Monday, October 12, 2015

The Slow Death of Power Attacks

"You're playing with power now. Don't be afraid! Few things are more satisfying than slamming your opponent's warjack into a unit of soldiers and watching them fall over like bowling pins...Try picking up the enemy warcaster (with a warjack, of course) and throwing it across the battlefield! It's almost more fun than you should be allowed to have in a miniatures game."

- Page 5, Warmachine Prime Mk1 (2002)

Blindwater pre-Colossals

One of the things that attracted me to Blindwater initially was the importance of power attacks to the playstyle. In my very first post on this blog back in 2012, I described Gatormans as "tactically strong, strategically weak". In other words, Gators were a faction that usually did not come to battle with a hard set plan and relied heavily on adapting to the table and opponent in order to achieve victory. This is what power attacks are all about.

One of the major issues Blindwater had was dealing with enemy heavies:
  • Calaban had Parasite to kill one a turn, maybe two if the stars aligned and you got a working feat turn, although it would usually leave him exposed and dead next turn. 
  • Barnabas' only viable answer was shallow water, namely throwing heavy jacks into Swamp Pits, which he was quite good at thanks to Warpath, or just slowing them down with rough terrain. Jamming heavies with Iron Flesh Dirged Posse was also sometimes a viable tactic.
  • Maelok relied on jamming, ignoring or sandpapering heavies down over time with multiple Posse charges. 
In any case, it wasn't easy, and you had to play smart to win games. This all changed with the release of Colossals.

Colossals & Gargossals

I often say that Gargossals as a model type were the single worst thing to happen to the game. I believe this because while I think they are quite balanced in terms of competitive power, they significantly flattened the tactical and strategic depth of the game.

Here is a non-exhaustive list of how you could deal with a heavy in 2010:
  • Arm Lock
  • Throw it away (into shallow water, behind a wall, behind a forest, into another heavy...)
  • Slam it away (see above)
  • Black Oil!
  • Disrupt / Paralyze it (KD + Thrullg against non-reach warjacks was sweet)
  • Focus/Forcing denial (ie. Absylonia1's Blight Field, Hypnos' Void Lock, Wrong Eye's Voodoo Doll)
  • Shadow Bind
  • Jamming (esp. with medium bases)
  • Control it with terrain if no pathfinder
  • Kill it

Here is how you can deal with Gargossals today:
  • Kill it
  • Focus/Forcing denial (ie. Absylonia1's Blight Field, Hypnos' Void Lock, Wrong Eye's Voodoo Doll)
  • Paralyze Gargantuans?
  • Jamming? (given that they can shoot while engaged, it's nowhere near as potent).

That's it. Following the nerfs to Shadow Bind and Black Oil, that is all that remains. The tactical options are laughable compared to what they once were, especially when viewed in the context of board control and scenario play.

From a Blindwater perspective, given the lack of high POW attacks in faction, we were left with a few options - play Calaban with Hex Blast & Parasite and go all in and die next turn, jam Gators into an impregnable iron wall to buy time or play Carver with his garbage beasts. Neither option was great.
Then we got Rask a few months before Gargantuans release, who both solved almost every problem presented by Gargossals and made me a weaker player almost over night despite winning more games.

What concerns me is that this process of removing power attacks as tactical options has reared its ugly head prominently in the last two expansions - Reckoning and Devastation.

Cornerstone & Implacability

First, Reckoning brought us Anson Durst, Rock of the Faith and Summoner of Dank Memes. Of relevance is his Rampart Guardian Stance, which allows him to sacrifice movement/action to gain Cornerstone and grant it to all b2b models (Cornerstone = cannot be KD/placed/pushed/made stationary, ie. can only be thrown or slammed).
While it does reduce the chances to use power attacks against Durst, it is limited to him and models immediately next to him, and it doesn't eliminate the two movement power attacks. I am ok with this given its limited scope.

Second, and most significantly, we have Devastation's most powerful warlock, Doomshaper3, and his spell Implacability. For 2 fury, Doomy stops all models in his battlegroup and 14" control area being KD, placed, pushed or moved by a slam (ie. can only be thrown and made stationary).
Unlike Rampant Guardian Stance, I am not ok with Implacability on this warlock, primarily because a) it is in Trolls, one of the tankiest factions with multiple high ARM heavies and b) it combos stupidly with his feat that grants an effective ~5 ARM to his battlegroup (on top of boosted attack rolls, but let's not go there) and c) it affects EVERYTHING EVERYWHERE (almost).

My initial reaction to such a feat is to KD & control since the battlegroup are otherwise invulnerable. Implacability shits on that. Not only does Implacability remove a lot of options for dealing with his super tanky, super hard hitting, goading warbeasts, but the huge amount of ARM on the table every round, and the nigh-insurmountable amount of ARM on the feat turn, drastically reduce your tactical options that turn to a degree comparable to Haley2's pre-nerf feat.
That's a bold statement, so let me phrase it another way for dramatic impact: if you do not have access to very select tools, such as focus/fury control or stationary, you have basically no option that turn but grin and bear it. That is basically a timewalk feat, and given Troll ARM values outside that feat turn, the timewalk seeps into every other turn as well unless you have significant POW values.


The game is moving more and more towards ARM skew / POW overload at the cost of power attacks and board control, and I am not sure I like where things are going.
It seems PP have forgotten a key tenant of their original Page 5 manifesto, perhaps the only part of the document that was uncontroversial and can truly be said to have excited players of all persuasions about the game - heavy warjacks and warbeasts fighting like pro wrestlers.

I guess that in the end they did decide that power attacks were in fact more fun than you should be having in a miniatures game.


  1. Whoa hey now calm down there. Garryth has had a feat that stops models getting moved by placement effects, since mk2, which is like the beginning of time. So yea. Moving right along...

    Also how you deal with gargossals doesn't detract at all on how you deal with War jacks, it just adds a more specific problem which has more specific solutions. The large foot print and cost is enough of a tactical limitation to the opponent that if you are already packing an armor cracking list (WHO isnt THESE DAYS) then you are already most of the way there unless you are Cryx.... lol. All of the other tricks still work on warjacks/beasts. Except doom3y cause... lol.
    The Bottom line is the game changes. It will always change, unless it goes out of business or the devourer wyrm swallows Urcean and PP releases Age of Vinter. Or something.

    1. This is true. My points are basically that a) Gargossals = less warjacks/warbeasts (definitely less warjacks) = less tactical options overall and b) I am not thrilled about the change.
      Also c) starting an argument with 'Garryth' is an auto win in my book.