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.