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Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Steamroller 6/28/2014

So last Saturday I took part in a small (I think 8 or 10 man) Steamroller tournament. This time I decided to take my Mercenary army, of the Highborn Covenant. I have a lot of fun playing this army and it seems to be highly competitive (at least in casual games). In theory it can take on all scenarios and most army lists, at least much better than any of my trollblood lists. This is in theory, of course, and my experience with my half-cooked schemes usually end in tear-soaked agony.

Although I don't have very much experience with this army (I've only played with them a handful of times) it's a great army and easy to play. Since I'm in the mood I'll go ahead and explain how I came up with the idea for the army...

At the time I had a complete Troll army, with enough stuff to make several different satisfying lists, as well as a complete Retribution army, which I have 3 casters and enough stuff to make varying lists. I had extensive experience with my Trolls as they were my main faction (I know my Madrak list like the back of my hand) and had success with them, seeing them adapt to many situations and take on a lot of different lists in the process. Their main weakness was incorporeal or equivalents, like Menoth denial lists. In my Madrak list I have 2 magic weapons and that's it, one of which belongs to Janissa who rarely sees combat if I can help it. My alternate eDoomshaper list also only has 2 magic weapons, one for Mulg (who will always take care of it) and the other to Doomy himself, and if he's trying to melee something then something has gone terribly wrong. Both lists were pretty hardy against shooting, with Madrak brushing it off while slowly advancing and Doom/Mulg would be extremely fast and usually get a turn 2 charge. The problem with both is that you'll see it coming a mile away, you'll just be hard pressed to stop it. There wasn't a lot of shenanigans outside of Madrak's Feat, Doomshaper's Feat and Goad abilities, and power attacks (there's nothing a double hand throw can't fix!). And although Doom's list is fast, I was usually being outmaneuvered. I would alleviate this with Long Riders, but in Madrak's list I would be horribly flanked and almost never get the charge (mitigated with a minimum of ARM 20 and DEF 14+ army wide with a wall in front).

Anyways, I digress. Long story short, although far from boring I sought a different approach to the game.

With my Retribution it was a different story. I centered my armies around the assassination. Vyros made a strong army with the Hydra and Phoenix doing the heavy damage with the Sentinels as back up. He can give a jack the ability to ignore forests for LOS, making a fully camped Hydra shoot 15" with impunity, or a Phoenix charging through a forest when the enemy thought for sure it wouldn't be able to. His feat is lackluster, but giving Sentinels +2 ARM is priceless when coupled with weapon master and vengeance. My Kaelyssa list was even sneakier. She kept the ability for the Hydra to shoot powerful fully boosted POW 15s at a caster through Phantom Seeker. If going against a Caster then Backlash reigned supreme with sentinels and mage hunters on the field. Mage Hunter assassins need no explanation. Eiryss always does her thing. And Narn, oh Narn. I love the guy, even if he only kills one grunt the whole game. His shenanigans are perfect for the army. I deploy him directly across the caster, who most likely has a unit guarding him. He uses his insane speed to charge a model (and with acrobatics he can charge someone in the back) and once he kills it he sprints to hug the caster! At that point it doesn't matter what he does. Either the caster has to spend resources to kill him by using focus, or he'll have to move a unit or jack in to finish the job. Most people don't use a singular solo for the risk of a whiff against DEF 15, so he tends to attract more points than he's worth, essentially distracting enough of the force for my army to approach unscathed. If he ignores it, well that's 2 weapon master attacks at a high MAT swinging at your caster, who unless he has Parry is not getting away without risking death. Couple that with 2 Assassins close behind and you've got a pickle.

Long story short (again) it's full of shenanigans, but hardly has the staying power I like and isn't great at scenario, since it's entirely built for the assassination. I have no tarpit units (I don't want to buy houseguard purely for the reason that I have too many models as it is) so zone control is hardly my forte. I also have trouble using scalpel like armies and tend to fold like a house of cards if one thing goes wrong (like someone who brings waaay too many AOEs to the party!).

So I was thinking of new armies I could try for a change of pace. I remembered that I've always wanted to paint the Gorten model since the game first came out. I feel that he's one of the best representations of the steampunk side of WM (one which I feel is being lost through time). His model has so much character, it looks like he's just a tank and can take whatever damage you try to dish!

So I thought, what goes with a Gorten army?

Gorten has an amazing feat and tried to think of units that compliment it. I originally thought I'd go for Searforge commission. It has a great theme and several units I wanted to paint. The Hammer dudes have that same character as Gorten, like those pistons are gonna punch a hole in your chest. I'm not a huge fan of the High Shields, but they still look cool as hell. I rounded it out with Thor and 2 Bashers for speed, and the fact that Bashers look and work like total badasses. I included the Hordes mini 'lock with the bear as his rules oozed flavor, and the models were fierce. All in all it was looking like a decent army and I was about to purchase it.

Once I thought more on the list the less I liked it. It was very slow, with only 3 "fast" models. If I went against a fast army like Circle I'd be toast, since they can outmaneuver as well as out shoot me. For Zone control it didn't seem bad, but there were better armies out there and they were numerous. For shenanigans it was almost non existent. I got this idea in my head like it's exactly like my trolls, except even slower and less tanky.

I explored the other contracts at this point and came across Highborn. I love the fluff. Then I read the Mule. Then I read the Arcane Tempest Gun Mages. Then I read Ashlynn. Then I ordered my army.

It was everything I was looking for. It looked mean on the table top, all the models were beautiful, and it kept the models I wanted to use in the original list I made. It was also a changed to become a vastly shooting army, which was the drastic change I needed. I didn't realize that I have never played a predominantly shooting army, being that I always felt melee to be more efficient in this game with charge boosts and having generally more attacks than shooting - which usually has ROF 1. On top of all this it had one of my favorite elements: shenanigans.

Shenanigan 1: Shooting is at very long range.

The mules can have a 16" shot with arcing fire. The Gun Mages have a 14" shot. Gorten has a powerful 12" POW 16 shot (boostable!). His Gunners have a 12" shot (boostable!). Eiryss has a 12" shot (tear inducing!).

Shenanigan 2: Accuracy

I don't know if you'd count it as a shenanigan, maybe more like a perk. Mules have RAT 7 most shots. ATGM have a RAT 7/8 naturally. The Gunners have a RAT 6 for crying out loud! And Eiryss has the highest natural RAT in the game with 9!

Shenanigan 3: Soooo much knockdown

In my Ashlynn list everything knocks down, slams, or throws. EVERYTHING. I'm talking ATGM, Mules, Dannon and Bull, Hammers, everything. The Freebooter doesn't, but don't let it get to something that is knocked down because then it has the highest damage output in the game.

Gorten's list is no slouch either. Thor has a Basher and a lot of the same elements are in his list as well.

Against a traditional list this army is extremely frustrating, trust me. One friend of mine refuses to play against it anymore (which I hate to use to brag, sorry). Some games I've played the majority of my opponent's army spends a significant amount of time knocked down. Some casters make armies immune to KD, but even those have its limits. Understanding what gives the immunity is what helps me get KD spread out even in KD denying lists. Some casters require to be in CTRL range, so I just slam and throw the ones in the front and back further from the caster. Others naturally have it, and I just leave them for last or concentrate fire to outright kill it.

Shenanigan 4: The casters.

Oh, the casters. First my favorite, Gorten. His Feat has a feared reputation. It has so much utility it's hard not to find a situation in which it is useful. In kill box he slides them into the zone for at least 2 points automatically (as long as the caster isn't in the 2" circumference of the center). For assassination you use the wall and some planning to slide them into the opportune placement for charges and shooting. With -3 def everything in this high RAT army hits even casters reliably. Move Eiryss into position for the disruptor bolt for reassurance, then hit him with Gorman's Black Oil for overkill. Now the caster is at -7 DEF, nothing misses short of snake eye rolls. If he for some reason survives because his name is the Butcher (which has happened before lol) then he doesn't gather Focus and has to give up a move/action next turn with -3 SPD - no retaliation will happen people.

At 50 points survival would be a miracle. I usually slide them close to the hammers, then shoot everything at the caster. If he's not dead at that point then the hammers, well hammer it home.

Ashlynn is a whole other beast - one of which I've had less success with personally. Her feat is extremely annoying for the opponent and boosts my army's ability to critically hit to almost guaranteed proportions. I'm usually shocked when I don't critical, especially when I boost. After the turn is over retaliation is usually blunted. It's usually nonexistent due to crits making everything knocked down for the most part. If I'm in range it sometimes means the assassination succeeds.

My only problem with her is that I overextend her and overestimate the power of her feat. I sometimes feel too invincible and will throw out Ashlynn on her own during feat turn. DEF 17, Admonition, and ARM 17-20 with whatever attack dice I choose? She'll live.

Well, she dies pretty often despite all this.

So as long as I'm careful, and only put her in the thick of things with infantry she can easily dispatch and smartly use Admonition, then she usually performs better. Her shenanigans tend to support the army better than herself rather than Gorten's who makes it easier to kill things with.

All of these things make a fun army that's difficult to get a hold of. In scenario it performs much better than my Trolls and Ret. They hold zones better, they deny movement and also have plenty of ranged abilities to keep the enemy at bay. It has the stopping power to take down heavy armor (as long as you match up the right units against it) and if need be reliably take difficult models out of the mix (you may have a crazy ARM 50+ jack, but if I keep throwing it back from 16" it ain't catching anything!). For example against a Khador army using the Behemoth I would consistently push it back with ATGM and perhaps knocking it down on a lucky crit. If 7 ATGM hit it from 10" away with Thunderbolt it's going to be pushed far enough away to be denied the charge. If need be I shoot 16" away with the Mules. They have a decent chance at damage and a 44% chance to crit for the throw. Then I hit it with Eiryss' disruptor bolt. Now the Behemoth is around 16+" away, knocked down, and can't be allocated focus to shake effects. If it gives up its movement then it is much further away from effectiveness/contesting/charging. It's not able to boost attacks and if it misses the blast damage is ignored by Gorten. I can either continue to harass the Behemoth or tackle the next closest threat and systematically hold them at bay.

Anyway, I've made this entirely too long and didn't even talk about the Steamroller. I'll get back later, but I've got to go home now.

Edit: A day later and I will finish my extremely long train of thought...

All in all I have a bigger bag of tricks when it comes to this army. Usually what ends up happening is that an opportunity will present itself for exploitation around turn 2 or 3 of the game. This is much easier with Gorten and his potentially game ending feat. In order for most casters to be effective they will need to be close enough to the action to be in reach of Gorten's CTRL. Effectively this can be a huge range. If I place a model, say my driller which is usually right next to Gorten as a deterrent, at 7" away from Gorten, then Gorten declares a charge using his Gutter weapon on the model. He gets a successful charge with a weak weapon against a high ARM target usually resulting in no damage, and a small amount if it does. Once the charge is complete my Feat's threat range is 10", resulting in a total range of 17". This strategy is always available to me since it is not dependent on the enemy's board state short of being swarmed in front of me - and if that's the case then a blast from a Mule will clear that right up without fear of blast damage. All that is needed is at least one friendly model relatively close to Gorten. If we're playing a Steamroller and I went first, then 7" of the board is cleared up from deployment alone. So on turn two with this combo my range is 24" from the board edge if done in a straight line. Essentially on turn two a lane is covered from deployment to halfway up the board at 10" wide from CTRL. Some fast casters may be in that zone already on turn 2. If I went second then it would be 27", with the fact that they went first and probably ran or advanced even closer.

Another tactic is to cast strength of granite earlier in the game, say turn 1, on the driller. Turn 2 you have the driller throw Gorten a total of 9". Gorten activates and advances 4" and pops his feat. That's a threat range of 23", which is almost inescapable from most points on the board.

Once he is in range Gorten places a wall in his CTRL range. This is usually done to single out the caster while everything else gets pushed by the feat. If the caster is hiding behind a model you can place the wall to stop the push from affecting the caster while all screening models get slid 8" away. You can also slide the caster closer if he's unprotected and is just too far for models to charge or shoot.

Once the caster is slid to where he's needed then it's time to put on the hurt. I usually like to perform overkill in case your best efforts don't succeed (theoretically all your rolls can be snake eyes... you laugh, but this has happened!). I will move Eiryss into range and shoot the disruptor bolt to get rid of focus on warcasters. I then move Gorman into range to black oil the target, making his -3 DEF stack to -7. Then at that point everything can hurt the victim and handshakes will occur.

With Ashlynn these opportunities are much harder to find. She has a great feat and it helps with the entire army. However I find it difficult opening up the assassination with her, being that most casters won't stay close enough for her to charge. Usually what I end up keeping in mind is just killing the rest of the army and dealing with the caster later when he has no other models. If an opportunity presents itself for the charge I will take it, but most savvy players won't let that happen.

So, extremely long story short, I love playing this army and it has a tendency to do better than my previous ones. Although I love them, my Mercs are my more competitive list.

So, onto the original topic, the Steamroller on Saturday.

It was a small one. On a whim earlier in the week I decided to put my models together and just take the Highborn. I only have one fully painted model, but I've already shown off my trolls and don't need to play them for vanity's sake.

So my first game was against a good friend of mine named Monty. He has recently gotten into the game a few months back and plays Khador. Since he's just started out he's never played against this army, since it has a lot of elements that are not newbie friendly. It was a kill box scenario with objectives and a central control zone. He was using pIrusk, which he has found recent success with, along with a Winter Guard Death Star and a unit of Kayazy. I deployed my Hammer unit opposite of his assassins, thinking that they will need that MAT 7 against them and their slow speed is mitigated by the assassins' fast one so they will eventually be meeting in combat. I deployed Thor and his marshaled Basher on the WG side which was also my objective to destroy. I figured either I get to the objective and destroy it fast or if the WG plant in front of it they will have a hard time getting rid of it while I constantly use my Flak Field. The Basher is interesting in that it's hard to cripple a system until he's about to die anyway. With those as my flanks I deployed Gorten, his Driller and the Gunner in the center with the ATGM and their two mules in the center right. From these positions I have the option of threatening both sides throughout the game with some of the longest ranges.

I then deployed Eiryss and Gorman advanced up the center right. This way they were still within the protection of Gorten's Solid Ground, mitigating their one weakness to blast damage, while still being in effective range to assist the right flank and eventually circle to the caster once everything hits the fan. I tend to find that those who deploy two different and equally strong flanks tend to stay separated when pitted against my Mercs.

My first mistake was deploying Eiryss and Gorman opposite of his Sylys Wyshnalyrr, which I thought was close to his caster. He deployed his caster on the far left flank with Sylys in the middle for some reason. He later confessed it was on accident, which I told him it worked since I thought his caster was hiding behind the marshaled jack that Sylys was near!

He advanced his army's line up rather far while I ran most of mine up, short of Eiryss and Gorman due to fear of overextending my caster threats too far. Most of the time I try not to rely on them, instead I use them to dictate the flow of the battle simply by their locations. If I place them in the middle then the caster tries to avoid their threat range, which I then follow with running them to a flank and tunneling them into where I want the assassination to take place. Due to Solid Ground and Stealth they are extremely hard to get rid of, short of high speed shooters getting within 5" or things that ignore stealth. If something is on the board that does ignore stealth then I place them behind Gorten's wall. If Irusk is in range to place his spell to get rid of Eiryss, then that's much less focus to worry about to make his jacks effective or cast other inhibiting spells.

Once in range of each other he moved his WG within spray range and my eyes closed with prayer. Even though I have high defenses, sprays mitigate that with a volume of hits. Statistically one of these are bound to hurt something they shouldn't and my theory turned out correct. Eiryss came out alive, although short of breath and heart pounding. Six out of Seven ATGM weren't so lucky though, and that put a huge dent in my plans since he also managed to kill the Jack Marshall. No boosts for the mules now! He also ran the assassins to engage my Hammer unit.

The retaliation was swift. My Basher crashed into his lines and killed a few WG, but his main mission was to cause disruption. By engaging a majority of his unit he was forced to deal with a high ARM model that's hard to cripple and has the ability to burn his unit down slowly. For one model he's a great tarpit, even against that tough unit. Should they combine melee attack they may damage it, but it would still be a slow enough process to effectively take the unit out of the game. Not bad for a 7 point model!

One Mule took a pot shot at the jacks and managed to crit one and throw him back. The other one hit the WG in front of Gorten and took some out.

Gorten took the opportunity to charge 7" at a WG soldier and missed, but the point wasn't to kill him. I used his feat to slide everything to the left, including his caster which he kept at 2" from the Kill Box. It also slid the Assassins out of melee and into a forest, which just felt dirty. I then moved Eiryss parallel to the caster and shot him with the disruptor bolt.

During his turn he finally understood the power of Gorten's feat. He only thought it slid him, but I had to explain that it gave him a -3 SPD, so his caster couldn't get out of the kill box and had no focus, his jacks were neutered, and his assassins could only move 2 inches through the forest. The other flank was moved out of engagement for the most part and missed all their shots due to the -3 RAT. The only unaffected model failed his charge to my basher. The end of his turn gave me 2 VP for kill box.

During my turn I cleared out the control zone of enemy models with my right flank models. My hammers charged the assassins killing some and 4 of them outright murdered the jack protecting Irusk. I had Eiryss sit still and shoot another disruptor bolt for good measure on Irusk while Gorman threw oil on him. I ended the turn dominating the control zone.

The next turn was extremely quick since it was essentially over. Being unable to even contest the zone he decided to end the game since at the end of his turn I'd still dominate the zone no matter what and won. He cursed me then quickly began talking about Gorten's feat and used his favorite phrase of "It's unbeatable!" to describe it. He tends to cry foul a lot when he first experiences what he perceives is cheesy. He's only played Warhammer before Warmachine, so in his experience he'd probably be right. But in WM there's always a hard counter to everything, which I learned in my next game.

Being high up in the winner's bracket I faced a Cryx player. Not only do I have very little experience playing against Cryx, I also feel that Cryx tends to be the most competitive army out there tying with Legion. Of course it's only an opinion, and one that is most likely wrong, but the majority of tournament players out there use Cryx so I must be in the ball park.

Remember when I was talking about hard counters? Try two lists of incorporeal spam. One had 2 battle engines and Skarre.

I knew that it was over before it began (which may be my downfall, but I know the difference between an uphill battle and one that would take a miracle to win). I've been planning to buy Aiyana and Holt for my army to mitigate the fact that I have very limited access to magical weapons. I have the ATGM, but all it would take is to engage them and they'd be useless. I've been meaning to buy a friend of mine's A&H, but keep forgetting and instead replaced them with Dannon Blythe and Bull, who I find isn't as effective as I want them to be.

So let me lay out the situation for you:

I knew he'd pick Skarre. I figured I would lose. Even if I took Gorten, who I feel is my stronger caster, I can't push battle engines which negates his feat if he decides to plop them in front of his army. Soul tokens on the battle engines would negate Eiryss' effectiveness. My only unit that can be effective is the ATGM, and his army definitely has the speed to engage them. Since only their guns have magical weapon they'd easily be useless.

So I decide to pick Ashlynn so I wouldn't be locked in my last game with my list. It was brutal.

I killed a few models with the ATGM. That's about it, I got 7 army points. He used his battle engines to engage most of my army that would be effective for a caster kill, blocking in Ashlynn from using admonition or going for an assassination. Everything else was incorporeal. Even Skarre's spell negated Ashlynn's feat. All in all it was bad.

Lesson learned, A&H would be much more effective in my army, even when I'm not against incorporeal spam.

My last game was my redeemer. I was facing a Cygnar player who was locked in to his Jeremiah Kraye list. This army was very small and was light cavalry spam, coupled with Ol' Rowdy as his only heavy jack. I decided to stick with Gorten. Kraye will most likely be within range of the feat, and even if he isn't dragging cavalry to their dooms and neutering their movement the next turn was too sweet to pass up.

He got first turn and ran with it! With his advance deployed Hunters he moved them up and shot at my caster in his deployment zone. Of course, with his focus he's at ARM 24, so nothing happened. He moved the rest of his army up, using his light cav move to shift his army more on my right flank against my ATGM.

On my turn I used the fact that he moved so far up to my advantage. I advanced my mules and shot at the Tempest Blazers at the front of his army. I got a crit on the center one of 3, while the other two were just close enough to also get thrown. They were thrown into the unit behind them, knocking a total of 7 horses down. 2/3 Tempests were killed outright. It was an amazing shot with a perfect result and I couldn't have asked for more. The ATGM killed the last remaining Tempest.

The Hammers ran into one of the control zones getting ready to charge an obelisk objective. The basher was advanced through Thor and got ready to slam either the objective or a hunter next turn. Gorten and his retinue advanced behind a peice of terrain to gain cover and block charge lanes.

His turn of recovery went quickly. He couldn't do much on the flank with his horses since they were all giving up actions to move and the ones behind them couldn't do anything else but run. Kraye moved forward into the control zone and made Rowdy double his base SPD. The Hunters eliminated Thor making the Basher autonomous. Lastly Rowdy charged the driller and destroyed it. placing him close to but not engaging Gorten.

My turn was the reckoning.

I had Gorten charge Ol' Rowdy to get closer to Kraye. He didn't do anything with Gutter, but that's the point. I popped his feat and Rowdy was moved out of engagement and Kraye was slid into Gorten with full focus. He didn't kill him but gravely wounded him.

I then charged the hammers into Kraye and it was over. I would have destroyed an obelisk and get zone control but my opponent insisted I just finish it, and I knew I wasn't getting first anyway. It was over pretty quick.

All in all it was a good learning experience. I learned the most with my Cryx game. I know that I defeated myself before the game even started, but some games you learn to recognize are hopeless. I'm aware that sometimes I out think myself and make situations more complicated and dire than they truly are, especially if I feel pressured to carry out the assassination. However when you only have a few effective models against 50+ points of models then it becomes hard to justify hope. Lesson learned? Aiyana and Holt.

They're effective even against typical armies due to being able to essentially give -2 ARM to a unit. That can be devastating against the hammers, and even ATGM become a threat. Couple the ATGM with Ashynn's feat and Crit Brutal Damage and they're amazing.

Well, that was an extremely long post, but I hope you enjoyed it, although I don't know if anyone reads this anyway.

Happy gaming!