Friday, June 25, 2010

Warhammer Fantasy Review: A Fresh Perpective

Before I get into this review, I will give you a bit of a back ground. I have always preferred Sci-Fi over Fantasy fiction. I always preferred the rational to the mystical. I never really "got" fantasy fiction, I never saw the appeal. It probably didn't help that during the time I grew up, "good" fantasy was hard to find. That changed with, like a lot of people, the Lord of the Rings movies. They made a fantasy world feel real, and I finally understood what the appeal to those types of settings where.

So naturally in the early 00's, when I got into miniature wargaming my tendency was towards Warhammer 40k. And 40k will always be my first love; tanks, Space Marines, and mass carnage will keep me in that game a very long time.

But Warhammer was always there, and always tempted me. I always loved it's background, and the mixture of so many fantasy concepts that existed in this world.

During my many years of gaming I have false started many of the Warhammer Races that interested me the most. Empire, Lizardmen, Bretonians, and High Elves, are the short list of races I always wanted to play. So if I always had this desire to play Warhammer, what has stopped me over the years. The answer is simple.

The game.

There are many players that will disagree with me, and this is just my personal opinion, but the Warhammer game has not been a fun game for quite some time. Everytime I would feel that fantasy itch in my early years, get some models together and actually sit down and play the game, I would immediately shelve the army I was building and going back to the realm of tanks and boltguns.

Why? Well the game simply wasn't fun. Basically when you have Army "A" charge Army "B", automatically go first, kill your front rank before you had a chance to strike, and make you flee off the table in the course of a turn, that didn't make the investment of 40 to 60 dollars a unit (not to mention the high priced metals) worth it. I also absolutely hated that only the front guys in a rank get to fight. I never saw it as a good return on my time to assemble and paint big blocks of infantry to only get maybe 5 attacks.

That is not to say that Fantasy didn't have it's backers in the last editions. I am sure there are many people out there that loved the fantasy game for every reason I disliked it. But as the immortal Austin Powers says "It just isn't my bag, baby".

Having said that what has changed? Almost everything.

My advice to everyone who has even heard of the game, forget what you know. This is almost a totally new game system.

Sure the basics are still there. Four phases to the game, blocks of infantry and calvary, warmachines, monsters, etc., etc. still all exist. You declare charges at the start of the game, you move per your movement rate (and have the option to march), you cast spells in the magic phase, you shoot in the shooting phase, and you fight your combats in the assault phase. All standard fantasy affairs.

But the system has changed for the better in many ways. The more I play and experience things I will be posting more in depth reviews of certain aspects, but I will go over some of the key differences and why I think they have improved overall game play.

The fundamental change to the game is that you can premeasure everything. Suddenly, the game is no longer about who can determine distances anymore, but rather what your army can do.

Premeasureing is the major change that trickles down into the rest of the game.

But let's get to the major changes and how they effect the way the game plays.

First: Charging. Charging is a random distance of 2D6 plus your movement (Calvary, Monsters, etc. get 3D6 and pick the two highest). Your opponent still has charge reactions, so the decision to charge is still a live or die part of the game. If I am 13" away from my Skaven opponent with my unit of Swordsmen, do I charge? At first glance that may be an obvious answer, but what if my opponent flees? It is doubtful that at that distance, your charge distance is going to equal the Skaven's 2D6 roll plus the 13" difference. Now suddenly I have a 20 man infantry block out of position with the rest of my army.

Second: Magic. Like all versions of the game, Magic is very much a phase you have to plan out ahead of time. Now, instead of generating dice (which lead to some armies just dominating with ridiculous amounts of power dice), it is now a simple roll of 2D6. You get the total of the number rolled, your opponent gets the highest die number you rolled. You can throw large numbers of dice at any particular spell, adding the level of your wizard to the pool. With these changes, magic is very much a quality over quantity system now. Level 4 Wizards have a great chance to cast, can have and cast more spells, and have a greater ability to dispel. Because of the limited amount of dice that can be thrown around, bonuses to your casting (such as being a level 4) or abilities that can add extra dice will be king of the magic phase. (Slaan are absolutely scary).

Third: Shooting. Most everything is the same, the modifiers to hit and save modifiers hasn't really gone anywhere. The biggest thing is the removal of partials. Template weapons, that where few and far between anyways, finally feel worth it. Considering you still need to roll to wound and very few template weapons are highly damaging weapons, the loss of partials is a good thing.

Forth: Combat. All models fight at initiative now and there is no chance of killing the front rank anymore. In addition, all units fight further in. You will always get a supporting attack from the second rand, spears give you an additional rank worth of fighting if they are charged. So basically the changes in combat have made combats much more brutal and shifted the responsibility of fighting combat from who got the charge back onto the capabilities of the unit. This, I think, is probably the biggest change and the one that has really made the game great. For example, Empire generally have 3 State Trooper options, all at the same cost (if they have shields). In 7th, there was almost no reason to field anything but Swordsmen because, with the higher weapon skill and your first rank only fighting, the benefits of the other options didn't help. Now, an Empire player really has a choice. Do I take Swordsmen and utilize the higher weapon skill but suffer if I fight other units with equal or higher weapon skill? Do I take Halberters that are going to hit most things on 4s but have a higher strength to wound things? Or do I take spearmen and try and win on weight of attacks? As you can see these changes have fundamentally changed how most armies put units on the table, and how they support them. Some armies will field tarpit units, some will field units that rush into the charge. To me, the new system rewards a greater amount of diversity of units in the system.

Lastly: Terrain. Terrain is much more plentiful these days, which is great because that means the fantasy battlefields will not always be barren wastelands with little on it. They also addressed this in the core rules with only putting minor penalties on the units, making the greater increase of terrain not bog down the game.

All these changes make for a system that is a lot quicker to play and battles that are incredibly bloody as well.

So ultimately, I really like the system. I am sure there are going to be hard core players that will hate how big of a change it is, but to me, they addressed mostly everything I felt was wrong with the system.

The biggest thing though is that it is fun. Could you ask for more?

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