This is the third Introduction Guide I'm writing for Warmachine/Hordes. The first was lost a long time ago when the website it was on vanished into the ether. The second may or may not be still around depending on how the PP forum revamp turns out, but the end of MK2 and the advent of MK3 made it obsolete to a certain point, and I've wanted to rewrite a bunch of things for a while anyway.

So, what can you expect from this guide? I'll talk about a lot of things, from basic strategies to specific techniques like deciding when to boost and when to buy extra attacks instead. There is also a brief overview over the various factions, including starting points and essential models, that will be updated periodically. But for the most part, it's just things I think new players will find helpful.

The first thing I want to talk about is game sizes and formats.

Battlebox Games

Battlebox games are widely seen as the best starting point into the game. Battleboxes are relatively cheap, come with a free rulebook, and are (more or less) balanced against each other. What's more, they were designed to teach you all sides of the game, coming (where possible) with a pure melee model, a ranged model and an arc node that helps you explore spell casting. Furthermore, the small game size ensures (relatively speaking) fast games (unless both players hold back infinitely, hesitating to commit their models to combat), while staying lean enough that players can better understand what the crucial, game-deciding moves were and learn from that. Believe me, things become a lot more clouded and murky as the point levels and army sizes go up.

The downsides of battlebox games are that they are
a) mostly about positioning, because things are mostly over when the models start hitting each other
b) are only balanced to a certain degree (more about that in a minute) and
c) are far from optimized, which means there are lots of different ways to combine abilities, but they are certainly not the kind of lean, clean, elegant "oiled machines" I personally enjoy playing...

Basic Battlebox Strategies

From what I've seen so far, there are two basic battlebox strategies: Go after the opposing heavy or go directly after the opposing caster.

Going after the opposing heavy (which can be both a heavy warjack or a heavy warbeast) is an attrition strategy; not only are heavies the hardest models on the table, but they are also the hardest-hitting models on the table. The best and often only way to remove an opposing heavy (in a battlebox game) is with your own heavy. If you can kill the opposing heavy without losing your own in the process, you create a situation where your strongest model can run virtually unchecked, slowly moping up the reminder of the opposing battle force.

This is also where the biggest imbalances of the current battleboxes come from. You see, most boxes come with a heavy and two lights, except for Khador with its two heavies and Trollbloods with their three lights; the Neraph in the Legion box, nominally a heavy, has similar problems.

Going after the opposing "caster" (which is shorthand for both Warcasters and Warlocks) is called assassination, and it's often the only way to win a game you can't win on attrition. This is where the various lights come in, as most of them have guns that can penetrate past your opponent's front line, arc nodes that allow spell slinging deep into enemy lines, etc. Not that assassination is ever easy, and you nearly always risk massive casualties in retribution, should you fail.

25 Points: Learning to Run

I personally recommend 25 point games for new players that are sick of playing battleboxes. Pick your own caster, pick his or her battlegroup, add a unit and a solo or two, and go. The game will still be mostly about attrition of heavies and finding assassination opportunities, but hand picked armies add a whole new dynamic to the mix. As does infantry. So will scenarios, which you should definitely start using at this point.

Personally I'm mostly familiar with the scenarios from the official WM/H Steamroller tournament pack ([a href=""]free download available[/a] from [a href=""]the PP website[/a]), but the scenarios in the new core rulebook look fine to me. I recommend scenarios focusing on the center of the board, though, as you don't really want to split 25 points armies any further.

50 Points: Casual Games

In my experience, 50 points are perfect for casual games between somewhat experienced players. You start to get real armies, real battles, complex battle plans begin to form but things are still a bit less clustered than they are at 75. This is what I'm playing for the most part, when I'm not running smaller games with our new players.

75 Points: Tournament Standard

One of the basic truths of WMH seems to be that the game becomes more balanced as points go up. But the tables also get more clustered, the games take longer, and can appear more overwhelming. 75 points is the standard tournament size, but I wouldn't recommend it to a new or casual player. Not that you have to listen to me, of course...

100 Points: Scaling Up

I've recently heard rumblings that some people push for 100 points as the new standard, mostly because it would allow for the amounts of infantry we saw in MK2 to come back to the tables. Not sure how this will pan out, let's wait and see, I guess.

On List Pairings

This is something you will run into eventually: Matchups are a decisive factor in WMH, often getting a good or bad matchup matters more than whether your army is particularly strong or weak. To mitigate that to a certain degree, many events allow people to bring complimenting army lists, then before each game they look at the lists their opponents have, select one of their lists and both players simultaneously reveal their choices. Then the two chosen lists play against each other.

The problem with list pairings is, in my experience, that they become more relevant the better the players are and the more they know about the game. If you don't know what your opponent's armies can do, and perhaps are still trying to figure out how your own army works, list pairings are mostly pointless; you basically end up choosing matchups at random. So until you reach a certain skill level, it's a further complication for little gain really.

Playing Time

Deathclocks are a common occurrence in WMH games, i.e. chess clocks with a certain amount of time for each player, and when your time runs out you lose by default. This allows tournaments to finish on time, and some people use deathclocks in their private matches to keep the games short and fast.

However, I've found that new players often need a lot of time to clarify rules questions, think through their options, etc. Even the casual players I normally play with prefer untimed games (unless there are outside factors that require a game to be done by, say, the time the last train goes), because that allows for chatter and some witty banter without feeling stressed out.

What I've found is that a good casual untimed game will usually run around 2.5 hours, assuming people play at point levels matching their skill level. Some games will be over after an hour, if an assassination opportunity presents itself early on, others will run for 3 hours or more, often turning into massive attrition wars. But 2 to 2.5 hours with deployment and perhaps some after-game analysis with your opponent feels about right, on average.


That's it for today, more in future posts!