Friday, July 18, 2014

Back in the saddle with Warmachine

It’s funny how things come full circle. Alternate worlds used to be the center of my gaming world. Thanks to a persistent outrider, I got suckered into their weekly GW sessions, eventually becoming one of the store regulars. That lasted for a couple years, until GW opened a store nearby and stole most of the action. Over time I drifted away from AW. I liked the store, the people, and the players; I just didn’t have much reason to visit. The only time I darkened their door was to pass a few minutes waiting for my number to be called at the haircuttery. Then a couple years ago MQ asked me to pair off for one of alternate worlds’s two headed giant tournaments. The experience was so much of a hit that we’ve been informally rocking the 2hg scene ever since. Back in May, while we were playing in a sealed tournament, I walked over to one of the miniature gaming tables between rounds. The store was hosting a once a month war machine/hordes league—the sound of which drew me as the moth to the proverbial flame. I spent my down time heckling, helping a newer player with the basics of fury management vs. focus, and basking in the aura of actual miniatures on the table.

The league manager encouraged me to come back and join the next round. I said, truthfully, that while I was interested, I hadn’t played a real game of warmahordes in almost seven years. Cherylkat and Corc had played a few sample matches with me, but nothing that left me feeling even mildly proficient. I felt self-conscious. I’ve kept up with the MKII rules in a general sense but my play skills have definitely lapsed. The League manager, a store employee by the name of Jason, pointed out that they had people who played their first game of warmahordes—ever in that month’s league. That took the sting out of my objection. I decided to give it a try. I’ve wanted to get back into miniature gaming for a while. Starting in a league within walking distance was as good an opportunity as I could have asked for.

I’ve spent the last two months reviewing the rules, getting my play kit together, and working with Deathquaker to get my army painted. I picked up a battle foam army transport. I collected a selection of counters, measuring tools, and objectives. I read strategy articles. Mostly I dreamed of the day when once again I would take to the field of honor.

July sixth, I hiked up the hill for my first day back on the wagon. When someone says “league” I imagine a group of 20+ players, some veteran, some learning, and some fresh behind the ears. AW’s league consists of about six players including the employee sponsor. I walked in and found that the only players were Jason and another new-guy who I had previously arranged to sell my ill-fated Vlad force. We paid our entry fee, concluded our business, and set up a 4x6 table for some battle box learning.

I have a lot of theoretical experience with the current rule set. While I haven’t played in years, I’ve kept up with the forums and releases. So, While I wasn’t the person to teach advance tactics, I felt qualified to walk Nate, the other player, through his first game. He opted for the standard Khador battle box—Sorcha, Destroyer, and Juggernaught. I took my default league starter, The Butcher, a decimator, and a Kodiak.

Game 1:

Given our lack of recent experience, we opted for a clear board with no terrain. This approach has drawbacks, but it lets you learn the basic mechanics without having to worry about lines of sight, difficult terrain, and deployment preference. It’s a good teaching method for a player’s first few games. Nate got the high roll and chose first turn. We set up in mirror configurations—with our casters an inch or two behind our jacks pushing the front edge of our deployment zones. I set up directly across from his forces—insuring that this would be a quick game.

Turn 1, we ran our jacks and cast upkeep spells. Turn 2, we took pot shots at each other. Turn 3, we engaged. Sorcha froze my army. Her battle group took some whacks at me but couldn’t make it to Butcher. Butcher stood up, unfroze himself, popped feet, charged Sorcha, and broke the ice queen with his first 5d6 damage roll. Game 1, butcher.

Game 2:

As this was supposed to be a learning experience, we decided to switch armies. Wielding the butcher is kind of like driving a SUV—you know you’re one of the biggest baddest things around. On the other hand, looking across the table at the butcher is a lot like standing on the third rail in front of an oncoming subway—you know damned well that if you don’t do something quick you’re going to take a whole lot of physics to the face.

We set up in more or less the same configuration as the previous game. I won the roll-off and went first. Round 1 and 2 went exactly the same as before. In this situation you are almost always going to run your jacks and cast your spells followed by a turn of pre-contact positioning. Turn 3, I did the math and found that butcher sitting at arm 22 with 4 focus camped was essentially unkillable unless sorcha punched way above the bell curve. I allocated 3 focus to my juggy, popped the butcher with a raiser wind and a boosted hand cannon shot and ended Sorcha’s activation. I activated the juggernaut, checked distance, and found I was just out of charge range. Nate allocated focus to his Kodiak, unfroze butcher, cast full throttle, popped his feet, and charged my poor juggy. The Kodiak unfroze, charged Sorcha, and crushed her like a beer can with its first attack. Game 2, Butcher.

My opponent had to leave at that point. We shook hands and agreed to face off in the next event. While we were playing, one of the customers walked around the table—asking questions and expressing interest. I offered to play a battle box game with him. I was happy to run a demo, especially since the only other potential opponent was Jason and he had a store to manage. The Demoee, Matt, selected the Cygnar box set as his preferred battle box after some lively discussion of faction characteristics. I returned my models to my deployment zone and prepared for war—again.

Game 3:

I love seeing an experienced strategist work their art on the field of honor. Matt hadn’t played warmachine before—but the man knew wargames. This was a long game—surprisingly so considering it was a demo. I cut my teeth back in MKI fighting Striker’s battle group back before escalation was published. I had no illusions that he was an easy mark. Striker isn’t the flashiest of the battle box casters. He is a solid all-round leader with a flexible toolbox and a balanced battle group. Sorcha has to either directly assassinate striker or attrition his battle group to the point where she can pin him down. Between knockdown, disruption, arm/def enhancement, snipe, ranged, melee—Striker covers all the bases.

Matt won the roll off and chose to go first. I set up off to the side—attempting to get Striker-and-CO to string out while wheeling to engage. That—didn’t work. Matt had clearly watched Sorcha pop her feet during my game with Nate and was wise to my plan. Matt advanced remorselessly, holding striker back behind his battle group while sniping with the charger.

What followed was a brutal back and forth. The charger hit Sorcha with a boosted shot while the ironclad and lancer mixed it up with the juggernaut. I feeted early trying to break his iron wall but rolled poorly on the subsequent damage. Matt did a great job using models to block charge lanes and LOS. I finally managed to maneuver a charge with Sorcha. She wind rushed, stepped up to the plate, boosted, and whiffed. I bought another attack, boosted, and whiffed again. I bought a third attack, boosted, and hit for less damage than I needed. Striker activated and administered final justice. Game 3, Striker.

These were fun games. Not only did I get three solid games under my belt; but both of my opponents walked away talking about buying additional models—good for the league and good for the store. I enjoyed the simple low-variable battle box format. It was a nice way to get my toes wet.

Things I learned:

1. I need to work on my positioning and threat range estimation. These are fundamental play skills—ones that I took for granted back when I was playing competitively. I used to do this kind of thing on auto pilot—making the right decisions without a lot of thought. Now I’ll have to pay a lot more attention to the basics.

2. Sorcha has evolved to a very different kind of caster than I used to play back in MKI. The ability to shake stationary and knockdown with focus (icy gaze and tempest) fundamentally changes the way she is played. I could write a tactica on the issue at this point. Suffice it to say that you don’t have 2+ rounds of free action any more. In battle box games, you need to pop the feet only when you’re making an assassination run. Sorcha has one round to make her move—meaning she can’t afford to squander her feet.

3. People say power 12 kills casters. Playing the beet stick faction, I haven’t run into that much…until now. Look at you little charger all grown up. The charger can kill Sorcha in one round with 2 moderate boosted shots. That plus snipe is terrifying.

4. The butcher has changed a lot since his original incarnation. He’s no longer a solo who happens to pull a jack or two along with him. He has, and I still can’t believe I’m saying this, become more of a support caster who just happens to be able to wreck face. I picked PButcher as my main caster namely due to his theme force—which looked like a good balanced vehicle to re-learn the game on. The more I read about him, play him, and see him played, the more I like him. The Butch finally has game as more than a 6 focus solo.

5. I’m going to spend some more time on boxed games. There was a time when battle box games were for demos. After playing three consecutive iterations of Khador, Cygnar, and a modified league build for butcher, I really like the changes PP has made to the boxed battle groups. I need more practice regardless, but the fact that there is now a real challenge to the process is nice.

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