Sunday, July 28, 2013

3 (possible) tournament lists

Some disclaimers:
  • Lists are limited by models I own (everything but Pendrake and only 1 of each beast).
  • Every list has two units of Gatormans before I choose a caster. The reasoning is simple. The only time I think I'd use a single Posse would be Calaban at 35pts or below, but since I try to avoid Calaban at all costs and don't play 35pts too often, the issue is moot.
  • Every game I play is a scenario. Too many early experiences against gun lines and getting kited around for 10 turns have driven me to insist on scenarios. We usually roll for it at random or pick one that is easy to set up like Incursion, Close Quarters or that one with the two zones.
  • I am pretty bad at the game all things considered.


Rask (*6pts)
* Blackhide Wrastler (9pts)
* Swamp Horror (8pts)
Bog Trog Ambushers (Leader and 5 Grunts) (5pts)
Gatormen Posse (Leader and 4 Grunts) (9pts)
Gatormen Posse (Leader and 4 Grunts) (9pts)
Swamp Gobber Bellows Crew (Leader and 1 Grunt) (1pts)
Gatorman Witch Doctor (3pts)
Wrong Eye & Snapjaw (9pts)
* Bull Snapper (3pts)

I think this list is rock-solid in a Gargossals meta, and against tankier factions like PoM and Trolls, and some Skorne and Khador. It is very similar to the list Werecat used to place 3rd at the Intermountain Cup in the US. You have three pillow-fisted heavies who become monsters with Fury, two units of Gators, and a token useful solo. Basically, you can put out a lot of damage and control a good deal of the board with raw threat and Rask's douchy spells and feat. Fury and Arcane Interference are game changers in a big way.

How it works in a nutshell:
Essentially you want to line up an efficient alphastrike, which you will probably get on account of the feat. If you can assault hard enough and then grind them out, you will win. If you don't assault hard enough and they crack through your armor in return, then you have your work cut out for you. Getting an alpha strike with so much of your army can also lead to efficient trades and jamming, giving you a leg up on scenario as well. If your opponent chooses to back up from the feat, make sure to get in a good position for a scenario win.
Rask will probably only have a fury +/- 1 at the end of his activation. It is important that the Trogs stay back and spread out in order to take away incentives at assassination runs, preferably on the edge of a Gobber cloud if your opponent has lots of sniper guns (DEF 16 is much harder to hit than DEF 12). Only rarely will I use them to ambush, depending almost entirely on my opponent's list. Try to also keep Rask midline so he can have maximum impact on the game with his gun and buffs.
I put the Snapper on Wrong Eye to take the burden off Rask since he is usually strapped managing two very aggressive heavies and does not really need the additional transfer targets. Wrong Eye however benefits sizably from an extra transfer target and having access to Spiny Growth.

Weaknesses for this list, other than Rask's personal weaknesses, are very high def (17+) so stuff like Ashen Veiled Daughters or IF Kayazy can be a problem, things that stop charging or generally playing the game (Circle, Cygnar, Cryx douchery) and OP Cryx infantry in general (which is a problem for all Gator lists). There is also a serious lack of guns, but that's more or less a Gator shtick and a tradeoff for not getting shot.

Possible changes:
I quite like Snapjaw in this list because with the Rask Express Package (Fury + Boundless Charge + Elasticity), combined with a complimentary Arcane Interference bolt, Snapjaw can come within a bee's dick of one-rounding a Gargantuan by himself from 14" away. And Wrong Eye is also really useful in the Hordes matchup thanks to Voodoo Doll. Saying that,  the list also works fine if you switch out WE + Snapjaw for a third Posse, or the Gatorman Witch Doctor for a Totem Hunter. Once the Shamblers are out, they will probably be more useful in this list than the Min Bog Trogs + Swamp Gobbers.


Bloody Barnabas (*6pts)
* Bull Snapper (3pts)
* Blackhide Wrastler (9pts)
* Ironback Spitter (8pts)
Bog Trog Ambushers (Leader and 9 Grunts) (8pts)
Gatormen Posse (Leader and 4 Grunts) (9pts)
Gatormen Posse (Leader and 4 Grunts) (9pts)
Croak Hunter (2pts)
Croak Hunter (2pts)
Thrullg (3pts)
Totem Hunter (3pts)

This is a pretty standard Barnabas list I feel - nothing from Domination or Gargantuans. A single Swamp Pit can fit a Full Posse and a heavy warbeast so this list can also deliver in the face of gunlines pretty well. This is a well-rounded list designed to deal with equally balanced lists. It has a viable assassination run against softer casters (thanks to the feat), it has excellent attrition power (also, largely thanks to the feat), good killing power and good scenario options

In a nutshell:
I don't think there is much of a cohesive strategy for this list as much as a lot of tactical options - you want to maximize Warpath for your beasts, protect your army on the approach with Swamp Pits, and always keep your finger on the assassination trigger if a reliable opportunity presents itself. The Rise Missile trick is available with a Spitter doing the throwing, and you have THREE RANGED WEAPONS. Amazing. Remember the Bog Trogs! A full unit of Bog Trogs can do some serious damage on squishy backlines if you keep the rest of the army occupied (if you don't, they die horrible deaths). The Croak Hunters are there purely for the assassination angle and two because they work well in pairs. They might also be just as good as Feralgeists at sitting in the corner of a zone and playing with their cloacas.
I take the Totem Hunter in this list rather than my Rask list in tournaments because I will usually drop Barnabas vs Circle or Legion and the TH allows me to kill clutch pieces like Soul Martyrs, Gallows Groves and stealth Shifting Stones and solos quickly. He is almost like a ranged weapon. The Thrullg is there because offensive upkeeps can ruin your day, and you can usually hide him quite safely behind one of the swamp pits (he doesn't benefit from the pit itself, but models in it will block LoS to him). He can also do cool stuff to jacks when they are knocked down.

The main weakness of this list of course is that it's a Blindwater list, so suffers from all the weaknesses Blindwater traditionally suffers from, including Cryx, high ARM, machete-wielding Australian bushmen, you name it. On the upside, it is stronger than the Rask list against high DEF and moderate ARM lists, like non-construct Circle, Legion, or non-Stormwall Cygnar. Barnabas's feat usually results in high-DEF infantry suddenly dying , and it has a pretty strong assassination angle against non-Cryx armies.

I think if I had a 3rd Posse I would probably just put that in instead of the many solos. Plus three Posse is kind of cool. I really like the idea of including a Swamp Horror with Barnabas as well since he can shred through infantry with Warpath, and doesn't need a Swamp Pit to get there. However, I have trouble letting go of my Wrastler and Rise Missile trick with Barnabas since it has done and continues to do so well, and the Spitter is just great with Black Tide and Warpath. You could also put in a Witch Doctor or two for some utility with tough and sac strikes.


Maelok - The Walking Death
Tier: 3
Maelok, the Dreadbound (*6pts)
* Bone Swarm (4pts)
* Bull Snapper (3pts)
* Blackhide Wrastler (9pts)
* Swamp Horror (8pts)
Bog Trog Ambushers (Leader and 9 Grunts) (8pts)
Gatormen Posse (Leader and 4 Grunts) (9pts)
Gatormen Posse (Leader and 4 Grunts) (9pts)
Feralgeist (1pts)
Feralgeist (1pts)
Gatorman Witch Doctor (2pts)
Gatorman Witch Doctor (2pts)

Maelok is pretty cool and holds his own in a lot of matchups. However he isn't better than a Barnabas/Rask combo in most two list formats. I think his one main strength might be the Cryx matchup, but I am not as certain as I would like to be. I don't play against Cryx nearly as often as I would like to (that sounds extremely masochistic) so I can't test out this theory, but with the right pieces (ie. some guns), he could be the best thing available to Minions (unless Midas with lots of guns and Bone Grinders turns out to be a thing).

The main benefits of the tier list are cheaper Croctors and your entire army being incorporeal first turn. In return you give up the Thrullg, the Totem Hunter and the option of a 3rd Posse. You never want to go Tier 4, because that requires 3 Boneswarms, which is a worse idea than invading Russia in winter. I have trouble enough taking one, but admit that with the feat and kept as a late game piece it can do some work.

In a nutshell:
Basically it is a grind. You jam in, and hopefully make it there in one piece, let them jam into you, and then feat and get serious with Revives and killing the important stuff. Using the feat at the right time will be a big part of your success or failure, as is positioning Maelok to maximize his abilities. He can work fine just sitting backfield and Reviving 1-2 Gators a turn, but I think getting him somewhat involved so you can benefit from Malediction, Venom, Cull Souls and his respectable melee potential is key to using him at fullest - but as always, it means living on the edge. And of course, remember that assassination run.
The other benefit - an advance move for an Undead model for each Croctor -  is totally a trap on the Boneswarm since that thing sucks bad in the early game, but the advance move on Maelok can be neat if you intend to aggressively dominate a zone - just be sure to finish that advance move facing stuff you want to put Death Pact on. I personally like to put it on a Posse early on if my opponent has many low POW guns, and then switch it to the Wrastler once the lines have engaged, since an ARM 25 Wrastler on feat turn is srs bzns.
The Bog Trogs are kind of the ace in the list, and can be pretty devastating when used as a hammer to the Undead Gator anvil. Nobody excepts the Spanish Bog Trogs.

Being a tier list, you don't have that much flexibility with it. I put two Feralgeists in the list because it adds some scenario and attrition power, but you could just put another Croctor in, since 2pt Witch Doctors are pretty stellar.
In a non-tier list, you probably want to take 3 Posse since Reviving Posse is really good... subbed out for the Trogs and Boneswarm. Then you can put a Thrullg or Totem Hunter in for the Feralgeists.


.......................__ ............
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................... __\||/____......
.\\...............|'-|--| .\\....\.....
..\ \_...........|--|---|..\\ ....\....
../ L \____,/-------\___\___\
.|LOL|-------------O----- ----,\..
..\ L /______,---''-----------, /...
../ /.............\_________ ,/....
.//.............____//___ __\\__/.

The rolfcopter cares not for your conventions such as playing to win or not getting frustrated.

In a nutshell:

Play Rask.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Why Calaban needs an "arc node" (and Pigmans don't)


A regular subject of internet Minions-related QQ is that Arkadius desperately needs a pork node to "work properly". Sturm & Drang too, while we're at it. Let's have a look at these two and their spell-slinging capabilities:

  • Arkadius - 2 offensive spells (Crippling Grasp and Primal Shock)
  • Sturm and Drang - 1.5 offensive spells  (Obliteration and TK)

Both casters have access to Bone Grinders in every list, and will probably take them as Bone Grinders are a pretty good unit regardless of their ability to buff casters since they bring a decent magic missile and very cheap bodies.


Arkadius' playstyle revolves around warbeasts that hit hard and frequently - he can give them all hyper aggressive on early turns (CTRL area buff) and he can heal them all to 100% efficiency for 2 fury (Psycho Surgery, CTRL area). He can buff a heavy beast to hit harder (upkeep), and he can throw decent POW magic nukes at long distances with Primal Shock. His feat makes all friendly beasts in his control area immediately frenzy - no need to have enemy models in your control when you cast it at all, although you'll probably have to move up a bit after feating to keep your beasts in your CTRL. His thing is to have beasts going bonkers in your face and ripping stuff apart - chaos. Maybe not the most competitive approach, but then again this is Pigs we're talking about - Carver takes all the good stuff.

He is a Fury 7 warlock with Maltreatment so he can stay pretty far back and have a transfer or two if needed. His defensive stats are pretty balls at 15/14, but so are Zaal's and several other Hordes spellslingers and nobody flips out about those dying all the time (granted he doesn't have access to the same level of defensive animi or protective models as "real" Hordes factions - more a problem with the faction than with the model).

There is only one catch about Arkadius - Crippling Grasp. This is the only reason he has to move up at all - this deliciously OP spell that can bring anything in the game to its knees, weeping for its mother. In my opinion, this spell is a trap on this warlock. He has no other reason at all to move up and risk death - none at all. If he can keep his beasts in his 14" control, he's happy and can do pretty much everything else.
Arkadius doesn't need an arc node - he just needs to stay the hell back and cast 2 spells all game along with healing his beasts and feating. That's about it. You only need the needle stick and Crippling Grasp if for whatever reason crap got into your face and you're about to die.
If anything, his problem is that he is kinda boring, not that he doesn't work or that he has to move way up to miss boosted Crippling Grasps and consequentially die a quick death. Making his Syringe into a RNG 10/12 gun would do a lot to make him more interesting, although that Syringe would potentially be as good or better than Rask's gun (and we cannot have that).

Sturm & Drang

I love this caster. The design looks like so much fun to play with, and is definitely a lot of fun to play against. He almost makes me want to play Pigs. I can never decide whether to refer to them as a single individual.

So what does he do? He has two radically different personas, both at FURY 7. His defensive stats are 14/16 which is pretty decent, but he is slightly prone to getting shot as he is on a medium base in a half-faction with not many medium bases.

Sturm is the psychic/defensive half of the duo. He has no cool special rules and sucks in melee, but does have a nice magical spray gun and some sweet spells. Deflection gives a +2 ARM buff to all warriors against ranged + magic (CTRL area). Vision allows the recipient to negate all damage from the next directly hitting attack (upkeep), and Watcher allows a friendly beast to make a full advance whenever an enemy models moves to within 6" of Sturm (forever) and you can also choose to make a fully boosted attack against said enemy model with a warbeast (then the spell expires). Not exactly something you want to rely on to live, but it's a nice defensive layer.

His best spell however is the ever-useful Telekinesis - RNG 8 spell that allows you to place your target 2". If it targets an enemy model, it is an offensive spell. Again, while it is useful to use on enemy models at times, it is not necessary to the functioning of the model.

Drang, on the flipside, is the psycho/offensive half of the duo. He has Pack Hunters and Goad so his warbeasts are pretty badass, and he himself is pretty legit in melee. He has only two spells - Killing Ground makes all your models charge for free and get pathfinder if they charge (CTRL), and Obliteration is an expensive, RNG 10 POW 15 AoE 4 mega nuke. This does need to target enemy models and you do need to get kinda close for it to do its thing - but at RNG 10 + Bonegrinders, I think you'll be alright to target almost anything you want to target. This is Drang we're talking about - he's definitely not an eVayl-style spell assassin.

The one thing they have that really has to affect enemy models is their feat Psychic Apocalypse, which reduces all enemy warbeasts currently in their CTRL to Fury: 1 and all enemy warjacks in CTRL cannot be allocated more than 1 focus for a round. This is a clearly defensive feat with some obvious assassination potential vs Hordes in that it reduces transfer options for opposing warlocks, and it is really the only part of their toolkit that requires you to move up to catch all their beasts/jacks. However, an arc node does NOTHING for this, so you'll just have to deal with it.
The second part of the feat is a 'no channeling spells' aura, which these days is neat but doesn't come into play all that much.

So in summary - I don't think the problem with these two casters is that they need arc nodes to not insta-die or to go through with their game plan. They just need their faction to have access to more awesome stuff - primarily better beasts, animi and beast support. A Spell Martyr or equivalent would be useful, but I don't think it'll "fix" them as much as just make them straight-up better - throwing out Crippling Grasps from a mile away at no risk pDenny-style is obviously good but not fun in the least for your opponent (f*ck that spell) and pretty contradictory to everything else Arkadius does.


Now onto a real charity case:

Calaban has 3 offensive spells: Hex Blast, Parasite and Bone Shaker.
He has access to Bone Grinders in his tier list which I am told is 2 legit 2 quit. He also has a meat node gun that is confusing as it is crap. Calaban is 14/16 and on a medium base - just like Sturm and Drang. We already know he has an amazing spell list, but let's have a look again in biased detail:

He has two upkeep spells - Occultation and Carnivore. Both very nice spells, and Occultation does help to protect Calaban after helping your Posse on the advance. Carnivore is a nice MAT buff vs living for Gators or Swamp Horrors, although Calaban's only use of life as a resource is Life Trader on Carcass, so the heal rarely comes into play like it does on eMorvahna.

Then he has three other spells which are all 100% traditionally offensive spells - they can only target enemy models and are all cast directly from Calaban:
  • Hex Blast is a POW 13 nuke that removes upkeeps and animi on a direct hit, and has a neat 3" AoE attached to make you feel better about casting it (RNG 10, Cost 3).
  • Parasite is an amazing debuff that reduces target ARM by 3 and increase Calaban's by 1 (RNG 8, Cost 3).
  • Bone Shaker is a pretty good  POW 12 nuke that allows you to take control of enemy warriors you kill, make an advance and make an attack with it before RFP. Lich3 has this spell so you know it's good (RNG 8, Cost 2).

Thankfully, his feat does not require the enemy models you kill to be in Calaban's control area - only the model doing the killing. Since Blindwater doesn't have many guns, this more or less means that you have to have the front line of your engagement in your control area if you want to suck in the sweet death and convert it to fury. This is a reasonably safe distance. I am fine with that - the problem comes from the second part of the feat that allows you to cast spells as you generate the fury, which you really want to be doing since not doing it means you have a really good chance of overloading on fury and your beasts frenzying next turn. Therefore, since you usually don't want to move up too far up and consequently die, you will be using this fury primarily on throwing out lots of defensive animi on friendly targets or just camping it. Which isn't too bad, but severely limits the depth, character and potential of the feat. It would be more accurate if the flavour text read:

"Calaban revels in the fervor of slaughter and the feasting of his beasts and allies and can tap into the tremendous energies released by death. Amid the carnage, he can freely call upon his magic and unleash an endless tide of fury camping and spiny growths on his gatordudes so that less stuff dies and he can revel in the miracle of life."

Yeah, that sounds like some serious badassery.

The gist is that he has to spend his fury in order to manage warbeasts, and to have an impact on the game/help his stuff out by removing upkeeps, reducing ARM and killing things with Bone Shaker. Unlike Arkadius and Sturm&Drang, he can't have much of an impact on the game by buffing his own stuff (outside just upkeeping Carnivore).

This all comes back to the need for a decent arc node mechanic, which I would assume is the mechanism to get around the above problem and allow you to use his feat at least partially offensively. The Grave Door meat node is balls:

  1. It only works on living enemy models. This means against a handful of matchups (Cryx, CoC, jack/construct-heavy lists), it is not usable, which is a problem given that he needs to cast those three offensive spells to have an impact on the game.
  2. It has to hit and damage to trigger, unlike most other arc node mechanics (Vayl's Orraculus, Fiona's Telgesh Mark, Hexeris' Soul Slave and beast bond, etc.). Not so much a problem in itself as it is just throwing a heap of additional dice rolls onto a fundamental mechanic....
  3. The gun is decent - RNG 10, POW 10, ROF 2, magical and RAT 6. So you will probably have to boost to hit and damage, and be a bit further up than you want to be because....
  4. The Grave Door model remains an enemy model, and cannot be arc through while being engaged by YOUR stuff (which is likely to be the case if it is a front-line model as Posse all have reach), and...
  5. The Grave Door model maintains its LoS. This means if you tag something in the enemy front line, you can't really target many enemy things. If you tag something a bit further back, it means you likely could have just targeted things you wanted to target directly with RNG 8 spells. Granted, this is thinking in only 1 dimension and you can also use the arc node to increase your lateral threat range across the table, but in my experience this is a rare case.

Basically, my point is you have to jump through a lot of hoops relative to other arc node abilities on other casters that rely far less on offensive spells than the Grave Walker and in the end, you end up with a rather lackluster arc node. But you could potentially have two of them! Huzzah!


In conclusion, I don't believe Arkadius nor Sturm& Drang really need an arc-node or substitute to function as intended, while Calaban does. An arc node for those Pigmans casters would be a straight-up buff, but so would having access to good things outside Slaughterhousers. I think a Shield Guard/Krea animus type beast or solo would have a bigger impact on them than an arc node would. Calaban on the other hand, has access to some pretty sweet things but trips over himself on the table since he needs a way to project his offensive spells across the board without getting ganked in order to function properly - and in my opinion, the Grave Door mechanic on his ranged weapon does not appropriately fulfill this function.

He has a sweet hat and I would like to see him more on the table and not be completely replaced by a bastard bog trog. I can handle the fact that Calaban is going to suck against things that shut down magic attacks as he is heavily based on offensive spellcasting. Unfavourable matchups are just part of the game. But it'd be pretty sweet if he had good matchups too, or at least matchups were someone else just doesn't do straight-up better, easier.

TL;DR version is basically that the bee in my bonnet is the result of Grave Door not working how I would like it too. It has too many conditions and too many hoops to jump through that I get far more enjoyment complaining about it than I do actually playing with it (reminds me of 40k!).

And that's my incoherent Calaban rage for this month. :)

Friday, July 19, 2013

Shamblers update #2

Another quick post before my next big Gator theorymachine rage/rant/inane collection of thoughts. Part 1 of my observations here.

I've been thinking about Shamblers a bit more, and managed to get in a game in with them yesterday playing Maelok tier vs Lich3. I wanted to see how an all-undead list fared vs a Cryx horde, but Lich3 likes to take a few jacks so that kinda sucked.

The turning point of the game was failing to kill a Necrosurgeon with a charging incorporeal Gatorman (not being able to reroll sucks, as does lack of guns), which resulted in enough P+S 17 McThralls to come back and destroy my ARM 20/22 Gatormans and that flank collapsing on itself.
I made two sizable mistakes - one was loading up Snapjaw unnecessarily so Wrong Eye had no transfers and got 2-shot by non-charging Bane Knights (rookie mistake one makes after not playing WE for a month), and forgetting to Revive a Gator before activating its unit, which would have put a bit more pressure on Lich3 and maybe bought me some time.. Otherwise it was just a matter of bad dice and a tough matchup (undead + armor + Banes).

Anyway, about the Shamblers - I don't feel that they are great in Blindwater. Most of my experience playing them is that they die easily to stuff that usually doesn't even touch Gators (blast damage, POW 10 guns, evil stares), and then jam up charge lanes (usually your own). Their stats are understandably atrocious (and far worse than McThralls - lol Cryx), although with CMA they can do some light-lifting.

In this game I think I killed as many Shamblers as he did, and then my Gators were Zombified most turns so there were almost no living models on the table to generate more - I think I got 3 tokens before the Bokor died.

Basically the only new things they bring to the Gators is:
  1.  a body recycling mechanic, and 
  2.  a RNG-3 boostable stationary magic attack. 
#1 is not that great in Blindwater due to low model count in lists that aren't Rask tier (even then you're probably not getting many bodies since everything ambushes). #2 is cute and useful to have around but not that reliable as a strategy.

They don't really bring anything to the Maelok tier - it would be a different story if the whole unit got AD. Then with tough + making new guys they could be a serious jammer unit. Alas they don't, so it's the same Posse story.

My initial impressions remain the same: Shamblers are not terrible, but not really good either. Probably better in Circle, Skorne and perhaps Legion.

  • Barnabas - would rather have more Posse.
  • Maelok - would rather have more Posse. Feat + Death Pact + tough would make them mildly annoying at ARM 17, but not worth the opportunity cost.
  • Rask - Call to Sacrifice on more/cheaper bodies that can potentially recycle seems good.... but better than MAT 8 CMA Furied Ambushers? Remains to be seen.
  • Calaban - would rather be Rask.
  • Non-Gators - wooooooooooo!

TL;DR - play better stuff, better.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Playing for Assassination

Warmahordes games typically have two win conditions - either win by scenario (5 control points in SR 2013), or win by having the only warcaster/warlock model on the table (assassination). There are usually three playstyles with which one can achieve these goals:

  1. Attrition - this playstyle focuses on making efficient trades, sacrificing as little as possible, and generally killing your opponent's stuff while keeping yours alive. The idea is to improve your relative position on the table so that your forces become relatively stronger and your opponent's become relatively weaker, thus allowing you to assassinate or win on scenario a few turns into the game without the possibility of strong resistance or retalition.
    Examples of attrition tactics include recycling dead bodies (Necrosurgeons, Shamblers), hit and run (Vayl, Stalkers), having really resilient stuff that can take a counterpunch without collapsing (Gatorman Posse, IF Kayazy), having enough hitting power to reliably one-rounding heavy targets, and so on.
  2. Board Control/Scenario - this playstyle focuses on obstructing your opponent's ability to manoeuvre so that you can control important areas of the board (usually the areas that give CPs).
    Tactics for this playstyle include power attacks (ie. throws), speed debuffs (Crippling Grasp), jamming, movement denial feats (eDenny/ eKrueger/Gorten), generating terrain and generally being an asshole.
  3. Assassination - this playstyle focuses on somehow killing the enemy caster as quickly as is safely possible.
    Tactics for this playstyle involve removing/ignoring defenses like buff spells and focus (Arcane Assassin, Eyriss), placement and movement shenanigans (Shifting Stones, Apparition), contrated high power attacks (mobile heavies/casters) and having massive balls of steel.
Obligatory old-school gaming reference

The Purest Form of the Game

Many believe that Warmachine is at its heart an assassination-oriented game, and the assassination playstyle is the purest form of Page 5:
  • Mk1 tournament games were won on assassination more often than not, and lists were designed around that.
  • The Hardcore format traditionally encouraged an assassination playstyle by having dice down being equal to 'both players lose'.
  • The game bears many similarities to chess, which operates on a similar principle. 
  • See previous comment about steel balls.

Despite the "purity" of the assassination style, it has fallen out of favor as a preferred winning strategy. I argue this is due to the risk/reward of the assassination playstyle relative to attrition/scenario play.

Risk vs Reward

I think the main reason assassination has fallen out of favour as a competitive playstyle is that it provides the same or lesser rewards than an attrition playstyle, while also being significantly riskier.
If you win a game by assassination, you get 1 VP on your scorecard along with any CP you scored in that game (probably not many).
If you win a game by scenario, you get 1 VP on your scorecard, and 5 CPs that will serve to elevate your overall ranking.
If you win a game as a result of attrition, you get 1 VP, probably a couple of CP, and a good deal of KPs.
In terms of reward therefore, you are likely to get quantifiably more out of a scenario win than you are out of an assassination win, at least in a tournament setting.

In terms of risk, an assassination playstyle necessitates more risk than the alternatives, or at the very least, more focused risk - less redundancy leads to higher potential for each singular die roll to influence the outcome.
First, you will usually have to involve your caster in the assassination, either by use of a feat, a buff, a debuff, a placement effect and so on. Often, this means that your caster has to have the opposing caster in his control area, which in turn means that you caster is probably in threat range of most of his army next turn.
Secondly, you are probably banking the outcome of the game on a smaller number of dice rolls than a scenario win strategy. Most assassinations rely on making a few attacks - the fewer dice are rolled, the more likely you are to get screwed. A ~58% chance of success (dice at expected value) also means a ~42% chance of failure.

Because of all these factors, failure means you will in turn be assassinated next turn more often than not and at much lower risk on your opponent's part.

So why else has assassination fallen out of favour?

First, I think Hordes becoming a fully-fledged competitive sister game to Warmachine (not really the case early Mk1) has made assassination lists less viable, as the transfer mechanic takes emphasis away from winning the game with two-three high POW attacks on the right target. Playing against Hordes pushes you to play for attrition as killing warbeasts simultaneously decreases your opposing warlock's survivability by taking away potential transfer targets - not to mention the loss of resource generation, animi and damage output. Abilities that bypass transfers are quite rare (Grievous Wounds?), the casters who can do it reliably are often crapped on (Garryth, eMorg, Thyra) and Cryx players are too busy spamming OP infantry to take Stalkers. There are alternatives, like manipulating fury on beasts to block transfers or moving them outside the opposing warlock's control area - these are good tactics but poor strategies.
Hordes might come second in almost everything PP does, but I think it has had a significant impact on how tournament games are played.

Second, the changes to Steamroller over the years have also changed how players approach competitive play. Scenarios have become more important to the game, and not respecting the scenario conditions means you are likely to lose on scenario. As scenario play becomes more popular, assassination play has become less so (zero sum).

Third, the mass reduction in threat ranges between Mk1 and Mk2 has had a pretty big impact on how easy it is to keep your caster safe. There are still a few models that can go a million miles and hit really hard (ie. my buddy Molik Karn), but such models are far less prevalent than they used to be. The reduction of advanced deployment from 12" to 6" is also a big deal, as is the greater distance between each player upon deployment (first player deploys 7").

Finally, arc nodes. I think the increase in relative cost of arc nodes from Mk1 to Mk2 is a factor in the decrease of assassination play. Mk1 Warmachine lists usually had an arc node (unless you played Khador, which traded arc nodes for charging 22" on average). Lancers, Revengers, Guardians and especially chicken bonejacks were very common. Spell assassination was a common strategy amongst all the factions with arc nodes, and THE strategy for Cryx.
Fast forward to a few years of Mk2 and I haven't seen a Revenger in YEARS (except for the one I have on the lower level of my case next to Calaban). Same thing with Lancers and Guardians. Bonechickens are still pretty common, although you see one or two per list these days, compared to the 4-5 you saw in Mk1. Sometimes Haley and Nemo players take Thorn (because he is sweet), and Ret players regularly take a Phoenix with Rahn (since it is also one of their best combat jacks). But on the whole, spell assassination as a reliable tactic or list strategy is gone.

In the end, is the move away from assassination a good thing or bad thing? I don't think it is really either - it just 'is'. The alternative is we could go back to Mk1-style eVlad casters that make assassinations much more certain by throwing ridiculous buffs on a handful of models*, or Goreshade being able to exchange a Blackbane's Ghost Raider almost anywhere on the board for a Deathjack that gets to activate and insert his metal into your caster. Personally I prefer the way things are now than the way they used to be.

In summary, the way the game is at present, if you enjoy assassination and like that aggressive playstyle, you can still be competitive in building your lists around it. There is nothing wrong or right about playing for the assassination. However, it is riskier, and therefore a less reliable path to victory than attrition/scenario play in most balanced matchups.

Blindwater Assassination

One of the nice things about Gators is that (almost) all their casters have some legit assassination tactics, on top of being quality attrition warlocks (due to Gatorman Posse, shooting denial and Spiny Growth).

Barnabas - The "Drop 'n' Pop"

This is basically the oldest trick in the WM book, but weaker since Blindwater has far less guns than PoM and Barnabas's feat is a straight-up inferior version of pKreoss' feat. I wish it was 'non-amphibious enemy models have their base DEF reduced to 5 and must sacrifice movement or action next turn' instead. You don't get LoS advantage like you would with KD, but then there is a ton of anti-KD tech out there that it would bypass... I digress. Here is how it is done:

  1. Activate Barnabas
  2. Charge a living enemy trooper (charging gives you an extra 3" of range on the feat which you will probably need to catch the enemy caster).
  3. Feat to knock down enemy caster and everything in the way
  4. Kill your now-KD target with the Blood Cleaver, giving you a free Flesh Eater at the enemy caster
  5. Cast 2 more Flesh Eaters at the enemy caster
  6. Shoot KD enemy caster with Ironback Spitters and Croak Hunters

I admit I use this tactic more than I would like - sometimes because I come upon bad matchups and feel my odds of victory are better with this than playing out the game, and sometimes just because I like to cup my nuts of steel and gamble.

Maelok - The "ScoobyDoo Ghost Gator"

I think this is probably the most potent assassination in Blindwater because it is really unpredictable, and the only sure defense is distance (or Polarity Shield/Hellbound type stuff)- which is a problem when you are faced with an grindtastic Gator list threatening to win on scenario. It is a bit like a weaker but more focused version of eGaspy's feat:

  1. Activate Maelok
  2. Revive some Gators in your control area (if you managed to get a small heap of souls last turn, then you get more Gators! Yay!)
  3. Feat and finish Maelok's activation
  4. Charge enemy caster with incorporeal Gators, or whatever else in your army that can get there and do the job (heavies for example)
That's about it. Against a living warcaster, 2 Gators are likely to get the job done - rerolls are pretty cool. You just have to make sure you have LoS, beware magical weapons, and try to keep Maelok semi-safe in case the assassination fails - the less heavy stuff there is on the table at this point, the better it is.

Rask - The Best Gun In The Game™

Rask has really viable assassination options:
  • Boundless Charge for 2" of threat range/ free charges on beasts
  • Fury for +3 damage
  • Paralysis Bolt to bring high DEF casters to their knees
  • Arcane Interference Bolt to remove those pesky defensive upkeeps and focus adding to ARM
I have one-shot several hardy casters after hitting them with Rask's gun and charging them with a single Furied Gatorman (2x POW 16s at MAT 7s with rerolls = better than many heavies).
Snapjaw in particular becomes an absolute terror under Rask, with a 14" threat range against living models at P+S 20 (Fury + Boundless Charge + Bloodthirst + Elasticity). Turns out this is pretty good at killing Gargossals as well.
Anything that stops or hinders ranged attacks can hurt this assassination run of course (Stealth, Blur, DEF buffs, etc.)

And unlike his fluff blurb, he never actually applies the finishing blow himself. What a douche.

Calaban - The "Yeah Nah"

The "Yeah Nah" tactic of assassination is something that looks sweet and legit, but isn't. Here is how it should go:

  1. Activate Calaban
  2. Shoot a squishy enemy living model with LoS to the enemy caster with your voodoo meat gun
  3. Pop feat and finish activation
  4. Kill every infantry model in your opponent's list, and use the fury you generate via the feat to periodically throw boosted Bone Shakers into your opponent's caster through the meat node.
  5. Fail and die

Much like the phrase "yeah nah", it doesn't really mean anything, but sounds deep and meaningful. I think I have actually pulled this off once or twice, but repeated self-inflicted blows to the head to reduce the mental strain of playing Calaban seem to have affected my memory. It is also very matchup dependent, which makes it even less appealing. It's a decent feat, but more for defensive than offensive purposes IMO.
This makes me want to write another article about exactly why Calaban sucks - I know you love them! Watch this space.... maybe.

The Gator Rise Missile 

This trick can potentially be pulled off in any list that includes a Blackhide Wrastler. I have already written about this trick at length here so you can have a look at it there. The summary is basically that it is an effective and unpredictable way to deliver a heavy beast to the enemy caster and bypass the engagement lines, but I feel it is very risky (even risky for an assassination).

The Totem Hunter

This guy is a ninja and is capable of killing the squishier casters, especially if you can get Fury on him. However he will need the Prey bonus to do so for the MAT/damage buff, and the odds of you getting a Totem Hunter onto a moderately skilled opponent's caster early game are very slim. You would be better off preying an AD unit or key support piece and focusing your efforts on killing that, saving a potential Totem Hunter assassination for late game.

*Sidenote - History Lesson: Blood Legacy in Mk1 was not only +3 to all stats for a round, but also fully-boosted attack and damage rolls and an additional attack per melee weapon. And the Drakhun had d3 initial attacks. It's also why the fastest caster kill on hardcore record was eVlad feating on 4 Widowmakers who killed a focusless Skarre with 4 fully-boosted RAT 10 POW 10s.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Keeping Kommitment Krisp with Khador

Last weekend I played my first game with Gators since Wolfcry last month. I even took a Boneswarm with Maelok as I was trying to gimp my list as much as possible. It did ok - killed a trooper, got one corpse token and jammed with its animus. It died after I forgot the +2 ARM from Maelok's feat but would have done a pretty good job tanking had I remembered. The least disappointed I've ever been with it. I won after I failed to assassinate him with Snapjaw, and then he failed to assassinate Maelok with his caster - ARM 21 is legit.

I've been filling my 1-2 Warmachine games a week with some proxying instead, mostly Khador at the moment. This is mostly to take a break from Gators for a while so I can come back and be excited about playing them again - a good strategy for keeping yourself playing the same faction all the time despite no new releases for what is set to be a full year.

I've been having fun reading the Khador boards and their response to being the worst "real" faction in the game (even Minions seem to do better in tournament rankings). It's not quite as fun as reading through the Trollbloods forums during the 'OMG MOUNTAIN KING IS SO BAD!!' phase, because the Khador players are mostly just stiff-upper-lip people who want to kill as much as possible on the table, winning be damned, while the Troll players are trolls. But it's still fun.

Anyway, here is a summary of Khador in my mind. Not much has changed for them in 2 years or so.
  • Iron Flesh Kayazy are good. Stupidly good. But they are not the answer to everything anymore since Wrath/Domination + Gargosals has provided buckets of high DEF hate (none of which really worries Satyxis), and the meta has adjusted to have one list to deal with high DEF spam.
  • 1-2 jacks at the most - most casters will only want to run one jack, and that jack will be a heavy hitter - Beast, Behemoth, Spriggan, Drago (with Vlad) or Conquest. If you take a second jack, it is either a cheap one like a Juggernaut, or a utility one like a Devastator or Demolisher.
    I guess this is fine in the great scheme of things, since regular Hordes lists will take 2-3 heavies in larger points games, with a couple of support lights. I wish MoW solos were more like lights in providing good utility or ranged support. The MoW Kovnik is a beast but SPD 4 no reach really hurts him (I always had one marshalling a Destroyer in my eVlad lists way back when - worked great) - other than that, MoW are really crap.
    If anything, this highlights how focus still doesn't work the way people want it to in terms of running warjacks, and Cryxmachine will continue until it does.
  • Half the faction (casters/jacks/infantry/solos) are great when put in the right place, and the other half is balls.
I guess in the end this isn't that different to Cryx - half your casters are amazing (especially the 3 prime ones), half your troop choices are super amazing, you have a few amazing solos.... and the rest is entirely overlooked. I guess Khador does at least take 1-2 heavies while Cryx takes a few lights, maybe a Kraken, maybe Deathjack.

The main thing holding Khador back at present is the lack of tricks and how the meta at high levels has changed to deal with raw stats superiority - namely high DEF and high ARM. Jamming is also a more prevalent tactic with SR2013, which means that Khador's style of focusing on charge lanes is become less effective. What they have received so far in Vengeance does seem promising however, so let's hope it brings them out of the gutter, and they can go back to realizing how great eVlad actually is.

TL;DR: eIrusk is the Calaban of Khador, Butcher/Vlad/Sorscha are all great fun to play, and I hope Butcher3 is sweet.

Next I'll probably play some Protectorate, Circle, maybe even a little Cryx and Pigs - whatever I can get my hands on before the next nearby tournament pushes me to practice with Gators again. It's good to have a regular gaming group that lets you borrow all their stuff so you can get better :)

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Points Granularity

Warmahordes is a game of resources. These resources differ at different levels:
  • At the meta level are matchups and players. You are thinking about what list you can put together to counter metabenders like eLich, eHaley, eMorvahna, eLylyth, or generally any epics that don't suck and you expect to see since the local nerd king loves playing OP crap. This could involve playing different factions, bringing in mercs to your drastically one-dimensional Khador forces, or switching from Warmachine to Hordes.
  • At the macro level, you have points. You want to get the best value for your points. This is where you think about making 'the best lists'.
  • At the meso level, you have focus/fury. You are thinking about how your turn will go, and how you want to use those resources. Focus is a bit like getting pocket money, whereas fury is like owning a bank (especially apt now that there is so much fury management that you basically can just invent money and the government bails you out if you screw up).
  • And at the micro level, you have models - stats, abilities, bodies. You're thinking about how each model can be used most optimally at its current location in order to achieve victory, whether that includes the high skill tactic of jamming Iron Flesh super tough Kayazy with Countermeasures in your opponent's face, or something a little more delicate like moving a Warpwolf Stalker 3 times out of activation and picking his targets for maximum Warpath+berserk potential before sprinting away.

This article is about the macro level, the points system. For you young ones out there, Warmachine Mk1 used a points system that was roughly 12 time more inflated. The Behemoth was something like 150 points, Karchev was ~100 pts (WJ points didn't exist, and nobody really played jacks except certain characters and Cryx arc nodes spam), a Journeyman was ~32pts and the Choir was a measly 18/22pts. 500pts was the rough equivalent of 35pt today, 750 = 50 and 1000= 75.

In Mk2, they radically compacted the points system. The rationale was that they wanted people to chose between different options based primarily on what they bring to the table, rather than an 11 point difference.

I actually really liked this change because I didn't have to carry a calculator in my bag anymore. But my gaming group, as well as large sections of the PP forum community, did have one concern with this new points system - it wasn't granular enough, especially in the 1-4 pts bracket.

Pareto Efficiency

Here is an article by Tmage over at Muse on Minis on Pareto Optimum Efficiency being PP's business model and how they aim to attribute points costs to models (as opposed to the GW model which tries to expand the curve with each expansion, a.k.a. power creep).

This was one of the charts used to make his point:

Cryx - it's a hard life.
Some may disagree with the finer points, but the general idea is that '90% of the time, this is the best thing you can get for X points in this faction, all things considered'. Now, it may take some time for players to figure this out and come to an agreement, and the points on the curve may shift a little bit due to meta-changes (for example, anti-tough tech becomes more valuable as every single model suddenly develops a tough exoskeleton), but essentially there will be an optimum, or combinations thereof.

This made me think about points efficiency. Not only are some models just ball-bustingly strong for their points cost, but also blow competing options out of the water 95% of the time. Let's take a look at a few examples:

  • Gorman vs..... almost anything for 2pts.
  • eEyriss vs Yuri the Axe.
  • War Dog. 1pt of holy crap bananas.
  • Reckoners.
  • Tartarus. This guy was 3pts in the original field test, then in the final version magically became 4pts.... along with Ghostly, more ARM and generally being unkillable before having the opportunity to bend you over a table.
There are a few ways to change this around and keep the meta/macro-game exciting and vibrant:

  • You can change the models. This is usually done by errata, since PP doesn't like changing models in fundamental ways. For example, the errata on the Satyxis Witch UA to remove 'no transfers' on its anti-tough/healing aura changed the Witches + UA from being the best choice 100% of the time to the best choice 90% of the time. Cryx - it's a hard life.
  • You can change other models which interact with the models. For example, you can errata Bulldoze to not work outside activation, thereby eliminating the Zerkova/eIrusk dick bubble lists and pushing Khador down the hill (and it hasn't stopped rolling since).
  • Release new models as band-aids- usually this is a UA, like the Black Dragon IFP UA, or the Errant UA. It could also be a caster with specific buffs, like eMorvahna giving concealment to Reeves.
  • Change the metagame - as mentioned, giving every single sh*tty infantry model tough makes anti-healing tech more valuable, and Colossals make anti-ARM lists more prevalent. Releasing powerful new casters increases the odds of seeing those new casters on the table. Essentially this is a change at the meta level that impacts the macro level.
  • You can change points costs. This should be the most efficient and direct method by addressing the issue directly at the source, but has yet to happen outside the Mk1 -> Mk2 change, and will probably not happen until Mk3. Nobody likes to have their 'perfect' lists invalidated by technicalities.

However, there are problems with the points adjustment method as well. The issue I feel is that the points system is not granular enough to make points changes. There's a lot of things that feel like '.5's - not quite good enough to go up a full point, but not quite good enough at its current value. And this is especially visible in the 1-4pts bracket. Think of it like this:
  • 1pt to 2pts = 100% increase.
  • 2pts to 3pts = 50% increase.
  • 3pts to 4pts = 33% increase.
  • 4pts to 5pts = 25% increase.
  • 5pts to 6pts = 20% increase.
  • 6pts to 7pts = 16% increase.
 And so on - the % increase slowly gets smaller and smaller, but starts off pretty significant. If War Dogs are too good for 1pt, the only place to go is 2pts, and that's TWICE the cost. That's a big increase. Gorman @ a hypothetical 3pts is a pretty big increase for a guy that dies to lucky AoE deviations (as long as that AoE isn't fire or corrosion #trollgorman).
On the flipside, comparing a Warpwolf Stalker to a Feral Warpwolf seems like a no-brainer. For 1 more point, you get prowl, pathfinder, reach, berserk, a really good animus, more base ARM, and that extra point of damage your faction needs like a kiwi farmer needs to expose his pasty white thighs to the world. All for an 11% point increase - the 1pt doesn't seem like a big deal in this case. The Stalker seems like a straight-up better deal 90% of the time.

Now imagine the Feral costs 5pts - 50% less than the Stalker. I think you'd be seeing a lot more Ferals. That's kind of the step up we're seeing a low points levels. The key difference between large % point changes in the 1-4pt bracket and changes in the 5-10pt bracket is the "absolute" value of a single point: 2-3pts is only about 5% of your 50pt army building budget, whereas 10pts is about 20% of your total points. It seems less significant at that stage - a single point is relatively more valuable at lower point brackets. This is quite important when you want to optimize list building and get the most for your resources.

Doubling the points system would effectively maintain the absolute value of a point (relative to your total expenditure), while also decreasing the relative value of a point (relative to the opportunity cost). It would also lead to more points along the Pareto curve - and more points along the curve means more options means a more varied and interesting macrogame. It would also open up a bit more design space, as currently the only way to displace an "optimum" option is to release something that does more or less the same thing at the same cost but better, or does something equally powerful but drastically different (very difficult since 'power' is a very abstract concept).


After several years of Mk2, I think the concerns regarding the lack of granularity in the points system proved to be legitimate, especially in the lower points bracket as suspected. I hope they double the points system in Mk3. I don't see any downside to doing it - I can still make armies without a calculator, and the numbers will still be small enough so that the difference between a point and the next will still be meaningful.

Gatorman Posse would be 9.5s and Wrastlers would be 8.5s btw.