Saturday, December 30, 2017

Ten years late, but I finally got to try Warmachine

I've looked on Warmachine and Hordes primarily from a distance since I've gotten into wargaming these last 10 years. It was not exactly the classic fantasy or sword & sorcery I was used to. I did not play too much D&D as a kid in the 1980s, focusing on sci-fi RPGing instead, but I was an avid reader of the Conan comic books and mags, so I knew classic fantasy and sword and sorcery..

Fantasy mechs, I thought.. weird.. So, I looked on at a distance and did not play.. though I liked some of the Warmachine sculpts. Instead, what ever fantasy I painted was the more traditional stuff, mainly Reaper sculpts and a little bit of GW.  What also turned me off a bit was the large unwieldy metal parts that you need to put together, which meant pinning and storage problems. I was getting spoiled by light plastics that GW was putting out.

However, I broke the ice as it were when I painted GW Age of Sigmar and found myself painting bizarre golden boys in powered armour and angel wings.

Fantasy gaming has moved on and the new sculpts all of a sudden looked normal and acceptable. Plus, I was amazed at how much variety of Warmachine and Hordes sculpts there are, now that they look normal to me. Our FLGS had 3 shelves of them...

So, I bought into it when I heard there are brand new editions for Warmachine and Hordes.. Nice textbook-like hardcovers with beautiful art and a fully-fleshed out fantasy world that I was not familiar with.

.. and painted up a Cryx force recently from the 2 Player Battle box (as discussed here).

A long standing misconception I had was cleared up.. The giant hulking two-legged warmachines are not mechs as I thought, but robots partially controlled by a warcaster, which is a wizard of sorts. In this universe, the Warmachines are the fantasy tanks that all factions employ in one capacity or another.  It seems to be the defining feature of this fantasy world that sets it apart from other systems.

I'm told the game rules are very well balanced by Privateer Press and there are tons of tournament players playing it, precisely because it is well balanced. Any faction can win. This is in stark contrast to GW, which apparently unbalance one faction every couple of years to make the tournament crowd buy the latest sculpts to get an edge.

My friend Jeff is an avid fantasy guy, and long liked Warmachine. When he came over to try Warmachine MkIII yesterday, he brought some mercenary sculpts, the "Devil Dogs" that he bought painted from some kid off of ebay.

We thus set up a scenario.. my necromantic Cryx invading a peaceful little village protected by sellswords paid to do it. It was going to be a 6 round scenario.

We decided on a 6 turn skirmish battle just so we can familiarize ourselves with the rules, which are over 100 pages. Jeff spent the night before making 5 pages of notes on them and we spent an hour discussing them before playing.

Clearly, Warmachine is no beer-and-pretzel game.. The rules are fulsome, and logical.. there are even rules in there for one Warjack to pick up another and throw it across the battlefield.  Nice!

My plan of attack was that I was going to cross the river, and try to catch Jeff's forces in a pincer movement.. all the while trying to figure out this warcaster focus mechanic. The warcaster can partially control the Jacks using focus points.. The Jacks on their own are like fantasy robots that have some capability to shoot or smash, but the warcaster gives them extra abilities and boosts using magic. There are therefore some timing of magic focus decisions that has to be made just right on the chaotic battlefield with lots of variables. I can see why this game is popular with the wargaming crowd, just for that. The game requires some thinking and not just rolling dice to see what happens.

A Warmachine game ends if a warcaster dies, so you have to keep them in the rear but also nearby. I had to therefore keep my Jacks close to my warcaster named Agathia (within 14 inches), and my infantry close to my squad leader, or else I lose focus and unit cohesion for my infantry.. the game thus has command and control, which is realistic.

On the left flank, I skirted the forest and hid behind the giant tree house, hoping Jeff would cross the river so I can pound him.. His infantry had some ranged weapons, so I wanted to stay hidden until I could engage in hand-to-hand if I could.

Surprisingly, Jeff inexplicably held back his infantry on the left flank .....

while on the right flank, he was crossing in force with his Jack..

I was not sure why his infantry was not crossing the river. since this is a scenario based on attrition, not for him to win by holding his ground. I thought maybe there are rules about being caught in rough terrain like the river, but Jeff said there are movement impacts to crossing the river, but not for fighting on rough ground.

On the right flank, his large Jack, named Rociante (in Warmachine it seems, every Jack and character has their own name and stats), was crossing the river and going full on attack on me.

My Jacks were going to hide behind a hamlet and then try to attack the enemy Jack if it got any closer.

I think Jeff though, had the range on me and took shots on my light Jack first..

It was here where I tried out the damage system in Warmachine.. We sleeved our cards and used a dry erase marker to mark damage in boxes. This is very old school, as I remember doing this for Star Fleet Battles back in the 1980s..

If a Jack takes enough damage in its robot brain or arm, abilities fall off like using focus.. Every weapon is linked to either the left or right Jack arm, or in the case of tusks, on the head (the C being the Core brain).. So you can find yourself with a Jack with only one good arm to attack with if the other arm takes too much damage.  A nice mechanic as I generally dislike abstractions. This seems more real.

Jeff then dropped a bombshell on me.. literally.. when he had some super-duper explosive dropped on my Jacks on my right flank, causing some damage. He said this was his only shot on it, which I took to mean, for his entire faction, but he just meant for his Jack.

Later on this would have disastrous consequences for me..

I counter-attacked, using my small Jack as a node for my warcaster to inflict a hellfire spell on it, while my other larger Jack would use its harpoon gun on Jeff's Jack.  However, Rociante is a tough old giant robot it seems, and I just scratched the paint.

I then decided my right flank was in trouble and decided to move my left flank guys to the right, especially as Jeff was not doing anything with his infantry..

The right flank then became a giant Jack slugfest as I closed in, both sides pounding each other..when Jeff's warcaster suddenly dropped another bomb spell on me. I was furious as he said the previous one was his only one, but he meant for his Jack, not his warcaster..

My bunched up infantry took a beating from that magic bomb spell..

Reeling from my losses, Jeff finally decided to commit his infantry and started to cross the river... Some of them had slug weapons, additionally picking off my guys..

Meanwhile, the mighty Jacks were pounding on each other, and Rociante and Jeff's light Jack- which also then crossed the river -  finally went down with my hammer-like blows from both my Jacks and my infantry.

It was here I learned why Jeff was holding back his infantry.. he was scared of my Crx Bane warrior infantry, as their magic axes are powerful.. indeed, my infantry helped critically destroy the enemy light Warjack..

I was so clueless about the game and what's on my card that I didn't even know how effective my bane infantry could be...

Anyways, wounded and reeling from a third bomb, yes third!... Jeff committed his infantry and turned the tide against me, in hand to hand fighting despite taking down both his Jacks.

The scenario was over on turn six, and it was deemed my remaining Jack and warcaster Witch Agathia retreated.  Jeff won despite losing both Jacks as my entire infantry was wiped out..I was a bit peeved at the misconception about the bombs, but it was a good scenario overall.

I like Warmachine.. I like the fluff and the giant Jacks and the rules seem good, really good, from what I could tell. I definitely want to continue playing Warmachine and Hordes for sure.

We also played Gaslands, which I just played with my friend Jim the other day (as discussed here). Gaslands is post-apocalyptic vehicle combat in the Mad Max tradition.

Jeff liked it and was getting into it with that one scenario we played to show him the rules.

He even got a Dice Hall of Fame moment, rolling double sixes twice in a row, winning the game. We usually get a Dice Hall of Fame moment every six months, but this time, it was twice in the same week.

Anyways, Warmachine was a nice way to end the gaming year.

Happy New Year everyone!

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