Monday, March 25, 2013

Gators 3rd Place at Intermountain Cup

Yay! Congrats to Mr. James Cutler.

Bloody Barnabas
  • Ironback Spitter
  • Swamp Horror
  • Bull Snapper
Gatorman Posse Max
Gatorman Posse Max
Gatorman Posse Max
Bog Trog Ambushers Max
Croak Hunter
Maelok the Dreadbound
  • Blackhide Wrastler
  • Swamp Horror
  • Bull Snapper
  • Boneswarm
Gatorman Posse Max
Gatorman Posse Max
Bog Trog Ambushers Max
Gatorman Witch Doctor
Gatorman Witch Doctor
Gatorman Witch Doctor
  • Blackhide Wrastler
  • Swamp Horror
Wrong Eye
  • Snapjaw
  • Bull Snapper
Gatorman Posse Max
Gatorman Posse Max
Bog Trog Ambushers Min
Totem Hunter


The Intermountain Cup is sizable US event that takes place around the Midwest and is a qualifying event for Warmachine Weekend. So it's a pretty legit placing.

As can be expected with a very limited model set, lists are pretty standard (ie. more or less what I'd play), except for the  inclusion of a single Boneswarm with Maelok (which I assume is taken primarily for the animus and baby-sitting duty) and the inclusion of Wrong Eye with a Bull Snapper in a Rask list. I think this is actually a great idea since not only is Snapjaw excellent with Rask, but taking some warbeasts out of Rask's Battlegroup is usually a good idea in terms of fury management.

Plus the guy didn't play Pigs at all, which means he is a pretty awesome guy in general.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Why Tough spam is bad for the game

I played another little Beermachine tournament over the weekend, borrowing Skorne. It did not go well for me and I did not really enjoy playing so I won't go into that side of things. I will say that Skorne beasts (especially Titans) and their support are insane and that just made me sadder.

Instead I want to talk about some of the lists there:

- Skorne with dual Gatormans + Task Masters (no KD tough)
- Terminus with Bane spam (all tough)
- Cygnar with mega Stormblade unit + Piper (tough)
- Trolls (tough)
- Circle Morvahna with Regrowth-ed Blood Trackers, who are also Zombified (tough)
- Mercs with Drake McBain (1+ tough for a turn) + Piper
- Some other lists I don't remember, but probably had tough infantry.

The point is, tough is everywhere. At this stage of the game, nobody really takes small-based infantry unless they also have access to tough, or some other similar douchy ability like Self-Sacrifice. You have a Merc solo that gives access to tough (Piper) and a Minion one (Croctor). Factions that don't have access to the Piper (Khador, Cryx) have their own ways to spam tough like madmen. Retribution of course don't have access to any of that, which is probably a big part of why they can't make the big leagues.

Tough is a terrible games design mechanic to spam on a mass scale. It is entirely luck-based in its implementation - if you keep rolling 5+ (or 4+ in some cases) on a single die, your model stays alive and messes with their plans. That's all there is to it. It's basically an invulnerable save from your 40k days. There is no skill or decision making involved in the tough mechanic. It can either be insanely powerful or do nothing. Take the Great Bears as a microcosm of tough - if you make a tough check or two, they become really really powerful. If you don't make any, they are pretty crap. It is that simple, and it's all outside your control.

Why tough spam is not fun

Tough as a mechanic in itself can be pretty cool. I mean, when I go for an assassination on a Troll caster, or someone tries to kill Barnabas, or some hardy merc pirate solo, the tough mechanic adds that little bit of flavourful grit. It makes you think that this guy is actually tough - no matter what you throw at him, he somehow manages to absorb the blow, spit out the blood, and say something about your mother. That's bad ass.

You know what's not bad ass? When every single other infantry model in the game does the same thing.

You know what would make Die Hard films
really lame? If every bad guy henchman was
as tough as John McClane.

Nobody really likes tough spam. They just take it because it would be stupid not to. It is an even easier button than Cryx troop spam (which coincidentally is also often tough spam), and if you get a little bit lucky that will have a massive outcome on the game.
People don't like playing against tough because no matter how well they set up a play, no matter how carefully they have skewed the outcome of their own dice rolls to matter as little as possible, it can all go down the drain because your opponent rolls lucky on tough rolls.
Your opponent (who could be a Troll player) doesn't like tough either. Every time he fails tough rolls, he gets angry because he "paid" for that tough with points, models, abilities or whatever. And when it doesn't work often enough, then it's points down the drain. All 100% outside your control - one die roll (just one die, unlike almost every other roll in the game) to rule them all.

The really annoying part is that the one major downside to tough (being KD) is increasingly mitigated by the growing number of FU auras that grant Steady, that allow models to stand up before activation, or that tough gets put on ranged units that just get up and shoot you anyway.

Ways to get around tough

There are of course ways to get around tough (which I guess is how the development team convince themselves that "it's ok" so they can sleep at night):

1. Kill the model that has a tough buff

As mentioned, a lot of the tough spam comes from support solos like the Piper, Croctor, Kovnik Joe or whatever. You can just kill that guy! Easy as that!
Of course, he will probably have tough himself. And will be way at the back, so you need some ambushers, long-range guns, or a scalpel like the Totem Hunter to get there. Then they will tough, and screw you over. Seems legit. And you still have to deal with that tough unit on your face for that one round. But at least it's theoretically possible.

Also more often than not, the enemy caster is the one with the tough buff, either through an FU aura like Terminus or Irusk, a feat, or an upkeep.

2. Take anti-tough tech:

There is an increasing number of anti-tough tech in the game. Not every faction as some of course, because that would be unfair to Cryx.

There's a couple of anti-tough abilities out there: Grievous Wounds, Take Down, no Tough/healing auras (Gallows Groves, Sea Witch), anti-healing debuffs (eGrim's Mortality), and anti-tough buffs (Silence of Death).
Gators have nothing of course. You might say, "But JS, you play Minions, not Gators. Take Pigs and Slaughterhousers!". To which I will reply that Slaughterhousers are indeed cool, but you should probably jump up your own ass and die. I could take Slaughterhousers in Skorne, where they are far better than they are in Minions. Nice design move right there.

The best part of this hard-counter approach to games design is that you more or less HAVE TO take some anti-tough tech in your list, along with anti-upkeep, pathfinder, ability to crack really high ARM (Gargossals), ability to deal with really high DEF (Kayazy/Iron Flesh spam), in addition to your own support stuff that makes your faction/list work properly (Shifting Stones, Krielstone, Choir, Paingivers, select animi, etc). When it gets down to it, not much of your list is dedicated to what you want to do. Most of your points are used up in dealing with problems that might turn up.

I guess this is why sideboards will become a more common tournament format as the game gets increasingly rock-paper-scissors with these kind of abilities. I think this will eliminate a large chunk of warcasters/warlocks from competitive play in itself. It will also reduce list diversity in some respect since you will have to build a list with the idea that the people you play against will have an answer to almost every problem you pose. But at the same time, it can increase list diversity in that it allows you to build more of a core list with your answers on-call, rather than dedicating 30 of your 50 pts to not getting bent over a barrel by tough spam, Inhospitable Ground, Crippling Grasp, Bart-Galleon or IF Kayazy.

In Conclusion

I would go so far as to say that tough spam is currently one of the biggest problems in the game and should be a priority on the Mk3 agenda. Tough should actually mean 'tough' rather than 'as tough as a every other shitty no-name trooper in the IK world'.
Basing an entire faction (Trolls) around tough is also stupid. Not only is it stupid in itself (because tough spam is stupid), but it is stupid if you're also going to give tough to every single other faction in the game to the point where it is in the vast majority of lists you see, such that any character present in the tough rule has been ripped out, locked into a box, and processed by a crematorium.

Take care on the streets, kids.

Monday, March 11, 2013

In The Army Now

Well, it had to happen eventually.

As you can see in my previous post, I was not entirely thrilled by the prospect of having only two releases for the forthcoming year.
I expected four releases, with a heavy warbeast and a solo but would not have blinked had there been only three for Blindwater and four for Thornfall (they really need it). I think the really low number of releases for Minions was surprising and unexpected for the playerbase as a whole, with Minion players getting a bit disillusioned/mopey/depressed/whiney and non-Minion players mostly shrugging it off to go complain about the one bad model they got (except for Circle players, who locked themselves in the bathroom and got overly excited about eMorvahna). But hey, at least the two Blindwater releases are well above Boneswarm level. Basically, I just don't feel that Rask alone is enough to give good competitive games in a Gargossal meta (1).

But life goes on, and the dogs of war don't capitulate. We either adapt, or die out. I've thus made the decision to move on to Minions 2.0 until the next Hordes release, hoping that the next Hordes expansion offers a little substance and direction for those of us striving for full-time Minionhood. This contradicts my 2013 annual plan to stick with Blindwater, but when life gives you lemons, fillet some Bog Trogs and enjoy the free delicious citrus seasoning.

Bow to the Emperor

Molik Karn, first of his name, may his reign be profitable.

I considered all the Hordes factions after I had decided to contract my forces out somewhere. Warmachine was off the table since I suck at making Warmachine list and prefer the synergy of the fury mechanic, but I want to keep playing Minions. Fortunately, Gatormans work for pretty much everyone in Hordes so options were open:

Circle was first on the chopping block - having to play Stalkers (2) and Shifting Stones all the time does not really appeal. Facing Circle three times in a row at the last tournament only reinforced this. Plus, I hate most of the faction.

Legion was next - while I think Legion has really cool beasts, a few good troop choices and a vastly different style, I don't think the most enthralling Legion playstyle (beast heavy) meshes very well with Gatorman Posses.

Trolls were considered. I am surprised at the number of abilities on Troll warlocks that specify "friendly model" and not "friendly Faction model" (3). I think the only Troll warlocks that need to run a lot of Trollkin are Madraks and Grissels. The rest would be pretty happy with a Posse or two.  In the end, I feel the beasts are a bit overcosted and crutch on each other and their army support a bit too much to be really appealing for running multiple Gator-heavy lists. I also have played Trolls before and rage quit them after a mere three weeks.

Skorne were both first and last to be considered. I played Skorne many years back but had to sell them for non-game related reasons (although the Hordes playtest did frustrate me greatly). This was at the end of Mk 1, where Skorne beasts outside Molik were pretty crap and most lists revolved around a Cetrati wall, heaps of troops and overpowered Ancestral Guardians. Skorne is very different now, and have awesome beasts and beast support, a wide range of useful troop options and the best Minion support potential in the game.

Why Skorne? Let me count the ways:
  1. Paingiver Task Master - Mmmmm... did Privateer Press just make every future Minion unit release have to be balanced around being able to receive either +2 STR or no-KD tough at any given time? Yep, that happened. WTF. That's almost like Fury on a Gator Posse (with no downside), or an awesome addition to that Iron Flesh+ Dirge Gatorman wall (yep, Skorne can do that too).
  2. Excellent beasts and beast support - the combination of Paingiver Beast Handlers, the new Willbreaker, Agonizers, and animi makes Skorne's awesome warbeasts pretty much run themselves - throw in the occasional sweet caster support and they go from bananas to nutcrackingly bonkers.
  3. About half the casters go very well with Gators - many Skorne casters have feats, abilities and spells that don't rely on friendly Faction troops. Hexeris1+2, pMorghoul, Naaresh and Rasheth immediately come to mind, but even Xerxis and Makeda1/2/3 could do pretty well with them.
  4. Familiarity - as mentioned before, I'm sort of familiar with the design philosophies behind the faction and its playstyle. So it would be an interesting personal adventure of rediscovery and other fluffy Disney themes.
  5. Molik Karn - this guy is totally broken. I love and hate him.
  6. Good employers- pretty much every Minion model works for Skorne: Totem Hunters, Thrullgs, Swamp Gobbers, Bog Trogs, Croctors, WE + Snapjaw, Feralgeists... pretty much everything but the warlocks and beasts.
  7. Below the Luke Line of Approval - Skorne are only a slight step above Minions on the Brimblecombe Scale of Faction Power, the universal New Zealand scale for classifying Warmahordes factions. Not only that, but they are below the almighty Line of Approval. So technically I should still be in the same boat as before, paddling aimlessly in a sea of futility, struggling with unwinnable matchups and barely able to win good matchups on account of strokes of player genius.

Where to next?

 I have to buy some Skorne stuff and practice with that. I am hoping to avoid buying any Skorne units at all and just run Posses and Bog Trogs when I can. We'll see how that works out.

Maybe I am just copping out of Minions because I played crap at Ides of March and need to blame someone other than myself. Maybe I'm just genuinely disappointed at getting two releases for the whole year. Maybe I really love playing Gatormans and wish they could be as viable as they are in Skorne, and I am just adapting to the reality of the game as it stands now. I will let you be the judge over these coming months.

I will still be playing "pure" Blindwater occasionally and will post whatever new thoughts I have on the matter (or related ramblings) but will probably stick to playing Skorne for tournaments because... why wouldn't you?

(1) And no, I did not want a Minion Gargantuan. With only 1 out of the 4 released being "playable", I do not have great hope that the Minion Gargantuan/Battle Engine would be worth much in terms of table top ability if it were released in this book.
(2) Because you NEED to crack high ARM and high box count models in this meta, and Primaled Stalkers are one of the few things in Circle that can do it semi-reliably. As a Gator player, I can empathize.
(3) Some notable examples: Calandra's feat and all her spells (!!!), Borka's Mosh Pit, and Jarl's spells.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

The "Big Surprise"

So Gargantuans spoilers have hit the internet with a vengeance. Rumor is the Minion releases are:
  • Rask
  • Bog Trog Swamp Shamblers (not out till at least August)
  • Midas
  • Razorboars
  • Some Gobber Mechanic that repairs jacks and Battle Engines (thus no use to either Minion Contract)
2 releases per pact, huh. Consider me "surprised".

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Ides reports - how I learned to hate Circle (on principle, and amongst other things)

This post is dedicated to Ides of March TO Dave Stent.
Over the course of the tournament, I developed a growing hatred for certain things: Circle, sugar drinks, Warmachine, Gatormans, Hordes, the game, this blog, myself, Warpwolf Stalkers, 2 units of Shifting Stones in every list, and Lake Road. I was considering stopping Warmachine, rage quitting this blog, moving to Sweden, starting up a ski/hiking business somewhere on the Finnish/Swedish border, and living in perpetual happiness until my inevitable and eventual death. Or I could sell all my Gators (1) and play a good Hordes faction.
Dave not only did a very good job organizing and running the tournament, but also made sure I played against every Circle player present (2). But he also gave me a free mug and a firm handshake during the prize giving ceremonies, which gave me a deep sense of guilt towards the aforementioned plans.  Damn you, Dave. Damn you.

The tournament was a good time. I got to hang out with a lot of really cool gamer types, despite not attending the Thunderdome event on the evening of day one (I'm vegetarian, so one sausage-fest is more than enough for me). I also got to rage and whine about practically everything (one of the highlights of any Warmachine-related activity), and ended up admitting that Retribution is an 'ok' faction (3).

Game 1 - Tony playing Kromac

I choose Rask for this since both lists had a decent amount of heavies. It was the wrong choice. Rask looks a bit like this usually:
Unpredictably violent.

but then Kromac casts Bestial, and Rask suddenly turns into this:
A small teddybear undergoing a colonoscopy.
Tony played well and slowly ground me into the dust, and did more damage to Rask in one game than Rask had taken in his first 12+ games combined (including fury cutting). I did what I could, but being subjected to Bestial (a 3-cost feat) every turn from turn 2 onwards really takes your power level down a notch.
Lesson: Play Barnabas against Circle.

Game 2 - Peter playing Morvahna

Another Circle player (I played Barnabas). Peter tells me he doesn't really have a local gaming group nor play in Vassal, so only gets practice at tournaments. In a game like Warmachine, where knowing is about 1/4 of the battle (see end of post), that is rough.

Either way, it was quite a close game, where I got an assassination with my last activation of the turn. I made some foolish mistakes early in the game which decreased my assassination potential significantly, like killing a lot more Regrowthed Bloodtrackers than I needed to, and not being aggressive enough with my beast placement.
I managed to KD Morvahna with Black Tide and shoot her with a Spitter (which was redirected to a nearby Stone - lesson learned), Trample to her with Snapjaw and hit her once, then throw Megalith at her with a Wrastler, killing her to the box. No transfers where available, since all the beasts were full (unecessarily).

Game 3 - Greg  playing Mohsar

Third Circle player of the day. Ain't life grand?

I played Barnabas again. This was a pretty good game. I made some crucial mistakes during deployment and my first turn that basically led to me being unable to use my Wrastler the whole game as he had to sit in my zone to stop Greg controlling it with some Gallows Groves. Greg played very safe, sitting Mohsar on the edge of his zone safely and putting up 4 salt pillars every round, which coincidentally is really annoying againsts an almost all-melee faction.
In the end, I died to assassination after I failed to kill a Stalker with 6 remaining boxes with a charge from Barnabas and 5 fury (really wanted a free Iron Flesh or Spiny Growth). I did tough 3 times in a row though - Barnabas never dies, unless you also do something dumb and cause yourself to die inside.

I feel my matchup in this was good (other than an unkillable Megalith), but played poorly whereas Greg played well (also a very fun opponent). I feel I could have grinded it out had my dice not completely abandoned me on my Barnabas charge, but then again one should never trust dice. Dirty cheating backstabbing whores, the lot of them.

Game 4 - Dan playing pButcher

Dan was playing a pButcher tier list with 3 jacks and 2 full units of MoW. That list does not like Inhospitable Ground. I killed Butcher turn 3 with a furied Swamp Horror after shooting Butcher with a Paralysis bolt from Rask. Pretty uneventful, but good fun nevertheless. Got to go home afterwards and have an excellent home-cooked meal, which was a highlight of the tournament.

Game 5 - Jason playing eMorghoul

Normally I would play Rask against Skorne, but neither list had any Titans or high ARM to speak of, so I choose Barnabas. Jason chose to play eMorghoul with 2 Archidons, 2 Brutes, Rhadeim and some Paingivers.
The Archidons were jammed in my face under eMorg's feat, which wasn't a big deal until I discovered they were Serpentine and seemingly crit pitch on every single attack they made, hence knocking down most of my Gators on their attacks or free strikes. That was a nice discovery.
Anyway, I threw Barnabas with Spiny Growth (animus-version, not spell-version) and Unyielding close to Morghoul (not the best call) since he was dice -9 on damage. He rolled multiple 13+ dice rolls on damage to kill me. In retrospect this was terrible since I probably could just have grinded for an hour and achieved more. That is after all, how you win with Barnabas.

Jason was my vote for best sports and ended up winning, which was really cool. He is one of my favourite people to play, win or lose.

Game 6 - Matt playing pIrusk

pIrusk, Conquest, Kayazy, Iron Fangs + UA. The other list was eSorscha with Kayazy. I pretty much can't kill Conquest anyway, and Barnabas's feat is the most reasonable Gator answer to Iron Flesh Kayazy (shooting off IF with Rask is possible, but far riskier).

Basically we both ran forward, and I popped my feat first, thus wiping the Kayazy off the table. We then danced for a few more rounds while I fed Iron Flesh Gatormans and heavy warbeasts to the Conquest, managing to win on scenario (2 consecutive zone dominations + objective destruction). If he had popped his feat a turn earlier purely defensively, the vast majority of the Kayazy would have lived and been able to kill most of the Gators (Gang + Battle Lust = dead Gatormans), thereby pretty much costing me the game outside a potential low percentage Rise Gator Missile assassination.
I traded Snapjaw for Gorman de Wulfe. Good trade, I think.

Game 7 - Darryl playing eGoreshade

eGoreshade Bane Thrall spam. We all know how that turns out.
Unfortunately I make it a personal rule to never forfeit, so we played it out and had a good time laughing about Cryx in general. Fun way to spend an hour despite the circumstances. I killed probably around 25 Bane Thralls and half the Kraken, but only got about 10 Kill Points out of the game when we totalled everything. Seems balanced.

In summary


Seems like a pattern. Should have started with a win. Remember that for next time.

I did not achieve my goal of being in the top half of the tournament. This fills me with a curious mix of ambivalence, bitter disappointment and general misanthropy.

Total losses due to my list: 2
  • Rask vs Kromac = playing almost casterless (very very bad for Minions), Barnabas is the right choice vs Circle outside eBaldur ARM lists. He doesn't have to be as far up as Rask.
  • Gators vs eGoreshade Bane Spam = unwinnable matchup.
Total losses due to poor play: 2, both unforced assassinations.
  • Barnabas vs anti-KD eMorg list (should have gone for the grind rather than risk a face tank)
  • Barnabas vs Mohsar (don't risk casters on dice rolls if you don't have to!)
All 3 wins were due to pure skill of course, and not luck.

What makes a good player

I theorize that there are four aspects to being successful in Warmahordes:
  1. List Building
  2. Knowledge
  3. Dice
  4. Actually playing well
These are not equivalently important, naturally. 


List Building

Fact is, there are bad matchups for many casters. Gators cannot beat an eGoreshade Bane Thrall spam backed by a Kraken, for example. Morvahna has a really bad time against upkeep removal, and most Khador lists don't love facing the Harbinger.
You also need answers for certain problems - Inhospitable Ground used to shut down Kreoss2 tier lists completely, until the clearly overpowered Errant UA came out. You need upkeep removal, answers to rough terrain, RFP effects, ideally a way to deal with tough, and so on. Basically, the tools to get the job done. Without the tools, you can't do the job (4).


Knowing what your stuff and what your opponent's stuff does and remembering it is vitally important. Some people are great at remembering this kind of stuff and dedicate a lot of time to it, others aren't so good. I like to think I'm somewhere in the middle, depending on how much alcohol or water I have consumed in the last few hours.
It's also why you tend to win more games if you don't do things like remind your opponents about stealth, counter-charge, free strikes, spell effects, not allowing minor takebacks, etc. - generally being a fair but douchy player and letting things happen when they are called. For people who have been around the game a while though, this kind of play isn't actually looked down upon, as long as it's going on at the higher-rank tables.


Dice are the random element, and keep things interesting. You can't control the outcome of the roll, but you can hedge your bets and create opportunities.

Actually playing well

Playing well is probably the most important part, as it should be in any game worth playing. The point however is that it is not the sole factor. You can and will lose games because Minions are the weakest faction and cannot answer certain matchups. You will lose games because something in your opponent's army has some ability that denies your clever plan. You will get diced. And a large part of good play is minimizing the impact of the other factions.

Casey Hills, who has been playing Gators a good while longer than me and is a much better player, managed to rank 8/34 with 5 wins and 2 loses which shows that you can do very well with Gators if you know what you're doing. But the top tables remain in the firm grasp of factions like Cryx, Protectorate, Skorne and Legion, played by experienced and knowledgeable tournament regulars (5)

Shine on, you crazy butterflies.


(1) Make me an offer! I've been told I paint to an almost-pro tabletop quality! I also package models like a boss!
(2) Such an act of kindness is sure to be rewarded in some cosmic faction - perhaps through universal karma, or perhaps St. Peter at the Pearly Gates.

(3) Chris Russel did eventually make me realize that I do not in fact hate elves, and I am probably deeply fond of them in some way or another. Also as far as I can tell, Gators still seem to be a terrible matchup for Ret
(4) PS - Gators are missing a lot of tools. Just a pro tip for potential players (don't do it).
(5) Or the legendary Ian Hart, who plays like 3 games in the preceding 18 months, and then places in the top 6. What the hell.