Games Workshop released Warcry a few months ago, and it is our habit to let the commotion calm down a little before throwing our own review into the arena.
Warcry is the latest skirmish game from Games Workshop, set somewhere in the vast expanse of a world gripped by Chaos, where warbands of cultist, warriors and beasts battle for control, fame, glory and the attention of the ruinous Gods of Chaos.
Don’t confuse Warcry (the topic of this article) with WarCry, a collectable card game set in the Warhammer Fantasy setting (Sabertooth Games, 2003).
What are Skirmish Games?
For those not in the know, skirmish scale games involve small teams of miniatures played on smaller wargaming tables. This is compared to much larger armies of potentially hundreds of miniatures over wargaming tables that will fill most people’s living room. The idea behind skirmish games is that they usually involve more tactical thinking, with a focus on in-depth actions or sequences of events for individual miniatures in the game. It’s a bit like micro-managing a battlefield. Skirmish games are generally perceived as faster to play, ideal for those who have lives beyond the armchair general.
Warcry takes place in or around a portion of land known as the Eightpoints, the seat of Archaon the Everchosen (one of a handful of characters still around from the shift from Warhammer Fantasy Battles to Age of Sigmar – controversial article here). The lore is fresh, but a little ropy at the moment – that said, it doesn’t need to be grandiose, we’re playing a game where warbands slaughter each other and that’s the simple message.
From what we can tell from playing a number of games, the rules are quite straightforward, even for beginners. Arguably you could introduce a young player to this game without much of a problem. 10+ years would be fine (give or take) depending on their ability to understand turn sequences and planning ahead. There’s very little mathematics, and what there is, is quite straight forward.
Players create their warbands using information cards, representing their miniatures. Each card comes with an image for reference with an associated points value and attributes. Attributes include the number of attack dice they roll, the damage they can cause and how far they move in inches, along with symbols to show what special abilities they can call upon (more on these later).
When each warband totals 1000 points (anywhere from 3 to 15 miniatures) the players can determine the terrain, the goal of the skirmish and any twists to the mission parameters. Once these are set up, the players divide their warband into smaller groups, some of which will be reinforcements for the second or later turns.
The terrain setup, mission type and twist are all randomly generated. If you have bought the complete box set you’ll have some nice card decks to do this for you, or if you purchased just the rule book you can roll dice to determine the setup.
The missions are usually pretty clear and straightforward, with deployment of the miniatures normally split up between an initial group with 1 or 2 reinforcement forces. Often these are on opposite sides of the battlefield, forcing the players to get stuck in very quickly or risk losing the game.
Starting the Game & Turn Sequence
Each player keeps a pool of six dice, with a further dice acting a ‘wild dice’ (more on this later). The purpose of these dice is to allow the player to perform special functions with their miniatures. These abilities require multiples of the same number to permit use of these special functions, often a double, triple or even quadruple.
For example, a special ability that adds bonuses to an attack action may require a double. It doesn’t matter what the number on the dice is – it could be a double 1 or a double 6. Some abilities require a triple or even quadruple score, which are obviously rare and unlikely to be rolled but possess much more significant power. A few of these abilities use the number on the dice that score a multiple.
Special abilities are usually faction-specific, although we noticed that some abilities are the same just by a different name. There are several universal abilities which any faction can use, found in the rule book. Oddly, some of these are more powerful than the faction specific ones.
A strange but interesting mechanic of the game is determining the initiative sequence, that is, who will go first that turn. The dice pool is rolled at the start of each turn. The player with the most single dice rolls acts first. So, if you roll an amazing dice pool of a series of multiples, you forfeit taking the first turn.
The wild dice mentioned earlier comes into play here. You can use it to seize the initiative or risk it to score a multiple dice result… or save it to add to your next turn. A player can bide their time and on the final turn potentially at 3 to 4 more dice to their initiative roll. This game is all about the small gambles.
Activation & Actions
Players take it in turns, activating a single model, with the winner of the initiative roll going first. A model always has two activations, which can be used to move, attack, rest or wait (a bit like waiting in readiness). Only when a model has finished their two actions, does the other player gets to activate one of their own models. This goes back and forth until all models have activated, which ends the turn.
This brings in a nice tactical feel and eliminates the one sided crush an unfortunate player may feel from other tabletop wargames. It brings its own challenges however, since the ability to plan further ahead and be able to adapt that plan to unforeseen circumstances will greatly help win the game.
Wounds & Casualties
Models in Warcry have many more wounds than they do in larger tabletop fantasy battles. This simulates the more personal scope of fighting. Generally larger or more expensive models have more wounds, but even a simple thrall has 8 wounds, which is usually enough to survive a couple of turns.
Models can rest to recover wounds, but some missions forbid this, making those games brutally fast and efficient!
There is no armour save attribute as such in Warcry, instead toughness is the primary “defence” attribute. A simple table tells the attacking player what they need to roll on each dice; if your strength matches the toughness, you need to roll a 4 or more to successfully wound your target, if it is lower you need 5 or more, and if it is higher you need 3 or more. Rolls of a 6 are always considered a critical hit, dealing more damage.
Most attacks cause 1 or 2 wounds on a successful hit, whereas an attack dice that rolled a 6 causes 2 to 3 times that damage, known as a critical hit. The element of random damage rolls is taken away, meaning players can predict the level of attrition their warriors can endure.
The game recommends 40 minutes give or take. We found this about right, although missions are much faster due to very simplified goal, such as nominating a model, which is the target of the other warband attention to win.
Experienced players could probably zip through a game in 20-30 minutes, but some missions are very tactical and time to mentally plan eat into this.
Each scenario is limited to 3-5 turns, so each game ends regardless of the kill count, assuming you do not wipe your enemy out – but slaughter doesn’t always win you the game.
To those familiar with tabletop war games, particularly those from Games Workshop, Warcry is a little different. The general mechanical system of tabletop war games is a pool of dice that are rolled to determine attacks that hit, then wound and then a roll to determine if the targets armour saves their lives. These pools of dice are often ever decreasing as only some will score hits, even fewer will score wounds and a few may succeed in rolling a miniatures save. As you can imagine, the process takes a little longer for large scale battles.
Warcry has gone further to reduce the dice rolling, even for the fewer miniatures involved. Now a miniature rolls to attack and wound with the same dice, with a required score based on the strength of the attack and toughness of the target.
Although there is a section in the rule book that supplies rules for campaigns, Warcry is not a reskinned version of Mordheim – it simply doesn’t have the complexities and intricacies of that beloved skirmish game. Who knows, maybe Games Workshop will publish future rule sets to make it closer to the original?
Warcry is a brilliant little game. Its simplicity and speed of play gives you a wonderful sense of satisfaction. No need for a lengthy setup, no need for hours of tortuous game play, no losing before you’ve taken your first turn!
The small scale and game setting / lore keeps the focus on gritty combat, and the feel this provides is kind of cinematic. I get impressions of dark and gritty anti heroes fighting in rain slick ruins of slate ala “Iron Clad” style (film, 2011). This is good, as games that instill emotion beyond prideful victory gives us more reason to play it and keep playing it.
The tactical choices of the variety of mission goals appear balanced, if a little contrived: the deployment zones make it hard to avoid combat, and you can lose a game if you keep VIP models too far out of the way, even if they’re meant to survive to win the game. Not such a bad thing, but we’re feeling this is a manufactured response from Games Workshop – you’ll see the same kind of missions and quests in just about all of their recent games. Meh, you can play the game anyway you like.
That said, working out a tactic that has to develop each turn is closer to real-time battlefield tactics than any full scale tabletop war game. Several games we’ve had to clutch at our faces and rock back and forth trying to figure out how we can win and the tension is palpable. For us, this is great.
The lack of variety in the choice of your warband composition takes away the “math-hammer” aspect of most battle systems by Games Workshop. A massive plus if you play for a games theme, vibes and narrative, but not great if you want specific structure to your warband. There’s an excessive amount of name generating lore in the core rule book, which frankly seems a bit of a waste of paper and money…
Games Workshop, stop padding out your books with this nonsense, we know how to make up names!
We need to say this right now: The core rule book is NOT everything you need to play the game. Not even close. What annoyed me the most was that the rule book contains no stats for characters or models… it doesn’t even explicitly say that you need to buy these elsewhere.
No, to play the game, you need to have a minimum of 1 rule book and 2 gangs, or if you’re lucky and your Age of Sigmar faction has them, add two card sets with the abilities and attributes for the gangs.
That needed to be said, because we think it is bloody cheeky of Games Workshop. Effective at getting you to spend money no doubt, but even Kill Team (the science fiction version of Warcry) provides all the stats and attributes you need to play the core elements of the game.
Boxed set, £100: with terrain, play mat, 2 war bands, a rule book, dice, cards. A lot of stuff, but how much are you going to play?
Rulebook on it’s own: £25 but you get no cards for any warband, which will set you back an extra £5 for a regular age of Sigmar faction, or…
A boxed warband: £30 which includes the miniatures and game cards. Some players have reported that not all boxed warband add up to the 1000 point limit – keep this in mind when you’re assembling your warband, particularly for tournaments where the miniatures equipment must be represented exactly as on the warband list.
Minimum spend without glues etc, £35 – £55. That’s quite a bit of 10 miniatures and some card, but if you’re into your gaming it’s not a huge outset.
Best Advice – buy from a 3rd party where ever you can.
That said, we’re already seeing expansions coming out for Warcry. So as previously mentioned, the GW Sale M.O suggests extensive additional content, and likely if you don’t keep up, you’ll find yourself at a disadvantage..!
We like it, but we’re open about liking games generally. If you’re already into Games Workshop products, you’ll like it because it’s a little different (and the miniatures are, as always, amazing).
If you’re looking for a fast way into the tabletop hobby this is a great start, but it’s going to cost you at least ££85 starting from nothing to get into it. That said, the complete box set gives you everything apart from the glue for £15 more.
Definitely worth a group share if you chip in with friends, but then you’ll need more gangs or one of the £5 card sets.
It seems that despite all its good points, Warcry is fitting nicely into the Games Workshop sale modus operandi, in that the basic game is very simple, leaving questions such as to the details of the warbands, or lack of special rules or “Why didn’t they just…?”
This is because we should be expecting expansions to the game to include all these wonderful things. This is great if you love the game and want to see more, but the sale M.O. means if you want to stay up to date you’re going to have to fork out more of your precious pennies. Veteran players will hear an echoing voice telling them to “pay to win…”
This leads me to the small card sets you can purchase for some pf the current factions in Age of Sigmar, Games Workshops mainstream fantasy battles game. These card sets allow you to use your faction in Warcry, such as the Idoneth Deepkin. Great, but again we’re paying for content we don’t need, such as all the special abilities in several different languages. You can’t even sell on these cards, because there’s one for each language, and each miniature card is entirely pictorial. Games Workshop, stop making us buy stuff that we’re going to throw into our recycling.
We’ve recently learned a rumour that these card sets will not be continued. This forces a choice on players: buy a box set of a faction you won’t use in any other game, or just don’t get involved and avoid playing Warcry. What gives? Comment below if you’ve got any ideas what this means!
Finally, we’re already seeing more content coming for Warcry in the form of monster hunting and mercenaries. Seems GW are already using the same methods to promote Kill Team. Expect more soon…
That’s it for now, we’ll go into more detail of the campaign mechanics of Warcry another time, but for now, thanks for reading and we hope this has given you something to think about before buying into Warcry!
Terrain Ideas here, with UK supply suggestions here.
(All miniature images taken from Games Workshop, 14/9/19)