I’m in no hurry to grow and mature as a person, but I am still developing as a gamer. A part of that process is understanding what you want from games and what you don’t like about them. For example, regular Warhammer 40K is too large while Warmachine/Hordes (WMH) is too focused on named characters and the gamey combos they can pull. Good thing that Privateer Press released Company of Iron, then!
WMH is set on the continent of Immoren, where great factions are clashing in combat both steampunk and magical. The great civilized nations use guns and Warjacks, stompy robots controlled and powered by warcaster mages. Losing the warcaster in a Warmachine game means losing the game. In Hordes, you deal with nations a bit less advanced in technology, who compensate by having giant-ish monsters and their handlers instead of robots and warcasters. Oh, and regular infantry and whatnot exist to block charges and die. Company of Iron is a game about being those poor groundpounders (and maybe having a small robot).
Instead of having a 50 points army of a warcaster, some ‘jacks and random infantry units, you have a 20-25 points army of infantry. The miniatures are bought in units, just like in the main game, but act individually on alternating activations. If you’re good, you can even squeeze in a light warjack in the list (unless you’re Khador Fantasy Russian Stereotype doesn’t believe in light anything). You decide who will be the leader of your motley crew. This can be a unit sergeant or some solo (read: a non-warcaster hero) they will receive the commander upgrade, which nets them 5 more hitpoints (regular dudes get 1), commander abilities, as well as making them the focus of some command cards.
The starter pack for Company of Iron will let you run games that pit an elite group of Cygnar (WWI French or something, they’re the generic blue good guys) troops against a rampaging band of boarmen from the Hordes’ Minion (mercenary) faction. The first army is an example of an elite force that plays with unit synergies. Meanwhile, the Farrow (them’s the porkies) are straight up tough and easy to run for first time players. I should know, I won the demonstration game due to porcine toughness and focus on cards that let me keep dudes in the game.
A simple match of Company of Iron starts with players filling their hand with 5 command cards and rolling for initiative. The player who wins gets to activate a miniature of their choice, executing a movement and/or action. The miniature is then marked and the play switches to the other player, who then acts with one of their miniatures. This continues until all miniatures are activated. Afterwards, the players roll off for initiative again and refill their hands.
So while the basic gameplay is already very different from regular WMH, command cards and casualty resolution change it even further. The cards drawn randomly from a single deck can provide one of the two effects inscribed on them. The bigger gameplay effect is usually predicated on your commander being alive to provide a boost aura. The second half of the card lists the more generic effects, granting you re-rolls or dice boosting effects. My favorite effect makes recovery automatically successful, which lets me neatly segue into casualty resolution! When a model loses all of its health in CoI, it rolls to see what actually happened. The miniature can be dead, wounded or just shaken and models with Tough (all Farrow in the starter) can re-roll it! Then, when the model activates next, you roll to see if they died or managed to scoop up their guts and get back into the fight. And lookie here, I had randomly drawn three “full recovery, lol” cards … As you can see, CoI boosts the survival of regular miniatures a whole lot! Unless someone brought a sniper unit, which prevents Tough re-rolls while you had bad luck drawing cards…
Now that I mentioned survival, you shouldn’t really get too cocky. WMH is a game all about taking down multi-wound models like warjacks and solos, so even regular dudes with rifles will dish out more than one wound a piece. Giving a commander upgrade to a sarge or an officer will make them situationally more survivable, and make solos be able to withstand a shot before going down, but this is more akin to ablative armor than any guarantee that you’ll wade into the fray and come out swinging on the other side. And considering all sorts of commander-focused command cards, maybe you should consider leading from the back.
Unless you’re building a team of Khadoran Man-o-Wars, that is. A heavy power-armored team where each multi-wound model can be repaired on the field. Add in the fact that miniatures block line of sight, and you run a list where each Man-o-War has a battle mechanic cowering behind their back, fixing d3 wounds a turn, while safe from any enemy attacks from the front.
And here lies the joy of building teams for Company of Iron. The game is lousy with Unit and Solo choices, and all the unit cards are available for free online. Just download them and dream about the possibilities. If you’re like me which means taking a look at all the magic and robots, and going “can I build an infantry squad here?” you will immediately see attractive options. Cygnaran Trenchers? Nobody plays Warzone anyways, and so this is the only game where you can push around these awesomely named dudes that can dig in to gain cover in the middle of the field, pop smoke and charge in to skewer pigs on bayonets. Sure, you can’t add machineguns or mortars weapon crews are forbidden in Company of Iron but if you take an officer and a sniper as well as some rifle-grenade launchers…
Or you can go Khador and have you Winter Guard advance aggressively while covered by long ranged rifle fire and disrupt enemy formations with fantasy RPG-7 blasts. And these are just the options that the people on this website would find interesting. There are lot of other, more esoteric combos of units that will let you field zombies, trolls, elves, clockwork soldiers and dwarves. No orcs in this game, though.
Company of Iron is a damn good release. For existing players, it’s a way to take a small bit of their existing army and make a game around them that will last about an hour and a half by using rules that are free online. For beginners, it’s a good way to dip their toes in WMH and potentially accidentally collect an army by buying Units and Solos for new teams. Alternating activations are such a right choice for skirmish that even the new Necromunda couldn’t avoid it. The starter box offers ridiculous value that can only be matched by Corvus Belli’s insane Black Friday offers. Come on, get in the game and try some new dice mechanics!