LPG - Theme Forces
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- This article is part of Warmachine University's Learning to Play the Game (LPG) series, which is "Basic Training" aimed at new players who are still learning the core rules.
- (You may also be interested in our "Intermediate Training" series, LOTS.)
Theme Forces are rules which essentially allow you to build and play an army which is a "sub-faction". Instead of having access to every model in your Faction you have a restricted range of models that are thematically tied (such as "all the Man-o-War models" or "all the Satyxis models"). In return for playing under these restrictions you get several in-game bonuses (for example: extra models you don't pay points for, bonus abilities, a bonus to your starting rolls, an extra large deployment zone, etc).
What a New Player needs to know
Are Theme Forces compulsory?
No, they are not compulsory. But although playing "out of theme" is technically an option, the bonuses you get for playing in-theme are so strong that you rarely see many players going out-of-theme. Privateer Press have deliberately designed theme forces this way, and expect most players to be playing one theme or another. PP view themes as a "primary building block" in your list design and construction.
If you play against other new players and you are both out-of-theme, then that's fine. But if you play your out-of-theme list vs someone who is in-theme, the extra bonuses they get are going to make your game a bit one-sided. Let alone if they're an experienced player who doesn't take it easy on newbies.
Are all Theme Forces equally powerful?
No. Some restrict you to weak models, some have weak benefits, some have limited diversity.
If you want to know more in this vein, the LOS guys did a podcast on the merits of every theme force in the game.
Are there Theme Force boxsets you can buy?
Yes. These sets are good value for money and are a good way to start a theme force. But note they don't contain any Warcaster and Warjacks models, or Warlock and Warbeast models - they're more add-on boxes than full army sets.
The themes that have a boxset available are all good themes to start with and are relatively diverse, interesting, and balanced. This is because these themes have been expanded and errata'd at the same time the boxsets were released (as opposed to older themes which are sometimes a bit lackluster for one reason or another).
At the time of writing (2018.12) 8 out of the 57 themes have a boxset (14%).
- Cryx - Slaughter Fleet Raiders
- Cygnar - Gravediggers
- Khador - Armored Corps
- Protectorate - Exemplar Interdiction
- Circle - The Devourer's Host
- Legion - Primal Terrors
- Trollblood - Storm of the North
- Minions - Blindwater Congregation
Should I buy a Theme right away?
One of the pitfalls of themes for new players, in my opinion, is the simple cost of buying the models you need to field that force. Instead of being able to dabble in a Faction and buy models as they take your fancy, you have to go all-in on one particular aspect of a Faction ... and it might turn out that you don't even like that aspect of the Faction! Not to mention that if you want to play even a little competitively you really need two army lists, the second to cover the weaknesses of the first. Given that most themes don't have many overlapping models, you're now looking at buying enough models for between 1.5 to 2.0 armies!
To mitigate these pitfalls, my advice is to only buy one unit and one solo from the theme to begin with. If you don't like the way the theme 'feels', you're only out of pocket a little. Since you have less points in the theme, though, you've got three options for playing games:
- Play a smaller game. You'll have a good balance between points spent on your battlegroup and points spent on the unit/solo you just bought.
- Play a normal size game, and use the points on a bunch of warjacks and/or mercenaries. You'll possibly end up with a badly balanced force.
- Play a normal size game, and use proxy models for the themed models/units you haven't purchased yet.
If you're a new player, I really don't see the problem with option #1. You shouldn't be diving into full-sized games to begin with, in my opinion.
If you decide to go with option #2, there are two more pieces of advice:
- Take a good look at the Mercenaries and/or Minions that will work for your Faction (refer to the Who Works for Whom article).
- The logic here is, that (almost) every theme allows you to take up to one Mercenary/Minion unit and one solo; so once you've purchased a Merc/Minion you can use them in every theme you're interested in.
- Of particular note are the Partisan models that can work for your Faction.
- Take a look at the non-character warjacks/warbeasts in your Faction.
- Once again, the (almost) all themes allow unrestricted use of non-character warjacks/warbeasts, so your purchases can be reused in multiple themes.
- Also every Faction has at least one theme that rewards you for playing a lot of warjacks/warbeasts, so you can always use them in that theme.
- With a lot of warjacks/warbeasts, you'll need to look into the warcasters/warlocks that are good at using large battlegroups
- If you have too many warjacks/warbeasts on a caster that wants to hog focus/fury for themselves, you'll run into resource management issues.
- Or you can look into the non-warcaster/warlock models that can take charge of warjacks/warbeasts, such as 'Jack Marshals, "Junior" Warcasters, and/or Lesser Warlocks.
If you decide to go with option #3, good choice. Try before you buy!
Theme Forces didn't exist at all in Mk1 (2003 to 2010), and functioned differently in Mk2 (2010 to 2016). In Mk3, however, Theme Forces were redesigned from the ground up to be an integral part of how players play the game. The reason PP did this is really quite simple - the game was getting too big. After 13 years of constant releases all of the core factions were well fleshed-out, and it was becoming difficult to add new and interesting models to the line-up without it stepping on the toes of something already available in-faction, and/or blurring the lines that define one faction from another. Also it was harder to identify a potentially broken combination of rules.
Pros & Cons of the Theme System
With Warmachine & Hordes now in a place where everyone is expected to be playing "In-Theme", there are several advantages to the overall game system:
- Privateer Press can release new models for a Faction with rules that may be similar to existing models in that Faction, as long they're in different themes.
- Previously, if two units in the same Faction did similar things, players would only reach for the "best" or "most cost-effective" option. If the new model was decided to be less cost-effective, it never got looked at again.
- When PP release a new model, they can test it thoroughly in the Theme Force that it belongs to and see if there are any broken combinations. Since the Theme Force is smaller, it reduces the development and testing period.
- If there are broken combinations out-of-theme (that were missed in the dev testing), that is less of a concern because a player has to give up the strong Theme Bonuses to get the broken combination, so it's self-balancing.
However, it's not all sunshine and roses. There are several disadvantages too:
- It's harder for a player to 'dabble' in a new Faction, new players especially.
- If you play out of theme, you're at a disadvantage.
- But to play in theme you have to invest heavily in one style of aesthetic & playstyle that they may not like in the long run.
Remember how hard it was to pick your first Faction? Imagine that, multiplied by 10.
- It can stagnate list-building creativity.
- Some themes have very few choices, and everyones lists start looking the same because there's simply no other option.
- Themes reward players with free models for every 20-or-so points of [X, Y, and Z] models that you take, and some players just spam [X, X, and more X].
- Some of the Theme Forces released at the beginning of Mk3 were rushed out the door, as it were, and can be significantly more or less powerful than their competition.
Rules Clarification: Theme Forces (Edit)
Rerolling the starting roll [Show/Hide]
Warjacks/Warbeasts with bonds [Show/Hide]
Including Mercenaries [Show/Hide]
Number of Mercenaries
Partisans & Theme Forces (Edit)
Mercenaries and Quasi-Partisans
Mercenaries and Ranking Officers
Requisition Points [Show/Hide]
Free models and Specialists (ADR) [Show/Hide]
Unit Attachments [Show/Hide]
When to apply theme benefits [Show/Hide]
Protectorate - The Creator's Might [Show/Hide]
Mercenary - Flame in the Darkness [Show/Hide]
Mercenary - Llaelese Resistance [Show/Hide]
Mercenary - The Talion Charter [Show/Hide]
Circle - The Bones of Orboros [Show/Hide]
Circle - The Devourer's Host [Show/Hide]
Circle - The Wild Hunt [Show/Hide]
Skorne - The Exalted [Show/Hide]
Trollblood - Band of Heroes [Show/Hide]
Crucible Guard - Magnum Opus [Show/Hide]