Sunday, June 10, 2012

This Week's Geek: Warhammer

In The Grim Darkness of the Far Future, There Is Only War

"It is the 41st Millennium. For more than a hundred centuries the Emperor of Mankind has sat immobile on the Golden Throne of Earth.  He is the master of mankind by the will of the gods and master of a million worlds by the might of his inexhaustible armies.  He is a rotting carcass writhing invisibly with power from the Dark Age of Technology.  He is the Carrion Lord of the vast Imperium of Man for whom a thousand souls are sacrificed every day so that he may never truly die.  Yet even in his deathless state, the Emperor continues his eternal vigilance.  

Mighty battlefleets cross the daemon-infested miasma of the Warp, the only route between distant stars, their way lit by the Astronomican, the psychic manifestation of the Emperor's will.  Vast armies give battle in His name on uncounted worlds.  Greatest amongst his soldiers are the Adeptus Astartes, the Space Marines, bio-engineered super-warriors.  Their comrades in arms are legion: the Imperial Guard and countless planetary defence forces, the ever-vigilant Inquisition and the tech-priests of the Adeptus Mechanicus to name only a few.  

But for all their multitudes, they are barely enough to hold off the ever-present threat to humanity from aliens, heretics, mutants -- and far, far worse.   To be a man in such times is to be one amongst untold billions. It is to live in the cruelest and most bloody regime imaginable.  These are the tales of those times. 

Forget the power of technology and science, for so much has been forgotten, never to be relearned.  Forget the promise of progress and understanding, for in the grim dark future there is only war.  There is no peace amongst the stars, only an eternity of carnage and slaughter, and the laughter of thirsting gods.

 Prepare For Battle, In a World at War
"This is a dark age, a bloody age, an age of daemons and of sorcery. It is an age of battle and death, and of the world's ending. But it is also a time of mighty heroes, of bold deeds and great courage.

But these are far from civilised times. Across the Old World, from the heartlands of the human Empire to ice-bound Kislev in the far north, come rumblings of war. In the World's Edge Mountains, the orc tribes besiege gold-loving dwarfs. In the east, the dead do not rest easy, and there are rumours of rats that walk like men emerging from the dark places of the world. From the northern wildernesses there is the ever-present threat of Chaos, of daemons and beastmen corrupted by the foul powers of the Dark Gods...

The Warhammer world is rich with history and legend, aeons of bloodshed and conflict have shaped both its surface and its denizens into a world of relentless battle. It is the battleground between the forces of Order and Destruction, where vast armies clash in mighty battles with the fate of the world hanging in the balance.

Many races wage war upon the face of world, each fighting for a different cause or purpose. Some fight for freedom and the safety of their citizens, some for the joy of slaughter or to slake an insatiable thirst for carnage. Others do battle for the entertainment of the Dark Gods, seeking the enslavement of all mortals."

Well all that is well and fine, but just what exactly are we talking about here?

Warhammer (also known as Warhammer Fantasy Battles, or WHFB) and Warhammer 40,000 (WH40K, 40K, etc.) are two tabletop wargames published by Games Workshop in which two players (or sometimes more in team-style play) field armies of 25mm -28mm scale miniatures (25mm scale is also 1:76 or 4mm or 00 gauge; 28mm scale is also 1:65 or S scale).  Typically a gaming surface, board, or table is 6 feet long by 4 feet wide and is often decorated with miniature scenery to add flavor and terrain effects to the battlefield.  Both games have core rulebooks necessary for play, and 'army book' supplements are available with rules, statistics, and stategies for fielding specific armies.  Players ('generals') measure out distances in inches on the playing surface for things like movement and missile fire (which may include magical spells in the case of Warhammer), and combat is resolved with comparing various army unit statistics with a random element added through the use of six-sided dice rolls (ala the 'randomness of the battlefield') and the occasional use of 'scatter dice' for artillery style weapons - cannons, catapults, artillery platforms, etc.  The game is turn-based and divided into distinct phases, typically phases such as Movement, Declaring Charges, Shooting, Assault, and so on are used.  During each phase players take turns completing their actions for that phase.  A complete set of phases for each player constitutes one full turn.

Typically armies are collected, organized, and fielded based on a point system.  Players agree on the number of points to be played in a given game, typically anywhere from 750 points to 3000 points, but can be less to suit the player's taste.  Usually the more points agreed to means the longer the game will take to complete (but not in every scenario).  Players then select their troops to field to equal the maximum point allowance of the agreed upon points for the game.  Typically, the 'stronger' or more powerful a unit, the more points it is worth.  The point system theoretically allows for a 'more balanced game' as a general can only field points up to the maximum allowable.  For instance, Eltharion the Grim is a very powerful hero character in the High Elves army and when mounted on Stormwing (his Griffon steed) he is worth 495 points - just a single unit.

However, a regiment of 20 Skeleton Warriors lightly armored with with a command of Musician, Standard Bearer, and Master of Arms is only 130 points, so for the price of Etharion that we listed above, we could field nearly 70 Skeleton Warriors in three to four separate units.

While Eltharion will most likely take out many Skeleton Warriors at a time in just a single attack, the sheer number of Skeleton Warriors eventually may simply overwhelm the Grim Hero.  This is the basic idea behind the point system to balance battles between various and diverse armies.

And there are many armies to choose from!  WHFB currently includes 15 armies in its pantheon, from the stubborn and steadfast dwarfs that settle their grudges on the edge of a massive battle axe or the thunder of the cannons, to the chivalrous Knights of Bretonnia riding down their enemies in massive cavalry charges, to the barbaric Orc and Goblins whose uncountable numbers of greekskins come crashing down in unstoppable waves to their foes - often with a Troll or Giant swept along for the ride, there are many colorful armies to consider.  WH40K brings 14 armies from the darkness of the 41st Millennium, where the immortal, soulless Necrons rise from stasis in ancient planetary tombs, elite warriors of the ancient Eldar streak into battle on Guardian Jetbikes and Wave Serpent Skimmers, and legions of war-hungry superhuman Chaos Space Marines dedicated to the obscene God of Chaos march from the Warp alongside the warped flesh of Daemon Princes.

Beyond the thrill and pleasure of actual tabletop battle in 'playing' WHFB and/or 40K, there is the other side of the hobby.  Armies are collected, usually over time, and the assembly, painting, modification, and collecting of your army (and in many cases, armies) is a pretty big pastime in itself.  Buying new miniatures usually means some assembly; most armies come are cast in plastic and must be removed from the sprue and assembled with glue.  Some minis are cast in resins and even some are cast in metal.  Painting is no small affair, and this is nothing like painting model airplanes when you were a kid.  Games Workshop's Citadel paint line has some 145 paints in their range, including specialty paints like base, shade, glaze, and texture paints.  Reaper Miniatures' Master Series Paints has 216 colors in their core color set.  Preparing your miniature army can also go beyond mere painting...there are bases to be textured and decorated, conversions and modifications of existing pieces to suit your mood, and even sculpting of your own miniatures if you're so inclined.

Some players spend most of their time painting and collecting, and very little actual gaming.  Some may hardly paint their armies at all, but are at the gaming table multiple times a week.  Tournaments are common, and some players travel around their local, regional, and even national and international tournament circuit.  Often games are easily had by just heading down to your local game store for a few hours, where many stores have tables set up just for miniature wargaming.  There are even Games Workshop game stores, and these usually have anything and everything a crafty general may need to bolster his forces.

The main differences between Warhammer Fantasy Battles and Warhammer 40,000 have mostly to do with theme and some style of play.  Obviously WHFB is set in a more fantasy setting - a dark medieval realm filled with orcs and goblins, elves and dwarves,  vampires and skeletons, and knights and spearmen.  Magic plays a major part of Warhammer, and wizards are common on the battlefield.  Dragons and griffons swoop from the sky, and regiment of sharp-eyed High Elf archers might stop the charge of Ogre Mournfang Calvary before they are trampled into the ground.  Giving shields to your Spearmen of the Empire may turn back the axes of the Minotaurs when the fighting gets up close and personal, but the halberds of  the Dark Elf Black Guard will probably cleave those simple shields in two. 

WH40K is set far in the grim and dark future, where legions of genetically modified super human Space Marines and the uncountable ranks of Imperial Guards rush to battle with aliens from far flung galaxies and the evil and chaos that spews from the Warp.  The Lasgun, the Guass Rifle, the Heavy Bolter, and the  Ion Cannon move amongst the massive tanks, heavy skimmers, and anti-gravity gunships that rumble across the scarred and ruined battlefield.  When forces come together in close combat, the chainsword, Choppa, and powerfist rule the day.

The style of play between WHFB and 40K are another difference.  40K is a skirmish game, meaning that individual units of soldiers move about one model at a time in no particular formation.  WHFB is purely unit based, and almost always move in formation.  40K relies heavily on shooting (guns and such) where missile fire usually not as large a component in WHFB - though some fantasy armies are 'shooty' by nature.  Close combat is somewhat more tactically important in WHFB, as lining up a perfect charge can make an enormous impact on the outcome of the battle in WHFB, and as WHFB is done with units in formation, not every model has the ability to partake in close combat during the charge as they can in the skirmish setting of 40K.  There are many more opportunities for WHFB units to break ranks and flee in panic than there are in 40K.  And again, magic is solely a part of WHFB (there's actually a 'Magic Phase' in FB), although one could argue that the psychic abilities of some 40K units mimic magic to some degree.  All in all, both games have similarities and differences, but make no mistake, they are two different games with different strategies and play styles.

Both Warhammer and Warhammer 40,000 are great geeky hobbies, and I often find myself switching back and forth between each game.  Sometimes it's my 40K Orks with their ramshackle Trukks filled with a mess of roaring and cackling Ork Boyz and led by a trio of screaming Nob Warbikers wielding Big Choppas looking for a fight that make me spill the green horde onto the smoking alien battlescape.  But I always have to return to my noble High Elves whose golden armored archers rain volleys of death into the ranks of my opponents as the battlefield crackles with the magic wielded by my mages...the greatest living wizards of the realm.  Either way, WHFB and WH40K aren't just games, they're really absorbing hobbies of collecting and painting, and tactical skill and strategy, and often it's a very sociable and enjoyable pastime.



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