Monday, January 12, 2009

Warhammer Historical: The Great War

I recently bought The Great War by Warhammer Historical and read through it, so I thought I'd post a review. The book itself is very nice looking. There's not much in the way or artwork, but it is full of many pictures of very nicely painted miniatures on tables full of great looking terrain. All the photos of miniatures are impressive and inspiring, and many of them are used as diagrams to illustrate particular rules. There are even a few photos meant to demonstrate step by step how to paint miniatures from the different armies that the book covers. So in terms of the photos and the presentation of the miniatures, it is very much like the production quality you'd see in a Games Workshop rulebook.

The text of the book, on the other hand, is not anywhere near the same level of quality. It is full of typos, grammatical errors, and poorly worded sentences. For example, in a section about painting miniatures, they have this gem: "For all the models the following techniques were used as standard with all of the models." It seems minor on its own, but there are sentences like that or worse everywhere in this book. It's almost as if nobody actually proofread this thing at all before it went to the printers. It's mostly just annoying, but in some cases the rules are worded in a very confusing way, or details are mentioned in the examples but not actually explained in the rules.

The rules themselves are based on the Warhammer 40,000 rules, and seem to be a mix of 4th edition and 5th edition rules, but with some of its own unique rules. Because of the poor wording, someone who has never played Warhammer 40,000 might have a very hard time understanding how some of the rules work. If you have played Warhammer 40,000, it should be pretty easy to understand what they are trying to say, but I think when playing the game it might be easy forget which rules are like 4th edition, which like 5th edition, and which completely different. So if you end up playing Great War and Warhammer 40,000, you may end up looking in the book a lot to double check things when you get confused about which rules go with which game.

Speaking of rules, I'm not sure the Warhammer 40,000 rules are the best set of rules to base a real world wargame on. The Warhammer 40,000 rules make use of huge ranges of strength and toughness to be able to represent anything from normal humans, to massive alien monstrosities that can rip apart tanks. In the Great War, there are no alien monstrosities, everyone is a normal human, so there is really no need for having strength and toughness characteristics. They could have left those out completely and just given all the weapons a "to wound" roll. And even the weapons don't vary much in strength, since regardless of what kind of bullet you get shot by, it's going to be pretty deadly. So there are thing that really could have been dropped entirely, like the to-wound chart, without changing the game much. But if you're already familiar with Warhammer 40,000, then you already know the chart, so it won't slow you down anyway. But people who have never played Warhammer 40,000 might wonder why they bothered with the needless complexity of having a chart for that. Then again, people who are more used to playing historical games are used to having lots of charts for everything.

Aside from that, I like the rules. They seem really fun, and I like a lot of the new stuff they've come up with, such as their rules for how heavy machine guns work. The way the armies are organized, into companies of several platoons with support choices based on the size and type of the army, seems like it will add a lot of flavor to the game, though it does make the process of selecting an army to a certain number of points somewhat laborious. I also really like the missions that are included in the book. They seem fun, and are very flavorful and objective based, so that should keep the games from just being about wiping out the enemy. Also, between the few different missions and few different deployment possibilites, plus options for reserves and wave attacks, there are a lot of different ways to play. So that should make each game play out very differently and keep it from getting predictable or boring, even after playing many times, and even if the armies don't vary greatly.

The armies that the book covers are the French, English, and Germans. They say they will cover other armies in future supplements. Each of these armies has several army lists, covering different types of battalions. For example, there are cavalry battalions, tank battalions, stormtrooper battalions, and others. Which army list you use determines which kind of company counts as core for your army. You must take a certain number of minimum core companies for a game, and the number of them you take total determines how many support choices you can take. The army list you choose also determines which support choices you have available, and how many of each you can take per core choice. Many support choices also have a limit on how many you can take in total in your army, which could vary from list to list. So there are many options, and much to consider when deciding what list you want to use.

The Great War book covers only the Western front during two years of the war, 1914 and 1918. Again, it says in the book that they intend to release supplements covering other fronts and the middle part of the war. For now, the French, English, and Germans each have six army lists in the book, three for 1914 and three for 1918. So there are a total of 18 different army lists to choose from, giving much greater variety than you might expect it to have with its limited scope. So it should be plenty to keep you going until they eventually released the promised supplements.

As far as historical background information, the book has very little. There is a section in the beginning that goes through year by year, showing a timeline of a few major events, and a few other mentions of battles used to illustrate a point or explain the inspiration for one of the missions. That's about it. It seems pretty normal for historical games to not include any background information in their rulebooks. Presumably people who bought the book already have some interest in and knowledge of the period, since that is likely what makes someone want to game in a particular period. But for people used to Games Workshop games that have a great deal of background information, it is a significant difference. So, like most historical games, you'll have to do some of your own research to find background information and historical inspiration for your battles.

Another thing I should note is that it takes a lot of miniatures to play a game. At a minimum for each army list, you need at least one command unit and two core companies, each of which consist of a company command unit usually a minimum of 2 (though sometimes the minimum is higher) platoons, each with some number of models. So even if you just want to play the bare minimum playable army with none of the fun support choices, and you pick the lists with the lowest minimums, it comes out to needing about 40 models just to play. For some of the lists you'd need many more just to fulfil the minimum requirements. Also, they state in the rule book that each 28mm figure you use represents about 3-4 actual soldiers. I plan to use 10mm figures instead, and put 3 of them on the same 25mm round base they say to use for each 28mm figure. That way nothing about the rules will be affected, but I'll have one model for each soldier the rules are intending to represent. I think that will look a lot better, but of course requires even more figures just to play the bare minimum sized game.

Overall, I really like the Great War rules. It seems like they will make for a very fun game in an interesting period of warfare. I haven't played a game yet with these rules, but when I do I will be sure to post an update with my reactions to how the game actually plays. Based on just reading through the book, I would definitely recommend it to anyone interested in playing small scale battles in World War One, or anyone who plays Warhammer 40,000 and wants to try something new or have lots of new options for army types. The rules should be very easy to learn for anyone familiar with Warhammer 40,000 and the army lists offer new challenges and opportunities for those sick of playing the same 40K armies and missions over and over again.


  1. Just to let you know, I've included this post in my round up of the week's best gaming related blogging:

  2. Great, thank you! I appreciate the mention on your site, and I'm glad you liked the review.

  3. Sounds interesting, please tell me you don't need zillions of minis...:)