One of the most remarkable games of the last two decades certainly is the "Warhammer"-Fantasy tabletop wargame by GAMES WORKSHOP. Released in the early 1980s, Warhammer actually succeeded to prove itself as a constant factor in the ever-changing world of gaming. Being no boardgame in the classical sense, Warhammer was able to unite influences from different types of games into a new kind of game, attracting quite different kinfs of players fromall around the globe. Popular beyond imagination, Warhammer has made itīs way through time, only to be slightly altered whenever new editions of the game have been released.
The actual edition of the game is the seventh edition, but it doesn`t seem like it will be the last one. Thus, let us now start this review with a general overview of the playing concept behind the Warhammer-Universe, before we turn to the newly released 7th edition of the game and the changes introduced with this edition.
A tabletop wargame is different from classical boardgames or conflict simulations (Cosims) by the fact that it uses no gameboard in the common sense. On a normal gameboard, the players move their tokens on predefined paths in order to reach a target. In Cosims, the players have a number of tokens representing armies, but these, too, are moved on a map, showing a landscape and mostly divided into hexagonal spaces. Here a tabletop wargame is essentially different, since here the players do not have a map which is divided into areas or movement-spaces. Instead, the players have their units which are made up by varying miniatures made of plastic, lead or pewter, and these miniatures are moved on the playing area by the use of simple rulers. Thus, the traditional "gameboard" has been replaced by a miniature landscape with trees, rivers, cliffs, houses etc., and most of the figures may be moved on the playing area quite freely.
On the other hand, the aim of a tabletop wargame isnīt very different from all other sorts of games - a player tries to win by scoring a decisive victory over the opponent.
The world of Warhammer is a world of fantasy, with Knights, Sorcerers and many different sorts of Monsters. The map of the world is a distorted map of our real earth, but many different races have found their place in the world of Warhammer. At the moment, the world is populated by 14 different races, and more are still to come:
13 of the 14 races mentioned above are available for the players. The exception are the Chaos Dwarfs which have been discontinued some years back. However, there once existed a good choice of Chaos Dwarf miniatures, and an ambitioned player still should be able to acquire enough miniatures and to adapt an older Chaos Dwarf rulebook if he should be determined to play Chaos Dwarfs with the current Warhammer-rules.
To start collecting an army, players need to acquire a rulebook for the specific race, and in this book they will find details on the race they want to play. Thus, they will get information on the troops and special characters available, special weapons and the historical background of that specific race. A broad variety of miniatures is available to match the different kinds of troops, but whereas in past times the design crew of GAMES WORKSHOP mostly worked with pewter so that a maximum of about 40 different miniatures for each race existed, the choice of miniatures available today is nearly endless since the gradual introduction of plastic components allows players to design their own miniatures by choosing bodies, heads, arms, weapons etc. However, GAMES WORKSHOP still manufactures a quota of special character miniatures in pewter, sincethis allows the production of highly detailed figures which offer an even better quality for painting. As said, miniatures may by acquired of almost every type of troops. So players may chose footmen, cavalry, war-machines and even monsters like Dragons or Ogres.
At the beginning of a game, the players first have to agree on a certain value of points to which the size of each army will be restricted. Basically, each figure (miniature) in the game has a cost of points as stated in the rulebook of its race (depending on the troop type and its equipment), and players only are allowed to buy troops up to the value they have agreed upon. So players may agree - for example - on a maximum size for each army of 1.000, 2.000 or 3.000 points. Once each player has chosen his troops, the armies will be set up on the gaming area, which usually is a landscape with an artificial lawn-mat as a base and filled with model houses, trees, hedges and hills. The troops usually are divided into units of several miniatures, and these units always move and fight together. In the game, each player takes a turn for his whole army before the other player may move his army in turn.
Each type of troops has its own movement allowance in inches, and it may use this allowance to move straight forward on the battlefield. Whenever the unit wants to change direction, it has to spend a fraction of its movement-allowance in order to change their facing. Thus a unit may turn on the spot, move in a swaying, circling motion or it may simply change formation. Most types of the scenery on the battlefield will slow the motion of an unit down - so it takes more of a unit's movement allowance to move through woods or up a hill than it would cost that unit to move on simple open terrain. A unit also may chose to march, doubling its movement allowance but restricting fights for that round, or it may also chose to charge, again doubling its movement with the intention to charge an enemy unit and fight it in close combat.
Before the close combat takes place, the hand-held ranged weapons and the war-machines of an army may be brought to bear on the enemy. The choice of ranged weapons available is quite large: Beginning with simple bows, crossbows and throwing spears, the choice of available weapons also includes stone throwers, ballistas, cannons and even more exotic war-machines like a "Steam Tank" or a "Gyrocopter". These weapons may be used in order to inflict damages on enemy units which still are not committed to close combat, and sometimes a direct hit from a war-machine can do great losses to that unit.
After all ranged weapons were fired, the units in direct contact with enemy units ("base-contact": the plastic base of a figure touching the base of an enemy figure) may attack in close combat. Here each figure touching a figure of the opposing player will get a possibility to take a strike at his opponent.
Warhammer offers a quite well structured set of combat-rules, on the one hand allowing to include a unitīs attributes like Weapon Skill and Initiative, but on the other hand not complicating close combat by including many different skilled creatures in one unit. Here the great advantage of the structuring of troops into units comes to bear, since a combat may be decided for the whole unit and not for each miniature in turn. The unit with its fighters having the highest initiative rating always goes first in combat, and the other units follow in turn. In order to see whether an unit has inflicted damages on the enemy, a number of 6-sided dice is rolled, corresponding to the number of units in base-contact with the enemy. The number which must be rolled is determined by comparing the attackerīs and the defenderīs weapon skill, and the rolls which have succeeded to reach this number are taken as hits. To remove enemy-miniatures, these hits next must be transformed into wounds. This in turn is again reached by rolling a number of dice corresponding to the number of inflicted hits, and now the number which must be rolled is found by comparing the attackerīs strength and the defenderīs toughness. After this, the defender finally has the possibility to bring the armour of his troops to bear. However, if his unit doesnīt have armour or if he doesnīt roll the required "armour saving throw", the wounds will be inflicted on the troops in the unit. Normally a miniature will be removed if it receives one wound, only bigger creatures or Heroes have multiple wounds.
The loser of a combat will be forced to take a "break-test" which consists of a die-roll against the morale value of the defeated unit. If this break test is failed, the unit is demoralised, turns around and tries to leave the battle by moving away from its opponents. In subsequent turns, the unit may succeed to be rallied again and join battle again, but itīs also possible that it will continue to flee and finally leave the battlefield.
Demoralisation isnīt the only psychology-effect which applies in a game of Warhammer. So, extraordinary big creatures might cause fear or even panic in opposing troops, making it hard to stand and fight against those creatures. Other creatures might be quite dumb, being obliged to take stupidity-tests whenever they receive orders. And again, even other creatures might be able to get into battle-frenzy, making them almost instoppable opponents but also quite hard to keep in control.
However, let me now keep the promise to have a detailed look at the new Warhammer Basic Game which was released in Fall 2006...
Although the box-size has been reduced in comparison with former editions of the game, directly upon opening the new set a player will discover that the basic concept has not changed and that the basic game of Warhammer still contains virtually everything needed to give players a start into the world of Warhammer.
A huge lot of plastic miniatures is included - enough to form starter armies from both the Dwarves and the Goblins. Thus, a player gets enough components and parts to assemble 12 Dwarf Clanwarriors, 10 Dwarf Musketeers, 8 Dwarf Miners, 1 Thain, 1 Dragonslayer, 1 Cannon with 3 Crewmen, 40 Night Goblins with Spears, 20 Night Goblins with short bows, 10 Goblin Spider Riders, 1 Goblin Boss, 1 Shaman and 1 Troll. And as if this was not enough, there are also some additional miniatures included which can be used for different kinds of scenarios: a Shrine dedicated to the Goblin-God Mork, a captured Trollslayer, a Pony with a Mine Wagon and a Dwarven Fence.
People not used to history of Warhammer probably will not be able to see the long progress which was made from the first edition of Warhammer to the contents of this box. Thus, in 1983 the first edition actually included no miniatures at all but a set of cardboard figures which could be used for playing if players did not have enough miniatures from role-play games. Later editions then introduced a growing number of plastic miniatures, but even the fifth edition of the game (Bretonnia vs. Lizardmen) which was released around 1998 still featured only uniform plastic miniatures in just a few different poses. The concept of assembling miniatures from various parts was just introduced in the 6th edition (Empire vs. Orcs - 80 miniatures), and it now has been revised and modified so that an even broader and more versatile choice of miniatures (109 !) could be included.
Coupled with a handy, small-sized version of the rulebook (a concept which was first used in the last starter box for Warhammer 40.000), an introductory guidebook for rules and painting, all needed dice and rulers and the additional miniatures Warhammer players indeed receive good value when purchasing the new starter box. As indicated, the included miniatures are a perfect start for collecting one of these armies, and furthermore all the included components allow a newby to Warhammer to get a very precise impression on all the aspects this hobby is about.
But - possibly being a seasoned Warhammer veteran - you might possibly ask: "What has really changed?".
Apart from all tangible aspects concerned with the contents of the new box and the miniatures, there also have been changes to the rules themselves. However, it seems that the design crew at GAMES WORKSHOP over the years has reached a point where the bulk of rules is considered to be well conceptionalized and praticable, so that this new revision of the rules only resulted in a few minor changes.
In this context, the changes made to movement and combat are worthwhile to mention. Here the change made for fleeing units is most important, since now a fleeting unit directly turns around and tries to flee from battle in a straight line. This actually may result in collisions between the fleeing unit and other friendly or enemy troops. The fleeing unit now may move through a friendly unit, but there is a chance that this unit might get panicked itself. Even worse is the situation if the fleeing units comes upon an enemy unit or impassable terrain, since in this case the fleeing unit will be totally destroyed! In a way, these new rules for fleeing both strengthen realism in gameplay and also give players more reason to maneouvre their troops into positions behind enemy units so that gameplay will get less static.
Next comes a rectification of a problem in close combat which could be observed while using the 6th edition rules. In order to get a bonus in combat, a rank of models within a unit just needed to have a strength of 4 miniatures, and in combat situations this often resulted in slender, unrealistic formations with several ranks of miniatures which had very few fighting models in the first rank. Here the minimum number of miniatures required for a bonus had been increased from 4 to 5, and during playtesting this small increase already revealed that combat was intensified and units more often took a more realistic formation of a longer frontline.
Other important changes include a small chance for even the weakest unit not to be demoralized by the biggest monsters ("Ludicrous Audacity"), an aggravation of the effects for failed spells, and a constraint of the possibility to use lesser wizards to create energy dice for more potent wizards. Especially this last change once again had a palpable effect on gameplay, since now lesser wizards are not used as "batteries" anymore but instead are more often used for casting their own spells. In essence, this resulted in an increase of spell usage while at the same time decreasing the frequency of obliterative spells.
Coupled with a few minor twists and tweakings, the rules have not been changed to drastically and - even more important - all changes have been done in a way as to keep the existing rulebooks for the different races valid. Thus, seasoned players will not have to spend a long time studying a totally revised set of rules, but instead they will now be challenged to revise their existing strategies in order to adapt them to the slightly changed conditions on the battlefield.
The more costly side of the Warhammer-hobby soon will prove to be the miniatures themselves, but whereas it took a long time to collect a full army in the days of pewter miniatures, the increased use of plastic miniatures now has made this factor more bearable since units or even whole army sets are available for fair prices. If asked for a comparison of price and quality, I would say that the price of both the plastic and pewter miniatures still is suitable, although I must confess that I am a bit irritated by the prices of some figures.
Quite a positive aspect of the Warhammer hobby is the fact that gamers will have to prove themselves worthy in many "battles" before they actually reach their first full scale Warhammer-game. On the one hand, there are the rules which slowly may be expanded by adding creatures and machines, but on the other hand there is also the challenge of paining the miniatures. I can imagine that it will take up a tremendous amount of time to paint a full scale Warhammer-army, but I imagine that it must be much fun to be on the Battlefield with a splendid looking army offering a broad choice of troops. Furthermore, Warhammeris a quite sociable hobby, since many fans of the game regularly visit the GAMES WORKSHOP stores or meet at Warhammer-tournaments.
As time goes by, the gaming skills of a player deepen and he will get a better view and understanding of the Warhammerworld with every game he plays.In the beginning, a player certainly will be surprised by the attributes and units an opponent possesses, but in later games he will not be unprepared against this opponent. There is a very high factor of fun if battling an unknown opponent, and because of this a player doesnīt need to buy the rulebooks for all the armies - itīs enough if he has the rulebook for his own army.
The rules of the game themselves are well developed and offer possibilities for play from easy up to a highly detailed scale. Very positive is the fact that the designers always kept in mind to create a playable game in which fun prevails, and thus there may be instances at which high details may be lost due to playing-practicability. The designers deliberately chose not to rule out every single situation which might arise, and this leaves player some room to bring their own interpretation of a rule to bear. Finally, the players are reminded that itīs a fun-game what they are playing, and thus they shall proceed from deepest discussions by rolling a dice in order to get back to gaming on the quickest way possible.
To sum it up, a newby to Warhammer certainly will have to bring some resources - both financial and time - with him, but for this he will receive a well-developed gaming system which will keep him fascinated for years.
Copyright © 2007 Frank Schulte-Kulkmann, Essen, Germany