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My name is Gavin McClements. I am a wargamer and family man, living in Los Gatos, which is a suburb of San Jose, CA. Building terrain is one of my favorite aspects of the wargaming hobby - in fact, lately I've become more interested in making my battlefields "pop" than in actually playing.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Warmaster: An Introduction to 10mm Fantasy

With my move coming this next week, Ive had a lot of time to think about gaming and not an awful lot of time to actually do any. I have a few 6mm Epic armies to assemble and paint, but Ive been lured to the concept of massed fantasy battles in smaller model scales for awhile.

I had an opportunity to play Warmaster from Games Workshop last night. Its been one of the rulesets on my short list of fantasy games to try, so even though my friend Aron is moving like I am, and all his terrain is packed away, he was able to bring out a few armies and we had a go at it.

We are playing 1000 points on a glass table, thus the odd reflections. In the center is a small "village" that the Orcs (top) have been menacing, and the Elves (below, me) are moving to stop.

I've owned Future War Commander for a few years now, and studying it prepared me a bit for Warmaster, as the command system is similar. That being said, its the one main reason I never really wanted to put FWC on the tabletop when compared to Epic: Armageddon. In FWC/Warmaster, if a unit fails to receive its order, it cannot move. In Epic, if a unit fails its Activation roll, it can still do something, called the Hold action, but they arent sitting helpless in some useless corner or sitting in front of impending doom.

We built 1000 point armies. Composition isnt really important, but I only took one General and one Wizard as my commanders. I could have used more, especially since ranged combat didnt affect much (my ballista never moved or had a target anywhere near being in range), but Im sure thats game-situational.

In the pics above (same time frame, different levels of zoom), the Orcs had been harboring some spellcasters in the center village, and my spearmen swept in and displaced them (you can see them with the wolf riders just up and left from the yellow square in the pic). My chariots and outriders are engaging a Giant in melee on the far right, my archers are attempting unsuccessfully to establish a firing line on my left, and most of the Orc army is squabbling in the background. In fact, Aron went first, and he failed to activate a single unit with his Commanders before his turn ended.

[A comparison here: Mighty Armies is a game I am looking at heavily as a contender for my money. In it, you get 2d6-worth of activation points, which must be spent to move your units. At first, when I read this, I balked, since I'm not normally a fan of games that dont let me move as I feel I need, but seeing how Warmaster works, consider this: If Aron had only rolled a 2 on his MA activation points, he could have at least advanced two smaller or one larger unit forward (units of up to 4 stands cost 1 point, 5 or 6 stands cost 2), whereas here he basically rolled a Zero and moved nothing. Poor rolling, yes (thats what you get for a game that relies on rolling LOW on dice!  LOL), and so mostly an anomaly, but a key issue I have with the game.]

The chariots and Reaver outriders hit the Giant...HARD.

The neat thing about the game, combat wise, is it really feels like GW's Warhammer game. Each stand has a base number of attacks, and actions on the battlefield affect that. Here, my units each had 3 attacks per stand. Charging grants +1, being a chariot on the charge grants +1, and fighting a Fear-inspiring monster gives a -1 (so my chariots had 4 attacks each, and the Reavers were a straight 3 dice per, giving me 18 dice as the furthest stand of Reavers wasnt in base contact). Hitting on 4's, the Giant fell in one round. I liked the combat mechanic, and throwing a satisfactory number of dice was a good thing.

I had difficulty wrapping my mind around movement, I'll admit. This is a silly thing to admit, because it is a lot more straight forward than, say, Warhammer, but it was flexible enough that I was having internal struggles with past paradigms while watching movement unfold (but dont tell Aron this!). Aron, however, had some ease-of-play tricks obviously borne of much play, and they helped.

We had a few really good brawls. We started late in the evening, and only got through half a game, but here my spearmen are receiving a charge on their left flank from trolls, and to their front from boar chariots. The two stands in contact with the enemy got wiped out, but the next turn I got some good counter charges in and the blood started flowing. At one point I had his trolls completely boxed in, and they were swinging away for all they were worth. It was a grand sight at this scale.

I really love how fluid the game is. Ranged combat can force the target back a few centimeters, and there is much shuffling back and forth in melee as well. It felt right to me, and at one point my spearmen were nearly forced from the village, and I thought, how cool! There werent any routs or big disasters, but the battle lines shifted as the fight raged on, and it felt right.

Going back to the lack of activations in the game: as he began, so he continued: Aron's forces largely sat at the back of his deployment zone, as did my two units of heavy cavalry. Aron pointed out that the byproduct of this was both of us having a useful reserve, and this was true, for when my cavalry suddenly responded to the orders being sent their way, they surged in beautiful formation right through the center of the field and really lined themselves up for a killer charge the next turn (Aron warned me that the large brigade of Orcs staring back at them might get their charge off first, so my narrow column of knights might not be in the best position to receive the charge, but this was Aron rolling...with my dice...so I knew the odds of that were slim and left them as they were. LOL sorry Aron!).

All in all, this game has some meat to it!  I liked what I saw, magic looked good but wasnt overly powerful. It isnt the "Build-your-own" system I have been really wanting to play, but wow, IMHO there is zero reason to play 28mm Warhammer any more (I have a large Orc army for sale or trade!). But because of that meat, this game is a long one, and even at 1000 points, I doubt we could have gotten out of there in less than 2 hours even if we were both experts at it - it felt more like a 3 hour game. Not a bad thing, in and of itself, but Im hoping for something a tad quicker to play. A lot of my game time is spent setting up impressive looking terrain, and then getting to put it all away again, so faster gameplay is key with this in mind.

Thanks to Aron for having beautifully painted armies and the willingness to host and teach me the game on short notice and at such a late hour. We have decided to give Mighty Armies a try soon as a comparison (there is nothing like throwing dice in anger to see how a game actually plays - you can only theoryhammer so long...pardon the pun).

1 comment:

  1. Good review, and it sounds like you had fun. Last night I would say we played 4 or 5 turns in about 2 hours, that was with lots of teaching and the like. I would say that experienced generals could play a 1000 point game in under 2 hours.

    As for the orcs, they've got lousy command and I'm not very familiar with them. Funny thing about warmaster is that each army takes some getting used to, that will allow you to adapt for the subtle changes army to army.