Do you dig giant robots? I dig giant robots. And nothing says “giant robots” quite like Warmachine.
As someone who likes, fantasy, knights AND giant magic robots (called “Warjacks”) in the setting), I was lucky enough to find this awesome setting that throws them all in a blender and hits the “frappe” button. I have the models, I bought the fiction and I have the giant doorstopper rulebook for the game in PDF format (it’s free!). I clearly love this setting and hopefully you will too by the end of the post.
What are the…Warmahordes?
Warmachine and Hordes (collectively called Warmahordes) are two compatible wargames from Privateer Press. If you’re not familiar with tabletop wargames, they’re essentially complex board games played with detailed miniature models and giant rulebooks. You buy small miniature models, assemble and paint them and build armies that essentially act like detailed chessmen with complex rules. Warhammer 40k is the most popular, with Warmachine being a close second.
Wargames tend to be a big hobby, with gaming, painting/modelling and narrative elements involved. Like 40k, you can simply be a fan of the game, or read the novels, just paint the little plastic men, or all three if you have Scrooge McDuck money. I tend more towards the “paint the little plastic men/read the novels” camp, and have a few minis from the Protectorate of Menoth faction. There are several different armies to choose from, ranging from quasi sci-fi, to full-blown fantasy and a mix of the two.
The way these things tend to go is simple. Pick a faction flavor you like, and either follow the narrative or pick the minis that fit it. Alternatively if you’re into the fiction side of things more, it’s worth pointing out that Larry Correia, author of the Monster Hunter and Grimnoir series has worked on this franchise. If you like Baen books, or simply want to read a fantasy war story by a guy who knows his guns, you can’t go wrong with his novels. They are very fun, and steampunk in a very not-cringey way.
It’s also worth noting that the game itself (unlike 40k) is affordable for folks that aren’t gold-plated. In fact, it’s a pretty good hobby to get into, and fairly easy to paint. My only complaint is that you must have “hero” units of established characters, meaning the armies aren’t technically “your guys” like in Warhammer. For the price though, it’s worth it, and you can paint your dudes any which way you want, including the “hero” units.
What are the Iron Kingdoms?
The Iron Kingdoms are a setting originally made for Dungeons and Dragons, initially introduced in the Witchfire Trilogy campaign. It has since become its own fantasy IP, with a popular wargame (Warmachine/Hordes), role-playing game (Iron Kingdoms), books and merchandise. And a video game, but we don’t like to talk about that…
It’s basically steampunk, but with a focus on gritty war, strange magic and iron-clad technology. The setting feels cohesive and lived-in, with grimy streets, grinding gears, rusted, monstrous robots and ancient sorcery. The aesthetic and feel is VERY wargame-y. Big dudes with big guns and huge pauldrons, moral gray areas for all involved, lots of grit and GRIMDARK. It’s as far away as possible from the flouncey, Jules Verne-y Europop that comprises most steampunk, and quite frankly, that’s for the best.
The cool thing about this setting though, is that while Steampunk Fantasy is the overall theme, there are several different unique cultures within the setting. Angry Spanish Inquisition mixed with some Arabian-inspired sub-factions? You convinced that witch turned you into a newt despite getting better? Are you a pyromaniac? Then Protectorate of Menoth is what you’re looking for!
Or maybe trees are more your thing. You love protecting the earth, runes and all that other hippie stuff? Want to lay the smack down on those humies and their magic-powered robot war machines? Like horde factions, ogres, orcs and trolls? Well, then the Trollbloods army is what you need!
Or heck, maybe you really dig Halloween. Maybe you want to lead an an army of damned souls and twisted pumpkins, ghoulish creatures and cackling sorcerers? Do you have way too many songs by Marilyn Manson or Voltaire on your iPhone? Are you literally counting down the days until Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios opens up again?
Whatever it is you like thematically, there’s a faction that will likely suit you. Paragon good guys, twisted villains, and lots (and lots) of things in the middle. And honestly, that’s one real advantage this game and setting has over 40k. While the overall tone has plenty of grit and grimness to spare, the setting isn’t all just centered around SPESS MAREENS, and there’s really no equivalent to Games Workshop’s huge preference for the Ultramarines/smurfs. All the factions really feel fleshed out and unique, while still being incredibly disparate thematically. And the fanbase is nice and cozy, big enough for it to be a thing with pins and merchandise and conventions, but not big enough for it to be eye-rollingly obsessed about everywhere, like Star Wars or Marvel. It’s a fan’s franchise, and that’s something I honestly appreciate about it.
So yeah, if you’re into tabletop games, miniatures, or fantasy novels with a bit of action, you honestly can’t go wrong with Iron Kingdoms/Warmahordes. Heck, it’s easy to get into as the rulebook’s free, and the ebooks are cheap. Check ’em out! You won’t regret it.