Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Warmachine: First Impressions

This week I finally played my first game of Warmachine. It was a unique experience (to me, at least) and a tremendous amount of fun. Here are my first impressions:

The Game
It was a 15-point match. I played a Khador list with The Butcher of Khardov, 1 Destroyer, 1 Juggernaut, and 3 Man-o-War Shock Troopers. My opponent played Trollbloods, with Grim Angus, an Earthborn Dire Troll, an Impaler and an Axer. The terrain was hilly around the edges, with two large forests in the middle. I "won" in 5 or 6 turns. But I don't think that means a whole lot in an instructional game.

Where we played
The game took place at a local store, during their Warmahcine/Hordes league night. The store's most excellent manager (to me, anyone who remembers my name after our first meeting qualifies as "most excellent") told me to "just drop in. You'll find a game." And he was right. The people I met were friendly, and my opponent was patient, helpful and encouraging. It was the best possible situation for learning a new game. 

What I like
There's a lot to like in Warmachine. The resource management mechanics encourage you to plan ahead and can lead to some tough decisions. Since you allocate focus (the primary resource for most of Warmachine's most important abilities) at the start of each turn, you you have to ask yourself questions like "if this doesn't work, what's plan B? And will I have enough focus left to deal with my opponent's actions next turn?" It's like a little puzzle at the start of every turn.

Based on what I'd seen online, I came into the evening thinking that most Warmachine games had two phases: 1) everyone rushed to the center of the table; 2) the armies exchanged charges and counter-charges until one player's leader was defeated. So I was surprised to see how important movement and positioning were in a normal game. Our match-up was a great example, with my opponent's highly mobile units circling for the best shooting or charging lanes, and my army slowly advancing behind a shifting wall of Shock Troopers that repositioned itself each turn to block off the largest threats. Once the armies made contact, there was plenty of charging and counter-charging. But the maneuvering beforehand was challenging and a whole lot of fun.

I never had an "analysis paralysis" moment, which says a lot about the quality of the game and my teacher. Frequently, when I learn an especially complex game (remember, I'm mostly a boardgamer, so any miniature wargame is especially complex to me), I reach a point where I look at the board and I have no idea how to proceed. I can see the options, but I have no idea whether they will help me or not. After a few minutes of headscratching and muttering under my breath, I just choose one at random and hope to learn something from the result. It doesn't take to many of those to make a quick game feel endless. So I appreciated that there was always a decent option as long as I kept my priorities (protect my warcaster & get into melee with my opponent's warlock) in mind.

What I don't like
My only complaint is very, very minor. The layout of the Khador army book could be better, especially the order in which units and theme forces are listed. The same characters appear in multiple lists, but for reasons known only to the layout artist, they appear in a different order in each of these lists. So if I'm looking at the Butcher of Khardov's entry in the "Warcasters of Khador" section (where he appears at the end of the list), and I want to check the rules for his themed armies, I can't just go to the end of the "Khador Theme Forces" section (where he appears near the beginning of the list). Like I said, it's a tiny detail, but it makes the game a little clumsier than it needs to be. Nobody likes to wait while another player searches though the rulebook for the right page. Given Pivateer Press' attention to detail in the other aspects of the game it's surprising, and it doesn't live up to their own high standards.

This was a great experience and I will definitely play Warmachine & Hordes again. My biggest decision is which army do I want to build first, Khador or Circle Orboros? Next week, I'll try out my hodge-podge 15-point Circle Orboros army. Then I'll make my decision. But right now, this feels like a win-win decision. Warmachine/Hordes is an excellent game and I think I'll be happy with either army.
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