The Element of Choice – Fantasy Mass Combat

9 11 2008

The Element of Choice

An article on choosing the right mass combat game for you.


This is an article to hopefully point out the differences between some of the more popular mass combat fantasy games going around at the moment, and how I decided which one was for me.

So first of all, I’m going to give a brief rundown of each of the games from this category that I’ve tried in the past, then I’ll go into which sees the most play and why. Bear in mind I still play 3 of the 4 games listed here (and wished I could play the 4th more often) so I consider all of the games excellent in their own right.

These are not exhaustive reviews of the games (as these can be found in many other places on the web) but are just snippets of information that is important for me when deciding on which game to play.

Hordes of the Things 2nd Edition

Hordes of the Things is an element based game (which means a number of miniatures on the one stand), played primarily on a 2’ square table and can be completed in under an hour. Most games consist of an attacker and a defender and are played using 24AP armies. It is most commonly played in 15mm scale, but 25/28mm scale armies are becoming increasingly popular.

At the start of each turn, a player rolls a six sided die. That is the number of PIPs that player has to use for that turn. They can be spent to perform ‘Tactical Moves’ with elements and other things.

When creating your 24AP armies you basically have a list of 20 different troop types (21 if you include Aerial Heroes as a separate type) to choose from. These are generic types and include things such as Spears, Warband, Riders, Beasts, Behemoths, Heroes etc… Each of these different troop types have an AP value ranging from 1 (Hordes) to 6 (Aerial Hero). When creating your army, no more than half of your available AP can be spent on elements that have a value of 3 or greater.

Each of these generic troop types has a combat value and a movement value. Most of the troop types also have special rules attached to them. For example Dragon units must be held off the table until you roll a 6 at the start of your turn and spend them all to bring it on. Hordes can be replaced by expending 1 PIP at the start of your turn and a variety of other rules can apply also, depending on the troop type.

Troop types also interact together in different ways through the use of the Combat Outcome table. For example if a Spears, Hordes or Clerics element’s combat total (d6 roll + combat factor) is less than that of the enemy, but more than half, then it will only be destroyed by a Warband element, or a Knights element if it is in good going (aka flat, clear ground).

Units will never become injured or damaged, they are alive or dead.

Each element (depending on it’s troop type) has a recommended depth for the base. This is used for things such as recoil. Each element has the same base width (40mm for 10-15mm armies and 60mm for 25/28mm armies)

One of the elements in your army is nominated as the General. The General gains some advantages when ordering units and when in combat. If he/she dies and you have lost more AP than your opponent, you lose. Look after your General!

Fantasy Rules 3rd Edition

Fantasy Rules 3rd Edition is also an element based wargame, but uses square bases instead. All the bases are the same size no matter what (however there are options for multi-base units to cover certain circumstances).

Games are played on a table at least 2’x3’ and take me up to 2 hours to play at 1500 points.

In Fantasy Rules, you are given a massive set of races/army types to choose from. Within these choices, you might have an army specific rule, for example the Amphibious army can have Water Breathing for free and Swimming for ½ cost. The army list also defines which units are available to you.

There are all in all a massive 41 different troop types available, which can be modified slightly by a limited number of special rules.

Elements in Fantasy Rules 3rd Edition are often not killed outright, but instead will have Demoralisation markers placed on them. There are penalties for being demoralised and when your element receives it’s third marker, it is removed from play (some troop types can take more hits like this than others).

The most important thing about Fantasy Rules is the Morale clock which operates depending on demoralisation and units killed. Basically whoever takes the most damage during a round loses 1 from it’s Morale clock. As the Morale clock gets lower, penalties come into play (assigning demoralisation markers to some of your units)

Characters in Fantasy Rules 3rd Edition are based differently to the elements and can be attached to other elements.

There is also a basic create your own unit system built in, but this could be abused very easily.

Mighty Armies: Fantasy

Mighty Armies is currently being rewritten and is in playtest as we speak. I understand that most of you won’t be able to get access to this until it is released, but I wanted to include it here as it is something I am playing (full disclosure being I am on the playtest team).

Mighty Armies is an element based wargame as well, but uses standard base sizes of 50mm wide x 25mm deep for the majority of elements, and 50mm square for larger elements.

Players have 40 points to spend on their armies, but this can be done however the player sees fit. There will be some set army lists to choose your army from, but it will also include a Build Your Own Army section where you can use up to 30 basic profiles and then adjust them by spending points on special abilities so you can make the element that you are after.

Movement is simplified. You can turn an element up to 90 degrees before moving them and after moving them. You can move your elements in groups of up to 6 elements (50mm square elements counting as two)

Each model has a movement score, a fight score and a support score, in addition to any special abilities they may have.

There are also commands that can be issued by the general and magic spells that can be cast across the field of battle.

Games are played on a 2’ square table and can be finished in under an hour.


Warmaster is rather innovative as it uses heroes and the general to issue orders by trying to roll under their Command score on 2d6. There are penalties for attempting to command the same unit more than once etc, it is still possible.

Units in Warmaster are made up of usually 3 stands. Each stand has a set of statistics including, Attacks, Hits and Armour.

When attacking any excess hits that don’t cause a stand to be removed are discounted, which means that you don’t really have any record between turns.

There are a number of army lists, but these are all set and there are no create your own options rather than scratch building one and playtesting.

Warmaster is played on a large table (at least 4’ square, but more likely 4’x6’) and can be finished in around 1 and ½ to 2 hours with 1000 – 2000 point armies. Warmaster is played exclusively at 10mm and almost all stands are 40mm x 20mm (cavalry is based 20mm x 40mm)

Pros and Cons and a brief comparison

Here is a list of pros and cons for me. You will notice some things are both a pro and a con. This just means there is a good side to it and a bad side.

Hordes of the Things


  • Great tournament game
  • Very balanced
  • Fast playing
  • Small playing area
  • Not a lot of models to paint – let’s you have lots of different armies
  • Not too strict on base depths (even thought the book is) so you can use your army under many rules sets.
  • Opponents are easy to find.


  • Very fiddly
  • Rules are still hard to read
  • Too generic (eg. All troop types of the same type are identical regardless of whether they are orcs or men or lizardmen, ratmen etc…)
  • Dead or alive states (no damage or injuring, you’re either dead or alive)

Fantasy Rules 3rd Edition


  • Lots of army lists
  • Detailed movement options
  • Create your own unit options
  • Morale Clock is cool
  • Provides options to do almost anything
  • Damaging units rather than outright destroying them.


  • Lost of the troop types are very similar
  • Magic is waaay overpowered unless restrict to level 1
  • Different basing doesn’t allow you use in as many rulesets without modification.
  • Create your own unit option can be easily exploited
  • Tracking damage (lots of counters everywhere)
  • Rules are hard to follow.
  • Almost too many options, loses sight of core gameplay.
  • Finding opponents (hopefully will improve with the TCE edition (which I haven’t actually sat down to play yet)

Mighty Armies


  • Fast game
  • Small playing area
  • Not many models to paint (good for having lots of armies)
  • Quite balanced
  • Build Your Own Unit option (able to define exactly what you’re after)
  • Movement is simplified
  • Rules written in an easy to understand way.
  • Flexible basing sizes.


  • Different scale of basing as standard (50mm wide if you use their bases) doesn’t allow for easy use in other systems
  • Dead or alive states (no damage or injuring, you’re either dead or alive)



  • Very cool ordering system
  • Units can be injured and damaged during play, but no record keeping is necessary
  • Rules are very well laid out and easy to understand.
  • Rules are free as a download (for Fantasy)
  • Supported by models by parent company (so all are relatively in scale with one another)


  • Soooooooo many models to paint (at least three times that of HOTT or MA)
  • Cavalry are based differently to every other system, so you can’t use the models across systems.
  • Skill will more often than not win out, but repeated failed command rolls are sometimes unrealistic
  • Limited number of army lists
  • No Create your own unit guidelines.
  • Need a much larger area


So this is the part where I sum up my thoughts.

Hordes of the Things is a game that I played for quite a while before picking up Mighty Armies and one that I did enjoy. It is very balanced and is usable with any miniatures I had. The interactions between different unit types and their abilities were really interesting and finite of course, because there was the set generic list. Opponents are easy to come by as it is very popular. There were two things that really bugged me about it though. The generic-ness of it was the first thing. They reason that a goblin horde is the same as a lizardman horde (even though lizardmen would be heaps stronger) because the goblin horde represents more figures. That’s fine, but it didn’t have the detail in it where I wanted. Which brings me to the second thing that irritated me. The fiddliness of the rules. Yes, in this respect it becomes an excellent tournament set because it is so set in stone, but for me it was unnecessarily awkward.

Fantasy Rules 3rd Edition was for me in theory a great game. It has a lot more unit options, but I don’t know that they interact with each other as interestingly as they do in other games. The basing was frustrating as squares because if I based for FR!3 then I couldn’t use the minis for other games, so to play I’ve had to construct specific bases (for 28mm figures), but with the smaller figs, I can’t do this, so it limited it’s use through square bases. Now I know you could just chuck them on a sabot base… but I like to play with properly based elements… I’m a bit picky that way.

I love the way the morale clock works and all the options the game presents, but there are soooo many options, that the game is a little overwhelming.

Warmaster is a game I would really love to play more. Even though it doesn’t have that create your own army function, the game game itself is a blast to play! I just love the Command mechanics and the way combats and shooting are resolved. It is a fast, clean system, that has a lot of nuances about it. The cavalry are based short edge forward, basically guaranteeing that you cannot use the figures for any other system, which is unfortunate. The only other thing holding me back is the number of figures you need to play. With three stands per unit, you are painting a heck of a lot of figures… I don’t have that kind of time unfortunately. So sadly, Warmaster, despite it’s greatness, sees little to no play.

When all is said and done, the system that I play the most at the moment is Mighty Armies. This is partly due to me being on the playtest team, but also due to the fact it is a very flexible system (in terms of unit creation) but doesn’t get too far out of hand. The movement is simple and never slows down play. It uses a small area to play on and I own armies in several scales (10mm, 15mm and 28mm). It is extremely fun and fast to play without getting bogged down in rules debates. So taking everything into account, my favourite is Mighty Armies, Warmaster a very close second, Hott coming in third and then FR!3, a game I thought I would like the best, coming in last.

Thanks for slogging through this post, I hope you have found it useful.

– Ben.

For more information on these games, you can check out their most relevant websites by clicking on the game of your choice.

Hordes of the Things

Fantasy Rules! 3rd Edition

Mighty Armies





7 responses

10 11 2008
Dave Gamer

Interesting reviews. I own all of the games mentioned (except Mighty Armies, of course). I have a bunch of assorted GW Fantasy models I’ve collected over the years (always thinking of getting into WHFB but never have). My recent thoughts were to mount my figures for HOTT (going with 80mm wide bases) but this Mighty Armies games sounds like it might be the way to go. One other game I’m waiting for is the new fantasy game from Piquet. I’ve played the beta at a convention. Units are all 4 bases – # of figures on a base doesn’t matter. The main idea about the Piquet system is that each army has it’s own deck of cards that regulate the order it does thing. You flip a number of cards and the cards may say Move or Manuever (ie change formation) or Army Morale Check, etc.. You may get to do a bunch of moves before your opponent can react. Different types of armies have a different mix of cards in their decks. I own and play their Piquet:Field of Battle game for Horse & Musket historicals (like American Civil War) and it plays fast with lots of back and forth maneuver. The downside is similar to Warmaster where if the cards you need don’t come up then you just sit there while your opponent pummels you (like missing several command rolls in Warmaster) .

12 11 2008

Thank you very much for the reviews, Ben!

18 11 2008

I haven’t seen Mighty Armies in a long time so I’ll definitely have to check that out. Thanks for the detailed review! Have you seen For the Masses by It’s got a lot going for it (in my opinion) and isn’t that expensive.


18 11 2008

No problems guys! 🙂
Well the new version of Mighty Armies Fantasy isn’t released yet, but the Ancients one is.
I own For the Masses as well. The thing that turned me off that was the use of a hex grid. Some very cool ideas in it though and also well worth a look.
– Ben.

29 01 2011

Hey awesome article!

I just discovered MA through a random brush on boar game geek and I am indeed liking the rules better than HOTT.

For me, even the 2×2 surface was a bit big so I made a custom version with 20mm base width on balsa wood chits with unit symbols pasted on them and a 1×1 play board. My goal was to make something so convenient I can just whip out and play quick.

Anyway, in really looking forward to MA FANTASY. Any word on an eta ? I’ve asked the q on the forum but no one seems to be minding the store.

Also, terrain is described in the current MA rules as being covered is s&p magazine – is it more self contained and actually explained in MA fantasy?

Anyway thanks for a cool read and hoping to play the new rules soon!

29 01 2011

From what I hear its been worked on more recently and should be a bit closer to a release date.
The version that I worked on had terrain covered, so I’m sure this one will too.
I’ll try and find out from Mike.

29 01 2011

Sweeeeeet! Thanks!


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