Thursday, September 19, 2013
Fun With Hordes
I haven’t played warmahordes in three years. So in expectation of playing again I’ve been reading up on hordes—generating the following musings. Picking a warmachine faction is all about style. Big, Slow, power=Khador. Cinergy, fire, denial=Menoth. Shooting, lightning, tricks=Cygnar. Undead, fast, maledictions=Cryx. That’s oversimplifying it a bit, but you get the point. Within each faction’s limitations you can play any kind of army you want—infantry spam, tuff troops, jack heavy, fast, shooty, magic heavy, denial…etc. Your choice of caster predisposes you toward certain army builds or your choice of army predisposes you toward certain casters—same thing. What I’m getting at is that warmachine is a mature war-game. The factions are constructed in such a way as to make one choice lead seamlessly into the next. The model range and mechanics are well fleshed out. Theme lists reward players for taking fictionally appropriate armies. So picking Khador was about the style of game I wanted to play. Hordes is different. The fury mechanic means that instead of getting a set amount of resources at the beginning of the turn, a warlock drains the energy spent by his warbeasts the previous turn. If his warbeasts don’t spend energy/fury than the warlock has to take damage to cast spells. There is no resource allocation involved. Additionally, there is a limit to how much fury each warbeast can hold. If the warlock can’t drain it all, then the warbeast risks going berserk, possibly attacking its companions. As a result hordes is a game of risk management. A side effect of this relationship is that warlocks are very reliant on their warbeasts. It’s recommended that warcasters take a jack. Warlocks are required to take a warbeast, usually several. Each warbeast comes with its own unique spell-like ability which they can cast once a turn. The warlock gains access to this ability as a temporary addition to their spell list. Basically warlocks and warbeasts are inextricably linked on a fundamental level. Because of this, looking at hordes factions is as much about the beasts as the warlock. Each pairing has a distinct character. Because each warbeast is a resource generator, force projector, and temporary spell enhancer, choosing which beasts, how many beasts, and what caster to take ends up being more of an art than a science. I keep finding myself rereading beast and warlock entries to verify synergies and strategies. Warmachine has its own uniformity. Cygnar is at the top end of the technology scale. Cryx is out there on the mutation ladder. Even so PP has done a good job presenting the WM factions as the civilized cultures of Western Immoren. Perhaps it’s just that warmachine has what I consider the archetypal fantasy divisions. The sociopolitical makeup of the land is pretty standard—big bad expansionist faction, religious theocracy, enlightened technologically savvy nation, evil supernatural terrors…etc. Hordes is refreshingly free of preconceived notions. The races are sometimes drawn from stock fantasy tropes, but manage to distinguish themselves from that ancestry. For me this comes down to the staggering variety of warbeasts in the range. You can find just about any monster you’ve ever read about, from dragons to golems, from mammoths to hydra. In warmachine a jack is a jack. When someone says warbeast, you can only guess as to what creature they are referring to. There are four primary and two secondary hordes factions. I like the thematic differences in hordes more than warmachine. Not only are the models demonstrably different, but the feets and spells depart from the WM standard mess-with X-mechanic theme as well. The skorne are a nation of pain obsessed, ancestor worshipping, expansionist slavers. Their armies tend to focus on attrition and assassination. Their models feature high melee quotients backed up with excellent armor. Their warbeasts consist of cyclopee, basilisks, elephants, and other Romanic themed creatures. They are the big slow faction—leavened with a healthy dose of soul manipulation. I’m not very impressed with the Skorne. They seem a little too attention seeking for my taste—like a bunch of dark elf wanabees with daddy issues. “Just so you know, we’re evil, really evil.” “Really?” “Oh yes, we do very bad things…and we’re mean.” “Hmmph, if you say so.” “No really we kick puppies for fun and J-walk. We wear white before and after labor day.” “Shocking.” Reading through their warlock list is amusing and kind of sad by turns—each one of their locks tries to one-up the other on the badness scale. I have the same problem with the Romulans from star trek. It isn’t that I don’t see them as threats, it’s just that they seem so damned earnest about it—they want so very much to put on their big-boy pants and be a grown up antagonist. The circle is a collection of tribal warriors who worship the elemental gods of nature and destruction—think druids crossed with Chuck Norris. Their armies focus on movement and terrain manipulation with a definite slant toward alpha strike and denial. They have three main warbeast families, Satyrs, wolves, and golems/stone constructs. Not surprisingly, many of their abilities are focused around forest creation, manipulation, and exploitation. They have some unusual warlocks, one of which spends his time tied at the hip to a stationary tree, another who rides a war-goat, and yet another who shifts between human and beast forms. For all that variety the circle feels like a faction of gimmicks and cheap tricks to me. They have plenty of utility and versatility. They have excellent models. They lack that essential something—that spark which would take them from an internally coherent faction to a compelling movement. The troll bloods are the varied genetic offshoots of the troll species unified under a banner of honor and vengeance. Nations like Cygnar have defaulted on so many promises to exchange service for land that the trolls are taking what they feel they are owed by force. Their armies are small tuff—literally, units that rely on group bonuses and stellar resilience to defeat their opponents. Their warbeasts come from a plethora of savage trolls including some wielding acid, fire, ice, and earth magic. Their army is almost entirely built on medium to large bases—trading quantity for quality. The trollbloods are nominally the protagonists of the hordes world—being the only group with a morally justifiable reason for reeking carnage on an epic scale. They are big, blue, and really hard to kill. I kind of like these guys. Most of their warcasters are uninspiring—save Borka Keg slayer. Seriously, who doesn’t want to play a giant troll in a fir collar and codpiece who runs around with a pigmy carrying a keg of booze for him drinking his way to victory? Trolls have the same mildly comic aspect that orcs and goblins have held for time immemorial. Despite the fact that they are the toughest kids on the playground, it’s difficult to get past the whole big and blue shtick. I really would like to like them more, but they feel sort of one dimensional, not attention seeking like the Skorne or boring like the circle, but lacking thematic variety. In fairness to the cerulean tuff guys, some of my ambivalence stems from the fact that trolls are the big tuff faction of hordes—filling the same spot in the factional Meta as Khador does for warmachine. It feels conformist to prefer forces of the same type regardless of the game—and really who wants to be type cast? That brings us to the legion of everblight. Ah legion, how I love thee. The legion is an army of corrupted winter elves and draconic monsters in service to the dragon everblight. Their armies tend to run very fast with many glass cannons. Currently they have some of the best warlocks in the game. Their beasts come in several different flavors including: • Lesser warbeasts, basically mini warbeasts with great abilities but no endurance. • Nephilim, draconic blood crossed with winter elves to make a series of light warbeasts that wield weapons and can fly. • Classic draconic beasts that fly and wield a breath weapon. • Various reptilian monsters spawned from the blighted blood of their warlocks. I love legion. That’s partly because Everblight’s story is beautiful. He’s taken over a nation of elves by proxies and is fighting his father smarter—not harder. His warlocks are just plane awesome. It doesn’t hurt that several of them hale from the frozen north—a theme that has always resonated well with me. The big part of legion is the beasts. They have winged creatures. Beautiful deadly creatures. The thing that always drove me away from Cryx was that they were dirty and nasty. You can paint them up as polished killing machines, but in the back of my head I will always think of them as rotting animate corpses. Legion are alive but corrupted in spirit. So yes, that’s going to happen, sometime, in the future, after my Khador is done, when I have the money…sigh. Minions are the hordes equivalent to mercenaries. They are secondary forces meant to support the main factions either with supplementary troops or with cooperative casters. There are currently two minion factions. The blindwater congregation is a group of alligator men, deep ones, and frog people lead by voodoo priests, alligator zombies, and a bastard fishman. Their warbeasts consist of skeleton swarms, giant alligators, an acid spitting turtle, and a swamp horror straight out of Lovecraft. Just so we’re clear on this, these guys are happening too. I read the units for this group and had spent a week doing the research before I realized what had happened. Almost as good as Legion…almost. The thornfall alliance is a group of pigmen striving to take over the world. They are lead by an egomaniac, a human mad scientist who converts pigs into cyborgs, a necromancer pig, and a cyberpig with a split personality. Their warbeasts are fast pigs, cyberpigs, and pigs with guns on their back. Their rules are totally awesome. Most of the warbeasts have a rule called “bacon” where when the warbeast dies, any friendly warbeasts in contact heal damage…because of the healing power of bacon! I can’t take them seriously but they really do rock. I want to play hordes now. Considering my caster and jacks just arrived for our escalation league and I have mucho infantry to get, this is going to have to wait a bit. But damn, want to make a legion force of dragons.