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Written Review – Warmachine High Command

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The land of Immoren has seen more war than even the most devout of scribes can attest to. In this land of scars battles rage on for what seems like an infinite amount of time. Armies are led by powerful battle mages called warcasters that have the ability to command giant machines of with destructive capabilities called warjacks. Units, foot soldiers, and powerful characters also fill the ranks of these powerful armies as they fight for control of land, power, and more. In Warmachine High Command you choose one of four factions and build a deck to compete against other players to earn the most victory points. Set in the same world as Warmachine/Hordes and Iron Kingdoms, High Command takes the characters that we’ve come to know and puts them in your hands in a new style of deck building game.

Out of the Box

Inside a copy of Warmachine High Command you’ll get:

  • 386 cards
    • 89 Cygnar cards
    • 89 Khador cards
    • 89 Protectorate of Menoth cards
    • 89 Cryx cards
    • 15 Winds of War cards
    • 15 Location cards
  • Rulebook

Playing the Game

Warmachine High Command is a deck building game in which players compete to get the most victory points. In order to amass these victory points players will purchase cards to add to their deck that have printed on them, as well as strategically deploy cards to different locations to try and control them. At the end of the game players will add up all the victory points on the cards in their deck and the player with the most wins.

Setup and Overview

The rulebook is laid out well, and is essential for first time setup.

To set up for the game, each player will choose a faction. The factions available in Warmachine High Command are Cryx, Cygnar, Menoth, and Khador. Each faction has a total of 5 warcaster cards. These cards represent the generals of your army, so to speak. Each warcaster card has two different color bars printed on the left side of the card. These colors represent the sort of detachment cards they can utilize in decks where they are used. All of your forces are split into 6 different colors: red, orange, yellow, blue, green, and purple. To create a deck you’ll choose three warcasters that you want to use. Each warcaster has a special set of abilities, so choosing the right ones will help for the strategy you want to go with for the game. Then, based on the color bars showing on your warcasters you’ll choose your detachments. You can choose three different sets of detachments that match the colors across all of your warcasters.

Various warcasters, one from each faction.

As an example, Grand Scrutator Severius has both yellow and purple on his card, which means that you can choose the yellow detachments or purple detachments when making a deck for which he is a chosen warcaster. You’ll choose a detachment set for each warcaster, which will have you ending up with a 36-card deck. This deck will be known as your reinforcement deck and it will be the one from which you buy your cards. The cards are shuffled together and placed in front of you. The top four cards are flipped over into a row beside the deck called the reserves. This is where you will purchase cards from. Detachment cards can be either units or resources. Unit cards will have health, power, and sometimes effects printed on them that will come into play during battles.

An example of basic resources.

In addition to all of these cards, each faction comes with a set of 12 starting resource cards. These cards will make your army deck – the playing deck for the game that you’ll add cards to as you purchase them from your reserves. You’ll shuffle them together and draw a starting hand of 6 cards. As you use cards you discard them to a discard pile, and at the end of the turn you will refill your hand. If your army deck runs out of cards when you need to draw you simply shuffle your discard pile and it becomes your new army deck. In Warmachine High Command there are two types of resources: Command points and Warjack points. Resource cards will have either one or both resources printed on them. On top of this, all of the cards you will purchase will also offer these resources in different number. In order to use a resource card to purchase a card from your reserves, you will need to discard it for one of the resource types it produces. Then you can purchase cards from your reserves, deploy cards from your hand, or rush cards to locations.

When you purchase cards from your reserves you add them to your discard pile. These cards will eventually get recycled into your army deck, just like with other deck building games. Once a card leaves the reserves row, another card gets flipped from the reinforcement deck to take its place. You can make as many purchases as you have the resources for on your turn, though you can’t use any leftover resources from a card once it’s discarded. For example, if a card offers you 4 Warjack points as a resource, you couldn’t discard it to use 3 for one purchase and use the 1 point leftover for another purchase later in the turn.

Each warcaster has different abilities and color bards representing detachment colors.

Resources are also used to deploy and rush units. When you deploy a unit you pay its purchase cost in resources and place it at a location. Locations offer victory points at the end of the game, and some of them usually have a benefit that helps you throughout the game. All of the location cards are shuffled together and form a deck that’s placed to the side. In order to capture a location you must have at least two more units at the location during your capture step. Once you capture a location it gets added to your discard pile, as it can also be used for resources once it is acquired. Units will battle at locations, and the aftermath will determine whether the location is captured or not.

Next there are the Winds of War cards. This is a 15-card deck that determines the length of the game, as well as offers different effects each turn. Each card has an effect printed on it and the deck is split into three types of cards: early, mid, and late. When setting up you’ll shuffle each set type, starting with late and leading to early, and you’ll place each set face down on top of each other to create the Winds of War deck for the game. Each round the first player will flip over the top card of the Winds of War deck. The effect printed on the card, which could very well be nothing, is applied to both players for the round. For instance, some Winds of War cards could lower the cost of the first card you play/deploy this round, while others let you draw a card at the beginning of your turn. At some point you will reach the Day of Reckoning card, which is in the late set of cards. Once this card is reached, it signals the end of the game. At this point players total up their victory points and the player with the most wins the game.

Finally there’s the player area. As mentioned before, you have two decks: your reinforcement deck and army deck. Your reinforcement deck is placed in front of you, and you flip the top four cards over into a row next to the deck called the reserves. Your army deck is placed below the reinforcement deck and you draw a starting hand of 6 cards. Your warcasters are placed to your left. These cards provide one-time effects when you rush them into battle, which we’ll cover shortly. The Winds of War and location decks are set to the side, and you will draw a location for each player and place it in the center of the table. Now you’re ready to begin, and the game area should look something like this:

Turn Breakdown

Warmachine High Command is played through a series of rounds which are made up of player turns. During each turn players have a set number of steps. These steps are:

  • Winds of War step
  • Capture Step
  • Orders Step
  • Battle Step

Winds of War Step

The Winds of War cards are a time clock for the game.

During this step the first player flips over the top card of the Winds of War deck. The card’s effects are applied to both players for the round.

Capture Step

Various locations that you can capture.

During the Capture step players can take control of locations. If the active player has two or more units at a location that his opponent, he takes control of that location and adds it to his discard pile. Some locations have an ability that triggers when it is captured, while others have abilities that take effect when they are played from your hand. The first time a player captures a location he creates an occupying forces pile next to his reinforcement deck. All of the units belonging to the active player at a location when he captures it go into this pile. Cards placed in this pile still count towards victory point totals at the end of the game, however they no longer serve an effort to capture more locations. Once a location is captured the players replace it with the top card of the location deck.

Orders Step

Here’s how your area will look when setting up, and ready for your turn.

The Orders step is where players will make their purchases, and deploy or rush cards. During this step you can discard cards from your hand for resources, remembering that you may only discard for one type of resource. When you purchase a card from your reserves you add it to your discard pile and refill its space with the top card from your reinforcements deck. If you want to deploy a card to a location, you must discard cards from your hand to pay its purchase cost in resources and then place the card at a location. Rushing cards is a bit different, and it can’t be done for the first two rounds of the game.

When you want to rush a card you pay its rush cost by discarding the appropriate amount of cards for resources from your hand. Then you place the card you want to rush at a location from your reserves unless it is a warcaster. Rushing cards is a way to get units into the fight as quick as possible, though it does come at a higher initial cost. Once a card is rushed, you replace it by flipping over a card from your reinforcement deck. If the rushed card is a warcaster, it joins the fight, offers its effects, and is removed from the game after the battle.

Players also have the opportunity to refresh cards during the Orders step. If your reserves row is looking grim, you can discard a card from your hand to refresh a card in your reserves. You simply choose a card in your reserves, place it at the bottom of your reinforcement deck, and flip over a new card to take its place. This option is mainly used when you have a full reserves row full of cards that cost once type of resource while you’ve got an entire hand of cards offering the other type of resource.

Finally, players have the option to bank a card. At the end of your Orders step you will refill your hand to 6 cards. If you have any cards leftover that haven’t been used this turn, you can bank – or keep – one of them for the next turn. The rest are discarded and you draw back up to 6 cards. If you choose not to bank any cards, just discard what is leftover and refill your hand.

Battle Step

This is the step where all of the action takes place. During this step the active player attacks each location where he has units that are being opposed. Attacks are resolved two ways: against single opponents and against multiple opponents. Against a single opponent, these are the steps to take to resolve a battle:

  1. Each player checks to see if any of their cards have health that is reduced to 0 due to card effects. If there are any, they are removed immediately.
  2. Each player adds up the total power of his cards at the location.
  3. Each player can then declare what enemy cards to destroy at that location with total combined health equal to or less than his total card power at that location (as determined in step 2), beginning with the attacking player.
  4. All players simultaneously place their destroyed cards into their discard piles.

When dealing with multiple opponents, you must first choose whether this will be a targeted attack or an all-out attack. For a targeted attack you resolve the battle just as if it were a battle between yourself and one other opponent, choosing the opponent to battle. For an all-our attack, you must follow this series of steps:

  1. Each player checks to see if any of their cards have health that is reduced to 0 due to card effects. If there are any, they are removed immediately.
  2. Each player adds up the total power of his cards at the location.
  3. The active player’s opponents add their total power together.
  4. The active player can destroy cards at that location with total combined health equal to or less than his total card power at that location. Then the player to his left can destroy the active player’s cards at that location with total combined health equal to or less than the total opponents’ card power at that location.
  5. All players place their destroyed cards into their discard piles simultaneously.

Once a player’s Battle step is finished the next player begins their turn.

The Endgame

These cards have victory points printed on them that you can earn at the end of the game.

A game of Warmachine High Command will end in one of two ways: either the Day of Reckoning card will be flipped from the Winds of War deck, or the locations deck will run out of cards. Once this happens, players count up all of the victory points printed on the cards in their army deck, discard pile,  and occupying forces pile. The player with the most victory points wins the game.

The Verdict

I was excited for Warmachine High Command because I am a huge fan of the Warmachine miniatures game, and I like a lot of deck building games. Unfortunately, I pumped this game up so much that when I finally sat down to play it, I wasn’t impressed. The game has a lot of tight mechanics and the rules are thought out well, but there’s a lot going on in the game that makes it hard for me to find fun in it. I’ve played the game with 2, 3, and 4 players, and I feel that it’s best with 2. When you add more players, competing for locations is nearly removed from the game completely and there’s too much down time to enjoy what’s going on.

In terms of balance, I don’t really feel enough attention was given to the game to keep it scaled correctly. A lot of strategy comes in the deck building, and choosing your warcasters/detachments correctly can set you up for failure if done poorly. On the flip side, however, it’s completely possible to build a deck where you put zero focus on competing for locations and instead just buy everything that has victory points printed on it to come out a winner in the end. It really takes a lot of fun out of the game.

Even when it comes to battling there’s a lot missing. The battles aren’t exciting. The game doesn’t offer any instant-like cards I can use during battle to kill off my opponent’s units, no cards to help buff my units’ health, or anything of the sort. It’s a simple play of addition, with a few tricks added in depending on card abilities of those already at the battle. It’s really one-sided.

Here’s a close-up of a warcaster.

There are also some issues that come up with tournament rules and aesthetics. I am the type of person who likes to personalize my games as much as I can. For Warmachine High Command, I sleeved each faction in a different color. After playing for a while, I realized that was a really stupid idea. When you capture a location you add it to your deck. What this means is that I would have to have extra sleeves for each faction handy in order to make this concept work. When you go to play tournaments with the game you have to bring extra sleeves of your color just for this reason. I understand it comes down to player choice, and you can remedy this by sleeving all the cards with the same color/sleeves, but I feel like it’s a bit flawed. To be honest, I’m not exactly on board with adding locations to your deck as resources anyway.

When it comes to card aesthetics I also feel like there was a lot that could have been better. There’s too much space on the card allocated to your faction’s banner, the stats, and the color bars. I feel like the big point on the card is the artwork, but what comes on the card is small and passed over. Not to mention that the text is quite small on the cards.

I’ve played this game numerous times and each time I go into it thinking I am going to have fun only to be let down. As a fan of the Warmachine/Hordes game by Privateer Press I feel like this piqued my hopes, but didn’t deliver. There’s a great idea, a great deck building game wrapped up in this somewhere, but when it comes to WarmaHordes I plan to stick to the miniatures game that I love. That’s the way I’ll have true customization with the faction I love in the world I enjoy.