Monday, 20 February 2012

Military Standards

I've actually played some Vassal games over the last couple of days - rather than just lurking and making fun of everyone - and I'm finding two things:  I'm getting very tired of weapon master infantry in large numbers; and that SR2012 scenarios with interactive objectives need a serious amount of ranged options.

The first is just a reflection of how Warmachine interacts with Hordes for the most part, but it would be nice to have some better options for getting rid of them.  As much as I looooove utilizing low POW blast damage and all, I'm really starting to feel like the Trollbloods are missing out on the options that involve shooting the weapon masters before they arrive in my lines.  Regardless, testing continues.  Maybe I just need a Bomber and to boost like crazy...

The second came up while I was trying to play Guidons against Mike Davies on Vassal.  I found that I couldn't prevent him from scoring without taking some ludicrously stupid risks with my models since he went first and started the scoring race before me.  I think simply making the earliest interaction with the objectives start on the second player's second turn (when scoring normally starts) would prevent this.  By moving the interaction back a turn, the first player has already moved to protect their own objective, while the second player now gets a chance to protect theirs without getting horribly tanked on the first player's third turn.  Of course none of this changes how the scenarios are currently played, so for now, be prepared to do some madly suicidal attacks in order to prevent your opponent from scoring.

Thursday, 16 February 2012

Tanks for the Memories

I was looking at my Mercenaries since I'm in something of a painting mood lately (even if most of my paints dried up) and I keep thinking I'll go for the street cred at this year's UK Masters.  Then I look at this and throw that idea straight out the window.  I want my tank.

Luckily I know Shae Konnit (or as I know him: Gav) who can supply me with my Warmachine/Hordes needs!  Whilst his online store does leave a lot to be desired, a quick e-mail to Gav can usually net you what you're after at a very reasonable price.  It's where I'm getting my awesometastic War Wagon from.

There's been a lot of interest in eMagnus on the Mercenaries forums, with an additional inspection focused on the Bad Seeds themed force.  I tend to play that list primarily as an assassination list, but a lot of other people have been saying they've been using it in more of an attrition style.  Maybe it's time I try it out with the attrition in mind, as I'm trying to teach myself to do with the Trollbloods.  Unfortunately a lot of the games I've played with it were without time limits, but I'm pretty sure I could fairly easily score a control point or two in a normal timed game.

With less than 20 games to squeeze in before the UK Masters, I really need to decide what to bring.  I wrote down my 3 planned Mercenary lists and then realised just how many models I'd need to get, and that made me a sad panda.  I think I'd need 3 more boxes of Steelhead Halberdiers, 2 min unit boxes of Steelhead Heavy Cavalry, another box of Sword Knights, the list goes on and on.  It's a pretty big order when it comes down to it, not even my PG points could cover all of that.  I don't think my soul would survive having to paint all that either.

On the other hand, the Trollbloods have the benefit of having a larger amount of overlap between my lists.  Reinforcements are also quite simple: Burrowers, Fell Caller, 1 point option of choice.  Nice and easy.  For my choice of warlocks, I was thinking pDoomshaper, Grim Angus and Jarl Skuld.  I think I've worked out a Jarl list I'm happy to test but I think I'll need to play around with other things for Grim Angus' list.  Given my terrible record against Cryx, I should probably cater some sort of list to counter the issues I typically have playing against them.

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Improving Your Game - Part 5 (Board Control)

Board control is an interesting concept and can be achieved in a number of ways.  This can by through having dangerous models or by moving models around or limiting enemy movement.

Certain models exude danger: the Deathjack, Mulg, Beast-09.  You'll notice that these are mostly large models that have a big presence when you put them on the table.  They're designed this way and most players can instantly identify the threat something like Mulg will bring to the table.  This presence is further enhanced by the model's rules.  Everyone knows that the Deathjack or Mulg or a Warpwolf Stalker can ruin just about any single model in the game, so you don't want to put your models on the receiving end of their attacks.  Now we're seeing where the board control comes in.

When you put down a model, it exerts a certain radius of 'threat'.  Anything entering this 'threat' becomes a valid target.  The more threatening or destructive a model is, the more board control it exerts on your opponent.  No one in their right mind will place a caster within 14" of Mulg with eDoomshaper unless they can absolutely guarantee (and I really mean guarantee) their caster cannot be attacked/killed.  So utilizing this theory of threat you effectively control the board within your model's threat range.

What happens when multiple competing threat ranges overlap?  So my Mulg+eDoomshaper combo can threaten 14", but your Molik Karn+eMakeda can go 15", that's when I surrender the board control to my opponent unless I can nullify their assault.  Whomever has the longer threat range is exerting more board control on that area of the board than their opponent.  Certain factors such as attack power come into play here too though, my ARM 21 Mulg is going to laugh at your POW 10 infantry even though they exert a larger threat range.  Because I effectively nullify your assault, that part of the board is really mine.

Certain feats and abilities change the way board control works.  eDeneghra's feat instantly drops your opponent's board control to nothing as long as they can't move, so you now control the entire board except where models are physically placed and their respective melee ranges.  This harkens back to the idea that threat range is the greatest factor for board control.  Look at the way Pygmy Burrowers works, because my Burrowers nullify your threat by digging and do horrific damage when they surface, they exert a good degree board control.

It's worth talking about abilities that literally effect the board: things like suppressing fire or pillars of salt.  These are usually templates that either stop your opponent moving through or limit where they can move.  You are in effect channeling your opponent's army in a more direct fashion than using threat range by saying "you may not move here" with your templates.  Of course this is cancelled if the opponent can ignore whatever type of template you put down but you get the idea on how it works.

So what can you do with board control?  Well, the first thing you can do if you have more board control than your opponent is dictate where combat will happen.  Denial casters typically support this sort of play, though some casters enter a sub-genre of denial most people would call control: casters such as Rahn or eKrueger fit into this category.  Once you can dictate where combat will happen, it becomes a matter of when it will happen.  Once you control the where and the when then you pretty much have the game in the bag unless the dice let you down.

Booking Face

I've been glancing at this blog's traffic and noticed a vast increase of views received from Facebook.  I'm very curious to find out who's made a link to the Steamworks on Facebook, please feel free to make a comment to let me know who you are.

Monday, 6 February 2012

Bigger = Better?

Plenty of spoilers this weekend from TempleCon - namely the big colossals reveal for Warmachine.  My first thought on the reveal was time to give up on the Mercs.  I find the Mercenaries have some serious issues with heavy armour, discovering that there will be heavy armour models with massive damage grids really didn't do it for me.  However, the two fully-painted/assembled colossals we've seen so far look awesome: the Conquest for Khador, and the Stormwall for Cygnar.  We can also see artwork for the Judicator (Protectorate), Kraken (Cryx), Hyperion (Retribution), and the Galleon (Mercenaries).  If you hadn't already guessed, colossals are on the same size base as a battle engine (110mm).

Important spoilers about colossals:

  • Colossals are warjacks
  • They have Reach
  • Colossals have two new power attacks - one is a thresher attack in the left or right arc, the other is a slam that does not require the 3" movement first

Colossals is also the name of the next Warmachine book, which will only have 1 new warcaster for Mercenaries (General Osram, a Rhulic caster); everyone else is getting new epic warcasters.  What we know so far is that eVyros, e2Kreoss, and e2Vlad are all mounted, whilst e2Nemo comes with an assistant, Stormchaser Adept Finch.  I wonder if we'll see e2Magnus...

I will admit to being utterly flabbergasted that Jamie P won the TempleCon Masters, though I will give him my begrudging congratulations.  Personally I was utterly mystified by Will Pagani's choice of pBaldur t4 but I can only shrug, they were the ones at the top tables, I was busying being on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean.  The 3 list/4 round format does interest me however, and it's one that I'd like to utilize in the future for some of my events.

Even with the colossals reveal, I can't help but stare at my Mercenaries and have visions of glory if I got a decent standing with them at the UK Masters this year.  I'd have to buy a ton of infantry models though, something I'm quite resistant to when I could just run my current lists.  And the idea of Magnus running a Galleon... mmmm...  If only he had Incite instead of Calamity.  Actually I'd have to buy too much stuff to bring Mercenaries to the UK Masters - I think I'd run eMagnus (Bad Seeds), Gorten (Highborn), and Damiano (Steelheads) if I had to choose.

Having taken almost 6 months to paint Mulg, I can't even comprehend the amount of time I'm going to need to paint the Trollblood colossal.  It's like some sort of uberMulg.

Friday, 3 February 2012

Road Works & Improving Your Game - Part 4 (Know Thy Enemy)

Acting much like one of the Ten Commandments, 'know thy enemy' is vitally important in Warmachine and Hordes.  There's a lot of things that will ruin your day simply because you didn't know they existed.   Just look at spells like Rampager or Domination, or eHaley's feat.

A friend of mine - Colin - and I were chatting about this series of articles just after I'd published the first one (I actually wrote all of these in the same day, but chose to space them out over several days) and he said "Always ask for your opponent's cards."  I agree with this and feel the need to emphasize this point: ALWAYS ASK FOR THE CARDS.  Once, Jim went off in a giant nerdrage when he killed Colin's Farilor only to discover that the standard bearer was the one who brings mage static to the Legionnaires.  This could have been avoided by having a quick glance at Domination.  Of course now Jim will never, ever, forget that the standard bearer is the one with mage static, which neatly segues (pronounced SEG-WAYS) into the next paragraph.

If you don't instantly gather a vital piece of information whilst glancing through your opponent's cards, be sure to remember what surprised you.  Store that little gem of information and ensure that no one will ever be able to catch you out with it again.  I'm never going to forget that pVayl can cast Rampager on my warbeasts immediately on turn two, so I can guard against by simply having Banishing Ward up earlier than usual.  Sure it cost me the game in the last UK Masters but it's never going to happen again.  I took my mistake and learned from it, in doing so I have removed a vital tool from any pVayl player's arsenal.

Having an academic knowledge of what something does only takes you so far, until you experience it you're likely either to fail to comprehend the threat or misunderstand it.  When the unexpected happens, be sure to remember it and file that information away.  Uniting academic knowledge with practical application is science at its finest.

So what have we learned from this series of posts so far:
  1. Space is important.
  2. Know threat ranges.
  3. Everything in your list should have an easily identified purpose.
  4. Know what enemy models do.
  5. Learn from your mistakes.

These are the basic concepts required to improving your game.  There are more advanced concepts, but those will be explored in later blog posts.  I think the next one will concentrate on board control.

Thursday, 2 February 2012

Road Works & Improving Your Game - Part 3 (List Composition)

We're now into part 3 of this series of articles, where I'm going to talk about list composition and the virtues of knowing your enemy.

List composition is perhaps THE deciding factor in the majority of number of games.  If your list has parts that doesn't work, then you're doomed.  Certainly your opponent may commit some horrible blunder and hand you the game, but generally if your list is terrible then things are going to go badly.

So what constitutes a good list?  Well that's a complex question to answer, the simplest answer is a list that works.  Quite simply you want to build a list that either supports your caster or one that your caster supports.  Everything in your list should have a function or easily stated objective.  The mistake that I often see in new players is that they take units that serve no purpose or are completely unsupported by the rest of the list.  Now, nearly every unit and model in the game can be supported in some way, this is not to say that certain things do not suck.  Don't think that just because you brought some sort of buff that a terrible unit will magically become better.  It will become better but a really solid unit with the same buff will become an amazing unit instead of a merely 'Not Bad' one.

As part of list building, we return back to asking yourself how serious are you about the game?  Are you a hardcore Steamroller tournament player?  Do you just like to have the odd fun game once a month and don't care whether you win?  Do you only play with models you like the look of?

Seeing as most people who are reading this article are more likely wanting to branch into Steamroller games or are already participating in them, they no doubt want to bring the most brutal list they can possibly envisage.  Just remember, no one turns up to a tournament for the wooden spoon.  So, looking at the SR2012 document I can see that most scenarios involve two zones at varying distances apart.  This means you have to bring an army that can function in two parts to at least hold two zones.  Look at your army and ask yourself 'how can I contest two zones with what I have here?'  If you can't figure that out, it's time to go back to the drawing board.

Once you've figured out how you're going to control two zones, now you're going to need to bring something to deal with heavy armour since fighting against heavy armour with POW 10 weapons sucks goats.  What models in your army do this well?  For Hordes, it's warbeasts, for Warmachine it's weapon master infantry.  Why not warjacks?  There are numerous and lengthy debates on this but it boils down to fury being better than focus.  I'm sure someone somewhere is spitting out their tea at such a comment but this isn't really the place for a continuation of the debate, feel free to reopen one of the bajillion threads about it on the Privateer Press forums instead.  Regardless, the big question you should be asking yourself is whether you have brought enough to deal with all the enemy's high armour models.

There are certain lists that build themselves organically, mostly the horribly effective themed forces such as eKaya.  Most factions have a couple of lists that just form around a caster naturally and so your list building is pretty much done for you.  Other lists are discovered through blood, sweat, and tears.  I didn't build my pDoomshaper list overnight.  I've tweaked that list to its current state over two years of game play and it's still a work in progress.

To go back to an earlier statement on this post, every model/unit in your list should have a purpose.  This is usually linked directly to the style of play the caster was designed for: assassination, attrition, or denial.  For example, if your list is based around assassination, then you want models/units that facilitate your assassination run or at least set up other models/units for that run.  There's no point bringing Man'o'War Shocktroopers in your Strakhov list when Uhlans are much more in line with his style of play.

All this writing about list building moves into the realm of 'net-decking', where someone merely lifts a list from a tournament write-up or find it on a forum somewhere.  With the exception of those lists that build themselves, just don't go there.  Let's use Jim's UK Masters 2010 eKrueger list as an example.  Jim did horrible, horrible things with that list despite what the terrible Boosted Damage interview afterwards may make things look like.  Armies were crushed by that list.  After that UK Masters, a number of people tried out the list and discovered it did not work for them and then complained bitterly on the various forums about it.  The list worked for Jim.  Don't expect a list to achieve similar results in your hands as it did in the original author's hands.

So, having utilized Jim as another example, it's time to bring in Barry for comparison.  Once again, I'm sorry Barry.  Barry likes Errants and calls them his tarpit unit.  He's not been getting great results with them as a tarpit unit though so he should be looking at them as something else: a ranged unit with hunter?  Weapon master infantry?  Whatever he thinks they should be doing, they aren't doing that at the moment.  The same goes for his Bastions, they aren't achieving the results he's looking for.  Are the results he's getting with these units a consequence of listening to other peoples' opinions or his own experiments?

I believe Barry is picking the wrong units for the playstyle he wants to achieve, so it's an issue right at the list building stage.  This in turn amplifies any mistakes he makes during a game, costing him games that should have been a lot closer and making him look worse than he perhaps is.

Building on every model/unit in your list should have a purpose, all the objectives you set out for your models should suit your playstyle.  Taking units that don't naturally perform for you will only lead to what appear to be embarrassingly awful decision making during a game.  However, it's up to you to find what works for you.

Now, there's more to list building than that, but it's really for more advanced play and I'll cover common techniques at advanced play in another blog post at some point in the future.  I was going to include 'Knowing Your Enemy' in this article, but this article just kept growing so I've decided to separate the two.

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Road Works & Improving Your Game - Part 2 (Threat Ranges)

So at the end of part 1 I informed everyone of the importance of space around your caster.  You are no doubt  attempting to spread your models out away from your casters more now.  Of course you don't want to be too far away or else your army will lose the benefits of your caster.  You don't want to be too close to the enemy or they can still threaten your caster.

A natural progression from the idea of space is threat ranges.  It is vital to know how far the enemy can threaten you.  I repeat: IT IS *VITAL* TO KNOW HOW FAR THE ENEMY CAN THREATEN YOU.  In almost every game I play against Jim he asks 'how far is Mulg's threat range?'  It's 11" + Goad range Jim, I've told you at least 19 times now.  It is important that he asks me this question however, as Mulg is a dangerous model and knowing the range of his attacks helps Jim decide how to position his army or which models to expose.  At the start of each game you should be looking at the enemy models and working out their threat ranges.

Once you have a grasp of your opponent's threat ranges you can start to formulate tactics towards dealing with their models.  Does the opponent out-threat you?  How will you deal with that?  Do you out-threat your opponent?  What will you attack first?

The idea of threat ranges intrinsically affects the way lists are constructed.  My Trollbloods are almost never going to out-threat my opponent, so I have to construct my list to include parts that will absorb or nullify my opponent's threat range.  Just look at my pDoomshaper list from a few posts ago: it contains a Bouncer for the Bump animus and Shield Guard, Janissa is there to provide a handy wall to block non-Reach models, and I included Whelps because they can be spawned in charge lanes.  The list looks at my threat range, assumes that it will be shorter than my opponent's threat ranges, and then brings the tools to help nullify that disadvantage.

Conversely, an eKaya list will almost always out-threat the opponent and so there are almost no defensive models in her lists except for the Skinwalkers required by her themed force.  Why are there none of these defensive models?  Well, she doesn't need them as she will be attacking first and aiming to eliminate the key figures in her opponent's army before they can be utilized.

So, let's now combine the ideas of space and threat range.  The amount of space that your army, rather than your caster, needs is usually based on threat range.  Most good players will attempt to maneuver their armies so that they are outside the enemy's threat range but within their own.  There are a variety of techniques to achieving this; such as using a denial feat or simply having faster models.  If you are on the short end of the threat stick however you need to be capable of dealing with your opponent's assault.  Regardless of which end of the spectrum you are, always be aware of just how far models can threaten your caster.  The height of embarrassment in this game is losing your caster so that you snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.  That and the turn 2 caster kill...

If we examine general list composition, armies that are going for increased threat ranges typically have smaller model counts, as they attempt to apply maximum pressure to tactically vital parts of the opponent's army; and buffs that increase threat range are usually only for a few models.  Armies made to absorb charges however, tend to be larger model counts, having a degree of redundancy to account for models lost during play.

Having covered the idea of threat range, part 3 is about list composition and knowing your enemy.