Last week my son and I got our first taste of Warmachine. Some guys at the local store were doing demo games and we decided to give it a try. I’m a big fan of steampunk styling, so I gave Cygnar a spin. My opponent had Khador. Sharkbait had Cryx and was playing against Khador, but his teacher eventually had him playing both sides to get a better feel for the rules and different factions. Each player used the starter set for that particular faction, and we played the Mangled Metal scenario.
Overall, I had a pretty good time. I read the rulebooks a couple of years ago, but there wasn’t a Warmachine community in the town where I lived at the time. I still remember the gist of the rules, so it didn’t take too long for things to click.
It helped that all the ‘jacks on the table pretty much did what they looked like they’d do.
I had a big guy called an Ironclad. He was pretty tough and had a massive hammer that could occasionally knock things down. He could also swing it at the ground and knock over everything, but I completely forgot about that ability. From a fantasy point of view, the model made sense.
I also had a smaller warjack called a Lancer with a spear and shield. The spear could reach extra far, and the shield had some special ability that allowed him to short-circuit other ‘jacks. Ok, I’m down with that. He also could be used to channel spells cast by the warcaster. I tried that ability out maybe a couple of times just for the heck of it. Looking back, I could have made much better use of the guy, but I had fun bashing the brains out of an opposing ‘jack with his shield.
Finally, I had another small warjack with a pretty good sized gun and a small hammer. Everything on this guy made sense. Heck, his double-barreled gun even shot two shells! Unfortunately, the ‘jack was called a Charger, and I kept getting the name confused with the Lancer. Why would this guy be called a Charger when he’s the only one that I’m not piling into the fray? Aside from the name, it was pretty easy to grasp.
My opponent’s ‘jacks were pretty easy to understand as well. Basically he had two big guys, one with a giant mortar/cannon thing, and the other was just a melee monster. I was able to intuit that the mortar was probably dangerous but not very accurate and that it could probably lob shells over the heads of other guys. The other guy looked like it could probably rip the arms off my 'jacks without even thinking twice.
Which it did, just to prove me right.
After floundering around for a few rounds, I finally devised a strategy where I’d tie up the middle while sneaking my Charger around the flank for some shots on his warcaster hiding behind his linebackers. It worked, and I assassinated the opposing warcaster.
If I had remembered my Ironclad’s quake hammer ability or my warcaster’s earthquake spell, I could have just knocked everybody down and not had to worry about the sneaking around the flank part. Oh, well. Maybe next time.
So, what's all this about a Halo Cannon? Ah, right. The whole point of this story...
After the game, I went home and started looking at different factions again. I remembered that I liked Cygnar. Khador was ok. Cryx had some nifty abilities. I liked Trollbloods and Circle. Wasn’t really much of a fan of Menoth. Legion of Everblight was kind of "Meh" to me, despite my usual love of things fast and aggressive.
Interestingly, Retribution of Scyrah (the elves) was just a blur. Their warjacks were just a bunch of slightly different shapes with rules attached to them. The problem finally hit me: most of their rules weren’t really shown on the models.
I think maybe Legion has this problem to some degree as well, but I'm just going to pick on Retribution. Wait, aren't the Legion troops just cranky, mutated elves? Hmmm. I smell an elven conspiracy.
At any rate, a big cannon generally is going to put a massive hole in you. Maybe it knocks you down. Maybe it has a big blast effect. It makes sense.
But what the heck does a “Halo cannon” do? If you knew that the Halo Cannon was mounted on a 'jack called a Phoenix, you might be able to guess that it does something flame related. However, you might think it raises the dead or something.
You know, halo... angels. Phoenix... raise from the ashes.
Eh, its a stretch, I know, but you get what I'm saying.
So sure, a machine called a Phoenix has a cannon that makes things burst into flames. I can buy that. But the clincher is that I have no way of looking at that thing and thinking "You know, that leafy blob just might shoot some flame at me." Plus, how can I tell that those two shell-shaped thingies are its halo cannon? (Actually, I’m just assuming that’s where the halo cannon is located from looking at the model. For all I know, the cannon fires from his butt.)
Similarly, an elven 'jack called a Banshee can do a sound attack. That makes sense, but how do I know which one of those guys is the Banshee? There are no visual cues on the guy suggesting that it projects sound waves.
The Hydra has a “Force cannon.” I don’t even see a gun on that guy!
I know the elves are supposed to be the “alien” faction in Warmachine, and therefore their guns aren’t going to have intuitive effects. I had the same problem when first introduced to 40k.
“So if the gun has prongs it’s a Shredder, but if it doesn’t it’s a Blaster? Okay… I hope I can remember that.”
And eventually I did remember. And I get that alien guns that don’t conform to typical ballistics and explosions aren’t going to have modern analogs. I just wish model designers would humor us 21st century humans a little bit and put some sort of hint on their models regarding what they do.
Put something that looks like a speaker on the Banshee!
Make the Halo cannon on the Phoenix actually look like it might spout flame!
Give some freaking indication that the Hydra has a ranged attack! And name it something descriptive! Hydra = cut-off-a-head-and-it-grows-more-back, not force-cannon-that-is-invisible.
Overall, the various factions in Warmachine (and Hordes) have pretty good identities. Even the elves. But individually, the elven warjacks (er, Myrmidons) just blur together into a big, leaf-shaped mass. And that’s too bad. They are quite pretty leaf-shaped masses.
Perhaps I'll have to take it upon myself to convert them into something a bit more intuitive.
But I'll worry about that later. Right now, I’m jonesing for something a little more steampunk.