Saturday, July 6, 2013

Starting from Scratch: A Treatise on Picking Your First Warmachine/Hordes Faction.

Starting a new game is often a daunting task; with years of rules to read, understand and memorize. This often means that new players seek the guidance of others – which, depending on the source, may or may not be a good idea. Having been into wargaming for almost two decades and a tragic sufferer of gaming and factional ADD1, I might have something to say about the process though! In this article, I’m going to (hopefully) break off from traditional understanding on picking your first faction in this game.

Getting Your Priorities Straight
A common concept I see often is “play what you like looking at”. While this is a good rule, I do not think it is necessarily the best piece of advice to give to a new player. The important first step is to get your priorities sorted out. To me, there are three criteria:

1)    Aesthetics/Fluff – If you pick this as your main criteria, know that there is a possibility that the model(s) you love looking at or love reading about/love the concept of might not suit your playstyle, or might be poor at competitive play. The unfortunate reality is that in almost any game, fluffy options are often not as competitive, and model appearance does not necessarily correlate with power in-game.

2)      Playstyle – A complete newbie to wargaming would not necessarily know their playstyle well, but chances are a veteran wargamer that is getting into WM2 would at least roughly know their inclination. I elaborate on my definition of “playstyle” later in this article.

3)      Competitiveness – Some people derive their joy from winning. Know that if you prioritize this, your army might not appeal to you aesthetically, and the playstyle might not be to your liking.

The crucial thing to remember is that it is highly improbable to get an army that fits all the categories. Naturally, you do not need to go “all in” into one of the three criteria – you simply need to define from early on what your main priority is, and realize that your decisions may change over time as you mature in the game. Since aesthetics/fluff is a highly subjective matter, I want to talk more about playstyle, and competitiveness.


Playstyle is a fairly difficult topic to discuss, so I will try to convey my thoughts as succinctly as possible. 

The first thing to understand is that a good, experienced player does not have a true “playstyle”. If at all anything, his/her playstyle is simply “adaptable”. Such a player will know their models, your models, and has a flexible plan. No battle plan survives contact with the enemy, and such players know this concept very well. Effectively, believing you have one fixed playstyle is a potentially crippling mental block. 

So, why do I even talk about this?

While I could have named this “playstyle” category as something else, I wanted to (hopefully) show a distinction between the “simpler” definition of the word, and my take on it. Playstyle to me isn’t so much a matter of “I like shooting” or “I like chopping people with axes”, but rather, your mind set.
I am no psychologist, but I understand that different people have different inclinations. Some are more aggressive, some are more patient. There are those who prefer reliability, while others prefer to gamble. Those who prefer a simple, straight-forward plan over a complicated yet equally-effective plan (and vice versa). 

In my opinion, the game ultimately rewards three traits: adaptability (which I mentioned before), patience, and reliability. Patience should not be confused for passiveness – it merely means being willing to take a longer but safer route to victory, as opposed to just being a proverbial chicken. This is why most experienced WM players prefer attrition and/or scenario as a means to the end, rather than assassination due to its inherent risks. Reliability is a combination of factors that enables that model/unit to perform its role, and prominently features in list building decisions.

Talking about which faction is currently the “most competitive” is opening a can of worms that I’d rather not do. However, as one would expect from a game that is highly skill-based, simply taking a list from the internet (“netdecking”) would certainly not guarantee your success with it. That said, netdecking is not without its benefits – for one, you would be purchasing what someone else has deemed/proven to be competitive, thus potentially saving you some money. 

The big problem however, is that netdecking players tend to get stuck in a rut; either they get beaten so many times that they ragequit, or as a result of their success they become afraid to try new things without someone else of repute telling them that so-and-so is clearly better than what they’ve been running all this while. Unfortunately, some models are strong enough to carry a poorer player by virtue of its strength, making it a “crutch” that the player may become reliant upon.

So how does one figure out which factions/lists are the most competitive? Research. MuseOnMinis and are my recommendations. While the official forums are an active place with occasionally good discussions, keep in mind that there is a lot of bad advice out there which a new player would not be able to distinguish.

Depending on the type of people you play with, remember that coming into the game declaring that you "are in it to win it" might make you a nice, juicy target for senior players that want to remind you of your place in the local meta (i.e. they might intentionally beat you really, really hard). To avoid this, I recommend not declaring your (potential) superiority and to always be courteous and friendly (or at least pretend to be). Oh, and paint your miniatures. That instantly gives you the air of a casual gamer, until you break someone and (quietly) gloat (behind their backs) about your triumphant victory5.

So Which Faction(s) Do I Recommend?
I did a faction rundown some time ago, which although in need of slight updating, is still mostly accurate. I do, however, have strong opinions on certain things; this unfortunately means some might disagree, or even get offended, at my thoughts on this last section. Please do keep in mind that these are my thoughts at the point of writing this, and may change over time (in fact, they probably will as new releases come out).

In my opinion, the easiest factions for a complete newbie to start with are Protectorate of Menoth, Skorne, Trollbloods and Legion of Everblight. The first three I feel are self-explanatory – they are fairly forgiving factions, the internal synergy makes your combat models very strong, and is good practice for getting order of activations done correctly. Some may be shocked at my inclusion of Legion given that it is the “glass cannon” faction, but I feel that the combination of widely-available good ranged attacks, incredible Fury management, low model count and overall raw power makes the faction reasonably easy to pick up. Also, all of these factions (except arguably Trollbloods) have a “core” of models that are often-included, making it possible to create new armies by simply swapping the Warcaster/Warlock and maybe a few of the models around.

The mid-range factions difficulty-wise are probably Khador, Mercenaries and Cygnar. While I personally find Khador fairly easy to play, an infantry-heavy Khador army is daunting to pilot for a newbie, and not necessarily easy to use optimally. Newbies also tend to be attracted to jacks, and I don’t think jack-heavy Khador is currently the best option for the faction. They do however have “core” choices, making it a reasonably affordable faction to get into early in the game. Mercenaries similarly have the potential to go on the infantry-heavy route, and is one of the better, more flexible options for a new player to start with. It is however an expensive faction to play; between character restrictions, Mercenary Contracts and the differing optimal choices for their Warcasters, be prepared to pay a lot for a solid Mercenary collection. Also, as Mercenary models/units are balanced with the concept that many factions can take them, they may not always be on the same power level than their equivalents in a normal faction.

Cygnar, I feel, is somewhat of a special case. Pre-Stormwall it was certainly a high-difficulty faction to play, and possibly one of the costliest of factions to purchase; chances are, your Cygnar collection would also be a massive Mercenary collection since most of them work for Cygnar. The difficulty of the faction pre-Stormwall was clearly evident in the negativity on the forums during that period. Silly thing was, part of this negativity came from people who complained about not wanting to play Mercenaries in their Cygnar to preserve their concept of “faction purity”. This is a classic example of players who place high value in aesthetics/fluff, but still insist on wanting competitiveness – a concept which I had aforementioned as being unrealistic. Stormwall fixes many of Cygnar’s previous problems, but runs the risk of becoming a crutch if overused. Cygnar does remain one of my all-time favourite factions, and is very rewarding to a skilled player.

 The high-difficulty factions would be Circle Orboros and Retribution of Scyrah, both of which are exceptionally unforgiving, but not in any way what I’d call “weak”. If you pick these as your first faction, resign to the fact that you would probably get beaten into the ground by more experienced players until you finally figure them out (tens of games later, probably). I personally feel that Circle has more mileage at the current time of writing, and scales very well with player skill.

An observant reader would have noticed at this point that I had left out three factions: Convergence of Cyriss, Minions, and Cryx. Convergence isn’t out yet, and although I already know most of their rules, I cannot make any comments until I see them on the table. Minions suffer from a notable lack of options. Thus, while one could still play Minions successfully, it will be an uphill battle against the other major factions. It is also unusually expensive, as a proper Minion player really needs to have both pigs and gators – sticking to only one of the two is incredibly crippling to the point of practically-uncompetitive; unless perhaps you are a very experienced player, and got rather lucky.

Cryx on the other hand deserves its own paragraph. While touted as being very forgiving and thus good for newbies, I am personally fairly against Cryx as your first faction, especially if you plan to play other factions at some point. My problem with Cryx is that it skews the new player’s perception of the game. I should preface this by saying that I do not think Cryx is overpowered – I just think that what they do is not a proper reflection of what everyone else can necessarily do. Discounting their (almost) universal lack of morale checks, incredible infantry and insane armor cracking power, my main issue is with some of their Warcasters. Long story short, I’m not a fan of ARM 25-35 Warcasters3, and I think a single spell being able to potentially kill half an army4 was a game design oversight. Again, I am not complaining about them being necessarily “overpowered”; I am merely saying that a player that starts with these Warcasters might find it unusually difficult to transition into anything else. All that said, Cryx does have other Warcasters that are still very good, and rewarding to play with. The faction itself is not difficult to play, and perhaps stands as one of the easier factions to get into the game with.

Ultimately, the decision is in your hands, but I do hope that I’ve given you some food for thought. Please feel free to give me constructive feedback; your thoughts and opinions on this matter. Until next time!

1 I have played the vast majority of the miniature games and collectable games out there. I have owned every faction in the game except Legion, and currently still own and play seven factions. Thankfully, I think I’m *almost* rid of my addiction towards CCGs :X

2 I will refer to Warmachine/Hordes as WM for simplicity.

3Terminus. To a lesser extent Asphyxious1/2/3 and Venethrax. 

4Excarnated Bile Thralls
5Author does not claim, nor dispute, to doing this intentionally and maliciously.

*Pictures other than the triangle were taken from the internet, not my own*


  1. I like the analysis and I know it will certainly help the newer players out there searching for a guide when it comes to WMH. While I have stepped away from it for awhile now, many of the points you raise were in my head when I started in 2005.

    But like always, play the game you love and have fun doing it!

  2. Now that it's 6 months later, where would you put Convergence of Cyriss in your list? (If 6 months is enough time to figure them out/ see them on the table.)

  3. As a new player, this is super useful info/opinion. Thanks!
    Now that it's 6 months later, are you able to put Convergence of Cyriss into the list? If so, where?

  4. I honestly haven't played enough against Convergence to form a coherent image of them yet; in part because up until recently, not all their key models had been released yet.

    I might update this later in the year after I think I have enough information to make a comment about them.



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