With the recent news from Games Workshop, there's been a lot of talk from players of leaving those games and looking into alternatives. Judging by the past few days and the threads started here in the Warmachine and Hordes General Discussion, many of you are looking at Privateer Press' line of games. If so, this thread is for you. I'm going to try to write up a beginner's guide to the games, and will do my best to include relevant points and necessary information.
Last year, Privateer Press underwent a change of editions - from the older, original Mk1 to the newer, more streamlined Mk2. They clarified many of the rules, simplified some things, and reduced the number of abilities a bit. In a single year, Privateer Press released two new core rulebooks, Prime Mk2 and Primal Mk2, along with faction books for each of the existing Warmachine and Hordes factions.
Warmachine is about the civilized nations' struggled in the Iron Kingdoms - the setting of both games. Here you'll find armies organized along typical military lines, with infantry wielding guns, swords, axes, etc, along with giant, steam- and magic-powered robots called warjacks that are controlled by combat wizards called warcasters. Warmachine currently has 5 factions to choose from, as well as a smaller, "unofficial" faction, the mercenaries.
This nation is in the northwest of the Iron Kingdoms, and the Khadoran Empire is all about expansion and power. Ruled by an empress, Khador recently invaded and took over the smaller nation of Llael, and has successfully faced off against Cygnar. Khador is a cold northern land, and its people are practical. They build their warjacks to last, and a Khadoran warjack has the heaviest armor and will keep going until it's scrapped. Think Russia, to some extent.
This is the "poster" nation of the Iron Kingdoms. They're the most technologically advanced and most civilized, and have been experimenting with lightning technology for their weapons. Think of Cygnar much like a combination of America and Britain. They have a very combined arms approach, and while they do have a lot of guns in their army, they can also do other things well.
Protectorate of Menoth
The Protectorate used to be controlled by Cygnar, until they decided to rebel and form their own nation. It's a dry, arid, desert-like land, and their wealth comes from diamonds and oil. The Protectorate is a very religious nation, and everything they do is in the name of Menoth, one of the gods of the Iron Kingdoms. They have a variety of cheap troops backed by elite infantry, and their warcasters are very much about buffing their units and warjacks. Lots of fire and synergy.
This is the Nightmare Empire, ruled by the Dragonfather, Lord Toruk. Dragons in the Iron Kingdoms are more like demi-gods, and Toruk is the one that created them all. Cryx is all about the undead, and they have a lot of tricks that they can use to achieve their goals. Their warjacks, called helljacks, are generally more fragile than other warjacks, but they can hit hard and quickly. Lots of their infantry is cheap undead(Mechanithralls, Bile Thralls), but they also have elite infantry in the form of Bane Thralls and Bane Knights. Their warcasters collect lots of souls, often have debuff spells, and many of them can also hit hard in melee combat.
Retribution of Scryah
This is the newest faction. The Retribution is a faction of elves, bent on annihilating everyone and everything else in hopes that their dying gods will return. I'm not very familiar with Retribution, so forgive me if that's not entirely correct.
The primary difference between Warmachine and Hordes is the focus/fury mechanic. Warmachine uses focus. This means that at the beginning of each of your turns, your warcaster is allocated a number of focus points equal to his FOCUS stat. He can then give these focus points to his warjacks to enable them to charge, make power attacks, get additional attacks, more damage, etc. He also uses focus to cast his spells, or he may keep focus points to add to his armor stat. Warcasters generally have between 5 and 10 FOCUS.
Hordes is about the battles in the wilds of the Iron Kingdoms. It represents the struggles of the less civilized nations. Armies in Hordes are a little less organized, a little more rag-tag, unless you're talking about the Skorne.
The trollbloods have been persecuted for centuries, and recently have been struggling to keep hold of their lands amidst raging warfare and a host of other problems. The army is almost entirely on medium bases, and 99% of the army has the Tough rule - when a model with Tough is killed, on a d6 roll of 5 or 6 it is merely knocked down. These are the "good guys" of Hordes. They are a little like Protectorate, in that the army has a lot of synergy between units.
The Skorne Empire is to the east of the Iron Kingdoms, across the Bloodstone Marches, and the Skorne have come to invade the Iron Kingdoms. They're evil, sadistic, and very much a warrior-based society. They have warbeasts called Titans, giant bipedal elephants, that they torture and train to kill in battle. The Skorne also have a variety of heavy infantry, as well as lighter infantry.
These are the druids, and their goal is to bring a sort of balance by reducing the impact of man in the Iron Kingdoms. They're basically eco-terrorists, and they use a lot of magic to get what they want. Their warbeasts are generally giant werewolves, called warpwolves. They also have Satyrs, and giant stone-and-wood constructs called Wolds that often have the ability to make magic-based attacks. Some of their infantry is elite, but they rely a lot on their warbeasts to get the job done.
Legion of Everblight
Everblight is one of the dragons in the Iron Kingdoms. He was "killed" centuries ago, and his athanc, a crystal containing his soul, was brought to the far north in hopes that he would never return. Unfortunately, he came back. Everblight wants to kill all the other dragons and rule over everyone, and he started with the northern elves - the Nyss. His warbeasts are draconic beasts with a lot of rules that ignore other rules. Legion has a lot of very powerful warbeasts and some strong warlocks.
Hordes uses the Fury mechanic. Each warlock begins the game with fury points equal to his FURY stat. *However*, unlike in Warmachine, fury doesn't get replenished at the beginning of each of your turns. Instead, warlocks force their warbeasts to perform actions, and then leach the fury from them at the start of your turn. For example, a warbeast may be forced to charge - you put 1 fury point on your warbeast. You take two extra attacks, and put 2 fury on the warbeast, for a total of 3 fury. In your next turn, your warlock takes those 3 fury points off the warbeast to replenish any fury points he may have spent casting spells during the previous turn. The game is very much about managing all your fury points properly.
Beginning the Game
If you're looking to start playing Warmachine or Hordes, an excellent place to start would be by purchasing the core rulebook - Prime Mk2 for Warmachine, and Primal Mk2 for Hordes. Each rulebook contains all the rules you need to play, as well as a basic selection of model stats for some of the units of each faction.
Each faction in both games has a starter box, called a Battle Box, that contains a warcaster or warlock along with a selection of warjacks and warbeasts. The Battle Boxes total a value of about 11 points, and are generally a good place to start for smaller games. This will let you learn the focus/fury mechanic for your faction. Instead of getting a Battle Box, you can also choose to pick up a warcaster/warlock and several warjacks/warbeasts separately, although then the points values may be different from the normal Battle Boxes.
Privateer Press games use a card system, and each model and unit comes with a stat card in the box or blister that will tell you what it does in the game. Cards are invaluable for marking warjack and warbeast damage, and card sleeves and erasable markers come in handy here. There are faction decks available, called Mk2 2010 Faction decks, that contain every card for every unit from Mk1, updated with Mk2 rules. I recommend getting your faction deck, because it allows you to easily proxy units, solos, warjacks, etc, and makes it easier to plan future purchases. You can also check out the stats for warcasters and warlocks in your faction without having to buy the model itself.
The Faction of _______ books contain history and background for your faction, as well as a selection of new models for Mk2 - generally about 11 new releases for each faction. They also contain Theme Forces, which are "army lists" that restrict your unit choices to fit a particular warcaster or warlock's theme army. These aren't strictly necessary to play, although many players get their faction book just for the theme forces. I play both Khador and Circle Orboros, and while I own the Forces of Khador book, I haven't yet picked up the Forces of Circle Orboros book.
Army lists in Privateer Press games run off a point system, with each model assigned a specific point value. Games are usually played at the following point levels: 15, 25, 35, 50. Higher point games are possible, but also take much longer to play. When building your army, you pick and choose models that total up to your game's point value. Warcasters and warlocks are a bit different, in that they are "free" to add to your army, and each has a number of warjack and warbeast "points" that he can allocate to your army. For example, the Butcher of Khardov, a Khador warcaster, has 6 warjack points. These points can only be spent on warjacks, but it also means that your army is effectively 6 points higher. A 35 point army led by the Butcher is effectively 41 points(35+6=41).
A note on game support: Privateer Press has volunteers called Pressgangers, that are the people who run tournaments, organized play, and introduce people to the game through demo games. When starting out, if you're living in a big city, it might be a great idea to ask around your local FLGS and see if there is a Pressganger in the area. They should be happy to run you through a game or two and teach you the rules. Not all areas have Pressgangers, but if your area does it's worth seeking him/her out - they're generally the people who go a step above and beyond to teach newcomers the game and keep the community organized and running smoothly.
I hope this is a good general introduction to Privateer Press games. I have been playing since 2005, and I'm a huge fan of the game - I'd love to see more players get introduced to the games, and hopefully the guide helps answer some questions. Welcome to the Iron Kingdoms!