Warhammer fantasy battle is a war game produced by Games Workshop that has both a strategic level and a tactical level. To represent the units it uses hand-painted pewter or plastic miniatures, which are modelled on a 28mm scale. The battle uses inches as the primary measuring tool - a metric conversion has been tried in some countries (Japan?) - but without huge success. The battlefield varies in size, but at least 2 m x 1.5 m is recommended.
The hobby of warhammer includes the actual wargaming, but also modelling the units (and painting them), creating terrain pieces, and exaggerating your army's prowess in front of your friends.
The rules are currently in their 6th revision, and I expect the next revision to appear around 2004. Games Workshop has released the core rules of this edition plus a few of the more army specific rules. Luckily enough there has been little force-escalation between army releases - i.e. you will not have an advantage if you own an army that has been released after your opponent's - and the armies are mostly balanced (with a few examples unworthy of mention).
Prior to each battle one chooses the army and army composition. You can put emphasis on certain elements like elite cavalry or build a horde of infantry. Each model has a fixed point value, and a battle is regulated to a certain number of points. Within the boundaries of the rules you can therefore optimise your army against your opponent (unless he has done performed a Jedi mind trick, and is fielding an army you didn't expect). You also spend points on army leaders and equipment.
Warhammer is a turn-based game, and as such one can move the units to create failed charges, denied flanks, cordons and outflanking forces (among many many things!). Some units are better suited for some operations than others, but the head-on charge rarely succeeds - unless you have a very very strong unit working a blitz.
Warhammer uses some artistic license when it comes to scale - just to make models look better. The head is modelled at 1/35, limbs are at 1/48 and the body is scaled at 1/60. This gives a miniature a look that is slightly cartoonish (see: Skaven or a 40k army - the Space Marines), but very visually appealing.
Basic unit types
The various armies can field different types of units. For nearly every unit it is possible to find a real world counterpart:
The games' races and their speciality
All the races have a selection of troops based on their history and racial heritage ("fluff"). They are:
- Human knights, with some militia filling the ranks.
- Heavy infantry, monsters and chariots. Add a few daemons and beastmen - and you have an army!
- Very tough infantry and excellent warmachines.
- The elves come in different flavours (dark, high and wood). Each has their own speciality, but they are all "elite" armies (few, but skilled troops). Dark elves and high elves can be said to be two sides of the same coin as both employ monsters, magic and excellent ballista. Wood elves are more skirmishing, with a few hard hitting monsters added in.
- The Empire
- This is more or less the conventional army that real-world Europe had. It has good warmachines, light infantry and cavalry (both light and heavy)
- A lot of hard hitting reptiles, with the odd fire-breathing salamander added in.
- Orcs & Goblins
- Has anything you can think of. Really.
- Lots and lots of light infantry, supported by high tech support weapons. The most unreliable army.
- Vampire Counts & Khemri
- The undead legions can field both light and heavy infantry, with some cavalry support and the odd chariot.
Warhammer fantasy battle follows a strict turn based sequence where the player whose turn it is can direct his forces. The opponent can only respond by dispelling magic, firing at chargers, and by fighting in close combat. If I have a grievance with Warhammer, then its the shear advantage of the player who starts the battle. A well placed magic/shooting phase will decimate any opponent, before he has had time to properly deploy his forces.
- Start of Turn
This turn contains all the weird stuff; panic tests, rallying fleeing troops - and others. Some people also call this the drink phase, where there is time to grab a drink and think about things you forgot to do in your last turn.
- Panic tests
If some of your units are fleeing the board, others may join them. You test for this by rolling a leadership test for each unit in the vicinity of a fleeing unit.
When facing a army with weak leadership, this can cause avalanches of fleeing troops. Just punch one unit hard enough so that it begins to run, and soon the entire flank is on the move - backwards.
- Army special effects
Some armies have other effects that occur now - undead without their general rot away, orcs and goblins fight among themselves and the skaven poison each other - the usual stuff really.....
This phase sets the scene for your army's utter triumph (or failure) and involves getting your men (or beasts) into the proper position to maximise their prowess.
- Declaration of charges and charge responses
When a unit declares a charge, the target of this unit can either flee, stand their ground or stand their ground while shooting at the chargers - if they are lucky the casualties will break the charge.
Some tactics also rely on the feigned flee. If your leadership is high it is probable that your troops will rally in your next turn. This means that you can flee away from an attacker (who then places himself in an awkward position) and then rally later, while other troops take advantage of the attacker's position, and counter charge.
- Compulsory movement
Under some conditions you may be forced to make movements (examples include troops that are frenzied, stupid or even just random).
If you know your enemy, you probably know which troops have compulsory movement, and what reasons set it off. This can then be used to lay traps for the opposing unit (compulsory movement is not a good thing!)
- Other movement
After you have taken care of the charges and compulsory movement the rest of the army can move - this is formation move, so the unit's heading is important - no soldier likes to have enemies charging into their flanks. The length you are allowed to move is modified by terrain, closeness to enemies and the type of unit (and type of army - the fast skaven move more quickly than dwarves).
Based on the number of wizards in the army, the magic phase can either be forgotten in silence, or the most powerful phase you have.
- Counting dice
Every level of spell caster you field gives a die, and in addition you get two dice "start bonus". The defender has one die for every two levels of wizard, and also two dice start bonus. This means that for two equal armies, a few spells will be effective, but most of them (half) will be dispelled.
- Casting spells
Every spell has a casting level - ie. a value you must roll higher than to create the spell. By rolling a number of dice you can then choose to either max out one spell (to absolutely make sure you get the spell going), or divide your dice among several spells - who then will have a chance of not succeeding.
This balances out most spell use - if you go low-magic vs a high-magic army, you are still able to counter one or two spells - and if your opponent is a risk taker, he might not get all his spells off anyway.
- Countering spells
To counter a spell that has been cast, the opposing player may elect to roll any number of dispel dice (up to the maximum he has). The target number for him is the number that the casting player rolled originally. This is also a "do you feel lucky" situation, as the player most of the time does not have enough dice to dispel all spells with near 100% certainty.
In this phase all ranged combat occur - be it bowmen, gatling guns or cannons. Concentrated fire is something to strive for here, but most of the time it just isn't possible due to the number of targets and range problems.
- Declaration of fire
All fire is first declared, then measured. A lot of war machines demand that you guess at what range you are targeting. Random chance will add to this, but with practice it will be possible to fire these war machines quite accurately.
Most players tend to fire more guns into a unit than strictly required for total annihiliation - but when you want a unit dead, you want it dead...
- Resolving fire
Templates are laid out where the larger weapon hits, and then resolved against the troops that lie under it. Smaller weapons use the ballistics skill of the attacking part to resolve hits.
- Close combat
This is where the massive casualties occur. The combatants strike at each other in initiative order (higher initiative goes first). Wounding is based on opposed skills (individual weapon skills and then strength vs opponents toughness). If a wound is scored, then the opponent can try to save the wound by both armour and/or magical wards. At the end of the combat, the number of wounds on each side is added up together with bonuses for the unit's size, ranks, the unit's standard and magical modifiers. The loser must make a break test or run for it. They are slaughtered if they are caught while fleeing.
Here the blitz really comes into play - a couple of chariots can inflict a huge number of impact hits, and might break opponents just from this single push - but if a unit withstands the initial impact, the unit's size and ranks will crush the chariot.
Sources from this writeup include:
The Games workshop website at www.games-workshop.com,
and the Warhammer fantasy battle rule book.