It’s official – Warhammer: The Old World is bringing classic Warhammer Fantasy Battle (WFB) back to the tabletop. In 2015, I grieved as Games Workshop tolled the final bell for WFB – a game I’d loved since 1998 – and replaced it with Age of Sigmar. But just as I’d reached acceptance and made peace with WFB’s demise, GW announced it was coming back, the cheeky nurglings.
Before we dive into important questions (like when the Warhammer: The Old World release date will be), you might like some of our other wargame-y guides. Here’s our guide to Age of Sigmar armies, as well as the best Warhammer fantasy games. On the sci-fi side, you can also try our guides on the Warhammer 40k factions and how to play Warhammer 40k. Or if you’re fully sworn off GW games, we’ve got a handy guide to the best miniature wargames to look for more inspiration.
If you’ve assumed that we’re getting WFB: Ninth Edition – well, that may be premature. Citing every official post from GW yet released about The Old World, we’ll cover the setting (temporal and physical) and all the races that have been mentioned so far, as well as the really important questions that still need answering.
Warhammer: The Old World release date
There’s still no certain Warhammer: The Old World release date. 2023 is the earliest possible date we’d expect to see, but with Warhammer 40k 10th edition launching this Summer and the year speeding by, it seems dubious. We may know more by the end of Warhammer Fest, from April 29 to May 1.
The game was announced on November 15, 2019, and in its first article, GW was at pains to make clear that “this is a long way off. Years. More than two. Like three or more. Definitely not soon”. Indeed, in a Warhammer Community update article on The Old World on July 21 2021, GW reiterated – with deliberate titillating coyness – that it would still be “quite some time yet” before the game arrived, and that further updates would arrive on the Warhammer Community site “at some point”.
Warhammer: The Old World starter set
According to announcements by Games Workshop at Warhammer Fest 2023, Warhammer: The Old World won’t have a starter set, but there will be products to get you started. So… what exactly should we expect?
Games Workshop uses ‘starter set’ in a very particular way – it refers to products intended for someone who has never played a wargame or serious strategy before, with all the dice and quick-start rules needed to jump in. Notice how GW doesn’t market the Warhammer 40k 10th edition launch box Leviathan as a Warhammer 40k starter set, even though it will contain the rules and enough models to start two armies.
So it’s likely there will be some kind of big, boxed, bundle product, with rules and miniatures, that will get you started in the game… it just won’t be targeted at beginner players.
Warhammer: The Old World map and setting
GW has revealed several versions of the Warhammer: The Old World map, starting with a map of – unsurprisingly – the Old World itself. No surprise that The Empire and Bretonnia featured on this first version of the map, but it is interesting that Kislev, Tilea, and Estalia were all sketched out in similar detail, regions that have had cursory coverage in previous editions of WFB, if any.
Since then, WarCom has gone into detail on the map of Bretonnia and highlighted the cartography of some regions that have never been visited before. The Border Princes – a volatile region sandwiched between The Badlands and Bretonnia – has been fleshed out with new houses and factions.
Grand Cathay has long been part of the Warhammer World and was a starter faction in Total War: Warhammer 3, and WarCom has revealed that it’s now a fully mapped part of the tabletop setting.
The map shows its cities and roads, its Great Bastion fortress wall, and its terrain — from the Warpstone Desert in the West to the Forests of the Moon in the East. The article assures us that the map is not only valid for Total War: Warhammer 3 but also for the period explored in Warhammer: The Old World.
The map of the Warhammer World was actually one of the first pieces of work that (now independent) artist Louise Sugden did after joining Games Workshop, as she revealed in her interview with Wargamer. She joined the Specialist Design Studio in 2016, so The Old World may have been in the works before Age of Sigmar even got its second edition.
Warhammer: The Old World timeline
GW nailed down the Warhammer The Old World timeline in a WarCom post on January 11 2023: the decades prior to the Chaos invasion led by Asavar Kul in 2301 IC. This cataclysmic invasion came at the end of centuries of civil strife within the Empire, with the Emperor’s throne long vacant, and the four provinces of Westerland, Osterland, Talabec, and Reikland vying for control.
That’s about a century later than we initially expected. GW had previously confirmed that Louen Orc-Slayer (not Louen Leoncouer) will be King of Bretonnia in Warhammer: The Old World. Bretonnia’s last army book states that he declared an Errantry War against the Orcs in 2201IC, a century before Kul’s invasion. Presumably, he was either very long-lived, thanks to drinking from the Bretonnian Grail, or very old and cantankerous by the time Kul rolled into town.
Warhammer: The Old World races confirmed
Grand Cathay: Confirmed
Heavily based on the culture, aesthetics, art, and warfare of Imperial China, Grand Cathay sits on the far eastern edge of the Old World, bordering the Ogre Kingdoms and Eastern Steppes beyond. Given fleeting mentions in WFB – but cropping up as early as the game’s second edition – the huge human empire remained something of a mystery that never even received an official army book.
That’s all changing in Warhammer: The Old World. Cathay features as one of the eight factions in Total War: Warhammer 3, and Games Workshop says it’s created tabletop rules for every Cathay unit that appears in the videogame.
The Warhammer Studio reportedly established “each and every unit for use on the tabletop, including stats and special abilities”, to work with Warhammer Fantasy Battle’s eighth edition rules. That means there’s a GW-authored WFB Cathay army ruleset floating around, just ready and waiting.
And with Total War: Warhammer 3’s release, we have a strong idea of what that must look like. The army’s Total War roster is stocked with serried ranks of halberdiers, crossbows, war machines, cavalry, hot air balloon battleships, hand cannoneers, and dragons. There are also the Alchemist and Astromancer spellcasters, as well as the terrifying Terracotta Sentinels and Great Longma riders. All in all, Cathay looks to be a tabletop army boasting plenty of toys to play with.
Cathay was one of the largest human factions of the Old World. Technologically advanced and culturally replete, Cathay follows the god-like Celestial Dragon Emperor and his wife, the Moon Empress, who match the power of the Chaos Gods.
Capable of transforming into human form, their children – Storm Dragon Miao Ying and Iron Dragon Zhao Ming – govern the empire and lead the faction in Total War: Warhammer 3 as Legendary Lords. An indication they’ll also be coming to The Old World? Perhaps.
Although Games Workshop hasn’t explicitly confirmed that Grand Cathay will appear in Warhammer: The Old World, given that a full tabletop ruleset has been created for the army, there’s a new map relevant to The Old World period, and released Cathay concept art features the Old World logo, it would be frankly weird if it didn’t.
Defined by its ceaseless struggle against the evil powers of Chaos that lie to its north, Kislev is an impoverished but battle-hardened land of rugged humans, some of whom ride bears into battle. Aesthetically it’s inspired by Slavic nations, particularly Russia, and it never got a fully-fledged army book in Warhammer’s previous editions – merely a threadbare supplement in 2003.
So it was a bit of a surprise when the very first post about Warhammer: The Old World after its announcement was all about this harsh, icy realm, and even more so when it was followed by another article on its new bear cavalry.
And, in the July 21 update, we got the further titbit that, at the time Warhammer: The Old World is set (confirmed to be “several hundred years” before the Old World’s apocalyptic End Times), Kislev’s borders extend far further than has been documented in previous Warhammer fantasy outings. How this will apply to the faction in the new game, and/or its altercations with the ravening hordes of chaos – surprise, surprise – we don’t know yet.
GW says that “one of the coolest aspects of returning to the world-that-was is the opportunity to revisit certain aspects of its classic lore and delve into them in greater detail than ever before,” and names Kislev as a “perfect candidate for further investigation,” so it seems clear that we can expect them to be a prominent faction in the new game.
We don’t fully know what this means yet. The days when a new army meant a relatively rapid rollout of dozens of models with a single book are probably gone, replaced by GW’s more modular releases. The first Kislev post teases updated models for two classic units (the Ungol Horse Archers and Winged Lancers) and announced a brand new unit in development: the Ice Guard. Plus the bears, of course.
The Empire: Confirmed
The Empire – WFB’s foremost human nation – is looking pretty modular in the Old World too. The game is set during a period of internecine strife when four Elector counts and their duchies vied for the throne. The opportunity for sub-factions – which could be as simple as a colour change, or could feature totally unique units – is certainly there.
Inspired by the Holy Roman Empire, the Empire is humanity’s mightiest nation – a sprawling Germanic-accented realm with a penchant for metal, gunpowder, and flamboyant moustaches. They had one of the largest and most flexible rosters of any Warhammer army, and as a salty Bretonnia player, I could only look on in bemused envy as GW invented every wonderful steampunk toy from mechanical horses to sun-powered lasers to hand them (reader’s note: the loss of authorial distance only gets worse from here).
If your soul beats to the thunder of a stampeding cavalry charge, or you prefer your wargaming with a high medieval, rather than early modern feel, Bretonnia is for you.
Putting a badass grimdark spin on Arthurian myth and the timeless aesthetic of French and British knighthood, they’ve been criticised as Warhammer’s least creative faction, to which I say: they’re also its most accessible and romantic. Everyone gets Bretonnia. (I would add that the entire setting began as a Tolkien rip-off, so let’s not pull too hard on the creativity thread.)
Bretonnia was the focus of the Old World’s fifth tease, and shows every sign of being an important fixture in the game. The fact that Louen Orc-Slayer is king hints not only at the date, but also Bretonnia’s current challenges: the nation’s Greenskin infestation was so bad under his reign that he declared an Errantry War to purge it, and it seems that The Old World will indeed see Bretonnia right in the thick of this conflict.
Elsewhere, the realm’s 14 dukedoms look familiar from eighth edition, though the names and arms of its current dukes (such as King Louen’s) are all new.
Another Warhammer Community preview on March 13 2023 showed helmets, shields, and sword arms for the knightly Bretonnians. The helmets resemble European mediaeval great helms ornamented with designs like deer antlers, a dragon head, or a phoenix. Weapons and shields alike are ornamented with fleur-de-lys designs. A reveal at Warhammer Fest 2023 showed off a new character model, a footslogging Paladin, which will be produced in resin.
Bretonnia got an overhaul in Total War: Warhammer, which added all-new troop types, such as Foot Squires, Grail Guardians, and Royal Hippogryph Knights. We know GW collaborates on these videogames and approves their content, so there’s every chance some of these troops may appear in the Old World.
However, an article from April 14 2023 reveals that some classic miniatures will be returning to production, with new studio paintjobs using the classic Knight, Peasant, and Trebuchet models. Whatever form Bretonnia’s new release takes, I and every other fan will be thrilled; we last got an army book in the Year of our Lady 2004. Two thousand and chuffing four.
Warhammer has taken Tolkien’s orcs and made them its own, giving them green skin and an injection of chaotic energy that’s almost endearing if you can look past their innate lust for violence and cruelty.
Comprising brutal orcs and cunning goblins, as well as the kitbashed and crude war machines built by the latter, Warhammer’s Greenskins are one of its world’s most iconic natural forces.
Their unsurprising but welcome return in the Old World was confirmed in GW’s Bretonnia post, which highlighted the Orcs of the Pale Sisters mountains near Couronne in particular.
And, in GW’s July 21 Old World update article, it went further, to answer the biggest question on everyone’s minds: Orcs in Warhammer: The Old World will, indeed, be called Orcs – not Orruks, as they are styled in Warhammer: Age of Sigmar.
High Elves: Confirmed
Warhammer’s High Elves are a haughty, long-lived race who live on a magical island built specifically for them by the gods who made the world, much to the annoyance of the Lizardmen, those gods’ jilted first creations.
Being the favourite spawn of an ontologically gifted entity is an apt allegory for the High Elves’ relationship with GW’s game designers, who lavish similar favours on them as those they gift the Empire: the High Elves have another massive and flexible army list, featuring toys that are essential to any fantasy game (dragons), ones which are cool but hey maybe give someone else a turn (phoenixes), and ones which are simply needless indulgence (the absurd Lothern Skycutter).
That’s in addition to some of the best wizards, magic items, cavalry, and elite infantry in the game, as well as an army-wide special rule that says they always get to strike first in close combat, because did you see the opening battle in The Lord of the Rings?
Lore fans will know that, during the High Elves’ expansionist heyday, they set up colonies all over the world, and that many Bretonnian cities were built upon their abandoned ruins. Accordingly, the Bretonnia post explicitly mentions four “High Elf enclaves” set along the fair kingdom’s coast, so their presence in the Old World – in some form – seems confirmed.
Wood Elves: Confirmed
“All that and we didn’t even mention the Wood Elves!” This is all GW has to say explicitly about the elves’ environmentalist branch (heh), but hey, it’s a mention, and, as all Asrai fans know, if Bretonnia is on the map, then so is the Wood Elves’ forest of Athel Loren.
Borrowing heavily from Tolkien, Warhammer’s Wood Elves are sneaky and agile. They get some of the game’s best archers, as well as badass living trees in a range of sizes.
Tomb Kings: Confirmed
It’s hard to kill something that’s already dead, so it’s no surprise that the Tomb Kings have risen from their graves to return to the Old World. These skeletal pharaohs are the undead rulers of Nehekhara and its ruling city, Khemri.
We had a hunch for a good while that the Tomb Kings would be announced, and this was confirmed in a Warhammer Community post on October 14 2022. Then on February 6 2023, GW posted a development diary all about the bony boys from the South.
Settra the Imperishable, the Kingliest King of all the Tomb Kings, ruled an Empire as far north as Bretonnia when he was alive – now that he’s dead and back again, he intends to reclaim his rightful dominion.
Apparently, the rules are locked in for the Tomb Kings – writer Dan says that familiar features, like ranks of undead soldiers and speeding chariots, will return, adding “You will be able to wield the powers of a Liche Priest once more, commanding skeletal hordes to Arise! from their tombs and march upon the lands of the living”. That’s WarCom’s bold, not ours, suggesting ‘Arise!’ is a rules keyword.
Initially at least, The Old World won’t delve into the lands of the dead themselves: design manager Rob says “Our main focus is going to be on the role that Settra and the Tomb Kings of Khemri played in the Old World.” He doesn’t rule it out altogether, adding “there’s nothing to stop us returning to Nehekhara in the future”.
Components from several Tomb King sculpts were previewed in another article on March 13 2023. The reveal showed weapons including a flail, trident spear, long-bladed halberd, curved khopesh, a heavily decorated shield, and a Liche Priest’s staff. The description of the staff gives the only hint of game rules in the article, stating that Liche Priests use their staves “to channel their macabre magic more effectively – reducing the risk of the fickle Winds of Magic acting against the caster’s wishes”.
A new, resin model for a Tomb King on foot was revealed at Warhammer Fest 2023.
Beastmen: all but confirmed
There’s scant information about the Beastmen, but they’re a perennial threat to the Empire, lurking in its many forbidding forests, and it’s hard to see how The Old World can be centred around the Empire and still ignore them. A Warhammer Community post on January 11 2023 says “Beastmen Brayherds surge from the deep forests” when describing the threats facing the Empire, but doesn’t give any details on exactly what their presence in the game will be like.
Warhammer: The Old World unannounced races
Both WFB and Total War will have taught you that Warhammer Fantasy has many other races besides those confirmed above. GW surely isn’t finished drip-feeding us news about the Old World, and I’d expect several of these races to be announced before launch.
For one, the perfidious ratmen known as the Skaven remain popular (to my personal surprise), and by their nature can exist anywhere, burrowing under civilisations the world over.
The territory of the Vampire Counts is fully within the borders of the Old World, and, given the importance of the undead to the setting, and the vampires’ Machiavellian involvement in so much of the Empire’s history, I don’t think the game would feel complete without them.
One could say the same (minus Machiavelli) about the Dwarfs. I’d also expect the servants of Chaos to appear in some form – they are by nature ubiquitous, and the definitive foes not only of Kislev and the Empire, but of Warhammer itself.
What of the races beyond the Old World? Again, there’s been no mention so far of Naggaroth or the Dark Elves, or of Lustria or the Lizardmen. I’m sure they’ll happen eventually – even if I’m right and the new game does focus initially on its titular continent, supplemental releases from the wider world-that-was certainly seem like the logical next step.
That’s especially true given that GW has just done a ton of conceptual work on Cathay in collaboration with Creative Assembly, providing perfect material for what could be the first all-new core Warhammer race since the Ogre Kingdoms in 2005 (see also: our musings on Total War: Warhammer 3’s implications for the Old World).
Warhammer: The Old World art
Games Workshop is still busily designing the miniatures and rulebooks, but it’s given us a sneak peek of the world’s new look. Above you’ll find four fresh piece of Warhammer: The Old World art, shared on October 14, 2022.
You’ll find the following characters in the images: a Bretonnian peasant archer, some Tomb Kings of Khemri (complete with chariot and skeletal steeds), a Knight of the Kingdom of Bretonnia, and an Orc Boar Boy racing into battle atop a hefty hog.
Warhammer: The Old World rules
GW remains pretty tight lipped about the Warhammer: The Old World rules, but it has given us some high-level information. The first teaser for the game hinted it would use square bases, and in a July 2021 article, GW affirmed that “Regiments move in ranked-up units, and strategic manoeuvring into position to launch or receive a critical charge will be as much a key part of the game as it ever was”.
If you’re wondering why square bases and ranked-up units matter, I’m guessing you didn’t play WFB. Models in that game had square (or rectangular) bases, which meant they could tesselate to form neat ranks and files, or fit on rectangular movement trays.
Such trays were essential, as it was common to see regiments of 30, 40, 50, or more models in WFB, replete with deliciously complicated rules about facings, reforming, wheeling, and so on. Age of Sigmar eschewed all that – its games are ‘skirmishes’ rather than battles, played out between loosely corralled models on 40k-style circular bases who only have to be an inch apart to count as a squad.
However, if you were planning to blow the dust off your old WFB army and plonk it straight into Warhammer: The Old World, you might have to take one or two more steps. A development diary from April 14 2023 explains that, in order to better accommodate the larger minis that characterised WFB towards the end of its lifespan, models will be promoted onto a larger base size. All 20mm bases will be replaced with 25mm bases, and most 25mm and 25x50mm (cavalry) bases will be replaced with a new base size.
This might mean rebasing your old minis onto the new size bases for tournaments – but there are already plenty of companies making laser-cut movement trays that will space your models out slightly, and GW even suggests using movement trays in the article. And according to that article, the new base sizes for your troops will be part of their profile.
Warhammer: The Old World miniature scale
GW confirmed in its July 2021 article that the Warhammer: The Old World miniatures scale will be the same 28mm scale as the original Warhammer Fantasy Battle did – putting paid to scurrilous rumours it might go either bigger or smaller.
“We want people to be able to use their old armies if they wish, or to start new ones, or to add new miniatures to old armies – whatever they want”, the article explains.
Speculation had for some time been rife that The Old World would strike out alone with a totally different model scale. Spikey Bits cited “an industry insider” who says they may go smaller (15mm or 8mm), to create battles with a more ‘epic’ feel.
There were some interesting arguments for this, to do with the precedent set by Warmaster (a short-lived ‘epic’ scale version of WFB), appealing to the Total War crowd, and GW’s recurring problems with models produced by rival manufacturers (as long as GW can’t copyright ‘a knight’ or ‘a size’, there’s presumably nothing stopping those rivals simply producing models at the Old World’s new scale, but it would at least press hard reset on their existing products).
Given the splendour of GW’s current models and the level of detail shown in the concept art for the new ones, however, I’d have been a little surprised if they’d gone this direction, as well as disappointed – if I couldn’t use my existing collection, I probably wouldn’t have bothered. As it is, we can now look forward to games of The Old World playing out at the same scale as the Age of Sigmar and 40k battles fans are used to.