Starting Armies: How do the Factions of Warmachine play?

Startin Armies

Who can we use? What are they like? First of all have a look at my overview of the game as a whole.

This week I’m going to discuss how the armies of Warmachine play. That is what models they often play and what that feels like on the table so that you can make an informed choice as you start the game. Next week we will discuss the Factions of Hordes.

The Factions of Warmachine are varied and very well-balanced against each other, though some Factions have an easier time when playing their “typical” models against other Factions, again fielding typical models. The individual warcasters/warlocks also provide a huge variety of playstyles and armies that can be explored. However, ultimately, each Faction has a flavour and a certain approach, as well as distinctive feels and similarities throughout their suite of options.

As this is a new player’s guide, I will also talk about models that are difficult to use, less effective, or just generally misunderstood in the divide between fluff as written and the game as it is played. I will be talking about how the Factions play and feel in 50 point games in Steamroller scenarios, which is the fully realised form of the game, as well as the best balanced and most widely played. To begin with you will play battlebox games, and 35 points or lower before graduating this far, however this is the end goal. The end goal should always be in your mind. Start playing scenarios early, and always use them. Use clocks as often as you can! Follow the rules and agree with your friends to play correctly and not be bitter about mistakes, etc. No takebacks make you and everyone you play better at the game. These aren’t ironclad rules, but rather standards to strive towards as you begin to play. I can’t stress enough though that you should start playing the very simple scenarios early and often, even if it’s only Close Quarters every game. Scenarios with two scoring zones one on either side of the table are very punishing at low points levels, I would recommend avoiding those scenarios.

For some terminology:
Warcaster– The lynchpin of the army, a powerful spell caster who generates and spends focus (magical energy) to cast spells. He can also place this focus on warjacks to improve their power but he has a limited supply and a warjack can only hold so much.
Warjack (Heavy/Light) – A warjack is a large magic and steam powered construct, controlled by a warcaster and which uses focus to achieve its greatest results.
Troopers/Warriors/Units  – Groups of similarly trained soldiers, which are man-sized and fill many roles.
Assassination – Killing your opponent’s warcaster, usually early in the game by circumventing other models and defensive measures. This results in an immediate victory.

So let’s begin with…

How do CYGNAR play?
(Play like a hero! Change the tide of battle by bullet and spell!)

Cygnar are the “good guys”. The nation itself is not impeachable or always morally correct, but its characters are clearly protagonists. Even when taking a darker turn, they always have a core of moral fiber, etc. If Han Solo is the most evil member of your crew, you are the good guys. This spills over into the Factions mechanics which are focused around very powerful warcasters which affect the battle in grand ways. Cygnaran warcasters are either tremendously potent support/control casters, or excellent gun toting warriors who contribute personally to the battle. They are thus typified by armies which are highly customised to each individual warcaster.


Cygnaran warjacks are potent, but typically frail. And given the heroic nature of the casters that power them (read: greedy with resources), rarely numerous. However, there is a class of especially large warjack known as a collosal, and Cygnar’s collosal is both resource efficient and resilient, making it an excellent centrepiece to many armies.

Cygnaran infantry is highly specialised and like their warcasters often focused on ranged weaponry and the removal of enemy infantry. They are also typically still quite frail and expensive. Anything with the gunmage (so cool) moniker is typically excellent, but other options are difficult to use well, or very complex, and sometimes poor at the job. For this reason, Cygnar is the Faction most likely to hire out of Faction Mercenary troopers as cheap, resilient models to slow down the opponents armies while they shoot everything to death.

Finally Cygnar has many lightning, or electricity themed abilities that ignore rolling to hit, and bounce off of several models. This combined with superior firepower makes them a Faction which is excellent at dealing with enemy infantry models and often at shooting the enemy’s warcaster/lock early in the game. They rely on delaying tactics and softening up heavies with high quality firepower however, and can struggle against many harder to kill models.
Cygnar can be an expensive Faction with the reliance on Mercenary models, customisation of armies to individual warcasters, and the purchase of the collosal warjack.

This guy knows what I’m talking about!

Common Misconceptions:- If what you love about Cygnar is the in Faction infantry, particularly the lightning themed knights and the world war trench warfare soldiers you are in for a hard time. These are exactly the specialised, expensive infantry discussed earlier which are often replaced by Mercenaries. That isn’t to say that they don’t have a place, but they are never plug and play and or not always at their best with other electricity themed casters. If you dislike the idea of hiring mercenaries, Cygnar is also perhaps not the Faction for you.

How do CRYX play? 
(The ultimate villains! All you need is for one zombie to make it!)

If Cygnar are the good guys, Cryx is unashamedly the Faction of bad guys. In a world of moral greys they paint with the deepest blacks. Cryx is the ‘undead’ faction, a faction defined by rushing forwards with swarms and swarms of relatively frail infantry models, with the few who get there utterly devastating their foes with the aid of powerful necromancers who doom models to sudden rapid death. Cryx is famous for the villains who lead them, often considered the most powerful warcasters, and indeed warnouns in the whole game. They fill many villainous archetypes, from monstrous pirates who built themselves into invincible steel giants, to evil witches who curse you to uselessness as their minions destroy everything you love, and even ancient ever-living masterminds who will their opponents of the table with sheer necrotic power. If you want to largely ignore your models’ safety and have a necromancer still turn the tide in your favour with dark magicks, Cryx is the Faction for you.

I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds!

CAVEAT EMPTOR:- Cryxians are the bad guys. They excel at winning with a scattering of models after your opponent desperately tried to kill a wall of horrors. For this reason, they get a bad rap. As do their players. You will get considered a power gamer, and a monster for using Cryx as they tend to be most potent at lower points. Which is to say against more warjacks and warbeasts, and where there are fewer points compared to the warcaster’s power. They are perfectly balanced, though always skewey as the game enlarges, but the mud still sticks.

Cryxian warjacks, like the infantry, tend towards frailty, and rushing forwards. However, on large singular models who make less use of the multiplicative powers of the necromancers, these models are often considered unneccesary or unreliable. They have a few powerful warjacks, but you are unlikely to field more than one large jack, and often will forgo them entirely. The smaller, light jacks however tend to extend spellcasting, be cheap and fast, or provide strange and dangerous assassination options and get taken more than any other Warmachine Factions’ lights.

The units are the zombie hordes. You will play more units, and in greater volume than anyone else. From dreaded skeletal warriors who decimate resilient targets, to speedy horned witch women, to sacks of flesh which explode acidic death over tides of enemies Cryxian troops are the swarm you run at the enemy, and the handful of models that your warcaster multiplies the power of in order to annihilate anything that resists them. You can run into problems with having no resilient models if your enemy focuses on delaying you and killing your models quickly and from a distance. Sometimes a machine gun whittles down your zombie horde too much, too fast.

Cryx also possess lots of nasty and trick laden solos to shepherd the zombies into position, or enhance the already terrifying power of the warcasters. If you want to run forward then blitz your opponent with weight of numbers and sudden bursts of power Cryx is the faction for you.

Three boxes of these guys please!

Common Misconceptions:- Many people play the game for jacks, and that is largely a lost cause in Cryx. Once you reconcile yourself to the swarm you will be happier. Another misconception is that Cryx is indeed the most powerful Faction. This is not generally true. They are arguably more powerful to start with, having relatively forgiveable strategies and being more effective at lower points and against the robots and monsters favoured by new players. There is in truth no ‘power faction’ that will get you easy wins. You have to master the game, and can do so with any Faction.

Once you have decided on pursuing a career as an Iron lich, the following article may be of use to you. It contains new player advice, assumes you’ve bought a battlebox, and has a buyers guide for useful Faction models.

How do KHADOR play?
(The Ultimate Commander! Marshall your army to unstoppable success!)

Leave heroes and villains to Cygnar and Cryx, Khador is the military Faction. Their warcasters focus on getting warriors to combat unscathed and making them more effective when they get there, or personally turning the tide so that their valiant troops press the advantage for the Motherland. They excel at defeating their opponents over several turns, killing more enemies and losing fewer allies. Khador is also a Faction that has recently had an identity crisis, taking them from purely skewing a particular defensive strategy and making them hard to pin down with a specific theme.

For the Motherland! For M. Bison!

In the past Khadoran warcasters excelled at making warrior models hard to hit, and hit very hard. This combined with a few very powerful units of warriors made them grind out their opponent to inevitable victory. However, more and more Factions adjusted to the strategy and developed tools to defeat it. This has prompted two new movements in the Faction. More resilient models that don’t die easily to the counters developed against Khador, and warcasters that amplify offensive output, or in some cases provide it themselves. What sets them apart from Cygnar in this regard is their even balance between ranged and melee combat, and excellence in the melee field once they get involved. They are also a straight-forward Faction, swapping tricks for improving numerical abilities and synergies between how units work in tandem rather than rules trickery. They are also the most effective Faction at combining ranged and melee combat in equal and effective measures (combined arms), furthering their theme of a true military army.

Khadoran warjacks are one of the greatest tragedies of the game. They look powerful, impressive and terrifying but they have some flaws. They tend to be inaccurate, and slow. While they have a high baseline of resilience, it never improves. This leaves them outstripped by the buffs of other Factions. Many of them also carry less powerful weapons and in general they demand speed, accuracy and power from a warcaster who wants to spend all his resources making his troopers excellent in one field or another. You will often see one character heavy, or a collosal as the last wave of a Khadoran army, but that is sadly it.

This is made up for with excellent troops. While Cryx hurls expendable models, Khador wants to deliver powerful elite warriors into combat, and support them once they get there. You won’t suddenly swing the game like Cryx, but you will have much more of an army to do work on your opponent with. Many of their gun wielding troops are also excellent, from snipers to rifle or blunderbuss toting conscripts pushed into patriotic fervor by the single most powerful troop sergeant in the game. All of this gets you into melee, and kills your opponent’s models as they impede your inexorable march.

Khador has access to many Mercenary troopers as well, though they have to be carefully considered as many of the powerful buffs the warcasters provide directly improve only Faction troops. Khador can be expensive as an infantry Faction, but they have many modules which work with several casters, and many of the infantry units are always stellar.

Your dreams of 16 Juggernaughts are about to have a BAD day…

Common Misconceptions:- Anything big and burly in Khador looks amazing. Enormous beefy warjacks, and mighty steel-clad, steam-powered soldiers. They typify the Khadoran image, and they are unfortunately situational and hard to use. As well as often slow and hard to bring to bear. Don’t get me wrong Man O’ War have their place, but you have to work hard at them, and they aren’t really what the faction is about. It is nearly impossible to run many Khadoran warjacks, despite nearly unaminous desire to do so.

(With each prayer you go stronger! Grinding your opponent into nothing!)

The servants of Menoth, are led by priests who sing their enchancing prayers and stay safe at the rear of the army. They are not usually individually powerful, and they like to allocate their focus and let warjacks use it rather than spend it themselves. Why? Because the Protectorate are a Faction of building synergies, while denying the enemy. Most famously, the Faction of prayers that can turn a whole chassis of mediocre warjacks into untouchable, unstoppable death machines. If you want to wear away at your opponent, using effective and potent warjacks, and hold your holy symbol before you denying your opponent’s power then the Protectorate of Menoth is the Faction for you.

In a world where choirboys are feared across the land…

Protectorate typify the strategy of slow grinding victory. They refuse their opponents abilities, and block assaults while blessed infantry stem the tide and warjacks annihilate the opposition bit by bit. Their warjack support is the best in the game, with only Convergence for competition. They can stop incoming fire, often present entire armies of magically immune models, and increase their output to frightening levels. This paired with jacks who while not able to navigate terrain well, have both powerful ranged and melee options is where they excel. Shooting opponents away until the lines are finally met, where blessed warjacks smash opponents with equal efficacy.

The infantry units of the Protectorate focus on killing and delaying the enemy infantry, and impeding the progress of enemy heavies which may threaten the sacred warjacks. They like the warjacks tend to be much more than they seem on paper after layers of prayers and improvements, they also tend to be cheap allowing he Menoth player to purchase the support he wants for his warjacks.

The support units and solos of the Faction focus on unique abilities and tricks which deny the enemy and make the warjacks both more effective, and harder to deal with. The Faction’s weakness is people circumventing their denial tactics and assaulting the fragile support and warcaster in the back lines.

For when you just need tons of consecrated mayhem!

Common misconceptions:- Protectorate can play in lots of different styles, as long as one carefully layers one’s synergies. However they excel at armies of ranged warjacks and cheap disposable infantry. Their knight models are usually wonderful looking and appealing to newer players, but with one exception hard to use and often expensive and easy to get killed or not involved. Protectorate are also a Faction emphasising the slow victory as opposed to all out assault, running counter to most people’s assumptions about the game.

How do MERCENARIES play?
(You can do anything, for the right price.)

Frankly a difficult Faction to discuss in broad strokes. They are a Faction with powerful warcasters, usually poor quality warjacks, but excellent giant ‘jacks (collosals), and lots of infantry. They tend to use totally different models in many armies, and can struggle to spread valuable characters between several lists. They are not a Faction for the faint of heart or light of wallet, but possess incredible and largely unexplored depth and variety. If playing an oddball Faction like that appeals, I can think of none better.

(Cut the head of the snake! Show no mercy to the enemy!)

Retribution have many similarities to Khador, being a Faction of elite troopers, with warcasters that largely fill a support role and don’t like to use more than one jack. However, they excel at ranged warfare, and focus on killing swathes of foes off the board or ignoring large chunks of spells, models and terrain to directly kill a warcaster. The Retribution seeks to kill other spellcasters, and they excel at doing it.

Line of Sight is for chumps!

Retribution warcasters tend to be a toolbox of indirect support, or abilities that improve ranged combat, with feats that directly improve a method of attack. Many of them excel at combining their feats with a unit which ignores many defensive abilities to kill warcasters. However the faction has much more depth than that. Their troops are expensive, and not usually hard to kill, but have incredible offensive output and typically win most ranged battles with superior fire power from great distances.

Their warjacks combine the frailty of Cygnaran warjacks, with the inefficiency of Khadoran warjacks, but they have amazing guns that can provide incredible angles and options to the army. They also have cheap effective support which makes them much more functional. That said you will rarely take more than one.

Retribution infantry come in two broad categories, fast, hard to shoot infantry which ignores defensive abilities and excels at murdering casters and magically protected units, and elite soldiers who have incredible numerical statlines and damage output. They will often use a mixture of these elements, favouring ranged combat to destroy enemy troops, and blow holes in heavier targets.

Retribution have some of the most potent and dangerous combat solos in the game, and can add a lot of depth to their armies by using these models. It is important to note that the Retribution was a late release, and so has fewer models and options than other Factions, however they are no less effective a force for this.

Some variety this way comes.

Common Misconceptions:- Retribution only does ranged assassinations of warcasters, and struggles at anything else. While they have some very potent options to do so, it is not true that retribution armies aren’t also able to wage a serious war on their opponents. Don’t rely only on these wins as a new player, as they become less potent as your opponents practice against you, which can leave your own growth stunted.

(An infinite clockwork machine, master it and you master the battlefield)

The servants of the clockwork god play a game of precision and timing. If any faction mirrors its fluff, and lets you play as many warjacks as you want it’s the Convergence of Cyriss. The casters each lend a unique ability to their warjacks, and tend to be resilient and offer a small handful of useful support options, and can use their own personal focus a lot. Your warcaster is the center around which your cogs and wheels tick, and Convergence’s power is in executing the operations of the army that rotates around them perfectly.

Tick, tock. The doomsday clock.

This of course comes down to the warjacks, who are the unquestionable focus (no pun intended) of the Faction. Convergence warjacks share resources, passing them from one to another, if your positioning is correct. They also have a warjack which stores and passes out resources (focus). If you time your turn and order everything correctly it is possible for that ‘jack to start a wave of spending that ends with him getting almost refilled. The warjacks themselves are slow, have a variety of attacks, but aren’t hugely impressive on paper. With nearly free focus however you can boost (add a dice) to every rolls, and make them more accurate on demand.

The troopers of the convergence exist to keep your warjacks insulates for the most part, with some beautiful fast skirmishers, and a bulwark of incredibly resilient infantry with shields. This resilience is enhanced by a foundry which can return one to three models a turn to the field, creating a near invincible front line. Other smaller models focus solely on improving warjacks, from drones that mark targets to increase accuracy, to squads of mechanics who can enhance warjack abilities.

The Convergence are a small Faction, being focused in one book with no regular schedule of new releases. They are commonly known as a mini-Faction. They are also a very complicated Faction to play correctly, due to the reliance on order and positioning to make use of the focus trickling mechanics. They are not new player friendly, despite appealing to a newer players likely having a love of big smashy robots!

As a new Faction, that so excellently achieves its vision, they have almost no misconceptions about how they work.

And next week we talk monsters and savages. A theme of Warmachine is usually more soldiers and less robot heavies, this is reversed int he sister game. Things are going to get brutal.

Stay Classy,

5 thoughts on “Starting Armies: How do the Factions of Warmachine play?

  1. Reblogged this on Miniature armies, huge time sink. and commented:
    Great information for new players here on the Warmachine factions.

    Too often I see factions get ‘pigeon-holed’ into one specific playstyle (IE Khador is the ‘slow’ faction, when across the board it actually has a higher average speed per model), when the factions (and the game at large) are so much deeper than that.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s