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Warhammer The Old World – How to Play, Lore & Guide

Warhammer: The Old World is the latest game published by Games Workshop through their Specialist Games division. It is set roughly 300 years before the events that led to the end of the world and of the game Warhammer Fantasy Battles.

As its precursor, it’s still a rank-and-file battle game played between models with a square base (to facilitate fitting in ranks close to each other) with a rule set that winks to previous editions of Warhammer Fantasy Battles but evolves from there and brings the game to the XXI century.

In this article, we are going to describe what this game is about from a fresh perspective (no comparisons to previous editions), explain a bit about the lore and the rules, and what you need to play it. It is our all in one Warhammer The Old World Guide.

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What’s Warhammer: The Old World?

Warhammer Fantasy Battles (WFB) was the first game released by Games Workshop whose first model range started in 1983. The game was vastly popular but it was eventually discontinued and replaced by Warhammer: Age of Sigmar in 2015.

In this sense, The Old World could be considered a prequel of Warhammer Fantasy Battles (WFB) and a prequel’s prequel of Age of Sigmar. It takes place a few hundred years before the End Times, the historical period canonically considered the end of the world and of WFB.

The Old World is developed by Games Workshop Specialist Games division, often associated with the name ForgeWorld, which specializes in advanced resin models and upgrade kits and is famous for releasing and supporting games like The Horus Heresy or Middle-Earth Strategy Battle Games.

The name Old World comes from the reference to the central part of the known Warhammer world that roughly represents an alternative version of medieval Europe, also called Old World in real-life. This is also the centre of most novels and games published in the years like the Gotrek and Felix book saga, the first Total War Warhammer videogame and even the first Hero Quest board game.

You may hear WFB game referred to using some of the most popular editions, like the 5th and the 6th, while the 8th was the last one published. But Old World is not a ninth edition and, while it pays homage to the old rulesets, is its own game, with its own narrative, factions, and characters.

This last point is also very important because some of the most well-known (mortal) characters, have not been born yet, or they are extremely young and less famous or important in the current narrative. So there’s ample space for new characters and new events never explored before.

Even the factions received a little uplift. While all 16 factions that were supported in some fashion in the 8th edition of WFB received at least a free PDF with the basic rules to play the army, only 9 are officially supported and part of the ongoing story and we will be focussing only on those.

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I’m an Oldhammer Warhammer Fantasy fan, is Warhammer: The Old World for me?

Yes and no. The core of the game is still the same. There are still rank-and-file units that wrestle together for the control of the battlefield. If that is your type of the game, you will be familiar with the rule set, but this is an upgrade on many points of view, and many things are different. The game is also in its very infancy, so there’s great room for expansions that may change how armies play and even bend rules.

And all of this is very exciting because despite the limitations of maintaining the canonical unaltered timeline, there’s ample room for exploration and trying new things (did someone say Kislev or Cathay?).

If you played the previous iterations of WFB, chances are you still have an army waiting to be dusted off and roam the battlefield. However, if you are a player of one of the 7 not-fully-supported factions, you may be discouraged by Games Workshop statements and ban of these factions from official tournaments.

To this, we can only say that in friendly games no one is going to check which army you play and at launch, they all seem to have received the same level of love in creating the basic army list that makes all of them playable. Will they never receive anything else than a free PDF at launch? That is not possible to say; if I were a betting man, I would say it all depends on the economic success of the game and how further can the development studio expand the current scope.

Skaven army ready for battle in Warhammer Fantasy 8th Edition

The other obstacle you may encounter is that if you rebased all your miniatures from square to round to play them in Age of Sigmar you are now discouraged from going back to square (because it is a lot of work). While that is a hobby project of complete respect (I rebased 120 goblins for Age of Sigmar and have no intention to go back), there are alternatives that undoubtedly will become cheaper the more options are available in the market.

For example, there are square to round bases that you can pop under your miniatures, and the good news is that a 25mm round base, greatly fits a 25mm square base (the new standard for basic infantry). Other models may be a bit more complex, so you will need to evaluate if this a deal-breaker for you.

The same goes if you still have your old army on the 20mm bases: easy to pop them over a 25mm adapter.

I played Total War and no other wargame before, is Warhammer: The Old World for me?

This game is heavy on rules. The basic rules are covered in around 70 pages within the 350+ of the core book. The advanced rules are roughly an extra 120 pages. And this is without considering that you still need at least the book for your own faction with all profiles (and special rules) of your army.

Warhammer: The Old World Rulebook
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If you never played a wargame before, this could be daunting at the beginning, but there are plenty of people who started playing for the first time with Warhammer Fantasy Battles, and this game is in no shape or fashion more complicated than that one.

You just need to arm yourself with a lot of patience (and a giant notepad to recap the core concepts you’ll need more often) and a like-minded friend who is going through the same process (and pain) together.

If you are hoping to be submerged by statistics, tables, and complex mechanics to out-manoeuvre your opponent, then that’s your bread and butter, however, nothing of this is required to enjoy a simple game of Old World.

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I have experience with wargames but not Warhammer Fantasy, is Warhammer: The Old World for me?

If you have experience with rank-and-file games, you’ll see many familiar concepts here. The main complexity is not given by the main ruleset, which is straightforward and easy to understand, but by the advanced rules which define each unit.

To give you an example, if you want to field a unit of Skeleton Warriors, which is one of the most basic unit the Tomb Kings can field, you will need to read their profile that is in the Ravening Hordes book. This presents you a list of optional loadouts, whose rules are present in the Core Book, and a list of special rules. There are 5 special rules. One represents the type of formation they can use, 3 are advanced rules present at the end of the Core Book and one is a new special rule unique to the Tomb Kings. So you move to the end of the Ravening Horde book to read it, and you will quickly be pointed towards another 4 advanced rules to check in the Core Book.

And this is a basic unit. However, many of these rules will feel familiar while you scroll through the army’s profile. Many options are similar across units, and this variety of choices is a great component of this game. List building will be sometimes more than half the fun of playing this game, so it must be something you are at the very least familiar with from other games and you need to enjoy.

To return back to our Skeleton Warriors example of before, without including the Tomb Kings Arcane Journal that finds a new way to use them, they can be equipped as plain as possible with no other option, add spears that allow the second rank to fight, add light armour that makes them a bit more resistant, and even make them skirmishers that harass the enemy in unstructured formation. You can even give them magic standards, making two units of Skeletons quite different from each other.

If your experience is limited to skirmish games, this game will be a huge step from it as in its core allows to field horde of units, each composed of many models. While small games with elite models are possible, the game is designed to use a mixture of them and cannon fodder with many pages detailing how to perform movements, that you wouldn’t have in other skirmish or small format games.

Once you get all of the special rules, it is amazing. Until then be prepared to flip through various books to find the rule you are looking for.

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Lore of Warhammer: The Old World

The Warhammer Fantasy world has existed for over 40 years and its lore is immense. We are going to try to summarise the main event that leads us to today’s narrative, but please keep in mind that for the sake of synthesis, many things will be omitted and if you are familiar with some of the biggest names from the Total War Warhammer videogame or previous editions of WFB, here many of them don’t exist yet or are not that important to be present in The Old World narrative.

The world of Warhammer was initially inhabited by dragons and other ferocious beasts, but roughly 17000 years ago, a mysterious spacefaring race known only as the Old Ones decided that this planet was prime for their Great Plan. They terraformed the planet to shape it and create the Geomantic Web that allows magic to flow.

They were aided by their servants, the Slann, toad-like powerful wizards who settled in Lustria, a verdant continent west of the Old World. They also created new races to populate this world: first the Elves, then the Dwarves, and finally the race of Men.

All went well for ten thousand years, but then the Great Catastrophe occurred. To travel the universe, the Old Ones created giant gates at the poles of the world that tapped into limitless reserves of raw magic. But the beings that lived in this reality soon desired to reach this new world and so one day mysteriously the portals collapsed unleashing chaos magic and banishing the Old Ones forever. This breach allowed daemonic forces to pour through the battered gates, now a conduit to the Chaos Realm, and invade in troves.

The Goblins march to war! The keen-eyed will notice the old-school green table.

The Slann and their servants, the Lizardmen, took the majority of the blunt and one by one their temple-cities were besieged and fell. After over a thousand years of war, somehow the forces of Chaos were finally driven back and the Storm of Magic that thrashed the world subsided.

It could have been the heroic sacrifice of Lord Kroak who, despite losing his life to protect Itza, his temple-city, unleashed the most powerful banishing spells ever created. Or the magical vortex created by Caledor Dragontamer and his congregation of elven wizards that siphoned out the excess magic weakening the daemons. Or maybe even Griminir, one of the forefathers and god of the dwarven race, who threw himself into the chaos realm to battle the chaos gods for eternity.

Whichever the triggering event, it ushered in a golden age where the Elves and Dwarves prospered and expanded in the world, creating new colonies or re-occupying the areas that were lost during the Chaos invasion.

But the good times are not destined to last long. Malerion, son of the second wife of the first Elven Phoenix King, convinced the Elven throne was his by birthright, started a civil war that ended in a schism between the High Elves and the Dark Elves. His treachery continued in orchestrating a war between the Elves and the Dwarves which concluded with the death of the Phoenix King and the victory of the Dwarves but at a huge cost in lives and resources from both sides. For this reason, both races were forced to retire to their strongholds to recuperate, giving space for the men to proliferate and expand.

In the meanwhile, 2500 years before the coronation of Sigmar, according to the Imperial Calendar, Settra became the first Priest-King unifying all Nehekaran cities and creating the first human empire. 500 years later, Nagash is born from the king of Khemri but instead of becoming a king, he is enrolled in the priestly Mortuary Cult. His ambitions led him to investigate dark ways to become immortal and eventually, he tried to subjugate the entire Nehekara summoning hordes of undead to serve him. He was defeated, but not before cursing the land to become a wasteland where only the undead roam the deserts.

The dwarven expansion is also halted by different natural disasters including earthquakes and volcanic explosions other than the constant harassment of Orc and Goblin tribes that managed to overrun several fortified cities also known as Karaks.

In the year -30 IC (of the Imperial Calendar), Sigmar is born as the son of a tribal chief. He forges a powerful alliance with the dwarven king Kurgan Ironbeard, by saving his life, to then become the first to unite all tribes of men in the Old World in a unified empire. At the battle of Black Fire Pass, Sigmar and his allied dwarves, finally defeated the Orc and Goblin Waaagh! securing important trade routes that will allow exchange between the two races and considerable technological advancements on the human side.

Sigmar also defeated a resurgent Nagash before disappearing forever in the east and becoming the center of a divine cult himself. The Empire he created will not remain cohesive for long and in the current times, there are different elector counts (those that are supposed to elect a single leader) that claim to be the rightful emperor dividing the land of men and making them vulnerable to external attacks.

It is the year 2250 IC, the Empire is split into different warring factions, but the scourge of vampires and undead is currently sedated. In the west, the Bretonni tribes have been unified by Gilles le Breton and thanks to the help of the Lady of the Lake, Bretonnia monarchs have an extremely long life.

Some High Elves believe the men would be essential to stem the flow of Chaos forces coming from the northern wasteland in increasing numbers and are ready to prepare them, while the dwarves thrive in the trade with the humans, contributing to the construction of new fortifications and technological marvels.

These are the last bastions of hope against Orc and Goblin invasions, Settra’s Tomb King’s plans of world domination, Beastmen roaming in the deepest wilderness, and Warriors of Chaos marching south. This is the setting of the Old World.

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What do I need to play Warhammer: The Old World?

The first thing you will need to play The Old World is the Rulebook. Once the rules have been digested you are ready to select your army.

These are divided into two groups: the “good ones” which include:

  • Empire of Man
  • Kingdom of Bretonnia
  • Dwarven Mountain Holds
  • High Elf Tribes
  • Wood Elf Tribes
The Old World: Forces Of Fantasy
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And the “evil ones” which include:

  • Orc and Goblin Tribes
  • Warriors of Chaos
  • Beastmen Brayherds
  • Tomb Kings of Khemri

The rules and profiles for the good ones are available in the Forces of Fantasy book, while the evil are in the Ravening Hordes book. This means that with 2 books you can have a full picture of how all supported armies play (the unsupported ones are available for free in the Warhammer Community download section).

The Old World: Ravening Hordes
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Then every faction seems to be receiving soon or later an Arcane Journal expansion with some more advanced rules that are absolutely optional. It contains some named characters, extra profiles that are usually adaptations of existing models or models not yet available, new ways to build your list, extra rules and magic items.

Apart from the rules you will need of course some models to play. Here is where the things get a bit harder. At launch, part of the roster of Bretonnia and Tomb Kings were released and they almost immediately sold out. So, currently, your best bet is to purchase models that exist for Age of Sigmar and are compatible (like almost the entire Beastmen line) and base them with the appropriate square base or wait stocks replenishment.

Consider also that many models sold on the website are the re-release of older models. Some had their mould refined, some are the same 20+ years old miniature. This means that the materials will vary greatly from metal to plastic, passing through ForgeWorld resin (a higher quality than Games Workshop Finecast range if you are familiar with it).

Some new sculpts will be added to the list, some in plastic and some in resin. We list all upcoming Warhammer Old World releases and we also have an article with all of the 2024 Old World Releases.

Of course, one of the biggest advantages of having an extremely popular game that has been out for 40+ years is the incredible variety of sculpts available to print at home with a resin 3D printer for miniatures. Many artists provide their re-imagining of those classic sculpts and if you are not planning to attend an official Warhammer-sponsored event, you are good to experiment.

Personally, I prefer the range from One Page Rules, but there are many authors out there, so feel free to explore and search online for alternative sculpts.

Now that you have rules and models, you only need an opponent, a battlefield with some random scenery, a tape measure, some dice (any D6, but you’ll need also a scatter and an artillery die which are a D6 with alternative symbols) and the templates for some effects that involve an area effect, like the fiery breath of a dragon or the explosion of a cannonball. If you missed the core box, you can either print them from page 94 of the Rulebook (printing permitted for personal use) or find them online.

And you are ready to play!

Which size are the official bases in Old World? Do I need to rebase my entire army?

The Old World uses a new standardized and slightly bigger format of square bases. If you have an old army and you are playing with friends, you’ll most likely not see any difference, but if you are planning to attend events then you will need to ensure each miniature is on the correct base.

Each unit will have the base size detailed in its profile, but at a high level these are the most used formats by type of unit:

  • 25 x 25 mm for Regular Infantry
  • 30 x 30 mm for Heavy Infantry
  • 40 x 40 mm or 50 x 50 mm for Monstrous Infantry
  • 25 x 50 mm for Light Cavalry
  • 30 x 60 mm for Heavy Cavalry
  • 50 x 100 mm or 60 x 100 mm for Chariots and some Monstrous Creatures
  • 100 x 150mm for some Behemoths

There are exceptions but at a high level, this is the distribution of square base sizes.

If you are planning to invest in movement trays (and you should!) you can search for those that already convert certain bases to the right format, the most commonly available are 20x20mm square to 25x25mm square and 25mm round to 25x25mm square, but there’s also some for the cavalry. There are also a few models available to print online if you have available an FDM printer (which you likely have if you 3D print terrain).

Which Starter Sets are available for Warhammer: The Old World?

At the moment the main starter sets available are the following:

  • The Tomb Kings of Khemri Core Box that contains the rulebook, few accessories and the following miniatures: the Necrolith Bone Dragon that can be ridden either by a Liche Priest or a Tomb King, and 91 miniatures from the old range (40 Skeleton Warriors, 32 Skeleton archers, 16 Skeleton Horsemen, and three Skeleton Chariots). 
  • The Kingdom of Bretonnia Core Box that contains the rulebook, few accessories and the following miniatures: a brand-new Lord on Royal Pegasus who can be built as a Duke or a Baron and a collection of units from the past (12 Bretonnian Knights of the Realm, 36 Bretonnian Men-at-Arms, 24 Peasant Bowmen with two defence stakes and three Pegasus Knights).
  • It’s not yet available but coming soon the Orc and Goblin Tribes Core Box that will not contain the rulebook but the following miniatures: 2 Orc Boar Chariots, 31 Orc Boyz (including a champion, a musician, and a standard bearer), and 40 Goblins with their command group.
Tomb Kings of Khemri Core Set
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The rules of Warhammer: The Old World

In this section we are going through the high level view of the rules to give you an idea of how the game is played. It is divided in sections for easy reference. And never forget to check the download section from Warhammer Community for the latest FAQ (this is January 2024).

Unit profiles

Each unit in the game has a profile that details its basic characteristics, weapon loadout, any special rule and extra customisation components.

The characteristics are:

  • Movement (in inches)
  • Weapon Skill (ability in melee combat, this is compared with the opponent’s to determine the To Hit value in combat)
  • Ballistic Skill (the prowess in ranged attacks, used to determine the To Hit of shooting attacks)
  • Strength (how hard a fighter hits, compared with the opponent’s Toughness to determine the To Wound roll)
  • Toughness (how resistant a fighter is, compared against the opponent’s Strength to determine the To Wound roll)
  • Wounds (how much health a model has before being removed as casualty)
  • Initiative (determines the sequence of the attacks compared with the other fighters)
  • Attacks (how many dice each model rolls to attack)
  • Leadership (a unit’s determination in certain situations)
  • Points (how much does it cost to field a single model)

Those characteristics can be affected by many things, like a weapon that adds Strength, a spell that reduces Leadership or an effect that lowers Initiative, for example. That’s why reading the special rules associated to a single profile is extremely important.

Each faction will have their own special rules that differentiates them from the others. For example, the Tomb Kings are immune to fear, panic or break tests, but in exchange when they lose a combat they lose models instead of retreating. The Beastmen can unleash their Primal Fury that makes them re-roll natural 1s to Hit and can even bring them to be Frenzied making more attacks. And so on.

While a unit has a base profile, many will have optional accessories to further customize the unit. For example infantry and cavalry may be able to choose spears that allow them to fight an extra rank when not charging. Some fighters may be able to choose between a shield or a two-hand weapon that increases damage but is slower. In addition, armours may be added or improved by paying the relative cost. Each choice has a cost, usually multiplied by all models in the unit, but in certain type of units, different weapon profiles are allowed so that each model has a different cost.

There are also some special fighters in a unit that can be included for a price: the unit champion who is able to issue challenges to other characters or champions (will see that later) and has usually a slightly better profile than the basic fighter, the standard bearer who encourages the troops in combat by adding an extra bonus on the combat result, and the musician who can help in rallying the troops or marching when in presence of an enemy.

Finally, the characters are special fighters that are much more powerful than the others. They can join units to extend their leadership and protect themselves from incoming fire, and they can equip magic items, sometimes even choose a variety of mounts. They are your leaders, some are military experts and some are powerful wizards and one of them has to be chosen as your general.

Wizards are able to cast spells, of which there are different types, each with a specific timing to be cast and different schools from which they can pick their spells. Obviously, the more powerful the wizard, the more chances he has to succeed in casting a spell. Enemy wizards in range can try to counteract, but failure (a double one, rolling 2D6), in both cases, can have terrible consequences.

Strategy phase

The game is divided in 4 different phases, the first of which is the Strategy phase, also divided in 4 sub-phases the first of which is the Start Of Turn, where some effects may kick in and some others expire.

Then you have the Command sub-phase, in which your characters can issue commands or perform other similar activities specific to this moment. All abilities will detail in which sub-phase can be used or have effect, so the sequencing is extremely important.

Finally your wizards can cast Enhancement (buffs) or Hex (debuff) spells in the Conjuration sub-phase.

The last one is the moment you Rally Fleeing Troops. This is extremely important because fleeing units that reach the border of the battlefield are removed and count as casualties. There are different reasons why your units are fleeing, and to rally them you roll 2D6 and need to do equal or less than the unit’s Leadership.

Characters joining a unit allow to use their Leadership, as well as a General within command range, so it’s important to keep your formation in the right shape to take advantage of those bonuses.

Movement phase

The Movement is most likely the most complex phase. It all starts with Declaring Charges and Charge Reactions. In order to declare a charge, a unit needs to be within range (usually their movement +6″ but many bonus or penalties can affect it). The player whose turn is taking place will declare all units that are performing a charge and where.

After that, the opponent can choose which reaction to perform: Hold, Stand & Shoot or Flee. The first one allows you to receive the charge, the second one can be done only by units with a ranged attack and if the distance between the charging and charged unit is more than the movement of the charging unit allowing them to fire a volley to the enemy before taking the charge.

The last one allows to escape from an unfavourable melee, but attention! If a fleeing unit is caught by a charging unit, it’s automatically destroyed. Units that were already fleeing are forced to flee from an incoming charge.

Once all reactions have been performed, is time to do a Charge Move. A charging unit can perform one wheel manoeuvre to align to the target, but otherwise has to move towards that unit as straight as possible. If this means passing through terrain, then the charge becomes more difficult. In the end, it is possible to fail the charge if the sum of the D6 rolled and the unit’s movement is not enough to reach their target. This, however, does not change the outcome of the reaction that has already been performed.

In the Compulsory Moves sub-phase, only certain units move, like units that are fleeing because of a failed Rally test at the beginning of the turn, or because affected by the Stupidity rule.

Everything else that hasn’t moved yet, can use the Remaining Moves sub-phase to proceed. This is also the moment wizards can cast Conveyance spells to enhance their troops mobility. The normal movement is performed by shifting the unit itself as straight as possible towards their intended target. However, they can perform one manoeuvre per phase, be it wheeling, pivoting, re-forming, etc. This allows a certain flexibility in their positioning, but only the most nimble units can roam freely on the battlefield.

Each unit can adopt one or more formations as described in their individual rules, the Close Order one being the most common, while the Skirmish one allows to avoid the rank-and-file format and provides more versatility when moving at the cost of no bonus when fighting.

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Shooting phase

The shooting phase is the moment where your archers, war machines and wizards enter the fray. It’s divided in 4 sub-phases but in this case, each shooting unit performs all 4 before passing to the next one.

Any unit with a ranged profile that has a visible target can perform their shooting attacks. First Choose a Unit and Declare the Target, then Roll To Hit. For missile attacks the value to roll will depend on the Ballistic Skill of that model, but it can be affected by many penalties depending on how far is the target, if they moved, etc. Normally only the front rank can shoot, but some rules allow other ranks to shoot or for example being on top of a hill increases the shooting rank by 1 too.

If the hit succeeds, it’s time to Roll To Wound & Make Armour Saves. To Wound, you compare the Strength of the weapon to the Toughness of the model hit and roll the corresponding value. Normally if Strength and Toughness are the same, you wound on a 4+.

If even that roll is successful, now the opponent has a chance to save it. Depending on the equipment it may not even have an armour to save and the attack goes through. A ward save is an after-armour save that can give some magic resistance to the model.

If nothing prevents the attack from going through, it will allocate 1 or more wounds each, therefore is time to Remove Casualties & Make Panic Tests. If more than 25% of a unit is shot down in the same phase, they will need to perform a panic test (roll less or equal to their leadership value) or flee.

And then is time to repeat all sub-phases with another unit. Wizards can cast Magic Missiles (similar to a shooting attack) or Magical Vortexes (similar to war machines artillery).

The War Machines are specific type of units, normally composed of a crew and an engine but all count as a single model. They usually use the scatter and artillery dice to establish if they hit their target. A misfire can have serious consequences for the model that could crumble or explode, while a strong wind can send a projectile far away from the intended target. It will require practice to get the right distance to use these machines accounting for the deviation, but when correctly used, they can be devastating.

Combat phase

The Combat phase is where all those melees created in the previous phases are finally resolved, where blood flows uninterrupted and where a man’s resolve is tested.

As for the shooting phase, this is also divided in 4 sub-phases that have to be followed for each opposing units in base contact. Once a “combat” is completed, the active player chooses another one and so on until all eligible units have fought.

A combat is a group of opposing units with at least one model in base combat with an opponent. This means that it is possible that multiple units belong to the same combat if, for example, a unit has been charged by multiple units at the same time.

So first of all the active player Chooses & Fights a Combat. The primary thing to determine is who can fight. All models in base contact with an enemy can perform all their attacks. All models in the fighting rank (that is the rank that is engaged with an enemy, it could even be a flank) are allowed to do at least 1 supporting attack. Furthermore, some rules allow for further ranks to be involved, but only for 1 supporting attack and usually when the model is right behind another in base contact with an enemy.

This can be a bit confusing at the beginning but it becomes rapidly easy. Let’s imagine a unit of 2 minotaurs charges a unit of 16 skeletons warriors in a formation of 8 models per rank (so 2 ranks). Let’s assume they charge a corner, so that only 3 skeletons are directly in base contact with the minotaurs. Both minotaurs are the fighting rank of the Beastmen player, while the fighting rank of the Tomb King player is made of 8 models, of which 3 do all their attacks, and 5 only support. If they are equipped with lances and they haven’t charged, 3 further models from the second rank will be allowed to do support attacks as their comrade right in front is directly engaged.

Once all it’s clear, the fighters alternate each other based on their Initiative being careful that different weapon profiles may have different initiatives. For example, a Minotaur with a Great Weapon will have Initiative 1, while all others with Hand Weapons within the same unit will have Initiative 3. Equally, mounts or characters joining a unit, will have their own value.

Once the order has been established, the models will perform their roll To Hit in sequence (or simultaneously if they have the same value). Differently from the shooting attacks, in combat you compare the Weapon Skill of the attacker with the one of the defender to determine which score will be a successful hit. Generally speaking, if they are the same, the attack scores a hit on a 4+.

The roll To Wound works exactly as the one in the shooting phase: comparing the attacker’s Strength to the defender’s Toughness, then the defender will make (if properly equipped) armour and ward saves.

If an attack goes through, it will score one or more wounds that will be allocated to a unit. A character can only be hit if the unit contains less than 5 models, if a unit’s attack specifies that can target a specific fighter or if he accepted a challenge. Once the number of wounds required to take out a target are met (usually 1 is enough), the model is removed as casualty.

Casualties are removed from the rear ranks, but they count as received from the fighting rank, reducing the number of fighters that can fight when their turn comes. In the example above, should the minotaurs kill 5 skeleton warriors, then only 3 of them will be eligible to fight afterwards.

Characters fight exactly as the other models but in addition, any champion or character can challenge another one in a 1:1 combat. If the challenge is accepted, all their attacks will be directed to each other, without involvement by the other models, to the death. Should both survive, the fight continues in the next turn if possible. Any excess wound inflicted this way counts in the combat result below.

Should the opponent refuse a challenge, however, they would cowardly move in the back rank and unable to participate further in this combat, losing also the chance to provide any bonus to their unit (like the Leadership value in the Break Tests and so on).

Once all eligible models within the same combat have fought, is time to Calculate Combat Result. The first and most important parameter is to sum all unsaved wounds that were inflicted to each party (this includes multiple units if the fight was not a simple 1:1). Several bonuses can be claimed, like a Standard and a Battle Standard provide a +1 bonus, each full rank beside the first one provides a bonus per complete rank up to a maximum determined by the type of troop (e.g., +2 for regular infantry), a rear attack provides a +2 bonus to the attacker, and so on.

Then the two sums are compared and the one with the lower count is the loser. In case of a draw nothing happens, the fight will continue next turn. Otherwise, all units belonging to the losing party have to make a Break Test, that is rolling 2D6 and comparing this to their Leadership value.

  • If the result before any modifier is higher than the unit’s Leadership, it “Breaks” and flees.
  • If the result before any modifier is lower, but adding the modifiers becomes higher, then it “Falls Back in Good Order“.
  • If the modified result is lower than the Leadership value, then the unit “Gives Ground“.

The main modifier is the difference in points between the winning and losing side in the previous calculation.

Fleeing is the worst result because a fleeing unit moves 2d6″ straight away from the enemy unit but can be later cut down by any pursuer. They also generate panic tests in friendly units they cross and need to be rallied in the following turn. Rallied unit cannot charge in the same turn they stop fleeing.

Falls Back in Good Order works as a flee action, but selects only the highest result of 2D6 when moving away and they rally automatically at the end of the move. Unless the winning side’s unit strength is double that of the losing side, in that case the latter just flees.

Gives ground instead forces the losing side a 2″ movement backwards.

The last sub-phase of combat is the Follow Up & Pursue. The winning side has to decide if to try to remain in place and reform or follow the fleeing unit. This decision actually happens before the losing side moves away. If they decide to Restrain & Reform, and they pass a Leadership test, they get a free reform move and stay where they are. If the don’t pass it, or choose to continue their chase, they either follow-up a unit that Gives Ground or pursue a fleeing unit or one that Falls Back in Good Order.

And the entire cycle repeats with the next combat until everyone fought. In addition, any time a unit is destroyed or flees, all friendly units within 6″ need to pass a Panic test or risk fleeing as well. Panic is contagious!

Image from Warhammer Community

Create an army list

One of the most interesting aspects of the game is definitely to create an army list. This one will actually start the moment you assemble your miniatures, as you may want to consider how to equip your fighters, how many command groups you’ll need, etc. well in advance to avoid breaking up assembled miniatures or proxy extensively. Alternatively you could magnetize the weapon options.

Each army has its Grand Army composition list described in their relative book, either Forces of Fantasy or Ravening Hordes. In addition, some armies have extra Army of Infamy rules in their specific Arcane Journal. They all behave the same way, but the Grand Army allows to field the army the traditional way.

There are different categories that determine which units you can field and how many. Generally speaking you’ll need at a minimum one or more characters and few core options. Each section will have a minimum percentage to enlist (e.g., at least 25%), or a maximum (e.g., up to 50%). Some units will be limited (e.g., 0-1 every 1000 points), some will be enforced (e.g., 1+ unit).

The points are calculated using all options and extra items you have assigned to that unit. For example a unit of 20 Tomb Kings Skeleton Warriors (that usually cost 4 point each) equipped with light armour and thrusting spear with the full command group would cost 136 points (instead of 80).

The categories are:

  • Characters (including named characters). You’ll need at least one (your general), but some armies may require more than one. Most characters have 2 different power levels, like a Tomb King vs a Tomb Prince. In some cases only one character of a certain level is allowed per army.
  • Core. This represent your battleline options and the mainstay of your army. They are not just gap fillers, as usually at least 25% of your army is spent here, and those are also points your opponent gets by defeating them in most scenarios.
  • Special. These are your veterans and more skilled warriors. They complement the other options and they could form good part of your army.
  • Rare. These are most particular units, be war machines, monsters or other unusual fighters.

It is possible to take also Mercenaries and Allies but they have different degrees of trust and could misbehave before or during the fight.

The Army of Infamy composition list behaves exactly the same way, but works on a more narrative aspect of the army. For example, Bretonnian Exiles can recruit Brigands and Bombards in their ranks to represent fallen nobles now living in the Border Princes territory, while the Tomb Kings Mortuary Cult focuses on the Liche Priests and does not allow for Tomb Kings in their roster.

If you want to try creating your own lists, there is a free open-source constantly updated website that is a great source of information and fun. Many thanks to Nico Thiebes (the main developer) and all contributors.

The supported factions of Warhammer Old World

As we mentioned earlier, at launch the Old World is focussed on nine main factions.

The Bretonnian Kingdom lies west of the empire and is a chivalrous land were gunpowder is mostly banned but the blessings from the Lady of the Lake greatly compensates providing unnatural prowess to Bretonnian knights.

On the far south, in a land completely covered in deserts, the Tomb Kings of Khemri mostly rest in their necropolises until a liche priest awakens them either to defend from an incoming invasion or to satisfy the thirst for conquest of a wanna-be king.

From the Badlands, but really from any dark and remote place, come the Orc and Goblin tribes. While they spend most of the time infighting, occasionally a leader bigger than the others will arise and lead hordes of them in a Waaagh! across the land to devastate anything they encounter.

In the World’s End Mountains lie the Dwarven Mountain Holds, impressive city-fortresses dug inside the mountain and protected by a complex network of fortifications that spread across the vast mountainous range. Sturdy and resistant as the land they occupy, they are more than ready to settle their grudges when the occasion arises.

The High Elf Realms lie west, in the island nation of Ulthuan but this prodigious elves still have some remaining colonies in the Old World, as they have sworn to protect the destiny of this world against the chaos forces.

Chaos forces that are gathering in increasing numbers in the northern wasteland. This is a place where the conditions for survival are harsh, and men are often turning to the Dark Gods for protection in exchange of inenarrable actions. These Warriors of Chaos are seduced by the chaos powers and represent the greatest threat the mortal races can ever face.

Deep in the forest of Athel Loren there are all those elves who were abandoned in the Old World by their brethren and found a symbiosis with the forces of nature creating the Wood Elf Realms and swearing to protect their land with the support of their sylvan allies.

The biggest threat to nature comes, however, from within, as forests and alike are breeding territory for the deformed and corrupted Beastmen Brayherds. They hide in the cover of the thickest woods to appear at a moment notice and slaughter entire villages or wanna-be heroes charged of their removal.

At the centre of all of this, there is the Empire of Man. Once a prosperous and united land, now it’s fractioned by multiple warring parties, some different than the others, with their own heritage and culture but all united by the fact that should they fail to put aside their differences and respond to the new threats as one entity, they will spell the doom of the Old World.

Should you be more interested about the lore and factions of this game, the Old World website contains also a beautiful map that is updated with each release.

Image from Warhammer Community

Final thoughts on Warhammer The Old World

Warhammer: The Old World is a new game with the taste of nostalgia and the baggage of a 40+ years history with all pros and cons. Old players will feel at home, with some caveats. New players may finally put their hands on a game they never had a chance to play with a modern ruleset but the same rank-and-file feeling of the old one.

A game of this size and importance could not satisfy everyone as the expectations behind were incredibly high. Keeping in mind that this game is produced not by Games Workshop main studio but by their Specialist Games division with much more limited resources, we feel that the game succeeded in recreating the same atmosphere of its predecessor.

Comparing to Age of Sigmar, the game that originally replaced Warhammer Fantasy, the difference is not only in the ruleset and base shape but across the entire hobby spectrum. Each individual fighter has so many customization options that have an actual impact on the construction of the overall unit it belongs to, that part of the game starts at the assembly phase.

In addition, many profiles do not have a direct match in Games Workshop range, and kit-bashing other existing models is highly encouraged. For example if you need a Tomb King on a Chariot, all you need is a spare Chariot and a spare Tomb King on foot and voila.

List building can be extremely complex, with so many options available for each unit, without considering the optional add-ons like magic items that will allow you to spend uncountable hours to shape your army list. While you may be able to field a vanilla type of army without spending too much time in list building, that is not the ideal way to play the game.

List building brings you also to the point of which movement trays to invest into. Sure, you can play the game entirely without, but have you ever tried to move 40 goblins across the battlefield maintaining the formation and without any tray to help you?

One last consideration goes to the model availability. It is not a secret that the launch of this game was a bit of a rollercoaster experience, with the rulebook, books, and launch boxes sold out in a matter of minutes, while the miniatures available in the store were only portion of the full roster of 2 out of 9 supported factions. Even those mostly sold out, except some extremely old sculpts, especially those in metal. And that’s another important factor to consider: a good portion of the existing rosters officially sold will be available only in metal, with just few kits updated in plastic or modern resin, but all sold with modern prices.

Once you consider all of this, and the huge ruleset that accompanies the game, you can easily see that this is not a game that you pick up from a shelf and start playing. It requires a considerable investment in time and perhaps money depending on which army you want to collect and your availability of 3D printers. Once you get past it, you’ll find a great game with incredible future opportunities for expansion.

We don’t know what the future will reserve for this game, but we hope it will be bright. If you want to dream, here is the full Total War Warhammer 3 Immortal Empires map.