Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The making of an action hero--Something different edition.

A year ago I started seriously training for the next alien invasion, dinosaur reanimation, or Ninja world domination plan. I began eating better, exercising, and generally trying to get more active. A couple weeks ago I severely sprained my ankle. Dealing with this has caused me to review my priorities.

Fitness is less of a race to a goal and more of a life-long adventure. It’s easy to get focused on eating organic, building muscle, losing weight, increasing energy…etc. It’s satisfying to point to that one aspect of fitness and say “yes, I’m winning” even when laser focus on one priority is causing everything else to suffer by comparison. At the end of 2013, I’d lost 40 pounds, started exercising, and begun eating better. By March 2014, foot problems stopped me exercising…which lead to a drop in motivation…which lead to eating worse…which meant that even when I started exercising again I wasn’t able to gain back all of the lost ground or lose the gained weight. I’ve spent the last six months seeking a balance between frequency, intensity, and diversity of activity. Unfortunately, while seeking that balance I let the diet go. I have a health shake for breakfast most mornings. I order out less than in the past. I often seek healthier options. That said, when we do end up eating fast food, I rarely pick from the healthier choices. Often, when I can and should turn down eating out, I don’t. I’m better off than I was a year and a half ago. But, I’m not as well off as I’d like to be either.

The challenge is that fitness, weight loss, making you into a better version of you, requires hundreds of small decisions every day for hundreds of days. It is an ongoing process subject to the vagaries of life and human weakness. The bigger the deck stacked against you, the easier it is to fold and walk away from the game. To continue the metaphor, the more times you walk away from that table, the less likely you are to return for another hand. I’ve come to the conclusion that I need to make some structural changes to my approach. It’s easy to prevent my ankle from being sprained again—I just have to get my boots refurbished. That addresses the short term issue while ignoring the larger problem of momentum though. I lost a significant measure of drive over the last couple months. My goal shouldn’t be to make up lost ground, it should be to accelerate. I don’t know if I’m saying this very well. I feel I’ve fallen into the trap of dealing with the little problems, exercising a few times a week, and eating somewhat better and calling that victory when in reality there’s no way my current pace will get me to my goals. I’m pretty sure they call that complacency.

Yesterday Squish and I joined a gym. I love exercising. I hate finding the time to do it. I hate bouncing, jiggling, and sweating my fat ass in front of a bunch of young toned millennials. It’s like high school all over again—with the additional potential to run into a coworker or member of senior management. On the other hand, they don’t matter. I’ve been putting this off because I couldn’t justify the expense in time and coin until I could actually do more than 20 minutes of sustained exercise. As of the last two months I’ve been able to maintain 45 minutes of intense cycling on the stationary bike. Squish wants to get back in shape. We have similar goals. The gym has daycare. The price is reasonable. I get a corporate discount through work. The more I looked at it, the more I convinced myself that not jumping on this opportunity was hypocritical—either I was serious about getting in shape or I wasn’t.

We walked in, dropped MX off at childcare, signed the papers, paid our memberships, filled out a survey, and…started working out. It was like coming back to an old friend. I lifted free weights in high school, college, and even a year after college graduation before exercise fell to the bottom of my to-do-list. We wandered around, tested out the equipment, and talked about a routine. I got 15 minutes on an elliptical, 15 on a recumbent bike, 20 minutes of upper body work on the stack machines, and another 15 on the elliptical while Squish tried out the pool. It felt normal—as if I never quit in the first place.

Today I’m sore. I need to get some dedicated workout shorts and shirts. I need something better than a cloth grocery bag to carry my gear. I have to put together a program. I will be revising my diet. If I’m going to spend 2+ days a week at the gym I need to make sure I balance that with private time with the brunette. There’s a lot to be done. I’m scared that I’m making a big gesture that will end up with Squish and I losing interest and squandering money. But, for the first time in a while, I have hope. I’m savoring the novelty. It feels like I might, just maybe, be able to make this thing work.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The end of the league, or third time's the charm.

This past weekend marked the final event for my LGS’s warmahordes league. I’ve been preparing for the conclusive confrontation by having my shock troopers and Kovnik painted, reading up on tactics, and reviewing the rules. Normally we’d be playing on the first Sunday of each month, but this time the date was pushed back. I called the LGS Saturday to confirm my wife’s mimic miniature figures would be ready when we finished the league the next day. Jason, the league organizer, got on the line and sounded perplexed. It turns out I misremembered the date. The event was Saturday, not Sunday, and I had already missed the first game. I hobbled around my apartment on a recently sprained ankle—furiously putting newly painted models into my case, getting my kit together, and cleaning up. A friend ran me up to the store where I barely made the afternoon’s second game.

Jason paired me with Corbin; one of the league’s more experienced players. We sat down and discussed options. I mentioned that I could field up to 50 points—though I’d never played at that level before. It turned out that he hadn’t either…but he wanted to see that much tooth and scale on the table. So we started grabbing models. Right off I had issues. I had forgotten 1 of my shock troopers. My Kovnik’s axe arm broke off in transport—which about broke my heart. Between the mix up with the date, the broken model, and general chaos, I was completely out of sorts when we threw down.

My List:

Butcher Heart of Darkness, +6

Marauder -7

Marauder -7

Kodiak -8

Decimator -9

MOW Shock Troopers -8 (Using the injured Kovnik as the unit leader)

4 man hunters -8

Yuri the axe -3

Widow makers -4

Widow maker marksman -2

Corbin’s list:


Blackhide Wrastler

Ironback Spitter

Bull Snapper

Full Gatorman Posse

Full Gatorman Posse

Gatorman Witch Doctor

Totem Hunter

Wrong Eye and Snapjaw

Bull Snapper

I’m familiar with Maelok. I’ve been toying with the idea of starting gators for a while and the zombie voodoo saurian was the reason why. He’s a strong warlock with good attrition and assassination tech. I looked at the table and couldn’t figure out which one of us had an advantage. There were two pieces of terrain—a rock outcropping half way up the left side and a small enclosed position half way up the right side. It was an open killing field—which would have been nice if my bombardiers had come in. Alas, they are in the painting goddess’s capable hands. I should have asked for a little more terrain but all I could think about was getting down to business.

Corbin won the roll and opted to go second. I deployed my shock troopers and war caster in the center of the board with the MOW slightly to the right. Corbin deployed a posse directly across from the Butcher. He put Maelok and the snapper behind the spitter and wrastler on the right. Then he placed Wrong eye and the other snapper behind Snapjaw and the second posse on the left. The totem hunter took the far left—ready to flank my line. Following this, I advance deployed the rest of my army. The jacks formed a flying ‘V’ with the Kodiak and Decimator ahead of the two marauders on the wings—all in front of the butcher. The widow makers and marksman deployed on the right flank—slightly ahead and to the right of the shock troopers. Yuri and his hunters deployed on the far left. My plan was to bum rush my jacks into a caster kill while my left flank carved through his support and the right flank stalled his advance.

Turn 1, I ran forward while casting fury on the Kodiak. I wanted to put iron flesh on the widow makers, but I was out of range. My left flank spread out anticipating a counter charge. Corbin advanced slowly while casting death pact on the right hand posse.

Turn 2, I up kept fury and allocated 3 focus to the decimator. I advanced a little bit. One of my man huntresses charged over the outcrop and killed the totem hunter—go pathfinder. Butcher moved slightly right and forward in order to cast iron flesh on the WM. The widow makers advanced into a bating position and stripped 4 points off the wrastler’s spirit with the help of the marksman. The shock troopers moved to the side and forward getting into shield wall. They angled to countercharge anything that went for the WM. The decimator moved forward, called a shot on the nearest left hand posse member, but was out of range. Corbin took this opportunity to engage my front line. In retrospect I should have kept advancing since he had a longer threat range than I did, but at the time I hoped to bate him into exposing his battle group before an assassination run. The right hand posse charged the widow makers and two MOW, managing to kill 1 WM and slightly damage 1 shock trooper. The spitter took a shot at 1 of the unengaged troopers—doing a point of damage to 1 MOW and corroding 3 with the blast. The left posse charged my decimator and managed to destroy the cannon while removing about half its boxes. Both battle groups advanced slightly. The witch doctor turned the left posse undead. I think we were both a little distracted by the size of the game. I had to remind him a couple times that he could boost attacks with war beasts. The decimator isn’t a living creature, so the left hand posse never should have been able to charge it.

I started turn 3 with some challenges. I wasn’t sure what order to activate my jacks to maximize their threat potential. I was concerned about Maelok’s respawn-assassination™ trick. I knew that I had to kill that left hand posse or things would be…difficult. I could have spent a good 20 minutes thinking out my turn. However, after 3 minutes of decision paralysis, I decided that I needed to act. This was one of those moments where the perfect was going to be the enemy of the good if I let it. The corrosion expired on 2 of the shock troopers and plinked the unit leader for 1. I checked butcher’s control area and up kept the spells on the Kodiak and the MW. There was no way I could catch my battle group with the Butcher’s feat and get the right flank as well. I also couldn’t get him into the thick of things without a major assassination hitting me next turn. I Activated Butcher, took cover behind the Kodiak, popped his feat, and cast full throttle. The Decimator trampled over 2 posse, killing them, and based up with the witch doctor. I should have given it a focus to buy an attack, but like I said I didn’t want to stand around for a half hour working out the perfect turn. One of the marauders combo slammed a poor poor gator into one of its friends, rolling max damage and knocking the other gator down but not killing it. The other Marauder killed its closest gator but wasn’t able to slam it far enough to finish the remaining KDed posse. The Kodiak was blocked by the right Marauder so moved to block line of sight and charge lanes. I backed the WM out of combat, losing the marksman and another trooper to free strikes. The 2 surviving WM failed their command check and proceeded to moon the gators. The shock troopers walked into combat with the right hand posse, killed 2 gators, and remained in shield wall. The man hunter gang set up to counter charge WE&SJ.

On Corbin’s turn, Maelok’s snapper frenzied on the spitter, rolling massive damage but leaving all its spirals active. The spitter took a shot at Butcher but missed—deviating over a marauder where it did no damage. Maelok advanced, resurrected a gator from each posse, and popped feat. Wrong Eye and Snapjaw submerged. The wrastler tried to get in range to use its animus on the knocked down gator, but was just out of range. Both posse charged and swung for lethal on the butcher.

Game 1, Maelok.

I love reading pro battle reports. They make it look easy. Unfortunately, reading only gets you so far. This match was a classic example of how theory does not trade with experience on a one-for-one basis. I’ve read hundreds of Maelok battle reports. I absolutely knew what he was capable of—in theory. In practice, I don’t have the experience to judge distances and assess threat ranges to the degree required to evade his assassination. You could argue that Corbin couldn’t have made that assassination run without having first made the illegal charge on the decimator—and you’d be right. That being said, Corbin out played me. I think he deserved to win.

Things I learned:

1. 50 points is big, like really big. After playing games like 40k and FOW, the model count of a 50 point army seems very small. The challenge is that there are a lot more individual decisions and tactics to work through with warmachine than with those products. This means that while the count may be significantly less, the complexity of play is often greater. I could have done better if I hadn’t been so rushed. Even so, I think keeping the games smaller will help me brush up on the basics—which I clearly need.

2. Speaking of being rushed, that did not go well. I usually have my game together, bag packed, rules read, accessories selected well before I have to leave the apartment. Rushing through the process really shook my focus. I’m going to push myself toward an informal death clock going forward. This game highlighted my need to develop better focus and prioritization. Basically, I need to start playing under pressure.

3. I need to get used to the idea of peace trading. Most of the time I’m not going to get off the alpha strike—that’s just the reality of SPD 4. I should have been pushing my shock troopers and man hunters up the field every turn. I jockeyed for position and lost the initiative. Warmachine is unusual in that the guy who plays defensively or obsesses over placement too much is usually setting himself up for failure. I need to practice preparing to receive a charge as much as setting up a charge of my own.

4. Widow makers go-in-freaking-cover! I put them exactly as far as they could get from where they needed to be—which was on the outcrop sniping. Granted, facing an all-multi-wound force they aren’t going to be as effective as I’d like; but they could have done so much more. I flat out derped that one.

5. MOW take charges, they don’t make charges.

6. If I keep playing the man hunters as a single unit, it may be time to look at doom reavers or some cut-throats.

I finished the league in first place. I’ll write up my reflections on the combined experience later—but this was fun. I learned a lot, won some swag, and got to play some great games against fantastic people. The league was intended to help the newer players build up our armies—which worked well in my case. The coming months are going to feature a couple low point tournaments. For the first time in forever I have a consistent warmahordes outlook. Life is good. Now, if the store would start an adults night with a bourbon bar I’d be in heaven. Perhaps that’s something to suggest wink-wink Nudge-nudge.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

The next Warmachine list

I like building things. I spend hours making characters for RPGs—obsessing over getting the numbers to match the concept. I apply the same process to list building. I read the forums. I review articles from prominent players. I do the math over and over again until I get a list that is worth putting on the table.

My latest obsession is Harkevich, the iron wolf. There’s something about his combination of escort, broadside, and pathfinder that feels like thematic gold. Karchev the terrible is aptly named as far as I’m concerned—terrible. Don’t get me wrong, he’s all kinds of fun, but his reputation isn’t born out on the table. I want to like him mainly because I long for an effective jack caster for the Mother Land. Enter the iron beard. Harkevich provides his battle group consistent mobility, ranged options, a decent accuracy buff, and a feat that is lightning in a bottle. Plus 3 armor for a round is bonkers good let alone a free ranged attack, free charges, and power attacks.

The challenge is making a list that takes advantage of those characteristics while remaining fun and competitive. After reading multiple battle reports and list discussions, my enthusiasm for Harkevich hasn’t dimmed—though it is tempered by a lot of dojo work. Building a list for Hark makes you want to take all the jacks to maximize the additional movement granted by escort and BG-wide pathfinder. Unfortunately, all-jack lists have significant limitations—most casters don’t have enough focus to run more than a couple jacks at peak performance, the restricted army size means it’s easy to hamstring the components, and your control area poses range limitations. Second, while hark can get his battle group where it needs to go, he doesn’t have much to boost the damage output once he gets there. In other words, he has some serious tech for scenario play, but less so when it comes to removing heavy armor. This is one of Khador’s problems as a faction. We have great jacks from a durability standpoint, but they take work to get stuck in, hit consistently, and do the damage. It doesn’t help that the advent of gargossuls has most players gunning for heavy arm skew lists as a matter of principal. Harkevich is unusual in that he solves the movement issue. However, he is like most Khadoran casters in that he solves one problem while lacking the tools to consistently address more than one of these issues at a time.

Mindful of this conundrum, I began crunching numbers with his theme list. I got to a 35pt core:

Harkevich +5

Black Ivan -9

Spriggan -9

Spriggan -9

Winter Guard Field Gun -2

Winter Guard Field Gun -2

Full winter Guard Rifle core -8

War dog -1

This is a tidly little arm skew list. I prefer the field gun to the mortar because, even though it’s a less effective unit, it takes me a while to resolve blast deviation. The fact that it costs a point less and helps fill the tier requirement is a nice bonus. The spriggans hit hard, bulldoze, and have game with their grenade launchers. The rifle core is a good long range unit, especially when left to aim. Covering fire makes for a nice board control option.

My next step was turning it into a viable 50 point list. I try to build everything in 35 and 50 point increments with a few switchable units and solos for flavor. This gives me a flexible force to play with at multiple levels. Here’s where I started to get frustrated. I couldn’t get those last 15 points to work. The best option for fun and profit came out as a Kovnik with 2 berserkers. Everything else didn’t provide enough threat projection for my taste. Granted, I’m odd in that I prefer smaller units so the WG death star doesn’t appeal. That said, adding two more jacks to Hark’s battle group seemed like too much, adding one jack didn’t leave enough points to flesh out the list, and cutting points from the 35 point core to add conquest put too many eggs into too small a basket. The difference between 35 and 50 point lists is huge. The balance between a big enough force to handle objective scenarios and enough power to address a gargosul or 2 is a very thin line—a line I assume my lists will have to face in league play at one time or another.

I scrapped the theme force idea for now. In its place I began looking at out of theme ways for Harkevich to get mileage out of 3 or 4 jacks while being able to play offense. My ideal list has:

• Several jacks that can hit hard and move quickly.

• A solid output unit with good defense—10 or fewer models.

• A support unit that can pinch hit for the battle group and the infantry.

• Enough punch to have a shot at dealing with Gargosuls.

• A few toolbox solos to deal with a variety of challenges.

This was easier said than done. I ended up looking at 3 different types of lists. The first built off four demolishers. This didn’t have the punch I wanted—4 armor 25 jacks are nice, but only if you can get your money’s worth out of them. The second was a winter guard focused force with strong shooting. This one had too many units and was too squishy. The third list focused on making conquest into a wrecking ball. I liked the idea behind it, but what I ended up with was conquest and a bunch of squishy mercenary solos. Conquest can’t do the work of an entire army, no matter how big he is.

I had an epiphany working on the conquest list. Most of the support I was considering boiled down to Ragman, Gorman Di Wulfe, and Eiryss II. That’s 7 points. One of my problems with conquest was that once you dropped another couple jacks in Harkevich’s battle group and added some mechanics, the support-to-army ratio was way out of whack. Conquest just cost way too much. Then it came to me. Why not switch conquest for Behemoth? Usually I avoid character jacks, but compared to conquest, big B was 6 points cheaper, had arguably better shooting, and would be a lot easier to transport. After that realization, the rest of the list assembled itself. Greygore Boomhowler and Co make for great tarpitting and decent offensive output. Alexia Ciannor and the risen form a perfect rear echelon reserve. The war dog is a nice security solo for Hark, who has to work towards the front to get his jacks stuck in. I was sad I couldn’t fit in mechanics, but you can’t win them all. The list became a serious contender when I realized that I could drop the war dog and add Valachev if I used pButcher instead of the iron beard. Ten trollkin charging under the affects of fury and blood frenzy is an idea whose time has come.

My working list is:

Wolf pact:

Harkevich +5

War dog -1

Spriggan -10

Spriggan -10

Behemoth -13

Ragman -2

Gorman Di Wulfe rogue alchemist -2

Eiryss, angel of retribution -3

Greygore Boomhowler and Co -9

Alexia Ciannor and the risen -5

I’m under no illusions that this is going to be a top-flight offering. It has more offensive output than most Harkevich lists that I’ve seen, but it’s still a relatively small army that is overly dependent on a 33 point battle group. It balances well between getting to where it needs to go and hitting decisively. Most important for me, it’s of a manageable size for my limited abilities and builds from models and units I like. Will it win all the time?—probably not. It won’t ROFLstomp a double stormwall list, but it will build well and play consistently. Basically I’m looking at it as a good learning vehicle that uses a bunch of models I’ve always wanted to play.

My standing rule is that I can’t buy into a new list until I complete the one I’m already vested in; so it may be a while till Harkevich hits the table. I would have to buy the models and find someone to paint/assemble them and my 2 main painters are really busy right now. Even so, I’m really looking forward to building this project.

Note: I drew a ton of assistance from Harkevich’s thread in the PP forums:


OrsusSmash’s blog at:


Was incredibly helpful. If this post has anything useful in it, they deserve notice.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

I am changing

One of the first things you see in my bedroom is a line of footwear. There are a few pairs of discarded shoes—replaced but not worn out enough to be thrown away. My water shoes lie beside my trainers. I have two pairs of Rockports—one for formal occasions and one for more casual events. My every day boots are a pair of Danner akadias. These are so well worn that the heals are ground down at an angle and the tread is almost gone in some places. The Rockford umbwes, my business casual choice, show a little bit of wear on the toes but are in otherwise excellent condition. The dress boots haven’t left the bedroom since I gave them their inaugural coat of mink oil. I spend most of my life in the Danners with occasional diversions to the UMBWEs. That’s how my life breaks down. I spend most of my life dressed for casual tactical. Once a year I may have to put on the suit and tie with the dress boots.

I’m not altogether comfortable with this division. When I started working for the bank life was spent in a suit and tie. I worked so much overtime that casual didn’t happen much. Then the dress code changed and the only difference between work and the out of doors was whether I wore a polo or T. Now everything is mixed up.

I have this default idea of what I look like. It use to be a well dressed business professional who slummed it on the weekends. Now I wear combat boots to work. I have a utility belt. I carry my lunch in a maxpedition versapack loaded with

EDC gear. I wanted to be James Bond, Paladin, and the well dressed man of action. This practical tactical thing doesn’t match up

I have a good life. It’s just not what I expected. I pictured myself in the tux not the Carhartt. I came to this realization last week when I was waiting to get fingerprinted for my HQL—more on that in another post. I sat down with the range owner and was negotiating the sale of a couple of my colt revolvers. It is my practice to try and trade instead of selling on consignment. I don’t like all the paperwork, the waiting, getting the money—it’s simpler for everyone to work out a deal and shake on it. I told him what I had. He gave me a number. I looked in his case and said why don’t we trade for this nice new S&W Governor? I’ve been looking at the governor for a while as a compromise survival/recreational revolver. It was an easy pick. What surprised me was how utilitarian my tastes have become. Sure, I want to fix everything up and make it pretty. There was a time when I wanted antique pieces as much for the cache of the brand as their utility. There are a few, like my Colt gold Cup, that fall in that category. But most of what I own and what I want to get are quality tools.

Society tells us to be ourselves. I’m not sure what that means. Who am I? I know who I want to be. I know how I want to be perceived. My experience has been that people judge you by your clothes, your gear, and your personal choices. People make assumptions about what kind of person you are your interests, your beliefs based on seemingly trivial details. In this case I’m changing. It’s not bad, it’s just different and I’m not sure what to think of that.

To be fair, I’ve always looked a little askance at the weekend warrior wanabes. I like military gear because it’s durable—and I need that. I like my shades because it was cheaper to buy a pair that could double as range glasses and sunglasses. I like boots, so I got the most comfortable and durable all-weather pair I could find. I guess you never outgrow the high school desire to be accepted or the teenage fear of being viewed as the poser.