Why play Warmachine and Hordes, a tabletop miniatures game? The reason to play is simple: Warmachine/Hordes is a simple game with emergent gameplay (e.g., game complexity arises from many simple elements). There are many warmachine and horde factions rivaling each other within the Iron Kingdom Universe–where the game takes place. Within this context, the game forces players to think critically, decisively, and pushes your mental boundaries. Tactically, the game is deep. Personally, it’s damn fun.
In this article, travel with me as I take you into why you should play Warmachine/Hordes.
Forget rulesets for a moment and take-in the experience.
I’m in the midst of a hard-fought battle.
I’m having a great time. But, my opponent and I haven’t said a word in more than 5 minutes. This is the counterpoint to a world of noise and useless distraction. My mind grinds away. Despite the pressure, and the quiet, I’m having a good time.
I know my opponent is enjoying himself, too.
The hum of ventilated air overhead is louder than it should be…
What is Warmachine/Hordes?
Well, I can’t say it any better than the Creator of the game, Privateer Press, but I’ll try to give a brief overview.
Warmachine/Hordes is in its third edition (aka MKIII or Mark 3), and is a tabletop wargame that uses miniature models in the 28mm scale to represent different rival factions in a fantasy world.
“The Iron Kingdoms is a fantastic realm where the combined power of magic and technology thunders across a landscape shaped by war.”
The game itself is similar to chess. There are pieces of different specialities that are lined up at the start of each game in a pitched battle.
On the surface the game is easy to play.
“The battlefield has been leveled. There are no experts of strategy here, no veterans of this fight. We are all untested. And victory lies before you, ripe for the taking…”
You choose your army (there are several to choose from). Each army has a different feel and mechanic within the game. For those that can’t decide which faction to play, Privateer Press has conveniently made a self-quiz, and depending on your answers, will decide which army is a best-fit for you.
If you’re already one of the people who was on the fence but have now decided, you can pick up a starter box at your local game store (best option to support your community), or online at Amazon and eBay.
“WARMACHINE and HORDES are dynamic tabletop miniatures games for two or more players set in the steam-powered fantasy world of the Iron Kingdoms.”
Now, with any game that involves more than one person (you), the fun level and enjoyment, totally depends on the community.
If you have friends you enjoy being around, then Warmachine/Hordes will be a great time. But, if you have people you hang out with just for activities, but just aren’t keen on as individuals, this game (or any activity, really) will become a chore.
To give you an example of why I love playing this game, I summarize my experience in a game I had with a friend.
The primary victory conditions for any Warmachine/Hordes game are to satisfy one of two conditions: 1) Kill the opposing warcaster or warlock (the equivalent of a checkmate in chess, by taking-out the king piece), or 2) Score more victory points by achieving objectives set at the start of each game.
A secondary victory condition that most competitive games use is the chess clock, also known as a the “death clock”. Each player has a set amount of time to use for their turn through entire game. If this expires, then the other player wins the game.
For example, in a game of the size I played with my friend, we were each allotted a total of 60-minutes for our turns. If I use up all 60 minutes before achieving the primary victory conditions (above), then I lose.
Here’s the battle report of a standard pitched battle.
“Do you want a soda?” my opponent asks.
“That means, yes? –“
–I nod. My mind is pre-occupied with the table before me; strewn with bits of neoprene terrain, representing forests, hills, and bits of cover for my forces to dodge behind.
My army, the “Retribution of Scyrah” led by Issyria, faces off against “The Protectorate of Menoth” led by The High Reclaimer.
I’m working on my strategy and soda is the last thing on my mind (i.e., a word on caffeine).
My opponent (we will refer to as “friend”) places the ice-cold soda on the table corner on my side of battle.
“Thanks, ” I say, realizing my etiquette in any other life-situation might have been more refined.
But, refinement isn’t the purpose of my presence.
We are going into battle. This is serious.
I am confident.
By turn 2, we’ve run our forces up the board.
The early parts of any game is similar to the the opening phases of chess. Pieces are placed in strategic locations, vying for position to take full advantage of future opportunities.
Some opportunities present themselves to my army….my friend has place a few of his single wound models (pieces that can only take a single hit before being killed) too close to my ranged elements.
Shooting into his flanking sword-wielding knights (also known as “Knight Errants”), I remove nearly 70% of them in a single turn. He’s lost numerical parity against my army force, and it’s only turn 2.
I am confident. But, it doesn’t last!
A unique feature of Warmachine/Hordes is a “feat”. A feat is a powerful ability that each warcaster/warlock can use once per game to gain an advantage on the battlefield. In many cases, a feat can turn the tide of a losing fight, or even secure a total victory.
There is the chess clock.
I glance. Turn 2 took me 14 minutes to complete.
I think this okay, but I know I will need more time as the battle in future turns.
I’m cautiously optimistic.
Warmachine/Hordes can be an unforgiving game.
With effort and practice on a regular basis, you get better with any skill. Likewise, sloppy errors in a tactical wargame such as Warmachine/Hordes can be avoided with more play time.
Time is something I have not invested into Warmachine/Hordes in a long time; this is due to other real-life obligations, and other pressing interests (see the rest of this website).
But, I think by Turn 4, I have not made any serious errors. I’ve kept up the pressure and maintain numerical superiority against my friend’s Menoth army.
Though he controls one of the more powerful pieces in the game, the giant colossal (called the “Judicator”) that sits on a 120mm diameter circular base, my friend cannot leverage it forward to scoring objectives.
The huge-based model is 1) either too big to move around his own models, or 2) places itself at high-risk for my counter attack in subsequent turns.
But, one of it the specialties of the Judicator is shooting rockets at long-range, or the use of a medium-short range flamethrower.
And, my friend uses these weapons with great efficiency, greatly enhanced by the abilities of a support piece, named Severius (the variant 1 solo model).
When I start seeing the bombs being thrown and the threat range the Judicator is able to execute on the table, I feel a lump in my throat.
You might as well raise the white flag after a single critical error.
Failure happens to the best of us.
It happens to the best of us (maybe not so much to the veterans). I’ve got just over 7 years of experience playing the game, and I’m still learning.
You would think that after all this time, I’ve gotten rid of the 10% of the critical errors that plague me…
In my effort to press my advantage in Turn 5, even after the rocket barrage my army endured, I had moved the rest of my force up the table to continue scoring victory points.
I only need a single turn more to win.
But, in moving my army up I also expose my warcaster to more shooting. This is an error in misjudging the accuracy of his Judicator. Although I’m fully aware of the model’s threat range, I’m unduly confident in my defenses.
Issyria sits on a high defensive stat value, as well holding onto focus tokens (which provided limited boosts to armor). She is also screened by several models to prevent a melee charge; this is her first obvious weakness, which I’m fully aware of.
My strategy relies on incomplete facts.
What I’m not factoring in my tactics is the support that the Judicator has in improving its ability to overcome defenses (like the one I employed).
Support pieces on the table, e.g., Severius1, and additional resources in the forum of focus token allocation allows my friend to improve the Judicator’s shooting accuracy.
The end is quick.
My warcaster dies to fire, literally, as the Judicator shoots its flamethrower at her from just under the maximum 10″ range of those weapons.
A major attraction to Warmachine/Hordes is that you can study the game, like chess.
In every match, a set of simple rules act in synergy, turn-by-turn for each player. To win, each player optimizes the tactical choices as they emerge.
Do you place this model in this location, weighing the risk that it may have a chance to score versus dying to focused-fire?
Do you push your advantage for a quick win, or grind it out for the more decisive victory?
The death clock ticks on every decision.
Warmachine/Hordes is a varsity of the mind.
Solid rationalized planning doesn’t mean squat when they rely on a chain-of-events to pull off successfully. A broken link and it’s over, embarrassing sometimes.
Warmachine/Hordes is both rewarding and draining.
Warmachine/Hordes: A Thoughtful Community?
Overall, I thoroughly enjoy Warmachine/Hordes (and more so than other games), because it encourages two things I value:
- Honest, pure intellectual thought – I love the simplicity of fully-experiencing complexity (see link), without the experience itself being complex (more reading on game theory; also, see below). Okay, let me give you an example: Life in a complex world is confusing. Trying to make sense of it all is an effort in futility. It is refreshing when you can engage in a simple game, comprised of complex rules, and emerge with a simple outcome (you won or lost).
- Community – I enjoy being around people who share similar interests, but may have different perspectives on everything else. It doesn’t get more simple than this. Warmachine/Hordes has a community of players who are my friends and I enjoy learning about their interests and perspectives on various topics.
Game theory – the branch of mathematics concerned with the analysis of strategies for dealing with competitive situations where the outcome of a participant’s choice of action depends critically on the actions of other participants. Game theory has been applied to contexts in war, business, and biology (source).
The reason I play Warmachine/Hordes is because it challenges my confidence in my ability to think critically and decisively, spurs intellectual thought beyond my day-to-day life, and gives me a reason to be around other people.
The game is fun.