Warmachine: Anatomy of a Turn

Now that we have an understanding of what a warcaster looks like, and some of the abilities that the warcaster has, let’s take a look at the typical anatomy of a turn in Warmachine.  n a Warmachine game, each player takes alternating turns.  Each set of turns is a round.  The game itself ends when any of the win conditions of the game have been met.  The most common win condition occurs when one player’s warcaster is eliminated.  In some venues, there is a time limit, or round limit which ends the game.

On any given turn, a player will go through three phases to complete their turns.  These phases are the Maintenance, Control, and Activation Phases.  Let’s look at each of these in a little more detail.

Maintenance Phase:

Goal: Clearing Focus and Resolving Continuous Effects

This phase is not important on the first turn of the game, but plays a critical part of each subsequent turn.  In this phase, you begin by pulling all leftover focus from all your friendly models.  If pKreoss had four focus at the beginning of your turn, you take that focus off of him at this time.  If his warjack had one focus left on it, you take it off right now.  This step basically takes all focus off the board and gets you ready for your reset.

Now, the last step in this phase is to resolve any continuous effects.  That means if any of your models are suffering from fire or corrosion or any other effects, you must see if they do damage.  Of course, if you’re playing Menoth, like I am, you are planning on setting your OPPONENT’s models on fire, so you want to make sure that you remember this rule during THEIR maintenance phase.  With everything going on in even a small Warmachine game, it can be ridiculously easy to forget this phase and jump straight to the Control Phase.  Remember that your models are balanced with the expectation that you will have these effect occur!  Don’t forget!

In order to resolve a continuous effect, the player must roll a d6 per model suffering a continuous effect.  On a roll of 1 or 2, the model is no longer suffering from the continuous effect.  On any other roll, the model takes damage depending on the type of effect:

  • Fire: The model suffers a POW 12 damage roll.  In other words, you get a free attack against the enemy model!  You roll 2d6, like a normal damage roll, and add the 12 from the POW.  If this sum is higher than the model’s ARM (armor), then the model takes damage equal every point over their ARM.  This means that any models with an ARM of 13 or lower is automatically damaged.
  • Corrosion: This is apparently an effect that Cryx, the tricksy glass cannon faction in Warmachine, applies with abandon.  A model who rolls 3-6 for a corrosion effect will automatically suffer one point of damage.  Against single wound infantry, this is sick nasty.

After you have performed these two steps, your Maintenance Phase is complete, and your Control Phase begins.

Control Phase

Goal: Refreshing focus, Allocating focus, Upkeeping spells

This is where the game begins on turn one.  Your warcaster refreshes all their focus up to their Focus stat and can allocate focus to warjacks in their battlegroups, up to a limit of 3 focus per jack.  For instance, let’s assume that our caster is pKreoss and he has one warjack in his battlegroup.

  • Refresh: At the beginning of his Control Phase, pKreoss receives 7 focus points.  This is where you have to decide what your army is going to do on this turn.  Hopefully, you’ve been considering your options up to this point and calculating where you can deliver your best effects and payload, but in any case, this is where the rubber meets the road.  You should have a good idea about what you want to accomplish on this turn before you move to the next step, because once your focus leaves the caster, you can’t get it back.
  • Allocation:pKreoss can now allocate his 7 points to his battlegroup, which are the warjacks assigned to him.

    pKreoss with 7 focus considers his options.

    In this case, there is only one, so let’s give that jack 3 focus.

    Use your focus wisely. You need to have your turn planned by the time you are allocating focus.

    The warjack can use that focus to perform power attacks (slam, headbutt, push, throws, tramples, arm and head locks, and charges), to buy extra attacks, to boost attack or damage rolls (roll an extra die, for 3d6), or to shake the effects of knockdown or stationary.  When you allocate focus to a jack, you’re basically betting that this jack is going to have to do at least one of these things on this turn.  You don’t want to allocate too much focus to a jack because leftover focus is basically wasted on a jack, whereas unused focus on a warcaster makes them harder to kill.  Consider your targets and goals, and give your jacks just enough to succeed, and have a contingency plan in case it doesn’t come through.  You don’t want to lose the game because you had one plan that didn’t come through and you decided to put your warcaster in danger in order to accomplish it.

  • Upkeep: Finally, pKreoss may spend one focus to maintain any upkeep spells he cast on his previous turn.  If pKreoss had cast Defender’s Ward on his warjack last turn, he can now upkeep it and have it last an additional round for a discounted rate of 1 focus.  On your first turn, during the activation phase, you’ll probably have some space focus, because you’re going to be maneuvering into range of the opposing army.  now is the time to cast those expensive upkeep spells!  On your second turn with pKreoss, you’re saving 3 focus if you are able to upkeep Defender’s Ward and Lamentation during your Control Phase, as opposed to casting them fresh.  Plan a turn ahead.  By the same token, if this is the turn you are going on all in, drop useless upkeeps.  Lamentation will do pKreoss no good on the turn he plans to kill the opposing caster, because that caster won’t have the chance to cast any spells.  That focus can be used to buy attacks or add damage, ensuring that the job gets done.

Completing these actions bring the turn to the activation phase.

Activation Phase

Goal: Move and Activate all your models

This is the game!  Each model or unit in your army activates independently, and you activate all your models before your opponent gets a chance to respond.  This is the phase where your cunning strategy gets executed with panache and aplomb – until the dice hit the table and your start rolling 3s and 4s and everything goes to hell.  No worries!  It’s just a game!

Each model’s activation occurs in two stages: Movement and Action.  Activations must occur IN THIS ORDER, unless you have a special rule on your model’s card which states otherwise.

  • Movement: Your options for movement start with your speed stat (SPD).  Your model may move this distance in inches in any direction in the front half of the model’s facing (called the model’s front arc).  Models may also simply change their facing, which uses their movement activation.  Additionally, models can forfeit their movement to gain a bonus to their ranged attacks (called an aiming bonus).  Movement cannot cut across the bases of any other models, including friendly models!  You have to make room for all your models to get to where you want them to go.  If you activate your models in the wrong order, you can easily box some of your models out of the area you want them to be.  Plan your activations carefully!
  • Movement – Running, Charging and Moving in Melee:  If you wish to forfeit your action, your model can also run.  This allows them to move double their SPD in inches, but prevents them from making attacks or taking any other actions on their turn.  This is important if you wish to have your warcaster run: they won’t be able to cast spells or use their feats on this turn!  Your other movement option is a charge, which adds 3 to your speed and requires you to move in a straight line into melee range with an enemy model.  The advantage here is that you get the bonus speed and you automatically gain a boosted damage roll if you hit!  That’s 3d6 dice instead of 2d6 on the damage roll.  Now, the hard part: if you’re already in melee range of a model at the beginning of your turn, you cannot move away without taking a free strike, an out of order attack by your opponent that is generally very damaging.  Thus, if you’re stuck in, you will usually lose your movement and proceed directly to the action portion of the model’s activation.  It’s important to remember, however, that you can adjust your movement inside melee, so long as you stay in range of the opponent model’s front arc (the front half of their model’s base).  This can allow you to make room in melee range for counter-charging allies and to grant line of sight for spells and ranged attacks.
  • Action: Typically, your action is going to take the form of attacking.  Each model gets all of their listed attack on a turn, unless there is some reason that they can’t take a turn.  pKreoss only has one attack, so that all he gets without buying more attacks with focus, but some models have 2 or more attacks they can perform every turn.  In future posts, we’ll discuss how we can take advantage of this to clear out waves of attackers.  Another action a warcaster can take is to cast spells.  A warcaster can cast spells before moving, after moving, after a charge (but before the initial attack) and at the end of their turn.  They cannot cast spells if they have run their previous turn.

After each model has been activated (even if you simply point at a model and say, “he doesn’t move, and doesn’t act, done”), then your turn is over and play passes to your opponent.  After their turn, the round is over, and your next turn begins, so long as no win conditions have been met.  In future posts, we’ll talk more about the basics over the game – movement, power attacks, warjacks, battlegroups, and so on.

Warmachine: High Exemplar Kreoss

High Exemplar Kreoss, or pKreoss

If you’re interested in Warmachine, the first thing you should know is that your army will be commanded by a warcaster.  Warcasters are much like a cross between a queen and a king in chess: they are simultaneously the most power piece on the board, and the most vulnerable piece.  The warcaster will generate focus every turn, and can use it to cast spells, buy extra attacks, boost attack rolls, boost damage rolls, shake off status effects and can allocate the focus at the beginning of their turn in order to allow their warjacks perform these actions as well.  On the other hand, if your warcaster dies, you lose.

But the other advantage the warcaster has is a once per game ability that can change the entire dynamic of the game: the Feat.  Feats can give the warcaster an advantage or turn the tides when they are on their heels.  I’ve been told that the feats can be huge game changers, and I believe it.

Now we get to High Exemplar Kreoss, or pKreoss (short for Prime Kreoss… many warcasters also have an Epic version with different abilities and spells to reflect their advancement in the game’s storyline, and Epic Kreoss, or Grand Exemplar is one of them).  pKreoss is the warcaster who comes in the Protectorate of Menoth Battlebox, and is considered by many to be one of the best casters in the game.  Let’s take a look at why Kreoss is considered so good.

Stats and Attacks

Kreoss has a statline that means he is not the most durable caster in the game.  In fact, his defenses are not great – a charge from a decent melee model has a pretty good chance of putting him into the dirt on an average attack and slightly above average damage roll.  He does have a healthy amount of hit points, though.  Luckily, pKreoss has some great spells and abilities that end up mitigating his poor defenses.  His weapon, a giant poled mace called Spellbreaker, will remove spells from enemy models on hit, has reach, which gives him two inches of melee threat range, and is a magic weapon, making it great for attacking models which can’t be targeted by normal weapons.  pKreoss hits a little harder than your average light warjack, but will need to spend his precious focus in order to hit and damage harder targets.  Although pKreoss can destroy enemies in melee, his low defenses mean that you’ll want to keep him screened with other troops, and when he does charge in, he wants to destroy what he attacks so he’s not being threatened with caster assassination on the enemy’s following turn.  Finally, pKreoss has a focus stat which allows him to cast or upkeep a few spells and support a few warjacks each turn.  He’ll have a hard time casting his offensive spells on any given turn, so plan carefully when you’re giving out focus to your jacks.


This is one of pKreoss’ strongest weapons: he can make everything in his large Control range immediately become knocked down.  This is a wonderful ability because it extends more than a foot in every direction, and causes enemies to be hit automatically with melee attacks, and with a paltry 5 on ranged attacks.  Enemies who stand up on their turn must either forfeit their movement or actions, or must spend a focus if they are able.  Obviously, in order to take advantage of this feat, you want pKreoss to activate first on your turn, so the rest of your models can tee up properly.  A few thoughts:

  • If you feat, spend your focus on extra attacks, not extra damage, unless you have a really good reason.  A Crusader warjack with a full allocation of 3 focus autohitting on five attacks (two initial attacks, plus three focus-purchased attacks with its most powerful weapon) is going to squash whatever it attacks.  This can also let you clear out infantry and other bothersome model swarms which are gumming up your works.
  • Knocked down models do not block line of sight.  If you catch all the opponent’s models in your feat radius, any ranged attacks you have can target the opposing warcaster with an almost guaranteed chance of hitting.
  • Knocked down models cannot attack and cannot make free strikes.  You still can’t move through their bases though.  Can you move in a way that gives you an advantage?  Can you walk up to the opposing caster with a warjack or other model?  Then do it!
  • Using this feat defensively will only work sometimes, as many models can shake the knockdown effect on their turns by spending a focus.  This still lets you throw them off their game, but you’ll want to get your damage off while you still have a shot at it.  Clear out valuable support models, clear out your charge lanes, and go for the caster if you are at all able.

Spell List

pKreoss has five spells, and they drive him to be a denial caster.

Cleansing Fire – An Area of Effect spell which causes Fire damage and a critical fire continuous effect.  pKreoss could use this spell twice, but there seems to be much better options for him on any given turn unless you can catch some critical models in the AOE or can get a shot at the caster.  I’m still looking for a good opportunity to use this one.  If I can get line of sight through an arc node to an opposing warcaster, I might go for the gusto and boost in hopes of setting them on fire, but that’s a lot of focus to chase after the small chance.  Of course, if you can catch a few models under the small template, it becomes a better value.  Protip: Doing this attack against a large based model will basically only hit models in base to base with the large base.  Look for clumps of small based or medium based models to ding with this, especially single wound models who you could clear off the board.

Defender’s Ward – Personally, I think this is Kreoss’ best spell: a low cost upkeep that increases a model or unit’s defense and armor stats.  This makes an average attack much less likely to hit or do damage, and can be awesome on the right models.  Models with naturally high defense can be practically unhittable with this buff, and high arm models can be super difficult to damage. Casting Defender’s Ward and upkeeping it all game long can be a pretty easy habit.  I’m getting ahead of myself, but in one game, I cast this on my Crusader heavy warjack, as he was charged by three Gatormen Posse members and then the opposing warlock Barnabas on the following turn.  Barnabas bought and boosted 4 attacks on the Crusader and did a total of five damage.  Defender’s Ward was the difference between that Crusader surviving and winning the game the next turn, and getting scrapped myself.  Thinking of using this on a unit in order to increase their potential to muck up the opponent’s turn.

Immolation – Another offensive spell.  Costs one less than Cleansing Fire, but only affects one model and does less damage, but has the same effects and damage type.  I could see using this spell when you absolutely have to clear a charge lane by killing an opponent’s model, but it’s hard to see a really good use for this right now.  I’ll be interested to see whether the opportunity presents itself.

Lamentation – This spell is pure denial.  It makes enemy models pay double for spells within pKreoss’ control area.  This spell scares the pants off of opposing players.  They really don’t want to pay the focus tax this puts on them, and they will avoid casting spells while its up, even if it would be beneficial for them to do so.  Opponents may retreat out of your control range to cast spells, so be careful if they have arcnodes – since the arcnode uses the caster’s location, it avoids this spell entirely.  Even so, if you can bully the opponent into retreating to cast, you might be able to get them to move their warjacks or beasts outside of their OWN control area, which can cost them an effective activation on the next turn.  Cast this one on the first turn and upkeep it every turn, unless you’re going all in and need the extra focus for another attack or boost.  Figure out how your opponent is going to attempt to deal with Lamentation and make them pay for it by being aggressive and encouraging them to therefore make mistakes.

Purification – This is an interesting spell.  It is a high cost pulse which turns off continuous effects, animi and upkeep spells inside the control area of pKreoss.  You could easily hurt yourself with this spell – don’t cast if it you’ve already upkept your Defender’s Ward and Lamentation or you are counting on your continuous fire to damage your opponents next turn, since you’ll cancel those effects as well as the enemy effects.  Still, if you think ahead, you can get rid of harmful effects that your opponent is counting on.  One especially useful use of Purification is to cast it when one of your key units or models has been affected with an enemy debuff – get rid of it and attack the enemy at full strength.

Overall Gameplan

pKreoss seems like he has an interesting risk/reward gameplay style.  He doesn’t want to be on the frontlines, since he is fairly easy to hit and damage, but he wants to be near the enemy so he can affect them with his awesome knockdown feat and be available to destroy any stray enemy models.  He certainly needs an army that can deal damage in his stead, so models like the Crusaders and other heavy jacks will have a place in his list, as will models with powerful ranged attacks, like the Reedemer and the Reckoner.  So far, in my low point games, I’ve bricked him up, screening him with the rest of my army, while getting as close as I could to the jacks he supports.    At this point, I have no real ranged models (my next model should definitely be a ranged jack or unit of some sort!), so I need to focus on getting my army to the fight and taking advantage of the feat turn to do as much damage as possible while avoiding retaliation as best I can.  Knowing when to fight and when to stay safe is going to be my biggest challenge with pKreoss, but it’s one I look forward to encountering.

Warmachine: My Protectorate Army

From left to right: Revenger, Paladin of the Wall, Crusader, Kreoss, and Repenter

I’ve had an interest in the game Warmachine for several years.  In fact, a few years ago, I purchased a starting collection of models, but could never really get motivated to go through the pain of making the models (especially because they are made of metal, which requires a little more skill to assemble) and didn’t have a great place to play the game.  In the last few months, I’ve decided to get off the sidelines and start painting my models and playing the game.  The game itself can best be described as a skirmish fantasy wargame.  Here’s the official description from the Privateer Press website:

“WARMACHINE players take on the role of warcasters as they lead their titanic forces into battle. Warcasters possess significant martial prowess of their own as well as having hardened warriors and magical spells to bring to bear. Players collect, assemble, and paint fantastically detailed models representing the varied warriors, machines, and creatures in their armies. WARMACHINE is fully compatible with its feral twin, the monstrous miniatures combat game of HORDES.”

There are currently 9 main factions across the Warmachine and Hordes games, along with two other smaller restricted factions.  Each of them has a different theme and playstyle, but each of the factions are balanced enough that you can pretty much just choose the models that look good to you and jump in.  After perusing the factions, I was immediately attracted to the Protectorate of Menoth, a country of religious zealots who use fire to purge their enemies and make up for some lackluster statlines with some awesome synergy and denial tactics.

It is looking like I’ll get the opportunity to play the game about twice a month, and so I’d like to examine the way my models interact through this blog.  As I expand my army, I’ll expand my thoughts, looking for new synergies, and trying to examine the way my actual games end up based on my proposed strategies and the interaction of my models on the table.  Next time, I’ll be examining my first warcaster model, High Exemplar Kreoss.