Note: this is only slightly out of date as this was written during MK2.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 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!
- Warmachine Faction Overview from Muse on Minis
- Hordes Faction Overview from Muse on Minis
- A quick faction guide
- Battle College, each faction homepage actually has a bit of an overview
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.
- 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:
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.