Sunday, 11 October 2009

HORDES mini review

Hey guys!

Don't we all like to expand our horizon? Even in tabletop related things, I believe this is a good thing to do.

So a while ago I decided that it might be a good idea to look into something different than the standard GW "8-stats-hit-wound-save" gaming system. I got interested in Privateer Press's Warmachine/Hordes "engine". After salivating for a while over (most of) the Hordes range and reading the quick start rules , I decided to give it a shot, buy the rulebook and make a small army.

I wanted to give you my first (and later) impressions, from the perspective of someone coming from the GW side of things (like most of us I guess). Below you will find a brief review of HORDES that may motivate you to give it a try aswell.

I want to make clear, that by the time of this review is written, I have not yet had a game of HORDES. So I have no gaming experience with this system. I have however read the book from A-Z and like to think that I have a rather decent overview of it by now.


This is a biref review of the Privateer Press game HORDES
(that's right, spelled in CAPITAL LETTERS for some inexplicable reason)

What is Hordes?

Hordes is a tabletop wargame that allows you to play skirmishes to medium sized battles. It feels a little like Warhammer 40K I guess, in that it favours "squad-like" formations over rank-and-file setup (however there is something called "tight-formation" that allows certain units to build phallanxes for example).

The model count is low compared to Warhammer. Usually 20 - 50 models are enough for a medium to big sized force. The models are a little more expensive than GW's (not for long probably) and 99% of them are metal.

It does NOT have a RPG element.

The idea behind HORDES

According to Privateer Press (PP) HORDES is the "feral twin" of WARMACHINE. Both games are set in the "Iron Kingdoms" - a full metal fantasy setting (some call it Steampunk but I beg to differ) - where improbable steampowered constructs coexist with magic and exotic races. HORDES takes place in the "countryside" if you will, that is, outside of the "civilised" world, that is, in the wild. Hordes and Warmachine are compatible and can be played against each other (utilise the same basic game "engine").

Every HORDES army is lead by at least one Warlock which can telepathically control so-called Warbeasts to do the fighting for him/her. In addition to that, players may field units (squads) for support and additional versatility (e.g. Javelin throwing infantry). The game revolves around 2 ideas:

1) Tactics (army composition, placement, movement, planning ahead, optimising...)
2) Resource management

As the Warlock "forces" Warbeasts to fight (or perform other actions) they build up Fury (points). These Fury can be syphoned off by the Warlock and used as the "currency" to cast spell and/or heal wounded Warbeasts. But there is a catch: force your Warbeasts too much and they may go over the edge and go into frenzy... which makes the Warbeast uncontrolable and may damage your own troops.

Overall the game seems to boast the following features:

1) it is very fast paced and encourages fair powerplay. It's all about optimisation and hitting as hard as you can. All 4 factions are offensive in some way and there are no "mass" or "shooty" armies.
2) I makes heavy use of markers as there are plenty of "upkeep" effects.
3) Resource management of "Fury points"
4) The element of luck seems to much more controlable than in the GW systems (which is a relief I think) by the ressource component. Players may spend Fury to improve ("boost") important rolls.

HORDES- The gaming materials

All you need to play HORDES is the rulebook called "HORDES - Primal". It contains all the rules AND all the army lists ("Codexes" for those of us suffering from Games Workshopitis).

It is very reasonably priced, 200 pages full color and available as soft- or hardback.

The writing is ambivalent: the fluff part is marginally better than what GW produces, which is to say, slightly above bad. I personally am no fan of background fiction that focuses solely on action scenes and haemoglobin spillage. I find these things incredibly boring to read, and tend to skip large paragraphs if not everthing. Nevertheless I have read through most of the HORDES fluff to get a feeling for the factions.

The writing in the rules section on the other hand is very good. I think the rules are explained in a clear and understandable manner, with good diagrams and examples.

Front cover of my HORDES rulebook (~€15). Contains all the rules and army lists you need to play. 200 pages, full colour. There are 2 expansions to the basic rulebook that add new units, campaign rules and more background.

Back Cover of "HORDES - Primal" the core rulebook.

Miniatures come in these beautiful boxes.

And all miniatures come with colour stat cards. I used to think that cards have no place in tabletop wargames, but I now think I might be wrong. Having stat cards in front of you while playing, should makes it SO much easier to look things up quickly, than having to flick through an army book and having your opponent tap his feet with impatience.

Here's a WIP shot of one of my Druids of Orboros.


I think HORDES boasts a refreshing and new playing concept. The rules are clever and the ressource managment element makes it very interesting. The fact that you can spend points to alter certain rolls should make the luck-component more controlable (and less frustrating at times). On the other hand, it also favours the more experienced player and requires some getting used to. The actual game mechanics are thought through and require no charts to be memorised (like the GW wounding chart for example). 2D6 are rolled per model, an ability score added (Strength for example) and the result must exceed the opponents score for a successful hit & wound in one. The difference indicates the number of hit points lost (a normal trooper has 1HP). For close combat one must beat the opponents Armor score, for ranged attacks one must beat the opponents Defense score. This system does not require 3 rolls per model (hit, wound, save) but does all in one. The downside is that you must roll 2D6 for each model individually. This is somewhat counterballanced by a low model-count though. I also like the evenness between factions: no need to create races that have hugely different stats, no need for heavily shooty or close-combat armies. Differences are all in the special abilities. There are many ways to build each faction, and while some excel at blunt force or denial or speed, at the end of the day, all factions are close combat. This gets rid of the frustrating "campers" (like my wood elves in WHFB for example).

Overall I think HORDES is a refreshing new approach to tabletop wargaming, especially if you come from the GW angle. It certainly plays very differently and may be a little difficult to get into at first, but I definitely do not regret the buy (although I still need to get my Circle of Orboros fire-baptised).

Summary of Pros and Cons


  • Interesting gaming concept (Warlock + Warbeasts + Units)
  • Ressource management on top of tactical layer
  • Luck can be somewhat influenced via "boosting" of rolls
  • Healing of multi-HP models
  • Beautiful models
  • Low model count
  • Stat cards
  • Models have A LOT of special abilities: allows for unlimited build combinations/tactics
  • Cheap rulebook (although if you consider buying expansions this is nullified)
  • 4 factions are easier to ballance against each other than 15 (see GW)
  • Attacks need to be made one by one (2d6). This does not allow "speed rolling" unless you use different colours and clarify beforehand.
  • Models have A LOT of special abilities that need to be kept in mind.
  • Expensive miniatures
  • All factions are rather exotic and may be a little harder to relate to at first than the GW "stereotypic" factions.
Link tip offers good tactical articles of all available PP models.


PP has announced the second edition of HORDES to come out mid-end 2010. The new edition will probably simplify the model's point-cost system. There will be new miniatures but most importantly there will be a Rulebook and separate Army books. This will significantly increase the price.