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.

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