I have an interestingly ambivalent relationship with Warmachine and Hordes. I first discovered the Iron Kingdoms back when it was a d20 RPG setting, and I've loved it ever since. There really aren't any missed notes in that world, and the art and graphic presentation of both the RPG and miniatures lines is always top notch.
So I was happy to take the plunge into the world of WarmaHordes back in spring of 2014. But almost immediately, I started to hear a dissonant note among the previously flawless symphony of awesome. (Yeah, how's that for a metaphor?)
And I've been trying to figure out where that flat note was coming from ever since.
I think I've got it now.
Here's the thing: I'm a "fluff" guy. I like crunch, sure, but I play miniatures games for the story as much for the challenge of trying to beat my opponent. I'm not a "scenario only" type of gamer, don't get me wrong, but I like a bit of context to my games. Lack of fluff is one of the primary reasons I stopped playing Armies of Arcana, for example. It's not enough for me to just have "Amazons versus Undead" or "Russians versus Germans".
Having said that, I realize that a lot of folks don't give two bits about a setting's fluff and are perfectly happy with generic match-ups. But what I'm primarily seeing when it comes to how WarmaHordes is represented online is an almost willful dismissal of the setting's fluff within the context of gameplay. Which is ironic, considering that the Iron Kingdoms is probably one of the most fluff-heavy games out there, perhaps even more so than 40K.
The realization struck me when I was watching the latest WarGamerGirl battle report. These reports are always top notch (I'm a Patreon backer, because I want to see more!), but I realized what's missing from them is any sort of fluff. Even though they inevitably use a scenario, we're not told what the scenario is about or how the forces on the table fit into the scenario.
In this latest report, we're told that they're using the scenario "Incoming" but, although the setup and victory conditions of the scenario are flashed up on the screen, we are not told what the scenario is meant to signify. What's "incoming," precisely? Is this, like, attacker versus defender, or a meeting engagement, or what? The victory conditions don't help, either. We get the usual "boxes" on the table, but are not told why it's important that the factions control those boxes. (I was also a little disappointed to note the appearance of flat paper terrain in this report.)
Now, it might seem like I'm picking on WarGamerGirl, but I'm only singling her out because she strikes me as being right in the mainstream of WarmaHordes players. The culture of the game seems to focus around abstract, crunch-focused considerations. The game itself encourages a rather unrealistic flow of action, with the two factions lining up opposite each other scrimmage-style in one big long line. The game's pixel-bitching focus on "WYSIWYG" line of sight rules, and the crucial importance of LoS in the game, makes terrain almost a hassle to deal with. I've seen other W/H players expressing their preference for flat paper terrain, since it makes it easier to judge issues of LoS and positioning.
What of it, then? That's the question. Does this crunch-focused culture that pervades the community, that indeed seems to be encouraged by the rules themselves, affect my own W/H gaming in any way? Well, yes and no.
Certainly, I'm free to play the game with however much fluff I wish to inject, as always. But it's undeniable that the greater culture surrounding a game influences how one experiences the game itself; one of the appeals of the "OldHammer" movement is that it's extremely DIY and fluff-focused, both causes near and dear to my heart.
(My introduction to battle reports came in the pages of White Dwarf back in the early 90s, and those reports always had lots of fun little fluffy details, including snippets of fiction based off events in the battle. That's still my idea of a perfect battle report.)
Furthermore, knowing that the seeming majority of W/H players subscribe to this more crunch-heavy approach means that I'm a lot less likely to try and look for pick-up games among my local gaming community. It all feels a bit alienating.
As I said at the top of this post, I still love the Iron Kingdoms setting a decade after my first exposure. And, having identified what's been bothering me about Warmachine/Hordes all this time, I can take appropriate steps to no longer be bothered by said things. But I kind of wish it didn't have to be this way to begin with. I wish the game was more in line with Malifaux, which does an excellent job of effortlessly generating "fluffy" details even through its own crunch. Or, dare I say it, that W/H would get the "Age of Sigmar" treatment...?