Thursday, March 29, 2012

Warmachine vs Warhammer 40,000 - A Comparison

I have been playing tabletop war games for years. I painted my first model at a library event back home when I was 12 years old. It was an Ork archer from Warhammer Fantasy. I then ended up playing GW's Lord of the Rings tabletop game for a year or two with some friends on our dining room table. Then I discovered 40K, which in my mind was superior to LOTR in every possible way. I jumped into that, quickly building up 3 armies in about 4 years. I sold one of them, and added two more in the next few years. then I dabbled in Fantasy in 7th and 8th editions, but it never really took. Last year I tried out Warmachine after getting a free starter set in my Adepticon swag bag (great move by PP there!), and have been playing that more and more in the last few months.

Why mention all of that? I have dabbled in several tabletop games (and dozens of board games) over the past few years. I'm a gamer at heart, and will play anything at least once. But once you've played several games of a similar nature, some of them will tend to capture more of your attention. why is that? what makes one game better (in one player's mind) than another? I'm sure every player has their own reasons, but I thought I would share my own reasons with players who may be debating starting a new game.

The two games I have played most extensively have been 40K and Warmachine. I find Fantasy to be incredibly dull (sorry to the fantasy guys... that's my opinion, and I'm sticking to it), and LOTR is just no contest when compared to the other systems. So today I would like to go through what I find to be the pros and cons of these two systems. this will be more helpful if you are playing one of the two systems and are thinking about dabbling in the other. Hopefully, even if you're not looking at expanding to a new game, this article will help you to think about your own pros and cons for your games, and how best to explain differences in systems to new players.

I will be looking at several parts of the game and hobby that I find important. I'll be comparing the two games, and in some cases the two gaming companies behind the games. I'm sure there are other factors that could be used in a comparison, but these are the ones that stand out the most to me.

1. Price
I wasn't sure if I would even talk about this one, but it seems to be a popular talking point for a warmachine player trying to talk their 40k-playing buddy into switching systems. I wanted to just knock this one out quickly and move on. Many people will say that GW's prices are too high, or that a warmachine army is so much cheaper because you can just buy a $50 battle box and be good to go. Honestly, I find the price difference to be so small as to be a non-issue. you're only going to play battlebox games for a few months, max. then you're going to want more models, more casters, etc. each individual game may be smaller, but you will have the urge to branch out from your first caster. this will mean more models.

A 35 point Retribution army that I priced out recently costs about $190 at the Warstore. IMO, 35 pt Warmachine is roughly equal to 1500 pt Warhammer 40k. $200 sounds like a good ballpark figure for starting a brand new 40k army at about 1500 points. I haven't done the research on that in a while, so if that sounds badly off, feel free to correct me and I'll look at it a little more closely. as an aside, I recently sold a dwarf Fantasy army (about 2000 pts) and turned around and bought up enough Skorne models to bring me from 35 points to a little over 100 points total. seems like a pretty close trade to me

Advantage: none

2. Models
Models are hard to compare between two very different systems. GW and PP have both done very different things with their models, and you'll find players on both sides of this argument. Both have some pretty cruddy models, and both have some that just look amazing. One of the biggest differences is in materials. PP is still mostly using metal models, while GW has moved almost completely away from metal. This is a personal taste thing. I like working with plastic more, my wife almost didn't buy a Pureblood because it wasn't metal.

to compare quality, though, I would have to say GW is at least a few steps ahead of Privateer. their plastics have better detail than some of PP's metal models. and PP is new to the plastic game, so their molding isn't nearly as refined. just look at some of the recent plastics GW has put out. I recently used a lot of the Dark Eldar pieces in my harlequin force. those wyches are beautiful models. PP makes some good stuff, but it doesn't come close to the level of detail GW has

Another sub point on models is the ease of building and converting the models. Here, GW is a clear winner. If you doubt me, go buy a Skorne battlebox and put it together. or just talk to any Skorne player and ask about the "Titan Gap". Privateer is making up some ground with their new plastic kits. the plastics fit better than anything I've seen before. My wife's Pureblood barely needed glue to keep it together!

But that doesn't do anything for convertibility. the pieces go together well, but only if you want it posed exactly like it looks on the front of the box. GW has models with interchangeable parts, pose-able models, and a conversion policy that encourages people to do cool stuff to their models. Privateer has a lot of single-pose models, metal that only goes together one way, and a very strict conversion policy that make it harder to do something really unique.

still one of the coolest models out there

Advantage: Warhammer 40K

3. Core Rules
The core rules of a game are the biggest factor in a successful game. you can have amazing models, but if your rules don't work well you have nothing. Taken individually, both systems have pretty good rulesets. I've played 40k for years, through 2 different editions of the rules. The ruleset is a little bit complicated, but it works. There is room for improvement, but at its core the game really is well written. I'll cover some of the issues I have with the rules in the next section.

Warmachine has a much simpler rules mechanic. whether you like the simple rules is your own opinion, but it is hard to debate that Warmachine has a much simpler core ruleset than 40K. the fact that you can learn the game from one fold-out piece of paper says a lot. The rules section in the big rulebook is definitely shorter than 40K, and the rules themselves are all pretty easy to follow.

Warhammer 40K makes a lot of use of special unit types (vehicles, jump troops, beasts, infantry, characters, bikes, etc, etc) and charts (to hit, to wound, vehicle damage, vehicle speeds, etc.). Warmachine has 4 types (caster, solo, unit, beast/jack) that all work basically the same (they have the same stat lines). there are no charts, and everything uses the same dice mechanic (roll 2 dice, compare 2 stats). In my opinion, this streamlines the entire game, and makes it so much easier for a new player to start without feeling like they have to memorize these huge charts of numbers. Yes, the charts are all much easier once you've been playing for a year or so. but new players have trouble with them.

Advantage: Warmachine

4. Faction rules
Both game systems have great variety in rules for each individual faction. There is a tricky balance you have to strike when making faction rules. You want factions that are unique enough to be interesting, but not so complicated that they are hard to learn or have trouble working well in the defined core rules for your game. Both game systems have a similar balance between these two demands.

Both systems use a set of "standard" abilities. Warhammer 40K uses "Universal Special Rules" like fleet, FnP, Furious Charge, etc. Warmachine uses a set of "Advantages" such as Pathfinder, Stealth, Construct, etc. These two sets of rules work very similarly. They are often used in combination with more unique rules or weapons, but they work in multiple armies and situations, making it easier to learn the rules you might be facing in a game. If you see a new unit with Feel No Pain, you know what it will be doing, whether that unit is an Ork or a Blood Angel.

The stock standard rules can't cover every rule you want in an army, though, or you would lose a lot of uniqueness between factions and units. Both systems have sets of rules for each faction that make them stand out. Orks play very differently than Space Marines, due to special rules and abilities like Waaagh, Mob rule, and lots of unique weapons and abilities. No other army has a Waaagh move, or a Shock attack gun, or Ramshackle vehicles. Warmachine has many unique rules for their models as well. Just about every model or unit in Warmachine has at least one special rule on the back of their card. However, a lot of these rules are repeated across units or even across factions. Counter-charge isn't a stock ability, but any model with Counter-charge works the same way, no matter what army they come from. Many spells are repeated across factions, and always do the exact same thing.

The differences in these unique rules play a huge role in separating these two systems. In my opinion, Warhammer 40K offers a much larger uniqueness factor between factions (if you lump all space marine chapters together as one "faction"). Dark Eldar play completely differently than Space Wolves. you can use different builds, but they will always be run very differently than each other. Deamons are different than anything else due to their many special rules. even the way they start on the table is so different that it has to be mentioned in tournament scenarios to avoid confusion. This means you get a unique experience fighting each faction. it also means more rules disputes. Sometimes a cool special rule will work really strangely with another army's rule, or even with the core rules. Just look at all the debates that went on when the Doom came out. it was a very unique ability, but it didn't work real well with the rules for transports. there are plenty other examples. it's the cost you pay for the high level of uniqueness you get with 40K.

Warmachine has a lot less uniqueness between factions. I can build a shooty Skorne army, or a combat-oriented Cygnar army. they might not be the best builds, but it is possible to play them like other factions. most factions have access to similar units and abilities. you'll often hear comments like "oh, so that ______ is basically like my ______". Faction roles aren't as clearly defined as in 40K. Skorne is supposedly the stompy faction, but Khador does that well in some builds also. On the other hand, there are very few off-the-wall rules interactions. less unique rules means the rules tend to work together better. it helps that PP is really good at defining triggers and effects. 40K may have 3 different words that mean a unit moved, which can cause some confusion with certain special rules. Warmachine clearly defines Advanced, Pushed, and Placed, which all trigger different abilities.

In the end, I can't give the advantage to either game. it's very much a personal taste thing. Can you live with some rules debates in order to get the level of uniqueness that 40K offers? or would you rather have a streamlined ruleset that doesn't allow for a huge gap in ability between factions?

factions of Warmachine

Advantage: none

5. flexibility
Flexibility is one area where 40K is a clear winner. Everything about 40K is geared to allowing you to take whatever you want to take. You have to stay within the normal Force Org Chart, but that's your only real restriction. the high level of granularity in the point costs means that you can tweak 5 or 10 points here and there to get exactly what you want in a unit. Units have options on the number of troops, the type of transport, the special weapons added in, etc. Commanders have entire pages of option that they can take. My Nob unit might look totally different than your nob unit.

In warmachine, you have more limits on what models you can take. there are more restrictions like Field Allowance that only allow one or two of a powerful unit. when you choose a unit, you literally only get to choose min or max. no weapon swapping, no 7, 8 or 9 man squads. swapping out a point or two means adding or dropping a solo or a smaller unit, not just removing an extra pistol. My unit of Swordsmen looks almost exactly like yours, plus or minus 4 models.

This is one of my favorite things about 40K. I like the tiny details of list building and creating my own unique army. I like that I can drop a man from unit A to give unit B a better weapon for their leader. Warmachine doesn't really offer anything like that.
Orks. They're flexible

advantage: Warhammer 40K

6. Tournament play
And back to the other end of the spectrum. Games Workshop doesn't support tournaments. You can try to argue it all you like, they did not design their game to become the national tournament scene it has become. They don't support events, and what little support they gave is going away (less support to FLGS, no 'Ard Boyz, no more GT Circuit after 2012). There are some great people that put on amazing tournaments, but the game itself is not meant as a tournament game.

The armies also aren't designed well for tournament play. just the release cycle is detrimental to tournament play. old codexes have very little chance at winning tournaments (when's the last time eldar or Tau have won major events?). New codexes have some power units that can be spammed, even though that isn't how the army was designed to play (space wolves... seriously, you guys are supposed to be good at close combat. not parking your tanks and shooting). Certain codexes with grey armor have so many broken units that people don't even want to play against them in tournament settings.

On the other side, Privateer Press is amazing at supporting tournaments. they have very nice packets they give to local tournaments with coins and other cool swag. they support major events like Adepticon by sending out some of their staffers to meet players and talk about new releases. They are quickly gaining ground on the tournament scene. And then there's the scenarios. PP puts out a fresh tournament packet every year with a dozen scenarios and special rules. Warhammer gives you 3 boring scenarios in the back of the rulebook. anything else is up to the TO. PP equips their press gangers to run fun and interesting tournaments.

Their release cycle also makes tournaments possible. everyone gets new shiny units at the same time. things are constantly play-tested against each other. there is no faction in the game that is always on top, or always on the bottom. Retribution isn't considered the best, but they won the hardcore last year at Lock and Load (i think. it might have been another major event.) really, any faction has a chance against any other faction. It really makes tournaments work, IMO

advantage: Warmachine

7. Company support
Another big win for Privateer. They just go the extra mile in creating awesome events, tournaments, leagues, etc for their players. They have local Press Gangers in clubs that can run events, teach new players, and get support from the company. Does GW have anything like that? Not even close.

The biggest area where I see the support from PP is in rules clarifications. GW takes months to errata or even answer questions about their confusing rules. PP has a forum where people can go and get answers from people who have the ability to talk to designers about rules intent and make rulings. When an infernal rules on a question, the question is answered. period. some of these answers eventually end up in the errata/FAQ. but if you have a question, you can get a solid answer withing a few days. If you have a rules question for GW, you can expect to wait about 6 months or so.

advantage: Warmachine

This has been my "brief" rundown of the differences between the two games I play. I realize it was a long article, but if you made it this far, thank you for reading! If you have any comments or corrections, feel free to comment below.


  1. Im actually thinking to owe WH 40k or WM for my store. It helped me to figure what to chose. TY!

  2. I play both games and think warhammer 40k better.