Meet My Metal Plated Fist, GW: A review of Warmachine MkII

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If I thought it would be given any attention whatsoever, I'd write a letter to Games Workshop on a Privateer Press letterhead with only four letters in big font on it, reading: E.S.A.D.

I'll let you figure out what that stands for.

I can honestly say I'm done with GW and their miniatures games (note the omission of any future reprints of board games). I've been done with GW's miniatures games for a couple years now, but I've been tempted by them time and time again, to the point where I had intended to return to Warhammer Fantasy. But now I believe that there really is no excuse to play GW's tired, overpriced games. For the last week I've been extensively playing Warmachine with the new MkII rules. As I can tell, the game is near perfect...not to mention that Warmachine has more substance in it's huge, metal pinky than 40k has in its entire body.

Even before the MkII rules hit, Warmachine was already a very solid miniatures game. It's a game about huge, steam-powered robots called Warjacks (or just 'jacks) who are magically controlled by a single model called the Warcaster. The most common victory condition is Caster Kill, since when the Warcaster dies, the 'jacks go inert. A number of things sets Warmachineapart from the other miniatures games on the market. For one, it's ultimately cheaper. I've heard complaints that the prices have gone up over the years, or that the models are just as expensive at GW's, but the fact remains that YOU DON'T NEED AS MANY MODELS TO PLAY. A starter set goes for $50 SRP, but they can easily be found online for as low as $34.99. Each starter includes 3-5 models, and not only is that enough to play, but it's enough to play a decent game since each starter is balanced against all the others. It also includes a set of quick start rules, which unlike other games, quick start does not translate to watered down. The only rules missing don't apply to the models in the starter. Speaking of rules, every model gets its own card, so there's no going to books or charts to see what the model can do.

But the real charm of Warmachine comes from the resource management system that fuels the game. At the start of each turn, your Warcaster gets number of points called focus. At the start of your turn, focus is divided amongst your Warjacks, enabling them to charge, run, make more attacks, make more powerful attacks, and all other forms of badassery. However, your Warcaster also needs focus for their spells. This constantly gives players important decisions to make on a turn-to-turn basis, and you'll often find yourself torn between giving the focus to a 'jack to make that huge attack and keeping it on the Warcaster for what could be a game-changing spell.

While Warmachine has always been an excellent game, it sort of broke down along the way. Units of footmen started to take the spotlight from the Warjacks, earning the game the sad title of Infantrymachine from some players. The overall balance of the game changed, and some models were downright broken. Privateer Press did an admirable job along the way trying to right these wrongs, but the damage was done. The game was still fun, but there were times where you'd just look at what an opponent was playing with and say, Do you want to just write this off as a win for you?

Along comes MkII, which I should point out, was released onto the internet this last Spring for players to playtest and report back in on. Some ideas were accepted, other were not. To me, this shows that the company genuinely cares about making players happy. The biggest deviation comes from the point system. For example, instead of agreeing to a 500 point game with your opponent, you now play a 35 point game. No more going for the calculator. You can easily build a list with mental math. Warcasters don't cost any points, and each Warcasternow has Warjack points, which can be spent on Warjacks without going against the agreed upon point limit (so if you're playing a 35 point game and your Warcaster has 6 Warjack points, you can actually play a 41 point game).

The second biggest change is that the attention is now back on Warjacks (where it should be). To understand this difference, you need to understand how Warjacks take damage. Each Warjack has a damage column on their card numbered 1 to 6, so when they are damaged, a D6 is rolled and the damage is applied to that column. Towards the bottom of the columns, you'll find boxes with letters in them. These letters represent the different systems of a Warjack. R and L means right and left arms, M means movement, and C means Cortex, the thing the enables a 'jack to receive focus. In the old rules, when all the boxes of a system were damaged, that system could no longer be used. This was extremely crippling to the point that when certain systems went down, there was no reason to even try to do anything with the Warjack. Now, you can still use the system (with the exception of Cortex, which works the same way it used to). Disabled weapons can only roll 1 die instead of the usual 2 when making an attack. Where a disabled Movement system used to mean that you could only move 1 per turn, you can now still move your normal distance, you just can't charge and you're a bit easier to hit. These changes are hugely welcome. There was nothing more disheartening than seeing your favorite 'jack be rendered completely useless for the rest of the game just because it lost a weapon or could only move a measly 1 per turn. Finally, a Warjackused to be wrecked (meaning it could no longer be activated) if it lost three systems. In MkII, all system must be disabled before a 'jack is done for.

To top it all off, the broken stuff has been fixed. Overused models lost a few abilities, underused models gained few, units lost a point in stat here and there, and all Warjacks gained a few points in theirs. I truly feel that this is where the game should be. I, probably like many 40k players, once saw Warmachineand thought, Cool, someone made a game where you use nothing but Dreadnaughts, only to be later saddened to find that the game was still largely supported by waves of infantry. MkII restores that initial excitement, without making infantry completely useless (just much less effective). I've spoken to players from all of Warmachine's 6 factions, and everyone seems to be extremely pleased with the changes made to their models. Everything seems to be just right.

If there's a dent to be found in MkII's armor-plated hide, it's that now is not exactly the easiest time to get into the game. The starters have yet to be updated, so they still have MkI rules and MkI cards. If a new player does decided to get a starter, they'll need the deck of MkII cards for their faction, which runs another $18. It's still cheaper than getting into pretty much any other minis game out there, but it's still a larger initial investment than it was before. I'm sure Privateer Press has plans in the very near future to rework the starter boxes, so new players may want to wait for those. In the mean time, there's a printable demo (which does feature the MkII rules) of the game here.

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One night during the summer of 1997, Josh Look's cool uncle who owned a comic shop taught him how to play Magic the Gathering. The game set off his imagination in a way that he could not sleep that night, and he's been fascinated by games ever since. He spent many afternoons during his high school years skipping homework to play Dungeons & Dragons and paint Warhammer minatures, going on to discover hobby board games in his early 20s. He's been a writer for Fortress Ameritrash and is the creator and co-host of the geek culture podcast, The Wolfman's Lounge. He enjoys games that encourage a heavy amount of table talk and those that explore their themes beyond just their settings.

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