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Lonnie Bristol
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I have played Warmachine (the older sister of Hordes) for about a year and truly loved that game. When Hordes was getting close to release I felt a bit betrayed by my friends who had already pre-ordered their Hordes battleboxes in anticipation of this "same as Warmachine" new game. I stood firm claiming I was not going to shell out more money for another army when I already had a Warmachine army that was perfectly functional. Knowing that Hordes could still be played against Warmachine furthered my resolve, at least until release day.

I of course buckled and purchased a box set on the day of release, so swepted up in the excitement generated by my gaming group. I'm glad I did because while Warmachine is a great game, it is inherently flawed when compared to Hordes. Let's start from the beginning...

The Stuff: Hordes is a 30mm tabletop miniatures game. While Warmachine was a more steampowered, heavy metal type game, Hordes is much more primal, living character based game. It is focused around monstrous warbeasts and the warlocks that control them. Each battlebox generally contains all you need to play a friendly game with each faction (there are 4) balanced so that you and your buddy can each pick up a box and be playing each other in short order. The battleboxes run about $40-$50. Each battlebox also contains a quick start rules poster which while limited, gives you just about everything you need to play. I would suggest purchasing the companion rulebook, Primal, in order to give you a full understanding of the mechanics. The book comes in both hard and soft covers. Do yourself a favor, spend the extra $10 and get the hardcover. It is gorgeous and with the amount of reading you will do and referencing back to the rules, it will hold up much better than the softcover version.

When you purchase a battlebox the first thing you will discover is that the game is far from ready to play the moment you open the box. Most of the miniatures you purchase require some degree of assembly. Even the smallest of figures (in this case, my warlock) came with multiple pieces. This can be tedious and annoying. I've spent hours pinning (drilling holes into the pewter and inserting metal pins in order to stabilize bond between pieces) and gluing my figures in order to keep them from falling apart on the battlefield once the games actually began. I also don't feel as if my army is complete and ready to play unless the figures are painted (they come out of the box their natural pewter color). It is not necessary to do this, but thye asthetics of a game are important to me and while the miniatures are beautiful, there is something about an unfinished mini that makes me uncomfortable when playing a game (says the guys who spent hours painting his Shadows Over Camelot playing pieces).

Once you've got your miniatures ready to go you will need a few more things: a ruler or flexible tape measure (seamstress tapes are nice because they are small and flexible), a handful of six sided dice, and some counters that can be used to track fury. It is also recommended that you place the stat cards that come with the game in plastic card protectors and use a dry erase marker to tally damage directly on these card protectors.

All in all you can see that there is quite an investment when it comes to playing this game. In fact, Hordes (like Warmachine) is as much a hobby as it is a game. All told, in the 40 days since Hordes was released I have spent approximately $200 (which includes all the expansions to date, the battlebox, the rulebook and various materials to assemble, paint and flock my miniatures). By year's end Privateer Press plans even more expansions, so I will likely spend a lot more before I'm done.

Now, how do the game components rate? Everything is beautiful and well done. The book, Primal is incredible. There is beautiful artwork, including photographs of the miniatures fully painted and fielded. The fiction that is written to explain why the four factions are warring is incredibly well written and provides a perfect backdrop for the game. The rules themself are easy to understand and are backed by examples of game play with illustrations. As a guy who has made a career of technical writing and the development of industrial work instructions, I have to say that Primal is one of the best "rulebooks" I've ever read. Because the fiction is woven into the rules themself, it makes the reading much less tedious and actually very enjoyable. Those who skip the "fluff" are denying themselves a great read.

The miniatures are well sculpted and highly detailed. My only complaint is that occasionally you will find pieces that don't fit very well together making assembly difficult. When assembled and painted however they are amongst the best miniature sculpts I've ever seen. The Skorne Titan (a huge elephant-like warbeast) is amazing to see. Others, like the Circle Warpwolf or the Legion's Carnivean are just as magnificient.

The stat cards that come with each miniature are now in full color (a change from the early release of Warmachine miniatures) and are also well done. The life spirals (where you tick off the warbeast hit points) are a pain in that they can be difficult to read and seem to overlap themselves. Otherwise the cards are legible and organized.

The Mechanics: Hordes, like Warmachine, is best played as a two player game. It is possible to play with additional players, but increases the time taken to complete a game. Furthermore, any odd number of players tends to result in one player getting beat up on by the other two (or more) and can be very discouraging. For the purpose of this review, I will consider the game being played with 2 players.

Before battle both players need to agree on the army size. Each figure as a specific point value assigned to them. Battleboxes are prebalanced, so technically you can skip this part and just agree to play battlebox vs. battlebox. I enjoy playing larger games, so my group normally plays 500 point battles. At this time, with the figures that have been released there is barely enough to each the 500 point mark. A battlebox has approximately 280-300 points.

The point system is nice in that it allows players to build their army the way they want it. There is a certain degree of flexibility to be found in piecing together an army. It also allows the game to grow over time as more figures are released and new combinations are discovered. This also allows each game to be unique as players field different armies each time they play. While Hordes is still in it's infancy, the periodic releases (there have been two since the intitial release) allows the game to change often enough to keep it fresh and exciting.

Once players have decided on their armies, they set up the battleboard (typically a 4x4 board with terrain features representing forest, lakes, buildings, rocks, etc.) and choose sides (usually by rolling a die). The players then take turns setting up in a deployment zone, 10" from the edge of the board. Once this occurs, you are ready to begin.

An army is made up of 4 different types of miniatures: Warbeasts, Warlocks, Units and Solos.

Warbeasts are savage beasts, tamed by the warlocks and represent your frontline forces. They are generally large creatures with special abilities and powers. Giant werewolves, huge trolls or armor plated cyclopes are just a few of the examples. These beasts can have innate abilities which make them each unique and powerful in their own ways. Each warbeast is driven by the warlocks to perform certain tasks. These can include running at full speed, charging into a fight, casting a spell (called an animus), or attacking with increased accuracy/damage (called boosting) in order to take out the opposing player's creatures. Each action like this causes the warbeasts to generate fury, as they are pushed to perform these acts. This fury can cause warbeasts to lose control and frenzy, turning the beasts into veritable killing machines (capable of turning on even their own allies).

Warlocks are the driving force behind every army. To kill the opponent's warlock is to win the game. A warlock draws energy in the form of fury from their warbeasts in order to fuel their spells and spell abilities. Each turn a warlock can leach fury from their warbeasts, effectively keeping them from frenzying. This fury can also be used to heal the warlock or it's warbeasts, grant the warlock extra attacks or use the animus or any of the warbeasts it controls. Warlocks vary and are unique characters in the game. Just changing out a warlock can completely alter the way a game is played. A warlock is the only miniature that has the ability to perform a feat. A feat can be a game changing ability (more powerful than most spells) that is unique to each caster. While a warlock has their feat available you need to be vigilant, as it is capable of altering the way a game plays out and turn the tides of battle. For example, Lylyth of the Legion has the ability to grant an extra die for all attack rolls for any friendly model in her control area for one turn.

Units are groups of men or creatures with likes abilities that work as a cohesive group. The Wolves of Orboros are a group of spear wielding warriors that support the Circle faction. While units as individuals may not be as effective as a warbeast, they are extremely effective as a group, occasionally getting special abilities that further increase their value. A unit can neither generate or receive fury, and as a result cannot boost their attacks or damage or cast an animus. A unit can be a ranged or melee unit (or both) and serve as a nice compliment to the warbeasts.

Solos are unique characters with special abilities. These can be used to flesh out an army and generally work by themselves. Like units, they can neither generate or receive fury. Solos can be extremely powerful and like units, work to compliment the warlock and warbeasts.

Each model in a Hordes army has a stat card which presents them with unique statistics used in the game. These include movement, strength melee attack, ranged attack, defense, armor, command, threshold and fury. I won't go into a great deal of detail just to say that these stats determine how well a model does in combat. The higher the value for each stat, the better you are.

The game alternates back and forth with each player taking a turn and moving their individual pieces. One of the most difficult things to manage is the turn structure of the game. A figure or unit must perform all of its actions prior to any other figure acting. This takes a great deal of strategy as a player tries to figure out how to unfurl each of the tactics necessary to perform the combination they are looking for. For me this is the highlight of the game and presents a unique way of interacting all of the pieces of the army. This is probably why the larger armies are more applealing, as they give you additional opportunites to perform complicated tactics.

The Gameplay: Gameplay is exciting and where Warmachine failed, Hordes gets it right. While I love Warmachine, the mechanics are flawed. In Warmachine, a warcaster (the equal to Hordes warlocks) maintains their power throughout the entire game. It is possible to have every piece on the board wiped out and still win with your warcaster. In Hordes, a Warlock is reliant on their warbeasts. Without them, they tend to weaken. With none, they are practically powerless. It is the warbeasts that generate fury, which the warlocks leach off in order to fuel their spells and abilities. Furthermore, if you cannot control the fury on your warbeasts, you tend to lose control of them as they frenzy and attack at random. The management system in Hordes is far superior to that of Warmachine. Each turn you are left with the decision to save fury, burn all the fury, force or not force your warbeasts, etc. It is beautiful in its balance and can careen out of control if not done correctly.

The warbeasts in Hordes seem relatively weaker than the warjacks found in Warmachine, but are much more versatile. In Warmachine, I might might be able to perform special actions with one or two of my warjacks. In Hordes, every one of my warbeasts can perform a special action (at the risk of creating so much fury that they all frenzy). This adds up to some pretty dicey decisions and forces a player to take risks.

In Hordes warbeasts are essential, in that without warbeasts your warlock has nothing to fuel their spells and abilities. In Warmachine, many times you did not even need to field a Warjack. Warmachine was supposed to be built around the titanic monstrosities but because of the game mechanics, have been relegated to a supporting role behind the units and solos. This was corrected in Hordes and the result is a much better game. Warmachine is still a wonderful game, but Hordes is just better.

Horde games seem to run bit shorter. This is likely because we are currently playing with fewer points, but can also be attributed to the fact that as warbeasts die off, options become fewer and fewer. Hordes also pushes the players to mix it up. Agression is rewarded, where conservatism does nothing.

The game itself is not very complicated, but as I mentioned earlier, the strategies are. It is not an easy game to master, and because of all the combinations of armies, there are very few cookie cutter combinations that are employed every game. This keeps the game fresh. It also encourages players to try new things. Throw that together with the fact that every board is typically set up different and you get a game that is unique every single time.

My only real criticism of the game is that there are times when the results hinge on a simple die roll. A lucky die roll can win you a game just as easily as a bad die roll can lose it. However, with the amount of strategy that is employed, this is a minor thing and certainly shouldn't deter anyone from playing.

Hordes, like Warmachine, is a game that you cannot just dabble in. It is a game that requires time and some degree of dedication. It is a lot of fun and is amazing in it's "simple complexity". I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys tabletop miniature gaming and also to anyone who is looking for their first miniatures game.
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Paul DeStefano
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Excellent write up. I've never played this nor Warmachine.

How complex are the core (basic) rules themselves compared to something like Warhammer?

How long does a game take?

How much math is involved?

(All of this looking to see if my 7 year old mini fanatic would fare well with it.)
 
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Jenny Nguyen
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The basic core rules are insanely simple! You can open a starter kit and be playing within the day. The rules you need to play are summarised on a poster (which is what Privateer Press issue every starter kit with).

The maths is also simple. Extremely simple additions and subtractions with easy to remember modifiers.

Without the ability to pick magical items/artefacts/weapons for your characters/units - Warmachine/Hordes becomes a really simple, quick game.
 
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Lonnie Bristol
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Geosphere wrote:
Excellent write up. I've never played this nor Warmachine.

How complex are the core (basic) rules themselves compared to something like Warhammer?

How long does a game take?

How much math is involved?

(All of this looking to see if my 7 year old mini fanatic would fare well with it.)


The rules are pretty simple, though there are some more advanced actions that can be a bit complex at times. Overall though it is really easy to grasp. I haven't played Warhammer, so I can't answer that, but I know that it took about 15 minutes for me to get a complete understanding of the basic mechanics of the rules.

The complexity of the game comes in the strategy aspect. As I mentioned in my review, it takes a great deal of thought to figure out how you are going to order things to get the combinations you are looking for. Because the game is set up so you can't go back to an individual piece after you have activated it then moved to another piece, it can be very difficult for a beginner.

People will argue over the length of the games. My most recent Hordes boxed set game took a shade under and hour to play. I've also played some 500 point Warmachine games that have taken 6 hours. It is real dependent on the models you field. I would say that Hordes is a bit more in your face, so games should take a little less time. Basically the more points you play, the longer the game. A lot of people use timers for turns, allowing only 15 minutes per turn per person. You can pretty much count on turn 3 as being the turn where armies really start mixing it up. I've found most games are done by turn 6.

The math is simple. All addition and subtraction of numbers between 2 and 30. Shouldn't be a problem there.
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Matt Hoskins
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Geosphere wrote:
Excellent write up. I've never played this nor Warmachine.

How complex are the core (basic) rules themselves compared to something like Warhammer? .)


The basic mechanic is 2d6+ a stat compared to another stat.

There are a couple categories where a player will be faced with large numbers of options:

Casting Spells
Using Power Attacks

Spells - each warlock has a few spells to choose from. Many players spend their first few games trying to figure out which spells to cast, when to cast them. Some spells are very usefull and have very intuitive uses. Some spells are subtle.

Warbeast have an Animus, which behaves in most ways like a spell. Friendly warlocks can use warbeast Animi like spells. Different combinations of warlocks with warbeasts will behave differently ( from a strategic sense) For example, you and I may both play the Skorne faction. If I field a force using Cyclops and Morghul, it will offer different strategic choices and options that your force with Makeda and Titan Gladiators. This is one of the best things about the game in my mind. I can collect 500-700 points of troops and warbeasts and 3 warlocks. Simply changing warlocks while using the same troops and warbeasts provides the feeling that I'm playing something very different each time.

Choosing which models to field is often as important as how you use the models on the tabletop.

Power Attacks - warbeasts have a common pool of power attacks. These range from slams to headbutts to armlocks. Some power attacks are very effective, while others have more subtle effects. Knowing when to execute a power attack instead of a normal attack routine is another skill to develop.

The decision making process is probably the most complicated part of Hordes games.

Geosphere wrote:
How long does a game take?

(All of this looking to see if my 7 year old mini fanatic would fare well with it.)


Box set games will take 25 minutes to 50 depending on how familiar both players are with the rules and the models.

500 point games are playable in 50 minutes to 3+ hours.
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Anthony Sun
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awesome review, just what i was looking for. I am curious about the game, glad to see a popular alternative to GW that has alot of strategy and difference in armies even if chosen the same faction.

the rules do look very nice, i almost bought them based on the artwork. just put off by the rules, they look a bit complicated, but looks worth it!

i might get a box, just have to convince my group to get a box too, but they like to save money, man... bummer.

meh, stuff it. i'll get it anyway.

looks like warmachine stood the test of time, should be better than flames of war.

nice cat Jenny!
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David Glassbrenner
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I've read quite a bit about this game and it seems VERY interesting. I really do want to play it, but unforetunately I cannot paint to save my life...*sigh*
 
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Curtis Cooper
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Great review - really helped a lot. Thanks!
 
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Nathan Baumbach
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Nicely written review.

I have watched a lot of Horde games lately, just because the game seems to generate as much FURY in the players as in their Beasts. It looked like a lot of fun. Now it sounds like a lot of fun from the review.

I also found from talking to one of the Horde players and it sounds like, to me, that the game can be as simple or as complex as you want. If you want, you can forego some of the more advanced options/rules until you get the basics down. You can gradually learn the game in stages, if you chose to do so (and have a willing partner to play with you in this manner).

I've always liked the Iron Kingdoms background, and I'm just starting to read about the Hordes. It sounds like a really interesting and fantastical story. I'll have to try the miniatures game sometime.

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Matt Hoskins
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emceekhan wrote:
Nicely written review.

I have watched a lot of Horde games lately, just because the game seems to generate as much FURY in the players as in their Beasts. It looked like a lot of fun. Now it sounds like a lot of fun from the review.

I also found from talking to one of the Horde players and it sounds like, to me, that the game can be as simple or as complex as you want. If you want, you can forego some of the more advanced options/rules until you get the basics down. You can gradually learn the game in stages, if you chose to do so (and have a willing partner to play with you in this manner).

I've always liked the Iron Kingdoms background, and I'm just starting to read about the Hordes. It sounds like a really interesting and fantastical story. I'll have to try the miniatures game sometime.



Hordes can be a lot of fun even when playing with basic rules. The rules have a lot of depth. The game gets tactically more involved when you add infantry and the the rules get slightly more involved. However, the game has a pretty slight learnging curve. After a few simple battles using only Boxset vs. Boxset you'll quickly want to play more involved games.

This is a super time to pick up Hordes.

The Iron Kingdom setting is very cool. I recommend reading the No Quarter Magazine or even picking up some of the RPG books for more IK background material.

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Stephan Rasmussen
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Very good review!

just wanted to thank you for writing about all the questions I had about this game.. Now all there is left for me to decide is what faction I should start with
 
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