Piece trading is a term that probably originated with the game of Chess.
If, somehow, pieces are traded off for another piece of the same time over and over in a game of chess, all that is left are a pair of Kings which is a draw.
The important thing, then, is to gain a piece advantage. Usually, this is a captured Pawn with no retaliation. Occasionally, a lesser piece like a Knight or Bishop gets captured by a Pawn - "trading up" - or a Bishop/Knight takes a Queen/Rook, which is also "trading up", although on a much more impactful level.
Finally, Chess players love to talk about the concept of a "sacrifice", a situation wherein a piece is given up for no material gain in exchange for creating a favorable board state.
Warmachine and Hordes have a similar Piece Trade system in place, although with much more variation and complexities due to things such as terrain, measurement in inches rather than in squares, and ranged pieces.
I'm going to cover at least three broad topics over the course of a few articles. They are: When to piece trade, How to trade up, and When to sacrifice (with others added as inspired).
When to Piece Trade:
There are a number of ways in which to think about this concept.
The first, and easiest, way to think about it is to simply ask yourself this question - Do I have more heavies than he does, and are all of my heavies capable of killing any one of his?
If the answer to this question is yes, then you are playing a list that thrives on piece trades and you should go into games planning for this.
A good example of this is Harkevich in Khador or Amon in Menoth. Both of these casters bring a lot of very cheap heavy Warjacks that are all perfectly capable of murdering other heavy Warjacks, and they excel in a battlegroup on battlegroup environment since they almost always have one or more extra heavies than their opponent does.
Simple math will show that if you have more things than your opponent and you trade yours one for one with him, you'll have something left at the end and they will not.
Another important question usually arrives when playing a colossal in a list, and it goes something like "Can I trade this colossal for most of his list?" OR "Can I trade heavies until it's his one heavy vs. my colossal?"
In a face off, a colossal almost always beats a heavy, and so even if the last turn is their heavy coming into your colossal and not killing it, the player with the colossal will probably win.
A final point I will touch on is the concept of "cheating" a piece trade. This essentially means using something, whether it's a feat, a special rule, or spells, to make it so that you can get a heavy without sacrificing one in return.
Haley 2 is excellent at this, as she can commit her army on her Feat turn and prevent the enemy heavies from retaliating. Wurmwood can Stranglehold a number of opposing heavies and use one or two of his own to slowly chew through the enemy army.
Rask, the Coven, Baldur 1, Fyanna 2, and other all also have Feats that allow them to get ahead on the piece trade by making their heavies either very hard to kill (Fyanna) or very hard to get to (the other three).
Another way of doing this is by forcing your opponent to commit multiple heavies to kill one of yours, usually through defensive buffs or feats. When a player has to commit two model to kill one, and then loses those two in return, they're in a bad spot usually.
When higher level Warmachine players sit down for a game, this is often the way in which the game ends up playing out, and is one of the intangible ways in which more experienced players beat newer players. Experienced players are looking for this angle all the time, and newer players tend to just focus on the piece trades on more "fair" terms.
Here is an example of a "cheating" trade where there are four heavy Warbeasts and Warjacks on either side of the table, with the Protectorate Warjacks having better ARM values and offensive stats than the Circle ones.
In particular, the Avatar of Menoth (second heavy from the right) has a shield and will require to Circle Warbeasts to kill reliably.
In order to overcome this, the Circle player teleports Loki to the right side of the house and, after killing the two Daughters of the Flame in the way, hooks the Avatar and pulls him in.
As predicted, Loki doesn't kill the Avatar, but Ghetorix comes in to finish it off and then Krueger Feats to push the entire Protectorate army backwards and lower their speed so that none of the Circle Warbeasts are in danger of death the next turn.
Now the Circle player is up a piece at no cost to themselves and the Protectorate player is on the back foot.
Now, not every faction has access to those kinds of movement shenanigans, so let's look at another example.
In this one, the Durst Player has crammed six heavies into the Reznik 2 player and Feated to give them all +4 ARM.
The Reznik player has a full turn of sending his heavies into the Durst Jacks, but even committing two heavies to one, fails to kill it (although it does send it flying backwards thanks to a crit smite).
In turn, this allows the Durst player to remove two key Warjacks (The Eye of Truth and Scourge of Heresy) from the table in retaliation, getting extremely far up on the piece trade and leading to a concession quickly thereafter from the Reznik player.
Piece trading forms the core of the Warmachine game, and learning to get ahead on them through placement, movement tricks, defensive abilities, and capitalizing on opponent mistakes is one of the keys to progressing as a player.
Hopefully this article gives you a couple of ideas to work with, and the next few will be covering more topics related to this.
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