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.
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.
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.
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.
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.