So. It's 1990. Games workshop are at the height of their powers. They are still run by the Auteur-like Bryan Ansell and are still producing material for Rogue Trader and WFB 3rd Edition. So if you are one of their Illustrators or an ex-head buyer and Financial Director what makes more sense than attempting to launch a rival game in order to steal away their custom? Thats exactly what Gary Chalk and Ian Bailey decided to do. Fantasy Warlord is a set of Fantasy mass combat rules that was intended to rival GW's behemoth. They even launched a magazine to support their new game. I think the name they chose adequately illustrates their attitude to their competition.
So. Did it have a chance? Was it better than WFB? What was it like?
Well. I got my hands on a copy so lets find out!
You still have movement and shooting and combat and you still use morale tests to avoid your troops running off when they lose. So far so simple.
Fantasy Warlord does a lot of this stuff differently though. Lets start with characters. In WFB, characters tend to be little one man units for wandering around killing stuff or they are little performance boosters for a single unit. In Fantasy Warlord your characters actually do what they should do. They lead.
First of all you get to choose a hero type. Are they a Warrior Hero? A Priest? A Warrior Priest? A Magic User? A Thief? A Discipline Master?
Once you've decided on this you get to roll to see how heroic your leader is. One of three levels can be rolled and each one gives you a number of further rolls on a series of skills that personalise them more. In addition to skills each character gets to roll for a Command Factor, a Morale Factor and a Combat modifier.
Your army is organised around brigades. Each brigade is made up of two or more units led by a character. The leader can have as many units under his command as his Command Factor.
So your army is divided into brigades of units led by a Character who has some influence over their moral and combat.
Once you've worked out which units are listening to you then you can hand out some orders. There are 24 different orders you can hand out covering pretty much anything you can imagine you want your unit to do. In order to give your order, you place a chit air marker next to the unit. The idea is that the order marker would be unseen by your opponent. But to be fair he'll be busy. He'll be handing out his order markers as well.
Cos you'll be doing it simultaneously.
Yep. That's right. You won't be reacting to your opponents moves, you'll be pre-empting them. This is obviously quite a different approach to WFB. It makes you think a lot more about what you need your units to do and act accordingly.
The markers are turned over at the same time and the units follow the orders that they've been given. This means movement of both sides are carried out at the same time. Quite neat.
|Recognise some of these?|
|Is that the boys brigade over there?|
However, to get all this simultaneous combat and movement to work, each race has a profile page full of charts to work through.
|Google wants me to look at Vertimax instead which is a very different thing!|
But what happened to it? Well, to put it bluntly, the authors were wrong. They had brought Fantasy Warlord into being as they felt GW was heading into a overly commercial territory and wanted a more serious wargame that reflected real life battlefield situations, where the troops didn't always do what you want and the commanders lose the ability to control their brigades as the battle continues. Turns out thats not what the Fantasy gaming community wanted. One of the biggest complaints was that the balance in the combat left no room for suspense or run away victories. Gamers stuck with the game they knew or tried Grenadiers Fantasy Warriors instead which game out at the same time and muddied the issue with a similar name.
Red Giant only ever published two issues and no further Fantasy Warlord books ever came out. The company, Folio Works, closed in 1993 and the minatures ranges (some of which were sculpted by Bob Olley and were cast by Alternative Armies) were sold off.
Neither of the two authors are particularly positive about their experince with Fantasy Warlord. Gary Chalk saying that it caused a lot of stress and heartache and Ian Bailey saying that he had misjudged the fantasy market.
The thing is, the game does have some interesting ideas and one wonders how the more successful WFB would feel with some of these ideas built in.
Can you imagine moving your armies units at the same time as your opponent? Once you've decided on an set of orders for a unit they would have to be carried out no matter what the opposing units ahead of you had decided to do. Imagine if your characters were given charge of several units, that they actually led them rather than just acted as mini-units, how would this change the way you used them in a battle. How would you brigade your favourite army?
Imagine there was a chance that your units wouldn't do wanted them to do. That you had to roll for each unit to see if they'd follow orders (just like Orc and Goblin commanders do for some of their units). It would certainly be an interesting experiment to marry some of these ideas to WFB and see what kind of a beast would be created. It wouldn't take much engineering as some of the mechanisms are already in place. Roll on intelligence to see of the unit are alert enough to take orders. Place little order chits next to your units that pass and both players reveal them at the same time. Give units a negative if their brigade leader isn't within 6 inches. Simple changes but they'd be make for a fascinating game.