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.
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.