This is the second of 3 articles I published on Mordheim over at 3plusplus.net but with some slight updates and corrections (the link to the original one 187 weeks ago can be gotten via the above sub-heading hyperlink).
Mordheim can be described with a level of accuracy as Warhammer Fantasy Battles Skirmish. In fact, the more recent rules set for WHFB Skirmish (as seen in the back of the WHFB Rulebook from 2 editions back now for WHFB Skirmish) was basically a direct copy and paste of the basic rules for Mordheim minus all the cool parts like the campaign elements, advancement and exploration. If you’ve not played Mordheim before, it is my aim to inspire you to play this beautiful and now officially unsupported specialist game by Games-workshop. It is a great game and a joy to play.
So, who here has played an 8 hour game of Mordheim with 3 Shadow Elves versing 18 Skaven and won after an epic day of manouvrability, feigned attacks, counters to said feigns, and an eventual endgame alpha strike crippling the opponents exploration and advancement because you took all 6 of his heroes out of action for the rout and win?
Has anyone else done something equally awesome in their own games, or in Necromunda or other skirmish games? Is it even possible in these games? For the most part, a game of Mordheim will take 30-120 minutes if that, but depending on who you are playing and how you approach the game depends on the length and challenge of the game itself. Through these articles on Mordheim, I will explore the game in a disseminated manner, examining all aspects of the game in detail in order to enhance your game significantly. If dirty tricks and combinations coupled with good generalship is your cup of tea for Mordheim, or if you are interested in playing a fun and challenging game on a very small scale that can take as few as 3 minutes including all phases (epic fail that game, fun though, lol) with potentially several days of play if you are patient enough and playing the right person or people, then you’ve come to the right place.
Be aware, however, that this style of play especially in Mordheim is NOT for everyone. You will likely be called a dirty, filthy cheat purely because you know how to play well – even when you lose the Battle Phase, you’ll advance further and faster (at least in the early game) then your opponent. And that’s where the key lies. With a proper understanding of the Game Phases and their order as well as how each phase interacts with others, it becomes very apparent. This will be examined indepth throughout many of the articles yet to come and the first major one with the Cult of the Possessed. For now however, look at the next paragrapgh closely and pay especial attention to it:
There are three secrets to playing Mordheim well. Firstly, understanding that this campaign based skirmish game is multi-tiered and that every action made in any of the phases – pre-game deployment; Battle; Post Battle Exploration; Experience Advancement; and Trading/Recruitment – has a direct consequence to every other phase. Secondly, Manouvrability. Finally, Hiding. If you understand how to use each of these things well, then you are well on your way to dominating every campaign you play in…until your opponents also master these aspects and then the game becomes challenging.
My articles will focus on the Core Rulebook and the 2002 Mordheim Annual, with possibly Empire in Flames centred on as well. occasionally I may touch on other sources of Mordheim material but will endeavour to stay focused on the official publications only (Town Cryer Magazine is not official in the sense that EiF and the Annual collected all the bet articles, playtested and refined them to an official standing).
MORDHEIM 101 – UNDERSTANDING WARBAND SELECTION AND DEVELOPMENT
This article is VERY important. If you dismiss it as meaning little to nothing in terms of playing Mordheim then you will NEVER truly achieve the dominating power level that you are capable of in a campaign of Mordheim. More importantly, understanding the synergistic nature of each phase of the game, not just the battle phase, lends itself well to the writing/breaking of new rules as developed by an existing fan base where the official support has disappeared. Today (i.e. today 187 weeks ago) I had a very well respected Mordheimer explain to me how he didn’t understand why Maienburgers were such a great warband because of the extra 20% gold they begin with. He made the argument that sooner or later that advantage disappears (as it does) through the development of warbands and a campaign and an initial set up with extra gold is prone to being destroyed/lost/killed during the game. He made a point that whilst this could and does happen, the 20% extra was still too much of an advantage initially. To my mind, this chap misread the advantage of the Marienburgers completely. His points were based solely on battle effectiveness and effect in-game during battles within the campaign setting. He wasn’t looking at the overall effectiveness of the warband’s advantages to begin with and how to use them to stretch across all phases effectively. Most people spend all of their extra gold crowns when playing Marienburgers. I do not. Why? We’ll get there eventually.
When choosing a warband to play in Mordheim, a great many factors play into the balance which makes the choice a difficult rather then simple one. Whilst in the core rules stat to stat, gold crown to gold crown, the Skaven appear to be the dominant power warband, their inherent low maximum leadership which is very important for all alone tests, fear tests, and the rout tests you will be called upon to make each game, sometimes several times over, is a limitation which affects them greatly. Throw in a severely short range missile weapon list and a tendency to focus towards combat (I have seen incredibly powerful missile based Skaven bringing in Heroes with Weapons Expert to fill the gaps, but this isn’t easy to do well with Skaven) and other less powerful at first glance warbands such as Mercenaries become just as favourable as initial choices.
Looking at Mercenaries is great for demonstrating strengths across all phases of the game. For example, Reiklanders make all their marksmen (up to 7 in the warband) BS 4 as opposed to the standard 3 which, in game, gives a great advantage depending on the weapon load out. Marksmen are best equipped with a crossbow or longbow and Hammer to compliment the free dagger (though with more income and specializing towards a shorter ranged game, Duelling pistols can’t be passed up). Hitting on a base 3+ at range is excellent for crossbow support as well as moving and shooting with longbows. Due to the modifiers of long range, moving and shooting, cover and other negative modifiers which appear in game, being able to hit on a 6+ is far better then not being able to hit at all. Likewise, the strong discipline of a Reiklander warband means they are able to sprad out during a skirmish and engage lone enemies single handedly. Throw in a better chance to engage fear causing opponents when in range of the Captain whilst he is still in action (12” instead of 6” away as per other warbands Leader skill) and you have a solid in game orientated warband.
As all mercenaries share the same equipment lists, there are not major advantages over each other except in skills available to heroes. Reiklanders are all able to choose shooting skills but Middenheimer’s are able to get strength skills. Other skill lists are available to these heroes but these two available across all the heroes in each specific warband act to accentuate the strengths of the mercenaries. Now the advantages of a Middenheimer warband are strength 4 on their Captain and Champions. Wolf Priests can replace a Champion and do have advantages, however, being a later addition, do not comply with the strength 4 base as they are not a Champion. Strength 4 is the maximum strength a human can have meaning in the skills advancement stage, instead of a 50/50 chance of strength/attack increasing when rolled, you instantly get that extra attack f this option is rolled. Weight of attacks is a massive advantage in Mordheim especially with high strength values. Thus Middenheimer’s are good both in game as well as in the experience advancement phase which plays a direct role on the strength of a warband in game as well as enabling the heroes to gain more advances (albeit just 1) over their compatriots from other Empire states.
Marienburgers…well they are rich but not just in the extra starting gold crowns department. Marienburgers have a diverse skills list for their heroes, namely all having access to combat, shooting and speed. Each starting hero can learn to use any weapon in the game and alongside being able to learn both dodge and step aside (better then armour a lot of the time!) have the speed to get into position sooner rather then later. The +1 to rare rolls means that you have a 1 in 12 chance to get a rare 12 item from the trading post rather then a 1 in 36 chance, but also, for items such as lucky charms and lucky rabbits feet (usually gotten for each hero within the first few games of a campaign) which are fairly easy to find but essential, getting one for each hero before other warbands is a nice early game advantage. This modification means that Marienburgers are much more likely to have a diverse range of hard to find equipment then other warbands.
Now, unlike other GW games where a dominant army or list becomes evident in time, Mordheim is almost entirely balanced. A large part of this is apparent in campaign play but also in what you can do in a battle to counter strong lists. E.g. The power Skaven starting warband is Assassin Adept (Hammer, dagger, sling), 2 Black Skaven (Hammer, dagger, sling), 2 Night Runners (Hammer, dagger, sling), Eshin Sorcerer (Hammer, dagger, sling), 5 Verminkin (Hammer, dagger, sling), 5 Verminkin (dagger, dagger, sling) = 500gc’s for 16 models. Most novice players complain of not being able to defeat this army when all they need to do is find a solid wall and hide behind it and wait. That or move and hide as they approach the Skaven, if they can’t make it to the next piece of terrain without exposing themselves (i.e., not completely concealed or just in cover only and not hiding) then wait where you are. The Skaven won’t be able to shoot you until you are not hidden which exposes them to your counter attack as they have to be within their initiative range in inches to detect you (and if you’re staggered this can be a challenge) or move to where they can see your model completey unobscured, again because you know how to play and set up counter charge lines, exposing the Skaven to a counter attack that will do serious damage to him/her.The Skaven have a low leadership so setting up to OOA the Skaven Assassin/Leader and wiping out enough numbers to force a rout test next turn for the Skaven player (usually at Ld 6 so failing more then half the time) is a huge advantage and counter to the Skaven – patience and skill is what is focused here, and if the Skaven player is a strong opponent they will be playing as carefully as you to get the first massed charge in and cripple your ability to force them to start rout tests.
Furthermore, losing the battle doesn’t mean you’ve done worse then your opponent if you approach the battle right and have developed your warband both in equipment/manpower and also in skills selected/hired (Hired Swords). This can be done in a number of broad ways.
The first decision is initial warband size and how fast you want to expand. Each warrior contributes points to the overall warband rating and the higher or lower this rating is to the other warbands in your campaign depends on whether they or you gain extra experience for surviving the battle due to underdog experience bonuses (which act to slowly but effectively balance out relevant skills/manpower strengths…in most cases anyways).My own personal preference is to run a small number of warriors starting with heroes, then single henchmen groups (to increase TLGT advance chances). I usually run 3 to 6 models for the first 3 to 12 games of a campaign and whilst this means I receive extra underdog experience for surviving, there are many negatives to this approach. I have less income then other warbands in the exploration phase, have less strength in game (and thus lose the battles more often then not or voluntarily rout most games to minimize long term impact on the warband as well as immediate income that battle) and do not develop in terms of overall equipment and warband strength. But why, you ask me, do I do this in the early campaign? The answer is two-fold. Firstly, I don’t make mistakes in game with 3 to 6 models max on the field. When I go bigger, I make silly mistakes and lose guys at random. That is just me though. Secondly, it means that by the mid-game of a campaign, you have 2, 3, 4 or more heroes who are either maxed out on experience development or close on it. These heroes are able to take on multiple enemies at once and face off against opposing heroes who are only about half as much developed due to being in a bigger warband. This is how I play most campaigns these days before I rapidly fill out hero and henchmen warband positions for the rest of the campaign. I warn you now, it is far harder to do well in this approach then I’ve made it sound here because it also relies on an ability to work the exploration and trade phases to your advantage at the same time as only losing one or two models to OOA each game, this isn’t always possible and heroes can get quite a number of serious injuries when you pursue this route of warband development and game play.
Conversely, approaching the warband size from the numbers game has its advantages and against most normal opponent’s weight of numbers and attacks will carry the day for you well. Most players strike a balance opting for 9 to 12 warband members with a good mixture of items and equipment. Each style has its advantages and disadvantages with none being better then the other and only as effective as the player behind the warband.
Once you have your warband size selected initially and know roughly where you are going, you can decide on the style of warband you want to develop. Most warbands have an underlying theme of shooting, combat or a mixture of both, but for each individual warrior it is important to have a broad understanding of where you want them to go. This is especially true of Heroes who get alot of skill advances before they roll stat advances. As a player you need to be able to adapt if you’ve decided on a shooting hero and gotten 4 or 5 shooting skills and end up with no ballistic skill increases at all for example. Nothing is set in stone in terms of predictability so keep an open mind and be ready to change up ideas for each hero if and when it is needed.
Other considerations in understanding a warband and its’ selection/development include the use of the exploration phase via equipment use to your advantage as well as how best to acquire that equipment and in what order to acquire it. Hired Swords are also a consideration to examine but in all these cases, they will be explored on a warband by warband basis as I examine each warband in separate articles.
To sum up, Mordheim is not just about the battle phase. It isn’t about apparent strengths in terms of the battle only, it is a game that has a many facetted approach and planning ahead of time will save you a lot of heartache and develop your game as a whole immensely. Remembering that each phase is affected by the other and that once a battle is over there are still many more things to do which are just as important as the battle (though the battle is the most fun by far), will ensure you and your warbands develop much more efficiently as a whole.
All the best,