Warmachine MK3 and You
by Micah Walker · Published · Updated
A Positive and Honest View of MK3 Warmachine
We at Midwest Wargaming value positivity and inclusiveness in wargaming. We also value honest, thoughtful analysis. Sometimes it can be hard to see how all of those can be true at the same time, but we work hard to get there.
I took a few months off from writing about Warmachine because it was in an awkward place. During that time, I focused on listening to what other people had to say about the game. This included former players, casual players, event organizers, and national level tournament winners. As a community, we have both concerns about and confidence in MK3 Warmachine.
Elements of MK3 Warmachine
Today I want to break down Warmachine into its various hobby elements. My goal is to talk about each area where I have specifically heard discussion from the community over the last 5 months. I will try my best to convey the perspectives of everyone I’ve talked to in as positive a way as possible.
Competitive balance is the defining characteristic of MK3 Warmachine. As the game currently exists, many players consider nine of thirteen factions to be competitively strong. Of the four other factions, two are in the process of receiving brand new models to bolster their ranks. The remaining two are going through development cycles later this year. I am not currently considering Crucible Guard because it is too new and unknown at the time of writing.
As it stands, MK3 Warmachine is the most balanced iteration of Warmachine. Gaps in power level between the strongest and weakest factions are negligible. Opinions on who the strongest faction is vary by meta, as there is no clear leader at the highest levels of play. Each faction has a variety of viable casters, and most have two to four viable themes to build with as well. That means there is more variety in competitive play than ever seen before.
Errata and Updates
In order to maintain the high level of competitive balance, Privateer Press have employed a number of new strategies to make that happen. These new methods are the most controversial aspect of MK3 Warmachine, so I will be treading carefully.
Privateer Press introduced Community Integrated Development back in 2017. The purpose of the program was to allow players to beta test upcoming releases and provide feedback to the development team. The goal of the program was to catch egregious models like Una2 before release and prevent new models from being underwhelming.
The positive impact of CID is twofold. New models that go through CID usually have a positive impact on the game. Generally speaking, the models are playable and appropriately priced for balance when complete. CID also brings legacy models in line with the rest of the game. Madrak1 and Deneghra2 are examples of legacy models that CID pushed from the bottom to the top in terms of power level. Not every legacy model has that dramatic of a change, but they usually go from being mediocre to competitively viable. CID also tones down legacy models that are too strong for the game.
The negative impact of CID is also twofold. CID is an optional exercise, but the online community doesn’t appropriately acknowledge that. Social media groups tend to obsess over what is currently in development and lament about not having their “new rules” yet. This tends to be a massive distraction to newer players, and many veteran players have become exhausted by the salvo of #fakerules that permeate the online forums. Because of this, most bloggers and podcasters actively avoid discussing CID like the plague. I have a strict policy of no CID discussion or play testing when my “new or improving” players are around, whether online or in person.
The second potential downside to CID is the Dynamic Updates. These updates serve to introduce the altered rules for the legacy models in conjunction with the new releases that were part of the cycle (if any). In any given year, there will usually be as many dynamic updates as there are CID cycles. Traditionally, there were only two errata cycles per year, but now there could be anywhere from 6 to 10 errata cycles per year. This tends to impact players that take a few months off the game the most. The longer a player is inactive, the more errata documents they have to read through.
On the other hand, this perpetual state of change tends to keep the game perpetually balanced. Negative play experiences are dealt with in a timely fashion. Incoming buffs happen in a few months instead of half a year. The overall meta stays fresh instead of stagnating. Currently active players praise the dynamic updates as the mechanism that makes right now the best time to be a Warmachine player.
Privateer Press uses themes as another balancing mechanism. Themes are also a fundamental part of MK3 design, even though they were not initially released with MK3. Again, the opinions on this topic vary. As a balance mechanism, themes do a fantastic job. Themes also present new players with an easier path to learning the game. Finally, themes are indeed thematic and create opportunities for immersion if you are into that.
Themes can also lead to predictable builds. While this is great for new players, veteran players are often dissatisfied. Building lists “outside the box” is harder to do now, and creativity isn’t rewarded as much as it used to be. On the other hand, the predictability can help players keep pace with the game in an era of constant change.
Themes can decide a faction’s power level. Themes that do not work as intended or have inferior benefits compared to their peers struggle in competitive play. All four of the factions that are “not strong” have several dysfunctional themes. The good news is that all four of these factions are being worked on, so this may not be a problem a year from now. Nevertheless, it is currently a significant issue.
Lastly, themes have many remaining imperfections. While every model currently exists in a theme, not every model contributes to a theme. This has left casual and competitive players dissatisfied with many theme forces. I do see this as both a missed opportunity and a work in progress.
New Models and Cost
This past year saw new models released at a frenetic pace. Many of these models were long awaited additions that made certain themes and factions work as they needed to. Most of the new releases have been beautiful models that look amazing on the table. The models and their rules have been well received by the community at large.
The downside to all the releases is how big the game has become. There are well over a thousand model/unit entries in Warmachine now. The sheer scope of the catalogue has caused difficulties for players and retailers alike. Thankfully, Privateer Press looks to be slowing down the rate of new model releases for the upcoming year and has made moves to help alleviate the product burden on retailers (also with mixed reactions from the community). Between new releases and legacy updates, players have a lot to pay attention to.
A second downside with new content has been the cost. Not every player has the monetary means to keep up the rate at which their faction is expanding. Many of the new models, the Northkin trolls especially, are made of finely sculpted resin. These beautiful models tend to have a higher price point than their peers, and that can be discouraging for those who have tight budgets.
You can still play this game on a budget, though. Most of the updated plastic sculpts are cheaper than their MK1 and MK2 pewter counterparts. Theme force boxes and magnetizable multi kits present players with more thrifty opportunities. If your faction has a multitude of resin models, the price point may be unavoidable. I personally stopped buying into my second faction because of cost, but I have continued to expand my first faction since it has better price points.
Considering that I started playing in MK3, I have no direct experience with anthology books. This has been a point of concern for several people I have talked to, though. Currently, Privateer Press uses novels and No Quarter Prime to move forward their story line. No Quarter Prime also includes a retelling of the story line from the beginning. People have varying opinions about the way the story line is currently presented as well as where it is going.
Cards and War Room
Another debate concerning old and new methodology is War Room. Given the frequency at which they want to update rules, Privateer Press moved their cards to a digital format. Privateer Press runs an online database where a player may print cards on demand, but the company invests all of their support into their War Room application. In short, digital updates roll out faster than cards can be printed. Again, there are pros and cons to this. Thankfully, Privateer Press does make their online card catalogue available for free, so those who enjoyed cards can print them. It is not the quite the same, but if you want to play the game “unplugged” you still can.
Warmachine and You
The best part of Warmachine right now is not that it is the best version of Warmachine that has existed. The best part of Warmachine right now is that the world of miniatures is full of compelling and exciting games. If you are an active, dedicated Warmachine player, I hope you continue to enjoy MK3. If you are a concerned or former Warmachine player, opportunities abound outside the game. I will only cover the games I have actual contact with, but many more exist that what I list below. My overarching desire is that every player finds a game that hits all the right notes for them, even if it is not Warmachine.
Guild Ball boasts a competitive rules set not too different from Warmachine. The game fields roughly 12 models per faction right now, and entire factions cost $120 or so. Even with small factions, Guild Ball allows and rewards creative play. The errata cycle happens about twice per year. Many former Warmachine players, including many Midwest Wargaming staff, have moved to Guild Ball and loved it.
Warhammer 40K / AoS
8th Edition 40K proves to be the most successful iteration of that franchise. While the model range vastly outnumbers that of Warmachine, the game provides flexibility and simplicity at the same time. Games Workshop models surpass all other companies in terms of appearance and quality, and the story line for the game runs deep. The price point can be as expensive or cheap as the player wants it to be. While not as competitively balanced, 40K has the most opportunities for the casual player relative to all current game systems.
Age of Sigmar just launched it’s 2nd Edition, so the jury is still out. The game still provides all the same opportunities for players as 40k. The models are gorgeous and narrative play is encouraged.
Star Wars X Wing / Armada / Legion
Fantasy Flight does not balance their games as well as Privateer Press, but their games remain extremely fun at a casual level. If you love Star Wars and just want to kick back and have some fun, these are the games for you. X Wing has a new edition coming out soon, but historically the entry point for X Wing has been fairly economical. You can spend as much or as little as you want and have a good time.
Another game targeted towards a pre-existing fandom, Batman provides significant opportunities for narrative or casual play. The system allows for a fair amount of list creativity, and the models look fantastic. Any DC fan should look into this game.
The most important aspect of any game is community. Turns out we can’t play games without having someone to roll dice with. I would encourage any player who is struggling with their current game to find the most positive community around and join it, regardless of system.
Beyond that, if the rate of change in Warmachine dissatisfies you, take heart. Things should slow down as more of the fires from the MK2/MK3 transition are put out. If that does not satisfy you, I heartily encourage you to play Guild Ball or 40k. I cannot speak for everyone, but those two games have amazing communities where I live.
If Warmachine seems to be getting too expensive for you, I would again encourage you to play Guild Ball. I spent $120 to buy the two release boxes for my guild, and I have no intention of buying any other guilds. If you love the Warmachine community, you will also love the Guild Ball community. Midwest Wargaming releases a lot of content for Guild ball, so you wont have to find another source of news!
If you are dissatisfied with lore or the way Warmachine is presented, there are so many other good games out there. I do not have space or time to cover all of them, but I wish you luck in finding a game that suits you.
If you are determined to stick with Warmachine, good for you. You get to enjoy the best version of the game ever. I would continue to advise that you avoid CID and social media by proxy. Enjoy the game with your local community, and do your best to help the new and improving players around you. Talk to your friends about what changes happened to models before a game, and remember that community is the best part of any game.
It doesn’t matter what game it is, just keep those dice rolling!
Wargamer, miniature painter, and now blogger for Midwest Wargaming. I love crunching numbers, and I can nearly guarantee that my articles will be the most boring, but you will learn something, damn it!