Gentle Reader: in the interest of transparency and objectivity, and in compliance with Federal Trade Commission regulations effective Dec. 1, it is important to note that this writer teaches miniature painting classes at a local game store as part of Reaper Miniatures’ Black Lightning Team. That being said, it is equally important to note that Reaper Miniatures did not request this review, and that this writer was in no way compensated for producing it. Special thanks are due to Reaper Rules Design Team Member Vince Hendricks for making himself available to answer questions about the product.
The second edition of Reaper Miniatures’ Warlord tabletop skirmish game was released July 27, 2009. It sold through its first print run within a month, and a quick perusal of the product shows why.
The book is 144 pages long with a perfect binding and soft cover. The cover is full-color and glossy, and all interior pages are black and white; graphically, these pages contain a mix of line art, continuous tone art and photos of miniatures illustrating how rules are applied, accompanied by well-written and edited text.
A reader shouldn’t be intimidated by the size of the volume. Of the 144 pages, a mere 34 pages contain actual rules of play. Another 87 pages are devoted to depicting and explaining combat data cards for more than 400 individual units, and the remaining pages describe the World of Taltos (where Warlord battles take place) and the relationships between the 10 warring factions that dwell there.
The factions cover virtually all fantasy army archetypes:
- Crusaders, human cleric/knight/paladin types;
- Darkspawn, dark elves, demons and similar creepiness;
- Dwarves, in all their bearded glory;
- Elves, in their pointy-eared majesty;
- Mercenaries, humans who are not-so-noble-and-knightly;
- Necropolis, zombies, skeletons, ghosts and other undead;
- Nefsokar, a faction culturally comparable to Ancient Egypt, which includes both undead and living creatures devoted to the reawakened godling Sokar;
- Overlords, a group of power-hungry, slave lord types;
- Reptus, swamp-dwelling serpent people; and
- Reven, the standard assortment of orcs, goblins, ogres and similar humanoids.
For those unfamiliar with the first edition of Warlord, the game entails assembling a group of miniatures from one of the 10 factions into a skirmish-sized force, then fielding that force against those of other players on a tabletop. The variables of combat are resolved through the Reaper Adventure Game Engine (RAGE), an intuitive, d10-based resolution system. Victory goes to the last combatant standing, or the player who inflicts the most casualties within a specified turn limit.
“Warlord is a wonderfully easy system to learn,” Hendricks explained. “Its core mechanics are simple, and can be grasped in just a quick 10- to 15-minute demo game. However, the system also has depth that allows it to stay fresh long after the basics have been mastered. It is, at its heart, a beer and pretzels game that can also handle the rigors of a tournament environment. Combine that with the relatively low start-up cost and the flexibility to play pretty much whatever you want, and you have a winning combination.”
The “relatively low start-up cost” Hendricks refers to is partially facilitated by the way Warlord allows players to “proxy” models. For most wargaming systems, the manufacturers require players to buy specific models to represent specific units; this practice offers a benefit to players, as there can be no confusion about what a given model represents, and it offers a benefit to manufacturers, as players are forced to buy more miniatures. Unfortunately, the practice is also a hindrance, in that the number of models required and the time and material investment to paint them can outpace some gamers’ budgets.
While there is an actual Reaper figure produced to correspond with each data card, Reaper’s official proxy policy for Warlord allows any model from any of Reaper’s miniature lines to be used as proxies in Warlord games. According to Hendricks, the policy allows people to start playing Warlord with whatever models they currently have, and provides creative players with the opportunity to build custom-themed armies that are completely tournament legal. One such player created a custom army called “Children of the Great Pumpkin,” with pumpkin-themed troops; an “archer” from that army, for example, was a Reaper pumpkin-monster figure throwing another pumpkin.
To put Warlord through its paces, this writer fielded 800 points worth of figures, divided evenly between the Crusader and Necropolis factions into smaller groups, called troops. Although each side started with 400 points, this writer ended up with unequal numbers of troops: three troops for the Crusaders, four for Necropolis. The 800-point total for the test scenario was above the 300- to 500-point total suggested for learning the game, but below the 1,000-point standard game.
Between the two factions, 27 figures were placed on the battlefield, embodying a total of 26 unit special abilities defined in the rules, in addition to spellcasting by both sides.
A refreshing aspect of assembling Warlord units into troops is that unit type and unit armament are independent from each other. In most wargames, units must be composed of figures armed the same way, such as a unit composed exclusively of archers or spearmen. In such games, if an infantry unit closes to melee distance with a unit of archers, the archers are in immediate peril. Not so with Warlord. Warlord does divide units into types – leaders, soldiers, elites and solitaires – but these types reflect their leadership role in the troop, not their primary mode of attack. While there are rules about how may soldiers or elites may accompany a specific leader, players can assign any combination of armament within the types. Thus, a leader with strong melee capability could command several soldier/archers, in addition to a couple of soldier/pikemen; as a result, members of the troop can cover for each other’s vulnerabilities, combining the abilities of attacking at range or in melee with the defensive ability of pikes, in what is the Medieval equivalent of pike and shot.
Sadly, this writer’s miniature collection is a ragtag assortment of figures from no fewer than seven different manufacturers, so not all of the figures fielded in this case could be of Reaper’s manufacture. This condition caused some problems with inconsistent scale and base sizes, a problem partially remedied by using a vinyl battle mat marked with one-inch squares, pretending that the figures’ bases fully occupied their respective squares, and taking certain liberties with what constituted base-to-base contact between models.
Although the armies on the table weren’t even remotely tournament legal, their composition raised an important point: players who only buy pre-painted, plastic miniatures for use in role-playing games, who would never take up the painting and terrain projects typical to the wargaming hobby, can play Warlord with the same miniatures, battle maps and dungeon tiles they use for tabletop RPGs. The game could even be adapted to electronic battle map applications, such as MapTool. While such games aren’t tournament-legal in any sense, they could be ideal for those game nights when one or more D&D players can’t attend.
True-blooded wargamers, of course, will want to invest in tournament-legal models for the sake of scale, clarity of identification, the ability to compete in Reaper-sanctioned events, and the fun of painting the miniatures.
The actual game play was very well-balanced. The scenario for the test game involved the group of Crusaders attempting to stop an undead advance through a town, which was drawn on the battle mat with wet-erase marker. The Crusaders chose to make their stand near a bridge spanning a river that runs through the settlement. The terrain made use of rules for elevation and modified movement rates for moving on roads and crossing rivers.
The fight took six turns to complete, and the tide of battle shifted numerous times. A celestial lion pounced upon a spectre and his zombie minions, before being frozen in place by a ghost’s magic and torn to pieces by the ravenous undead; steel-eyed Ivy Crown Archers, supported by a healing Hospitaler, hailed arrows upon a vampire leading the asault on the bridge, but were outflanked and overwhelmed by a ghast and more zombies, who had crossed the river behind the cover of buildings. A small band of Ironspine Pikemen, led by Templar Ironraven himself, valiantly held the bridge against the vampire’s assaulting zombies, who were supported by a hideous walking scarecrow. As the vampire’s zombies pressed the Crusaders, the ghast and zombies who killed the archers attacked the pikemen from the rear, trapping the Crusaders on the bridge. The Crusaders, using the first defensive strike ability and superior reach granted by their pikes to inflict heavy casualties among the undead, were still slain nearly to a man; Ironraven was nearly dead himself when his final blow sent the vampire to eternity.
Of 27 models fielded, only two were left standing: the templar and one soldier. That is a very well-balanced game.
Most surprising of all, this skirmish – intentionally made larger than recommended for a first game to see if the rules were unwieldy – took only 90 minutes, with no participants having played Warlord before. That fact speaks volumes about the streamlined nature of the rules.
Lastly, Reaper provides downloadable playing aids and an online army builder that enables players to assemble and print troop and unit data cards for ease of reference, greatly minimizing the amount of time new players might spend flipping pages in the rulebook.
Based upon these observations, the RPG Athenaeum recommends Reaper’s Warlord second edition skirmish rules. It is well worth the suggested retail price of $19.95.