18 November 2019
Breaking the mould whilst breaking bones
Nameless creatures prowl the twisted landscape in search of prey. Blasphemous chants to dark gods rise from harsh throats to the skies. Blades ring in the ruins of once-great cities. This is Warcry; set in the wastes of Warhammer’s Mortal Worlds, the game pits eight new Chaos warbands – as well as several existing Age of Sigmar factions – against one another in a brutal skirmish level wargame.
The game is very much the fantasy answer to Warhammer 40,000’s Kill Team; a low model-count game that requires less upfront investment than its mass battle equivalent and generally takes less time to play.
In fact, even more so than Kill Team, it’s a continuation of the pivot Games Workshop made several years ago towards fluid gameplay that eschews the heavy bookkeeping and stat-checking of old. On a moment-tomoment level, play alternates between opponents as they activate a single model. A model unit can perform two actions each time it’s activated: move, attack, disengage from combat or wait.
Nowhere is Games Workshop’s new approach to game design clearer than combat. One of the veteran publisher's oldest principles has been the tiresome roll-to-hit, roll-to-wound, roll-armour-save system. This has been removed for a much simpler – and much more fun – method of using a single roll, yet gameplay doesn’t feel simplistic as a result. This is down in large part to the innovative initiative system. At the beginning of a round both players roll six dice to see who goes first. The player whose roll contains the fewest repeated numbers goes first, whilst doubles, triples and quads become points to spend on special abilities, adding a new layer of tactical depth and resource management to the proceedings.
Warcry shows smart design choices not only in the rules themselves, but also in how those rules are conveyed. As well as a quickstart sheet to let players get stuck in, the mechanics themselves are made intuitive through the use of visual cues or ‘runemarks’ found on the various cards the game uses. You can easily tell which character can use which abilities by matching the symbol on their fighter card to those on the abilities sheet. Mentioning this sounds trivial, but it’s remarkable how much these simple features speed up play.
The only real complaint is the terrain deployment system. Warcry features a card-based mechanic to determine the layout of the scenery in the box for a given battle. This is odd, since, as well as a self-contained system, Warcry is also a ruleset intended to be used as a wider skirmish game. Because of the specific nature of the cards and scenery, however, this mechanic is effectively tied to the box itself and comes across as a somewhat cynical attempt to get players to invest in the full set rather than just buying the core book. Whilst using other scenery as a proxy or just eschewing the mechanic altogether wouldn’t be game-breaking, it still feels more like a tacked-on gimmick rather than a core element.
The miniatures and terrain are of the usual high standard that Games Workshop is known for, with the attendant high number of details on each model that’s either a boon or a curse depending on your feelings about painting them. Aesthetically speaking, the creativity seems to have been unevenly distributed between the two factions included in the box. Whilst the Iron Golems have a distinctive look with sinister, portcullis-like helmets and an emphasis on curved armour, the Untamed Beasts come across more as generic barbarians bedecked in loincloths and animal bones.
Proving that streamlining does not equal dumbing down, Warcry may very well prove as popular as Kill Team as a go-to skirmish game for wargamers. The Gods of Chaos would surely be pleased.
PLAY IT? YES
Designer: Games Workshop team
Artist: Paul Dainton
Time: 1-3 hours
Purchase the game here
This review originally appeared in the September 2019 issue of Tabletop Gaming. Pick up the latest issue of the UK's fastest-growing gaming magazine in print or digital here or subscribe to make sure you never miss another issue.
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