Game Spotlights

Published: May 1, 2024

Adam Knight

Privateer Press makes a mean Warmachine

If you’re looking for games that blend technology and magic with svelte rules to keep the action flowing, Privateer Press is worth digging into. They’ve been knocking out cracking figures, worlds, and stories for almost 25 years. That’s a whole lotta war bots, aliens, and kaiju, folks.

Tactical Steampunk Fantasy On Your Tabletop

If Privateer Press has a flagship setting, it’s Warmachine (designed by Mike McVey, Brian Snoddy, and Matt Wilson, who also founded Privateer Press) and the many ways you can play within its world. At its core, Warmachine operates as a tabletop miniatures war game, where you’ll field an army composed of one warcaster—think steampunk wizard—and the various machines at their beck and call.

Before we break into the theming, lore, and all those amazing trappings, a few details set Warmachine apart from the miniatures wargaming pack: first and foremost, the faction variety is large but the model count needed to field a tournament-ready team is low. Individual units matter, which means you’re not building, painting, and storing a zillion models just to get ready for a game. Second, Warmachine plays in an hour or so, making it a reasonable play compared to weekend-wrecking behemoths. And last, Warmachine puts a lot of effort into streamlining their rules, releasing new editions, like the forthcoming MKIV,Privateer Press with the intent to keep the game accessible.

Plus, with its new acquisition by Steamforged Games, the makers of Resident Evil and Dark Souls, Warmachine is going to have a lot of momentum behind expanding its world with quality miniatures, story, and gameplay.

Oh, and the rules? For all of it?

Free, and downloadable in PDF form or accessible through an app. You’ll never need fear being outdated because a particular book isn’t in your price range.

Also, if you love Warmachine’s sister game, Hordes, you’ll be able to combine them both in the MKIV update too. At long last, your hideous desert hydra can go up against your cyclops warbeast. At the very least, you’ll have more ways to use the minis you already have, and that’s never a bad thing.

If you’re already versed in miniatures tabletop gaming, Warmachine is worth a look for its unique flavor, the way warcasters influence every battle, and the quick pace of play. I’ll do a more in-depth breakdown on Warmachine in a future piece, but if this style of game is your jam, do yourself a favor and give it a look.

But, if the idea of steampunk spellcasters commanding metal hulks and machine-blended animals intrigues you, The Iron Kingdoms invites you to into the adventure with its RPG setting, giving you classes, campaigns, and all sorts of awesome sauce without requiring a Warmachine army.

Consider this pitch: your hero, a ragged, disillusioned gun mage, takes a should-be fatal blast on a forlorn battlefield. Rather than draw that final curtain, they wake up, find themselves among several others bonded by metal and magic to a nefarious warcaster, tasked with a terrible quest that could devastate the Iron Kingdoms. Can your hero find a way to sever the bond in time to stop the warcaster?

Do they even want to?

The Iron Kingdoms rules and setting give you a unique playground for adventure, one worth delving into if your RPG crew is looking for something a little (or a lot) different than the usual dragons, elves, and enchanted swords.

Sci-Fi Horror, One Vs. Many Style

If you find swords a bit too, oh, medieval, then Level 7: Omega Protocol (Will Schoonover) might be more your speed. This tactical one vs. many dungeon crawler, steeped in science fiction, puts the ‘many’ in the boots of so many soldiers dealing with . . . ALIENS!

This game continues the Level 7 series, which started with Escape, a semi-cooperative title that more or less sets the stage for Omega, which puts ample, original meat on the well-chewed dungeon crawler bone. That delicious protein comes in the form of adrenaline, a push-and-pull resource tossed between the Overlord and the soldiers, ensuring plenty of big swings, as any soldier doing super moves is going to send a slew of adrenaline to the Overlord, which they’ll be able to spend to spawn in some truly awful baddies.

This is the mechanical crown jewel topping a slew of shiny trappings, from scenario-specific objectives to dice-driven combat. Yet, it’s not the only clever Privateer Pressidea slipping into Omega Protocol. Another arises in the modular tiles, where the Overlord lays out the tiles on the board in a way you’ve seen before. However, rather than preset surprises read from a book when a door opens, ensuring scenarios play out the same way every time, here the Overlord gets a deck of cards to place face-down onto the tiles.

In other words, you might know there’s an armory on the other side of the door, but your hopeless soldiers don’t know whether the Overlord’s dropped the biggest, baddest monster this side of Alien inside, or nothing at all. This bluffing tension makes every advance a guessing game rather than a set story.

Omega Protocol also strikes a neat balance with its campaign design, leaving it up to the players to decide how much of a ‘campaign’ they’d like to have. You can play any mission straight up, link them together with mild affects from one to the next, or embrace the sci-fi horror theming and play a Master Clock campaign, where more effects are not only persistent across missions, but round counts tick towards a crisis point.

All this comes together with strong presentation, with Privateer Press putting together atmospheric components, miniatures, cards and dice to fit the game.pip62008.jpg (946×912) For campaign games especially, where you’ll be staring at the same pieces for a long time, nailing legibility and thematic coherence is huge, and Omega Protocol will always look good on game night.

Big Monsters, Better Tactics

At the start of this piece, I highlighted Privateer Press’s core title, Warmachine. Big guns, greased up gears, and more than a little steampunk magic. Cool stuff, but hey, guess what? Don’t you really just wanna smash some buildings with a giant lizard?

Monsterpocalypse (Matt Wilson, Erik Yaple) **is the miniatures war game that tells you all you need to know with its title. You’ve got giant, terrifying creatures and they’re going to be destroying just about everything. Opposing them are the, er, Protectors. Both sides have several factions, which can include such boring units as flying saucers, dinosaurs, and robo tanks.

As a game, Monsterpocalypse asks you to pick one or two giant monsters to brawl in a doomed city. You’ll then reinforce those monsters with a slew of small fry units, the ones destined to get crushed in hilarious fashion. Activating both of these types (monsters, units) requires action dice, and those dice get pip51002.jpg (517×419)bumped between your monster and unit pools as they’re used. So, for example, you might start with most of your dice in your monster’s pool, giving your nefarious beastie a big enough turn to devastate the map. Those dice then migrate to your unit pool, ensuring your giant creature has to, effectively, rest until those dice come back. Turn by turn play, then, becomes a dance of ensuring your units and monsters have the dice they need at the right time.

While the monsters might be focused on the brawling, your units can help secure buildings across the city, adding more action dice to your pools. They can also chip away at the enemy monster’s health, inching you towards that win. At least until your opponent’s big bad chucks your own units back at you, but hey, that’s a kaiju battle for you.

Monsterpocalypse initially spawned a couple decades ago, but launched a streamlined, 2nd edition in 2018. It all blends together, though, and offers a smash-and-bash good time, perfect for folks who want to level up their King of Tokyo experience into a more strategic sphere. While it’s not supported at the level of Warmachine, Monsterpocalypse offers a delightfully bombastic experience.

All that said, I have to mention the Monsterpocalypse board game, which is currently stuck in the crowd-funding void. It’s entirely separate from the miniatures war game noted above, and is an utterly unfortunate situation, so if you’re sleuthing for more Monsterpocalypse on the Interwebs, just be aware of which game you’re looking at.

Original Game Design Meets Dedicated Support

Privateer Press is nothing if not bold, striding into genres like RPGs, miniature wargaming, and one vs. many campaign games that ask a lot of their designers. Nevertheless, Privateer Press continues to deliver solid, fun, and original experiences, while updating many of their older titles with new lessons learned to create streamlined rule sets. And that, my friends, is my board game love language.