Warcry – 5 Wargaming Innovations

Warcry Top 5 Cover

This week I’m going to be looking at Warcry. Now normally I focus on a specific warband and look at their options, this week however we’re going to look at some of the innovations of Warcry. Those aspects of the game that really set it apart from other games.

GW tends to be quite conservative when it comes to their main games, Warhammer 40k and Age of Sigmar, but when it comes to the specialist game line like Warcry they’ve incorporated a lot of what we might call modern game design elements. At a very basic example, the big battle games still stick the I-GO-U-GO design where one player takes all their actions before the other player does. The majority of the specialists game, however, use the alternating actions design where there’s more back and forth during in a turn.

Warcry in particular has a few innovations that I think aren’t always obvious. Peachy on the painting phase channel recently went through some of the reasons he loves Warcry. It’s easy to learn.

It’s fast and fun. It’s got a great campaign system. It’s got some awesome models. In this video I want to go a little deeper and talk about some of the design decisions that make this game so easy to learn and quick and fun to play. I’m also going to touch upon some of the misconceptions where people who don’t play Warcry see what they think are problems without fully understanding what’s going on.

To give some quick credits, because GW isn’t great at doing that. The original draft of the game was put together by the illustrious Jervis Johnson who then handed it over to Sam Pearson, the current Lead Game Designer for Warcry. He had to take the idea and make it a reality.  You can read more about that in the November 2019 of White Dwarf.

In 2022 we then had an update to 2.0, there weren’t a lot of changes in the rules mostly the addition of reactions and a few tweaks here and there, where there were a lot of changes was the rebalance of every fighter profile Based on the article in the September 2022 White Dwarf it looks lie Dave Sanders who is the  head of the Underworlds team stepped in help Sam get through the crazy number of fighters. These updated fighter profiles and the rules were all released in free pdfs online making Warcry one of the most accessible games in the Games Workshop library.

There are a number of elements I wanted to talk about which didn’t make the top 5. For example, the smaller board size is a lot easier to manage that the classic 6 by 4 board GW used to focus on. I love how they’ve kept the rules simple for stuff like climbing and jumping, why complicate things when you don’t  have to.

I’m also a massive fan of the Fighter Cards, as you might have gathered, these are a fantastic way to have all the info you need at your finger-tips. The only problems I have with them like the lack of fighter or runemark names which I’ve fixed in the Warcry Card Creator linked in the description.

Alright, onto the first of the 5 innovations. The Campaign System. Now, not everyone is interested in Narrative play, so this might not be something on everyone’s raider but the Campaign system in Warcry has some really clever elements. 

There are 3 main ways in which your warband can develop. First you can open up options, for example new heroes or additional points. You can improve fighters, either with renown or heroic traits. And lastly, you can gain items, either minor or major artefacts.

The real innovation with the campaign sytem is how each player can play their own campaign. After you start a warband, you keep track of every game and how your warband progresses. Unlike with most campaigns, you don’t have to worry about how other players are doing and your campaign isn’t going to collapse if other players start to drop. You can play games against someone tracking their own campaign or you can play against players with a matched play warband. You can also play against the same friends over and over, or you can play a campaign game against someone you’ve just met in the local store and might never meet again.

 Can this result in some unbalanced games? Yes, but not as to the same extent as in other campaigns systems. A narrative warband starts out with limitations making it a little weaker than a normal matched play warband. Many of the benefits you can get only stick around for a limited number of games and fighters can die. In addition, there’s nothing stopping you from hamstringing yourself a little to get a more enjoyable game.

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In the original draft, Jervis referred to the hero dice and abilities as the Combo system. You roll 6 dice and see what combos you get. These combos then let your fighters carry out special actions. He actually credits the genesis of this system as Yahtzee which makes sense, but we’ve also seen in a few other games like Saga from Studio Tomahawk.

Having warband abilities like this are a great way to make different warbands feel different and distinctive to each other. What’s really clever about this system though is how it forces decisions. You can never one hundred precent rely on being able to a specific ability in a turn, but you know you’ve got a better chance of using a double than a triple and a triple than a quad.

So this is a random element but it’s bounded randomness, which is to say the range of results are pretty predictable. In addition, you also have wild dice which give you an element of control over it. You’re never able to dictate to the dice though, you’re always rolling with the punches as it were.

You also have to pick where you’re going to use it, you never have enough dice to have all your fighters use an ability so you have to decide where you will get the most out of them. The system does a good job of making warbands feel different, adding a lot of tactical elements to the game especially around how to use wild dice, while also keeping things manageable. You have choices you need to make, but never so many options that you run the risk of decision paralysis.

The usual way to start a game of Warcry is to randomly select a card from the Terrain, Deployment, Victory, and Twist decks. That then gives you everything you need to get straight into the action. The first box had a total of 31 million combinations which meant your games were always going to be fresh. We’ve seen this in a few other systems, but Warcry bakes it into the core set rather than making it an extra purchase or an optional rule.

If you’re an experienced Warcry player you’ll know this is a great way to throw together a few quick games. There are a few things that inexperienced Warcry players may not be aware of though and often this brings with it a number of misconceptions. First, is the idea that the games are totally random and unfair. This certainly is something that can happen, you can get a combination of cards that heavily favour one side or the other. What new players may not realise is it that each of the cards have a mark which indicates if they’re designed for matched play or not. So you can adjust the deck to focus on more balanced scenarios if that’s what you’re interested in.

This has also led to the misconception that Warcry is not a competitive game. I know for some people ‘competitive’ can be considered a bad word, but in this context we’re talking about whether the game can be treated as a test of skill where a player’s strategy and tactics can have a greater weight than the random elements. People who don’t think Warcry is competitive often point to the random setup system, but in reality tournaments are run with pre-set scenarios and a big part of doing well in a tournament is understanding how to design your warband for those games. The current format for example, heavily favours swarm lists but that isn’t always going to be case.

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One aspect of the random mission generation, and indeed fixed missions, is the deployment system. In the classic image of a wargame, you have two players setting up the battle lines at either end of the board. They then spend first few turns moving those units into position before they eventually clash. Warcry skips straight into the action. It does this by getting players to split their warband into the three battle groups of Hammer, Shield, and Dagger during warband construction. Then when the game starts, rather than lining up at either end, the fighters are already in the thick of things. This will vary depending on the deployment so a player will have to account for a number of possibilities. 

I can understand how some players wouldn’t be happy with losing the element of strategically deploying your troops. It’s been around for years and it’s an important part of many games. Often those games have a complex system around who gets to deploy first and whether there is back and forth, so the whole thing is like an extra turn in the game.

For new players the Warcry approach can appear at first completely random, but more experienced players will sit down with the options and work out how to best assign their fighters to the 3 battle groups. That might be looking through a stack of cards, or it might be looking over the handful of deployments for a tournament. You’re looking to keep certain troops together that work well together. You’ll want to have your most elite fighters in which ever battle group starts the most often. Depending on the missions, there can lots of considerations. So while it’s not something often talked about, and it really depends on the available missions, but there can be a lot of strategy involved in how you divide your warband into the 3 battle groups.

The big advantage of course, is that we’re straight into the action, the game removes that first initial turn of manoeuvring and instead forces the players to react to the situation they’re in. 

An additional element that I think is really celver, is to have delayed deployment. Usually at least one of the battlegroups for each warband will not turn up until the second turn or later. This is quite clever as it speeds up the first turn because the number of fighters to activate are reduced. During later turns, you’ll start to get casulaties which will keep the numbers relatively under control. It’s relatively minor, but as these elements add up we end up with a great game experience in no time at all.

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For me, the number one innovation with Warcry is the single attack roll. When you want to make an attack, you look at the attack number for your weapon and you roll that number of dice. That’s it. If you’re learning the game, this makes it really simple to get into the action. You look at the number and then roll it. You might need a little help working out what it means afterwards, so comparing strength and toughness and counting up the damage, but making that roll is simple. So simple in fact,  it’s great for playing with kids. All they need to remember is they get to roll that number of dice and you can work out the rest for them.

In contrast, the classic approach for Games Workshop has been to have a back and forth between the players. First roll to hit, then roll to wound, then roll saving throw. The chain of rolls make the system seem more in depth, but in reality you can translate it all into a single percentage to decide whether the target lives or dies. On the face of it, the Warcry system seems simpler because it’s a single roll, but if you dig a little deeper because the targets have a wound total to work through and the attacks vary in damage for hits and crits it’s actually a little more detailed than the classic system while also being much much faster in play.

Warcry is one of my favourite games. There are some amazing models for it and it’s a great system for using proxies, so you can play out whatever story you feel like on the tabletop. Getting a game started is very quick and it’s really easy to teach for someone new. It’s also fast to play, so you can get a few games in during an evening.

There is I think a common misconception that Warcry lacks strategic depth. That’s partially been reinforced because it has been pitched as a great narrative game, but just because a game can be great for narrative play doesn’t stop it having strategic depth. I think this has largely focused on the random missions and in particular the deployment. I would challenge anyone who still holds that opinion to pre-select a mission and then work out how to split their battle groups. There will clearly be a best way to set up. In a tournament you’re trying to account for more than just one which makes it more of a challenge.

We’re also blessed to have a massive range of miniatures to play with and have a lot of flexibility in how we build our warbands. That means in a typical event you’re going to see a lot of fun thematic lists but you can also find some really cutthroat lists.

Alright, thats enough from me. If you’re a fan of Warcry, are there any other design elements that you think should get more love? If you don’t play Warcry, has this video convinced you to give it a shot, and if not where do you think I went wrong. I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.


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