Insider 04-21-2016

When we set out to build WARMACHINE and HORDES Mk II, one of the goals was to create a new way in which players could construct their armies to represent thematic forces in the world of the Iron Kingdoms. Upon their release alongside Mk II, theme forces quickly became a cornerstone of the game experience. Whether utilized for their on the table abilities and tactics or adopted as the perfect guide for a lavish hobby project, theme forces have become over the lifespan of Mk II part of the bones of WARMACHINE and HORDES.

So, as we began development on the new editions, we knew theme forces would remain a part of the games and a key component of the future Forces books that would begin rolling out sometime after the new editions’ launch.

However, with several years of internal and community experience and feedback (and several more throughout the development cycle of the new editions), we knew how we approached theme forces in the new editions would be a significant evolution from what they had been in Mk II.

One of the first things we tackled was in reevaluating and determining what the purpose of theme forces is. In the end, we concluded that a theme force is a fundamental tool of army building intended to reinforce central themes inherent in each faction. We realized we had diluted their theme-y goodness by trying to be too specific with all the numerous theme forces released over the course of Mk II.

A primary culprit in this matter was the fact that we had centered Mk II theme forces on an individual warcaster or warlock. Thus, as our pool grew, so too did the number of “unique” theme forces required. Ultimately, we realized this original decision had arbitrarily pigeonholed warcasters, and the true expression of theme forces as the core and compelling themes themselves was far bigger than any individual warcaster. After all, why shouldn’t Stryker be able to lead the Gravediggers or Morghoul a contingent of the Army of the Western Reaches? What tactical and strategic possibilities would be opened up if Intercessor Kreoss were to lead a ragtag army of faithful zealots over someone like Vice Scrutator Vindictus?

It became very clear that in order to make theme forces both more accessible and more thematic, we actually needed to make them less restrictive rather than following the path of more restrictive. Further, we knew we needed to step back and carefully evaluate the overall number of theme forces present in the game in a way that ensured every theme force introduced was exceptionally compelling and widely applicable to avoid the overburdening that had occurred in Mk II.

The solution we came to for how theme forces would function in the new editions owed a lot to the groundwork laid in the Mercenary and Minion Contracts and Pacts in Mk II. In these we had an army construction framework that was at once very thematic yet very open. Effectively, theme forces in the new editions began to represent sub-factions rather than razor-specific and extremely limiting force compositions.

The new editions’ theme forces can be used by every warcaster/warlock within the faction, and the list of models it includes is far broader in terms of scope, as each theme force now focuses more on unit type keywords (for example, allowing all Trencher units/solos), giving them greater options and providing for future additions without sacrificing their inherent thematic feel. Of course, this was only possible through the careful re-examination of unit keywords and the rules for how these are applied throughout the new editions.

Perhaps the most exciting aspect of this new approach was how it allowed us the ability and freedom to explore ways to make each new theme force feel distinct from its fellows and, most important, from a standard constructed faction army itself. Thanks to the reduction in the number plus the more open nature of the new theme forces, we were able to ensure they have a greater impact on the actual in-game experience rather than solely on pre-game benefits. In the new editions, theme forces contain thematic and exciting in game rules that further differentiate the models within them from their non-theme force counterparts. For example, Arcane Tempest Gun Mages in the “Sons of the Tempest” theme force all gain CRA. In the Trollbloods “Power of Dhunia” theme force, all Trollbloods warbeast gain +2 THR to represent the calming power of the mother goddess that surrounds the army.

Due to this dramatic retooling of theme forces, we knew that though every model previously released remained viable and playable in the new editions, we also needed to work hard to ensure a smooth transition between Mk II and the new editions in every place possible for the vast majority of former theme force combinations as well. In many instances, we increased the FA on units to better accommodate the changes, such as with Doom Reavers (now called Doom Reaver Swordsmen) and Trencher Infantry moving to FA: U. In other instances, we assimilated certain Mk II theme force benefits into new abilities, such as Dr. Arkadius being allowed to take Gorax Ragers in his battlegroup. While ultimately it was impossible to account for every single player’s collection and the millions of potential army combinations in MK II, we nevertheless spent a great deal of effort ensuring the vast majority of them were accounted for in some manner in the new editions.

Another exciting result that came out of our rebalancing of theme forces was what it meant for Mercenary and Minions. Namely, the new editions have done away with both contracts and pacts when it comes to how you build an army for either group. Now when you build a Mercenary or Minion army, you can build it from pretty much whatever models you like from within the specific faction (no, you still can’t mix Mercenaries and Minions). That’s right, you want to mix your pigs and gators and unleash mass hysteria? Go for it. It is, after all, an all-new war!

Of course, there are still some limitations—Precursor Knights are just never going to be cool with Thamarites, no matter the situation. And with rare exceptions, you aren’t going to be able to have your gatorman warbeasts in your Farrow warlock battlegroups. But outside of some pretty rare occasions, the possibilities for Mercenary and Minion players have been burst wide open in the new editions with the forthcoming theme forces taking the place of the traditional contracts and pacts from the previous editions.

When all was said and done, we were able to create what I consider to be the best expression of theme forces yet: compelling options to consider when building your army to unlock new and interesting strategies and abilities that still retain and even exemplify the core themes within each faction.