How Does it Play?
Let's face it, with rules that light, there's not a whole lot to really discuss. At first glance you either love it or you hate it. So, naturally, I decided that if I was going to make a good call on it I would have to play some games. At the time of this review, I have played over two dozen games using the new rules, both with the starter set and with my own Wood Elves. As Warhammer Fantasy Battles has a pretty active community in my local area, and has for several years, finding willing guinea pigs has not been too difficult. After a handful of games with the starter set, I can tell you that it, at least, is balanced well. Using the starter box you'll have a good chance to get a feel for how the game is supposed to flow. The game felt good while playing it, and it's quick, with most games finishing around 30 minutes. Feeling like we had a pretty good idea of the flow of the game, my opponent and I decided it would be a good time to switch over and try making our own lists with our own models.
The first thing that became apparent was that without anything - points, scenarios, or varied objectives - guiding us, making lists that felt balanced or equal was incredibly difficult. Game setup took a long time. Far longer than the games in most cases. Again, none of the units have point values. Without a point system, and without scenario guidelines dictating force composition, games were unbalanced, and even when we thought we had a handle on how many units, heroes, and support each side should take, games went very quickly to one side or the other. Several games later we still had difficulties finding the sweet spot. This was further exacerbated because unit composition only gives rough numbers, such as a minimum of 5 troops to a unit, but doesn't often give you a maximum size. Once you're past the minimum you're on your own.
The underlying theme in the games we played with our own units, is that once our big heavies units like Treemen or Dragons got into the fight with anything other than another large creature, combat quickly went in their favor. Aggressive play with monstrous units was rewarded. When we removed the larger models, the games became more about attrition and staying at range to inflict as much damage as possible. Handling units of larger sizes also became quite difficult, as there are no more unit blocks or movement trays. Everything "skirmishes" and can be in essentially in any form on the table, but due to the lack of solid unit blocks like in old Warhammer strange unit configurations and strings of models were common. Many players around me - as you can see from that picture - quickly went back to the old way of doing things. Moving 40 goblins by hand gets tedious.
After more than a dozen games, the lack of balancing rules was my biggest sticking point. Most players use the points system to quickly and easily establish the social contract for a pick-up game, and it quickly sets boundaries for strangers and new players. Saying that you want to play something like 1500 points establishes not only the size, but the stakes and time constraints of the game quickly. Most of the time this winds up being roughly balanced and lets you get right into a game without too much worry over setup. Among friends, the lack of guidelines for games may not present as large of a problem, but part of the game is being able to play against anyone, and maybe make new friends. Because of the lack of guidelines to help frame the social contract between players, creating shared knowledge of how the game is played, simply starting a game has become difficult.