its cortex scrambled. He saw her fall even as he took out another swordsman with a well-aimed shot. It was then that he heard it. The Juggernaut sighed. He turned and saw its eyes flare, steam spewing from its vents, smoke now pouring from its stacks. Matovy was standing next to it, her eyes lit by an arcane blue glow. Her words rang like thunder in his ears and he was helpless but to obey…

‘In the name of the Empress KILL THEM ALL!’ The wounded rose where they lay, beleaguered rifles raised high and as one they fired. The Nyss before them fell and those behind began to falter, the Juggernaut barrelled into the screeching Carnivean sending it flying backwards towards the hole in the outer wall. It rose again and Ulyanov watched Matovy as blue runes surrounded her rifle, coalescing as she fired. A blue bolt thundered out and hit the open mouthed carnivean square in the jaw; its head disappeared in a shower of gore.

With their major threat gone and the riflemen reforming before them the Nyss faltered, failed, and then ran. Their flight took them straight into the Kossites who had doubled back behind them. Caught in a crossfire their force was extinguished, leaving behind only a bloody memory of the battle for the small border fortress.

Matovy watched the remaining fleeing Nyss and felt the fire pulsing through her veins. The power she had was unimaginable, if she thought hard she could even see the world through the Juggernaut’s eyes. Slowly she calmed herself, felt the power recede, and saw the looks on the faces of Ulyanov and Demerov.

‘You did well’, she said, her breaths ragged as the power receded ‘We must repair the wall and prepare for those reinforcements. Try and give the dead a decent burial too…’ She fell to one knee as it receded further, she was utterly spent.

Demerov spoke first ‘You too seem to have grown fat and lazy, Kapitan, you cannot even stand after a short fight such as this.’ He reached out an arm and pulled her to her feet ‘But in victory it seems that perhaps you are still worthy of being called Kossite.’

Ulyanov’s shock broke ‘Kapitan…what was that? You commanded the Juggernaut…that should not have been possible!’

‘This is Khador, Ulyanov, and she is Kossite. Put those two things together and anything is possible…now, let us get Kapitan Matovy to a place she can rest and we can begin clearing this place. I fear that for better or ill her life may be about to become far more interesting than either of ours.’

Warmachine – A Review Part 1

Warmachine-LogoIf you follow me on Twitter, are a regular reader of this blog or have listened to me on Of Dice and Men will know that I haven’t always been the kindest of wargamers towards Privateer Press‘ Steamfantasy game. But as I try to make The Shell Case a balanced and impartial wargaming blog (recent rants aside) I thought it was about time I gave Warmachine a fair crack of the whip.

So, thanks to my sponsor I got my hands on the Warmachine two player starter set so I could not only read the rules but actually play the game and have a look at the toys. To help me along I decided to break the review into two parts. The first is going to take a look at the models that come in the starter box – specifically the Protectorate of Menoth and Khador.


Now I’ve always had a bit of a love/hate relationship with the models in so much as I love to hate them. But as I sat building the figures over the weekend something dawned on me; it’s not that the figures are bad but the paint schemes. The important word is scheme. The overly bright colours in all the product photography coupled by the fact that none of the factions has colour variety within their pallets makes for very samey looking armies. And the choices of colours by Privateer Press means that the factions looks like the Power Rangers’ fan club. Complete with Zords.

But on to models specifically. What surprised me was that the models were resin (well not exactly resin but scientifically more accurate than saying plastic). I knew that Privateer Press produced predominantly resin models but I had thought the starter box would be plastics. So tick for PP for going the extra mile and producing very well cast models. The down side is that every weapon, without exception, that the infantry was armed with was warped in some way. Not enough that it couldn’t be bent or teased back into shape mind you. Also the detail is a little lacking. Not in an obvious way, just anything that wasn’t an armour-plate or a robe lacked the definition one would find with Forge World, Spartan Games and – for all its failings – Games Workshop’s Finecast.

But, as I say: the casting quality is very good. Very crisp and clean, and without a hint of flash. Take note Games Workshop. However where the holes for the injection mould were positioned means that its a bloody pain to clean. Plus, because PP kindly snap all the flash off for you, some of the models actually sport slight damage which isn’t the end of the world but it is annoying.


Design wise I’m actually very impressed with all the models that came in the box. Privateer Press cleverly designed all their components to slot together, literally, which means that you can have dynamic look models that have real depth to them and still be made of resin. Even the mace for the Menoth Warcaster (who I have named Reverend Pointy Hat) slots together. This press together approach means that models not only go together very easily but they stay together. It certainly takes the pressure off when it comes to building a lot of resin models and the headaches that are associated with that.

The Warjacks, similarly, are intelligently designed. With both the Khador and Menoth Warjacks, components have been designed in such away that both keeps the aesthetic of each faction but means you can position the arms to make them look dynamic, which makes up for the fact the legs are pretty static.

Drilling down to the specific factions I have to grudgingly admit they’re pretty cool. The Light Warjack for the Menoth faction sucks out loud. I mean it’s shit. For one thing it’s head looks like Daffy Duck in a suit of armour. Throw in the phallic flamer thingy it’s got and the absurd disproportion of the design and it’s more than a little bit comical. But that particular turd aside, the rest look the tits. The Exemplars look pretty pimp and by making the shields separate they give the models feeling of rapid movement rather than organised ranks, which suits the game style. It makes them look huge. Which they are anyway on account of the shoulder pads that’d make Wall Street blush. More than that though they look like exaggerated Knights Templar – which is the point – and the huge swords and shields is as much a symbol of faith as it is about cleansing the unholy. They’re a nice contrast with the more improvised look of the Menoth Warjacks.

The Menoth Warjacks impressed me more than I thought. The traditional colours in the photography make them, to me, very flat fronted but once I actually saw the models up close they’re actually pretty good. I like the crudity of them and as I’m reliably informed they’re re-purposed worker ‘Jacks this makes sense. There’s also the kinds of detail one would expect from both a major player in the wargaming market and a game that has its roots firmly in the industrial. Complete with furnaces and smoke belching smoke stacks, and even a hatch to shovel in the coal.


But the big surprise for me was that I actually liked the Khador stuff. As in really liked it. As in if I were to collect an army for Warmachine it’d probably be them – based purely on the models mind. Background wise I understand they’re a bunch of bastards. My new-found fondness for the Red Rangers is because the Warjacks are actually pretty awesome. Big, bulky and with intelligent enough design that I can believe they won’t buckle under their own weight. And they don’t have stupid comedy faces. They still follow the standard point face that all the Warjacks seem to follow – for reasons beyond my understanding. The Khador Warjacks look like they mean the business they were built for. And I absolutely love the  weapon styling. Although my favourite part of the model isn’t a specific detail or even the overall look, but the elegant simplicity of the arm joints. A ball and socket joint that mounts on the body means that the Khador Warjacks can look dynamic and varied without having to sacrifice the stocky, made for war, design.

Equally the Man-O-War shocktroopers are in massive suits of powered armour meant for face kickery. Again, the detailing is lacking some definition and on mine the mould lines were a pain as they ran down over the detail. And, as it’s resin, trying to file it off would have destroyed said detail. But they’re imposing looking dudes and feel as Russian as they’re clearly meant to be. I’m not entirely sure why they all look fat but presumably that’s a tech limitation thing. And despite that they still look cool. The shields are daft though but you can’t win them all.

So generally, the models I’ve seen for Warmachine are pretty good. The exaggerated design doesn’t look so bad on unpainted models and if painted sensibly will actually come out well. I’m still not 100% sold on the wider range but I suppose that’s true of all companies. There are always going to be models that don’t appeal. But for a starter set both factions offer up some appealing models that will look the part when painted.

The Warmachine starter set is available from Firestorm Games priced £62.96

DocBungle talks Storm Wall

Dave over at Miniature Musings of a Bear has been…er…musing on the new Storm Wall Colossal for Warmachine that his exceptional wife got him for his birthday. No idea what he’s banging on about myself but this is nothing new…

The Wargaming Bear

So I have had the beast for a few days now and I have tried him with pNemo and pStryker (why? well thats my 2 Cygnar casters I have used so far :P)

But first some initial thoughts you have already had these hundreds of times already on the internet probably but I am going to go there just for completeness 😛

 – 120mm bases can be a pain to move around even with pathfinder. Obstacles are going to be painful very very painful (apparently Colossals & Battle Engines are incredibly clumsy).

 – He is a huge point sink it is amazing what your opponent can bring for the same cost.

 – Playing him at below 50pts is not worth it as like any really elite list (which is what a SW list is) means you feel every loss that little bit more than usual. OK he is a monster…

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Musings on Warmachine

I’ve made no bones about the fact that Warmachine does not push my hobby buttons. I, like Warmachine, can’t really put my finger on why beyond I find the notion of the warjacks stupid. Some of them look cool and the artwork (below) is ace, but I truly loathe the get out of jail free card that comes with using magic to explain away how the impossible is possible. It’s lazy writing. I prefer my IP to think around a problem not just say its a magic spell.

I cringe when I hear magic being used as a justification or counter argument for something existing that makes no sense, particularly in a wargame. Obviously I have no problem with magic in games – although I try to steer away from it preferring to mang people rather than zap them – or with fantasy factions. After all what would Warhammer be without the Undead and the like?

Warjacks are cool to look at. Mostly. Usually anything large and smashy gets my vote. This goes double for the Colossals. Because, they are, well, Colossal. Beyond the reliance on magic I’ve never been able to articulate what my beef is with Warmachine because I’ve never even got as far as the rulebook. I also get stuck at the model stage. And I’ve always said if you don’t like the models you won’t get into the game because you have to care about what you’re collecting. The thing is; the models are actually pretty good and there’s a variety of factions to tickle most peoples taste buds. In fact my comrade in arms @DocBungle wrote a fantastic guest post a while back detailing the world in which Warmachine is set – you can read about it here – yet still something niggled at me and not even the recommendations and endorsements of my fellow #warmongers was enough to make me want to look into it further.

So what’s the point? Well, @DocBungle got one of these bad boys for his birthday today. And, aside from having an exceptional wife, it’s a really really cool model – gatling nipples aside. Yet still it didn’t move me to put my hand in my pocket. And then I Googled the Storm Strider because I had no idea what it was and saw, as well as images of the model painted by Privateer I saw the model in all its resin glory as well as those painted by other people and I think I’ve figured out the problem.

Everything is too clean. Everything is tool bright and shiny. Even with a world at war, the denizens of Immoren like to keep their uniforms clean and their warjacks cleaner. Combined with the stylised, arguably exaggerated, look of the models and it feels like a cartoon. And for someone brought up on the grim darkness of the distant future it doesn’t sit quite right. Especially as the artwork isn’t presented that way. The paint jobs clash with the background which makes me feel like I won’t know what kind of game I’m playing. A serious skirmish game or something with a little bit more light-hearted like Freeboother’s Fate.

I’ve decided that I need to at least try to understand this game better. I need to read the rules and even get my hands on some models to see how they look. And maybe even paint them how I paint. To project them into the world of Immoren I imagined from looking at the artwork and reading @DocBungle’s summary. Never it let it be said that I let a white undercoat or cheerful colour scheme to get in the way of the soul crushing drudgery of war. I shall investigate the game further and report back.

It’s a War Thing

A big part of The Shell Case mandate is talking about all the many and awesome wargames that are out there in the hope of giving some well deserved companies some recognition and hopefully getting people to play a cool game that would have otherwise passed their notice.

I’ve written extensively about Games Workshop games, Spartan Games’…er…games and a variety of others, with plenty more in the pipeline to review. The elephant in the corner is Privateer Press and their game Warmachine.

Followers on Twitter and regular readers of this blog will know that I’m just not a fan. I can’t really put my finger on why, but it just doesn’t get me in my hobby spot. And I’ve really tried to like it honest I have. But because my feelings are so, the likelihood of me playing the game, let alone writing a review of Warmachine or Hordes (which appears to be a self-indulgent spin-off, ditching the infantry and just taking the big beasties) is quite slim. So, I have turned to @DocBungle to write a Warmachine Primer on what do if you want to start collecting and playing Warmachine.

Hello again, its @DocBungle doing his business all over The Shell Case again.

This time the illustrious leader has asked for a beginner’s guide to Warmachine from the good people at Privateer Press. I will try my best and hopefully it may prove useful. Well here’s hoping…

Are we sitting comfortably? Then I shall begin with some background information on the world of Warmachine and factions at play within it. Then we will quickly touch on the rules and mechanism as well as maybe showing some pretty pictures along the way 😉

The World

The Warmachine world is set upon the world of Caen, which has upon it the continent of Immoren which upon its western shores holds all the major players of the Warmachine universe.

The Continent of Immoren

 The major Warmachine area of western Immoren.

So looking at the map we can see 8 kingdoms not including the Bloodstone Marshes (they are for another time).

Now the initial kingdoms of Cygnar, Ord, Llael, and Khador are the main human kingdoms of Western Immoren, you will often hear them called the Iron Kingdoms. In the fluff they were created many years ago with the Corvis Treaties. This was signed after the humans had rid themselves of the Orgoth oppression with the help of the Colossi (which are the great granddaddy of the current Warjacks).

Now these kingdoms were generally not officially at war until Khador decided it wanted more land and went to war with Cygnar and as a product of this Khador are currently occupying Llael. While Ord is decidedly neutral in all these shenanigans, well except for all the mercenaries they have….

Now moving onto the other kingdoms;

Rhul is the home of the dwarves and are currently neutral in the war but they can be seen in the game as mercenaries who work for the highest bidders.

Ios is the home of the elves, now generally no-one knows much about them. Well until they got a touch angry and want some Retribution for their dying Gods and blame humanity for it. They are now ready to bring the pain.

Protectorate of Menoth was once part of Cygnar; however it has broken away and is now at war with flaming everyone but mainly Cygnar. This is a religious war based upon the Protectorates population following the Menite faith which is generally at odds with the Cygnar’s Morrowan government and King. Although both are recognized religions (Menoth being the creator, while Morrow is a twin raised to god-hood) the Menites are generally a moody bunch.

Cryx is a group of islands off the coast of Cygnar. This is an undead kingdom ruled Lord Toruk or “The Dragonfather” (he sires all of the dragons of Caen). Here you will find zombie pirates and green goo-galore. Generally they are the stuff of legend and nightmares but these nightmares are real.


That is one BIG dragon


So now we have covered where we are playing these games it’s time to look at the actual gaming factions. From the 8 Kingdoms of western Immoren we get 6 playable factions and they are described below;

This faction is the richest and most technologically advanced human nation present in Warmachine. This means that they have some of the best weaponry around, from very good guns to extensive use of electricity to cause damage

What does this mean in gaming turns?

  • Decent shooting
  • Lots of electricity
  • Middle of the road Jacks
  • Lots of toys (Squires etc.)


They are the imperialists faction based in the cold harsh north (think Russians). They are straight to the point and blunt people with no finesse really.

What this means gaming wise?

  • Very tough jacks that can take a pounding
  • Lots of AoE shooting (so not accurate)
  • No Arc nodes or Light Jacks
  • Generally slow-moving before spell boosts
  • Ice and Snowing

A nation of devout religious practitioners (re: nutcases) that will happily sacrifice themselves for the good of the Protectorate.

What this means gaming wise?

  • Generally low stat jacks that need help, but once they get it are very nasty
  • Combos and ordering of spells/buffs are important
  • Some elite troops with lots of low-cost cannon fodder as well
  • Fire. Lots and lots of fire.

All about the necromancers who worship Toruk. They are all about being evil and dastardly.

What this means gaming wise?

  • Glass cannon Jacks
  • Pirates
  • Lots of undead cannon fodder
  • Corrosion
  • Stealth and generally debuffing the enemy

A real mixed bag of options from pirates to dwarfs to exiled heroes. You don’t have something in your army chances are the mercs will fill a gap.

What this means gaming wise?

  • Pick N Mix of the Warmachine world
  • Pirates
  • Dwarfs
  • Crazy Cygnar exiles
  • Faction gap fillers

A secret angry force from the elven nation of Ios trying to save their Gods by killing all human mages. So lots of unique technology and a mix of stealthy and just smash face elves.

What this means gaming wise?

  • Unique Jacks (force fields)
  • Telekinetic shenanigans
  • Angry elves
  • Mix of stealthy elves and well armoured elves
  • Lots of jack/warcaster based spells (they hate human mages after all)

How the game plays

So now we have done the basic fluff and factions although very quickly now onto the actual game.

Game Mechanism

Simply put everything is based around 2D6. So you want to hit something use the right stat + 2D6 and if you beat the opposition stat with the total it is successful.

Now there are various in-game effects/abilities/spells that can change the number of dice you roll or change the number of your stat or their stat. So it is not completely set in stone is the 2D6 but generally that is what you use.

Next we will be having a look at the different types of miniatures you will come across in the game.



Here is where things start to get bit more complicated. Your caster is your general, main magic user and chief reason you play your army in a certain way. There are plenty of choices and all do something different.

Khador Kommander Strakhov

Focus – This is set number of ‘tokens’ that you generate at the start of your turn generally you will get between 5-10 focus depending on your caster. Now you can spend these to pay for a spell you want to cast (a number of focus per spell) or you can give some to your Warjacks (more on that later) or you can boost your dice rolls for anything (mentioned above) you are trying to do; hitting, wounding etc.

And as a bonus if you don’t spend all of your allotment this will help boost your armour and so make it harder for you to take damage.

NOTE: Although your Caster is a superhuman anything can still in theory hurt them and if you lose your caster then it is game over. So protect them and do it well.

Feat – This is a once per game ‘free’ spell of sorts that can really help swing the battle in your favour. They will tend to be more powerful than a normal spell and are unique to the caster unlike some spells.

Control Area – This is double your casters focus amount and is important not only for feats but giving focus to jacks and some spells. The reason for this it that Jacks can only be controlled probably if they are within this area of your caster and feats will only affect what is inside this area as well.


 Retribution Phoenix

The giant robots you come across and form part of the massive destruction to be had in Warmachine. So what makes them so fearsome, well they are big, hit very hard and compared to other things in their respective factions can take a real beating.


Cryx Deathjack

As mentioned in the Warcaster section they need to be kept in the control area to be effective as they cannot receive and use focus if they are outside this ‘bubble’

Focus use – Like casters they can use focus to boost both to hit and to damage. But also you will need to spend focus to make your jacks charge and run otherwise they may not keep up with the rest of your army.

Damage grid – Unlike everything else in the game the Jacks have a damage grid (1-6) with boxes to tick off when damage is done. Once all these have been filled then your Jack is scrap.


You may notice some boxes have letters in them, these correspond to various parts of the body; arms for example. Once all these particular boxes are ticked the Jack suffers a reduction in ability.

Example damage grid


(History Lesson – There was a time back in Mk1 before Mk2 of the rules that infantrymachine was running wild. What this meant was that Jacks were not as deadly as they should have been and infantry was king. Privateer Press addressed this and the balance is now much more even.)


Total War

These are your units of warriors that fight alongside the Casters and Jacks to bring glory to their faction. It is an amazing mix of choices can be found in each faction but generally they can be split into the following; Support, generic, elite.

  • Support units – These tend to be small & squishy and offer support to others, usually the Jacks as most mechanics fall into this zone.
  • Generic – These will tend to be cheap units that can be large in number and usually offer the role of cannon fodder / sacrificial lambs but also more of a Jack of all trades unit.
  • Elite – These units will tend to be very specialised in their abilities or just hit like a freight train OR take a hit from said train, they might do both. As you would expect you will pay through the nose for them.

You will find that a unit may not directly help you win a game but they will usually be very helpful in getting your Jacks/Caster in a position to win.

Unit attachments – These are additions you can add to some units (mostly a champion and Standard Bearer), all of them greatly increase the effectiveness of the unit they attach to by covering a weakness or adding something else to their abilities. Something else to note is the use of what everyone knows as a mini-feat like the casters feat it is only for one use and only affects the unit but they help a lot but timing is key.


These are individuals that can be used and fall into similar categories as can be found in units but with a great amount in the support section. You will find a great mix of support as well with any of the other 3 types (Caster, Jack and Unit) being given some sort of support from a solo.

You will also find a lot of named solos in the each faction which lets you delve more into the stories of Warmachine as you can play with characters that have been seen within the story.

Something to note about Solos and Units is that they DO NOT benefit from focus like Jacks do, so no boosting present for them although they may have other rules which offer something similar ;).

Hopefully that taster of the miniatures has wet the appetite

Starting in the game

Now the important bit getting into the game and setting up.

This is simple you need the Warmachine Prime rulebook this has all the rules you will need and also some information on the factions and the rules for some of the miniatures (the reason for only some of the miniatures is historical as the miniatures present in Prime are those first released by Privateer Press). There is also some brief history about the world and each faction in the book.

After this all you need is the miniatures as each one comes with a stat card with all the rules you need to play them (or you can just buy the cards and proxy). If you are unsure what to pick you can always go to Battle College for help or go to the official forums or visit me at The Shell Case forums.

I would also recommend the new 2-person starter set for those wishing for everything in one box. Or if you already have friends/opponents into Warmachine (or you don’t like Khador or the Protectorate) than the starter box sets for each faction are an amazing (and cheap) way of getting started.

Now if you want to learn more about your chosen faction than is present in the rulebook than the Forces book is for you. Not only does it give more information on the history (extending from the rulebook) but it also gives you some extra non-rule based information about all the miniatures.

I will really drive this home in my opinion you do NOT need the forces book to play the game but if you want to submerge yourself in the world of Wamachine as most gamers would then the forces book for you chosen faction is very much on the to-buy list.

Now for those unfamiliar with Privateers mechanism for releasing miniatures they release a new book every so often which extends a story arc they have started and also show all the new miniatures they have added to each faction. But as I have mentioned if you just want to play buying the miniatures gives you the card so you can play them without the new book.

I will say this you would be mad not to get the books they are superb pieces of art and story writing never mind the shiny things they have in them 😀

The Ending and Checklist.

Well there you go; hopefully this little intro to Warmachine has been helpful and given those unsure of it a bit more info so they can decide to give it a go. Any questions fire them my way on The Shell Case forums.

And finally a little checklist to get you started;

  • Quick-start rules (free on Privateer Press website).
  • Warmachine Prime.
  • Starter box sets.
  • Stat cards for chosen faction.
  • Have fun.

Heavy Metal Wars

@Chris_S_79 is venturing into the world of Warmachine and he’s just got his grubby little mits on the starter box. Such is his excitement he’s written a blog post about it: Heavy Metal Wars.

Nothing quite beats that new army feeling…