Fantasy Rule Hunting Part 1: Warlords

I’ve got a large collection of fantasy miniatures mostly consisting of several different armies I have previously built for Age of Sigmar. They tend not to see the table all that often, and so I’ve been on the hunt for a good generic fantasy ruleset that lets you build your units however you want and then play decently fun solo games with them. Single figure basing is a must, and I prefer figures to be free to move rather than stuck in blocks. The first ruleset I’ve tried in this regard is ‘Warlords’ from Warrior Miniatures. It’s available on this page in a starter set for £12 that includes the rules and 10 miniatures which is really a bargain. They also sell 50 piece fantasy armies for £45 in 28mm scale and the figures are really nice, the kind of chunky and simple designs that are a dream to paint and really easy to make look good. But how do the rules stack up?

The Orc Savages flee the Warriors of Chaos

They’re okay I guess, but definitely on the ‘beer and pretzels’ side of things. A big plus for the rules is that they do allow you to build and customise your units, a little drawback to that customisation however is that each race has a number of culture points that can then be spent on upgrades. Since Orcs are only culture 2 I wasn’t able to buy the upgrades I wanted to really make each of my units feel different. My savages were hard hitting and died quickly which felt good, but my more elite black Orcs had to choose between hitting as hard as the savages or having armour (and not great armour at that). So your definitely tied to the rules writers view of fantasy which seems very Tolkien, but isn’t great for a generic set of rules.

The Ogre Champion clashes with an abomination of chaos.

The actual gameplay feels solid. It’s your standard roll to hit, roll to wound, armour saves affair but the activation feels a little odd. Players roll off at the beginning of the turn and then units activate in command rating order with the player that won the roll off activating their units first where both sides have units with the same command rating. Simple enough but there is no delayed activation mechanic. So in a situation where going first would be a bad thing because then your enemy will charge you, more elite units are forced into a position where they either receive a charge or do nothing. Another strange thing is that despite units activating in command rating order combat is also considered to be simultaneous. So units activating last still get to fight at full strength with casualties only taking effect at the end of their turn I think? Because units still have to pass Elan tests to act when they are activated. To do that you roll a die, add the units Elan stat plus or minus a few modifiers. So are the casualties done previously by an enemy unit considered for the Elan test or do they come into effect afterwards? Because if the unit fails it will flee according to the Elan rules, so combat is and is not simultaneous? It seems the simultaneous rule was added after the writer realised how deadly combat was.

Towards the end of the battle, units bloodied and tired.

Movement also caused me a bit of a headache. The movement rules are very simple. Move the unit’s leader and then plonk everyone else nearby. Charges and range for bows are measured between unit leaders. So effectively the other figures in a unit are fancy wound counters, and the real footprint of a unit is just its leader. I’ve seen this mechanic work before in the original Warpath rules from Mantic and in Use Me Sci Fi by Alternative Armies, but those are both Sci Fi rulesets. It is not a mechanic that works in a fantasy setting, because effectively a unit could move through an enemy provided they didn’t touch the leader’s base. Or if I’m reading that wrong and they couldn’t you could instead block enemy unit leaders from making contact with your own. Effectively making a unit invincible to melee attacks. See what I mean about ‘beer and pretzels’?

The swirling melee that ended it all with Chaos victorious!

The final complaint I have is that there are no rules for magic, and I think this what leans me towards it really being a Tolkien set. In Middle Earth magic is rare and tied to certain figures like Gandalf, rather than being accessible to every Tom, Dick and Frodo, so in reality there’s no real need to model it in game because of its rarity. A few spells and the option to take a wizard would have been nice though. I struggle to see what’s particularly fantastical about this ruleset when it lacks magic or rules for dragons and other monsters. If you just replace Orcs with Vikings and Elves with Normans you’ve probably got a decent enough Dark Age skirmish set here.

So much of these rules felt like ideas that could have been better explained or refined through play testing. They aren’t broken or bad rules, they’re just unfinished.

The hunt goes on.

3 thoughts on “Fantasy Rule Hunting Part 1: Warlords

  1. Good review. Look forward to hearing more, but I’ll take a bet with you that no rules set you can buy is going to be good enough compared to those rules you could write yourself… But trying them all out is a great way to get new inspiration!

  2. Thanks, I often find rules writing to be the best part of the hobby. I think it’s a shame I don’t find more folks engaging in it. Maybe I could just keep note of the mechanics I like and then shove them all together at the end.

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