April 21st, 2010
Classic Review: Warmachine Prime 2003
Now here’s a game which is taking the gaming world by storm. In fact getting a hold of the Battle Group boxed sets, blisters and the Prime rulebook has been somewhat of a task for many gaming enthusiasts due to the demand for the game overall.
Quite frankly; the creators of Warmachine had no idea that the demand would be so great this early on. On the other hand, they’re not at all complaining about its popularity either. While most miniature/war-games requires extensive study of thick rulebooks and a variety of different calculations to perform, and various charts to consult on the fly; Warmachine takes a slightly different approach.
What is it?
Warmachine is a D6 game, and all you need to play it is a handful of D6 dice, a measuring tape and some beads or even pennies to represent focus points (more on that later) and the Quick Start rules, or the Prime rulebook. In most instances you’ll be using no more than two to three D6 at a time, as the basic rolls use two D6.
Playing is very much reminiscent of Wizkids’ Mechwarrior: Dark Age in terms of mechanics, because you have pre-determined weaponry, no spending points to buy other items, and the set values are printed and used based on the values found on each stat card provided with each figure. Since there’s really no conversion potential, due to the lack of having to buy, or the configuring of different weapons, some die-hard 40k enthusiasts will no doubt fail to notice it based on that fact alone. The ones that do give it a fair shake will find that there’s far more to like than to dislike about Warmachine.
How does it play?
If you know the Clix games, this is where it’s similar, minus the dial. If you want to make a melee attack roll, simply take the MAT value printed on the stat card for the attacker, roll two D6, add the results to the MAT value and if it matches, or beats the DEF value of the target you’ve hit it.
Damage is then calculated by rolling two D6 again, adding the power and strength (P+S on the card) of the weapon, plus the roll results, and every point over the ARM value of the target is calculated as damage points.
If you want to make a ranged attack, add the RAT value to the two D6 roll. Damage for a ranged attack is then calculated by taking the POW value of the weapon used, and then adding the results of a 2D6 roll to it. Again meeting or exceeding the DEF value makes a successful hit, and every point you exceed over the ARM value when rolling for damage is damage taken. Here’s where it gets even more interesting.
Most stat cards feature a grid of damage boxes at the bottom (others have a straight line of boxes across the bottom, like those found on the cards of the warcasters), split up into numbered columns vertically. To apply damage you simply check off the boxes as you take damage. In column 1 there may be an L in the last box, and in column 2 two Ls in the last two boxes.
The L stands for Left Arm. In columns 5 & 6 you may find Rs, in columns 3 & 4 could be Ms and Cs, which stand for Cortex and Movement. Once all of any one of the letters has been eliminated, the corresponding system is also no longer operable.
For instance, you’d loose the Right arm and what ever the weapon may be that it’s holding once you lost all the Rs. You can no longer move once all of the Ms have been checked off. The genius of this system is that to determine where to apply the damage, the attacker rolls a single D6, and what ever number the result is the corresponding number column of the same value is where you start applying the damage.
Once the given column is full you keep filling columns to the right, wrapping if needed, until all of the boxed have been checked off. Once three systems have been wiped out, or the entire grid has been checked off, which ever comes first, then that figure has been wiped out.
Since the cards are nothing more than cardboard they suggest slipping them into protective plastic sleeves and picking up some dry-erase markers. I dumped mine into some laminated business card sleeves, and snagged some very fine point dry-erase markers at Wal-Mart. So, all that’s needed to get the most of the game can be easily found locally almost anywhere.
The game features a variety of different unit types, but since we’re talking about the Battle Group boxes right now, we’ll stick with the Warcaster and Warjacks for the moment. The Warcaster is essentially the commander, as the warjacks are mindless machines doing what ever the warcaster commands them to do. If a warjack has an arc node the warcaster can also channel spells through the warjack, and here’s where it gets even more interesting.
The Warcaster has a printed FOC value, this determines two things; first it designates how many focus points you will receive each turn, secondly multiply the FOC value by two, and that’s the number of inches you can be away from your warjacks at any given time to allocate focus points to them.
Focus points can be represented by anything from pennies to glass gaming beads, what ever you can use and set next to the figures showing the focus points assigned to them. The Cygnar Warcaster Striker has a FOC value of 6, so you get six focus points per turn to split up between your warcaster and the warjacks under his command, how ever you see fit.
The warcaster can cast a number of different spells as well, all of which are printed on the back of the figure’s card. You definitely want to give the warcaster a few focus points every turn for spells, but you might want to make more attacks and boost the rolls of your jacks, so choose wisely how they’re spent each turn. Focus points can be used a few other ways. Assigning two focus points to a warjack will give it the means to spend one focus point to boost it, adding a third D6 die to the attack roll, to add a third D6 die to the damage roll, boosting it, or both, as each of those actions cost 1 focus point.
You can even make a second attack, by spending a focus point, and unused focus points can be utilized by the warcaster a few more creative ways. Special power attacks can also be performed by the warjacks by spending focus points, like performing arm-locks, head-locks, head-butts, slams, throws, etc, all out brutality at its finest!
Spend those focus points wisely, though. Spending the focus points is what makes the game so compelling, as how one handles their resources adds a strategic element that’s missing in most every other skirmish game on the market today. There’s more to it than what I’ve outlined above gameplay-wise, but that should give you the basics. Diving into the Warmachine Prime rulebook one will find not only more detail and history on the topic of the Iron Kingdoms universe in which Warmachine is played out in, but also a more in-depth look at the game itself and how it’s played.
The Prime rulebook also clarifies many things that the Quick Start rules aren’t so clear about. The introduction, rules/gameplay and scenarios section encompass about 66 pages of the 200 pages that Prime offers. The rest of Prime covers all of the miniatures and each faction in detail, complete with stats, followed by a section on tactics and about 15 pages on modeling with many brilliant full color photos of the miniatures and even dioramas. At $20 the Prime rulebook is a steal considering all that it offers.
As for the miniatures, they’re absolutely outstanding. Warmachine is a 30mm game, with that being the case; the figures are slightly bigger than that of 40k and other popular 25mm-28mm miniature games. The Warjacks themselves, since they’re in scale can be pretty massive. Some of the largest ones are almost the size of a GamesWorkshop Dreadnaught, and cost less in the overall scheme of things. At present you can buy a Khador Destroyer blister (one of the larger warjacks) for $19.99 MSRP (even less than that online), and we all know what GamesWorkshop Dreads cost, in most cases at least $10-$15 more than that.
The quality if the miniatures are also topnotch. Sure from time to time you may find one that needs a little more attention than others, but overall I’ve found the assembly and cleaning of the miniatures to be no harder than putting together and cleaning anything from the competition be it GW, Reaper, I-Kore, etc.
One suggestion, though, you may want to pin the arms on the heavier warjacks, as these things are huge and just one arm alone can weigh almost as much as some single small 25mm figures that are out there. Taking a little more precaution in the assembly process will go a long way with Warmachine, as these have to be by far the heaviest metal minis on the market in terms of overall metal content per figure when you’re talking about the warjacks.
With four distinct factions to choose from there’s at least one out there for everyone’s playing style. The Cryx are downright evil, grimy and loathsome, and look it. The Cygnar are the squeaky clean good-guys, black-powder and magic wielding typical medieval knights. The Khador are unquestionably a take on the former Soviet Union, the great Bear of the North; powerful, cunning and downright intimidating to gaze upon, the Khador is just tough as nails no matter how you look at them.
Then there’s the Protectorate of Menoth, simply put the Daemonhunters of Warmachine; the holy-rollers of the Iron Kingdom. Determined to smite all, that stand in their way, The Protectorate of Menoth not only preaches it but they can bring it to the battlefield as well.
Like most war-games every unit is worth so many points, and each Battle Group box (one is available for each faction) contains enough miniatures to make a single 300-point army, give or take a few points. As it stands you can truly have hours worth of fun with a friend and a few Battle Group boxes alone. Each Battle Group box contains a single warcaster and a variety of warjacks. A Battle Group box runs about $40 retail ($35 online) and blisters are competitively priced with what the competition has to offer, if not a little less in some cases.
Already they’ve released some fix-it troops in the way of the Mechanic and Goblin Bodgers for the Cygnar and Mechanik Chief and Assistants for Khador, all of which have the ability to repair the damage done to Warjacks, and even restart disabled jacks on the battlefield.
In the way of troops there’s now the Man-O-War Kaptain and Man-O-War Shocktroops for the Khador and The Warpriest and Choir for Menoth, both of which start to help fill out the ranks a little, giving players more options in terms of what to field. In addition each faction has a second warcaster available for purchase separately, and all of the figures in the starter/battle group boxes, aside from the warcasters can be purchased in single blister packs now as well.
Speaking of jacks the Cygnar Defender and Sentinel are also new, both of which bring some ranged firepower to the Cygnar force, as the Sentinel can strafe and cause a fair amount ruckus for a light jack, and the Defender lets loose with a pretty powerful ranged attack of his own, one that’s almost as devastating as, if not more devastating than that of the Khador Destroyer.
Menoth also have the Vanquisher; a heavy jack with a big gun and a new light jack in the way of the Redeemer. Privateer Press is releasing all of the miniatures for Warmachine in waves. This is a good thing, as it gives hobbyists the time to build and paint-up a few minis at a time, and by the time their done and have played them a little, the next wave is ready to ship, easing players further into the game, offering a little more complexity and new tactics to be employed with each new release.
While availability has been pretty rough over the past few months, things are coming around, and currently Wave 1 (battle force boxes), and Wave 2 (support units like the goblin bodgers and necrotech and scrap thralls) should be much easier to come by, and Wave 3 (Cygnar Defender & Sentinel, Mentoth Vanquisher & Redeemer, Warpriest and Choir, Khador Kaptain & Man-O-War, Khador Chief & Assistants, Cryx Nightwretches) is currently shipping to retail, with the exception of some of the Wave 3 warjacks, which we’re told should be enroute any day now.
Actually Privateer Press offered a limited supply of all of the Wave 3 figures at Origins, so there’s definitely done, it’s just a matter of them making it to retail shelves now.
Gen Con also brought the pre-release of the final four warcasters (Khador’s Vlad, Cygnar’s Lt. Allister Caine, Cryx’s Scarre and Mentoth’s High Reclaimer) for each faction and the ultra special Magnus the Traitor boxed set (all of which won’t be released officially until Nov ‘03). The Magnus set features three jacks and the warcaster Magnus, all of which are Mercenaries.
Magnus is a former Cygnar bad-ass, only he’s bent on doing things his way, and has a beef with the Cygnar warcaster Striker, so he can’t be employed by a Cygnar force of any kind, and the figure and his stats reflect his overall character traits, making Magnus one very sought after piece indeed. Not to mention his warjacks are something else as well. It’s no surprise that they’re outstanding pieces to look at, and no doubt equally as impressive to employ on the battlefield.
If you’re strapped for cash you can easily get by with the Quick Start rules alone for quite some time, and you could even go as far as outright buying the pieces you want via single blisters and just downloading the rules via their website, avoiding the Battle Group starter boxes altogether now. You can have some very compelling games with just the Quick Start Rules alone.
However getting the rulebook somewhere down the road is definitely a good idea, as it offers a very in-depth look at the rich and vibrantly illustrated Iron Kingdoms universe, and with the stats provided you could easily proxy some of the pieces you don’t have yet.. What’s more, the Prime rulebook is by far one of the best miniatures rulebooks around due to the outstanding layout and design, as it’s visually appealing, and offers droves of useful and sought after information pertaining to the game and background.
Not to mention that the art throughout the rulebook, the packaging for the Battle Group boxes and their website are all truly sites to behold. With each Battle Group boxed set you get an awesome poster featuring the stunning art of Privateer Press’s Matt Wilson (the same piece found on the Prime rulebook cover), which also features the Quick Start rules printed on the flipside.
By years end Warmachine players will be able to field very complex and well rounded large scale armies from what Privateer Press has stated, as they’ll have most of, if not all of what’s listed in Prime out by then. Even with what’s out now you could put together a pretty fearsome army, and could easily engage in some intriguing large scale battles. In terms of organized play support they have what they call Press Gangers in place already, which are volunteers who demo the game, and help run official tournaments.
At Gen Con and Origins they gave away several medals and limited edition resin scrap piles depicting a disabled warjack as prizes, which is a good indication that bigger and better things are yet to come for Warmachine in terms of organized tournament play.
The ikWarmachine.com website also features a wealth of in-depth information in the forums area alone on the game and modeling, and they’re very active forums, which Privateer Press participates in frequently. At the website you’ll also find .pdf versions of the stats cards for the Battle Group miniatures that you can print and blow up if you don’t want to use the ones that came with the figures, as well at the quick start rules, the updated rules FAQ and tournament play guidelines.
Is it worth it?
If you haven’t played it yet, it’s worth giving Warmachine a shot. With Games Workshop continually raising their prices, and now shutting down the Internet so that they can reap the benefit of Internet sales solely themselves, Warmachine definitely proves that there’s something else out there to if not take the place of GW products, it can definitely give many GW game players, and other miniature/wargaming enthusiasts something else to consider.
This is also the ideal game for any clix enthusiast looking to move up to a hobby-based miniature/wargame, which offers very easy to learn mechanics and extremely high quality miniatures, with an in-depth and engrossing background and downright fun gameplay. The replay value of Warmachine alone is reason enough to give it a shot.
If I had to complain about anything it would be the lack of some of the essentials in the Battle Group boxes since there’s really no starter or a true base boxed set for Warmachine. The Battle Group boxes serve as the primary introduction to Warmachine for many gaming enthusiasts, and I can’t see it raising the cost all that much to toss in three D6 and a flexible ruler, somewhat like those given out in Mage Knight and Mechwarrior from Wizkids starter sets.
That right there is the only thing holding Warmachine back from being even more accessible for the absolute beginner right out of the box, aside from having to paint the minis. I guess on the other side of the coin they expect those who get into Warmachine to be gaming enthusiasts already, and in all honesty, what gaming enthusiast doesn’t have a few D6 and a measuring tool (be it flexible, tape measure, those 40k sticks or even a plain old ruler) lying around somewhere?
In a nutshell Warmachine is a game that can be picked up quickly, but also has what it takes to go the long haul by eventually offering a large enough variety of high quality miniatures, plus a rule set that can actually offer fulfilling and fun large-scale gameplay, plus smaller scale beer and pretzels complexity both. Warmachine is definitely a game to keep your eye on; this one is going places fast!
This article was originally published in the Summer of 2003 at GamingReport.com, which is why it's listed as a Classic Review. It remained in their top 10 most popular reviews of all time, and when they closed the doors in 2009, it was still sitting at the #7 spot. That's a true testament to Warmachine's popularity.
Warmachine's latest rulebook is the MK II Prime rulebook (which is 3 versions later than the original Prime), and has grown into a far bigger game than anyone ever imagined possible. Privateer Press will be releasing the MK II Hordes rulebook this summer too now, which is the sister game to Warmachine, is equally as popular, and is fully compatible with Warmachine MKII.
The above review still covers the basics of the gameplay quite well, and is still quite relevant today, which is why I've decided to republish the review now. It's hard to believe that I wrote that seven years ago! A true blast from the past. I still feel that it's an amazing game, and a true gem, and it's my #1 favorite game once again now in 2010.