Coremachine – All About Warmahordes


Warma… hordes? What are you on about, beard-face?

Warmahordes is a portmanteau, that’s what it is. It’s a way of referring to two games by Privateer Press that are set in the same world, use ninety per cent of the same rules, and are cross-compatible with one another.

Warmachine’s the older of the two by a good three years, and sits nicely in the steampunk – I’m sorry, ‘full metal fantasy’ – corner, with lots of goggles, firearms and big stompy robots. There are elements of that in Hordes, the junior game, but Hordes has more big stompy monsters and shirtless barbarians and mysterious druids in amongst its trolls with rifles and cyborg pig-monsters. They’re kind of opposite sides of the same coin, that coin being the Iron Kingdoms, which is the D&D setting Privateer Press was originally set up to distribute.

Right, so it’s a two-in-one steampunk fantasy wargame. What’s it actually like?

Ever looked at a 40K Dreadnought and imagined it picking up and throwing some unfortunate Ork halfway across the board? Stuff like that happens all the time.

Ever played a collectible card game like Magic: the Gathering and gleefully constructed a perfect storm of layered tricks, fiddles, twists and turns that goes off exactly how you imagined it? Stuff like that happens all the time.

Ever found yourself looking at a rulebook trying to find the actual rules in amongst a quagmire of flavour text, poor grammar, bad editing and random tables? Stuff like that hardly ever happens.

It scales from proper skirmishing (less than ten models a side) up to… well, in theory, the game scales up infinitely; in practice, the complex, combo-tastic rules make massive games a wee bit of a ball-ache and so most people tend to stop at something like this:

  1. A warcaster or warlock, depending on if you’re playing Warmachine or Hordes. A super-hard bad-ass leader-thing; a warrior-wizard with a once-per-game ‘it does what?’ bullshit-bomb called a feat. Lose this, you lose the game. Fail to use this adequately, and you’ll struggle to achieve anything. For the chess players in the audience, it’s like the king and queen rolled into a single piece. For the WFB players, it’s like a Vampire Lord; usually the hardest thing in your army, or the best support piece, but absolutely essential to keeping the game together. Here’s a warcaster from my old Cryx army: skarrebase_by_kaptainvon-d6eabpz
  2. The warcaster controls, supports and otherwise interacts with one or more warjacks; warlocks do the same thing for warbeasts. These are the big stompy robot/monster things that you get in the starter sets. Every Warmachine army has at least one, most Hordes armies have several and, let’s be honest there, they’re a pretty big selling point. They form a battlegroup with the leader, and while they’re within a set distance of said leader, you can make them more accurate, or hit harder, or activate extra cool stuff that they do.  Here’s a warjack from my old Khador army: Untitled-1
  3. There’s a game type called Mangled Metal / Tooth and Claw in which you have nothing but war-nouns, but not every army can roll with nothing but warjacks. Actually taking and holding ground (which is the other way to win a game) and keeping the other side’s warjacks honest is generally the job of a few units of infantry or cavalry. Most come in either minimum (six infantry/three cavalry) or maximum (ten/five) size, with one or more optional attachments; an upgraded leader and a chap with a flag, or a weapon specialist with a flamethrower or rocket launcher or magic spells or something. They have to stick close to their leader, although they’re not shackled to standing within two inches of each other like they’ll get lost if one of them wanders off, and there are a lot of spells and special rules that affect whole units at once. Here’s a unit of Druids from my old Circle Orboros army: druids_of_orboros_by_kaptainvon-d6eacro
  4. All the above are backed up and supplemented by a solo or two. These guys are loners; some of them are just really hard-as-nails combatants, approaching warcaster levels of clout; some of them sneak around repairing or otherwise helping out warjacks; some of them are leader types who do something that makes your units better; some of them do subtle tricksy stuff like moving things or debuffing enemy things. Here’s a solo from my current Retribution of Scyrah army: eiryss__mage_hunter_of_ios__repose__by_kaptainvon-d6evr6l
  5. Sometimes, you might see a battle engine (big independent war engine sort of thing) and/or a colossal (a really massive warjack, like a 40K super-heavy tank or something). I’d say ‘reserved for big games’ but my mate Jimmy likes to get his Colossal out for 25 point knockabouts (lewd): there’s always one, I suppose. I don’t have any of those painted because I’m not made of money.

Sounds OK. How do you play it, then?

Hrrm. I reckon the easiest way of telling you that is to show you a sample turn, move-by-move, almost rule-by-rule. That’ll be the next post. After that I’ll probably burble on about background for a post or two before I get into the nitty gritty of why I play it instead of WFB.

Now, get some Last Rites down your grubby earhole.

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About Jon

Jon is sententious, mercurial, and about as punk rock as a nice cup of milky tea. He likes sad, sleazy music for people who want to cop off in a swamp and then drown themselves, and plays undead in any game that has them.

9 thoughts on “Coremachine – All About Warmahordes

  1. It’s high time you got down to explaining why you play it instead of WFB. I enjoy following your writing and respect your opinions, and even watched that video of you at Armadacon. So why WMH? I play WFB and have tried to get into Warmachine, but it just comes across as Magic-with-minis, and I tried but could never get into Magic. With Warhammer there is this expansive sweep where the battlefield feels open and that the army composition, tactics and strategy do not need to be particularly defined in order for you, the general, to feel like you’ve got a hold on things. It’s about the grand gesture, the wave of the hand – with WMH, it just seems like it’s all about executing the right combos at the right time with the right models against the right targets. The sleight of hand vs the wave. Do you see?

    Visually, I think it could also be considered thus. When one plays WFB, there is little need for much on the table besides the miniatures themselves, and the scenery. With WMH, there are tokens, cards with stats on them, more tokens, and lots of things. I hate it. It feels cluttered. It feels like a computer game. No, please. Give me my big epic battles. It doesn’t matter if they aren’t painted well. I just want the pageantry, the spectacle of it all. I can then get into it. The tokens, the cards, the paraphernalia of WMH… the specificness, all the little rules on all the little cards, all the powers, the feats… it’s a wargames version of D&D4e. (Burn – someone call for the burn unit!) It feels so defined. So restricted. Of course, Warhammer, and GW games, have very specific rulesets. And the vagueness of them clearly annoys you and probably me too. But they just feel and look more organic.

    I will also direct you to this:

    “My point is, Getting It Right is now very important. We live in the age of new unit types with complex and distinct character pieces edging out simple, generic ones, and an increasingly tight and pedantic rules system (look through the step-by-step sequence in the back of Prime if you don’t believe me!). These increasingly specific pieces are enabling increasingly specific approaches with increasingly specific counters. It’s moving toward the rock-paper-scissors thing and I’m not sure that a collection of ‘basics’ is actually any of those. In terms that fall more easily into my mind: Warmachine is D&D 3.5, where an every-choice-counts player can labour over stacking and synergy and NUMBERS until they end up with something huge, and where a player who doesn’t especially care for the ins-and-outs of all these precise “do this do that get the other provided you’re this far away at that angle” mechanics… can’t.”

    There might have been a time when this could’ve been said of WFB – I can’t say for sure, having never really delved into pre-8th. But I can say this, and make of it what you will: when I’m watching my opponent carefully figure out which units will charge, and where, and take stock of his taking stock, in a game of Warhammer… it feels like, “Wow. This game has so many undefined and undiscovered choices, at least to me. I have so much to learn. This is serious stuff.” Like yourself I’m not great at games but I do love them. I love that I can just rock up to WFB and get schooled by a true master. And if/when I lose, it’s not because I didn’t have a specific caster or warlock, or I didn’t use a specific feat at a specific time, or I don’t have the specific cards – I was out-thought. My opponent came up with something clever that is not written down and taken off a list of written-down things to be used like cards in Magic. He didn’t just set up a combo of pre-existing combos. He out-thought me.

    Try 8th. It’s good.

    • First things first: great comment, and well done for making it through the ArmadaCon video too. I hope the following diatribe is to your liking, and I hope we’re coming at this as an exchange of ideas and not a tired false-binary fan-fight. I don’t think you are, and I’m certainly not, but you know how it is, misunderstandings abound, and in discourse as in wargaming, it helps to declare your intentions before you make your moves.

      Second things second: Yeah, Warmahordes is a CCG with miniatures and if you don’t like CCGs you probably won’t like Warmahordes either. Hark tried it a few times and hated it – she doesn’t get on with Magic either, but she’s a better and more keen LotR SBG player than I am!

      I think you’ve articulated the difference between the games perfectly, and that essentially explains why,for the last eight years, I’ve played Warmahordes -alongside- either WFB or 40K. I’ve never actually stopped playing GW games altogether, you know. Sometimes I’m in the mood for sleight of hand, sometimes I’m in the mood for grand gestures.

      The clutter involved in Warmahordes is one of the few things I dislike about the system, in all fairness. I do my best to keep it under control, but for a game that demands precise positioning, there’s a lot of free-floating cruft on the table to interfere with that. If people don’t stickle about the exact process of Warmahordes’ counter/token rules, I prefer to keep my various status counters and things with the stat cards off to one side of my deployment zone, or on the sides of the tables (blessed is the CWG and its giant trestle tables – there’s a clear foot of space to either side of the board, so that’s chips on one side and rules detritus on the other – bliss!).

      The comparison with D&D 4 is… not one I’d thought of, actually, and it makes me wonder why I’m willing to put up with more complexity in wargames than I am in an RPG. Maybe it’s that I’m much more focused on agency and shaping narrative possibilities in an RPG, whereas in a wargame I’m much more inclined to let the rules do their thing and then make a story out of that. Maybe it’s an input/output thing? Anyway, as you’ll know from the post you quoted, it does get tiring after a while, and sometimes I stop playing Warmahordes for a bit because I want a break.

      However, Warhammer Fantasy Battle (here we go) has for a few years now failed to provide that break. It’s been just as straining as Warmahordes has been, but in a different way. Compared to the sixth and seventh editions, current WFB demands that I account for a great deal more arbitrary randomness (random charges, Winds of Magic and mysterious terrain are my personal bugbears, especially in an edition where some things – war engines and psychology tests – have become -less- random). That’s not really to my personal taste, given that I’ve done the vast majority of my WFB gaming in the much more predictable and robust sixth and seventh editions.

      There’s also a certain amount of sour grapes in that I play Vampire Counts – an army which suffers from random charge ranges, randomised power/dispel dice, and terrain which arbitrarily casts Light Magic spells on you, and which is very much at the mercy of super-accurate “ten from the back” cannon fire, Steadfast infantry and re-rolls for everyone’s Fear and Terror checks. The army has gone from being reliable to being unpredictable, and Herr Doktor Shiny absolutely had my number in this conversation: .

      It’s been something of a culture shock, and the only way I’ve been able to deal with it has been to let it go for a couple of years, gradually forget everything I knew and loved about the previous editions, and quietly absorb that this is The Way Things Are Now.

      There have been other issues – Warmahordes travels better on public transport and on cyclist-back (lower model counts, a general lack of huge awkward things that need their own box, and fewer brittle, spindly, zillion-piece plastic kits), and I don’t have either the disposable income or the hobby gumption to take on an entirely new WFB army. I’m not saying that Warmahordes models are cheap, but the ‘standard’ game size (i.e. the one that you don’t have to draw blood from a stone to get people to play) demands sufficient models to build maybe a quarter of a standard-sized WFB army, at comparable prices.

      And finally: I think you’re being a bit uncharitable about the combo-of-pre-existing-combos stuff. Warmahordes requires you to look at this thing and this thing and this thing and put them together, sure, but it also requires that you manage the placement of pieces and the management of threat ranges on the table in order to stop or at least withstand the other chap’s similar shenanigans. I think it has the same ‘taking stock of taking stock’ appeal, the same “if you do that then I can do this… but that says I can’t do this, so I have to make that go away somehow…” process.

      It does occasionally run into the problem of something that your build just can’t make go away, but honestly, that state of Zugwang is common to all wargames; I know I’ve had it when staring down the teeth of a well-played Empire army. Plus, it’s not as if the various Warhammer armies haven’t been ‘solved’, at the highest levels of competitive play; I keep up with battle reports and I see an awful lot of photocopy specials in the army lists, and I’m by no means alone in deriding that. All the options in the world don’t matter if there’s no incentive to take half of them – although a huge part of that is down to how you and the people you’re playing with approach the game.

      Recently, for me, the appeal of Warmahordes is that you know what you’re getting when you pay your points (and your pounds) – you know how far these guys will charge and what spells that guy will have and what that terrain will do when you move into it, and if you didn’t make the right choices… that’s on you. It’s a bit different from “well, I didn’t roll high enough on my charge, and I didn’t roll any augment spells, and that terrain turned out to be a River of Light that murdered all my cavalry”. Dice being a factor in a game is fine, but I look at WFB and I just see too many ways for them to -ruin- it.

      With that said, I do actually want to try taking what is, for me, a very different approach to WFB, and if you keep your eyes on the House of Paincakes in the coming months you’ll see what I mean. 2014 is the Year of the Vampires. It’s our tenth anniversary, and once SmogCon is done and dusted (end of February), Warhammer is going to be my gaming priority for most of the year. It was never a divorce… just some time apart.

      Anyway, I’ve spent over an hour writing this damn comment, and I hope it does the job. I’m off for a cuppa. Take care!

      • It’s ironic that having sparked this debate with you, my own views have come full circle in what is a relatively small amount of time. Whatever positives I may have espoused about Warhammer, I think I have reached a point – although then again I did think I’d reached this point a few months back, so the fact I keep reaching it over and over again is quite telling – where all the negatives about Warhammer outweigh the positives. I think I just don’t want to play the game any more.

        This still doesn’t let Warmahordes off the hook and even if Warhammer was to die tomorrow (which it seems increasingly likely it might) I wouldn’t want to play it. B-t-dubs, it’s not just the CCG-like gameplay that puts me off – I genuinely dislike the models and the fluff feels very unoriginal. With regards to the models, there’s something off about their design and the amount of detail in them. Design preferences are subjective, but I do think a lot of the oversized-shoulder-pads-with-big-melee-weapons-AND-guns aesthetic feels like a poor man’s 40k. That’s the Jacks – take a look at the Cygnar range and tell me they didn’t get a huge chunk of “inspiration” from Space Marines.

        As for the fluff – well, Warhammer itself showed you can rip off many sources but as long as you present your pastiche with an original palette, it will resonate. The Iron Kingdoms seem like nothing more than a superficial Eberron clone. It is great they are willing to advance the fluff with each army book, GW please take note.

        But Infinity looks good. Apart from the totally unnecessary cheesecake.

        Anyway – yes, Warhammer. Well it collapses under the weight of all of its own rules and history. A lot of rules that feel like they wanted to justify the rulebook’s page count. That and having to paint hundreds of the same models, only to have them removed by the fistful.

        You know – all the standard complaints about 8th are valid. I was willing to forgive it but I’ve had enough.

  2. (I should add, as well, that Lexington’s contribution to the linked post essentially explains the great appeal of WFB and, for that matter, 40K – for all its merit as a system, Warmahordes doesn’t offer anything like as much room for ownership and, well, personal investment as either of the ‘hammers do. My Retribution are just an army and I’ll probably sell them in a year or two’s time. I’m never parting with my Vampires again.)

  3. I thought I should clarify, rather than just leave you hanging with such an abrupt volte-face. It’s not just Warhammer I have become weary of, but GW in general. I am finally starting to empathise with its critics, after so many years of defending their shoddy rules design that make playing games a chore, their almost-immoral price gouging, their taking their fanbase for granted at best and actively shutting them down with C&Ds at worst, the phoned-it-in / copy & paste codex /army book design, the uninspired and lazy model design as of late. Some of their plastic models are nice. But they are not the best in the world, and for every great miniature of theirs they are pumping out a lot of dross. Did I mention the rules and army updates sucked too?

    A few nice models and two backgrounds that haven’t really changed in 30 years, which were only ever meant as tongue-in-cheek pastiches of far more original worlds, JUST DOES NOT CUT IT FOR ME ANY MORE. 40k is a shambles. It’s not just the raft of extra content (such as Dataslates and TWO expansions over Christmas) and broken codeces (Tau and Eldar in particular, and how Tyranids still don’t cut it – literally, Von my man, all they did was remove their two most powerful units, make everything slightly worse, and slightly cheaper, so you have to buy more of it – like I said, Cruddace just phoned it in. He shouldn’t have bothered) but the nature of the game itself is designed to make money out of you at every turn. I understand more than most the need to make a business successful but exploiting people, often quite young, isn’t the best, most moral or even the most sustainable way to do it. There are just too many rules, too many grey areas, too many loopholes to abuse, and it’s all just a mess.

    Which is why I think no one at GW HQ really cares any more. They know their time is up. They’re doing the bare minimum to keep the checks rolling in each month. Phoning it in. Copy pasting 95% of the content of the previous army book or codex, recolouring some of the photos, adding some crappy units that are a nightmare to build/store/paint, making the book hardcover than charging you 30 quid for it. What a fucking con. It’s like they can barely conceal their contempt for us. And yes, it’s just toy soldiers, so perhaps there’s no point getting worked up about it. But there are truly important things that I should be devoting my energy to, so it’s no surprise I am procrastinating by pontificating about GW.

    I’m just tired of defending GW. A month or two ago, I was contemplating writing a post for Corehammer in defense of Warhammer. Now I only want GW to go away. I don’t even want to look at Warhammer or 40k any more. There are good things about both – some elements of the game and the pageantry of Warhammer, and 40k’s background. But GW just turn me off. It’s got to the point where I might actually try Warmachine. Cryx are the only faction with models I like, so it’s probably them. As I said in my previous rant, Infinity continues to intrigue me. I’ve tried X-Wing too. So nice and straight forward, yet tons of fun and lots of scope for depth. No grey areas. Also, it was bloody nice to be able to play out of the box and not have to spend weeks preparing the miniatures. I do enjoy hobby but I’m fed up with GW glue, paints and brushes.

    • Your rant is my rant from eight years ago, sah. I’ve been through that whole process and back again, and am poised on the brink of either reappraising WFB or just saying ‘sod it’ and leaving my Vampires as a treasured, though useless memento of years gone by. And I, too, looked at most of the ‘jacks and went “those look stupid” but looked at Cryx as a range and thought “yeaaaah, they’ll do.”

      As far as the glue/paints/brushes go, I haven’t made Citadel my workhorse products in ages, ever since I realised that Formula P3 paints keep longer, Army Painter brushes are nicer to hold, Vallejo mediums are easier to control and Loctite comes with that neat little brush and a bottle that doesn’t fall over and clog up. The Foundation paints and those biodegradable washes of which Devlan Mud was one were about the last Citadel supplies I touch.

      And well, the grandeur and the pageantry and the baroque silliness are all in the RPGs, and I can play WFRP just fine out of my first edition rulebook.

  4. It also looks like neither Warhammer nor 40k nor GW have much of a future. The company are getting it wrong on so many levels, and their financial turmoil can no longer be hidden or handwaved by (formerly) loyal fans like me. I can’t think of anything they are doing to reach out to the fanbase. Quite the opposite. It’s like they treat their fans like drug addicts, aiming to get as much out of them before they crash and burn. With a death knell on the horizon, and the writing on the wall, who would want to start these games now? As for SBG – I see its appeal but I detest the orientalism of the LoTR background, and the Fight mechanic means battles bigger than a few on each side are cumbersome. Which starts me off on another rant – they are just phoning it in on The Hobbit. The absolute bare minimum of models and support that the license requires. Yes the sculpts are pretty but A) a lot of it is Finecast, which I KNOW FROM EXPERIENCE IS SHIT, and B) HAVE YOU SEEN THOSE PRICES. It’s just not worth it any more.

    GW is not a hobby any more, it’s an abusive relationship and the sooner we snap out of it, like I have, the better. Sell your Vampires man, whilst you can. The people who make that game don’t care about it, so why should you? And they definitely don’t care about you. They’re just hanging on as long as they can, cashing the checks until they can jump ship.

    I could go on for ages, but I will leave it at that.

    • On the matter of GW and cooking the books; yes, they’ve run out of things to cut, ways to hide the crashing sales behind artificially presetned profits. I think the licences may survive; the Black Library continues to thrive, as far as a print publisher can these days, and if Fantasy Flight have any sense they’ll snap up any chance that’s going to pump out more glossy, bloated shitwick board games – but that’s a rant for another day. Suffice it to say that there are partners and divisions of the Workshop which might well survive if the IP were fully devolved for them.

      SBG mainly appeals to me for the mechanics and the opportunity to champion Middle-Earth’s industrial revolution. I agree entirely about the problematic aspects of Tolkien, and I don’t think the Jackson films bring out enough of the positives (Tolkien’s craftmanship, his geography-as-metaphor technique, the mythological and spiritual parallels that saturate Middle-Earth) to present an effective case for redemption. And yes, the Hobbit game is… just not even trying.

      My Vampires are something of a special case in that the entire army is either kitbashed or battle-damaged fifth edition models, in a generally poor state of repair. They’re unlikely to fetch much – certainly not enough to outweigh the attachment that I have to them. Maybe I’ll use ’em to play Kings of War…

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