In WARMACHINE, the very earth shakes during fierce confrontations where six-ton constructs of tempered iron and steel slam into one another with the destructive force of a locomotive. Inspired by Sholto, presented here for your edification is a kit review of the Cygnar starter set.
Over the past few months, I've developed an increasing fascination with Warmachine, the 30mm tabletop war game produced by Privateer Press. I went ahead and bought the introductory rulebook, a few blisters, and a starter kit for one of the armies, and I wanted to share my novice first impression of the starter set with ATT. I also thought I would treat this post as a summary introduction to Warmachine, and compare and contrast the game with Warhammer 40K. I'll be the first to admit that as yet I've only gotten two practice battles in, and therefore I am not making any overarching comparisons between the fun or quality of either game system.
What is Warmachine?
Warmachine is a 30mm tabletop wargame in a "full metal fantasy" universe. For all practical purposes, "full metal fantasy" translates to "steampunk, with a dash of magic." Warmachine is set in Western Immoren, the "land of the Iron Kingdoms." Cygnar is the most powerful of the Iron Kingdoms, rich in resources and technologically advanced. However, it is beset on all sides by enemies, and its forces are stretched to the breaking point. To the north lies Khador, a backward but imperialistic power heavily influenced by czarist Russia. To the east is the Protectorate of Menoth, a theocratic kingdom that has declared a holy war on Cygnar. To the south are the Cryx, a terrible archipeligo of piracy and necromancy ruled by the Cthulhu-esque Dragon Lord Toruk. A fifth faction falls under the broad umbrella of "Mercenaries." This should go without saying, but each army has a very different style of play.
How does Warmachine play?
Like both variants of Warhammer, Warmachine is a turn-based strategy game that utilizes point limits and army lists. At the heart of most armies are battle groups: a warcaster and the warjacks directly under his control. Supporting them are units of infantry and cavalry.
- Warcasters are the commander-mages of your armies. Unlike the Warhammers, your warcaster is always a named hero. They possess focus, a mana pool that they can cast spells from. More importantly, they can imbue their warjacks with this focus, making these colossul fighting machines even more powerful. If your warcaster dies, the game is lost. Your choice of warcaster is important, as every single one adds a distinct flavor to your army.
- Warjacks are massive steam-powered, semi-autonomous war machines. They are divided into light and heavy varieties; heavy warjacks have more hit boxes, are larger models, and are mounted on larger bases, but are more expensive, both point- and money-wise.
- Infantry are individually weak and easy to kill - but they never come alone. In sufficient numbers, infantry can bring down even the most powerful of warjacks.
- Cavalry are a powerful addition to any army - expensive, but an interesting middling unit between warjacks and infantry.
All units in Warmachine come with a stat card, which not only serves as a reference sheet, but that also keeps track of how much damage the unit has taken. For reference, here is an old-style reference card for a Cygnar Ironclad (new, more colorful cards have been subsequently released):
An old-style reference card, available on the Privateer Press website.
As you can see, the Ironclad has thirty hit boxes, though individual weapon system can be disabled before the entire warjack is destroyed. Contrast this with the Khadorian Men-o-War, or the Cryx Satyxis Raiders, and you begin to get a feel for the relative strength and weakness of each unit. I would be lying if I said the "trading card game" aspect of unit management didn't appeal to me.
All of this is a bit overwhelming. If I want to play Warmachine, where should I start?
A good starting places is the starter battle group for each army. It provides roughly 350 points of starting models; in my experience, most games are played at the 500 point level, meaning the starter kit has potentially satisfied 70% of your final fighting force. Each kit comes with a warcaster, but beyond that each battlegroup's composition is unique, reflecting the relative strengths of each army:
- The Khadorian battlegroup comes with two heavy warjacks. While this might not sound like a lot, heavy warjacks are massive, multipart metal models. On top of that, the Khadorians simply don't have light warjacks - they believe in ponderous, heavily armored warmachines that just don't stop.
- Cygnar and the Protectorate of Menoth both come with one heavy and two light warjacks.
- Interestingly, the Cryx battlegroup comes with one heavy warjack and three light warjacks. This is because Cryx 'jacks are lighter and weaker (and cheaper), relying on their speed to stay alive.
This is a kit review of the starter battlegroup for Cygnar.
Cyngar Starter Kit Review
Costwise, the starter set will run you about $40. My local gamestore sells the kit for $50; I was able to snag a copy on eBay for $35 with free shipping. Most sellers on eBay offer all four starter kits at about a total of $40.
The first thing that struck me was the extremely colorful artwork on the box's cover:
Cygnar Battlegroup Box
Having now purchased the rulebook, I can assure you that this is a fitting example of the vivid artwork that permeates all of Warmachine. It reminds me favorably of the 4th edition era 40K boxes.
Opening it up, we see two compartmentalized plastic trays, foldout starter rules, and the previously-mentioned unit cards. Compare the newer, brighter artwork to the previously linked Ironclad unit card.
Cygnar Battlegroup Interior
The quick start rules do not comprehensively cover all the rules of Warmachine. They focus on providing the rules necessary to understand how warcasters and warjacks work, and leave out rules concerning, among other things, command checks, infantry, and cavalry. That said, the quick start rules do fold-out to a really nice poster:
Moving along to the miniatures proper, we find four models. Up first is the Ironclad, a heavy warjack. As you can see, he's a massive metal model.
Below are the two light warjacks, a Lancer and a Charger. As with all metal models, there is flash to trim off, but these parts of the models are provided loose in the blister; the only sprue trimming I will have to do is a flash peg that is attached to the back of each model's head.
Lastly, there is Coleman Stryker, the starter kit's warcaster. He is the same size as a normal 30mm model; unfortunately, I had no 40K models to use for size comparison.
Size Comparions - Warcaster, Heavy Warkjack, Light Warjack
Here are the relative sizes of each class of model, with the model on the far left being Stryker. He is missing his head (it isn't glued on yet). You can see just a bit of flash hanging off of the Ironclad's butt.
Every model in this kit is metal; in fact, every model in the Warmachine range is fully metal. With the increasing cost of hobby metals, this stands to change, and Privateer Press will release their first full-plastic set of infantry models in the summer. But as it stands, all models are metal.
This is a mixed blessing. The models are highly detailed and very solid, but are not easily modified. Furthermore, pinning the arms is probably a good idea. That said, the arms are positionable, and the bodies of the light warjacks are for the most part, interchangeable. I am seriously considering switching the Charger and Lancer chassises, because I think their weapon loadouts go better with the other jack's pose.
But just how much utility will I get out of this starter kit?
As previously mentioned, the starter kit will provide a roughly 350 point battlegroup, or about 70% of a "typical" 500 point army. Furthermore, Privateer Press has strived to maintain some semblance of usefulness for each unit and warmachine. They haven't always succeeded, but sometimes they do: many of the first release warcasters are still in play, and the Lancer (thanks to a nifty ability that lets your warcaster cast a spell through the warjack, dramatically increasing a spell's range) will continue to be a mainstay in my army for a long while.
All things said, not a bad investment - but there are two downsides:
- Warmachine armies are predicated on powerful synergies between warcasters and their units. The starting collection will easily go down to an army designed with synergy in mind - but then again, that's always the case with a new starting army going against a carefully constructed veteran force.
- Starting kits provide but a fraction of the flavor and choices available to each army. Each army now has seven warcasters choices available to it (that's not even including the four "epic" variations of pre-existing characters, powerful versions of characters that can only be used in games over 750 points). Furthermore, each army has ten to thirteen warjacks, about a dozen units, and can have mercenaries of vastly different stripes ally with their forces. Sure, you can get by with just the starter kit, but you're going to want to expand your forces.
At some point, you're also going to need the full rules, Warmachine Prime: Remix. This is about $25, and can be found for $15 plus shipping in some corners of the internet. Yes, you're having to cough up a bit more money, but the rulebook is an absolutely fantastic piece of work. It's in full color, with amazing artwork and also provides unit profiles and stats.
Yes, unit profile and stats. Warmachine has never released a "factional" codex, like is common in the Warhammers. Units for each faction are released at the same time, preventing slow updates from creating lopsided balance issues. This means, however, that all of an army's units are spread out over the release of several expansions: Prime, Escalation, Superiority, Apotheosis, and Legends. It can get really expensive, but it also means that you have all of the rules for all of the other armies' units (plus great artwork, scenarios, and fluff that actually moves the universe forward!). A cheaper solution is to buy the "deck" that comes for your army. When you buy a model, the unit card always comes with it - but you can also buy the whole deck for your army, independent of your models. This is about $15, and gives you an economical feel for all that an army has to offer.
To sum up this section: it's a good, solid and economical starting place, but still only a starting place.
How does it compare to Assault on Black Reach?
Unfavorably. Because everything compares unfavorably to Assault on Black Reach. You get everything you need to play 40K, plus a sizeable chunk of an Ork and a Space Marine army, for around $60, or about one and a half times the cost of a starter Warmachine kit. If you pick up a Warmachine starter kit, you'll still need die, and rulers, and some sort of counters to allocate focus, and a page protector for your cards, and a washable marker to mark the damage on said protected cards. And the full rules.
But when you compare a Warmachine starter kit to a starting 40K battleforce, it ranks up favorably. 40K starter kits are about twice the cost as Warmachine starter kits, and often provide an oddly balanced fighting force. This statement is, of course, a generalization: an important exception is the newish Tau battleforce, which provides a decently balanced 600 point fighting force. Furthermore, the utility of every battleforce varies with just how much you want or need the models in it.
Warmachine is an interesting and (to me) new tabletop game. I'll be interested in seeing just how the game plays compared to Warhammer, but I'm very excited in my budding battlegroup. The models have a certain awesome style that I've never really experienced with 40K miniatures, and I'm much more invested in building and painting a new warjack than I am a legion of disposable Kroot. In my experience, I can cheaply and efficiently add a new model to my army, without breaking the bank or investing hours of time painting dozens of (point-wise) inexpensive models. Only time will tell if these initial impressions are true.