As much as it pains us to admit it, most of the people that come to 1d4 chan are Warhammer players, so our Warmachine and Hordes articles are often 'wanting' and lack a lot of the unit entries and in-depth tactics, which is kind of a given considering how much information each warnoun has, stats, weapons, spells, feats, theme list, tactics, ect. We would recommend one heads over to Warmachine/Hordes battle college which has a lot more information that is useful than here. That said, however: here is our two cents on the how to play the game.
Starting a Warmachine army
Read up on the factions and find the one that most appeals to you: note that each faction can play multiple army archetypes ('jack heavy, infantry heavy, attrition, etc.), although most factions are better suited to certain archetypes than others (e.g. Protectorate or Convergence for a 'jack heavy army). Pay particular attention to what your chosen warcaster is good at, since a lot of your army's playstyle is going to be determined by which wizard you select to lead it.
Unless you've played before and have a definitive idea of what you want (and generally even if you do), buy your faction's battlebox (or the two-player starter if you're looking to play Menoth/Khador and have a friend to split it with). The battleboxes are cheap - only about $30-$40, depending on where you order them from, which is a steal considering the price of the contents individually - and the units they come with tend to be a pretty solid foundation to build the rest of an army from. Use that as a foundation to learn the ropes. Once you have some idea about what you're doing, you can start building up to 50/75 points (or whatever your group plays normally).
A common question is what books to buy. The short answer: just the rulebook, Warmachine Prime/Hordes Primal MkIII, unless you're explicitly interested in the fluff. This contains all of the rules that you need to play. Everything else is optional, since every unit you buy comes with its own little stat card which will tell you everything you need to know to use it.
If you are interested in the fluff, though, here's the scoop. Warmachine rulebooks work in an anthology format, which means that every year or two a new book comes out with models and rules for each faction. The current released books:
- Warmachine Prime Mk III/mini rulebook from the two-player starter: Both the original and mini rulebooks contain the basic game rules, while the full-size rulebook also includes some basic background fluff as well as a listing of a number of models/units for each faction. (Note that all the models listed in the main rulebook are also listed in their respective "Forces of" books as well.)
- Forces of (Your Faction Here): Roughly equivalent to a 40k codex/Fantasy army book. Contains the faction's background information, model/unit stats, warcaster tier lists and a short story that will probably make zero sense to you if you haven't been following the fluff since Mk I (downside of having fluff that actually goes somewhere). These books contain the lion's share of a faction's playable models, so if you're debating between this book and the anthology books below grab this one first. The Retribution and Convergence books also have additional rules information that covers the particular quirks of their 'jacks.
- The rules in the older books (Wrath, Colossals, Vengeance, Reckoning, Escalation, Apotheosis, Superiority, Legends) are no longer applicable in Mk III, but you may want to grab them for fluff purposes if you can find them for cheap. Now sold on the PP digital reader for a couple bucks each if you don't feel like screwing around with eBay and want to go legit.
- The Iron Kingdoms RPG rulebooks don't contain any rules related to Warmachine (the tabletop game, at least) but have tons of history and lore if you want to get in deep.
Individual Army Tactics
- Cygnar, because you crave guns, lightning, and lightning with guns.
- Khador, because Mother Russia.
- Protectorate of Menoth, because you like synergy and uncompromising religious fanaticism
- Cryx, because steampunk zombie pirates
- Retribution of Scyrah, because Elf'Qaeda
- Mercenaries. Because Money. Covers the "general" contracts for mercs (Highborn Covenant/Four Star Syndicate). For the pirate and/or dwarf lovers amongst us:
- Convergence of Cyriss, because you like synergy too, but you like it even more when everyone is a robot.