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"Pink isn't a color. It's a lifestyle." - Chumbalaya
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Thursday, October 20, 2011

Warmachine: Keepin' the 'Jacks Alive

I've been playing Warmachine for a little over a year now, and I've taught more than a few people how to play the game. It's interesting to me, because I see people make the same mistakes over and over. I'm only just really starting to understand a lot of the higher-level strategies, so seeing these newbie mistakes really helps spotlight some of the more difficult aspects of the game; tactics-wise.

One of these issues is simply keeping your warjacks alive. It's more difficult than you think, simply because all your tactical instincts will be yelling at you to do the exact opposite of what you should.

Take a look at a warjack's statline and you'll be impressed: they boast the highest ARM, the most health, and the highest damage output in the game. Thinking of them as tanks isn't that far off- they just tend to be melee-oriented instead of ranged. Because they can use focus, they can buy additional attacks, and they can boost attack and damage rolls, they are some of the most accurate as well as heavy-hitting models out there.

The instinct, then, is to lead with them. Putting a wall of heavy armor in front of your squishy regular troops naturally seems like a good idea: after all, won't all the enemies little ranged attacks as I walk in just bounce off the armor, and I can then unleash the dam of troops and pour into the enemy line? This instinct was even stronger for us Menoth players, as the Choir can stop ranged and magic attacks from even targeting the 'jacks. An advancing wall seems just the ticket.

That's a huge mistake.

In Warmachine, every unit in the game can very easily boost it's damage. All it has to do is charge. It nets you an extra D6 as long as you moved 3" to get there. It's hard to overstate how much of a difference the charge makes. Not only does it increase your average damage by 3.5, it increases your potential damage by 6! Given how many attacks a unit can put out, it is very likely that one or more of them will roll pretty well on damage. That's very bad for anything getting charged.

What does this mean for our 'jacks? Well, it means that every melee unit in this game is more-or-less an antitank weapon on the charge. Every unit that has a melee weapon in the game can hurt a Warjack on the charge, though the odds can get pretty low. It's important because normally low pow units like, for instance, Temple Flame Guard (P+S 10) can actually hurt things like a Khador heavy. (Normally ARM 20) If they were just engaged to it, they wouldn't be able to do much- they are rolling 2d6-10 for damage, even lucky hits barely scratch it (1/12 does 1 damage, 1/36 does 2). But on the charge, suddenly, they can lay on some hurt. 50% of the unit will deal damage. (Average 10.5 damage an attack.) Many of those that do inflict damage will deal a non-insignificant amount- up to an unlikely but possible 8 damage from an attack. (And yes, I know they can CMA, but we're ignoring that for now.)

Now, that Temple Flameguard unit won't take out the 'jack on their own, but they can hurt it, and that's the important part. They might even hurt it badly. If they have any kind of damage buff (ignite comes to mind) trashing the thing isn't that unlikely.

It's also much worse to take the charge from things that can actually hurt you- taking a lot of damage from single attacks is much worse than taking little damage from a lot of things. That's because your system boxes are at the bottom, and bleedover damage often hits the same system, disabling it. When you take a lot of little attacks, you randomly fill up the empty tops of columns. When you take big hits, you lose columns, and start losing systems. Taking 12 individual points of damage on a heavy is unlikely to destroy any of your systems- but taking 12 damage from a single attack destroys a system 2/3 of the time. We want 'jacks (all multi-wound models, really) to engage AFTER the initial clash of mass charges. Jacks don't gain any real benefit from charging, they can happily walk around and whack things without needing a charge to inflict damage. IF you can avoid any major single charge, you can happily wade through combat, taking minor damage and delivering a beating.

So what IS good to lead with? Ideally, high DEF models. High ARM is not terribly important for a lead unit, because of the charge damage output. Units that are cheap and have set defense are ideal, like the aforementioned Temple Flame Guard. Having high ARM won't save you because the charge damage rolls are boosted, but having high DEF often will. There are few models in this game that actually get a bonus to hit when charging, so the best way to survive the damage roll is to avoid it entirely. (Infantry positioning to absorb a charge is another matter entirely, and one I'll cover in a future article.)

So, keep your 'jacks in your second line. That way, they can react to the stuff that pokes holes in your front, and they'll maintain infantry coverage, meaning that enemy infantry can't pile on you and beat you to death. Remember, the longer you go without losing 'jacks, the better off you are in the endgame, as fewer and fewer heavy hitters remain.

As for individual positioning, it's largely depends on faction. Khador, for example, has a lot of speed buffs, so they can play pretty centrally and still reach enemy units with the countercharge. Menoth is slow, so I like to play my jacks a little more to the side, to give me better coverage. Ultimately, positioning is dependent on the opponent, the battlefield, and the scenario. It's something you'll have to figure out the specifics of yourself, through often rough play.

Just remember, keep an eye on those threat ranges, and remember that anything can hurt you in this game. Happy playing!

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