Warhammer Fantasy Battle (WHFB)

4th edition rulebook cover


Duo Maxwell (bloodcat@99main.com)
WHFB isn't that bad of a system at heart, but the cost of the game, and the army creation rules turn it into Magic: The Sucking, but without Magic's relatively inexpensive starting costs.

WHFB Costs to Start (in U.S. dollars)
WHFB Main Box Rules70
WHFB Magic Set
(required, really)
Army Book of your choice22.50 (half cost 20, half 25) (Also required. No actual army lists in the main box)
Hobby Knife3 (a cheap one)
Primer3 (cheap brand - 6 for Armory, 10 for GW)
Paint Set20
Superglue2 (cheap brand)
TOTAL START-UP COSTS150.50, give-or-take sales tax and buying better hobby goodies. (Without buying any minis!)

Let's compare this to Chronopia:

Main Rules30
D20's5 (let's say you buy a lot of dice...)
Hobby Knife3
Paint Set20
TOTAL START-UP COSTS63 (plus miniatures)

Not bad IMHO.

Realistically, though, we should compare it to Clan War, a more well-designed system (Dragons can and will die to basic troopers).

Main Rules75 (Comes with plenty of generic starter minis, to use with any army)
Hobby Knife3
Paint Set20
TOTAL START-UP COSTS103 (already owning minis that can be used for almost all of the armies in the game)

In start-up costs alone, it is a wonder anyone plays WHFB.

I managed to sell Magic cards, and buy other GW games with minis in them (Warhammer Quest, HeroQuest) from discount stores to build a force, and still spent nearly 150 dollars buying enough figs to run a 2000-point army. With tons of points in characters.

What hobby requires 300 dollars minmum before you can even play? More if you have a "Paint your minis or don't play!" group/store!

Geez, and someone said videogames were more expensive? Quick price check then I will shut up.

Sony Playstation130 (everyone has at least 1 TV set, so I'll leave that out.)
Time before you can start playing10 minutes, with no requirements for other people, or what you can use.

No wonder the miniatures game hobby is so small. Most people run into GW's stuff first (Many comic shops don't know, or in a local store's case, don't want you to know about alternative games.) They get the sell, hear how much it costs, then head elsewhere for a new videogame!

Lobster (rwf1@cant.ac.uk)
I don't play with any of the GW figures. It seems so unnecessary. At the South London Warlords convention recently, I picked up a 200-piece Goblin army for £20. How so? 15mm or 10mm.

They don't have the oooh! factor of the larger scale, but in terms of getting the army composition you want, I wanted chariots - they were £1 each (how many of those can you buy for the cost of a GW one?) Big units, no problem - when the figures are 10p each, even 40 Goblin rabble are only £4.

The company I bought from is PenDraken.

Make the hobby what you want. If you don't want to pay big money for the figures - then don't. I know that Thane's Games is promoting the 15mm scale. 10mm is even cheaper.

And the joy is that you need so much less space, and thus can leave things up from week to week if necessary.

Tyler West (i_nova@hotmail.com)
The only problem that I have with the game is the lack of specialisation in some armies. With that, I mean that Undead shouldn't have missile troops. It doesn't match them, as I see them just shambling forward, and just clobbering the enemy with their sheer numbers.

There should only be a few armies proficient in magic, and spells should be toned down for those armies:

  • Undead - Only exist because of magic. Just raising-type spells because they don't specialize in killing magic, rather specialize in raising-the-killed magic)
  • High Elves - since they are the refined, wise, race
  • Lizardmen - obviously because they are the caretakers of the world
  • Chaos - with gods backing their terrible power

I don't think that Skaven should have magic, because they don't look intelligent enough. They should maybe just master in the arts of poisoning. I think that Dwarven runes should be made into Elven runes (which would do more "pacifist" type things), and have more machines to replace the runes.

It is the difference in the armies that makes the game fun. When each army has its own techniques and strategies, it makes for a more enjoyable game. This is why Lizardmen are so great to play against, because there are so many strategies that they may use against you. When every army has the same strategies available, then the opponent's next move is somewhat predictable.

Mutley (MartinHdy@Compuserve.Com)
Now, I'm not a big fantasy player, having played ancients since WRG rules version 3 - anybody remember them? And I still have stacks of old Hinchcliffe Assyrians and Persians, but I digress.

I find the rules reasonably quick to pick up ("all right, 4 rolls to kill, but all using standard d6, no average dice, no 20-sided monster dice, no percentage die - easy"). The system seems to work reasonably well. Yes, every army that comes out out-guns the previous, but every now and again GW will introduce some new units for your favourite army, and if you use well-thought-out tactics you can beat them.

Someone pointed out that no-one fights campaigns with WHFB. The major problem is that after every battle I've ever fought, I'm lucky if I've got more than 10 figures left standing - win or lose! Not going to much of a match for the next opponent!

Figures - expensive, yes, but look at the quality. I've just bought some of the Brian Nelson-designed Orcs and they are just sensational - the detail and characterisation on the models are second to none. I've looked at most of the alternatives and they don't come close! It took me seven days to paint the Orc Shaman to pick up all the detail. And - big selling point here - I can walk down to my GW shop and buy over the counter, I don't have to wait for a games convention, or take the mail-order route to buy figures I've never seen in the flesh.

Leave GW alone and buy your stuff if you must, but don't moan about what you don't want.

Ray Ortiz (COPRIESTER@aol.com)

I'm sorry, but this WFB debate really needs to be injected with a good old-fashioned dose of common sense:

  1. Despite what the GW henchmen preach, there is nothing necessarily brilliant or innovative about it's game design. Let's pull aside the curtain, people. "The Wizard" is nothing but a man...
  2. A fantasy game that forces you buy a seperate expansion for MAGIC!? (waitamminit - didn't I just give you 70 bucks?)
  3. The miniatures aren't as flawless as some proclaim. As a matter of fact, they are often too caricaturish and cartoony. Take a look at your battlefields, guys - they look like a Jim Henson movie!!! (By the way, what the heck is in all those sacks and backpacks that everyone is carrying? Honestly, this is killing me - I wouldn't mind being emailed with a plausable answer of some kind)
  4. Even if you do love the minis (I've got a few myself), it's no argument for defending the game - they are sold separately!
  5. And finally, for those of you that feel "trapped" after buying in - please stop complaining. This whole thing is like some kind of abusive, dysfunctional relationship. There is a simple, common-sense solution. Take all the miniatures you bought already, and for (quite literally) the price of a GW blister pack or two, pick up the rulebook to another game. There's nothing stopping you.
Daniel Carlson (lonepenguin@earthlink.net)
I got WHFB about two years ago, and after a bit of fiddling with the models and realizing just how much cash I needed to sink into the thing to play a decent game, I tossed it in the closet and got back to playing the Warhammer Fantasy Role-Playing Game and 40K (which I was still using the old Rogue Trader book for...).

Over the past two years, I gradually bought a fig here and an army book there, especially when I saw a sale at a shop or on-line. Just recently, having assembled about 1000 pts of troops for three different armies, I started to actually play the thing (I'd been using the figs in my group's RPG campaigns in the meantime). I was a bit afraid that it was going to be as bad as the moaning on this page suggests.

I was pleasantly surprised.

It's fun, it's fast moving, and it has a great look on the tabletop. Of course, my group is playing games with armies that are usually 750-1000 pts per side, we don't use special characters (we'd much rather craft our own over the course of a campaign), we don't use flying creatures (they seem way too unbalancing - what's the good of a cannon, if it gets annihilated from the air on turn two of every game?), and we run all our games from the standpoint of running a campaign (the campaign rules in the rulebook are a bit slim, but they can easily be fleshed out with a bit of common sense and a look at the experience system in a GW skirmish game like Necromunda, Mordheim, or the old 1st edition 40K).

After this positive experience, and after reading the comments on this page for a while, I think I've put my finger on the biggest problem with GW stuff (aside from the inexcusable prices, of course) - their tournaments. GW, and most players, it seems, approach the game from the standpoint that the tournaments are every player's highest priority. This means that you will naturally tend toward power-gaming (everyone's gotta have an unstoppable horde, even if it's a one-trick pony...people just find a gimmick and max it out). The tournament fixation also means players feel it is neccessary to keep up with every new rules and model release from GW, so they don't fall behind the other power gamers who flock to tournaments. Competition becomes the center of the hobby instead of having some fun with little knights and orcs.

So my basic conclusion is that folks would be a lot better off approaching the game from a narrative standpoint instead of a cut-throat competitive one. Use campaign rules. Use smaller armies. Knock together an experience system and some linked scenarios. It's a lot of fun if you can just leave the 'tournament mindset' out of it.

Ragnar Arneson (ragnar.arneson@kmx.teradyne.com)
Some of those last comments seem to spring from unfamiliarity with the game and the concepts it's representing. Point by point:

Numbers certainly do help in the middle of the fray. Even if your unit is killing lots of the enemy, if you look up and you just see more and more coming, it will affect your morale. As for not attacking a unit of superior numbers in the first place - please. The virtue of a strong offense in winning the battle and preserving your own troops has been demonstrated historically. And when you're talking about a fantasy world, where one side frequently has small units of elite troops, obviously they will be willing (and have) to attack larger units.
Untrue. Most armies can rally their units quite well. The test is normally significantly better than 50/50. I agree that it's unrealistic for one figure charging into the back of the fleeing troops to scatter them, but that's a separate issue. I fight against Lizardmen regularly, and they are famed among Warhammer players for their almost guaranteed rallies.

The Feigned Flight tactic can be used, but is risky. The rules allow a unit to flee in response to a charge, and it can then attempt to rally as normal. This can be well worth it, if you thereby prevent a dangerous enemy unit from closing and set it up to be counter-charged by your own troops. The Mongol tactic you describe actually does exist in the game, though unfortunately it's restricted to the light, harassing cavalry of one particular army (Wood Elves).

Point System.
While it does encourage lots of work in designing the army force, that's simply part of the game. But it's not the only part of determining victory. Even leaving out the option of specific victory conditions for various scenarios, the normal Victory Point rules give points for destroyed and fleeing units, captured standards, the death or rout of the enemy commander, and conquering and occupying table quarters. Believe me, that last facet gives tactical commanders a definite advantage.

To summarize, the charges leveled are inaccurate. However, there are flaws with the game:

  • The scale is odd
  • The limitation of some tactics, formations, and maneuvers to certain units only (like the Feigned Flight move) is unrealistic
  • Individual special characters can still easily be too powerful (though better than 4th edition)
  • The miniatures are too expensive (with the possible exception of the new boxed regiments)

However, it is a fun fantasy wargame, the miniatures are very nice, and when played in the proper spirit with reasonable people, it's a damn fun way to blow some time and money.

If you can't afford the miniatures retail, find another way to get them. I have three Warhammer armies and am building a 40K army. I've made less retail purchases than I could count on one hand (excepting paint and brushes). If you buy from online dealers (from whom you can usually get a 30-35% discount), and/or buy secondhand from fellow gamers (Bartertown is excellent), you can buy miniatures at much more reasonable prices.

If you don't like something, don't put up with it. Work around it.

Jeff Scarisbrick-Wright (J.T.Scarisbrick-Wright@Durham.ac.uk)
I have to agree with some of the comments below: If you don't like it, don't do it. Bitching about it all just creates a reputation for gamers as moaners.

However, there are some problems. (I'll skip over the expense. GW is successful, they know people will pay what they ask, so who can blame them for lining the coffers a bit.)

The main problem that people have is the wizards, the magic, the super-heroes, the all-powerfull White Dragons, etc. To these people I say this...

Buy Warhammer Ancient Battles.

Not only does it do away with all the above, you also can use whatever size/scale/colour/fragrance of army you like without penalty. The army lists are summarised in the quite cheap supplement, and the forthcoming Legion promises to convert these basic lists into nice complete lists (like the Early Imperial Roman and Barbarian ones that are included in the game).

If you want to stick with the more visually exciting models, go for fantasy. Above all, enjoy it and stop whining.

Chris (fielitz@kuhub.cc.ukans.edu)
I would like to skip all of the business about how expensive Warhammer is. I donít feel the need to buy an entirely new set of paints each time some new line of figurines come out, but for those of you who have sold your soul to the company store, itís your business and your money.

What I want to focus on is the rules. I have played a lot of miniature wargames since I started in this hobby (back around 1978), mostly ancients and medieval. I have found that there is not too much new under the sun in terms of rule mechanics (the Piquet system looks interesting, but I have yet to try it). Many aspects of the Warhammer Fantasy Battle rules are familiar to me. There are, however, some really odd quirks in the rule mechanics that do not make any sense.

First, I feel that the morale system is somewhat counterintuitive. The number of ranks that an opponent has at the end of a fight is way overemphasized. In fact, I have never seen this before in any other rules. For example: in a recent game, my unit of lizardmen gave my opponentís chaos beastmen twice the casualties than they received, but were still forced to flee because the beastmen had more ranks than my lizardmen did. This made no sense to me at all. Morale tests are based on how your unit of troops is doing, not necessarily on how your opponentís unit is doing. If your unit gets beaten up, your unit runs; if your opponentís unit gets beaten up, then his unit runs. The number of ranks that your unit has can bolster your own morale, but I canít see what effect it really has on your opponent. If your opponentís unit outnumbered your unit, your unit would not have attacked in the first place.

Second, this game gives no real chance for a fleeing unit to rally. In the same example, while my lizardmen were fleeing, my opponent sent a single beastmen shaman (a shabeast?) over and automatically wiped out my entire unit because he was attacking me from the rear. If I were to play a historical game with say, the Mongols versus a medieval Polish army, the Mongol tactic of feinting a retreat would never work under this rule system.

Third, a major hang-up that people seem to have is with the point system. Point systems are fine for tournaments and allow for balance of play, but it seems like most people I know waste more time building up that "perfect" army rather than actually playing the game. I find it very odd that despite all of these supplemental books that Games Workshop puts out with elaborate histories and detailed backgrounds on each army, I have never heard of anyone running a Warhammer campaign. Also, I donít think that using the points is a very realistic way of determining who wins a battle. I have seen this method in other rules, but it never seems satisfying when actually used. Victories are then based more on attrition rather than on superior tactics.

I realize that these are fantasy rules, but I think it is necessary to ground them in some sort of basis in reality.

Jonas Myhre Andreassen (Kickanass@hotmail.com)
When I first saw the game, I had no idea that it would require so much time and money. What you need to play it, is simply:

  • 1 or 2 Armybooks (Unfortunately I have bought the whole range)
  • The basic set (Ehr, you need it..)
  • The magic set (If you do not buy it, you will play a rather boring game...)
  • And lots of figures (After you have bought a lot of overpriced figures, you better think like this - "Am I stupid, or did I just spend 2000 $ on silly plastic and metal things ?!?")
  • And the guts to look at your dog with cold easy eyes when it eats your Lord of Change (Happened to me, and the worst thing was that I had been painting it for a year and a few months, and it all was mangled by ugly dogteeth)

So if you want to play Warhammer a lot, you have to pay Warhammer a lot...

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Last Updates
23 September 1999page split off
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