Note: The first section of this article applies equally to both systems, so can be found at the top of both articles. Once you’ve read it once feel free to skip on to the actual discussion of the Factions.
A Faction in Warmachine & Hordes is a set of models which are legal to take in the same army. Most armies can also recruit mercenary soldiers, but the core of the game is in collecting a Faction and building armies from those models. Factions have strong themes, both aesthetically and in their rules. In many ways Factions are defined by both what they do well and what they don’t do as well as other Factions.
Choosing your Faction is important when you start the game because you will be buying and playing models from that Faction only. The word playstyle will enter your vocabulary, this is a tiny bit of an arbitrarily constructed idea that is poorly defined. Instead many people have differing opinions on whether they prefer to be aggressive or defensive (everyone is a balance), aggressive play is active, defensive play is usually reactive.
Pictured here: A typical defensive player.
Other things that people get interested in after that are somewhat arbitrary in terms of competitive balance, some people like to play with a highly active warcaster/warlock, or utilize their large steampunk robots or monsters, others love running an army with lots and lots of soldiers. Finally some Factions focus on ranged attacks, where target selection and distance gauging are vital skills, while others prefer to duke it out in melee, where using terrain, model spacing and scenario zones let you control the center of the table and the tempo of the game. All Factions again have all of these elements, but to different levels and extremes.
When you join your Faction’s forums on the main boards or while doing your research you will encounter a lot of people claiming that their Faction is weak and some other Factions (what the best local player plays) are overpowered. It is true that not every warcaster and army combination works perfectly, and no list has no weaknesses. Playing against a list where you’re disadvantaged is a bad matchup. Everyone has them, some lists have more or less. In Warmachines & Hordes, tournaments make everyone take two or three armies each to lessen the chances of being trapped in a bad matchup.
No Faction is unable to be competitive, but if you play a Faction that isn’t one of the major 8 Factions as your first Faction you’ll have very few options, and find it harder to change your lists, harder to explore the Faction when you run out of new models quickly, and you’ll find it harder to deal with bad matchups you encounter as a new player. If this is your first Warmachine & Hordes Faction, and you’re not totally in love with a specific Faction I recommend playing one of the eight following Factions: Warmachine (Cryx, Cygnar, Khador, Protectorate of Menoth), Hordes (Circle Orboros, Legion of Everblight, Skorne, Trollbloods).
Few things set the tone like a bitchin’ dragon-strosity.
Enough rambling, let’s get into the question you really want an answer to! What are the Factions actually like? First of all have a look at my overview of the game itself. This article I’m going to discuss how the armies of Warmachine play. That is what models they often play, and what that feels like on the table so that you can make an informed choice as you start the game. The previous article discusses the Factions of Warmachine.
The Factions of Hordes are varied and very well-balanced against each other, though some Factions have an easier time when playing their “typical” models against other Factions, again fielding typical models. The individual warcasters/warlocks also provide a huge variety of playstyles and armies that can be explored. However, ultimately, each Faction has a flavour and a certain approach, as well as distinctive feels and similarities throughout their suite of options.
As this is a new player’s guide, I will also talk about models that are difficult to use, less effective, or just generally misunderstood in the divide between fluff as written and the game as it is played. I will be talking about how the Factions play and feel in 50 point games in Steamroller scenarios, which is the fully realised form of the game, as well as the best balanced and most widely played. To begin with you will play battlebox games, and 35 points or lower before graduating this far, however this is the end goal. The end goal should always be in your mind. Start playing scenarios early, and always use them. Use clocks as often as you can! Follow the rules and agree with your friends to play correctly and not be bitter about mistakes, etc. No takebacks make you and everyone you play better at the game. These aren’t ironclad rules, but rather standards to strive towards as you begin to play. I can’t stress enough though that you should start playing the very simple scenarios early and often, even if it’s only Close Quarters every game. Scenarios with two scoring zones one on either side of the table are very punishing at low points levels, I would recommend avoiding those scenarios.
For some terminology:
Warlock– The lynchpin of the army, a powerful spell caster who controls the warbeasts and siphons the magical power of fury from them in order to cast spells. They can’t make their own fury without harming themselves, so they need their beasts around to keep them strong.
Warbeast (Heavy/Light) – A warbeast is a large monstrous creature, controlled by a warlock and which creates fury to achieve its greatest results. However if their warlock can’t take enough fury from them they go mad and only attack the nearest thing.
Troopers/Warriors/Units – Groups of similarly trained soldiers, which are man-sized and fill many roles.
Assassination – Killing your opponent’s warlock, usually early in the game by circumventing other models and defensive measures. This results in an immediate victory.
How do TROLLBLOODS play?
(United we stand, Divided we fall.)
Trollbloods are in many ways the protagonists of Hordes, though Hordes fluff is usually more gory and frightening than non-Cryx Warmachine, because these Factions are not morally grey city dwellers and industrial wizards. These guys are the reasons you don’t go into the woods, day or night.
Trollbloods are a beleaguered and fading race, tied to the earth and old clans. They never united like humanity and the hungry furnaces of civilisation are pushing the Trollbloods to obscurity and maybe even extinction. With the blood of Trolls (ancient, violent, and hungry monsters) running in their veins they are a hearty people and are uniting to fight back against the world and ensure the survival of their race. Pretty much good guys right? Well, they have a tendency to let their pet monsters, the aforementioned Trolls, eat people. And a few of the characters in the Trollbloods faction are pretty unscrupulous about the methods they will employ to save their race.
WHAT YOU GONNA DO ABOUT IT!?
Trollbloods is a Faction of synergy and support, it’s all about supporting a troupe of brave troll warriors with multiple layers of prayers, blessings and ancient magic, while harnessing the power of full blood Trolls. It is a Faction where you fight to the last drop of blood, but your final few support pieces can be buffed to be as effective as many other Faction’s trained soldiers. If you like fighting to the last breath, if you like even your villagers and priests being pushed by a desperate animal need to survive, if you like being the most resilient Faction, with the hardest to kill warlocks, Trollbloods is the Faction for you.
Your warlock in Trolls is as much a leader by example as anything else. They throw out buffs and stand near the frontline being hard to kill while the synergies stack up on your models. One or two of them favour heavy warbeasts, the enormous Dire Trolls, and they let the Faction run both many heavies and a lot of troops better than maybe any faction.
Troll warbeasts are fairly resilient to begin with, but unlike Khadoran warjacks they just get tougher and tougher becoming one of the few groups of models in the whole game that can realistically survive a turn of dedicated abuse. They for the most part hit hard, aren’t accurate and have lots of capacity for fury allowing them to be pushed further. They are usually slow and don’t have reach weapons meaning they prefer enemies to come at them and bounce off first, before killing them. Troll light beasts are uniquely powerful, they have many animi (magic of their own inherent to the warbeast which is shared with the warlock) that layer with other models and create incredible synergies, combined with the benefit from the synergies of resilience making them often as tough as other Factions’ heavies. They also let you play mostly troops with few or no heavies.
Troll infantry are big (on a medium-sized base) and fairly resilient though easy to hit. They can benefit from enormous synergy chains like Khadoran troops and be pushed to dangers levels of speed and destructive power. Their multi-wound infantry deserve special mention, being incredibly hard to kill, and difficult to disrupt and weaken, they epitomise the Trollblood Faction’s strength of resilience.
Troll support is various, often expensive and very potent. It also tends to be able to hold its own, especially if layered with the buffs in the army already. Playing Trollbloods is all about find the right balance of support. Their solos, especially the combat focused ones tend to be excellent, with more boxes and resilience than solos in any other Faction.
Who doesn’t think tartan and giant axes are metal?
Common Misconceptions: : I am invincible! This is not a game of surviving very much or for long, so many players assume that Trollbloods vaunted resilience is equivalent to cheap easy invulnerability, it is not. You have to place your defences carefully, layer your protections on top, and then you opponent has to try and unravel them. This is a more delicate game than run forward, survive, kill everything that attacked.
The Tough mechanic is unfair! It isn’t, it’s just another type of protection. And sometimes you survive, sometimes you don’t. Those are the vagaries of the dice! Your tough isn’t useless and never works, expect to make 1/3 over the course of the game, or several games.
Final warning: Trolls are a big physical Faction, and big physical models are more expensive.
How do the CIRCLE OF ORBOROS play?
(We are few and they are many, take what you can and never get caught!)
These are not your Daddy’s druids! They want to keep a mad planet from eating the critters on its surface, and turns out that mad planet is the Iron Kingdoms world of Caen. They will do anything to achieve their goals, and if they gain a bit of power and influence doing the right thing, taking the hard path that no-one else will walk, well that’s only right. Isn’t it?
You will never feel more besieged than when you are playing Circle. Your models are fragile, your plans complex and many-layered, your numbers few. Circle is a Faction of non-linear movement, they can teleport to different places, they can move in ways no-one else can, they hide and strike, then fade away from retaliation. When you play Circle, and you play it well you feel like the master of the game. The tempo is yours, you know every move your foe will make and you’re already two steps ahead. They die in droves and you lose nothing, always just out of their reach.
All successful wizard-politicians ride goats, don’t ya know?
However, if you get caught, you lose. You have expensive models, and need them to do more, and they will die easily to most models in the game. If you don’t get away flawlessly, you don’t get out alive. This makes Circle an unforgiving Faction, but the feeling you get when you are in total control of a battle is addictive and keeps bringing you back. Know this going into Circle, it may take you 30 games compared to the normal 20 to hit your stride, sometimes one mistake will lose you a game faster than anything else, but if you play close to the perfect game, no-one can stop you.
Your warlock is the driving force of your army, Circle warlocks tend to not be the most obviously powerful, but to have very varied potent sets of abilities, they follow a theme and each warlock gives a list a totally new feel, a new way to confound and out manoeuvre your enemies.
You love your warbeasts as a druid. Be they the powerful warpwolves that can destroy anything they touch before fading back into the shadows, or large stone constructs with strange mystical powers. They do almost all of the heavy lifting, killing infantry and heavies both. They tend to be fragile, so most of your efforts are dedicated to having them run amuck, retreat and be protected by your tricks and misdirection. These are your queens, rooks, and knights, you must ensure the pawns die instead of them.
Your infantry are for the most part pawns, rubes and zealots led to battle by falsities and manipulation. They are there to kill enemy soldiers, making space for your warbeasts, and get in the way, dying so that your wolf may live to slake its blood thirst yet again. Like many things in the faction, they rely on distance, retreat, stealth and terrain to survive, and are fragile when caught out.
Finally the Faction is defined by unusual support, triads of standing stones that teleport creatures within them, druids that increase threat ranges, trees that can move through the earth and become a conduit for magic. Again, all exists to ensure that your warlock and warbeasts survive and get to leverage their offensive powers for longer.
Druids are team Jacob. Go Wolfpack!
Common Misconceptions:- This won’t be that bad… It will. Circle rely on abusing and controlling your enemies threat ranges, and that is difficult to do as a new player. You lose if you don’t retreat, you lose if you retreat too far. However it is very rewarding, and Circle models are gorgeous.
Circle as a Faction is laden with a very black and white stable of models. Many are excellent, and very useful in most lists, others are tremendously difficult to use, and occasionally just not effective even with skill behind them. Think carefully about your models, and ask for a lot of advice in your purchases.
Once you have decided on pursuing a career as a druid, the following article may be of use to you. It contains new player advice, assumes you’ve bought a battlebox, and has a buyers guide for useful Faction models.
How do the LEGION OF EVERBLIGHT play?
(And like that we were among them, they never heard us coming.)
With warbeasts. And I mean buckets of warbeasts. Legion is a faction powered by potent warlocks with powerful feats and spells that drive their battlegroups to insane levels of power. Legion is the faction you play if you want dragons diving in and out of enemy lines, fireballs flying as the ant-like mortals scramble to survive.
Legion warlocks are the beating heart of a living organism, you typically don’t have troops to hide behind so you want to keep them safe as they control their nasty flock of fire-breathing monsters. Legion is all about application of force: shoot the right model, charge to right place, concentrate force so hard and fast that your opponent never stops reeling and fights back.
Six is the optimal number of limbs!
Legion have some of the most potent shooting in the game on the Ravagore, a fireball-spitting dragon that ignore much of the board and destroys whatever it gets a bead on. They also have fast, easily delivered warbeasts and usually take many of them. It is not unusual to see a Legion battlegroup dominated by many warbeasts. They also have lesser warbeasts, man-sized dragon spawn that provide utility and options, while being created from the warm blood of fallen warriors, both friend and foe.
Legion units are often neglected, not usually supported by their ‘casters but actually very solid. They tend to rely on not getting hit similar to Circle models, and focus on killing enemy infantry models by sword or bow so that the warbeasts can reach the target they want.
Legion support and solos focus on warbeast efficiency. Legion can actually push 4 or more heavy warbeasts to the limit and still control them thanks to excellent fury management models and efficiency. This lets you push your beasts to their max every turn, and reap the rewards.
The Legion is a frail faction, with few exceptions. They are a glass cannon, poking holes from a distance, killing a few models here and there with great care before charging in suddenly and brutally to strike a decisive blow. If they kill one of your heavies before you engage them, they have 4 and you have 2 or fewer… well you can do the maths on why things aren’t looking good.
Rawr! Three heads is better than one! That’s for sure!
Common Misconceptions:- I can and should always charge anything in range. No! Legion is all about applying your warbeast to a sensitive spot and push that advantage, not making 2-3 attacks then dying.
I like elves! Well hold on buddy, while the infantry are actually better than most people claim, this is a Faction that is all about taking 4 or so heavies, which doesn’t leave much room for anything that isn’t scaly/chitintous! If you want to play lots of elves, Retribution of Scyrah are for you. This is the dragon faction!
I can ignore terrain! Just because you see and move through it doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist, think about how it affects your opponent and how you can abuse the fact that they have to obey its rules, while you flaunt them!
How do SKORNE play?
(We will bear insult and injury, we will endure, and when we stand before our enemy, then they will cower.)
Skorne are a Faction of aggression. You want to get up the field hard and fast, you want to smash into your opponent and leave nothing but dust. Skorne are an incredibly aggressive, melee-oriented Faction. Your warlocks want to throw up some upkeep spells, and stand just behind the frontlines. They are largely not warriors, but well able to hold their own. Your beasts however, will lead the way. Skorne is a Faction you play if you want to run 3 or 4 heavies beasts up the field, and destroy anything you touch.
Ten tons of angry elephant. Who wants a hug from this guy!?
Skorne warlocks are more like Circle warlocks to me, each with a different focus and aspect, but while Circle focus on trickery, infantry slaying magic and denial, Skorne warlocks focus on delivering your army up the field, either protecting them, accelerating them, or making those that arrive hit like a ton of bricks.
Skorne warbeasts are some of the most potent heavy and light warbeasts in the game. The heavies include beefy elephantine titans, hard-to-shoot giant insects, and fast lethal Cyclops samurai assassins! They want to get into melee, at least eventually, and Skorne have the support to make them kill anything they reach. Skorne lights tend to have very potent animi, or be startlingly resilient and hard hitting because of Skorne’s generally muscular approach to the game.
Skorne units tend to be very effective in melee, and good speed bumps though they have some weaknesses to shooting, except for the slow heavily armoured cataphract, who are either heavily armored or have solid guns of their own. Skorne models as always want up the field and to get into their enemies’ faces. All of this is to distract you from the herd of violent, enraged elephants heading your way.
Support is where Skorne warbeasts really shine, with a unit that lets them charge for free and hit harder than ever, or remove all of their fury. Much of the support also focuses on taking souls from your dying soldiers to use power the Skorne war engine and make you truly dominate once the line engages.
Skorne have two problems that must be watched out for. They can’t afford to have their defences stripped too early or often, or they will get heavily damaged on the approach being so focused on melee. They must be wary of hard hitting infantry models, Skorne want to get at other big models and duke it out to show their power, however small, cheap hard-hitting models will wear you down before you get to achieve your glorious and brutal victory.
I stand close to elephants I torture daily, and I’ve never questioned my career choice.
Common Misconceptions:- Lots of people read the Skorne warlocks and models and miss out of the the fact that this is a warbeast focused Faction. Paingivers will be in every list, and will make your warbeasts monsters in combat.
Skorne warbeasts are slow! This is not true! They start slow, but get terrifying fast in short order, Skorne can field some of the fastest armies in the entire game with certain warlocks. Watch out for stacking movement buffs!
Skorne don’t have guns! They do! They can be a tad expensive, or in strange ways but they have some very useful ranged options, and a gun or two never goes astray. I personally love the Cyclops shaman’s eye beam! As always, it’s about how you support your models, you are somewhere between Trollbloods and Protectorate of Menoth for supporting your models above the sum of their parts, and just absolutely beating face with whatever you have in your army. Cataphract Incendiarii are probably the best-regarded shooting heavy infantry!
Minions:- The minions are actually two Factions that you can field together, with very few crossover models. This makes most people choose one pact or the other.
Minion warlocks are incredibly powerful, to make up for underwhelming warbeasts and often weaker options and few choices, with the exception of the Gatormen Posse in the Blindwater Congregation pact which may be one of the best units in the game. In terms of competitiveness if you are choosing only one or the other, as of winter 2014 Gators are probably the better choice.
Be wary that minions armies are very same-y, and need to dig deep to answer problems with the same set of models, so it is not really a new player-friendly Faction, being more suited to a secondary fun Faction. Unless you love crocodiles and/or pigs! Then go crazy!
With so many lovely ladies to choose from…
Who can decide?
Common Misconceptions:- You are either a Pig or Croc player! Minions are a whole Faction, you can mix and match. Not within one list, but a separate list can be from the other half of the Faction.
And now we have covered every Faction currently available in the game. After you have done your research here, you can join your Faction’s forum, though take some advice with a grain of salt, these people are still internet nerds. Even better, go to your local store and ask experienced players, especially those who play the Faction you have interest in. Hell! I’m happy to go into more detail, just drop a comment here, or PM on Privateer Press’s forums where I also go by the moniker of VagrantPoet.
I am currently writing Faction specific starter guides which help you take the next step, once you have decided on a Faction, bought the battlebox and learned the basics. As they get completed they will be linked above, or in the previous article under the relevant Faction.
We also have some tips in the 7th episode of our podcast, which the time stamps will direct you towards.
Welcome to the game. It won’t be easy, but this is the best tactical game, and once get good enough to truly understand games, the sense of accomplishment is immense. Stick with it, take your loses with pride and go down swinging even when it looks hopeless!
Good luck, and stay classy!
-Eoin / VagrantPoet