Saturday, 28 February 2015
I could copy and paste this into almost ANY platoon-level game and this statement would be correct - that's how universally this rule is used.
Well, it's a simple, handy way to ensure individually-based models stick together and act as a unit.
It's an abstraction.
What if we break coherency?
If one of our mini soldiers moves beyond that magic 2" (which is about 4 metres, to scale) what happens?
Usually one (or more) of these:
*The soldier must spend their next move to get back into coherency
*The unit's next move must restore coherency
---or more drastically--
*The soldier must make a morale test; if it fails it flees the board
*The soldier cannot attack or take any action until it rejoins the unit
There's a lot of "must" there. It assumes a trained professional soldier will somehow break down if he is more than a few yards from his companions, and not attached via an invisible umbilical cord.
Yes, a soldier will be more effective working in close proximity with team mates - it's easier to communicate and co ordinate attacks. Yes, he will be more confident with his buddies beside him.
But is there a need for "musts?" - perhaps giving a -1 modifier to attack and defence (simulating better target awareness/mutual defence) would encourage players to keep units together.
Why 2" range? (I'm tempted to say Warhammer did it once then everyone else copied.) Is it the range someone could shout to each other in a firefight? Why 2"and why not 12"? Why not simply "line of sight?" What is the "footprint" of a fire team - how much area does a "fire team" spread out to cover? 40-50 yards? Isn't there a "minimum distance between troops?" I'm presuming about 10 yards. You'd assume a single grenade would take out most of a Bolt Action squad*, for example.
(*Naturally, the historical game Bolt Action uses a gap of under 1" so the models are practically holding hands. It then does away with template weapons. Perfectly logical. )
Another common rule is leaders having a radius (usually between 6 to 12") where they can influence troops; i.e. remove suppression, rally fleeing troops, or perhaps issue orders if it is that style of game.
Again, I'd ask - why x distance? And why is this radius larger than 2" if that is the maximum distance squads can shout at... do lieutenants have louder voices? unless we are using *drumroll* radios.... Which leads me to question:
Why do we even need coherency?
Most of the games that use the 2" coherency mechanic tend to be "modern" or sci fi. You know, around the time this device called the radio came into fashion?
Obviously we want squads and fire teams to act in a co-ordinated manner, and not have individual troops scattered all over the board, but I don't think a hard limit is needed. Keeping friendlies in sight is important, and coherency should be desirable, but I question that it needs to be forced artificially.
Coherency in Company Level Games
I don't play these very extensively, but the few I own tend to have squads in coherency with their platoon HQ, and platoon HQs within coherency range of their company HQ, and so on up.
Ranges & Scale
Yes, I know the 1" gap between models could actually stand for 25 yards. But it's the ratio that interests me. If we use 1"= 25 yards coherency range, it needs to be checked against other ranges - a rifle which shoots 300 yards might have only a 12"range (!) and grenades might only be able to hit one model at a time. Abstracting the scale too radically impacts things like model basing and the size of buildings as well.
The purpose of this article isn't that the standard 2"coherency rules are bad; but to question what seems to be (like true-line-of-sight) an almost set-in-stone wargaming convention.
I'd like to know designers are basing their decisions against gameplay choices, or actual ranges, or something - not just copying something cos it is just the "done thing."
*Is 2"the best distance? What do we base this on? What is its ratio vs other distances in the game?
*Should a "leader's" range differ from this? How long should that range be?
*Should units be forced to move into cohesion?
*What is a suitable "penalty" for troops who move out of cohesion?
*Is cohesion needed at all, and if so, for what genres?
So what areas are under-represented?
Here's some examples that are reasonably popular in other mediums (books, videogames, movies) that seem rare on the war-game table.
EDIT: A spin-off of this is Stargate - i.e. regular soldiers go through portal to fight aliens. Of all the ideas suggested, this topic (and the one below) has the most widely available minis.
*The Matrix/Tron. A war-game that takes place in side a virtual/dream world. This could be an excuse for cool paint schemes (a la Tron) and allow ridiculous mis-mash of cool vehicles and units (Sucker Punch). You could use Matrix "magic" to give depth and interest to the game. This would be easy to do as it allows almost any miniatures to be used, and great flexibility in gameplay.
I'd like to see a game that revives the fun of early 40K (Rogue Trader era) where creativity, build-your-own-units, and a certain tongue-in-cheek fun were combined with familiar, recognisable mechanics (updated to take into account modern war-game trends - i.e. reactions, and activation that is not IGOUGO).
More zombies. It seems 90% of all miniature/boardgame Kickstarters are focussed on undead. Please, exercise your imaginations, people! The folk in the 50s and 60s at least got some variety. What happened to giant insects and body-snatching plants?
More "cookie cutter" Mad Max-ripoff Post-Apocalyptic stuff. Why does every post apocalyptic movie or game involve (a) extensive body piercing/tattooing (b) extensive grime (c) crossbows & machetes > assault rifles (d) cannibals/mental illness (e) more spiky bits and leather than 40K has skulls. The TV show Revolution (with its near-future world without electricity) whilst terribly acted, at least showed some imagination in its post apocalyptic approach.
Friday, 27 February 2015
What started out as half a dozen posts dissecting common rules issues has grown into a surprisingly large, comprehensive series, often driven by reader responses. Here's the break-down of the articles so far:
#1. "Decision Points"
This is about "decision points"(tm) - the amount of times during a game or turn that the player can make a choice to influence the outcome of a game. "Resolution"" is how long it takes to resolve these decisions. Lots of decisions + simple/fast resolution = good game.
#2. The Fifth Element
Most wargames have the four Ms - Morale, Melee, Missile & Movement. But games need something more. What is the X factor that sets a game apart from its peers?
#3. Special Rules, Stat Lines, and False Economy
In which I posit the modern trend to move away from stat lines is actually complicating matters as well as losing differentiation.
#4. Keep it Consistent
Keeping mechanics consistent vs using 20 different dice rolling methods.
#5. What happened to Time Scale and Ground Scale in Wargames?
They still exist, even if we ignore them. It's the game designer sacrificing realism for the ability to play 100 genres with the same rule set.
#6. "Realism"in Wargames
In which the realism-v-fun myth is debunked; it's actually realism vs unrealistic, and simple vs complicated. Realism is possible, and it's a good thing.
#7. Design Philosophy
The importance of designers "nailing their colours to the mast" and setting a clear success criteria.
#8. Scenarios for Wargames
The old chestnut. Points systems vs scenarios. Can they co-exist?
#9. Fluff n'Stuff.
A few ground rules for good fluff.
#10. Pre-measuring vs Guessing
Always a contentious topic. Do we favour estimation skills or geometry? Or neither?
#11. The Balanced Points System
In which I contend a balanced point system is impossible on many levels - but still worth including.
#12. Commercialism - Supplements, Rules and Miniature Sales
The rise of the "cookie-cutter" one-size-its-all rulebook, and how miniature sales (not fun, playability or realism are driving game design. The codex arms race.
#13. Is Originality Possible?
There are only a finite amount of ways to represent wargame mechanics - and do we really need more anyway?
#14. The "Forgotten" - Terrain, Victory Conditions, & Balance
The often-neglected impact of terrain and alternate victory conditions on game balance.
#15. Philosophy in Wargames
Game designers need to decide how they want their game to play; then reward/punish using modifiers and game mechanics to "encourage" players to play that way. For example, 40K rewards good list building and deployment; Infinity emphasizes the good use of cover and positioning of fire lanes.
#16. Record Keeping, Counters & Bookkeeping
Considering the tradeoffs of "enhancing gameplay" vs ""time/fiddliness." Is it worth it?
#17. Playtesting - is it a fair test?
Using the scientific method of a "fair test" I point out how it's almost impossible to playtest a game properly.
#18. The decline of MMOs, and how it applies to wargames
Drawing parallels between the stagnation of MMO design and trends in wargame design.
#19. "Early Access" ""Pay to Win" and "Wargaming DLC"
Some less-than-desirable trends from the PC industry that seem to be transferring to wargame companies.
#20. Realism Revisited
I revisit the "realism vs fun" myth and attempt to define it more accurately, in terms such as "process vs results" and "detailed vs abstract."
#21. RPG Resources
Musing about magic systems, and concepts wargames could borrow from RPGs.
#22. Best Selling Wargames
Analyzing the bestselling games, and trying to quantify what makes a rule set commercially successful.
#23. Enjoyable or Innovative Mechanics 1 - Setup/Activation
Sharing fun and interesting game mechanics.
#24. Favourite Mechanics 2 - Movement
Sharing more favourite game mechanics.
#25. Mordhiem, Competitive Campaigns, & Balance
No game has filled the Necromunda/Mordhiem niche. A look at balancing campaigns for the competitive sphere.
#26. The out-of-game experience
Most successful games seem to have lots to do when you aren't actually playing.
#27. True Line of Sight
It's increasingly popular, and almost the de-facto for vision rules. But is true-line-of-site really the best choice?
#28. Morale Rules & Combat Stress
Musing on morale systems. Is there a "best"method, or can we ignore morale altogether?
#29. Vietnam in Space
Hard sci-fi is everywhere - it's the new "platoon-level WW2" - where has the imagination gone?
#30. Coherency & Leadership Range
I start to explore command and control, by looking at the ubiquitous 2" coherency rule.
#31. Readable Rulebooks
Writing rulebooks that are user-friendly.
#32. Making Wargames - Ivan Sorenson
Ivan Sorenson (author of FAD, NSiS, 5Core) talks about game design and PDF publishing.
#33. Influences on Wargames
Wargames designers can fall into different categories - from unreformed RPG players, to "British" style rules, to the rivet counters.
#34. Making Wargames - Brent Spivey
Brent Spivey (author of Havoc, Mayhem, Rogue Planet) talks about game design.
#35. Game Design & Playtesting - Brent Spivey
Brent Spivey takes a very thorough look at the steps of designing and playtesting games.
#36. Accessibility, or Why Bad Games get Played More
Popular games aren't always the best. The key? Accessibility.
#37. The Better the Hit, the Better the Damage: Managed Probability & Modifiers
Randomness is good - or we end up with chess. However probabilities must be predictable and manageable to promote tactics.
#38. Reactions in Medieval & Fantasy
Can we use the now-trendy reaction in fantasy? What might it look like?
#39. Reaction Moves, Reaction Fire
Defining types/genres of reactions in wargames.
#40. Avoiding the Scrum in the Middle - Manuever & Spacing Units
How do we avoid our games degenerating into a mess of pushing everything into the middle and chugging dice?
#41. Reactions Again - Types of Reaction
We further explore the reaction move, and classify reactions as they impact gameplay.
#42. Fluff & Stuff II
We revist the topic of in-game "fluff", with some commonsense ideas regulating its use.
#43. Skirmish Wargaming Means so Many Things
Skirmish wargaming is a bit of a catch all term. What is a true "skirmish" game?
#44. Random Roundup
A few musings on simplicity, dice and absolute values.
#45. "Original" Sci Fi Wargames
Why are all sci fi games re-badged fantasy or WW2? They need to focus on a particular new technology and build the game around it.
#46. Skirmish - Basing, Group & Individual Moves
Many skirmish games tend to be binary - either everyone moves in units or everyone moves and acts individually. But is there a middle ground?
#47. In Praise of Area of Effect Weapons
"Blast Template" or "AoE" weapons are not as popular as they should be.
#48. Wargames & "Setup":A Neglected Topic?
The setup phase of a game is a opportunity for depth and tactics: Chain of Command shows us how
#49. Musings About Activation Pools & Resource Management
A quick look at how activation and resource management can be merged to add gameplay depth
#50. Focussed Fluff vs Generic Fluff - and the Shiny Factor
Detailed, rich fluff beats generic bog-standard fluff, but should not be "prescriptive." Production values matter.
#51. Intellectual Theft
Designers miss out on valuable playtesting, feedback and publicity through paranoia someone will steal their idea. News flash: Get real.
#52. Casual vs Competitive Game Design
What makes a game "competitive" or "casual?" Is bad competitive experiences the result of bad game design?
#53. The Future of Wargaming
Extrapolating a few trends to guess where the hobby could go in the future....
#54. Special Rules Best Practice: Infinity vs Savage Worlds
A current trend is to avoid a "stat line" in favour of a zillion special rules. Special rules have their place - but what is the best way to implement them?
#55.Solitaire Wargaming. Designing NPC "AI"
Exploring solo wargaming mechanisms, and "AI" flowcharts to direct opposing troops.
#56. Solitaire Wargaming. Part 2
Defines the difference between tactical (easy to implement) and stategic (not so easy) AI.
Wargames are always trying to be "balanced." But is balance always desirable?
#58. Reaction Mechanics - a Waste of Time?
Reaction mechanics are trendy for adding decisions and player involvement - but are not without their issues.
#59. Unit Count - is there a Perfect Number
In which I attempt to prove there is an "ideal" number of units in a tabletop game.
#60. Movement:Shooting Rations and Scale
How does shooting range relate to movement and game balance? ...and how it links to ground scale.
#61. Lethality & Modifiers
How likely are units to be destroyed each turn? How this links with modifiers, and how it effects gameplay.
#63. Detection, Blinds and Vision Range - an Unwanted Mechanic?
Despite being vital to warfare, detection and vision rules are out of favour.
#64. Influences on Game Design
Lists of some influential rulesets and those I've found "educational."
#65. Abstraction, Tables & "Negative Design"
When to abstract? Good riddance to tables - or not? Negative skills - when skills and special abilities stop you and your opponent having fun.
#66. I can't count....
#67. Character Skill vs Player Skill
Is it your decisions as a tabletop commander that win it for you, or the wtfbbqpwn combo army you built that won the game before you started?
#68. LOTR, Alternate Activation and Actions Per Turn
I look at "how much" a unit can do when it is activated, and how we can "break up" turns into small chunks to avoid clunky reaction mechanics.
Follows on from #68, looking at the ability to respond to enemy actions and maintaining initiative.
#70. Wielding the Axe - Why your best idea is not always best for your game
Sometimes an awesome concept or mechanic is not the best for the game. Sometimes awesome ideas are in the wrong place or genre.
#71. Zone of Influence - Facing, Focal Figures, Arcs and Flanking Fire
Thoughts about facing/positioning, and the importance of flanking fire.
#72. Power Creep + Special Rules vs Stats
Units which render others obsolete; and I revisit the old "stat line vs special rules" debate, and "incomparables" in game balancing.
#73. Willpower & Morale as a Resource
Morale rules are often tacked on as an afterthought; often at ridiculous (50% casualties) to trigger tests. But science suggests willpower is a finite resource to be managed...
#74. Possession, AI and the "Resource Pool"
I discuss a few pet gaming ideas.
#74 II (man, I can't count!) Why Aerial Wargames Suck
Why are we remaking the same 1970s aerial games? We should be pew-pewing not book-keeping like 1970s Napoleonics. A look at some issues and ideas about a tough-to-design genre.
#75. Weapon Range vs Terrain Density
Weapon ranges are often compressed for tabletop wargames. But do we consider the terrain?
#76. Uncertainty in Activation
Another exploration of one of my favourite topics - activation mechanics.
Dice mechanics have little influence on the game compared to a host of other factors. So keep them simple, stupid.
It's easier to add rules than to simplify, but there's a limit to how simple something can be. Clean simple "baseline" games are good to build upon.
Years after my 2014 rants, we have moved on from IGOUGO. But is alternate activation worthy of being the new "standard?"
Wargaming "leaders" often wear too many hats. Are they a support, a tank or a killing machine?
Discussing the concept of "overhead" in rules - a mix of mental strain (new/complex rules), financial and time cost. What do you need to do to start playing?
I'm sick of every skirmish game advertising it's disappointingly low effort 3-page campaign as a "feature." Why has no one recaptured the Necromunda/Mordhiem magic?
A unique setting/theme and narrow focus is far more important than unique dice mechanics to avoid your rules being bland and generic.
A friend once said "I'm interested in rules for how to fight my minis, not how they run away" - and I kinda adopted his approach - that morale rules should be as simple and non-intrusive as possible.
I liked rules like this: once you lose half your army, make a morale roll each turn you take further casualties. Short, simple, sweet - and stops armies fighting to the last man.
However ignoring or oversimplifying morale is ignoring a major aspect of combat. Modern combat, for example, tends to have very low casualty rates, and troops "suppress" or force enemies to withdraw; often with very few dead on either side. In medieval and ancients, a lot of the time the aim was to "break" the enemy line - and most of the slaughter occurred after a force routed; i.e. sometimes battles were apparently very one-sided i.e. 20 deaths to 500 - but most deaths were after the force broke. The morale failure caused the slaughter, and not vice versa.
Perhaps due to my own lack of focus, I am hard-pressed to think of unusual and interesting morale mechanics - most seem to follow similar trends. In fact, this article was due to several rules I've reviewed lately having no morale rules at all. Obviously some game devs think they aren't even relevant, full stop.
Removal of global morale rules in favour of individual unit morale
Quite a lot of rules recently seem to be removing the global (army-wide) morale rules in favour of squad/unit-centric rules. I.e. all units test individually based on their circumstances, kind of ignoring losses to the army as a whole.
Whilst this makes morale more dynamic, with individual squads being pushed back, pinned or routing, this isn't a perfect system. It does often seem to ignore the potential for chain-reactions - i.e. units rout past friendlies, causing them to rout - and it can allow armies to sustain unrealistically high casualties - to fight if not to the last man, then to the last unit.
However using only a global morale "break point" (especially a hard cut-off) is also unrealistic: in many historical battles a part of the army (wings, or units) fought on long after the rest were routed.
Leaders & Morale
Leaders often allow an improved morale roll for units in range/attache, may test to rally routing troops, or can improve the morale effect (i.e. turn a pinned unit to being merely suppressed, or restore a suppressed unit to normal status).
Status of Units
Modern, firearm-focussed games tend to have morale increasing in 3 or so levels of severity: suppressed-pinned-routing, and older eras tend to have "pushed back/recoil"or "fleeing/routing."
Stress or Suppression Counters
Another approach is for a unit (or individual) to accumulate tokens denoting combat stress - triggering certain events once the stress tokens exceed a particular level.
Too Many Morale Checks
Too many can bog a game down. Want to charge? Morale check. Take enemy missile fire? Morale check. Fight in a melee? Morale check. This may add depth, but is it sacrificing speed and playability? How much is too much?
No Morale at all
In a few games I've reviewed lately I've got halfway through the rules before realizing there were no morale rules at all. Is the gain in speed/simplicity worth it - or does it take away a vital aspect of the game?
Combining Morale with Combat Effectiveness
In some games, the morale of the troops is tied to their offensive/defensive effectiveness. i.e. d6 rookie troops attack and defend with d6, while d8 experienced troops attack and defend with d8. This tends to be primarily modern/WW2/near future games. Could it/should it be used elsewhere, or should morale be kept distinctly separate?
Morale for Different Scales/Eras
Is there a "best"system for a particular genre/scale? For example, I've heard some argue a company+ size game (like Dropzone Commander) does not need morale; but individual-based skirmish level games do.
Morale that gives choice
I recall the Heavy Gear rules did not actually force you to withdraw, or "freeze"when pinned, but simply accumulated negative modifiers to dice rolls until you decided to get them into cover and rally them.
....so what's this article going on about?
Well, this article didn't have the usual focus or a message/preachiness most of the "game design #" series does, but I think that reflects my general ambivalence in this area (I DO think morale has a place, but I'm not sure there is a 'best' way to be implemented - or which current rules are doing it drastically wrong). For example, no morale system (no matter how poor) stirs in me the same dislike as vanilla IGOUGO activation mechanics. This post is more a "think aloud" and I'm sure I'll revisit this topic later, now I'm looking at morale rules with a more critical eye.
Anyway, over to the readers. Here's some focus questions, that I'm rolling around in my head at the moment:
Is there a great morale system you enjoy?
Is it ever OK to eschew morale rules completely?
If so, for what scales? Should you use different morale systems for different scales?
When/where do morale rules bog a game down to an unacceptable extent? S
hould morale be included with combat effectiveness or should it remain a standalone trait/as a standalone mechanic?
How many levels of morale should there be, and how should you record it?
What is the ''best"way to handle morale? What is the most realistic?
However it's not all bad. Although some are a stretch to fit in the modern fantasy genre, here are a sample of decent books I can recommend:
Saturday, 21 February 2015
-Cheap, quick and easy to make
-Convenient to set up and to store
This is not an elaborate modelling project - there are plenty of blogs that do amazing scenic diorama-like boards. This is for those of us who want to make the whole table in an afternoon, not spend the entire weekend adding rust effects to a doorknob.
Inspired by some of the interesting and varied Dropzone Commander scenarios, I wanted a board with sunken features that could do service in a range of roles/genres (canal, river, chasm, lava pit, trench). I plan to use it for 10mm, 15mm and 28mm.
block terrain I made last weekend. I'll make better bridges when I get around to making interior stuff like doors, tables and beds. I'll simply swap the green cloth for a red one (lava) or black (chasm) or blue (ocean) as needed.
1 x Grey primer spray paint $3
2 x 2.7m pine strips (42x11mm) $10
1 x 5mm MDF 90x120cm $10
2 x 3mm MDF 90x120cm $10
Total Cost $33
Total Time 90 minutes (including breaks to safely redirect an interested toddler)
I found the how-to articles of rough and ready terrain, and realistic paintjobs in the hobby magazine Battle Games of Middle Earth actually made me want to paint and make stuff. That's kinda the niche I'm aiming for. By showing my speedy, el cheapo terrain I'm hoping I'll inspire someone to actually go out and do it better.
Saturday, 14 February 2015
*Easy to make
*Fast to make
*Easy to store
*Cheap (postage is a killer if you live in Australia, necessitating mostly DIY terrain)
*Looks unified (i.e. complete table 'goes' together, no 40K gothic ruins and WW2 buildings together)
I don't pretend to be a great modeller, so "looks good" and "lots of detail" doesn't really rate on the scale. If you're a painstaking modeller who likes model-railroad level detail, there are plenty of great blogs out there, by very talented people. This is about terrain for the rest of us - the low skilled, time poor dads. I don't want to make a single building in an afternoon, I want to make the whole table.
Card terrain ($50 for 4x4') usually can't be re-folded which means there is no space savings.
Terraclips ($70 for 4x4') do break down well, but then they take forever to assemble.
Foam terrain ($7 for 4x4') is very cheap, but bulky to store. It's easy to fix/replace though.
MDF terrain ($200+ for 4x4') looks good, but is difficult to store and is surprisingly pricey
Forests ($18 for 4x4') are bulky to store, unless you spend lots of time making special bases.
Foamboard buildings ($70 for 4x4') is easy to work with, but very bulky to store
Resin is not even remotely affordable in Australia (postage is ridiculous for anything beyond 6mm scale)
After tidying up my daughter's blocks, I was surprised how much a single box of blocks spread around. Given the high cost of laser-cut MDF, I wondered what I could do with my humble bench saw. My only criteria: I had to be able to fit it in a small A4-size box, and quickly set it up.
As luck would have it, I had some leftover 42x11mm pine strips from lining my shed. Two hours later, I had 16 x 5cm, 16 x 10cm, 16 x 20cm, and 8 x 30cm walls, hastily sprayed a neutral grey (to serve as both spaceships and dungeons/castles/bunker complexes).
Equipment: 2 x 2.7m 42x11mm pine strips $10, 1 x grey primer spray can $3 = $13 total
Time: 2 hours
Obviously this could be dressed up a lot by interior detail. I've got a few ideas for doors I'd like to try.
There are some cool Hirst Arts molds with interesting interior bits and bobs. I've got some furniture from Antenociti's workshop which will also jazz it up.
The free-standing walls are relatively stable, and resist the occasional jostle and bump, but might not be ideal in a high traffic situation.
I also found I needed more smaller (5cm and 10cm) pieces and struggled to find a use for all the longer 30cm pieces. I'll probably make at least 8 more of each of the smaller ones.
Finally, whilst I used 42mm x 11mm pine (as that's what I had at hand), in hindsight I'd probably go 50mm+ for taller walls - simply to make sure larger models don't destroy immersion by peeking over the top.
It was so fast to make, I may start another project this weekend - which is to make a table that allows sunken features (trenches, rivers, ravines, canals, lava pits) whilst remaining cheap and easy to make.
Friday, 13 February 2015
What is Warmachine?
Warcasters (tough-as-nails battle wizards) control giant steampunk robots (warjacks). Besides toting stonking big swords and flinging fireballs and what not, casters can allocate magic (focus) that allows the robots to headbutt, stomp, and fling opponents, amongst other things. They are supported by solos (powerful non-caster heroes) and units of 6-10 troops which include undead cyborg pirates led by a dragon, gun magicians (think the Matrix/Equilibrium); knights with flamethrowers, knights that shoot lighting from their swords, and elves with beards and anime-style mecha. Plenty of cool man-toys, in other words.
Why is it popular?
Quite a lot of 40K players (especially competitive ones) have migrated to Warmachine. This is because the rules are a lot "tighter" than 40K, and relatively more balanced* (*more on this later.) (I'm not familiar with 40K beyond 5th ed, but pretty much anyone with an internet connection and enough money could come up with a "killer army" as 80% of 'tactics' came in the list building and deployment phase and in-game decisions are rather limited). In Warmachine, factions are more balanced, and victory comes more through remembering how the rules interact, managing your resources, and pulling off combos. As assassinating the enemy warcaster usually wins you the game, victory can be snatched from defeat with the right moves. It's a lot cheaper to start (a $50 battle box is indeed enough to play), far less minis are required overall, and they come with unit cards (with stats etc) which mean you are not forced to buy 'codexes.' Privateer Press tends to update all factions simultaneously anyway, which means you don't get the 40K-style codex "power creep" which invalidates certain factions.
The basic rules (~80 pages) are pretty clear and well laid out. The mechanics are pretty universal - roll 2d6 + stat to beat a target number. It gives a "bell curve" of results which are somewhat more predictable than a single d6. The game is designed to heavily involve melee, and weapon ranges reflect this. (I'm cool with a flintlock pistol shooting 10", but a heavy anti-mech sniper rifle shooting 14"? Puh-lease.)
Activation is IGOUGO (ugh), and a key gameplay aspect is the allocation of a warcaster's focus (magic) points. He can use them to buff units, boost nearby warjacks, or even cast fireballs and the like directly. Managing this resource is important to success. In addition each warcaster has a very powerful 'feat' which it can use only once, but if used right can swing a game.
Hordes (which I haven't played/owned) has an even more interesting mechanic. It's more risk-management than resource management - instead of focus you have fury - basically wild beasts replace robots, and the beasts can build up too much "fury" doing boosted attacks etc - so and the warlock has to remove fury from his beasts (or lose control of them). The more crazy stuff you do, the more you risk failure - a bit like the turnover mechanic in Bloodbowl. From what I can see, Hordes (developed later than Warmachine, with the benefit of hindsight) seems to have slightly better gameplay, but both games use the same core mechanics and are compatible with each other.
Page 5 "Play like you've got a pair"
The famous game design notes. It basically says "play aggressively, not rules-lawyer-y, and don't whinge if you lose." Sadly, the tongue-in-cheek way it is written comes off like the smack talk of a 12-year old.
You saw this coming. While models have a reasonable-but-slightly-on-the-large-side 7 stats - Speed, Strength, Melee Attack, Ranged Attack, Defence (how hard to hit), and Armour (how tough once hit) and Command (willpower, leadership, training). There are also 19 generic special rules, 4 immunities, and 14 weapon rules. These rules are so commonly used they are replaced with a symbol on the unit cards, which presumably one memorizes. That would be easy enough, if each model did not have extra special rules beyond this. I'm not about to go through every rulebook and expansion counting every special rule for every model in every faction, but it's safe to say there are hundreds. A warcaster might also have 5-6 spells, a "feat"(a one-shot gamechanging ability) as well as a few unique special abilities and magic weapons. I'd rate this as very much RPG/CCG territory.
Knowing your special rules, and your opponents' special rules, is vital to success in Warmachine and gives a distinct advantage to experienced players.
Terrain No More
Warmachine seems to struggle with terrain. This is both physically (paper 2D terrain is common as many warjack models are bulky, metal and top heavy) and game/rule-wise, as it doesn't handle terrain particularly well for a skirmish/battle scale game. Warmachine games seem to be designed to use even more sparse terrain than even 40K, and I suspect too much (or the wrong sort) of terrain can wildly unbalance certain units and factions. Infinity it ain't. Interestingly, the models themselves often act as the "terrain" - screening other units (especially your warcaster, which is like the 'king' in chess) is an important tactic. Warmachine is a game of very narrow margins, and blocking that attack on your warcaster by moving that heavy warjack 1" to the left might be the difference between victory and defeat.
*Balance through Unbalance
This sounds very zen, but basically every faction in Warmachine has such BS overpowered stuff it kinda balances out. You won't lose because your opponent had a better army, but because you forgot to trigger your Magic Nuke of Doom or didn't trigger it before your enemy froze your guys with his Universal Stasis Field. I call this balance through unbalance. The alleged "weaker" factions aren't 'weaker' per se - it's just trickier to use/combine their powers effectively. So there's not really weak factions, so much as beginner-unfriendly ones. When everything is 'broken' it's quite fair.
The CCG Connection
Warmachine's gameplay strongly reminds me of a CCG-feel, and indeed I think Privateer Press have indeed recently released their own CCG based on the franchise. The emphasis on resource management (focus = mana) is similar to a CCG. I think the victory conditions also increase the similarities. In Magic the Gathering, you use mana to power attacks by your creatures, who both shield your wizard and attack your opponents' wizard. In Warmachine, you use focus to power attacks by your robots, who both shield your warcaster and attack your opponents' warcaster. In Magic, when your wizard dies, you lose, regardless of your creatures/minions). In Warmachine, when your warcaster dies, you lose, regardless of your units/minions.
Even the way players usually lay out their armies is familiar. Players often "layer" their forces (warcaster shielded by other units) which reminds me of the layout of a Magic table - you know, your 'hand'/focus generating area (caster) and a 'battle ground' in the middle of the table where creatures (warjacks, units) clash. In both games, you attack and defend with units in the middle of the table, and only enemies who are not defended (or have some special ability) can get through to your wizard.
In a CCG, knowing when to play a card is important, and maneuver is non-existent. In Warmachine, even though you have maneuver, again knowing when to attack and activate special abilities with a unit is very important. Maneuver is important so far as it means positioning yourself to deliver your combo, but conventional sweeping flanking maneuvers etc seem relatively rare.
Basically, getting off your special move at the right moment is important. The ability to chain combinations of special attacks (and to recall both your own special moves, and anticipate your opponents) is also a key ability. Experience and knowledge matters.
In Magic, building a deck with synergy (cards that compliment each other) is very important. Unit synergy is likewise important in Warmachine and certain casters and combinations of units increase each others' effectiveness. Having the right models is important for setting up that wtfbbqpwn combo. In Magic, when building a deck, you need to balance your mana production against your potential mana use; in Warmachine, when building an army, you need to balance focus production against your potential focus use.
Magic has many tournament formats and it actively encourages tournaments, and so does Warmachine. Both games have 'cookie cutter' decks (army lists) and both have game modes to encourage creative list-building (for example, Warmachine allows bonus points for specialists if you use non-standard warcasters). Both also have 'beginner leagues'' where you can use the contents of a starter kit.
Not bad.... so much as different....
Warmachine tactics aren't so much tabletop tactics rather than CCG tactics. There is still depth in gameplay, but it's different depth. It's less about sweeping flanking maneuvers, and more tactics using tricky combo/special abilities.
"You thought you were about to kill me? poof - I'm invincible for a turn."
"I throw your minion out of the way, clearing a path for my Focus Fire feat, which I'm boosting with Lethal Damage for +2"
I think that sort of thing can be seen as a bit dubious by many traditional tabletop gamers, but it's part and parcel with CCGs. What sometimes looks like a big ruck in the middle can sometimes be the execution of a cunning, complex plan.
If you judge Warmachine as a tabletop game, it may frustrate with its deliberate gimmicky, power-gaming focus. However, if you view it as a CCG with miniatures, it's quite interesting. Whilst less 'conventional' it's depth, balance and buy-in price compares very favourably with 40K, if you want a game with readily-available opponents. It's a very different flavour of wargaming, for sure, requiring a different skill-set - and needs to be judged against a different standard.