What you need to start Warcaster

I’ve seen a lot of new people ask about how to start Warcaster: which is great to see. Below will hopefully answer any questions. If not, feel free to comment or ask on the various social media platforms.

Why should I play Warcaster?

Warcaster is a unique objective driven game with a simple ruleset, but that allows deep decisions. The twist on other games: you start with a small number of models, and over the game they are added as quickly as they are removed: teleported in from warp gates to replace casualties. This means there is no ‘attrition’ as the game wears on, the options to play keep expanding. There is also a limit on how many models activate each turn: meaning having more on the board doesn’t (usually) lead to ‘snowball’ effects where having more models means you kill more and extend your lead.

So if not killing models, what is the point?

  • It is about claiming objectives and board position: knocking models away that threaten an area, and managing your own advance. The 1″ score zone around an objective can create brutal killing fields where models try to swarm in and get rebuffed: ebbing and flowing between players.
  • Managing resources: you are limited to 7 Arc which can be used to power up models, boost attacking spells, or summon reinforcements. Your other resources are the cypher cards (spells) in your hand, models on the field, and activation tokens (for models that have already activated). The rules for each of these systems are simple, but how you balance between these interlinked resources is where the depth of decision-making comes.
  • The “Systems in systems” effect in managing interlinked resources and board position is key to the game.

Tradeoffs between taking board position, killing enemies, preserving forces or summoning reinforcements mean that it can feel more like a real time strategy game (eg Starcraft) than a miniatures wargame, making a very unique experience.

What do I need to play?

Firstly you need to pick a faction.

  • Iron Star Alliance: are the dominant human defenders of the thousand worlds: all about strength through unity and annexing or destroying anything else. On the table they have good versatile squads with synergy support solos, and their unique trick of summoning extra void gates to quickly gain table space. Their warjacks tend to take shield weapons and other defensive effects, and ‘null’ effects to remove arc from enemy models.
  • Marcher Worlds: a disparate group of rebels and freedom fighters, only barely united in opposition to the Iron Star Alliance and (partly) led by an ancient feudal system of Lords. On the table they are the most mobile and armed with powerful long range weapons. Their warjacks are solid and armed with simple but powerful weapons with lots of fire.
  • Aeternus Continuum: an ancient and insular cult of historians, dedicated to extending their own life and a strict hierarchy led by a group of discarnate ghosts. 99% of the forces are ‘Vassals’: unionists, labourers or criminals unaware of the true purpose, and treated as expendable. AC are defined by powerful solos, amazing fury spells, resurrection effects and the most melee focussed of the human factions. Their signature effect is corrosion (to drop enemy armour) with their warjacks tending to take acidic hollowphage cannons and melee weapons.
  • Empyreans: a race of alien conquerors who have transferred their souls to machines and then their form of arc-powered heaven. After conquering every world they knew of, they slept for many epochs, until they were surprised by the arrival of humanity. They are only now ‘waking up’ to realise how quickly the warlike humans spread across the galaxy (over 5,000 years) and react. They are defined by efficiency: gaining extra effects when given arc or targeted by spells, and many effects that can shoot through buildings.

This is only a very brief summary: if anything piques your interest, feel free to read more in the various faction overview articles, or Privateer Press’ own summary here


Units are the standard building block of a list, and activate together. A unit is a solo, warjack, vehicle, or 2-3 model squad, basically what you buy in a box. Attachments are attached to a squad and activate with that unit, but do not count as a choice for list creation (effectively ‘free’). A standard skirmish game size takes 8 units and 1 extra free hero solo: the hero is also a unit, and you can take heroes within your original 8 units too (ie could have 7 non hero’s and 2 heroes). Each turn you activate 1 of any unit plus 1 solo: this can make solos important to get the most out of your turn. As a guide, around half of your list should be solos.

Heroes are powerful, usually solos (there are a few vehicle heroes and 1 attachment hero), but the main difference is that unlike other units they cannot return to play once destroyed. This can make them risky choices: if you bring too many and lose them early, you can be limited in options later in the game. Generally you won’t be far off if you take the ‘free’ solo heroes and have the rest of your list non heroes.

First purchases

Below are the recommended purchases in rough order. Treat it as guidelines: especially if you already have good enough terrain, you can probably just buy more models first, and the 2 sourcebooks are optional but amazing. However, you should get a starter box for your faction first: it has some great models, everything you need to play and the only way to get some components.

#1: Starter box

Warcaster is a game which truly has everything you need to start in the starter box, and most of this will be used in every future game. This makes them absolutely the best way to start. Each faction’s starter includes

  • Rulebook: for those on the fence, this can be downloaded here
  • 6 models / 4 units including a light warjack with a range of weapons, squad, weaver (to cast fury spells), and solo
  • Tokens for all effects: including void gates and objectives
  • Cards with rules for models as well as additional lore
  • Cypher deck (spell cards)
  • set of strike dice: unique but same as riot quest or monsterpocalypse sets here if you wanted more dice https://store.privateerpress.com/riot-quest-strike-dice/

With the addition of a retractable tape measure (I suggest a large Swedish furniture company for a cheap, light, reliable tape measure), this is really everything you need to have a first game. Across the 4 factions, every unit in this box is good and can be used in competitive lists, which makes it good value as you expand.

The next standard game size has 4 more units and a hero (to reach 8+1 skirmish). The faction overviews linked above has some recommendations on what to take to get to ‘skirmish’ size.

#2 Collision course starter

This is dirt cheap and nice enough, with another rulebook having story, new scenarios, and an alternate ‘race mode’ rule set built around vehicles. It also adds rules for Vehicles and Mantlets, although these can be downloaded or have been reprinted in the Thousand Worlds book (see below).

The main reason to buy this is for the extra cypher deck, which can be mixed with the starter deck. This also includes faction specific cyphers: such as an ISA troop buffs and a spell that creates another gate, AC throwing acid everywhere or sacrificing models to create extra solos, Marchers taking extra movement, or empyreans doing all sorts of shenanigans.


#3 Terrain, objectives, battlemat / board

If you don’t have a local club with scifi terrain, this should arguably be a higher priority than collision course. Without terrain in this game, most models will die very easily, so buildings are good to break up line of sight or give cover, and smaller walls can give cover in between. The gaps between terrain also shape the lines of engagement: funnelling forces in to the fight.

There are a few options around depending on your cash, skill, resources: including cardboard, 3D printed, scratch built, or from other game systems. I plan to do more reviews and options on this in future, however a good set would include.

  • ~4 single story buildings with a flat roof (gives 2 levels) and some ladders or stairs to climb (can use paper templates)
  • ~4-8 walls, crates or other small scatter terrain that doesn’t restrict movement too much but can give cover
  • up to 1 ‘centrepiece’ larger building with multiple stories
  • Perhaps a forest, rubble or other ‘rough terrain’ to slow movement

I’ve bought some of the older Corvus Belli sets that give ‘flat pack’ single story cardboard structures and crates cheaply. It is a good way to fill a skirmish table quickly while you build up some more elaborate pieces. Some people play this game on elaborate walkways, very tall and dense ‘Infinity style’ terrain: while this looks beautiful it isn’t required, and arguably isn’t the optimal for gameplay.

While the starter box tokens are a good start, Nice looking 20mm objectives are also a good buy. 3D printing has some options if you have a printer, and Privateer Press have some options to buy. Objective rings (having the 20mm objective and a 1″ halo around it to show who is in control) are also useful: such as this one.

#4 Thousand Worlds Sourcebook

This isn’t strictly necessary to play, however is a great book packed with unbelievable amounts of lore: charting humanity’s expansions and contractions across the thousand worlds over 5,000yrs of history since being dropped from the fantasy steampunk setting of War Machine. It is also the most complete description of the inner workings of each faction, with some battle fiction mixed in. The art is also spectacular.

It includes the complete rulebook: some minor changes from the starter rulebook (but not really anything game changing), reprinting the extra vehicle & mantlet rules from Collision Course. The main addition is rules for “Cadres”: but I can list them here and they are pretty simple. It also includes the rule cards of every model released to date.

Cadres were released for all factions in the Release Wave 3: with a box containing 3 units (2 squads, solo, and attachment) and a powerful champion, designed to be used together. You can take the 3 units without the rest of the box, but not the champion. You can take multiple cadres. The core rule added to allow cadre champions is

“If you take all the other units in the Cadre, you can add a Champion to your force. This Champion is a bonus addition to your force and does not count toward the total number of units in your force. You only gain one Champion for every full Cadre complement in your force.”

#5 More models, or more factions

With the above sets, you should have enough to play satisfying skirmish games at 8+1 level. You can play at this level, or buy more models. The 2 other main modes are

  • 11units +2heroes: Mid Size Sortie, Modified Primary, or Modified Skirmish. These are slight variations of game type: based on whether to play skirmish or primary scenarios and how many turns per pulse round. But all are have the same size forces, and are a good intermediate game size.
  • 15 units + 3 heroes: Primary game aka Full Battle Force. These are the largest game size supported, with larger tables and more scenario options. One interesting point here is that these scenarios tend to need squads to do most of the scoring, so often recommend bringing ~5 squad units on primary scenarios.

The above faction overviews continue to guide you on what a good list is, or feel free to pick whatever you like the look of.

One approach is to try to buy one of each “sculpt” for as long as possible. There is a trick here, as the core models (most weavers, warjacks, and core combat solos) have a “B” sculpt and 2 of these choices are usually worthwhile, but otherwise leaves you one of each unit. This will let you paint without duplicates, experience the diversity of model rules, and have fun with it. It isn’t guaranteed to get a perfect competitive list, but isn’t too bad. By the time you get to primary games (15 units) however, you might feel the need for some duplicate squads.

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Martyr of the Cause

    Great overview of how to get started! I think the advice on terrain is especially good for reference. The advice for skipping doubles unless they have an alt-sculpt is also very solid, and has served me very well so far.

    I would also suggest players consider the Cadres as a good way to expand their forces after the Starter Box. Most of them still play very well at Skirmish level, so they make a nice way to expand with strong models. Each also gives you a free Champion unit which is handy when you have limited model options (Champions are free for army composition provided you took the other 3 units that are part of the Cadre).

    Warcaster has so many “runtime” decisions for what your forces are on the table that it’s not really a big deal to play the same army list game after game. As such, you can go far with the starter box plus a few added units to fill out a Skirmish force.

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