So you want to play Warmachine/Hordes? A Beginner’s Guide

Note: this is only slightly out of date as this was written during MK2. MK3 is the current ruleset. There are some nuance differences in the ruleset but for the most part, many things still apply.

So you want to starting playing Warmachine and Hordes, but you haven’t the slightest where to start?

I put together this guide for the WM/H subreddit a few months back in order to help “noobs” and beginners get better acquainted with the game. Figured might as well share it here as well.  This is by no means comprehensive, but I tried to touch on each subject in broad stokes in order to keep things from getting too overwhelming for someone new to the game (or wargaming in general as that was my case).

Warmachine? Hordes?

Warmachine and Hordes are sister games. What that means is that while there are some differences, the core mechanics (MAT, RAT, DEF, ARM, etc) are the same and thus both can be played against each other without issue.

Something I’d like to note: that while to a beginner, Hordes seems more powerful of a system (especially at lower levels), rest assured they are quite *balanced*.

Let’s give a quick rundown, shall we?

  • Warjacks. Big Robots do the smashing here. Warjacks have damage tracks on a grid, with systems having separate boxes (IE losing the boxes marked with an ‘L’ makes your left weapon function worse).
  • Mechanics repair/heal your warjacks.
  • Uses the FOCUS system. With this system, your caster gets a set amount of Focus every turn, depending on their focus stat, regardless of whether they have warjacks currently in play or not. That focus is then handed out to warjacks, spells, etc.
    With FOCUS you have to plan ahead what you are going to do more than FURY! FOCUS is about resource management.
  • FOCUS left on a caster adds to their ARM at a rate of +1 ARM per focus.
  • Planning vs Flexibility…almost.

Here is the official gameplay tutorial video for Warmachine:

  • Warbeasts. Big monsters do the smashing here. Warbeasts have damage tracks on a spiral. Losing a spiral causes a different function to worsen (ie to hit rolls).
  • Warlocks can spend a FURY to heal a point per FURY to heal a Warbeast. Why do this? Healing 1 box in a dead spiral disables the adverse effects of it.
  • Animi. All warbeasts come with an Animus, which is basically a spell. With this aspect, you can kind of custom tailor your warlock’s spell list. Although you need to keep in mind the limitations of each. Some animi can only be cast on the beast itself or the warlock for instance.
    Because of Animi, there are no Arc Nodes in Hordes (outside of special abilities that let you do so)
  • Uses the FURY system. With this system, your warbeasts generate FURY which your warlock then leeches. Losing your beasts means you might have to ‘cut’ yourself for FURY at a rate of 1 damage point to your warlock per FURY point if you can’t leech enough FURY back. Generating too much FURY, or being unable to leech all of it off, can cause your beast to frenzy, attacking the closest thing (friend or foe) and losing a turn for that particular beast  basically. FURY is the more flexible of the two systems. It’s more about risk management.
  • FURY left on a warlock does not add to their ARM, but can be used to transfer damage to an available warbeast instead.
  • Flexibility vs Planning…almost.

And here is the official gameplay tutorial video for Hordes:

Which faction do I pick?

The short answer: The one you like the look of best.

Yeah it’s that simple. Warmachine and Hordes currently has a whopping 12 factions to choose from, so I understand how it can be a bit overwhelming. The factions all have their own nuances and slant, but there is a lot of overlap in actuality. They may be a “control” faction or a “infantry” faction, but like the Pirate Code, those are more like guidelines rather than steadfast rules. Individual Warcasters/locks have more of a sway on how the army will play over the actual faction itself.

Go with your gut and pick the one whose look suites you the best. If you don’t like painting your models or how they look on the table, you won’t enjoy the game.

I won’t go into listing the strengths/weaknesses of all the factions here because that would make this already large wall of text outrageous. But behold! Here are FOUR links that can provide you with this information!

What do I need to get started?

So you’ve picked your faction. Take a deep breath. The first step is always the hardest. Now you just need to pick up some additional items:

  • Rule Book. It should go without saying. The current ruleset is in Prime/Primal MKII (Warmachine/Hordes respectively). If you opt for a 2-player starter set, it contains a digest sized rulebook. It’s AMAZING. You can also find these rulebooks on ebay and such for hella cheap.
  • Tokens. To keep track of FOCUS or FURY and spell effects/upkeeps.
  • Tape Measure. To measure distance.
  • Dry erase marker and card sleeves. To mark damage and whatnot.
  • Dice. You’ll only need about 4-5 of d6 variety (standard dice with 6 sides).
  • A table surface. WM/H is played on a 4′ x 4′ surface (or 1.2m x 1.2m for our non-US brethren).
  • Terrain. Doesn’t have to be fancy although I feel nice terrain adds a lot to the experience. Get creative: Have a felt square or napkin represent a forest.
  • OPTIONAL: The FORCES OF books. They contain a lot of fluff (story info) on the faction and has the rules/stats for all it’s models (up to the point of it’s publication), but every model comes with a card with that info so if you aren’t interested in the fluff of your army, you don’t need these books. They are still cool books though.

Get a hobby knife and/or file set to cut, file, and scrape flash (those excess bits of plastic or metal) and mold lines off of models.

Next get some super glue (recommended: GF9, Zap a Gap, Gorilla Glue) to glue your models together.

You can also magnetize heavy Warjack kits for versatility. More info about this to come…

You could technically play at this point…but PAINTED MODELS PLAY BETTER! Which brings me to my next section…


What you need:

  • Brushes: You can get these anywhere. Learn on some cheap brushes before upgrading to the Winsor Newton Series 7, Raphael’s, etc. Sizes you want to look for are #2 pointed round and flat. These are very versatile brushes and sizes that will work for both base coating and detail work (depending on how good your point stays). #1 are great for fine detail work. I personally avoid the X/0 size brushes. Sure they are good for eyes (I use a #2 for eyes, true story), but I’ve found the other sizes better buys (as in you’ll be using them a lot more).
  • Primer. You don’t need that expensive ‘hobby’ primer. Get some Krylon from wal-Mart or Michaels for half the price. Black primer gives you a more muted final look, white makes your colors ‘pop’ more. White is easier to paint over, while black gives you built in shadows. Color is more of a personal preference. I started using white, but lately, I use black. It’s whatev.
  • Paints. Shocker. You need paints to paint your models. I recommend starting with the P3 line as their paints are actually very good, they sell 6 paint starter sets for each of the factions, and a very good ‘compressed’ color selection which isn’t overwhelming to a beginner (compared to say, Vallejo, who seems to have 10+ shades of every color).

Later on I recommend branching out to other paint lines as you get more comfortable. I personally use a mix of P3 and Vallejo.

Basic Techniques:

  • Thin Yo Paints: You hear this a lot and for good reason. If you don’t thin your paints, they go on thick and can obscure detail or ruin an otherwise great paintjob/model. The recommendation you always hear is “thin to the consistency of milk”. Bascially get your brush a little wet, get some paint on your palette. Swirl it about.
  • Base Coating: This is simply painting the part of the model the color you want. Want red shoulder pads? Go for it.  Just start applying paint to your model. This step can be messy.
  • Washes: “Liquid skill” or “Skill in a bottle”. Washes are VERY watered down paints or pigments. GW makes the washes that are the standard at the moment, with Agrax Earth (brown) and Nuln Oil (black) being the most popular and useful. Take you model and dab wash on the places you want to add shading, letting the wash pool in the crevices. Make sure you let it dry at least 10 mins before continuing to paint! I’m also a fan of P3 washes (armor wash especially) and of Secret Weapon washes.  SW in particular are FANTASTIC for metallics and they make a ton of color options. As you get more comfortable you can make your own washes, but that is beyond the scope of this guide.
  • Dry Brushing: Dry brushing is a method of hitting just the edges quickly with paint. This can be used to achieve a number of effects, but the most basic is highlighting. how it works. Get a DRY brush (as in, not wet), get a little bit of paint on it, then wipe that paint off on a paper towel until there is barely any on it. Next quickly wipe the brush back and forth across the surface of the model you are drybrushing, in particular the edges. Drybrushing is also great for painting dirt bases.
  • Highlighting: This is where you take a color a shade lighter than the base color and go over the top most edges of the surface, there by “picking” them out and giving the paintjob more contrast.

A typical process would look something like:

  1. Basecoat
  2. Wash
  3. Highlight
Learning and Playing the game

First, find a group or a Press Ganger (PG) in your area. Press Gangers are volunteers of Privateer Press’ that will walk you through and demo the game. Use the locator found here. Or ask on the PP Forums

Read the rules! There are a lot, so don’t get discouraged. You don’t need to have the rulebook and every card memorized front to back (that’ll come with time), just get a good grasp on the basics.

EXPECT TO LOSE! A lot. It’s going to happen. You’re new, what did you honestly expect? I put this in bold because I feel it’s one of the most important things to keep in mind when starting WM/H. If you are a bad loser, this game may not be for you. Hell, I think I lost something like my first 10+ games. Learn every time, and soon you will be winning.


Q: Is X faction a good faction for beginners?

A: Yes. There is no “noob” or “master” faction. The only ones I recommend beginners shy away from are the Mercs and Minions, due to the contracts and character things in Mercs and to the lack of options for the Minions at the moment. BUT of course if those are the armies you think are the coolest, by all means go with those!

Q: Can I find the stats of X model online?

A: No. Not legally at least. PP doesn’t allow that sort of thing. You can check out the model’s page on Battle College and get a very good idea of what it does there.

Q: What is War Room?

A: War Room is Privateer Press’ free app for viewing cards, rules, and list building on an android or iOS device. Note how I said the app is free. It’s free to download, but you’ll have to buy the card packs in order to see the cards and make lists. They go for about $7 each or $60 for the whole shebang. The really nice thing about getting the full set is that you’ll always get the new cards of things when they release automatically, forever.

If I missed anything, sound off in the comments and I’ll get it added!

17 thoughts on “So you want to play Warmachine/Hordes? A Beginner’s Guide”

  1. This blog post was really helpful to me. I just brought the Hordes two player set, so am just getting into the Hordes/Warmachine. It’s great to get an overview of both games!

  2. Could you do a guide like this, but focus on paint schemes instead? I had thought that I had two BOSS paint schemes in the work only to realize that the colors don’t exist anywhere. I’m not sure how people paint with the color blue when it’s not available to buy. Do painters just mix colors until they get their desired blue or am I missing out on a trade secret? I’m also wondering why you would choose one brush over another. For me, I use whatever brush I have been provided as I know that the applicator of paint is not an important part of the painting process. After all, how many people can tell what kind of brush you have used when a miniature is finalized? I sure can’t. Can you Volt_Ron? I hope I have sparked your creative juices and that you will read this and consider doing a “paint schemes for new hobbyists” guide. Please let me know if you don’t want to do this as I may use it as content on my blog. If I do that though, I would need you to ghost write it for me. Let me know if you are interested Volt_Ron.

    Viktor Henry Pilkington III

      1. You are a saint, a scholar, and a manly man. 21 doughnuts wouldn’t be enough to repay you for what you’ve done. I will name my first born child after you Volt_Ron. But for his sake, I hope he never decides to paint. In these parts, we call painting, “The Last Frontier”. You can only paint for so long until you realize that paint is tastier in your stomach than on models. It never ends well. R.I.P. Johnathan Newark. We will never forget you.

  3. Say if you had a khador army, can you add any horde models in your army or does an army have to just be of its own type?

    1. An army can be made up of in-faction models and the Mercs/Minion models (units or solos) that will work for that faction.

      Sorry no mixing of Legion heavies into a Khador battlegroup!

  4. I’m deciding on a new war game to play after giving up my ridiculously expensive dream of a games workshop one and Infinity is still too expensive and sexist miniature wise for my taste. As a general hater of chain mail bikinis is there anything I should worry about with WM? And are there any speed based factions with small groups of powerful people. Preferably for a fast attack based army? Thank you for such an article and finding me a good war game to play!

    1. WM doesn’t really do the chain mail bikini thing and actually it seems like Infinity is moving away from some of their more questionable sculpts as they resculpt their line.

      but to your question: Can you tell me a bit more of what you’re looking for? Do you want a small model count but elite army? Fast attack would be similar to a cavalry army? Do you like monsters or robots?

      The reason I ask is because a number of the armies can fill those niches. Circle is possibly the most mobile of all the factions. Legion on the other hand, is fast in general and all about their beasts so your overall army tends to be smaller. As far as cav go, all factions have some but you don’t typically see ALL cav armies. Not that it can’t be done…check out Vlad the Horselord’s theme force or Intercessor Kreoss double Vengers, for instance.

      like I mentioned WM tends to be more flexible in terms of army makeup. A certain army may excel in an area overall, but there are usually enough options to make different playstyles.

  5. Good info to soak up while waiting for 2 player BB to show up. I’m brand new to this role playing. But very excited to get started. Me and the wife are gonna learn together and my 17 year old looked kinda interested as well. That being said could the 3 of us play on the same board against each other? Thanks for the insite bro. Good work

    1. Yes indeed! While the game is typically played 1v1, there are quite a few variants out there. Look for Portals, Thunderdome, and Mangled Metal/Tooth & Claw rule sets as a start.

  6. I was thinking about playing this game and was looking at Convergence of Cyriss, but so far all I have read or heard is that it is not an easy army to start out with. Should I start with another army first? Or just go with it?

    1. So I’m a big proponent of playing what you like the look of best so I’m going to lean towards “GO FOR IT!” But there are a few things you’ll want to know about Convergence going in…

      The reason why Convergence is not considered “newb-friendly” is because they require a good grasp on positioning (because of their unique rule: induction) and order of activation. Now the argument can be made that both of these are important to any army and that’s true, but it’s even more so with Convergence. They are often described as a Rube Goldberg machine for a good reason.

      Another thing to keep in mind with Convergence is that they have been stated by PP to be a “limited” faction. Basically what you see availible is what you get, they aren’t going to be added to the regular rotation of releases like the other main factions (sans Mercs/Minions). This doesn’t mean that they won’t get ANY more new releases (they are getting a new second colossal same as everyone else for instance) but that they won’t be getting new releases as consistently as the other factions. But they already have a fairly robust set of options to choose from so they aren’t limited in that regard as is.

      I hope this helps you in your choice! Welcome to the game!

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