WarMachine in the UK

WarMachine is billed as a SteamPunk miniatures game.  The WarMachines are mechanical fighting engines (Jacks) powered by the magic will of a warcaster.  The sister system,  Hordes has the same game rules but substitutes beasts for machines.  Both the Hordes and WarMachine rule books contain rules for Jacks and beasts, there is no need to own both books.   The purpose of this piece is not to go through all the rules and options but to summarise the state of play within the UK, to discuss how to start from scratch and suggest other uses for the models.  The full rules are available for free from the publisher Privateer Press,  There is a good guide to the various factions and how they play at Battle College.

Privateer Press are an American outfit and much of their stock has rattled around half the world before landing on our shores.   The weak £ has led to a steep real increase in the price of imported goods.  A price hike in 2017 despite low inflation rates has further upped the entry cost. The models used to play the game are made of either metal, resin-like plastic or the softer polystyrene plastic used by GW and other plastic kit manufacturers.  Oddly many of the metal parts are cast over here in Liverpool.  Even so the retail cost of much of the WarMachine kit makes GW models (except Forge World) seem almost reasonable.  The purchase price seems to be based on the likelihood of a model selling rather than its weight and the effort put into sculpting it.   The large number of races available and the number of models in each range makes it unlikely that a stockist will have a comprehensive set in stock.  The average buyer will be looking to build up 1 (or 2 or 3 but not every) army.   Each list army will have 1 and only 1 Warcaster.  The buyer will want to run several lists so may buy several casters for that army.  They will only want to buy a duplicate caster if they have lost the previous model.  Careful reading of forums and lists shows that some models work best with a small range of casters.  For example ‘Ruin’ a Jack that likes to hang about with the Khador caster ‘Butcher’.  There are 3 versions (possibly 4 by now if including the apprentice variant) of the ‘Butcher’ each based around different stages in his career.  A buyer is only likely to want ‘Ruin’ if they run ‘Butcher’ which means they run Khador.  This is a pretty small subset of the WarMachine buying public.  In the case of ‘Ruin’ it is made from Chinese plastic not good British metal.  This is all used to up the price but in terms of materials the WarMachine starter sets include 2 models about the size of ‘Ruin’ plus other bits for about half the total price of that single ‘Ruin’ model.  Privateer know that they will sell a lot more Khador starter sets than ‘Ruin’ models.

Models are available through the usual second hand sources but the system is not as popular as 40K or Bolt Action so the range of used models available is more limited.  As a very rough guide many retail sellers offer the models at about 15% off the hefty list price.  A unit of useful used models might go for 30% off although you could wait forever for just the right casting to come up.  Full armies would be 50% or less of list but these could include models that everyone has and does not need more of or troop combinations that are never going to be used together on the table.  When considering buying a full army the key factor is just how much of it is really needed?  This is an almost impossible task for someone just starting out in the system.  The figures that come in the starter sets tend to be easy to get hold of at a good price.  The small starters include 2 jacks that you might want more than 2 of and a caster which will never need duplicating.  The 2016 starters come with the rules in a minuscule but complete booklet.  Earlier (Mark II) starters have a different caster but no rules and outdated statistic cards.  There are also battle boxes for  Hordes and WarMachine that contain the contents of starter boxes for 2 factions together with a unit of troops for each of the factions.  Resellers sometimes split the battleboxes making those units of troops (4 in total, 1 for each faction) relatively affordable.


Infantry: WarMachine, Bolt Action, GW Space Marine

The rules and mechanisms are widely discussed on the web.  Battle College is a good place to start but I will outline some procedures that are key to the system.     Attacks are by model so within a single shooting action unit models from a single unit can shoot at different targets not having to choose each target until a previous attack is complete.   In close combat weapons (such as swords ans spears) have a range of up to 2″.  Models can always use all their weapons.    There are 2 types of template.  A spray that rolls to hit for models in range and under the template.  There is also a round burst that rolls to hit once but deviates if it misses.  A spray must be targeted at a model but the burst can target anywhere hoping to hit a model that is out of range or that it otherwise cannot target.   Basic hitting and damaging are based on rolling 2D6 adding a value from the attacker and having to beat the defending value.  Equaling the score will be a hit.  For damage the excess over the defender’s armour is the number of points of damage.  Basic infantry take 1 hit, big machines could take 30 or more.  A bonus may add or subtract a small number from the dice score but it is more common to be able to add extra dice to the attacker’s total.  3D6 is not too hard to achieve, higher multiples of dice are possible but rare.  The availability of bonus dice sets some tactical decisions.  For example a warjack can use focus points to buy a dice (boost).  Should that be used to make hitting easier, attacks (if they hit) more damaging or to buy an extra attack (in close combat)?  These focus points are dealt out by the army’s sole battle caster, 6 or 7 being a common number per turn.  The focus can be allocated to Warjacks within range (they also get 1 focus of their own for free) up to the usual limit of 3 focus each.  Focus is also used for spells and negating damage to the caster.  There will never be enough focus to go round and it is not usually kept from turn to turn.  There are careful decisions to be made but luckily almost all games are played to a clock.  A common variant is the deathclock approach.  In the standard 75 point game each player has 60 minutes on the clock to deploy and play.  When they are done with deploying or playing out a turn the clock is flipped to the other player’s time.  The clock is also flipped if the non-phasing player has to make some action during the acting player’s turn.   The clock counter will move back and forth as the players take their turns with the early turns tending to be shorter as movement options are limited and with few units in range there will not be much dice rolling going on.  Running out of time is an automatic loss but this is unlikely to happen as both players know the conditions and will act accordingly.  This is an excellent style of play and would do a lot for many miniatures games.  The emphasis is on playing and actions that would involve a lot of dice rolling or figure movement with little chance of any game impact are generally skipped over.


Warmachine canon, Bolt Action Pak 40

It is not possible to definitely state what all of the rules do because there are a wide range of special rules.  Some are relatively common and others limited to a small number of models.  These confer advantages and bend the basic rules.  To do well a player would need to know their own special rules as well as knowing the rules of the opposing army.  There are at least 14 of these factions making knowing all the rules a challenging task.

The army building system is not a simple case of getting the lists.  The latest printed version of the unit statistics is Mark III, published in 2016.  Some of the statistics have been changed by errata since then.  Privateer have a community input forum (the CID) which proposes changed unit values (points, weapons, special rules).  These are not official but are likely to lead on to further modified model rules.   Army books do exist but bizarrely these do not include rules for every single model in a faction.  The small rulebooks include no unit details but the main ‘Beano annual’ books do cover a fair selection of units.  Privateer produce boxes of cards that have the statistics and point costs for all units as of 2016.  They also publish the details of the modified ‘up to date‘ cards on line.  This system has moved on to a free print on demand service where cards can be generated on-line and exported as PDFs.  Another option is to use their War Room 2 app that allows armies to be built up to set points and model damage to be tracked during games.  This is updated with the latest version of the cards but the free app only includes a selection of all the possible cards.  To get access to all the cards of a faction requires an additional fee.  At present this is about half the cost of a pack of physical faction cards (which as mentioned are now out of date).  Most but not all of the stats are also available on Battle College.  There are several independent army builder programs available for the system, Conflict Chamber is pretty good and includes the option to use points for the experimental CID changes but covers points only not unit statistics.  An issue to note with points is that each Warcaster requires about 25 to 30 points to be spent on Warjacks.  These points do not count towards the army point total, think of them as negative points.  The basic army boxes of a caster and 2 Jacks (or beasts) are probably 0 point forces.  The 2-player battlebox would include armies of about 10 points each.


WarMachine jack, 40K dreadnought, WarMachine armoured infantry

A big plus for WarMachine is that despite the small user base compared to GW it is relatively easy to get into.  The system is well optimised to playing in a small space (the standard table size is 4’x4′) which encourages play in shops.  The 2-hour timed game limit also helps to run 3 or more games in a working day allowing a full competition to be run in 1 session.  There are also smaller variants of the system with fewer points and a 3’x3′ board although the standard game size is the full 75 points.  This has led to a number of groups running competitions and other events in the UK.  The flip side to a relatively accessible playing environment is that some of these players get in a lot of matches and become pretty good at the system.  Thankfully they will cut some slack to the newcomer.

The playing base here in the UK is certainly not increasing.  Base model costs are high and although some of the new castings are very nice older models are lagging behind what Games Workshop and others bring out.  The list system offers free units with certain army builds.  That may be good for winning games but those models still need to be physically acquired with real cash.  There is a also a built in system of bonuses that can trap the impulse purchaser.  Units are usually sold in boxes based on the minimum or maximum size for fielding models with the lists.  Those units often benefit from a command pack (sold separately).  There may also be a higher officer figure that gives a bonus to those units (another buy) and if the officer figure has been bought it may make sense to field another unit of the related troops together with their specialist command stand to make the most of his abilities.  This sales model depends on the gamer having the will and cash to follow it through and the supplier maintaining enough complimentary stock to meet the potential demand.  Several UK suppliers have recently sold off stock at a discount benefiting the players but harming the overall support base in the UK.


WarMachine heroes, Anatares battle suit, Bolt Action infantry

A lesser rant is the lack of requirement for painted armies to play in public.  Many of the models take some skill to put together, notably pinning small parts yet shop (public) games and tournaments do not enforce painting standards.  The work required to undercoat and create a basic 3 colour paint job is certainly less than assembling the models.  ‘Official’ games require that figures be correct and not proxied on the fragile stance that the opposing player must be in no doubt as to what they represent, even the base type is restricted (hence the tall, round bases with field of view markings) .  If the figure is in bare metal or monochrome undercoat it is pretty difficult to identify at arm’s length compared to something with a degree of contrasting colour.  Poorly presented models and 2d terrain (brilliant for measuring but looking somewhat flat) is not the way to match up with the current Games Workshop quality no matter how much better the rules might be.

WarMachine should not be immediately written off.  The rules are good but the money pit of paying to create superior armies needs to be avoided.  The figures themselves, especially when discounted by retailers are a good resource for steampunk or alternate history games such as Konflikt ’47 where the publishers do not enforce strict rules on whose figures need to be used.  The Hordes monsters could fit into just about any fantasy of Sci Fi system.  The WarMachine setting is roughly late 19th century but would work for any time after the Napoleonic wars.  Many of the nations are similar in structure with basic infantry, specialists, small, medium and huge Jacks or war machines.  Cryx stand to one side as undead with pirates giving them a slice of the ‘Pirates of the Carribean’ action.  Grymkin seem to be appealing to the Malifaux crowd.  Amongst the more ‘normal’ factions are Khador who are the Russians and Cygnar who are the Western good guys.  In Konflikt ’47 Cryx would pad out the Germans, Khador the Soviets and Cygnar the British or USA.  The size comparisons on this page give some ideas as to how the figures could be re-purposed in other systems.


Spanish Civil War Bolt Action

A Spanish Civil War campaign book may or may not be in the works and there are some Bolt Action interpretations about the web. Wargaming 3D have also worked up some suggested rules and lists.   Even without an official approach the Spanish Civil War makes use of the same equipment as existing armies and the general infantry layouts work for any nation.  For those wanting a gaming overview and force ideas ‘Too Fat Lardies’ provide, Espania, a PDF supplement for their Chain of Command rules.

Empress are probably the gold standard for SCW 28mms but many partisan and VBCW models can be repurposed. The problem with some VBCW figures is that they can drift towards the comic opera and the classic British helmet would be out of place. The images here show an early Brigadista or POUM force made up from figures already in the author’s Bolt Action army boxes. A command and the odd flag would fill it out. The temptation is to also make up a rebel force to take it on. Mixing too many of the faction options in a single Bolt Action army results in an implausible force. Carlists and regulars would make sense as the Carlists did have some training and did coordinate with rebel army units. There is an attraction in any movement that thought of Spain as insufficiently right wing and Catholic. For a more dastardly approach Foreign Legion and Moors make good bedfellows.

Here is a selection of suitable irregulars, mostly Footsore:

Another batch:

A 3rd:

And the final set but starting to push the envelope. Those guys in raincoats are Footsore IRA. The odd figure in each of these squads may have a shotgun but at arms length they should pass muster.

No LMGs so far: Lewis guns were supplied to the government. At right is a likely looking sniper from Black Tree. Many of the Black Tree partisans are just too Russian but a few fit in.

The challenge with Spanish Civil War armies is to create an approach that has some competitiveness and to decide how to allocate army rules. One would hope that army rules are balanced across all armies so completely transferring the rules and point variations in their entirely from one army to another should work. It is still unlikely that any new variant would keep up with top tier competition armies but we should be able to propose something that will hold its own in the mid field of army rankings.

To stick to period the potential armies would be:

  • Early War Nationalists or Republican militias.
  • African troops with veteran legion and regular or veteran moors.
  • Regular army, police and drilled militia fighting for either side. Popular army and International Brigade troops after the militia had been disbanded or integrated.
  • Italians fighting for the rebels (for government Italians use the International Brigade).   Except for the initial Italian force who were ‘not’ destined for Abyssinia the Italians fought in grey so could also be used in Greece or Albania but would not work for a desert force. Complete Italian armoured formations were present but limited to basic tankettes (the CV33) and obsolete armoured cars (the IZ).
  • French who could intervene across the border.
  • German, up to a point. The Condor legion was German but did not fight on the ground. An air observer or a single advisor on a command or gun stand would be the best to work with. The Germans could however have committed entire formations.  The Nationalists could also fight the Germans following disastrously failed negotiations for Germany to assault Gibraltar.

The handful of Soviet advisors would not qualify as entire Bolt Action units. A few figures would not look out of place although the helmet usually seen on 28mm figures was not that in use in 1936. Pushing the envelope a Spanish North African army could take on a French North African force. The Moorish part might even trot out as Vichy French and take on Commonwealth British in the Levant.

These British police in flat caps could be built up into an Asaltos squad:

The closest impression for a Spanish army from the existing official army lists would be to run a Finnish list. That list’s options include a T26 and Ba6 both supplied in significant numbers by the Soviets and captured by the rebels . The special army rule of having a unit go up in morale when at half strength could be used for experienced troops of high morale. A good fit would be as International Brigadistas or the best of the Popular Army at the beginning of the Ebro offensive or North African troops for the rebels. The infantry would be better bought as regular rather than veteran (except for the Legion) and the sniper special rule possibly chosen with caution although field-craft does fit well with Moors. The gun and mortar options could fit into any period ordinance piece.  The Finnish squad size is less than the Spanish establishment size which could be 15 men but many combat formations would be below that strength.

The Irregular miniatures gun below is supposed to be a 18 pounder but based on the Warlord 18/25 model is way too small. The mortar and crew are also Irregular but are good enough. The Footsore maxim is a perfect pose apart from the helmet on the team leader.

The anti tank rifle option present in most Early War lists should be dropped. The brief life span between general adoption of these weapons and their obsolescence had yet to arrive. Very few if any made it to Spain and if they had the limited use of tanks in the theatre did not fit in with their perceived role. Deployment of ‘diamenteros’ to assault tanks would be covered by anti-tank grenades issued to squads.

Of the other existing lists Italian special rules are a good fit for Early War armies on either side. Italians receive a bonus in defense. They also do better if they have a 3+ advantage in losses and worse at a -3 disadvantage. This reflects the enthusiasm for success which can turn on its head. The Italian Blackshirt infantry is also relevant as a unit that can unpredictably go up or down in effectiveness.

Although quite feasible to have a Spanish Civil War battle as Italian list versus Italian list only one would benefit from the Italian defense special rules.  As the Government would be likely to defend that would be the best Italian choice leaving the Nationalist side open.  The existing big players can be eliminated in terms of functionality or relevant flavour of their special rules:

  • Soviets and Chinese, no untrained hordes.
  • American, no move and fire.
  • German few MG34s and certainly no tiger fear.
  • French, no surplus of guns or conscript infantry.

So Franco must be British.  The free artillery observer fits with the Nationalists not being as short of shells as the Government.  Looking at the other British special rules ‘up and at ’em’ is the best fit.  Even the Home Guard option would work allowing some units to be Green militia.

From an equipment point of view the Bolt Action arsenal is wide enough to find what is needed although the weapon choices may not be in the same lists as the troops.  There is no specific armoured lorry but at its best anything with 7+ armour and a machine gun will do.  The Rolls Royce armoured car for example has a MMG, 7+ armour and is 56/70/84 points.   The Ba10 was not used in Spain but the older Ba6 was.  The Chevrolet M37 armoured Car was built in the government zones and used in anger.  Empress have a model; note that it is remarkably similar to the Ba10.

This shows a Ba6 and Ba10. The Ba10 (in Chinese service here) would not be in Spain but the M37 has a similar outline. It is even feasible to put a T26 turret on the M37.

With artillery and mortars Bolt Action lumps them all into a few categories and anything suitably antiquated would do on the tabletop even medium and heavy pieces which both sides had in service.  For those with an eye for detail many partisan infantry would not look out of place in Spain but manufacturers do tend to load them up with SMGs.  The ubiquitous German, Soviet and British SMGs often modeled on these figures were not available at the time.  The best match would be something that looks like and possibly is a Thompson.  A good outline of what was available to the Government is available on-line in Spanish.

These SMGs are close enough to see Spanish service as Thomson’s and the Labora-Fontbernat; surprisingly similar to the later German SMG. The figure at far right could be a spotter.

Fielding a force with at least some hope of success is more of a challenge.  As noted above the Finnish/Republican force with a T26 and Ba6 is a good start.  This is the Warlord T26, the version with the rounded turret is too late for this conflict.

Another approach is to build on the weak but cheap armour to field a 1 platoon list at 750 and 2 platoons at 1,000.  This sort of Early War force is not going to be happy at 1200+ points, the armour is not good enough to hold out against serious anti-tank and all the infantry filler will get in its own way.  A Ba6 is 120 and a T26 105 both at regular.  A basic HQ and 1 man unit is 60 (regular junior). So 285 spent, 50 on a gun/mortar/sniper, 335 and (750-335) leaves 415, 40 or so 10 point regulars less a few for LMGs.  Fielding 2 platoons at 1,000 points 570 points are tied up (285*2), 430 left, another 50 on the gun/mortar/sniper and 380 or 38ish squaddies.  Either side could field the Renault FT17 a seeming bargain at 35 points (regular) but a serious waste of a tank slot not least because it is too slow to keep up with the infantry.  Inexperienced infantry are 7 not 10 points that is 50 odd squaddies with the points left over at 1,000 but realistic or not an all inexperienced army without some sort of built in advantage (such as bamboo spears and banzai) is going to be tough going.

A Nationalist army could run the same 2 platoon solution as they acquired Government equipment and re-used the best of it.  From a tank choice there is the LV33 (60 at regular) and IZ (85) as the armoured car, both for the Italians or the German PzI (70 at regular).  Running the same maths would work at 235 (70+105+60) for a HQ and 2 vehicles.  The Nationalists are going to be buying more support and infantry weapons or possibly running cavalry or tough fighters (moors).  Players considering an 88 to sort out enemy armour options should note that although present it was not used as an anti-tank role at that time (if your army travels through time to 1941+ all bets are off).

To conclude; a reference to the concept in action.  Britcon 2017 saw our Soviets against a Nationalist force built around 2 infantry platoons each with their full share of armour.