[WM/H] Road to SmogCon: At The End Of The Road, He Calls Everyone Home…

Let’s start with an admission.

I played eleven games of Warmahordes over two days and lost ten of them.

Weirdly enough, this doesn’t bother me as much as it might. It’s all in the expectations. I went to the Winter Warmup thinking I might win something; I went to SmogCon thinking I’d probably win nothing, but that if I got to catch up with everyone I know from previous clubs/the tournament circuit, and play a shitload of Warmahordes, and try out the IKRPG at last, and take home some swag from the SmogPit, I’d be basically happy.

I managed to miss Russ entirely, and I didn’t get to play many of the Darklords in the end, and I did end up dropping from the Con on the Saturday night. Turns out that sleeping on the floor of the drawing room, for about three hours, after a twenty-two hour day, renders you quite vulnerable to chronic sleepiness and con-plague; since I need to be awake and in possession of a working voicebox to do my job, I decided to bail and sleep off the side-effects rather than drag myself through a painful Sunday.

Apart from that, though, mission accomplished. My second three-day con ever, and the first where I’d be doing anything more stressful than host a panel or two and spend the rest of the weekend in my hotel room writing, surfacing for dinner and the occasional round of Mijnlieff, and I bloody loved it.

I rolled up to the venue at about two p/m on the Friday, ‘fresh’ from a four-day depressive funk, about three hours’ sleep since Thursday morning, and a six-hour marking session as I tried to cram in all the work I should have done instead of sitting around in my dressing gown, feeling near-fatally miserable and playing Hearthstone. Took me a while to find the Mandolay Hotel, as I’d come in on the ‘wrong’ side of Guildford; fortunately, I stumbled on foppish Nick Topham and the lovely Adrienne and they informed me that no, I hadn’t walked up that sodding great hill for nothing.

Anyway, I got in and, lacking any of that tedious ‘hotel room’ business to deal with, threw myself straight into the SmogPit; a run of tables open for casual gaming all weekend, with every game played accumulating points that could be exchanged for Valuable Prizes, or for Mr. Chom’s Mystery Boxes. I had my eye on the nifty Iron Arena template sets, and set myself two missions: earn 25 Pit points to get some templates, and play on some of the special scenario tables.

The undoubted highlight of my first day in the Pit was FINALLY getting to play the ‘Smoke on the Water’ scenario from Escalation… but I’m getting ahead of myself a bit. Let’s run through the first day’s Pit results:

  1. 35 points vs. Jay’s Trollbloods. Lost after an Earthborn Trampled and Goaded through difficult terrain to nab Ossyran, who’d moved upfield to try and Chronophage Cannon the aforementioned Earthborn and missed.
  2. 35 points vs. … someone… with a Cygnar army. I conceded this one after horribly botching my second turn, effectively denying my army a turn of shooting and thus the opportunity to do anything before being massacred. Wouldn’t normally have done that, but my opponent was also playing in Hydra later in the night so I figured we might well draw each other again and get a proper game in.
  3. 35 points vs. Darklord Dave P.’s shiny new Convergence of Cyriss. A player I’ve never beaten, and an army I still haven’t figured out, but a game I played surprisingly well, only just failing an assassination run on Syntherion, who was left on two boxes by the time Ossyran’s feat turn was over. I regret nothing – the closest I’ve ever come to beating Dave, and it was marvellous catching up with him.
  4. 35 points vs. Benj’s Menoth – SMOKE ON THE WATER, and a Battle Box game ’cause we were killing time between Hydra registration and the actual event. My notes start to become indecipherable at this point… “fucked up – nearly lost, ate 2 frees, nearly won”… I think this is something to do with poor movement of Kaelyssa or one of her ‘jacks, against a knocked-together eFeora force (which isn’t, technically speaking, a Battle Box, but whatever).

And then it was Hydra time! Y’know, the event for which I put together this whole Retribution project in the first place, since my Mercenaries would be virtually unplayable in the format. 35 points, same list with a random caster from a pool of 5, running from 2100 to 0300 (or ‘whenever we’re done’, as foppish Topham put it).

First round: I drew Ossyran (who I’d been playing all day…) against Khador, with the new Super Epic Mega Plus Butcher – the one with the two Arguses (Arguii?). I lost this one ’cause I gimped my activation order on a turn in which Ossyran was engaged by Fenris but somehow (due to high DEF, I think) still alive. I moved my Dawnguard on the basis that I could CRA into melee, which of course I can’t: one of those things you don’t know if you started out playing Cryx and don’t know a Combined Ranged Attack from a Massive Casualties Check. I also learned that you can’t Combine charge and non-charge attacks, having made some decisions involving Houseguard Halberdiers on the understanding that you could. Had I just had Ossyran swing his sword and kill Fenris, I’d have been in a reasonable position to just shoot the Butcher’s army out from under him and then stay out of his way until I could win on scenario or something.

Second round: Garryth. Oh poop. Against Lich Lord Asphyxious. Oh poop poop. Arguably the best warcaster in the game against arguably the worst. And yet, and yet… this was the game I managed to win. With Bane Knights carpet-bombed by Stormfall Archers, dying of Fire on their own turns and thus not getting to Vengeance, with Bile Thralls Combustioned off the field (though this did mean the poor Phoenix got rear-charged by the Withershadow Combine and turned into a Harrower), and with Halberdiers dying in droves to Venom and Nightwretch blasts, the game was a rather tense pile-up until Garryth was able to leap forward, drill Asphyxious with two bullets, feat to prevent him spending his eleven focus to teleport away, and then chase him down to plug two more shots in his face and finish the job.

Stewart… didn’t take it well. He had my usual face – the “what the fuck, I had that in the bag, I hate this game” face, and much like myself he needed a good five minutes to pull himself together and apologise for his graceless behaviour. All was of course forgiven; I’ve been there and done that too many times in the last eight years, and that is Garryth’s game, really; lose, lose, lose and then seize on the chance for a crafty last-minute win.

Also, apropos of nothing, I miss Cryx.

Third round: Kaelyssa, vs. Paul F.’s Legion of Everblight with Rhyas at the helm. A somewhat overambitious assassination attempt on a camped-up Rhyas with Rapport upkept left Kaelyssa too far forward, and gave Paul a textbook ‘walk in and whack’ Rhyas kill. The PGs who’d taken over from Foppish asked if I’d be dropping, given that I couldn’t win anything and it was well after one o’clock by now. I said words to the event of “sod that, Hydra’s what I built this army to play!” and pressed on…

Fourth and final round: Ravyn, vs. a nice bloke called Luke running eKreoss. Tackling Menoth in timed turns is always difficult; working out what you’re actually allowed to do takes up precious doing-things time, especially at two in the bloody morning. Despite that, I managed to dismantle the army pretty well, shooting up Exemplars and reducing Kreoss to his battlegroup and support elements. Unfortunately, I bodged up the activation order again – what should have been a “shoot the screen, CRA the caster, charge in with the Phoenix to finish” became a “charge the screen, charge the caster, try for dodgy Flank run” – once again, I failed to implement the Blood Bowler’s Lessons (“Greed Ain’t Good”, “Safety First” and “Don’t Roll Dice Unless You Need To”). In my defence, it was two a/m and I’d not slept in twenty-four hours.

After a quick chat with Corehammer‘s Neil (the rest of the lads were off at Ill Blood in London), I found a quiet corner in which to doze and did so fitfully, awakening at 0530 to the sound of the night manager watching Takeshi’s Castle. Lacking the gumption to attempt further sleepage, and gasping for a cuppa, I essayed forth to the SmogPit once again – many of the chaps were still awake, most notably Jimmy ‘GStar’ Stark, who’d been running the Pit since midnight and who was still in a fit state to throw down on the Smoke on the Water table again. Day two went no better than day one…

  1. 35 points vs. Jimmy and his Trollbloods – Smoke On The Water again, and my fifth game and fifth opponent, earning heap big bonus points. This was a loooong game for two insomniacs, neither of whom had really had any rest in two days. My one fatal mistake was putting my Dawnguard in the middle of the barge rather than toward the back; to get them into the action they had to move forward toward Boris the Night Troll, who kept them locked down in melee with Warders for most of the game. With Grissel standing behind walls or elevated on walkways, under the protection of the Krielstone, I just couldn’t land a kill shot on her, although I did, to my glee, manage to Force Hammer/Telekinesis a Dire Troll off the side of the barge.
  2. 35 points vs. Alex and his Retribution, in the Beer Barrel Bash! scenario. A fun one on paper, with a tent that handed out Fearless/Tough/Stumbling Drunk/Hyper-Aggressive if Dominated, and barrels that needed to be moved back to the deployment zone or destroyed in order to score control points. Alas, this was a non-game in which Alex had the perfect list to remove two barrels on cue and score full points for the third. Might have been more fun if Garryth hadn’t had to spend the whole game hiding out of the effective range of Alex’s Mage Hunters, too, or if I’d managed to hit his Kaelyssa with my Eiryss.
  3. And finally, needing to earn three more Pit points, I opted for a 50 pointer against Paul G’s. Privateers. A huge infantry swarm with a Colossal. In 50 points. Was I mad? After the Winter Warmup, had I not learned that this was a game I’d hate?
    I didn’t. The Galleon is much less scary when it doesn’t have Dougal hiding behind it (he’s not welcome in Captain Shae’s Theme Force, you see), and the infantry swarm stayed sufficiently bunched up for a few key Star Falls on their back line and a run of Halberdier stabbings up front. My Banshee drew the Colossal’s tender affections and my Phoenix, on the other flank, had free reign to hot-swap Death Sentence between Pirate units as needed. Garryth had a route to plant two shots on Shae… and alas, didn’t quite manage it. The only piece I had left with which to land the kill was the flanking Eiryss, who’d run around the side of Paul’s army two turns ago for that express purpose… and who I’d forgotten to move for two turns. Bugger, blast and damnation.

With 25 points under my belt and the template set in my pocket, I hied me onwards to the Iron Kingdoms Role Playing Game demo. I’d been itching to give this game a go for a while, but not being made of money I couldn’t justify dropping £45 on it sight-unseen. Long-suffering demo-GM Lewis D put on an outstanding show. While I’ll be making another post down the line (here or on COREHAMMER) in which I actually review the IKRPG, I’d like to take the time to thank Lewis for one of the best RPG sessions I’ve had the privilege of playing in, and for convincing me that the game was not only worth a shot but potentially a better route into the Iron Kingdoms for yours truly than the wargame is.. I would also like to apologise to my fellow players for ze outrageous Llaelese accent, and for deciding that my logical course of action was OBVIOUSLY “convert to Thamarism and take over the antagonist’s cult”. I’d actually like to play my character in that group again – being the token evil teammate’s always had a certain appeal to me, and the chaps were outrageously good sports.

Now, I’d registered for the Scalpel tournament on Saturday night, but at this stage, the thought of playing any more Retribution made me want to throw up. There was the prospect of Malifaux, but it’d involve a trek down to the other SmogCon site, and I haven’t so much as glanced at the M2E rules for my Gremlins. There was Mr. Chom’s SmogPit BattleBox tournament, but… well… I stopped off behind the Pit desk for an hour’s nap, and Chom – despite instructions – woke me after registering people for the mini-tournament, not before.

Under the circumstances, and with the option of a half-hour walk, an hour’s train ride, and a night’s sleep in my own bed, I decided that might as well be the end of the road.

[WM/H] Road To SmogCon: List Review and Game Reports!

After a poor showing at the Winter Warmup and a lukewarm finish to the Clapham Wargamers’ Guild league (the latter due to ill health and parlous finances), it’s time to have a look at my Retribution; what I have, how it’s done, and how it might be expanded in future.

First up, a reminder of the list:

[random warcaster] – pool comprises Garryth, Ravyn, Ossyran, Rahn and Kaelyssa
– Phoenix
– Sylys Wyshnylarr

10 Dawnguard Invictors + Officer & Standard
10 Houseguard Halberdiers + Officer & Standard + Soulless Escort
Stormfall Archers

Arcanist

The Casters

Garryth I have only used once (damn that not-getting-to-club-ness) and botched a few rules in that game. Nonetheless, I did manage to learn a few things; Garryth demands to be played forward, and it’s probably worth moving him into key (i.e. Dominatable) areas and camping focus unless there’s a very good reason not to do that.

Rahn I have also only used once (ditto) and while I misplayed the game, I did feel that he was able to cut the mustard without a swarm of Battle Mages backing him up. There’s a lot he can do on his feat turn in and of himself, with Sylys and a resilient arc node and an Arcanist to place the latter where it needs to be.

Ravyn and I have a complex relationship, though we’re on our third or fourth date now, which is an improvement on my partnerships with either of the chaps. In both the two league games, Ravyn did a lot without doing a lot; placing down Veils of Mists to protect me and help me reposition, buffin’ the shootin’ like it’s goin’ out of fashion, and threatening to murder everything with Vortex of Destruction even though she never actually touched anyone with the sharp end of Hellebore. I’ve seen her jump out and butcher half a unit at the end of a game, but I think she’s more subtle than I’ve been giving her credit for being.

Ossyran I am very comfortable with, although I’m still settling into the niceties of his rules after one loss and two wins. I think he’s the caster most suited to my collection; the Quickened Halberdiers, Shatter Stormed Invictors and Admonitioned Phoenix are devices which I’m comfortable with deploying (although I do need to speed up the resolution of AOE attacks, they’re such a flippin’ time sink – I miss just saying “Purge, POW12 auto hit, take it off or take Corrosion” and having that be my clearance strategy).

And finally, there’s Kaelyssa… who I can’t figure out like I can either of the 6-focus casters in the middle. She and Garryth are in an awkward “does this, does that, but where’s the win button?” pickle and if either of them turn out to be my dud for SmogCon I won’t be too sad (though I’ll cry tears of blood if I have to leave Ossyran out). I’ve won games with her, but mostly through accidental stuff like good matchups and fluke hits from Halberdiers.

The odd duck in the room has proven to be new arrival Issyria, who… well, I’ll talk though her in her own post, since I am very conflicted. Suffice to say that I may try and grab her before or even at SmogCon and might run her through Scalpel as the ultimate learning process. We shall see.

The Battlegroup and Arcanist

The Phoenix has proved to be an excellent toolbox as single ‘jacks go, although even with the Arcanist it’s struggled to take down other heavies (four straight-dice rolls could be enough but have often ended up failing me). The two things I’m still struggling with remembering are the gun (although I have fired it a few times now!) and power attacks, especially for slamming something into a key target and then arcing a spell into it.

Talking of the Arcanist, I concede that he has definitely made the list run more smoothly, even if it’s just been providing the focus for the Phoenix to run or boost a gunshot, although he has frequently found himself left behind if it’s had an ambitious turn. I almost wonder if two of them, one running and the other activating, might not guarantee that one’s in the right place at the right time, and whether that might not be a better buy than the Soulless I don’t really know how to use.

Sylys, meanwhile, is just always always always useful; there isn’t a single caster I’ve run with who hasn’t appreciated the free upkeep spell and the extra efficiency from Arcane Secrets. Best two points I’ve ever spent. The hard part would be choosing which caster to run without him in a Character-restricted environment.

The Units

The Halberdiers have rapidly become my favourite infantry unit – they have everything they need to be good chaff and with their unit attachment they become quite a serious threat even off the charge. I’ve had one or two issues with them, though. Deep-deploying clusters of Halberdiers and support pieces rapidly become AOE bait, and a few blasts on Halberdiers have clipped high-DEF stuff sheltering among them, and it’s occasionally been difficult working out whether to fan them out (to control lanes with their Reach and have the depth to charge the rearmost ones into whatever engages or murders the front ones) or cluster them up (to ensure high ARM engaging things that I want engaged and get mileage out of Team Effort).

I’m somewhat less enamoured of the Invictors. In principle, they’re brilliant; in practice, I’ve had trouble making them work. They’re slow, they have middling range, they tend to get snarled up with the Stormfalls and rear Halberdiers, creating big clusters of AOE or Trample bait. They may work better as a flanking force, with the Phoenix deployed centrally to support them with spells and Flank (or for them to help the Phoenix with Flank charges to disengage it) but then I worry that their lack of SPD will betray them; not all my casters can necessarily get them moving. I haven’t also been able to get much legwork out of Extended Fire; either they’ve lacked sufficient targets for it to be worth using or I’ve been running them as a flank or second line unit, waiting for a kill-shot that never comes.

The Stormfall Archers, though, them’s brilliant. Well. Not quite brilliant. Brilliant would involve them hitting reliably; standing still and Sniping’s pretty good but if they want to use either of their fancy shot types they often have to move into range, and RAT 5 just doesn’t cut sufficient mustard a lot of the time. I’m also having trouble with placing them; they occupy the same sort of range band as the Invictors and so they want to be in the same space a lot of the time. I’ll have to experiment with flanking the Archers, sending them out on their own, or with co-ordinating the two units across the battle-line rather than matching them up 1:1 against particular targets.

The Soulless, meanwhile, has seen one game and done next to nothing in it. I’m still thinking about which unit I want him in, or whether to just bite the bullet and take a second Arcanist instead. Putting him in the Halberdiers will help with clearing upkeep nonsense off them, but they tend to be so close to the enemy that -5″ on the range of enemy spells isn’t really that big a deal. Putting him in the Invictors might help them continue performing (or underperforming) but it leaves the Halberdiers prone to any Crippling Grasp that comes their way. I ‘unno.

The Future

I already own a Vyre heavy myrmidon chassis, which is going to be a Banshee/Sphinx magnetised wonderbunny as soon as I can find my sodding magnets. Commentary on the Banshee will be reserved for when I haven’t denied myself an assassination opportunity with it (by slamming the target out of range of my entire army), lost its primary weapon to a free strike which it wouldn’t have taken if I’d just been patient and trampled instead of trying for a charge, or lost it turn one to a Colossal focusing all its pernicious attentions on the poor thing.

Having watched some far better players at work during the Winter Warmup, I conclude that I need to be getting my buns into the scenario control zones sooner, especially if not running Ossyran. What’s needed is something that Advance Deploys, is quite hard to wipe out, and can ideally put some threat out on turn one. Some species of Mage Hunter, in other words, and I can only really afford/be bothered to paint one unit. That means Strike Force or Infiltrators, with Commander Eiryss as an option for either or the Officer for the Strike Force. I currently lean toward the Strike Force; they have two Unit Attachment options and thus can be fielded as Advance Deployed, Pathfinding shooters in two lists at tournament level, and I generally like my Retribution units to have guns rather than not have them (the Halberdiers are an honourable exception because they’re just so damn pretty).

The Houseguard Thane would also help matters in that regard. As mentioned in the previous post, I’ve evaluated him purely on the obvious synergy (with the Riflemen) and not on the ramifications of scenario play (a 14″ run or 11″ Shield Wall with most casters, jumping to an obscene 18″ and 13″ with Ossyran, plus Fearlessness, plus another gun that’s not FA:C). That was a mistake. I’m also seeing more and more the viability of solos in scenario play; while a unit needs to have half its strength in the zone (thus affecting the wide footprint and base for threat projection that makes infantry good in this game), a solo just needs to plant its own base therein, and the Thane’s essentially supportive nature means he can probably be parked on a flag and left to his own devices provided a Halberdier’s within his CMD range.

Solos also make me think thoughts about Battle Mages. I could go for the unit here, but truth be told I’m more into a handful of solos; two Magisters and two Artificers. For starters, the above comments about solos seem perfectly suited to midfield support pieces like Battle Mages; for mains, I need something else for Rahn’s feat turn besides the man himself; for pudding, oh tasty tasty pudding, I’m very tempted indeed by Rahn’s No Quarter Theme Force, “Fires From On High”, for 50 point games. Advance Deployment on my slow Stormfalls, Sylys and Houseguard Halberdiers in-theme, a discount on the Phoenix and, crucially, a requirement to take something I’ve been looking at for a while.

Hyperion. Yes, I’m looking at the eighty pound eighteen point Colossal and thinking “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.” Well, there’s a bit more to it than that. There’s also my oft-noted difficulty with large numbers of actors; sinking 20% of the available points into one model should help me with managing the amount of stuff on the board. There’s the imminent emergence of Issyria, who is (as we shall see, and as has been said) pretty much tailor-made for Hyperion. There’s also the small matter that I could continue my Warcraft-themed aesthetic by painting it up as the Dark Animus. I don’t usually go much on big, expensive centrepiece models, but if it were to see play in every 50 point game and help me overcome the difficulties I have in playing such games (“here’s 35 points of stuff, which I know I can handle, plus Hyperion”)… that might actually be worth the investment.

At the moment, I’ve set Hyperion as my pledge reward for keeping all my Nerd Year’s Resolutions. Some of these are, typically, under negotiation, mostly the ones that involve buying or doing new stuff rather than the ones that are actual restrictions. At the moment, here’s the pledge-list:

  1. I will start up and run an in-house WFRP game which will run for at least six sessions.
  2. I will build/repair and paint/restore at least 2400 points of Vampire Counts, with at least 500 points of totally new stuff.
  3. I will build a viable Good force and Moria battlefield for the Lord of the Rings Strategy Battle Game, and make Hark blog about them.
  4. I will paint and base a 50 point Retribution army by the end of March, and then purchase no more.
  5. I will lay hands on two starter sets plus kit for Freebooter’s Fate and run at least four demonstration games.
  6. I will not transfer more than two WoW characters during the entire year.
  7. I may build new Magic decks but I will not buy new Magic decks; they must be based on cards within the collection or obtained through drafts/boosters.
  8. I will do all of this on a budget of no more than £300, plus whatever is earned from selling unwanted goods.

Stand by all that and I can buy Hyperion at the end of the year. WFRP might stand for Warhammer Fantasy Role Play or Weird Fantasy Role Playing, depending on how ambitious I’m feeling; the Lord of the Rings might be nudged sideways and be called ‘Hark’s responsibility’. About time one of my co-authors did something around here.

[WM/H] Road to SmogCon: Winter Warmup Tournament Report

*sigh*

I’ve lied to you a bit. This isn’t going to be a conventional ‘report’ in the sense that I talk about what went on in my turns and their turns and what we were thinking and who won and who lost. This is instead going to be a series of reflections on why I came last, why I had two appalling non-games that I didn’t really enjoy, and my awkward relationship with 50 point games and the tournament scene.

The Winter Warmup was pretty much the first event of the year for Cross Gaming Club and the first time I’d played in the shiny new Dark Sphere site on Hercules Road. I was the odd man out in more ways than one; the only Claphamite to put in an appearance, the only player that Press Ganger Tom hadn’t met before; the only one, I suspect, who hadn’t played a fifty point game or a tournament in about a year; and the odd-numbered player who induced the bye.

Fifty points for me means one list, dumping everything I own into it, and hoping like hell. Two lists are impossible when nine points of my collection are FA: C and when I’ve blown money I barely have on the Banshee and the entry fee. Whatever, I’d been laid up with a horrible infection for a week and wanted to do something in the real world before I went back to work. Nonetheless, going single-list in a multi-list tournament is generally a recipe for disaster, given the number of hard counters and bad matchups inherent in the game’s design.

The list/collection I ran with was:

Kaelyssa, Night’s Whisper
– Phoenix
– Banshee
– Sylys Wyshnylarr

10 Dawnguard Invictors with Officer & Standard
10 Houseguard Halberdiers with Officer & Standard
Stormfall Archers
Lady Aiyana and Master Holt

Arcanist
Arcanist
Eiryss, Mage Hunter of Ios

Not bad, but not brilliant, and lacking a really obvious, simple-to-execute win button. A recurring theme during the post-wipeout chit-chat was that I’d bought the wrong caster (some people laboured this point more than others), and in retrospect I agree. I’d probably have been better off running Ossyran, leaving Eiryss at home, and picking up a Houseguard Thane, for reasons which will become clear as we move along. The Banshee was totally new, only built the day before the event. I hadn’t played fifty points or a tournament game in over a year. I was, as a great man… demon… elf… thing… once said, NOT PREPARED.

Round one was against Marcin Garbino, a nice chap who’s played everything under the sun and, unfortunately, had brought a meteor to a gunfight. His Baldur Theme Force (that’s the Stonecleaver, at Tier 4) was entirely occupying the scenario control zone, shown centre, by the end of his first turn, and everything was either ARM Obscene or hiding in one of the two trenches (the black felt bits). Cross use trenches a lot. Cross toss trenches onto the board and put them in the scenario zones. This is not forbidden anywhere in the rules but it definitely made a bad situation worse for me; hitting the Druids on DEF 20 and knowing that they were immune to blast damage was definitely not sexy at all.

I had a vague shot at assassinating Baldur on my second turn, but I gimped it by firing the Banshee first since it had Phantom Hunter on it. That slammed Baldur back, even though he was immune to being knocked down thanks to his feat, and left him out of range for either Kaelyssa or the Phoenix. That was, in essence, game, since there was no way I could crack that wall of DEF/ARM 20+ sitting in the middle racking up control points, and I’d already blown Kaelyssa’s feat on forcing the Woldstalkers to move forward if they wanted to massacre my infantry (and they did). Since I’d moved Kaelyssa up to try for the shots on Baldur, she was hanging out in front of the army, and… it wasn’t really worth going on. I was in a foul mood by the end of this game, and quite prepared to turn around and go home if the prospect of similar non-starters was likely.

Tom and the neighbouring players talked me down, though, and instead Marcin and I went for a walk, since we had an hour to kill. He treated me to an informative if slightly overlong lecture on the merits of Issyria, the Mage Hunter Assassin, and those of the Houseguard Thane in the absence of Riflemen. I have, I think, underestimated the effect of Desperate Pace; I looked at the Thane, saw the obvious synergy with Riflemen (who I don’t own), and wrote him off, instead of considering the advantages of more speed in scenario play. Fair cop, and by the time I’d calmed down a bit, I saw what he was driving at. I also think he was right about taking Ossyran; I’d just nailed the list together the night before and picked the caster who’d let me take everything, but if I’d had a Thane handy I’d have gleefully chucked Eiryss to field him instead. Marcin’s a decent chap, just light-years beyond me as a player, and not the best first-round draw. I like losing my first round game, but I like being able to play in the game at all. Didn’t help that I was well flustered from arriving half an hour late to an event fifteen minutes’ bus ride from my house. I’m just the MOST prepared sometimes.

Exhibit B: Rob Parsons and his Menoth. Tom had politely asked him to go easy on me since I’d had such a shit day so far, and laughed bitterly when he saw that “going nice” involved the Harbinger, the Covenant, the customary ‘jack wall, Visgoth Rhoven and a big unit of Exemplars Errant. A classic ‘Menoth Says No’ list, then, but at least I’ve fought and beaten the Harbinger before, and she’s on that nice big base that makes her easy to shoot.

This one barely moved. Our armies crashed into each other and just stood there for two turns, flailing away. Bottom of turn three, Rob’s left-hand Reckoner and Vanquisher were both badly damaged (the former was on one box and had been for two damn rounds!) and the latter was immobilised ready for more Stormfalling, and I had cleaned out many of the Menite infantry. The Harbinger had been forced to spend most of the game camping focus and avoiding Eiryss, and I was able to weather the feat turn by bunkering up between those two rocks, taking hits on the two myrmidons (who could eat a power 14) and having everyone else shoot at whatever Menites they could see before Kaelyssa’s feat came down. I did manage to layer some damage onto the Harbinger through Martyrdom, as Rob Martyred a lot of Errants and one of Rhoven’s bodyguards at least twice in an effort to make my flanking Dawnguard behave themselves.

The only huge cockup I made involved sinking far too much effort into killing two Exemplar Errants engaging my Banshee so it could be free to charge Rob’s Vanquisher. As well as squandering the activations of Eiryss and Kaelyssa, who could have been locking down a ‘jack with Disruption/Arcantrik Bolt a turn earlier than they did, it meant diverting my Halberdiers’ attention, which mean leaving the Vanquisher on one sodding box on its primary weapon, which meant that when the Banshee was eventually freed, it took a free strike in passing that crippled its own primary weapon, and ended up scrapped by the Vanquisher on the next turn. Should have just trampled and taken my chance on the free strikes, maybe, or wailed on the Exemplars and had Eiryss and Kaelyssa paralyse the Vanquisher for next turn.

I was losing, but I lost through identifiable errors and Rob only scored one control point in the whole game. I did, however, only score two tiebreaker points, as most of Rob’s units had one or two guys left alive, and I hadn’t been able to nail his ‘jacks while he’d trashed both of mine. This was a simpler game, where I could see what went wrong, and I enjoyed it – my brain simply overheated with the combination of timed turns, more actors to handle than usual, and winkling into the “Menoth says NO” rules combinations to work out what I could actually do.

After lunch, round three, and this is where the beast emerged…

Sometimes, good players have bad days, and end up in the bottom of the brackets with the likes of me. Trevor Couper is such a player; he was running on next to no sleep and had, I think, timed out on one of this games and badly misplayed another. I drew him in a complex scenario (so many ways to earn and deny points – my brain hurt just trying to deploy in a way that would manage its impact), and while he was list-locked like me, his list was… simpler, and brutal, and had more direct ways to deploy greater killing power on a broader range of targets. Martial Discipline, twenty tough Weapon Master infantry, a feat that delivered them to the control zones and points quickly with extra ARM (just like the first game) and a Colossal that could point, click and delete one of my myrmidons or units every turn. To cap it all off, I’d misdeployed, giving my Dawnguard the task of keeping the Colossal from racking up all the Control Points in the world, and maybe taking it down with Flank charges (not likely at four dice minus twelve). I’d have been better off putting them in the lines to take down the infantry, and feeding both my myrmidons and the Stormfall Archers at the Colossal.

Despite Trevor point-click-deleting the Banshee, and being in a very strong place at the top of my turn two, I did actually have a way of putting some damage onto Ossrum and maybe securing the game. I just didn’t think of it in time. See, the Dawnguard could, with three or four man CRAs, put damage on the Colossal, as could the Stormfall Archers and the Phoenix. They’d been doing it since turn one, when Extended Fire let them get a few shots in before Trevor’s feat turn. Now, had I thought to slap Backlash onto it ASAP, I’d probably have been able to get nine to twelve damage onto Ossrum and maybe, just maybe, keep Kaelyssa alive long enough to Phantom Hunter her way to the win. Alas, I didn’t think of that until turn two, and after losing most of my Halberdiers and my Banshee and realising that I’d lose either the Dawnguard, the Phoenix or both in the next turn, I just gave up. Dishonourable, strength-of-schedule wrecking, but fuck it, I was having an appalling time in this game and I had no intention of inflicting my grotty side on Trevor any more than was necessary.

I asked for the bye in round four, just to save myself from melting down any further, and spent the round doing two things. Firstly, watching Trevor’s next game, since he’d drawn another Retribution player, and I wanted to see how that would go. The Retribution that rolled up – and I’ve forgotten their owner’s name, alas – were a very different beast to mine, with Ossyran, two units of Mage Hunters (Strike Force with their Officer, Infiltrators with Eiryss). Trevor had the shot at a first turn win, and spent seven minutes of his extended first turn puzzling it out and talking it through. The Colossal could just about inch forward, have range to Ossyran, knock him down with one of its guns by shooting the warjack next to him (and boosting its damage roll to boot), then lay into him with the rest of its guns. If Trevor hadn’t rolled double ones for the number of multi-shots, he’d have won before the game started. As it was, he did roll double ones, and Ossyran lived. The high-DEF infantry fanned out and jammed up the zones, and Trevor settled in for a longer, slower grind. He did eventually win, but by this stage I’d moved on to my second bye-round activity; talking 50 points with Kev Bryant and his hat.

Kev and I had a good old natter about the effect of Colossals on the game, and he re-introduced me to the concept of ‘list poker’. Not playing many multi-list events, or having much of a collection of anything, this hasn’t always been something I’ve thought about, although I’ve always known it existed. Anyway, it’s the pre-game stage where you’re looking at each other’s lists and identifying the potential matches and, if you’ve prepared at all well, identifying the pairings that just won’t work for you and picking the list that can take any of the opponent’s two or three.

Colossals skew this hugely. Being so huge and hard to either kill (so many boxes!) or tie down (so many immunities! can shoot out of melee! though factions with Gorman di Wulfe or unshakeable effects like Death Chill have it so much easier – in related news, I almost miss Cryx…), the Colossal presence demands that one of your lists is capable of dealing with one. Which is fine, except that the Colossal will also have a caster behind it, effectively meaning they have an extra card for list poker, and it’s always an ace. Let me explain.

Say I take Ossyran as my Colossal-smashing caster, with his whole extra-damage-on-ranged-attacks thing going on. Say now that the caster running the enemy Colossal is one who Ossyran struggles to beat, or that the rest of their list hard-counters the stuff in my Ossyran list. Say also that Issyria (for example’s sake) might be a better match for the caster running the Colossal. Do I take the Issyria list, which is just not equipped to handle that giant mass of boxes lumbering across the table, and hope I can score an assassination when I’m losing ten points of my stuff every turn, or do I take the Ossyran list, and focus on negating the impact of the Colossal at the expense of managing the rest of the enemy army and trying to win the game?

It’s doubly hard when the other thirty-odd points are, as they were in Trevor’s list, already quite hard for me to deal with; that’s a lot of weapon masters to pin down and chip through the high ARM on, and a few spoilers in the form of fireproof Tactical Arcanist Corps and the like, and they can all move through one another. And this is before we factor in the prospect of Trevor or whoever maybe having another list to consider. Zugwang, for those who don’t know, is the chess term for a situation in which every possible move is a bad one. That’s kinda how I feel when I see a Colossal in someone’s list. I don’t think they’re too good in and of themselves – they cost twenty points and focusing twenty points onto ten of mine should leave me coming off worse, after all. I do think that they break, or at least skew, the ‘list poker’ stage of gameplay, and that’s awkward.

So. All in all, an unsatisfactory day’s gameplay, in which I either didn’t really get to play at all, or in which I made some significant errors, or both, and for which I was NOT PREPARED. And yet, on balance, I think I had an informative day. Everyone was friendly, despite the rather spiky mood I was in while and after playing Trevor. I think I’ve learned a few things about how I might approach Steamroller 2014, and 50 points, and the prospect of encountering Colossals, assuming that I don’t just sulk in my bunker and refuse to interact with any of them (also a possibility). The day was supposed to be a warm-up and a clue-up for the 2014 season, and to be honest, it did what it said on the tin.

Time’s a-wastin’, word count’s a-creepin’, and I have to be at work soon. Next time, I’ll have some thoughts on my Retribution and where I might go with them post-SmogCon, in the light of the experience I had at the Winter Warmup. For the time being… duty calls.

[WM/H] Road to SmogCon: The Houseguard, the Dawnguard and I

Long-term readers may have received the impression that I am not very good at using units in Warmachine (or Hordes for that matter). This is blatantly and horribly true. It’s something to do with the way in which they work; each model activating, moving, attacking and existing individually is a bit taxing to someone who cut their teeth on the “just roll for all of ’em” approach of WFB and post-second-edition 40K.  That they don’t have to shackle one another within 2″ but are instead free to move around within a circle of diameter usually between 16″ and 20″ which moves with one key model only adds to the brain-fatigue, as does the presence of two or three such units in the successful Warmachine army, which is the ultimate cake-taker.

And yet… I’ve been doing all right with the Retribution, so far, with one unit of ten, one of six, one of four and one of two angry elves making their appearance in my 25 point list.

Partly it’s down to the rules on the units. The Houseguard Halberdiers, for instance, have Shield Wall and Combined Melee Attack, which encourages them to bunch up into little tight-knit groups of three or four, moving and attacking together. They also, crucially, have Ranked Attack, which eliminates many of the cludge-up problems I usually experience with units; the rest of my army shoots and consequently can pretend the Houseguard aren’t there. The Dawnguard Invictors have a similar principle; Defensive Line jumps them from ARM 15 to ARM 17 if two of them are standing together, and two of them standing together are pumping out the effective RAT 8 POW 12 Combined Ranged Attacks that I’ve been finding so effective of late. Aiyana and Holt tend to stand next to each other in order for Ayisla’s Veil to do its thing and make them both Stealthy. Only the Stormfall Archers are actually individual actors: the rest of my units are pairs or small groups, such that a unit of ten models might comprise five or fewer actual actors, since models will tow others after them to maintain Shield Wall or Defensive Line, or to share targets for Combined Attacks.

Partly it’s my sense of what the army should be doing. The Houseguard are chaff which occasionally charge to clear routes or tie up enemies; their activation is generally “run and fan out” in the first turn, then “close in and Shield Wall” in the second, then “charge” in the third. The Stormfall Archers like to close the distance so they can pick more fun things than just Snipe; their activation is usually run on turn one, move and shoot or aim and shoot on turn two, aim and shoot on turn three and thereafter. Only the Dawnguard are complicated and even they are basically moving and shooting or aiming and shooting until lanes are clear for them to charge. Everything has a job to do and does it.

Partly it’s that the actual games I’ve played have suggested roles for the infantry.

Against Skorne, in a No Man’s Land mission, the infantry were necessary to keep those marauding Titans at bay. By maintaining some depth between the Halberdiers and Dawnguard, I could ensure that any Trampling Titan would get free-struck and Dawnguard-charged into ineffectiveness; by keeping the Halberdiers in tight knots I could back-stop them against slams and prevent the Titans ploughing into my lines that way. That the early push with the Halberdiers left one in charge range of Hexeris to actually seal a game was sheer blind luck and not something which I planned for or deserved at all, but still!

Against Khador, meanwhile, the infantry’s job was to contest the Mosh Pit scenario area, and create overlapping threat ranges through which it’d be tricky for him to advance his Demo Corps without, again, entering Free Strike City. I don’t know what possessed me to bunch them up in deployment – it made them spray-bait for the fully armed and operational Winter Guard Death Star – but their acceptable ARM kept them going and they did conveniently block Sorscha’s Line of Sight to the Stormfall Archers and Ravyn, on whom I was relying to actually eliminate those Khadoran infantry and claim the Pit.

For someone who dislikes infantry, I’m actually finding them easier going than the warjacks. I’ve been finding that the potential of the Retribution ‘jacks isn’t quite met by their actual impact; not that they’re bad, just that I seldom have much to do with them other than move, pot-shot, and put them somewhere where they’ll draw attention by looking scary. Perhaps I’ll review the House Shyeel heavy chassis next week?

[WM/H] Road to SmogCon: Decisions and Revisions

For those canny folks who bought their SmogCon tickets ahead of the game, last night marked the pre-registration for the tournaments and organised casual hobby time (you know what I mean, the stuff where a space needs to be set aside, like speed painting or RPG stuff). With my fingers a-hoverin’ over the trackball, I was there right on time, eager to shimmy into the 35 point events while everyone else was battering for the generally-preferred 50-pointers. In order to make sure that everyone got some formal games in and nobody over-committed and burned out, registrants were allowed to pick two tournaments and two non-tournaments for the course of the weekend.

My original plan was to take on the Hydra (hail Hydra!) event, on the grounds that I’d only have to buy and build one 35 point army plus four alternate casters; a much more achievable prospect than three 50 point armies with no FA: C choices repeated, and then to dip my toes into competitive Malifaux with the Hardcore event on the Saturday.

And then I thought about the £60 I’d just spent on the two infantry units for my Retribution – I went for Houseguard Halberdiers and Dawnguard Invictors in the end, incidentally – and the £10 or so that each run to the Clapham club for a practice game sets me back, and the current confusing state of Malifaux (I still can’t walk into the shop and see the rulebook on the shelf, which is kind of a bummer when you’re trying to get into a game), and I said to myself, “self, do you really think you’re going to be able to practice a 35 point Retribution list with five different casters and learn to play Malifaux to a standard where you won’t slow-play and get your head around the IKRPG by February?”

“Probably not, no,” said I.

So here’s the new plan. I’m still taking the Gremlins to SmogCon, but I don’t intend to inflict myself on the tournaments for that system. Instead, I’m signing up for Midnight Madness: Scalpel on the Saturday. Another 35 point Warmachine event, single list but with a sideboard capacity (you can swap out things that cost the same number of points, but you have to swap out actual cards, not just upsize and downsize units). That sounds… fun, and within my financial and tactical remit.

Admittedly, there’s the small problem of my being a career Morning Person and so usually braindead by about nine p/m. However, I also live less than an hour’s train ride from the convention. This is promising.

My cunning plan is still slightly nebulous. If someone is kind enough to lend me floor space in their hotel room on the Saturday – someone who’s playing in a daytime tournament and so won’t be needing it – I’ll crash at SmogCon and buy them dinner or something. If not, I’ll just catch the first train home on Saturday morning, sleep in the comfort of my own sweet bed, dine in on Saturday evening and then troop back out for Midnight Madness. My two casual sign-ups have been expended on some IKRPG time on the Sunday – a nice, no-pressure come-down that I can probably walk into with naught but a nap and a shower to my name – so it won’t be worth coming home on that day anyway.

Things like food can also be manipulated around this; I’m trying to avoid paying stockbroker-belt hotel prices for too many meals. At some point closer to the event I’ll have to weigh up the available cash and establish whether it’s cheaper to eat/sleep at home and pay extra train fares, or crash at the convention and eat out all weekend. At the moment I lean toward the former option, but we’ll see.

There is a budgetary constraint on this operation, but it’s looser than might be thought; basically, whatever money I get from selling off my Necrons is going towards building the Retribution and attending SmogCon. I’m not sad to see the Necrons go; I’ve had fun with them over the last couple of years but 40K is such a massive palaver and I only play it a couple of times a year, a long way from home, with people with whom I can just play other games.

At present, the financial situation looks like this:

  • IN
    £80 from sale of Necron units (after eBay fees)
  • OUT
    £53 – ticket
    £60 on extra Retribution stuff required for competitions
  • SHAKE IT ALL ABOUT
    Projected £200 from selling remaining Necrons, surfeit of 40K tokens, unused RPG rulebooks &c. &c.

So, slightly over budget at present. Better hope those Necrons shift.

[WM/H] Road to SmogCon: Retribution List Building

As we discussed before, my basic Hydra build is looking a bit like this.

[Warcaster]

  • [House Shyeel heavy of some sort]
  • Griffon
  • Sylys Wyshnylarr

Full Dawnguard Invictors / Nyss Hunters (always an option, and could serve in other faction contexts)
Full Houseguard Halberdiers
Stormfall Archers

PLUS – exact choice dependent on cash and points available
Aiyana and Holt
Unit Attachments for Invictors and/or Halberdiers
Eiryss + Arcanist

I’ve been noodling around with possible ways to make this build concrete – trying to use as much of the stuff I already own as I can, for economy’s sake, without compromising battlefield effectiveness too far. If I can get away with spending £45 or so on the two infantry units and an Arcanist, I’ll be happy.

The Dawnguard vs. Nyss option is something that’ll ultimately be decided by factors on the edge of gameplay. One: will I seriously follow through on that idea to build a pGoreshade Theme Force at some point? (If so, the Nyss could appear in all my Warmachine forces, and strike me as an extra-special-value purchase just for that.) Two: will I actually be able to get hold of them? (I’ve seen one box on shop shelves and Privateer Press’ UK supply line has these… moments of intermittency.) Three: would I prefer to build and paint Dawnguard than my third unit of Nyss Hunters? (Almost certainly.) Four: how many of the Retribution casters will prefer an in-Faction unit? (I’ll have to look and see. Might be a future post in that.)

Anyway. The lists.

Continue reading “[WM/H] Road to SmogCon: Retribution List Building”

[WM/H] Road to SmogCon: Hail Hydra

Hydra, as a format, could be tailor-made for a player like me who prefers small games, doesn’t have the disposable income for two or three lists’ worth of stuff, and is a long-term believer in the whole ‘run the same good stuff with a different caster and see how much the game changes’ approach to Warmachine.

It demands a single 35 point list, assuming that 5 warjack points are available, and five different warcasters, to whom numbers are assigned. At the top of each round, the caster choice is randomised; if a four is rolled, everyone in that round uses their number four caster. It’s a four-round event, so there’ll be one caster you just don’t get to use. This is not only within lunging distance for me, but the kind of scale toward which I’d be working anyway; the list suggested by Capture and Control as a decent ‘starter’ force happens to include a whole bunch of things I think are good.

The list features Dawnguard Invictors and a Griffin for solid Flank-tastic fun; the ‘jack of all trades Phoenix (although mine seems rather lacklustre, maybe because I don’t at present own an Arcanist, maybe because it’s having to take point in my games, maybe because I keep forgetting that it has a sodding gun); the cheap Houseguard Halberdiers who provide one-way see-through chaff; and the potentially-devastating-if-they-ever-hit-anything Stormfall Archers.

There are, however, problems.

One: that list has six warjack points, not five, and I’m reluctant to just chuck out the Arcanist (that little sod is needed to make the Retribution heavies do anything worth doing). I’m also very much aware that some of the warcasters I’ll be running would really, really benefit from having Sylys Wyshnalyrr around, for the extra range on the spells and the free upkeep and the help with getting those Arcantrik Bolts, Strangleholds and Death Sentences off.

Two: that list doesn’t use everything I already own, and it includes a couple of high-cost low-volume pay-for-rules options in the form of the Unit Attachments. They’re certainly good, and I’d like to have them, but money is not abundant and if I can get the list ticking with stuff I own rather than stuff I’d have to buy, I’ll be in a generally more comfortable position.

The simplest way to get to 35 points is just to drop the Halberdiers down to minimum size, freeing up 3 points – one for the rogue warjack point and two for Sylys. I’m not sure that an eight-man chaff unit is really a good chaff unit, though, and I’m also not sure I want to buy ten Halberdiers and only field six. Does anyone else miss the days when Privateer Press sold minimum-sized units? If I wanted a maxed-out unit I’d just buy two boxes – two minimum or one maximum, problem solved, no need for blisters.

Other options include chucking the Unit Attachments (frees up four points and a lot of cash – maybe a Soulless Escort for somebody, or a second Arcanist to get both the ‘jacks swinging harder), or downgrading the Phoenix to a slightly cheaper heavy.

This last has a certain appeal – the Phoenix is excellent but I struggle to get the most out of mine, possibly because I don’t have other pieces to do the heavy hitting but possibly because the gun and the arc node and the decent melee weapon and the Combustion are a few too many options for me. The thought occurs that with Sylys in the list, the arc node may not even be essential. With extra range on the non-channelled spells, the casters could potentially operate closer to the front lines; most of them have some sort of weapon or ability which encourages being played up-front, too. I used to play Epic Magnus that way and blimey, it was fun getting to use stuff other than focus!

The other options with the kit I’ve built are the Manticore (sufficiently punchy to not need the Arcanist, and could be fielded with Aiyana and Holt or both UAs if I can afford them, but a right old focus hog) or the Hydra (more economical in terms of focus, could be fielded with Eiryss or an Arcanist and one UA if I can afford them).

Decisions, decisions. At the moment, here’s how it’s shaking down.

[Warcaster]

  • [House Shyeel heavy of some sort]
  • Griffon
  • Sylys Wyshnylarr

Full Dawnguard Invictors / Nyss Hunters (always an option, and could serve in other faction contexts)
Full Houseguard Halberdiers
Stormfall Archers

PLUS – exact choice dependent on cash and points available
Aiyana and Holt
Unit Attachments for Invictors and/or Halberdiers
Eiryss + Arcanist

[WM/H] Road to SmogCon: Introduction!

SmogCon and I have a not-terribly-storied history. Since the convention started running two years ago, I’ve either had the time (but not the money) or the money (but not the time) to attend; the case of affairs has only been magnified by travel and accommodation costs, and the extraordinary pace with which tickets have sold out. Not this time, buster, no sirree; this time the tickets came on sale right when my last full-time paycheque was still in play, and this time the con’s in Guildford, a trifling hour’s train ride from my nearest major station. This time, there will be no excuses; no duckin’ an’ divin’, no muckin’ abaht, none of it. This time I’m bloody well going. At the time of writing, I’ve my eyes on three things.

Continue reading “[WM/H] Road to SmogCon: Introduction!”