Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Crossroads of courage, Round I

This past Sunday was the first session in my FLGS’s crossroads of courage campaign.  Since most of the players are new, the T.O. kept the minimum points down to 15.  If you and your opponent wanted to raise the bar that was up to you.  “Weeks” are actually months for us—so week 2 will be played in January.  I am talking to the T.O. about moving to a rumble format since I feel that better fits the community’s skill level and resource count.  He seems open to the idea.


I spent the previous night organizing my models and equipment.  Measuring sticks—check.  Focus/fury tokens—check.  Objective markers—check.  Models and cards—check.  I had the T.O. review my gear just to be careful before riding over.  I was hopped up for this game—new caster, new campaign, real scenarios—I wanted this session badly.


My list:

·       Decimator

·       Juggernaut

·       Rorsh & Brine

·       Holden Courage


I got to the event early.  I was not sure when we would begin; so spent my first hour clearing out one of those green felt 4x4s with a diagonal gravel road.  The table started not just cluttered but brimming with terrain.  By the time I was done, it looked like a proper abandoned manufacturing center.  From my perspective, the left side of the board had a castle rampart, complete with gate and guard tower, running the length of the table.  If you got behind the wall, you could climb it using a pile of rubble on the far side while the gate was closer to my deployment zone.  The center of the board featured a fortified position in each deployment zone and a central crater field.  On the right, 3 large block buildings ran the length of the far side--forming a beautiful ruined city-scape for anyone with the means and motive to grab some elevation.  This would funnel attackers into a central killing field if they chose to go head-to-head while providing strategic advantages to those willing to break to the sides.  Note, I should have paid more attention to my own design theory but at the time I just wanted a pretty war zone.

It turned out only one other person had shown up—near-holiday gaming attendance being what it is.  I had talked to him about other systems and pickup games before but this would be our first time going head-to-head.  He admitted straight up that this was a demo/learning game for him—which was fine what with this being my first time playing Zerkova I.


Mike’s list:

·       Forge Master Syntherion

·       Galvanizer

·       Cipher

·       Modulator

·       Attunement Servitors

·       Holden Courage


We spent a couple minutes familiarizing ourselves with the scenario and each other’s abilities.  I am ashamed to admit that I am not as familiar with convergence as I should be.  I looked at their original release specs, saw that they required precise positioning/turn order, and ran screaming.  We took our time since we were only going to get one game in and the store closed in 4 hours.  He went Sewer.  I went with Reapers.

       The blizzard scenario is an odd duck.  It is essentially a caster kill game with random LOS distance (3d6 inches rolled at the beginning of every turn) and 3 flare markers placed by each player before deployment.  Anything within 4 inches of a flare loses stealth, concealment, and is fair game for LOS regardless of the blizzard roll.  I think Mike had a better plan.  I set up a lit field where I estimated we would make contact.  My hope was that with Zerkova’s cloud wall, spells, and the decimator’s gun, I could get some decent shooting done turn 2.  I didn’t want a poor range roll to stop me.  Mike set up an interlocking field of illumination with mine—turning the center of the board into a giant spotlight.  There was nowhere to hide around the 24-inch mark.  At the time I explained the scenario conditions and assumed that he had some Rube Goldberg plan in mind.  Note to self, give professional programmers more credit for planning in future.


1.       I lost the starting roll.  Mike decided to go second.  I deployed in 2 cohorts.  Zerkova set up as far to the left as I could get her between the castle wall and the far-right ruins.  She had the decimator on her left and the juggernaut on her right.  Rorsh, Brine, and Holden went as far right as I could get them in that central band.  Without any major ranged presence, there was no point in working for an elevated view.  Plus, I was pretty sure my start of turn blizzard roll would fail me even if I stuck Rorsh and CO. on a roof somewhere.  Caster kill was not just the scenario win condition; if I could get-er-done by turn 3 I would earn a bonus point.  I hoped Rorsh could flank the enemy battlegroup and take out the forge master turn 2 or 3.  Mike set up his vectors facing my jacks with his caster almost against his board edge.  The attunement servitors were as far forward as he could get them in front of the vectors.

2.       Turn 1, Zerkova casts watcher. She walks forward and drops a small cloud wall.  Everything else runs forward.  Mike puts Hot-Shot on the modulator and Reconstruct on the cipher.  He moves the servitors up at speed while his battlegroup barely advances.

3.       I do some quick measuring and find that Mike’s cautious movement means there is almost no way for me to get to his caster by turn 3—well played sir, well played.  Zerkova upkeeps watcher and allocates 1 focus to the decimator.  The juggernaut runs forward again.  The decimator walks forward, misses its first shot, and blasts a servitor into scrap with its second.  Zerkova walks forward and tries to hex blast a second servitor into its component parts.  While we are reviewing the card it turns out that this model came with the MKII documentation (facepalm.)  The store has updated cards so after a little delay to resleve the new materials, Zerkova finishes blasting the servitor.  I leave her on 1 focus.  Rorsh and Brine run forward.  Holden tags the third servitor wiping the unit.  Galvanizer moves base-to-base behind the Cipher.  The Cipher lobs a blast template at Zerkova.  It misses doing no damage.  His Holden takes a shot at the Kommander and misses as well.  The modulator takes 2 boosted shots at Zerkova for 6 damage total after she spends a focus to over boost her power field.

4.       Top of 3, I allocate 2 to the decimator.  We do a bunch of measuring and referencing.  Zerkova can only use one of her artifacts per spell so there is some question as to how to maximize her damage output.  It turns out that I am only going to get one casting at this due to how far back his caster is placed.  I figure it is probably better to go for the attrition now since there is no way I can assassinate his caster this turn.  Zerkova lets watcher expire.  His vectors are never coming in range so might as well save the focus.  The Kommander hex blasts reconstruct off the Cipher.  She pops feat sitting on 3 focus.  The decimator nails the Cipher with 2 boosted dozer shots but I roll terribly and it still has half its boxes left.  The juggernaut runs into charging distance of his vectors next turn.  The pigs keep running.  Holden takes a shot at the Forge master but misses.  The forge master’s ability kicks in and starts repairing the cipher.  Syntherion advances and casts convection twice at Zerkova, hitting her once for trivial damage after boosted power field and leaving him on 0 camp.  The galvanizer does some work on the cipher.  The modulator moves up to block the juggernaut from getting any ideas.

5.       Top of 4, clobbering time!  Zerkova allocates 1 focus to the decimator.  She moves into LOS of Syntherion and misses with her first hex blast.  Her second boosted casting hits for minimal damage.  The decimator boosts and hits with both shots but flubs the damage rolls.  Holden takes a shot and misses the forge master.  The juggernaut walks up and smashes the modulator down to half its boxes despite not having been allocated any focus beyond powerup.  I have one remaining shot at this.  We check some non-linear movement options and find that Brine can make it into combat.  Rorsh uses diversionary tactics, almost kills Holden (oops), and sends Brine into charge position.  Brine activates, Charges, boosts to hit with the gore, and splatters Syntherion.  Game-Zerkova or Rorsh?  Who gets the credit when you have a lesser warlock/Jr. warcaster?


Post-game musings:

1.       What is this no speed, accuracy, or damage buff nonsense?  Zerkova is a lot more about control than directed aggression than I am used to.  Part of that came down to Mike holding back.  By turn three I wanted to yell “get over here.”  I was lucky I brought Rorsh & Brine or Mike could have kept me sprinting after him for another turn.  Thank god I had the decimator.

2.       Zerkova really does-not-like-to share focus.  I mean _really_does_not_like it.  Ignoring watcher and ghost walk, her main tech is cloud walls, frost hammer, and hex blast—which in this Meta means hex blast.  She can cast HB twice with 2 allocated boosts using her full stack and focus sphere.  I picked up Sylys back when I decided on the Kommander.  Looks like I need to get him on line pronto.

3.       This game highlights the challenge in playing under 35 points in this edition—especially with a non-battlegroup centered caster.  Zerkova wants tools to damage and control the field.  That means jacks like Ruin, Behemoth, and Conquest.  I would like to try her with Hutchuck, gun carriages, and field guns too—maybe a couple Kodiaks when I get them up and running.  At 15-points, I do not have the resources to make full use of her toolbox.

4.       I really need to get my hands on a conquest.  I am not sold on Victor but conquest solves the 4 floating WJ point problem Z1 has with Behemoth and gives her some needed board control.  If she bases up with the big guy he can even make P+S 22 watcher attacks for her.  I feel the same way about Hutchuck—got to get her some board control options.

5.       R&B are not clutch pieces but they sure do have nice reach.  I wish Brine had better game against warjacks.  Still, that nonlinear 14-inch threat is hard to defend against.  I’ll leave them in for now—maybe a gunboar?...hmm.

6.       I like playing something other than straight caster kill.  The flares added unexpected depth.  I cannot wait to try a full on S.R. game at 75 points.

7.       Mike might have just got lucky but his plan worked very well.   Had my assassination fallen through, I would have been sitting on 0 camp in front of most of his army.  There was some difficult terrain and the juggernaut had the modulator locked up but I am pretty sure Syntherion could have gotten the job done on his own.  He delayed me long enough to keep me from earning a bonus point and gave himself an extra round of shooting.  If I had not popped feat on turn 3, he probably would have taken me out.  It does not help that his entire army is built on giant constructs without easy targets for Zerkova’s rod.


Good times were had by all.  Next month we will hopefully end up with some more people.  Here is hoping.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Sorscha1 updated tactica

The following is an updated tactica for Sorscha 1 with the new edition in mind.  Your mileage may vary. Feedback and heckling are welcome.


I have mixed feelings concerning Sorscha 1. On the one hand, she’s a hell of a threat. She’s fast, has a great feat, and definitely brings the noise. On the other hand, she’s a high defense squishy warcaster in a faction that favors beat stick melee powerhouses—and then there’s the matter of her older colder version. I can’t pick up her new model without remembering her younger days.

Back in the early days of MKI, a friend said he had a surprise for me. He pushed three models across my kitchen table. We spent the next few months slugging it out between my Khador and his Cygnar battle box. I fell in love with the Motherland when I took a sip of bourbon and said for the first time “Sorscha pops her feat and…” Sorscha wasn’t just defined by her feat; her feat made her the bar by which I measured all comers. She froze everything in her control area. Back then there was no way to shake stationary affects. She would walk up, pop feat, freeze everything within her control range regardless of line of sight, and use tempest to knock things down. Then she, the destroyer, a hand cannon, or a raiser wind would drop on your caster. If you survived that, the next turn you stood there and did nothing. Then, with your pieces still knocked down, you’d watch while Sorscha’s entire army unloaded for a second turn—terminating your warcaster with extreme prejudice. It was the single most ball bustingly hard core feat in the game. Sorscha wasn’t just a faction defining model; she set the standard for bad ass. Khador dominated national tournaments with variants on that strategy over and over again…feat, knock down, kill caster. She was so good that I felt bad playing her against all but my most competitive adversaries.

Now a days, freezing the enemy battle group is not as game breakingly harsh as it once was. The line of sight restriction and the ability to spend focus to unfreeze and stand up renders icy gaze powerful but tolerable. Never the less, playing Sorscha in MKIII feels like going back to your home town and finding out that the captain of the football team who gave you swirlies, took your lunch money, and stole your girlfriend is the guy manning the drive through window at McDonalds. You don’t want him back the way he was…but it steals the mythic proportions from your nostalgia.

Sorscha is still all about her feat—especially in larger games. There are a couple reasons for this. First, she brings very little qualitative enhancement for her forces. Fog of war is a great passive bonus in the early game but does not play to Khador’s strengths of high armor and devastating hitting power. PButcher and PVlad are fantastic casters because they throw the opposing warnoun into the hurt locker with authority and they offer excellent support spells—signs and portents, wind wall, full throttle, fury, and iron flesh. They make already good units amazing while simultaneously posing major threats on their own—and that’s not even taking their feats into account. Sorscha can set up attacks with freezing grip and tempest, but she doesn’t boost Khador’s specialties to epic levels or gloss over its weaknesses. Further, setting up those attacks requires her squishy 14 armor base to be dangerously forward. On average, she’ll die to 2 attacks worth 45 boxes (essentially 2 unboosted P+S 15 hits.) The upshot is that there’s Sorscha and there’s her army. Outside her feat, the rest of your points are on their own.

Second, the ice queen is greedy. She wants to throw down wind rush, tempest, boosted hand cannon shots, multiple critical freeze generating reach attacks with shatter, move-boosted freezing grip-wind rush to safety, and boundless charges at ridiculous distances. Every once in a while, she’ll have a focus or two to throw at a jack or boundless charge a model; but those are the exceptions. She doesn’t “share” well.” So, between her lack of support spells and a dearth of spare focus, her two defining characteristics are her feat and her speed.

If you accept these limitations, PSorscha is an excellent warcaster. She won’t be supporting a huge battle group but Khador has plenty of independent units and models to make up the difference. Some jacks, like the marauder, can happily run on the power up focus alone.  I prefer taking focus efficient jacks anyway. Anything that can make do with single focus runs/charges is helpful. The Kodiak is an excellent choice with free run, pathfinder, the ability to threaten massed infantry with vent steam, LOS blocking cloud affect, and a chain attack which auto triggers on her feat turn.  Likewise, the devastator is a great choice for holding zones, threatening large units, and slamming/bulldozing stuff out of the way.

Sorscha operates best on the theory that the best defense is a strong offense. Her spells and mobility predispose her to a front-line role. You can use wind rush to advance, act, and then retreat, but at some point, you’re going to need to freeze/knock down something that will require her to extend into risky territory. Thus, she likes infantry that are independent, can make use of her feat turn, and that keep constant pressure on the enemy. The winter guard deathstar is an obvious candidate, but certainly not the only one. I like widow makers with marksman, gray lord outriders, gun carriage, MOW Drakhun, Uhlans, eliminators, field guns, Hutchuck, and the elf to start. These models force your opponent to play defensively or take heavy casualties.

It’s tempting to build an all ranged, all melee, or similarly hyper focused force to maximize the benefit of icy gaze. This is a mistake—especially as point values increase. Skillful players will deploy in such a way as to limit Sorscha’s pre-feat movement and line of sight while maximizing counter charge lanes and fields of fire. You are better off building a combined arms list which does its own heavy lifting—using icy gaze to swing the tempo at key points, capitalize on an opponent’s error, or force your opponent into sub optimal model placement in order to minimize its impact. In this way, the threat of icy gaze can be of more use than its execution—either your opponent deploys to minimize IG’s affect or they risk disproportionate losses.

Do not underestimate the value of freezing grip.  Beyond her feat, one of her best moves is move, boosted freezing grip key model/unit, wind rush away.  This was not possible in previous editions but with FG’s reduced cost, S1 is hell on wheels against any kind of massed infantry.

So, let’s talk about icy gaze. I think of Sorscha’s feat thusly. “Once per game, Sorscha can threaten up to 19 inches. At certain points in that movement she will make every enemy model within LOS and 12 inches easier to hit.” Some models are immune to cold. Models with focus/fury can shake off stationary. Some casters like Harkevich have spells that completely negate IG past your turn. Because of this I celebrate the games where Sorscha lets me run amok for two turns—but I don’t count on it. If Sorscha is popping her feat, it’s because I’ve found an assassination lane or because doing so will let me permanently swing the correlation of forces in my favor. You use icy gaze to make sure victory is a foregone conclusion or you don’t use it at all. In most cases the feat comes out to set up an assassination.


The process runs something like this:

1. I remind myself that I am in control of when the ice queen makes her move. Bating Sorscha is a time-honored sport raised to an art form by experienced players. The longer you go without popping icy gaze, the more you want to. I start every turn asking myself, “can I win the game with Sorscha this turn?” If not, no feat.

2. I measure 12 inches. Sorscha’s charge range is 6 movement+3 charge+2 reach. Put another way, any model completely within her control range is fair game.

3. I assess lines of sight, relative distances out to 19 inches, and difficult terrain. If completing an assassination charge is going to go through terrain or put Sorscha’s base between 9-11 inches, then I’ll need to cast boundless charge. If I don’t start my turn with LOS to the opposing caster, then the rest of my army needs to make a road or I am going to need to use wind rush to reposition. If the target is outside 13 inches, then I’ll need wind rush to put me in range. Note that the riskiest feat turn is one where you use wind rush and boundless charge. You’ll spend 2/3 of her focus getting to the target—seriously reducing her destructive output.

4. I use wind rush if necessary. If yes, I check her threat range again. Even if she has to use boundless charge, her maximum threat range is 1 inch beyond her current control range.  I want to be absolutely sure that her charge target is within her grasp before going all-in.

5. Boundless charge if required. If not, charge.

6. Feat. Note that you always want to pop before the charge if it will catch more models in Sorscha’s LOS.

7. Attack. On average boosting damage is only worthwhile if your target is arm 20 or greater. Most of the time you’ll be better off buying extra attacks.  Keep this in mind when you are doing the math before charging.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Beginning the Campaign

              This Sunday I will be playing in my FLGS’s first session of the Narrative campaign.  We got a late start due to only “doing warmachine” once a month and the need to encourage players to join up with the journeyman league.


              Alternate worlds is not what I would call a highly competitive venue.  Most of us only get to play when the store runs its events.  For my particular limitations, this works well since I am not holding anyone back.  Unfortunately, to keep people playing, the store runs at very low points values.  This first section will be at 15 points—which is just short of a full unit of Man-o-War shock troopers or Malakov and a juggernaut.

              I find myself preparing for games more than I used to.  I reread the core rules, check discussions and tacticas for my models, and review the scenarios.  That last is important since your choice of team (reapers or sewers) gives you different bonus point potential and victory conditions.  I chose reaper since I have a newly painted Zerkova 1—which by store standards should put me in for one bonus point.  Rorsh and Brine will be my 15-point army along with a decimator and juggernaut.  This is…less than ideal but has the virtue of letting me play some new models while putting a lot of threat on the board for such a small force.

              I have never played a caster like Z1 before.  Kozlov was about as straight forward as they come.  Zerkova has lots of tools between cloud walls, boosted sprays, and hex blast.  I do not know how useful rod of whispers is going to be in this small a points range but even without grave door she seems to have a strong assassination potential.

              My concern is that facing Josh’s protectorate wedge of sadness again ™ or any list with three heavies leaves me at a distinct disadvantage.  R&B, for all their mobility, are not especially durable.  It feels like my best bet is to ignore the scenario and go straight for assassination unless my opponent brings a decent clump of infantry.  Meh, I am going to have to read up on throws and the like again.  At least Rorsh comes with a boostable gun.  Widowmaker marksman he is not but against mid-level infantry he should hold his own.  Also, in the messenger scenario, he’ll be my only solo which may end up killing Brine but could win me the game.

              Regardless, this is my list.  I shall take to the mountains for Empress and country.  I shall unleash freezing death upon my enemies.  Woe to those who dare face lady Z’s wrath for they shall learn the truth of the age-old question of how the world ends—in ice, lots of ice.

Considering Kozlov

Rounding out my review of Khador’s new battle box, we shall consider Kozlov, friendliest of the Northern warcasters.  As usual, any mistakes are my own.



              Kozlov is a beefed-up iron fang Kovnik.  Tuff, defense 15, and Arm 17 render him bullet resistant.  MAT 7, precision strike, and P+S 12 weapon master on his axe give him enough punch to threaten all but the most durable heavies.  Sidestep and SPD 6 leave him surprisingly mobile.  His feat gives friendly faction models within his control range +2 move and unyielding.  He features average focus and warjack points.


·       Avalanche—gives AOE attack with critical knockdown.

·       Raiser wind—standard Pow 12 magical zap.

·       Fury—Upkeep that gives +3 melee damage and -1 defense to a friendly faction model or unit.

·       Tactical supremacy—Upkeep that gives reposition to a friendly faction model or unit.

·       Chosen ground—Upkeep that gives Kozlov’s battlegroup pathfinder and steady.



              Kozlov is a tempo caster.  He tunes up a couple quality units with fury and tactical supremacy.  At the critical moment, his feat sends his army sprinting into battle where unyielding helps them weather counterattacks from whatever survives his charge.  While Lord Goat can get his hands dirty, he prefers to work the mid field—enabling the rest of his army rather than personally leading the charge. 



            When Kozlov was first announced a lot of us compared him to Butcher 1.  It made sense—weapon master, durable stat line, big freaking axe, fury, feat that turns his army up to 11.  So, when I started building old goat lists for my journeyman league, my first reaction was to make a face wrecking train of doom.  It turns out Kozlov is a far better support caster than front line combatant.  Once he has 2 upkeeps running and one of his jacks loaded for bear, he does not have the resources to take on heavies single-handed.  So getting him to work well required a change in perspective.

            The key to getting the most out of Kozlov is understanding that everything revolves around his feat.  All of his abilities are geared toward powering up models/units/his battlegroup in order to maximize his list’s output when he goes all in.  The optimal play is to charge everything forward end of turn 2 and remove 25-50% of the enemy force outright.  If your opponent has anything left to threaten you after that, unyielding should throw the attrition game even further in your favor.  If the alpha is out of reach, your army can always run forward and jam—setting up for a turn 3 assassination.



            I like everything on a caster’s card to have a purpose.  Unfortunately, a third to a half of Kozlov’s spell list is dead weight.  Avalanche is too expensive on a caster that will always be upkeeping at least 2 spells and loading a jack—especially since hitting and fishing for crits requires him to boost to hit.  Raiser wind and avalanche are two redundant “I can do magical damage” spells on a caster who ends up farming out most of his stack each turn.  Chosen ground—his signature spell—should be amazing.  In practice I found it to be useful but far from game warping.  Do not get me wrong, battlegroup wide pathfinder is nothing to sneeze at.  The catch is that it only came into play 2 out of 8 games.  Steady looks good on paper but did not do anything for me.  Unless I wanted to set up a throw chain, even if I had steady active, I still had to sacrifice a movement or action if hit by a knock down affect.  It does not help that pathfinder and steady are natively available on the Kodiak and devastator chassis.  For a signature spell, chosen ground left me unimpressed.  Replacing steady with sturdy would make Kozlov into a scenario monster but sadly such is not the case.

            Kozlov “helps” lots of models.  What he does not do is offer much strategic flexibility.  His game is won or lost on feat turn.  Beyond that turn, all he has is fury and tactical supremacy.  This left me feeling as if I was a spell short or an extra ability shy of a full caster.  I have heard it said that Khador plays a fair game well.  Kozlov exemplifies this perception—and in my opinion this leaves him somewhat wanting in the larger competitive environment.


Notable strategies:

Warmachine is all about the signs and portents rule.  Everyone can benefit from signs and portents but there are some models that gain a lot more than others with S&P on the board. Put another way, warmachine is about magnifying great models, not papering over the weaknesses of lesser offerings.  So, Kozlov loves two types of models.  His feat adds movement and armor to engaged friendly faction models.  Movement benefits everyone but especially high threat range pieces.  armor tends to help higher armor models with multiple wounds.  So, we are looking for fast high armor multiple wound models—cavalry.  My preference would be for Uhlans and Drakhun but outriders certainly wouldn’t mind the help.  Malakov 1 with redline on a jack also benefits heavily—you have not lived till you have thrown a fully loaded juggernaut 11 inches on a free charge ending its turn with arm 22.  Eliminators? Heck yes!  I would even look at manhunters and Uri.

            Second, Kozlov loves some solid ranged support.  Widowmaker scouts and marksmen are the obvious choice but do not overlook mortars and field guns.  Since ranged options probably won’t be mixing it up in hand-to-hand, the usual mercenary shooters are also great additions.  Grab Behemoth or a gun carriage to cover both options.  Kozlov needs his targets taken down a peg to set up his charges and insure successful one-round-removals.  Anything that can threaten heavies and infantry turn 2 is worth consideration


Fury’s musings:

            Kozlov is one of the best battle box casters to learn the game with owing to his simple order of activations (turn 1 cast fury on the juggernaut and tactical supremacy on the decimator.  Run forward.  Turn 2 charge if going second, or wait just out of charge range to bate your opponent out if going first.)  Other than allocating focus and picking when to feat, you do not have to make many decisions.  This leaves fewer opportunities for strategic blunders than with other casters.  At high skill levels the game becomes more competitive—I would even say bad for Khador once Cryx learns to maximize the reaper and parasite for example.

As the game gets bigger and bigger Kozlov starts to look a little tattered around the edges.  The original prime casters have great feats that enable their strategies.  However, they all have strong toolboxes outside their feats too.  Kozlov has no such depth.  Even at 75 points he comes down to who is getting my 2 upkeeps and when will I pop feat?  This consistency is handy if you are just learning the game but if you have some experience under your belt I think his small toolbox holds him back.  He asks a single question—a great one mind—but just the one and he only gets to ask it once.

            As previously stated Kozlov also does not have a lot of juice to offer a large battlegroup.  Even at 50 points I was glad Malakov was there to pump up my third heavy.  The ease of turn movement kept my clock down but that was a result of his simple style, not my experience.  In a game that favors larger battlegroups Kozlov feels like he wants 2 quality jacks at most—probably Behemoth and a juggernaut or Kodiak.  That smaller battle group and straight forward approach is a feature in the beginning but started to feel like more of a bug the farther I got down the rabbit hole.

            As a relatively new player I love_playing_Kozlov.  Outside the field of honor, I keep comparing him to other casters.  He is not as aggressive as the butchers.  He does not have the flexibility of Malakov 2 and the Irusks.  His feat is not as ball-busting as Sorscha 1.  Unlike many of our casters, his fiction leaves me with a definite feeling of “meh.”  Whenever I read his back story I expect the author to include something to the effect of “and he is good with children too.”  I feel like he should swap out a little nice-guy for a little more bad-ass.  Lacking that, He falls firmly in my list of second tier choices.



            Kozlov is a solid stepping stone for new players.  He offers a strong simple game that easily expands beyond the battle box.  He does not challenge Khador’s design space much.  He works the fundamentals—and that is a good thing for new commandants.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Consider the juggernaut

Continuing my review of Khador’s MKIII battle box, today we shall consider big red’s archetypal melee jack, the juggernaut.

Standard disclosure…all mistakes are my own, comments welcome, bla bla bla.



The juggernaut comes with the usual Khadoran 10-20-34 for defense, armor, and boxes.  It looks like its factional equivalents the crusader and ironclad.  It has a single open fist and a capable melee weapon in the ice ax.  At MAT 7 it hits more accurately than some of our warcasters but at SPD 4 getting to the fight can prove challenging.  Critical freeze on the ice ax means that occasionally the juggernaut will render its victims stationary. 



The juggernaut is a basher, a smasher, a crusher of enemies.  The ice ax is one of the most powerful melee weapons in the game and the juggernaut is a capable delivery system.  Its P+S 15 open fist gives access to standard power attacks as well as making a decent backup melee enabler.  It is built to charge opposing pieces and remove them with extreme prejudice.  First turn, it runs.  Second turn, it charges or sets up to counter charge/contest.  Third turn, it continues pushing up the board.  You can use the big lug to block lines of sight, contest zones, and/or jam opposing pieces; however, it is at its best when applying the ice ax to your opponent’s biggest model.



The juggernaut is the standard against which all heavy warjacks are measured.  It hits hard, can take a punch, and still hit back decisively.  Its appeal is the value it provides for 12 points.  Assuming the juggernaut successfully charges with a full focus loadout, it will inflict 27.5 damage against armor 19.  Tack on support spells and that number skyrockets.  Add in a little pre-charge shooting from widowmakers and most heavies are toast.

            In my testing, the juggernaut was the most effective way to convert one activation and 3 focus into a dead enemy jack/beast.  It hacked most of the way through a gargantuan on its own.  With a little help from the decimator it cleared out 2 Protectorate heavies in one turn.  I found that on average it killed off most of one heavy but with a little support—fury, redline, preliminary bombardment—there was no job too big for the juggy.  It helps that even if you do not get the charge in, the juggernaut can survive a surprising amount of damage and remain combat effective.



            I just spent a couple paragraphs praising the juggernaut to the heavens—and rightly so.  I want to temper that enthusiasm with some experience lest other players expect too much of the mighty juggy.  First, Sir juggernaut is kind of a resource hog.  On average dice he almost kills most heavies—almost.  He can absolutely wipe anything short of a colossal or clamjack on mildly warm dice but only at the cost of a third of your caster’s stack.  If you want to insure his victory, you will need to soften up the target first.  This functionally limits the number of juggernauts most casters can support.  More than 2 and most warnouns are going to have to make some difficult choices.

            Second, the juggernaut is slow.  In order to employ its prowess, it has to make it to battle.  This leaves it in the unenviable position of hoping to go second against overextended targets or use movement enhancers like redline to give it that extra push.  This can leave players having to choose between hoping to bate out/catch opposing pieces and contesting/challenging objectives.  The Juggernaut is not alone in its need for speed, it is however more inconvenienced than most without it.


Notable strategies:

Every caster can make use of the juggernaut.  At base, give it 2 focus and let it go-to-town.  There are a couple stand outs however that really let it shine.  Malakov 1 gives it redline which—pound for pound—is just amazing.  A free charge enabling  a P+S 17 attack, a boosted P+S 21 attack, and 3 P+S 21 attacks is off the charts.  Malakov II gives the juggernaut extra movement with escort, tactical supremacy, and feat.  Harkevich’s feat and reposition let the juggy play outside its comfort zone.  Irusk 1 can boost a juggernaut with superiority, though in most cases he will want behemoth or a colossal.  Karchev turns all jacks up to 11 and the juggernaut especially so with feat, battle charged, and road to war.  Strakhov is a straight up speed buff if you combine superiority and feat.  Vlad 1 has a variety of ways to buff his jacks between his feat, signs and portents, and boundless charge.  Vlad 2’s assail gives the juggy a nice boost though many players will probably look for a character jack in his place.  Vlad 3 is perfectly capable of supporting the juggernaut with infernal machine, feat, and dash.  Kozlov does good things for the juggy with feat turn and fury allowing him to reach and remove targets that would otherwise be out of range.




            It is easy to read this battle report or that tournament list and get the impression that the juggernaut is 16 points of awesome in a 12 point chassis.  I get the feeling that people assume that pointing a fully loaded ice ax at an opposing model is as good as guarantying its removal.  To be fair, it is one of the most efficient killers in the faction—especially when you contrast it with models like Grolar and Behemoth which cost 50 and 100% more respectively.

My experience says the juggernaut is the cheapest way to administer a decisive SmackDown in Khador’s 18 jack stable.  That being said, it is not the be-all and end-all that the hype suggests.  It is difficult to get the juggernaut to combat in prime condition against anyone counting threat ranges.  Its minimal threat range means that without buffs, it is a sub-par player in the scoring and alpha games.  Average damage rolls leave most heavies near-but-not-completely trashed—meaning that if a juggernaut removes a threat, like as not it did so with the help of decimators, widowmakers, and such.  Big red has plenty of buffs to compensate for these deficiencies—Kozlov’s feat turn on top of redline from Malakov 1 is my favorite so far.  So, it is amazing in the value-to-investment sense—strategic versatility and independence—not so much.

            Building battle groups, I keep running into the Behemoth question.  In anything over a 15-point game, why not take behemoth over say 2 juggernauts?  Casters like Irusk, Zerkova, and Sorscha 1 to a lesser extent seem to prefer a single quality jack such as conquest but for everybody else behemoth starts to cramp my list design space.  After behemoth hits the table, all I care about are Kodiaks, juggernauts, and devastators.  From that perspective, the juggernaut seems perfectly executed regarding value, effectiveness, and intent.  Unfortunately, the more I play with the Juggernaut, the more I realize just how over-costed most of our non-character 16 and above jacks really are.

            It is not a question of value, it is a question of what do the decimator, grolar, demolisher, destroyer, and spriggan do that other jacks do not accomplish at a better price point or with less cumbersome rules?  The juggernaut asks a simple question.  If you get within 8 inches of me, can you stop me from removing your piece next turn?  If not, then that piece is probably toast.  That is a compelling question.  It is the question we want all of our jacks to ask to one degree or another.  By that standard, every jack gets compared to the juggernaut.  Frankly, point-for-point, the juggernaut comes out ahead in most of those comparisons.  



            The juggernaut is a reliable attrition piece at an excellent price.  It is the best value removal specialist available to Khador short of a character or huge base due to MAT 7 and P+S 19 on its primary melee weapon.  SPD 4 and a 1 inch melee range somewhat limit its impact but at 12 points you can afford to take 2 or 3 to swing piece trade totals in your favor.  With the standard Khadoran armor/grid even a fully loaded enemy alpha may not remove the juggernaut.  It hits the sweet spot between minimal price and maximum output.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Considering Khador's Decimator

              Today we shall consider that double barreled thumper, that chainsaw wielding powerhouse, that much-maligned giant of the battle field, the Khadoran decimator.  As with all things, these are my opinions based on personal preference and experience.  Salt to taste.  Any errors are my own—please correct me if required.



              The decimator comes with the standard 34 boxes at arm 20, irrelevant defense, MAT 7, and RAT 4—seasoned with the usual lackluster Khadoran speed.  At 16 points, it features one melee component and a single ranged weapon.  The dozer features two shots that range 2 inches beyond the decimator’s run distance, 1 more strength than the destroyer’s bombards, and the beat back special rule.  The rip saw has 2 less strength than the juggernaut’s ax and the sustained attack rule. 



              The decimator’s high strength ranged weapon, low RAT, and moderately high strength melee capacity make it a swiss army jack with a preference toward hitting heavy targets with defense 11 or less.  Turn 1 it runs toward the center.  Turn 2 it gets allocated 1 or 2 focus and dents a heavy, smashes a light, or takes out a couple heavy infantry.  Turn three it jams, uses dozer to reduce targets for other models, or charges in to finish off targets of opportunity.  It spends most of the game blocking line of sight to mid field casters, setting up other models’ targets, and cleaning up after messy charges.  Occasionally it uses beat back to kick heavies out of scoring zones, clear out charge lanes, or open up lines of sight.



Let’s get the obvious out of the way.  The decimator is no juggernaut.  Its 4-point increase over that worthy coupled with 2 fewer P+S on its melee weapon leaves little D looking over priced by comparison.  Sustained attack is only useful on very high defense models which means you will probably be boosting to hit.  So, after you pay 1 to charge and 1 to boost to hit, you only have one auto-hitting attack worth of focus remaining.  Factoring in the decimator’s single initial attack Vs. the juggernaut’s 2 and little D starts looking like a genuinely bad list pick.

              In testing, however, I found several mitigating factors.  First, on turn 2 most games found the dozer cannon one of the only elements able to threaten enemy heavies.  If you add up both deployment zones (10 and 7 inches respectively), the likely first turn 8 inch run from friendly and opposing heavies (16 inches total), and the dozer’s threat range including a 4-inch walk, you get 47 inches.  This means the decimator is almost always in range of something starting on your second turn.  Further, since most players have already cast their upkeeps the first turn, and many melee jacks will be out of charge range in the second, the decimator ended up being the only jack capable of putting a full focus load to use.  So, on turn two I ended up firing off 2 mostly boosted shots at something—usually my enemies biggest baddest model.

              Second, I do not think it is fair to compare the decimator’s damage output to the juggernaut’s one round melee potential.  The juggernaut has to get all of its work done in one turn.  The decimator often got off 2 boosted power 15 shots in prior turns when the juggernaut was stuck twiddling its thumbs.  The juggernaut’s real world combined second and third turn damage output was about even with the decimator.  The decimator also usually took off enough damage that even if it did not follow up its shots with rip saw to the face, the juggernaut was guaranteed a clean kill on that target regardless of whether or not the dice went cold.  Past turn 3 the juggernaut took the lead but since most of my games did not get past the third turn, I found them equally useful.

              Third, while one decimator is kind of equal to a juggernaut early on, a juggernaut and a decimator working together gave me options.  Beat back let me kick pieces off zones, push them out of next-turn charge range, and cripple support pieces that were not worth the juggernaut’s time.  I could set up the juggernaut for a clean kill or go on the offensive and set up the decimator for its own kill in the following turn.  The ability to take two shots at separate targets at full non-blast damage strength gave the decimator a surprisingly versatile ranged output—especially compared to my experience with its battle box predecessor.

              Many players will find that lackluster profile, 4 point ranged jack tax, and clunky rules off-putting.  In a faction full of competitively priced melee heavies the decimator is a fair value.  Whether “fair” is good enough to get little D off the bench is probably going to depend on how big a game you are playing and whether big B is around.



              I feel as if PP looked at the decimator, taxed him for his ranged capacity, and balanced his output so as not to over-shadow the juggernaut.  This leaves him as a nice assistant heavy in a faction that has plenty of better priced heavies able to get work done.  Little D falls in that unfortunate zone of always having something to do but frequently leaving you wishing you picked something a tad more specialized.

In games between 0 and 25 points his deficiencies are less notable.  Beyond 25 points though you start running into economies of scale.  At 50 points, I started asking if I wanted 2 decimators or 3 juggernauts.  Put that way the decimator lost out every time.

              I also feel sustained attack is a trap.  Critical shred would have been more interesting and flavorful.  The truth is that If after boosting to hit and charging I have not killed a defense 16+ model, my follow up attack automatically hitting is such a rare circumstance as to render the ability largely pointless.

              While the sustained attack scornergy is annoying, beat back has a similar issue in that it is possible to push models out of range of your second shot if you are not paying attention.  This is a corner case issue but one that forced me to double check ranges—adding time to my turns.  It also made me acutely aware of the decimator’s anemic shooting threat range.  Even though I usually had range to something, I often found that 2 more inches would have opened up better opportunities.

              Finally, the decimator suffers from a lack of focus capacity.  On turn 2 most people want to boost to-hit and damage.  Unfortunately, a fully loaded dozer only has enough focus to boost 3 of the 4 rolls generated from its two shots.  I usually boosted to-hit on both rolls and hoped my second shot broke armor.  With powerful blast, I feel the decimator would be a reasonable buy.  Without that upgrade it often feels as if it is stretching to reach its full potential.


Notable strategies:

              The decimator takes the spotlight turn2.  This puts your opponent on a clock. they can exchange pot shots with your big stompy robot or move in to threaten the zone while risking alpha charges from your melee elements.  This strategy requires you to use premeasuring and movement shenanigans like tactical supremacy to keep just out of next turn charge range—often while retaining your aiming bonus.

              Vlad 1 and Sorscha 1 help the decimator like most models through signs and portents, freezing grip, tempest, and icy gaze.  Strakhov’s spell sentry lets a decimator get even more out of its gun.  Harkevich’s reposition and broadsides mean that 2 decimators can get 3 shots per round, benefit from the aiming bonus, and advance a little.  Up to 6 inches of beat back on tap would be a serious scoring hindrance in smaller games.  The Man-o-War Kovnik is a decent master for the decimator.  Take aim gives it an effective RAT 8 and assault gives it a little extra punch.  Anything with knockdown—field gun, gun carriage, marauder combo strike, basically anything that makes up for its piss poor RAT—sets up little D for some decent shooting.  I have not come up with an exclusively decimator centered strategy but the model does lend itself to a variety of plans.


Fury’s musings:

              I started out hating the decimator—especially when I compared it to the charger.  The lack of powerful blast really bothered me.  Then I played the model and it grew on me like a cancer.  I played it some more and we are friends…sort of.  Little D is the best value of all our non-character shooting jacks.  Granted, that is a low bar but I will stick by my assessment.

              My principal objection to models like the decimator is that they are pointed at a premium for doing something that the faction is not supposed to do well.  So, we pay through the nose for ranged jack capacity and still have to make do with RAT 4.  Beat back and sustained attack are useful in one-off situations but do not come into play enough to figure as significant benefits.  With range 12, powerful blast, critical knockdown, or a choice of ammunition types the dozer would be a great gun.  With strength 16 and shred I would love the rip saw.  As I have discussed, the decimator’s 2-turn damage output is about the same as the juggernaut’s—less in some cases since dozer cannot benefit from fury or redline and the juggernaut gets a to-hit stat of 7 on all its attacks while the decimator has to make do with a 4 for its turn 2 shooting.  So, I would happily pay 13 points for a decimator.  For 14 points, it would still be an attractive option.  At 15 points, it starts looking a little tarnished.  At 16 points, it shows up on my island of misfit models.

              I often look at my red-jack collection and shake my head at my two decimators.  In smaller engagements it is one of the best ranged heavies in the game.  That boils down to most factions having problems dealing with 2 Khador heavies.  In battle box games those 2 power 15 shots make a huge difference.  Tactical supremacy lets you shoot with an aiming bonus and end your turn moving out of your target’s charge range.  As the points increase though those shots become less and less dominant.  So, by the time I have the points to take 2 or more decimators I rarely have the desire to do so.  I could take 2 decimators or 2 juggernauts and a berserker.  I could take two decimators or one decimator and a juggernaut under Malakov 1.  The grass is always bloodier on the other side of that equation.



              The decimator is a solid jack for a slightly inflated price.  It stays relevant by tilting the attrition war in your favor and backing up the rest of your army in melee.  The model is solid—I love warjack sized chainsaws.  That being said, it is a second-tier choice.