About a year ago I decided to buy my first Warmachine/Hordes models, and about six months ago I really started to get into the game. Along the way there was a lot of trial and error, a lot of missteps, and a few successes as I wrapped my head around what it meant to play this game.
Getting into a game like Warmachine/Hordes can be a very daunting experience. There are 12 different factions, hundreds of rules, and a host of complex strategies that are employed on the table. There are plenty of bullet point summaries to be found on the differences between the armies and on the basic equipment you need to play, but not as much about what it is actually like to start playing.
So I thought I would share my personal experience with the game — hoping that others might benefit from some of the things I have learned along the way and perhaps ease the transition for some of the players out there like me as we fall down the rabbit hole (willingly, and with a big smile on our faces).
In this article, I’m going to start with the two of the most fundamental questions I had surrounding the game: why can’t I understand anything that people are talking about online, and how can I build a decent army?
Learning the Language
As with any game system, there are specific names, stats, and descriptors that are used in the Warmachine/Hordes rule books, and there are a bunch of other short names (and abbreviations) that are used by the community at large to refer to various aspects of the game mechanics. I found that I needed to learn both to be able to effectively get into the game. Below are two examples.
The statistics out of the rule book you will pick up just by playing the game. These include things like:
- RAT: Ranged Attack
- MAT: Melee Attack
- ARM: Armor
- DEF: Defense
- SPD: Speed
There are dozens more. You definitely need to learn these — they should become so familiar to you that you don’t even really think about them. However, I found that memorization of the statistics themselves, while helpful, was not enough. What I really needed to memorize was how the statistics are commonly combined. Here are two easy examples:
- Melee attacks are calculated 2d6 + MAT
- Melee damage is calculated 2d6 + POW + STR (Power + Strength)
You will use these calculations a lot, they are written in the main rulebooks, and the P+S statistics of weapons are always included on the card associated with the model you are using.
Here is a more complicated example, using threat ranges (or how far away a model can be and still hit something). These examples, using the Warspears Unit from Legion of Everblight, are not written in the rule books or on the cards, but are critically important when playing the unit:
- Melee threat range: SPD + charge bonus + reach
- Ranged threat range: SPD + thrown spear range
- Ranged threat using Assault (order): SPD + charge bonus + thrown spear range
This starts to get a bit more complicated, especially when you add in buffs/debuffs (effects that enhance or reduce statistics), AOEs (area of effects) that alter SPD or visibility, or other contingent or continuous powers.
I ended up making a list of all possible combinations for the army I wanted to play, and then defining them ahead of time. This way I could get a better grasp on the rules.
2. Naming Conventions
The other language barrier you will encounter, especially in the online forums, is how players refer to different incarnations of Warcasters and Warlocks. I’ll use Lylyth from the Legion of Everbright again as an example. You will see her referred to online in at least five different ways:
- pLylyth: Stands for “prime Lylyth” or her first incarnation as the Herald of Everblight.
- eLylyth: Stands for “epic Lylyth” or her second incarnation as the Shadow of Everblight
- Lylyth1: Same as pLylyth
- Lylyth2: Same as eLylyth
- Lylyth3: Her third and most recent incarnation as the Reckoning of Everblight.
You may also see her name as mkiiLylyth1, mkiiLylyth2, etc., referencing the Mk II version of the rules to help differentiate her from her Mk I rule set.
Spending some time and familiarizing myself with the language of the game helped me break down the barrier that I was experiencing when looking for information online. Most of the discussion out there is from people who really know how to play Warmachine/Hordes, and they almost always use shortcuts or abbreviations, like those above, when writing.
Breaking down this barrier also helped when it came time for the next step — building my first army.
Building an Army
The variations on army building in Warmachine/Hordes is staggering, and as a newcomer to the game this part almost completely overwhelmed me when I tried to build my first army. There are thousands of army lists online, and probably tens of thousands of discussions around which army is the best, most fun to play, easiest to get into, etc.
There are a number of ways that players chose which army to start with, based on:
- The style of play that they are looking for (more offensive, more defensive, magic-heavy, assassination, etc.)
- The quality of the models, or the ones they feel are the most interesting
- The story behind the armies and the narrative description of the world
- Wanting to play something that was not already being fielded by someone else in their gaming group
- Which army had won the most (or was played the most) in various tournaments
Any of these methods are perfectly valid — the choice of which army to play is an intensely personal one, and you should definitely look to play whatever is going to be the most fun for you.
For me, however, the lists were not enough. Army lists tell you what to play, but they don’t tell you how to play. And there was one other really important element I wanted to explore first as part of my selection process — and that was the Focus vs. Fury mechanic.
Focus vs. Fury
99% of the rules between Warmachine and Hordes overlap, and you can play them interchangeably with little difficulty. The one place where this is not true is in the Focus (Warmachine) and Fury (Hordes) mechanics. In fact, I would go so far as to say this is the one thing that truly makes the two sides unique.
The basic concept here is the same — both Focus and Fury represent power that is generated each turn and used to alter the game in a myriad of ways (casting spells, using special attacks, etc). But the implementation of the concept is significantly different.
In Warmachine, Focus is generated from a top-down perspective — meaning that your Warcasters are allocated a certain amount of focus each turn that you then cascade down to your battlegroup. In Hordes, Fury is generated from the bottom up — meaning that (other than on the first round of the game) your Warlock will never be allocated Fury, but rather will need to “force” war beasts in their battlegroup in order to generate Fury that you can then collect.
For me, this is one of the most interesting aspects of the game. Warmachine’s Focus system is definitely easier to understand, and a more “traditional” mechanic. Horde’s Fury system is a little more complicated, but a lot more flexible.
Either way, Focus or Fury management is such an integral part of the game that it ends up affecting everything about the way you play, including planning your army lists.
Once I figured this out, and did a little research into the various stories of the different armies, the decision was easy (or at least easier) for me. I went with the Legion of Everblight as my first army — in part because I really like the Hordes Fury mechanic, and in part because I love the story behind Everblight.
(For the record, the style of play that I was looking for was not a big factor for me. Due to the wide variety of Warcasters and Warlocks available, you can pretty much customize any army to suit the style of play you prefer.)
Buying my First Models
I started with a Battle Box — which I think was a good initial choice. The number of models you get for the price is a very good value (compared to buying them individually), and in addition to Everblight I got a starting set of Orboros models as well. This gave me a 21 point Legion army, which was more than enough to get me started and work through all of the mechanics I mentioned above.
However, it was not long before I felt like I needed to scale up my army from 21 to 35 (and shortly after that 50) points. Most of the other players I encountered, or tournaments I wanted to play in, required a 35 point army.
So I starting buying additional models, even though I didn’t know enough to really make the best choices. I ended up buying models that, while usable, were not the best fit with the Warlocks that I had to play.
Let me give you an example. Based on the Battle Box, my Warlock of choice was pLylyth, a very capable Warlock with a fantastic bow. I instantly fell in love with her ranged capabilities, and decided that when I expanded my army I was going to go all ranged. I bought a unit of Nyss Archers (with Porter and Officer) and Annyssa Ryvaal to start. They both had decent ranged attacks, and Annyssa had some abilities that worked well with pLylyth, so I thought it was a good choice. This took me to 35 points.
However, the army did not play very well. Eventually, I realized that there were three things I didn’t really think through:
1. Battlegroup vs. Units
Adding these additional models gave me an army that was very unit heavy. I did not have enough war beasts to really stave off attacks from other beasts or an army full of Warjacks. I found that my opponents were typically able to get by my Carnivean and decimate my units, leaving me with a couple of lesser war beasts, and not much else.
2. Warlock Special Abilities
pLylyth’s feat, Field of Slaughter (which gives models an additional die on attack roles), seems to provide more value with larger war beasts with multiple melee attacks, because they get to add an additional die to each attack and can do much more damage.
3. Fury Management
Because my Carnivean was my only real fighter, I ended up having to push all of my warbeasts really hard and max them out on their fury every round. pLylyth, however, does not have much Fury and could not leach (pull the Fury back to her) effectively by herself.
Looking back on it now, I think purchasing more light or heavy war beasts would have been a better choice for pLylyth at 35 points, and adding in a Nyss Shepherd would have helped with Fury management. But this experience forced me to develop a tool that would let me think about my army composition a bit differently.
Planning a Better Army
The best part of a game like Warmachine is the variety of models that you have to chose from; however, this can also make choosing the “right” models a difficult proposition. It can also mean that you end up wasting a lot of time and (potentially) money.
As I said above, army lists are great, but they only tell you what, not how, to play. And I don’t understand the rules well enough yet to intuitively know the various combinations that come into play with all of the models in my chosen army.
What I do now, and what I would recommend to anyone getting started, is to map out your army first (before you buy the models) and really take a look at what combinations work best for the Warcaster or Warlock you are going to use. Think of it as an army list on steroids (or Army List +).
Here is an example of what I have been doing; this is one with eLylyth, or Lylyth2, at 50 points.
Here is what it looks like on paper as the same basic idea.
It starts as a list, similar to any list you will find online. But then I draw lines from one model to another to represent the relationship they have in the army. This allows me to look at how they will interact, and what powers I would focus on in a battle. If I cannot draw at least one line to and from every model in my army, then I question if that model should be there.
In the above example, I am using the Succubus as my primary support model helping eLylyth, the Carnivean, and the Naga Nightlurker with her Arcane Assist and Spirit Tap abilities. I also know that using war beasts with heavy ranged attacks (like the Ravagore or Angelius) partners well with eLylyth because of her feat — Decimation — which gives models an additional ranged attack and Snipe (+4″ range). This will also work well with the Warspears and their Assault (Order) ability.
I then have three Shredders and a Nyss Shepherd as a flanking group (using the Beast Master ability of the Shepherd), and one final Shepherd to help with any additional Fury management that I might need.
This is still not a perfect list, but it is better than what I had with pLylyth. Mapping out the lists in this way allows me to think through all of the synergies in my army, and helps to ensure I am using the models more effectively.
I have learned a lot in my short time with the game. Taking the time the learn the language and sitting down to plan out my army definitely helped me to reduce the time, energy, and frustration associated with getting started. It required a bit of upfront work, but it got me into the game faster and playing better.
That said, I still have lots to do. I am refining my enhanced army lists for GenCon Indy 2014 (my first tournament), playing as much as I can to get experience against other armies, and considering what to do with all of the little pieces of plastic and metal that seem to lying around on the floor of my basement!
If anyone has anything more specific they want to ask about, please let me know in the comments. You can also reach out to me on Twitter @joshuadavid (where I occasionally post pics of my latest minis and status of my army building), and at my blog — continuouseffect.com.