Warmachine vs. Warhammer

Platypus Con is coming up this weekend! The gaming convention that is starting this year in our home town is finally here, and yeah, I don’t know how ready I am for it. I conned (pun!) a friend into helping with leading some tabletop war gaming demos, we have our time slots and tables will be there for us. I have a Warmachine army – the game system that we decided on – and he has several.

So I’ve done a lot of construction, so that’s the important starting point. Models are primed and have even then been airbrushed yellow, and I’ve started doing some painting as well! I’ve moved to trying out Instagram for my pictures of these – give our Instagram a look, and I’ll also share some more here on Friday!

Here's a preview of what I've painted so far!

Here’s a preview of what I’ve painted so far!

I’ve also now gotten in three games – hopefully enough to know the rules and be able to run a good demo! We’ve gotten smoother with our playing, I’m not taking forever on my strategy decisions, and I’m even 2/3 for wins… This also means that I now have a feel for it to be able to compare it to the tabletop war game I learned on: Warhammer Fantasy. So if you’ll indulge me – or if you found this blog post specifically to read this discussion – that’s what the focus will be for the rest of the post!

Update: It was pointed out to me that I have not played Warhammer Fantasy for almost a decade. The core rules have changed since then, so some of my thoughts are out-of-date. It also sounds like my wonderful Lizardmen are going away… And that the biggest change is a bigger focus on the named Character leaders. Perhaps a move to be more like Warmachine?…

The Army Design

By this I mean, the very basic, core mechanic of how you build any army. In either game, you have to have leaders for your army. They lend some command stats to your team, are better fighters or spellcasters, and are worth a lot more to you than any other given model. They tend to look cooler, etc. etc. etc.

In Warhammer, most games are played with generic heroes and lords: generals and soldiers and mages from across the wide world. There are storied heroes too, with names and special models and all sorts of cool, overpowered rules. These tend to not be at all allowed in tournaments, unless expressly a tournament set up TO use these sorts of characters. They’re also a bit cheesy for friendly play, because with the right force around them they can be just so powerful.

Switch over to Warmachine, and I find out… that’s the whole game, the named characters. Every single last Warmachine army starts with a named Warcaster (or in the related/same game Hordes, a Warlock… leading to the meta name Warnoun, which I will skip using since we’re not into Hordes yet). Every one of them has things that make them unique, even while also sharing a lot of the same spells, effects, stats, whatever. It’s the unique combination therein that creates new strategies and tactics specific to that ‘Caster.

So in Warmachine you expect your opponent is going to show up with an army that is built to synergize (or maybe even to use the spell Synergy!), that is built to exploit a specific spell or stat. That’s kind of the point. I’ve heard it likened many times to a gigantic game of Rock-Paper-Scissors, only with a lot more options. I’ve seen this graphic used, too:

Found on http://www.umop.com/rps25.htm, which might even be the original source!

Found on http://www.umop.com/rps25.htm, which might even be the original source!

I now have three ‘Casters, so that I can field what plays as three very different armies, even with my same Mechs and support guys going around to help. In Warhammer, it took a lot more change to make your army feel different from one another, and we often ended up buying multiple armies… a very expensive endeavor.

The Basic Rules

Okay, as you might expect, there are differences in the basic rules. But also a lot of similarities. Which have actually been tougher for me. I mean, it makes sense: you’re measuring distances in inches, you’re rolling dice to hit and to damage, you’re working with units of troops and solo models and giant monsters/mechs and your leader heroes.

Let me try to lightning-round some of the rules differences that have been harder for me, or that stand out:

  • Activation vs. Phases. In Warhammer, like in other games (Magic and Arkham Horror come to mind), you move through phases where everyone in the army/group/cards has to do the same thing at the same time. So all moving at once, all acting at once. In Warmachine, you have a couple of phases, but each individual model or unit activates and goes through all the steps as itself. So if my ‘Caster activates, he goes through his spellcasting, moving, shooting or punching, all on his own, then also the Mechs, the units, everyone. Order matters – a lot. Because instead of everyone being moved into their final places, like in Warhammer (or a play: “places, everyone!”), you’ll have some that have moved and some who haven’t, at all the various points.
  • Line of Sight. This is important as it helps limit models and units, which matters because you as the player get the whole view of the table – no fog of war in tabletop wargaming! Unless that’s your scenario. In Warhammer, units had rigid square 45-degree angle lines of sight, and then skirmishers and solo models had 360-degree vision. In Warmachine, basically everything functions as a solo model – even the units themselves have to be in a loose formation over a huge radius. However, just because they feel like skirmishers to me, does not mean that they have 360-degree vision! I have to watch out for this.
So a unit of Halberdiers can be spread out like this. All over the place. This is from my friend's Retribution of Scyrah army!

So a unit of Halberdiers can be spread out like this. All over the place. That’s not even all of them!
This is from my friend’s Retribution of Scyrah army!

  • The obvious: Focus. The whole idea of Warmachine is that you are playing a named Warcaster who has spells, an inspiring Feat, and can telepathically control the Warjacks and other mechs of their world. This is done through a resource called Focus. With infinite Focus, there’s nothing you couldn’t do. My first ‘Caster comes with 6 a turn. So you can do… some of everything. Not really much. It means it’s hard to make too many of the Mechs be badasses (which hurts them on the whole that-being-the-theme-of-the-game aspect), and so people end up bringing, in general, a whole lot of support models and units. These tend not to need Focus, or help you get more or in other ways be more efficient or effective. In Warhammer, you’re starting with units, as there is a specific amount of “core” troopers you have to bring to even be able to field an army. Then there are limits to the bigger stuff you can bring, by “rarity.” Warmachine functions almost exactly the opposite, with the limiter being in-game, and the limits on how much you can bring being on the units and not the big Mechs.
  • Range. I hadn’t really understood this until playing, but ranges (say, for shooting) are REALLY short in Warmachine. The best my army can do is 15″, and that’s with my best ranged model with a spell boosting it. In Warhammer, my Elven Archers could shoot 30″, and could start the game shooting on turn one. In Warmachine, you’re having to run forward and fight close to the middle. Many things can move and charge and engage shooters are pretty much the exact same range those shooters can shoot at – so you may only get one good round of shooting in! That makes it hard to rely on a ranged strategy, even while it feels so tempting with all the Mechs and their giant cannons. Well, they know nothing about shooting 60″ with a cannon in Warhammer! It’s good, though, as it forces you to get close together and fight it out, which at the very least will hopefully be fun for our demos!
  • How you win. It’s taken a lot of adjustment on my part to get used to how you win in Warmachine. In Warhammer, I played a lot of tournaments and tournament-style games. You duke it out over 6 turns, and unless it’s really obvious earlier on and someone concedes, you reach the end and count up points lost. You win by having killed more, with a few extras in there for extra bits (like claiming enemy Standards). And I’m tempted to play Warmachine that way. However, Warmachine is won on two conditions: either on scenario (generally variations on King of the Hill), or by killing your enemy ‘Caster. That makes it a lot like Chess, with check and mate – only even more like Chess where you win by taking the enemy Queen. The Queen is powerful and nimble and can do just about anything you want, but is also far easier to overextend or leave exposed. Do you go offensive, which is risky? Or defensive and hope you can stave off your enemy? That may depend on the ‘Caster, the scenario, your opponent, or how you feel that game! But in list building, you need to be thinking about how you will win one of those two ways – not just how to have a good scrap.


My dad and I once found a strategy online for Warhammer, and it stuck with us as we built our armies. There were three things to shoot for in a Warhammer army:

  1. Dice on Target
  2. Maximize Strength and Toughness
  3. Immunity to Fear and Terror

Dice on target had to do with getting more hits in. The more dice you could roll, the more you can ignore luck as a factor – at the very least, you should see results that feel closer to average. There are plenty of ways this applied, such as trying to get the charge in first, taking models with multiple attacks, cavalry (who tended to get an attack while also having a mount who got to attack), and on and on.

Maximizing the strength and toughness stats had to do with taking advantage of the most easily controlled roll in the game, the damage roll. Rolling to hit, there was a complicated formula, that boiled down to the fact that for most models most of the time, you needed a 4 or better (on a d6) to hit. Rolling for damage, success or failure was based on the difference between strength and toughness, for what the die roll took. the higher your strength to their toughness, the easier the roll.

The third item was about the game’s main status effects: Fear and Terror. With dragons, demons, giants, and undead, there were plenty of things to be scared of in the Warhammer world – and also plenty of seasoned veterans who had seen it all before. Bad dice could beat you with Fear and Terror – your models might just run away. There was also the potential that if an enemy outnumbered you, and you were afraid of them, and they beat you in combat, you just ran. Gone. Which, with Necromancers keeping the undead coming, was all a very likely possibility. So the idea is, don’t lose control of your models, and be ready for the worst possibilities.

I’ve been trying to apply these same axioms to Warmachine, having not found nice, simple ones to follow for my new game.

Dice on target sounds easy for Warmachine, but it’s not. In Warhammer, you roll one die for each attack, succeeding or failing on a d6. In Warmachine, you roll 2d6, which has a skewed odds situation compared to one die. You can also make decision a lot of the time between making an additional attack – rolling another 2d6 – or adding dice to your current attack, either to hit or to damage. I find myself doing far more math in Warmachine than in Warhammer, mid-game.

Maximizing strength and toughness is a bit closer to still being true, though Power or Strength + Power versus Armor would be the terms. If you do damage over the armor value with a die roll plus your power numbers, you do damage! And can do more damage as you roll higher. Which is great against high-health Mechs, but is wasted overkill against one-damage infantrymen, when there are another nine of them pressing around you. Still, it’s better to be thinking about these stats, I think, than the hit table, as overkill on the to-hit roll does nothing for you. Also, there are a lot of ways in the game to get automatic hits, also, such as Blast Damage or with a model that is Knocked Down. Lots more status effects.

And with lots more status effects, you have a lot more than two to be worried about! I am constantly reading in forums online, advice about how to be ready an army full of heavy armor (making you do math to solve for which dice situation like above is best) or how to deal with lots of infantry (like in the overkill situation above) or how to deal with lots of Knock Down or stealthy or incorporeal models or high-risk assassination attempts or slow attrition battles or magic immunity or Blast Damage immunity or…

There’s a lot, and everyone has something they are specialized in because they are using a named hero who has preferred powers and goals. So you will inevitably be well-prepared for some encounters, and not for others. The dice can get the best of you, and you’ll definitely be doing some math or following your gut to make decisions. It’s definitely a different experience than playing Warhammer, but I have to say I like it!

Looking for more on Warmachine? I really liked this six-post introductory guide: A Noob’s Guide to Warmachine.

3 responses to “Warmachine vs. Warhammer

  1. Pingback: Showing Off: Warmachine Painting! | Comparative Geeks

  2. Pingback: Hordes and the Trollololos | Comparative Geeks

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