What is Warmachine & Hordes?

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Warmachine & Hordes is a hobby game produced by Privateer Press (PP).

This article is aimed at new players who have never heard of Warmachine, Hordes, and/or tabletop wargames before.

What is Warmachine and Hordes?

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Warmachine is a tabletop wargame set in a semi-industralised fantasy world. A player's army is centred around a powerful warcaster who controls a group of giant robots called warjacks, backed up by a few combat units and support solos.

Hordes represents the untamed wilds of the same fantasy world. It is a compatible game system with different aesthetics and background, but the only real in-game difference is that your army is centred around a warlock with giant beasts called warbeasts.

How warlocks control and interact with beasts is fundamentally different to how warcasters work with warjacks. The games are compatible, in that they use the same rules for movement and combat etcetera, and a Hordes army can play against a Warmachine army with no handicap on either side.

About wargames

What is a tabletop wargame?

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A tabletop wargame is a hobby where people collect armies of small miniature soldiers, paint them, and then play a game versus each other on a large table. During the game players take turns to move their miniatures and make 'combat actions'. Whether that action is successful is determined by rolling dice and comparing the attacker's accuracy statistic vs the target's defense statistic.

Each player plays with an army made up of a variety of models, each with different abilities and skills. The elite models are better, but you must pay a higher 'points cost' to add it to your army. Both players' armies have an equal number of points at the beginning of the game. A model's points cost is not related to its real-world purchase cost.

The goal is to eliminate your opponent's models and/or outmaneuver them to claim an objective.

What makes Warmachine & Hordes different from other tabletop wargames?

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Aside from the obvious steampunk aesthetic, the main difference this game has is that it was designed for rules first, story second. The rules are very "structured" with everything occurring at specific steps in a sequence. Players don't get bogged down in arguments about "I think the rules let me do this" vs "Well I think the rules say you can't do that". Instead Warmachine players can figure out what is allowed by simply reading the relevant rule and figuring out where in the sequence they are. As such Warmachine & Hordes has some of the "cleanest" gameplay available.

This clean gameplay has attracted a lot of competitive-minded players to the game and created a lively tournament scene. Once you progress out of newbie and/or casual games with friends, you'll find your opponents are ruthless and the smallest mistake might cause your entire army to get pulverized. But even when they're tearing you a new one, Warmachine players on a whole are very nice about it.

Warmachine & Hordes games are a moderate size: larger than a squad-based game like Infinity, but smaller than battalion-based games like Age of Sigmar. A typical game is played with about 20-30 models on a 4 foot by 4 foot (1200mm by 1200mm) board and takes at most 2 hours, often much less when one player wins by 'assassinating' the other.

Differences to Warhammer 40,000

Many readers will already be familiar with "Warhammer 40,000" produced by Games Workshop, and may be interested in this broad-brush comparison of the two game systems.

This article was written in August 2020 to reflect the state of Warhammer40k (WH40k) after the release of the 9th edition and compares it with the 3rd edition of Warmachine & Hordes (WMH).   [Show/Hide]

Basic game mechanisms

  • Mono vs. Dual system - While WH40k stands "as is" and has no connection with other Games Workshop games (Age of Sigmar, for example), Warmachine and Hordes are fully compatible, and share the same basics.
  • Gameplay modes - WH40k offers 3 ways to play game: Matched, Open and Narrative. For the scope of this article we shall concentrate on Matched Play only. WH40k has a Combat Patrol system for small engagements and also various table sizes for certain army levels. It is yet too early to say whether the system will be balanced on these levels but the game's producer provides the opportunity to start playing. WMH has an official format (see Competitive format) with the designated size of 75 pts and the game is meant to be balanced at that level. An official newcomer-friendly tournament format exists in the form of Journeyman League, and there's also a community based initiative called BrawlMachine that had been created to provide newcomers an easy-to-grab tournament format. Narrative format is scarce in WMH.
  • IGOUGO - Both games use the same I-go-you-go mechanism. In WH40k players usually get a symmetrical deployment layout, and can start scoring from the first player's first turn. In WMH the player who goes second can choose the side he wants to deploy and also gets a bigger deployment zone.
  • Stats - Both game systems use a standardized statline for their miniatures, be it a foot-soldier or a fortification. That said, the only thing they have in common is the Movement / Speed stat, and even that works differently.
    • In both systems you usually have to hit with your attacks. In WH40k that means you have to roll against a fixed number (your Primaris Intercessor will hit a Grot or a tank on 3+ regardless of their size). In WMH you have to equal or beat the difference between the opponent's Defense (DEF) score and your ranged or melee attack rating (MAT & RAT). Auto-hitting attacks are few.
    • In both systems you will have to wound your opponent to cause any harm. In WH40k it is translated to the correlation of Strength and Toughness values. Wounded opponents may have various saves to avoid getting harmed. In WMH you will have to beat the target's ARM value compared to your weapons Power (or Power+Strength) to cause damage. Save rolls and mortal wounds are non-existent in WMH, but both systems have ways to ignore damage (WH40k has many names for such abilities i.e Disgustingly Resilient or Feel no Pain, whereas in WMH this is usually translated to the Tough ability).
    • Killed models are usually straight up removed from the table in WH40k. In WMH the process is more complicated (read this article).
  • Activation - In WH40k you'll get to do all phases with your entire army at once; every unit moves in the movement phase, then everybody shoots, charges and fights. The Command Phase had been introduced in the 9th edition to tidy up the gameplay so you can do various things that you were doing otherwise "in between turns". In WMH each player must get through first the Maintenance and Control Phase. Once it's done, you get to do things in your Action phase, one unit a time. Said unit gets its normal movement, and - if eligible - its combat action. Then you take your other unit, and repeat said process, until everybody is activated. Many abilities interact with each other and units usually block each others' path and LOS, so it is one of the hardest thing to learn for beginners.
  • Line of sight - In the previous edition WH40k used real Line of Sight, meaning that if you could draw LOS from any part of your model to any part of your opponent's model you saw it. It still holds mainly true but various terrains may give it some tweak. WMH uses an abstract line of sight where facing and the size of the figures' base are crucial. On the other hand the actual physical dimensions of the models have no impact gameplay-wise.
  • Terrain - WH40k terrain rules were created with the real LOS in mind. Most of the terrain features offer a positive modifier to your saving throw but some may affect hit rolls and some may straight up block line of sight, even if you could physically see the model. In WMH the concept of Difficult Terrain is more widespread than in WH40k.
  • Dice - Both systems use D6 and both use modifiers. However, WH40k uses single die values (from 1 to 6), while 99% of the rolls in WMH are being made with at least 2 dice (rarely 3, 4 or more), providing a broader distribution of possible outcomes. WH40k operates with more dice rolls, and sources of re-rolls are presented in abundance. Hit roll modifiers are capped at a -1/+1, even if you could gain more from various abilities. In WMH re-rolls are rare, and modifiers on various target numbers are more common. Modifiers have no upper limit; it is rare to have more than +3/-3 from a single source, but you can stack up to 7, 8 or even more from multiple modifiers.

Armies and list building

  • WH40k units have codex profiles, and some of their special rules can be found in the general parts of said codices. WMH uses no codices, but each and every model's profile are accessible from their card database for free (or for a fee in their official army creator program). This card also contains every special rule you need to use. Both systems have theie own app where you can assemble rosters and check unit profiles.
  • In a WH40k army composition the size of the game dictates how many command points you have that you may spend on various strategems or bringing in new army detachments on top of the first one you choose. Detachments are designated according to the units' battlefield role (HQ, Troop, Elite, Fast Attack, etc.) and each has a certain allowance on each unit role.
    • Battlefield role as an army organizing concept is non-existent in WMH. Here a model belongs to one of the 6 types (warcaster, warjack, unit, solo, battle engine or structure), and you are not bound to take any of them apart of a single warcaster and a compulsory amount of warjacks. However, the theme forces restrict the "pool" of the models you can take to reap the theme's benefit (which are usually unique, just like various, race-specific strategems in 40k, though less varied).
  • Normally WH40k limits how many detachments you can take, and non-troop units usually have a max 3 cap. In WMH warjacks can be taken without limitation and other models usually have a 2 or 3 cap.

Competitive format

  • Though WH40k has no "official" tournament format, the entire 9th edition itself was created with strong reliance on the community-based tournament initiatives (WTC, AdeptiCon, etc.), so the current state of the matched play technically counts as one.
  • WMH allows you to take 2 lists (and almost every player uses this opportunity) and quite often you are bound to play both during the course of an event.
  • Competitive WH40k uses a wide variety of primary and secondary mission objectives. Primary objectives are dictated by the mission you play while secondaries can be chosen before the battle - and many of them are dependent on your opponent's list elements. You can score 45 from primary and 45 from secondary, and the game lasts for 5 rounds. In WMH you can score scenario points directly for 3 things: controlling a zone, a flag and destroying your opponent's objective. You can also give indirectly points to your opponent if your warcaster stands too close to the table edge by the end of your 2nd turn ("Killboxing" yourself). WMH games last for 7 rounds max.
  • In 40k the player with the most victory point wins. In WMH if you score 5 points more than your opponent you immediately claim a scenario victory. Also, if you lose your warcaster (your army's leader) the game ends immediately, and the enemy gains victory regardless of the actual standing of the scenario.
  • "Soft" scores are part of the WH40k tournament scenes - a fully painted army offers 10 bonus points for each battle. WMH officially has no such scoring in place.
  • WH40K has no hard rules on chess-clocks, and is not an universally adopted way of playing the game. WMH tournaments use clocks extensively and with a strict time limit. Running out of time means victory for your opponent if you did not meet the other victory conditions (that is why it is amply called "deathclock").

Where should I start?

This content has been moved to a separate article: Where Should I Start?

Is Warmachine & Hordes the game for you?

Here are some reasons why people love/hate Warmachine & Hordes. Some people think these are an upside, other people think the exact same thing is a downside, so we'll try to be neutral.

Plethora of model options

PP's policy is to never make models obsolete, as in PP don't release a new edition rulebook that says "Those models you own? They no longer have rules in this edition." But after nearly two decades of releasing new models, the result is a huge range of playable models.
In the current edition this issue is somewhat alleviated by the introduction of Theme Forces.
Knowing what your opponent's models can do is a Herculean task of reading and memorization.
Figuring out what you want to buy and put in your own army can be overwhelming.

Precise measuring & pre-measuring

Most players play very "tight" with their measurements, and expect their opponents to be the same. For example if you have 10" range and the target is 10.1" away, then you're out of range.
Players can pre-measure any thing at any time, so since I know your range is 10" then I will measure it out and deliberately put my models 10.1" away. The first few game rounds are very much about maneuvering for position and putting models in range that you're prepared to sacrifice, a bit like pawns in a game of chess.
All this maneuvering and measuring movement/ranges precisely can be very time-consuming, especially since many "bonus move" abilities allow models to move just 1" or 2" at a time.

Addition & Subtraction

Warmachine uses a 2d6 system. Your accuracy plus two dice plus buffs minus penalties must beat the target's defence. Even within the same army different models have different accuracy and defence, and the applicable buffs/penalties change constantlt depending on what's happening in the game.
The net result, you're constantly doing maths to figure out what you need on the dice to actually hit.
On the other hand, unlike a 1d6 system, there are "critical probabilities" where applying the right buff at the right time can swing the odds heavily in your favour, and knowing where you need buffs adds another tactical element.

Alternating Turns vs Alternating Activations

In Warmachine you get to activate your entire army, then wait while your opponent activates their entire army. In comparison to other games where you activate one unit, then your opponent does one, then back to you.
There are no "saving throws" in Warmachine so, depending on your army, there can be very little to do during your opponent's turn. On the other hand certain armies have lots to do during the opponent's turn.

Model quality

The early stuff, 2000 to 2006, is showing its age aesthetically but the models themselves are fine.
The middle stuff, roughly 2010 to 2015, is when PP tried different manufacturers and/or materials. A lot of what was produced around this time was just not great, made out of low-quality plastic and/or with mold lines in difficult to clean places.

Model material

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Competitiveness

We covered this in "What makes Warmachine & Horses different," above.

Constant game updates

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The Fantasy Setting

Warmachine

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Warmachine is a game about industrialized "Full Metal Fantasy" minatures combat. The Warmachine universe is about the warring nations of the Iron Kingdoms, located on the continent of Immoren, based in the world of Caen. Plus some armies that have invaded from the afterlife (Urcaen) and/or a place "beyond" Urcaen. Each Faction has its own attributes, such as the advanced technology of Cygnar or the proud patriotism of Khador.

Magic is real in Caen, and due to the perpetual state of war, it is mainly harnessed to improve the war industry of each nation.

Huge, lumbering "Steam Jack" robots are given a sort of semi artificial intelligence by a magical node called a "cortex" that animates it and allows it to function somewhat independently. When armed, they are known as "Warjacks" or 'Jacks for short and are deployed amidst the soldiers to wage wars on rival nations.

The limited cognitive capacity of 'jacks demands guidance and instructions however, so they are led by battle wizards known as "Warcasters". Every game of Warmachine revolves around the Warcasters. If your 'Caster is defeated, you lose the game.

Hordes

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Far from the borders of the human nations there are other, less civilized factions. The resolute trollkin that refuse to succumb to human civilization, or the distant empire of the sadistic Skorne, to name a few.

These savage factions lack the level of industry to create the intricate Warjacks, so they rely on furious Warbeasts in stead. The battle wizards of these factions are called "Warlocks", and they harvest the wrath of their beasts to unleash their deadly spells.

More backstory

There is a wealth of more information about the world of Warmachine and Hordes, from short stories attached to the rulebook to full published paperback novels.

Unfortunately it is not within Warmachine University's Mission Statement to document all this "fluff". If you wish to learn more I suggest checking out the following sites:



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Once you've finished those, you may want to check out the Basic Training series.