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Warmachine: Picking The Bones (inc. Read And Respond to YTTH)

“Oh, it’s you. Where the hell have you lot been? I could have done with you last week, y’know…”

“We’ve been to SmogCon, Von! Mr. Bandwagon took us to see the world!”

“My models get to go to more events than I do. *sigh* At least tell me you won him some games or something.”

“Well, he did take us for Goreshade’s feat, so…”

I may have given the impression that I am somewhat down in the dumps as regards Warmachine at the moment. Part of that is that there have been a few  rough months where even the £5 to get to the Darklords after work and have some sort of pre-club evening meal has been beyond my pocket, and part of it is that without regular practice, I’m becoming frankly terrible at the game, to the point where I can’t enjoy being beaten (by a skilled opponent) because I’m too busy losing (to my own inadequacies).

Take the game I played against Mr. Stanford last week. Now, Mr. Stanford and I go way back. Waaaay back. To the point where he could legitimately be described as my arch-nemesis. However, we are gentleman rivals and consequently when I find the Cygnar Storm Station terrain piece (or whatever it’s called) and he suggests that we maybe knock up a first-to-hold-that-middle-bit-for-three-turns scenario rather than mess about with Steamroller, we both think it’s a good idea.

Except, and here’s the rub: the game was bollocks. Over in two turns. I blew my feat and focus on failing to kill more than four Precursor Knights (cold, cold dice) and Siege just waddled up, dun his own feat, and blew poor Denny to kingdom come in one shot.

The thing about narrative and scenarios is that you can’t get away with half measures. If you’re trying to engineer a particular kind of game you need to engineer it at the list building level and negotiate what you’re going to take between you, otherwise things like that happen – the scenario never comes into play because the game’s over before it gets there. This isn’t news. The most competitive Warmachine player I’ve ever met has said he’s okay with story scenarios provided players build them and the lists together so the story actually gets to happen and isn’t list-built into irrelevance.

Even the pick-up game or the tourney prep that are the dominant Warmachine experience round these parts are engineered experiences. If we’re practicing for a tournament we’ll arrange games with good players fielding cut-throat closed lists and playing something from the scenario pack. If we’re looking for a casual game, we’ll probably not bring your best list, and we’ll play a fairly generic scenario or even a line-up-and-bash-each-other game. We’re still engineering for an outcome. We just don’t realise it because we haven’t had to sit down and explicitly do it, cleaving away from the usual informal engineering that usually goes on. All games are embedded in some context or other, we just don’t notice the usual context.

The other thing it brought to my attention, this experience with Mr. Stanford, is that I am in fact really bad at Warmachine these days. Arrestingly bad. That’s a hurtful truth, and we know who to turn to when those are in town…

Stelek’s presented this rubric for building Warmachine lists that has raised a bit of a pulse in my (un)dead creativity. I’m wondering how well it’ll mesh with my own new objective of downsizing to minimum units plus UAs and solos so that I actually get a variety of stuff on the board, but there’s only one way to find out!

Let’s build a list. We’ll also be applying a couple of other Stelekian principles along the way, namely deciding on an army before you decide on a warcaster and acknowledging that it’s hole patches that make a unit worth taking.

Working our way down Stelek’s checklist:

  • 2 heavies. The Slayer is a cheap, disposable beatstick that can double-handed-throw stuff around or just stand in front of a ‘caster without me feeling like too much is being wasted; the Harrower is a more solid piece which can mulch infantry but also fulfils a couple of other functions down the line.
  • an arc node. Given how many Cryx casters like to sling spells around, I’ll be taking two; both my Deathrippers.
  • a bodyguard for the ‘caster. Well, many of my favourites are on medium bases, so it’s likely that one of the heavies will be relegated to this role. Another advantage of taking the Slayer and not the Seether; Seethers are ace but Seethers are also expensive and aggressive and keeping one back to put boxes in front of your warcaster is a bit foolish.
  • chaff. Something I most assuredly understand. Mechanithralls are the chaffiest chaff I own, so let’s toss ‘em down. A couple of Brutes for auxiliary bodyguard duty of small based casters, and making the unit into a plausible threat that’s worth wasting effort to kill, and a Surgeon and co. to bring ‘em back if I need ‘em brought back.
  • medium based infantry – or, in my case, cavalry, because I don’t own the Black Ogrun. These seem to fit the Stelek bill perfectly. They’re fast, they can reach through the Mechanithralls, and their bases are big enough to provide a backstop to opportunistic tramplers. Taking Soulhunters means taking Wrathe, and with this many undead dudes on the board, that seems like a given anyway, just to twitch facings and distances for crucial turns (always helpful for me, since I’m actually quite sloppy at distances and positions).
  • artillery. Well, we have a Harrower. That’s probably not enough on its own. Fortunately, Bloat Thralls are cheap, cheerful, and chuck out another 5″ pie plate every turn. Plus I like my Bloat Thrall model.
  • anti-stealth/anti-ethereal. Hmm. Well, what I really need to deal with those are pie plates (got some) and magical attacks. A Siren will chuck out a magical Spray and also help with running nodes into position in the early game. That might not be enough magical attacks. I’m also a wee bit concerned about the list’s ability to handle ‘jacks… so I need a unit that has magic attacks and can put the hurt on warjacks. That’ll be the Combine then.

Now all I need to do is pick a warcaster.

Let’s try the Coven. Infernal Machine on the Harrower or Slayer, whichever wants to go hitting things; Ghost Walk and Curse of Shadows to help with the inevitable movement issues that so many models will create; and they have a decent spell for ethereal sniping or assassinations and, crucially, they have a feat that makes ranged pieces very unhappy. And they can hand out some Stealth (they, the Combine, the Siren, and one unit; probably the Soulhunters, I should think).

Three points left. Normally I’d lunge for the Pistol Wraith at this point, but let’s actually think about this. Another Stelekian principle (or at least, one that can be derived from this post) is to avoid ‘vanilla crap’ in favour of actual synergy. Since I have the Combine, I might want to move a warjack into position to actually be pestered by them. That means… hmm, is it worth replacing the Slayer with Malice for three points?

Of course, I don’t actually own Malice, but part of the whole ‘sell off part of the collection’ logic is to free up money and space for things that are a) better and b) afford more variety. And I’d get a lot of variety from one magnetised Slayer kit; potentially five jacks, albeit at the fairly steep cost of the kit, the two upgrade packs, and of course the magnets themselves.

Sod it. In he goes. I can always borrow one for testing.

System: Warmachine
Faction: Cryx
Casters: 1/1
Points: 50/50

The Witch Coven of Garlghast (*5pts)
* Deathripper (4pts)
* Deathripper (4pts)
* Harrower (10pts)
* Malice (9pts)

Mechanithralls (Leader and 9 Grunts) (5pts)
* 2 Brute Thrall (2pts)
Necrosurgeon & 3 Stitch Thralls (2pts)
Soulhunters (Leader and 2 Grunts) (6pts)
The Withershadow Combine (5pts)

Bloat Thrall (2pts)
Darragh Wrathe (4pts)
Warwitch Siren (2pts)

Hm. Now I’m wondering if I’m actually mentally capable of playing a list with this many active agents in it. 50 points gives me a thumping headache anyway, units make me play like a moose – I just don’t know if I can actually handle the number of actors in a Warmachine game big enough to elevate me out of Rock-Paper-Scissors land.

I can cope with a busy game if I get to go away and reflect and take my time and think about things and make notes – be a GM, in other words – but in a wargame situation I think less may be more for me. Fewer actors, fewer rules, less careful stacking of synergistic elements. Stuff that I can handle in the time-frame available. Could this be why I always end up swinging back to GW? Maybe. It wouldn’t be the first time I’ve had this conversation…

Lexington: WM is also, while fun, just *straining* to play sometimes, in a way that 40K and Fantasy are, in general, not.

Von: Yeah. And I don’t dislike that! But I don’t always want to be strained, either…

Food for thought, anyway. And if words were points, I’d be approaching the sweet spot for a 40K army right now, so it’s probably time to be off.

17 responses

  1. I know you already mentioned this, but practice and playing more games will make Warmachine less “straining” for you. 50 point games are very different than 35 and it took me a while to get used to them. You’re probably better off just sticking to 35 points and playing as many games as possible so you get comfortable with the rules. I appreciate that 40k is less stressful, but part of that is familiarity with the game which comes from playing lots of games over time. Learning to play 40k can be quite stressful when you’re new to the game – learning the assault rules and vehicle damage tables can be quite stressful – but Warmachine gives you less of a headache once you’ve played enough games – especially at smaller levels.

    Best of luck!

    Thursday 22nd March, 2012 at 1:02 PM

    • Von

      As a point of order, I’ve been playing Warmachine for six years and it still gives me brain-melts. I feel I ought to mention that, for some reason.

      Thursday 22nd March, 2012 at 1:58 PM

  2. tzeentchling

    I disagree with a lot of what Stelek lists, though. Arc nodes, for instance, are great with some casters and overpriced pieces of junk with others. Two heavy jacks is nice, at least at 50, and I play with more all the time, but Khador will often go with only a single jack and some Cryx casters can do just fine without any heavies at all. Picking these before the casters suggests that some casters simply won’t get picked. I suppose that means those casters aren’t very good in his eyes?

    I also don’t understand his need for medium bases. Yes, I suppose if you need to block LOS and avoid tramples, they’re important, but that shouldn’t be prioritized over things that can really kill the enemy, or that mesh well with other bits. Bodyguard for the caster is one of those things that he overestimates, because that’s how he plays and denying assassinations is the most important thing to him. But given that he seems to disdain PP’s Steamroller scenarios, I suppose that’s not too surprising.

    I do agree about the chaff and the anti-incorporeal stuff. That’s important to put in for sure.

    Thursday 22nd March, 2012 at 7:52 PM

    • Von

      I’m not necessarily saying it’ll work, just that it’s kicked me into thinking about lists again. I might as well follow the method and see what, if any, results it offers. It can hardly be worse than how I’m playing at the moment…

      Comment would be longer but I’m tired and, increasingly, struggling to maek brain.

      Thursday 22nd March, 2012 at 8:18 PM

      • tzeentchling

        Out of curiosity, why do you (and Stelek, I suppose) feel that units with UAs, WAs, solos, and possibly other special rules aren’t very good without them?

        Let’s rephrase this. I like taking Daughters of the Flame. I think they’re excellent models with cool rules and great defenses. If in the future they released a UA for the Daughters, does that make them any less awesome or likely to be taken without the UA?

        Similarly, in my view, Errants are good by themselves. They become awesome with the UA. If I can take the UA and make a good unit awesome, why wouldn’t I? The solo is nice but not completely needed. Mechanithralls fall into the same category, as might Satyxis. Both good units, made better by the UA and solos and etc. but they don’t need these.

        Friday 23rd March, 2012 at 4:54 AM

        • Von

          I think you’ve missed the point slightly. I don’t know how long you’ve been playing or what communities you’ve been active in, so I might be telling you things you already know here. Sorry about that, but I feel we need to make sure we’re on the same ground here.

          Anyway, Stelek’s perspective, insofar as I follow it, is this:

          PP has a habit of releasing models that ‘patch’ earlier releases which are being talked down by the community. For instance, after the first cavalry appeared, Soulhunters were derided where other cavalry were lauded. The next book saw the release of Darragh Wrathe, who can twitch their positions for optimal attack runs, and gives them the fight-and-withdraw tools of Light Cavalry but the impact hits and health boxes of heavy cavalry; suddenly they’re not “worse than other heavy cav”, they’re “better than other light cav.” They don’t always do this – Drudges, for instance, have never received this treatment, despite the toxicity that surrounds them – but absence of proof is not proof of absence. The generality holds true – PP likes to patch old releases with new ones.

          Whether those were actually Not Very Good releases is not really the issue here – it’s how they’re perceived. Negativity hurts sales, releasing new models that patch the perceived weakness both addresses the negativity and generates further sales of the patch model. Units that didn’t have UAs, WAs etcetera etcetera were often the ones that were perceived as fit for purpose, again whether they were or not. Perception by majority of player base is the thing here.

          Then comes Mark II. A lot of units receive new special rules. No models are allowed to go out of circulation, so the unit attachments can now do something different, instead of patching perceived weaknesses which have at last been dealt with on the cards for the unit. When you have three or four layers of synergy acting on a unit which has itself received new capabilities – Satyxis Raiders leap immediately to mind – you suddenly have what WAS an under-appreciated, potentially under-powered unit, and is now a unit with access to more rules. And since Warmachine is in many ways a game of synergy, the more rules are layered onto a unit, the better it generally becomes, or the more things it becomes able to do.

          So it’s not that the units that DO have UAs are rubbish without them, it’s that the units that DON’T have UAs don’t function in the same way, with the same layering of effects. When Stelek talks about ‘vanilla crap’ I think he’s talking about units which don’t have a UA and a WA and a patch solo and an Elite Cadre bonus. You have to go to more effort to make Drudges good than you do Satyxis Raiders, and given the amount of stuff that exists to make Raiders better, why not just take the Raiders anyway? Sometimes I am taking things that fit like that, but I’m not actually building good lists out of them, which is where Stelek’s checklist comes in.

          I’m not necessarily saying that I agree, for good and all time, with all my heart and soul, with that perspective. He might be wrong. However, I am currently thinking and playing through a quagmire of inadequacies, to the point that I don’t trust myself to evaluate a perspective with any accuracy. I figure I’m going to play Stelekmachine for a bit and see if it at least kick-starts some sort of positive and dynamic thinking about the game. It can’t hurt, given that Vonmachine at the moment is a bucket of slops even a pig wouldn’t enjoy.

          Friday 23rd March, 2012 at 8:35 AM

  3. This could be an interesting experiment, I’ll smash together some lists using the, well guidlines and see what sort of things come out, building the list first before picking the caster seems the reverse of the way the game is initially designed to work.

    The higher point allocation does allow for larger armies and it means instead of building to a tier for its bonuses and synergies you can build a force that has its own cohesion, strengths and weaknesses that players who have built to tiered lists wont nessescarily be able to counter if when they look across the table and see warcaster X with unit Y because that combination isn’t within the tier. In effect the warcaster/warlock becomes part of the army instead of the army being an appendage of the warcaster.

    Thursday 22nd March, 2012 at 10:40 PM

    • Von

      It does seem ass-backwards. That’s why I’m doing it. Doing things the usual way has led me to nothing but dissatisfaction and reflexive, unthinking choices of late, so I figure anything unusual is bound to at least give me a kick up the old jacksie and get me thinking about the game again.

      I’m beginning to think Tier lists are potential honey traps. They offer some interesting capabilities but they may withhold necessary tactical components. The lists I’ve flopped with hardest have all been Tiered, for what that’s worth. I agree that shaking off the chains and surprising people with unfamiliar things and approaches can’t hurt. We’ll see, maybe, how much of the problem is down to the Dudley Darklords being better players than me…

      Friday 23rd March, 2012 at 8:39 AM

      • Kris

        I’ve never thought of most tiers as anything other than fun ways to play a list, that might be competitive. There’s probably one tier list in each book that I might play instead of a regular list (eg Morty, eKreoss, eKaya) but really for the most part they’re there specifically for fun themes. I would play them to have fun, but not with the expectation that I would win against tournament-capable lists.

        Friday 23rd March, 2012 at 3:47 PM

        • Von

          Winning isn’t the operative with me. Never has been. It’s participating in the game. Some capabilities are necessary to prevent yourself being eliminated from participation in the game. Not all Tier lists offer those.

          Sorry for tone, I’m terse when I’m hung over.

          Saturday 24th March, 2012 at 8:14 AM

      • Ok So I’ve slapped together some stuff looking at Khador (since I have the book and am more familiar with the force) on my blog, the main things to note is:

        a) In Khador there are no Arc nodes except Scrapjack
        b) Khador has limited scope for dealing with stealth at range
        c) Identifying the roles and assigning units/solos works when building the ‘normal’ way
        d) ooo link ! http://sithjester.wordpress.com/2012/03/27/warmahordes1/

        Adding warcaster last makes you really appreciate when there are synergies between the caster and the units you bring. Some casters simply do nothing for the rest of the force so identifying a role for them is just as important, ie the caster is the anti-stealth or anti-ethereal component.

        I suspect other forces will have an easier time dealing with stealth/ethereal and may have problems with another component either through costing or functional viability but the list of ‘must haves’ that are there but building the army first before applying the template of the warcaster does seem to help identify where there are gaps and strengths in a force.

        Tuesday 27th March, 2012 at 5:05 AM

  4. sinsynn

    Heya Von, interesting post.
    whitestar has the right of it, practice and playing more are the only things that’ll make you better when it comes to mini games. Otherwise, it’s all just theory.

    I’m currently debating point values in FoW with Stelek.
    I shoulda oughtta known better.
    ;)

    Friday 23rd March, 2012 at 8:03 AM

    • Von

      Mmm. I’m not just going to build this list, that’s for sure; I’m going to play the bastard and see what it does for me. I do think that my underlying pre-game thinking needed a jolt of the ol’ vital forces though, just because I’ve been phoning that stage of the game in for months now.

      Shouldathunkaheada. I don’t find Stelek that hard to deal with to be honest, but that’s mostly because… well, you’ll see.

      Friday 23rd March, 2012 at 8:44 AM

  5. Pingback: Warmachine/Hordes: Playing with the though processes of someone else « sithjester

  6. NickKendall

    @langsion: Khador has plenty of anti-stealth in that they have excellent AOE’s (mortars, Destroyers, Behemoth, etc). The also have one of the best spray units in the game (which ignores Stealth) on top of further sprays on everything Koldun. I recommend trying to remember that “ranged” doesn’t just pertain to Gun Mages.

    @Von: While I personally think that Stelek is full of shit in his understanding of Warmachine, I do understand your intent in trying to escape yourself for list building. It’s the same reason why we try out “netdecked” lists: to attempt using something that we wouldn’t have built. While Whitestar is correct in saying that the majority of skill comes from practice, it’s definitely nice freeing yourself from the bondage of your mind while trying to do just that. I know I had to do much the same thing for a long time when I came back to Trollbloods in order to get them to work. I still haven’t rescinded my opinions on why Trollbloods are missing some key pieces to really be considered a fully functioning faction, but I no longer find them non-competitive and I attribute that to taking a step back to run things I wouldn’t normally have run with them.

    As for your comment on Stelek’s statements pertaining to units with UA’s, I find them quite well thought out. That said, having additional synergy, or patchwork as you stated some UA’s give, doesn’t necessarily make units stronger. Warmachine is in fact a game of stacking buffs and simply having a unit perceived of as strong with access to a strong UA does not mean that you’ve chosen the correct tool for the job. For example, Bane Thralls are one of the most hated units in the game and are constantly accused of being overpowered/under priced. They also have access to an excellent UA, but are they suddenly better than Bane Knights? No, they’re a unit chosen for completely different reasons even compared to a unit as close to them as their fellow Banes. The same holds true for even the much maligned Drudges. Are Drudges a bad unit? Well, that’s purely subjective, but not having a UA is not what makes them weak. Hell, some UA’s serve even less purpose than the unit they’re attached to (looking at you, Trencher UA). The idea that UA’s and typed-solos somehow make units better than their compatriots is an outdated and wrongheaded idea in MkII. A unit’s worth should be based solely on two things: if they fill a role in your list better than the same points of something else and how good you are personally at using that unit. That’s it.

    Tuesday 3rd April, 2012 at 11:47 AM

    • Von

      I’m glad you see the rationale behind following someone else’s principles. They may not be right, but they’ve caused me to build a different list in a different way and if I’m sick of my lists and how I build them that’s a good start.

      I have too many mind-forg’d manacles regarding Cryx in general, I think, which may be feeding into my decision to swap them out for a few months. When I first started this blog I had a Mercenary army and was thinking about Skorne; both were dabbled with but ultimately sold off because I needed the money and was sentimentally attached to my Cryx. This may have been a mistake. I’m thinking I should have stuck with my new guns and tried to make the transition, especially since my Mercs looked the business…

      As for the UA thing… I see where you’re coming from. A UA does not, in general, change the role that a unit performs (you could make an argument for the ones that grant ‘Jack Marshal and the WAs that add longer ranges, AOEs or other exciting things to the unit’s toolbox; six Winter Guard with all the Rocketeers they can have are an artillery battery with some spare bodies, while ten Winter Guard with the Officer and Standard are essentially chaff), and so it won’t make the unit strategically better for all roles. No matter how good a spoon is, you’re still a mug for trying to cut bread with it.

      However, I do think that units with strong UAs and WAs tend to be better at filling their role than other units that fill the same role but don’t have the same depth of rules layers to operate in. Putting it another way; could Drudges be improved if a UA were to grant them extra Cephalyx models to preserve their formation range if the Slaver died, and No Sleeping On The Job, and maybe give them back their Cephalomek-induced flexibility of yore? A Cephalyx Taskmaster, or something? Very possibly. Would that make them more viable competition for the role of chaff in a Cryxian army? Again, possibly, especially if they remained competitively costed compared to Mechanithralls. Although maybe not, because one strength of the Mechanithralls is the Trample-blocking small-base-screening Brute… so maybe a WA, a Drudge on a medium base?

      That said, I still agree that it’s very rare that a UA will suddenly make a unit able to fulfil a role it couldn’t do before, and therefore that unit won’t suddenly become the right choice for that role. The evaluation works within roles, not between them.

      Tuesday 3rd April, 2012 at 2:08 PM

  7. Pingback: [40K] Allies fur Alles – Stratological Approaches « GAME OVER

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