Ok, first the nitty-gritty, aka WARMACHINE 101:
WARMACHINE (yes the name is supposed to be in all caps) is made by Privateer Press. It’s primarily a skirmish-level game with anywhere from half a dozen to maybe 40 models in a typical game, though you can certainly go higher if you want.
The rules are summed up in WARMACHINE Prime: Remix, though the new Legends release has added a couple new rules. In fact, every year Privateer Press releases a new book for the game. But the format they use is to give each army in the game a few new goodies in every book. So there is no waiting 3-6 years to get an update to your army. Plus, they often spruce up older units in the game with various supportive attachment models that help keep them competitive. They’re also not given to putting out new editions of WARMACHINE every few years that invalidate all your old books and models. Privateer Press is also known for it’s excellent FAQ / Errata support and rules question responses, not to mention very clearly written game rules, and WARMACHINE is no exception.
Games focus on 1 important leader model (called a Warcaster) and their attendant forces. It’s setup in a You-Go-I-go turn sequence with each player’s turn split into a few phases, but the meat of it is done on a 1-model-does-everything-at-a-time setup. More on this later.
The centerpiece units for the game are it’s Warjacks, big hulking steam punk mecha controlled by magic-wielding warcasters that can manipulate the warjack’s primitive AIs. It makes for an interesting mix with everything from armored knights, to riflemen and trenchers, to spell-slinging mages, to giant robots all fighting shoulder to shoulder.
So, how’s the game play?
Much like a CCG with miniatures, but that describes it about as well as “Big Wet Stuff” describes an ocean. Because of how models activate sequentially, you can use models to setup a chain of events and pull off a combo to devastating effect. For a simplistic example: If the enemy warcaster is hiding behind a big warjack, you can have one of your own ‘jacks slam it over the caster, knocking them down while also getting the jack out of the way. Then pummel the downed caster with another jack sporting a big rocket launcher who can easily hit the now-immobilized target.
The sheer variety of evil tricks and combinations possible makes for a game that can easily be fresh every time you play. In fact, simply changing out a single model, the warcaster, can change the way an entire army plays on the battlefield. Of course, this begs the question: “How is one supposed to keep track of all this?” Thankfully, every model comes with a card listing and explaining in brief all of it’s special rules and abilities, and it is in the core rules that your opponents must allow you access to their cards at all times. Thus, if you’re not sure what something does or you forgot, just ask to see the card!
The game can be played simply until caster-kill, that is one side drops the other’s leader, but there are also a wide variety of objective-based scenarios with Victory Points (scored by annihilating your foes) as a tie-breaker. Most internet forums assume caster kill is the only objective when speaking of how things work out and what is or isn’t good in a game, so this can be seen as the only way to play if you’re not familiar with the game. It’s not, and the scenarios can let you carry on even after casters get turned into greasy stains. Of course, since the casters are often the toughest hombres in your army, if they get waxed it does put you in the unenviable position if finding some way to stop whatever pasted your big bad mama jama, or at least completing the scenario before the rest of your little army men get steam rolled.
Game play also rewards the aggressive styles more. This is a game where you will see a lot of action as armies do their best to plow each other under. Anytime rules conflict, the attacker’s is applied. Charges are brutal in this game. If enemy forces slam into yours, you’re going to be hurting. So naturally you want to be the one doing the attacking. Also, your models don’t typically get to fight back until it’s your turn, so it pays to hit the other guy first if you can.
How do I build my army of smack-down?
You pick a points limit, usually 500 for a standard game, then pick your warcaster, jacks, solos, and units. There’s no customization for any given model. It’s like a building block for your army. You can’t change the block, but you can fit the blocks together in a lot of different ways.
By far the most vital choice will be which warcaster you want to use. It will affect what models you may want to choose and how you want to play them. With the fiery Feora’s in-your-face style a Paladin of the Wall may just be a minor distraction. But with the Harbinger making the paladin nearly indestructible it’s a whole ‘nuther ballgame now.
Jacks are usually your big hitters or heavy support elements. And will often be limited in number because your war caster will be splitting their pool of energy between spells, personal defense and healing, and empowering the jacks and you just don’t want them spread too thin.
Solos are the middle-men. Capable of dishing and taking a bit more then normal, often loaded with some spiffy special abilities, and easier on the points then a jack but higher then most troopers. They will usually be harassment or support elements in an army, but can take on primary roles as well in the right setup or circumstance.
Units are the backbone of a typical army (though there are all-solo and all-jack armies that function quite well). Made up of bunches of troopers they’re often fragile, but harder to hit then jacks. Many of them have the ability to gang up on harder targets and combine attacks so even the mighty jacks need show some respect for the humble foot soldiers.
There is also a fantastic fan-made freeware program called “Armies of Immoren” that allows you to track your model collection and build army lists. It’s a great program that I highly recommend. Even Privateer Press likes it.
What about the hobby aspect?
Painting is the big thing, with tips and tricks in almost every book on how to paint the miniatures and even their own paint line now released. Terrain is the other focus, which is to be expected from a table top wargame.
Conversions aren’t a major part of the hobby in this game, though re-posing is popular. All the current minis are metal which does make converting a little tougher. But the main reason is simply that there’s no need. Everything that has rules either has an exactly matching model already, or has one in the works to be released within the year. Never the less, I have seen some fantastic conversions done, and Privateer Press does provide a very full line of spare parts for order, allowing you to cobble together just about anything you can imagine.
Ok, that was a lot to read, could you just give me that in a nutshell?
WARMACHINE is a fast-paced, in-your-face style game with a quirky steam punk / magical setting where you can pull off insanely broken moves of ULTIMATE PAIN on your opponent. But watch out, cause he can do the same to you when you least expect it, keeping the game fresh and fun to the climactic end.