Retro-Hammer: Chainsaw Warrior

Welcome to Retro-Hammer, a series here at Master of Magic that has a look at the long and varied history of Games Workshops product line. Since the worlds of Warhammer and Warhammer 40,000 have been around for quite a while (and Games Workshop itself has been producing games even before these were a thing) it is unsurprising that there are a decent number of weird and wonderful things that have been produced by our favourite miniatures company. Today we will be looking at a sort of prequel to the story of Warhammer 40,000, with the game Chainsaw Warrior.

Released way back in 1987, Chainsaw Warrior tales the story of a lone soldier battling against strange and malevolent creatures of the warp, lead by a being referred to only as “The Darkness”. Taking inspiration from class films like Escape from New York, Chainsaw Warrior combines the themes of post-apocalypses, action heroes and sci-fi violence in a truly 80’s way.

In this game the player takes on the role of the aforementioned Chainsaw Warrior, and has sixty minutes to navigate the slums of New York in an attempt to locate the Darkness and destroy it before the entire city is lost. You may be wondering what the other players are doing during this time? Well the answer is there are no other players. Chainsaw Warrior is a solo game, so it is one player vs the box. You either win, or the game does.


To represent this the player has to battle through two decks of cards that stand in for the hazards, zombies, mutants and other creatures affected by Darkness, who will attempt to kill the player or slow them down. If they manage to kill the player (either by killing them outright or having them succumbing to zombie venom/radiation poisoning) or the player runs out of time, then the Darkness wins and New York is a goner.

In this way the game is a little bit like solitaire, as the player plays with the same cards but the order they are revealed changes from game to game and force the player to problem solve in order to win. The player also has several statistics that are randomly generated at the start of the game. These affect the hand-to-hand combat, marksmanship, reaction time, vitality and any special abilities the player may have. There are also separate tracks to record the effects of zombie venom and radiation damage (which we talked about above).

The player is also equipped with a random assortment of weapons that are selected at the start of the game, and items which can include the eponymous chainsaw. They also have a critical item called the Laser Lance, which is the only weapon capable of destroying Darkness. Loss of the Laser Lance or running out of its ammunition requires the player to leave the slums for a replacement, suffering a time penalty and starting the last deck they were playing through all the way from the start.

While Chainsaw Warrior is not explicitly set in the past history of Warhammer 40,000, there are a few key things linking this old game with the grim dark future that we all know and love. Firstly, the set up sounds an awful lot like a daemonic incursion in as much as the several of the creatures are coming from a realm called the warp. In addition, you also have to contend with full on chaos cultist that have a lot of iconography in common with the chaos worshipers of other Games Workshop properties.

This has lead a lot of people (myself included) to assume the events of Chainsaw Warrior depict a warp tear on earth that must have happened during the Age of Terra, with the Darkness representing a powerful daemonic entity such as a Daemon Prince. Either way, the game was an interesting project for a young Games Workshop to produce, and to this day has many fans with older gamers.

There were also several miniatures produced at the same time as the box game itself, representing the Chainsaw Warrior (with multiple models representing different armor loadouts as shown above) as well as some Zombies and a cultist model. Some of these are quite hard to get hold of nowadays but are a great addition to your collection if you love older miniatures. There was even one produced for the game Talisman for the Timescape expansion. This set also included a Space Marine character, further cementing the idea that Chainsaw Warrior takes part in the ancient past of the 40k timeline.

If you wanted to have a go at Chainsaw nowadays you could try and pick up a copy online second hand, but with most sets been very expensive or incomplete this might be a tall order. Alternatively, you could play the mobile version. Yeah, in 2013, developer Auroch Digital created an officially licenced version of the game for mobile and desktop. It isn’t too expensive either, so if you have a few pounds spare you could give it a try for yourself. Just make sure you play it on hard mode for the more authentic experience.

And there you have it. Chainsaw Warrior, the sole player game of zombies and horrific monsters set in a post-apocalypse world of chainsaws and 80’s machismo. We hope you have enjoyed this drive into the retro past of Games Workshops product line. What would you like us to talk about next? Let us know in the comments below, or find me on twitter @MTGTengu and maybe we will talk about it next time.

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