Armies of Arcana

main rulebook cover


Luke Bailey (

Well, as an inexperienced wargamer, here's my thoughts:

Armies of Arcana costs less from Thane's Games than Warhammer (rules only) did from eBay. The mini's are substantially cheaper than Citadel's. As a college student, low cost is good.
Well, all Warhammer has on AoA is pretty pictures. I was impressed by the large amounts of pictures in the WH book. However, few had any to do with the actual rules. On the other hand, AoA gives the rules in nice format. I had a game running in an hour.
My first battle was a 1000-pt battle of Dwarves (me) vs. Orc (my 6-yr-old brother). We used fairly basic troops and we both had fun. No, I did not stomp on my brother. In fact, things looked grim until I broke his orcs with my mass dwarf charge. But now we have complete armies, something we couldn't do with WH until I spend US$60+.

As far as I can say, AoA beats WH on rules, cost, and completeness. All WH has is nice pictures and a good background, which I plan to remedy. My current plans are to make army books for AoA, free for downloading.

Hamilton Link (
I had the good fortune (methinks) to meet Thane just as I was getting into miniature wargaming, after having played a number of strategy boardgames and a plethora of RPGs in times past. I have at this point spent a couple hundred bucks establishing 2 medium sized armies - humans and skeletons - which would have cost me a whole lot more than that, if I had tried to buy the 28mm equivalents from Games Work$hop. After two or three games I knew pretty much all the rules (something I can't say about most of the Warhammer players I have met -- is it my hangout, or do the rules for Warhammer leave a lot more to argue about after the dice are thrown?).

Playing Armies of Arcana at the 15mm scale is very satisfying, and the games ran very smoothly from the start, even though I had no prior experience with miniature wargames.

I would like to just submit that I have found the cost of skeletons pretty fair. While I have won a few games here and there with my skeleton army (now that I have had more practice), the games are generally very well matched (against dwarves and goblins, so far) for equally priced armies. There is a definite tradeoff in offensive capability for hand-to-hand combat, as I discovered when my minions of darkness got cut down repeatedly after advancing beyond the useful range of my two units of skeletal archers.

Andrew B. Gross (

I like this game quite a bit. If I was forced to summarize it in a brief sentence, I would probably describe it as "a well balanced version of Warhammer, without the cheese, needless complexity, or expense." Of course, like any one-sentence summary, this leaves out quite a bit; but it probably conveys the general idea pretty well.

In AoA, one figure represents one man; in this way, it is similar to Warhammer or Battlestorm, and unlike DBx, Armati, or Fantasy Rules!, where each stand represents a unit of a usually indeterminate number of men. The game works best when you have at least 150 figures per side; though it will work with fewer figures, it's definitely not a "skirmish level" game.

I found the statistics used to describe figures, and the ways that they interacted, to be completely intuitive. As a concrete example of just how intuitive they are, consider this: before ever having played a single game, just based on reading through the army list, I noticed that Dwarven Handgunners seemed to be underpriced, relative to how effective their statistics looked. (Remember, that's based on just evaluating the stats from a single read-through of the rules.) I wrote Thane about this, and sure enough, it turns out that a rule had been inadvertently left out of the first printing of the rulebook: gunpowder weapons take an extra turn to reload.

Even better, the gameplay itself is largely intuitive, as well. Charging things that have big pointy sticks or missile weapons is painful. Surrounding things is good. Ganging up on stuff works. Keeping units in reserve works. Unsupported units and monsters die. I have yet to see a tactic used that works in the game that I think shouldn't.

Combat is straightforward. There are a handful of modifiers that you need to remember; after the first few turns of combat of your first game, you've memorized all of them.

The magic system is equally elegant. There are real decisions to be made about how to use your magic. Given that an average battle seems to last about 7 turns, each magic user can only cast 2 of the most powerful spells per game; and, since attempts to cast spells can be countered by opposing magic users, often these attempts won't succeed. You can cast spells on your own troops, to augment their abilities; that way, your opponent can't make any saving throws to negate the effect of the spell (though he can still dispel the attempt). You can use it like artillery, casting the "kill at range" family of spells; nice if it works, but your opponent can not only dispel the attempt, but can also make saving throws based on the figure's magic save. You can also summon elementals, create terrain, and so on. If there is a single winning tactic to using magic, I haven't stumbled upon it yet.

So far, my reservations about the game are very limited, and things that (if they do indeed turn out to be problems) can easily be fixed by tweaking a number here or there. For example, there is currently no limit on the number of magic users that a side can purchase; I think that if one side shows up with 10 magic users, and the other side has none, it's not going to be an even battle. I also think that units that are immune to missile fire are probably worth more than they cost. However, these are minor quibbles, and, as I said, easily fixed with trivial effort. The basic structure seems very sound.

The website has the mathematical formula that Thane used to create the point costs in the AoA Army Lists; there is therefore no reason that you shouldn't be able to use any figure that you like. From playing around with it, it seems to do a very good job of coming up with reasonable point values if you pick up a figure and say, "okay, it's got this type of weapon; this type of armor; and I think it should have this morale. It's from this race, and I'd like it to have this special ability." Whether or not it would stand up to a dedicated cheesy gamer's attempt to min/max it is a question that I have no interest in, though I suspect the answer is "no".

Other additions and modifications to the system are available for free from the publisher's website [see below], which seems to get updated about once per week.

The game is designed for use with 15mm miniatures from any manufacturer, and the publisher offers army packs and miniatures for sale at discount prices. I myself use 25mm miniatures; I used a very simple conversion for the size of bases, and left all range measurements "as is".

How much do I like AoA? I purchased two additional copies and had them sent to friends, just to make sure I had someone to play with. This is an elegant, easy to learn, affordable system; written and sold by someone who I'm happy to give my business to. I heartily recommend giving it a try.

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Last Updates
7 March 2001Andrew Gross' comments updated
5 August 1999comments by Luke Bailey
6 April 1999comments by Hamilton Link
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