Warcry is a Bold New Step for Games Workshop & Skirmish War Games

By Charles Theel 02 Aug 2019 0

1983 was a magical year. It gave us Metallica, Return of the Jedi, and yes, Warhammer. Despite a tireless art department and continual improvement of miniatures quality, this thing still feels its age at times. But it's now 2019 and something remarkable has happened - something called Warcry.

This is a brand new skirmish game set in Games Workshop's radical Age of Sigmar fantasy setting. "Brand new" not simply because of its imminent release, but more precisely because of its fresh take on man-to-man (beast-to-beast?) combat.  Over the years Games Workshop's in-house design style followed a pattern. Players rolled buckets of six-sided dice to determine if each of their unit’s dozens of attacks hit. Then you would scoop up those dice which represented connecting blows, compare your warrior's strength to the target's toughness, and roll a slightly smaller fistful to determine if the resulting hit actually wounded. But wait, now the defender picks up that ever shrinking selection of successes and makes their own armor saving throw. Modifiers for magic items and special abilities all confounded things of course. During especially large assaults the weak-willed lose focus. The weak in constitution end up with carpal tunnel.

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Warcry is the first in the Warhammer family to radically shift gears. This is a skirmish design where players field only a handful of models to pursue blood and carnage in a sharp 40 minute playtime. It utilizes alternating activations as opposed to the staid IGOUGO where one player moves all of their miniatures before their opponent is allowed to touch theirs. There's a dynamic flow to this title that's been on the cusp of GW designs for years. It doesn't hurt that this box is crammed with stuff. This starter set is one of the most complete in the company's line, offering two distinct and evenly matched Chaos warbands, an actual full set of terrain, and a stylish board to form the foundation of the play area. At first this product appears very similar to the recent success Kill Team.

They both come with a large amount of plastic sprues chock-full of bits and bobs. Each warrior must be assembled and there are several decisions that must be made concerning weapon options. While the ruleset is streamlined and simplified, these are still the exceptionally detailed miniatures this Nottingham company is known for.

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One of the biggest surprises here is the terrain. Full of glorious spikes, these phenomenal pieces offer enough options to fill a battlefield and a half. Terrain is placed by a drawn card which dictates the parameters of the battlefield. This is part of one of Warcry's greatest innovations - a randomized scenario structure. In addition to terrain players are dealt variable objectives and setup instructions. Within moments several variables collide to offer a unique situation.

Speed is the huge benefit here. It's a primary philosophy in this reimagined skirmish system. The downside to this innovation is the occasional lopsided setup. Every five plays or so you will run into a deployment and objective combination which favors one particular side, perhaps somewhat radically. This could occur because one player is allowed to hold back one of their heavy units, deploying them mid-way through the game. Meanwhile, the opponent is tasked with destroying that particular unit by turn four. Situations such as this can throw a wrench in the works, although experienced players can identify a possible issue early and simply re-draw or shift the parameters.

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Continuing that core tenet of a high tempo approach, the activation system is quick and ruthless. When you activate a figure you are allotted two actions. These options are quite limited and include moving, attacking, and passing. Combat is extremely quick as you make a single unified roll to assess whether damage is inflicted. Veterans of Warhammer Fantasy will find themselves flipping through the rulebook to make sure they're not missing something. There's a natural concern that such a core focus on ease of play leaves little room for flavor, an aspect that's of extreme significance to fans of this vibrant setting. Warcry picks and chooses its spots, offering tight editorial control on where it injects chaos.

The most significant mechanism is the initiative roll. Players roll off in typical Warhammer fashion to determine who activates first. The twist here is that rolls of doubles and triples are removes from the pool of six dice and set aside. The number of unique digits you've tossed is what determines your warband's speed for the round. But that's sort of secondary. Of greater significance is those sets of like numbers. Each can be spent as a resource to activate special powers unique to your warband. These include wild abilities such as lashing out with a harpoon and yanking a huge iron golem in your direction, or maybe running around and imitating a battering ram as you collide with random fools. This buys some color and atmosphere, heightening the narrative with little overhead.

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There's also a wonderful element of wandering monsters. These chaotic beasts stalk across the battlefield and can be manipulated by players. The concept borrows from Frostgrave, a popular skirmish ruleset from Osprey games, and it adds a dramatic touch of dynamism to the proceedings. Despite these excellent qualities, there's a burning question concerning Warcry's longevity. Kill Team came out no too long ago and is already supplanted by this release in terms of accomplishing its design goals. Similar to its predecessor it also will only support a subset of miniatures from the Warhammer: Age of Sigmar line. Several factions will be available on launch, requiring the purchase of unit cards to play with existing miniatures.

Of most peculiarity is how this game feels significantly influenced by the rest of the market. Frostgrave is continually peeking through, as well as minor touches of Malifaux. It seems as though Games Workshop has looked outward to find innovation within.

This is perhaps the strongest skirmish-style miniatures game ever released. It features rapid play, high intensity, and manages to capture the rich genre setting with only a few choice mechanisms. The last point is of great significance as this is a game that has you down in the ruins, offering violence and thrills as you leap from gangplank to wall and lash out at your foes with a burning whip. The exhilaration does not stop as this one's built for extended play. The campaign system is simple yet effective, allowing players to level up and grow their faction as they pursue a unique story goal. Narrative is front and center and the game never wavers from its vision.

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Those yearning for a return of the Games Workshop classic Mordheim will be disappointed. The campaign play here is more tightly wound and straightforward. It does not compare to current offerings from more sophisticated designs like Necromunda: Underhive. Some will view that as an asset as opposed to a limitation.

Ultimately this is a very crowded genre and a tough sell. Warcry takes its foot-long knife blessed by Khorne and manages to carve out a niche. It’s much simpler than headier entries such as Infiniti, more modern than Kill Team, and boasts a setting more rich than Frostgrave. It also manages to offer the most complete boxed set of any miniatures war game I’ve seen. This may be a turning point for Games Workshop as they've reached outside their box and grabbed a hold of something special.

Anyone attending GenCon 2019 should be able to get a last glimpse of Warcry before its general release on August 3rd, 2019. You can still pre-order via the main store

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