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Thursday, February 9, 2012

NQ 40 - After action report

One of the best ways to enhance your abilities as a player is to learn from your mistakes. Even better than learning from your mistakes is learning from someone else's mistakes. This article will cover, in detail, the battle report found in No Quarter #40 between Chris Walton and Will Hungerford. It will be greatly beneficial to have a copy of this magazine on hand for this review.

As a dedicated Circle Orboros player, it is always a little disturbing to read battle reports by Privateer Press staff using Circle Orboros models. The reason is that the people who write the rules for my faction never seem to be able to effectively use those models. The NQ#40 battle report is no exception. Nevertheless, Chris's abysmal performance serves as a great learning opportunity for the rest of us.

Note: This is not armchair quarterbacking Chris & Will's game. I have played Baldur, the Stonesoul, multiple times – exclusively his theme force. These are very real changes that I would have made without knowing the outcome of the game. In fact, reading through the battle report for the first time, I found myself getting very frustrated with Chris's constant mistakes.

Army List Selection:
A huge part of any Warmachine / Hordes game is list selection. Ensuring that you have a properly stocked toolbox of options is essential for winning the game. When you know your opponent, you have an even better opportunity to specialize your army selection.

No Quarter battles are showcases for new models. So I'll assume that bringing a Battle Engine and playing a theme force are requirements for this game. I'll also assume that Chris and Will know which casters the other is using. This is based on Will's comment in his army selection entry that he knew Chris was bringing epic Baldur.

Given all of that, Chris's army selection is pretty close to horrible. So I'm going to throw it all out. The basic requirements for Baldur, the Stonesouls theme force and the Circle Battle Engine (the Celestial Fulcrum) cost a total of 35 points (Druids of Orboros, Megalith, 2 construct light warbeasts, and the Celestial Fulcrum). That leaves us with 20 points to play with.

I'll start by adding the Druid Overseer to the Druids of Orboros unit. He gives the unit access to Elemental Protection, the Devouring, and Advance Deploy. On top of that, he brings another body to the unit, which makes Counter Magic slightly more potent of an ability. Elemental Protection is important against Legion as they tend to have access to numerous Fire and Cold based attacks. Kallus, Wrath of Everblight, has a Fire-type spell and a continuous fire ability on his melee weapon. The Druid's Counter Magic can prevent the Throne of Everblight from casting spells. While the Throne can eat Druids for lunch (literally), the ability may come in handy.

I'm also going to purchase a Woldwarden heavy warbeast. The reason for the Woldwarden is simple: Geomancy. Baldur lacks the FURY to enable him to dish out a large number of spells each turn. Warbeasts with Geomacny (Megalith & Woldwardens) can cast Baldur's spells instead, allowing certain spells to be spammed. This is going to be very important on Kallus's feat turn. Kallus's feat enables destroyed models to be replaced by Incubi (Legion solo models). Crevasse is a spell of Baldur's which removes boxed models from play – preventing Incubi from being placed. So having access to multiple instances of this spell will be essential for this list.

CREVASSE DOES NOT STOP KALLUS'S FEAT - I am mistaken on this point. The crux of the confusion is that Incubi trigger on Destroyed, while Host of Angels triggers on Disabled. I should have been more aware of the rules before I criticized Chris. But I stand by the rest of my claims. Thanks to Muffinman for hitting me with the humble bat.

Next I'm going to bring a unit of Shifting Stones with a Stonekeeper. The reason for this choice is simple: teleportation. Circle's ability to teleport models is key to their offensive strategies. The Shifting Stones offer a lot of utility outside of teleportation as well. They can heal models (including construct warbeasts or the Celestial Fulcrum), remove excess fury, or block charge lanes. The Stonekeeper is an important addition to the Shifting Stones as their ability to teleport other models disappears if one Stone is destroyed. The Stonekeeper gives them Stealth and has his own offensive spell.

For my next choice, I'll go ahead pick up the Lord of the Feast. The Lord of the Feast is a great anti-infantry solo. He can easily wipe out an entire unit in a single turn. Baldur's spell Roots of the Earth can add to his durability. However, it's perfectly acceptable to let him die after he does his thing. He will almost always make his points back. Since I know the opposing warlock is Kallus, I'm assuming that he'll be bringing a lot of infantry. As such, the Lord of the Feast is an essential anti-infantry component to a list that otherwise lacks in the anti-infantry department.

My last few points will be spent on another unit of Shifting Stones. Ideally, I'd prefer a pair of Gallows Groves, but they're not currently available. So the second Shifting Stone unit will babysit Baldur. Baldur's ability, Devourer's Debt, causes him to take a point of damage at the end of his activation for each token. I want him to have a lot of tokens for the strength bonus. Megalith's Bountiful Restoration ability combined with the Shifting Stone's healing ability will mitigate this damage. Also, without Forest Walker, Baldur, the Stonesoul, is considerably slower than his Primal counterpart. So the Shifting Stones can extend his threat range a little.

Finally, I need to pick two light warbeasts. I have two choices, Woldwyrds or Woldwatchers. I could, of course, take one of each. But Woldwyrds will be less than ideal since Kallus only has one upkeep spell. They might be able to attack the Throne of Everblight, but I'm not going to count on Kallus dropping Ignite on that model. Besides, the Woldwatchers offer more to this list. For one thing, their Fertalizer ability on their guns and their fists means that they can be used to prevent Incubi from Kallus's feat. They also have the ability to get to ARM 21 on their own. On Baldur's feat turn, they can be ARM 24. For a light warbeast, that's pretty outstanding and could hold up to even a heavy warbeast's onslaught. Lastly, they have access to Shield Guard which will be handy in case my opponent tries to single out my other models. Shield Guard near Druids of Orboros can be very annoying. The Druids can block LOS to other models in the army, can be immune to fire, cold, and electric damage types, are immune to spells and can be DEF 18. Even if they do get hit, I can just have a Woldwatcher take the hit instead at ARM 21. That's pretty cool.

So my finalized list looks like this:
Baldur, the Stonesoul
Druids of Orboros
Druid Overseer
Shifting Stones
Shifting Stones
Lord of the Feast
Celestial Fulcrum

The big changes from Chris's lists are:
2 Woldwyrds ---> 2 Woldwatchers
Wold Guardian ---> Woldwarden
Druids of Orboros ---> Lord of the Feast, Shifting Stones, Stonekeeper

However, for the rest of this critique, I'll be using Chris's army list.

Just as important as list selection, Deployment goes a long way to positioning your forces to steal the early momentum in the game. Baldur's theme force gives me two major advantages straight away. Firstly, my Celestial Fulcrum will get to move after deployment. Secondly, my heavy warbeasts will be faster on the first turn of the game.

Given those two things and the dominant terrain piece in the middle of the board, I want to deploy so that the majority of my army is in the middle of the board. One unit of Druids and the Shifting Stones will advance deploy.

The big changes from Chris's deployment are as follows:
The Druids of Orboros with the Druid Overseer gain Advance Deploy. It seems like Chris forgot this. I would have deployed these in the middle of my lines rather than the flanks. This would enable me to use Force Bolt to pull targets toward my lines or to shield my lines from enemy attacks.

The Wold Guardian should have been deployed near the dead center of the board. This is a slow, durable and hard-hitting piece. It should be the anchor of the middle of your army. Positioning it on the flank, especially deploying first, enables your opponent to avoid the model.

Lastly, Baldur is deployed too far back. He's Circle's slowest Warlock. He really needs to be upfront where he can get stuck in, use his strength bonus from Devourer's Debt and maximize his spell output.

First Turn:
Chris was right in playing this turn aggressively. Baldur's theme force is fast and durable, so it's okay to be a little “in your face” when you're playing it. A few things did pop out at me as obvious blunders or simple preferences.

Firstly, using Counter Magic with Druids without also using Summon Vortex is just silly. If they're not using Force Bolt, they should always be using Summon Vortex. With Camouflage, they're DEF 18 vs shooting. That means that anything that even thinks about shooting them will probably miss.

Secondly, the Woldwyrds should have run. They need to be close enough to make use of their anti-magic abilities. If they had run, they might be able to get the aiming bonus on turn 2.

Thirdly, Baldur should not have used Ritual of Renewal on this turn. It's my sincere opinion that Baldur should never use Ritual of Renewal unless absolutely necessary. You never know when the STR bonus will come in handy. But with Megalith, Baldur is automatically healing each turn anyway. Why not take the free STR bonus?

Lastly, but perhaps not as important, Megalith could have very easily Trampled forward and use Roots of the Earth. The cost is essentially 4” of movement. It might not have been worth it, but I don't think that Chris ran Megalith 14” anyway.

Second Turn:
Will used Kallus's feat on his first turn after running nearly everything forward. This presented Chris with a serious problem: he could either kill Will's infantry and face a horde of Incubi or not kill Will's infantry and face them directly. Consequently, Chris lost the game this turn.

Here's the problem, Kallus's feat is not as bad as it sounds. A Blighted Nyss Legionnaire can be ARM 18 while an Incubi is only ARM 17. The Incubi hit harder, though, and gain a DEF bonus under Kallus's feat. But they are placed upon disabling, which means that Crevasse will undo them. Also, their placement happens right away, rather than the Maintenance phase as usually for Incubi.

This last point is important because it means that you can get around the feat by either killing the Incubi right away or removing the original model from play. Chris had models which could do both.

Chris could have fried most of Will's infantry. Megalith should have started things off by moving forward (possibly trampling) and casting Crevasse on the Blighted Legionnaires. Megalith's Fury stat would allow him to easily hit and easily remove 3-4 models from play.

The Woldwyrd, the Druids of Orboros and the Celestial Fulcrum could have easily taken care of the remaining 6-7 Legionnaires – even with Incubi showing up. The result of this strategy would remove a huge number of Will's models from the board and keep the Celestial Fulcrum from getting tangled up in melee. My biggest fear would be to have my 9 point Fulcrum held up by a 6 point infantry unit.

After killing all of the Legionnaires (and Incubi), I would have had my other Woldwyrd move forward and take out the Warmonger near the Scythean. This would open up a charge lane for the Wold Guardian to charge the Scythean. The hard-hitting warbeast could have taken out the Scythean with a little luck.

The Druids on the other flank (facing the Warmongers and Blackforest Shard) were in a bad spot. While Counter Magic can shut down the Blackforest Shard. However, the Warmongers will be able to eat them alive. They need to fall back away from the Warmongers or they'll be destroyed. I would keep Counter Magic up and Summon Vortex and back up so that I can use them later. This unit should have been front and center not on a flank.

Finally, Baldur should have kept his Devourer token. Tossing a Crevasse out at the Legionnaires or Incibi would have been nice, but he was probably too far back because Chris deployed him too far back. I do think that this was the right time to feat, however.

What about the Throne of Everblight? The Throne is a threat to Circle models. However, I'd rather face one model than an entire unit of models. The Throne can be killed by Baldur (with tokens) or Megalith. So killing it isn't the worry. Battle Engines simply aren't deadly enough to warrant them being at the top of the target priority list.

Nevertheless, Chris effectively lost the game this turn by screwing up his target priority. He is going to get swarmed, tied down, and picked apart by the Legion force. This is exactly what you don't want to happen when you're playing Circle.

Third Turn
Target priority and order of activation is a huge part of the game. You need to know what to target, when to target it and what to use on it. Now, turn 3 is where Chris shows us that he has no idea how to play this game or to use Circle.

If you look at the model set up picture from Will's turn 2, you'll notice a few things right away. Firstly, you'll see that almost all of the models engaging the Celestial Fulcrum are in neat lines. Secondly, you'll notice that Chris's left flank is all but gone while his right flank is looking pretty strong. Thirdly, Kallus's battlegroup hasn't even gotten into combat yet. That last point would worry me as a player.

The Celestial Fulcrum boasts 3 solid ranged attacks. Getting it out of combat should be a major priority. Another priority would be figuring out how this game can be won. With only three warbeasts left, Baldur needs to consider how he's going to get close enough to Kallus to put the smack down on him. So positioning is important.

Activation #1 should be to activate the Woldwyrd and have it shoot up the two Blighted Legionnaires to its front. The Legionnaires don't have reach, so aiming and shooting is preferred.

Once these are out of the way, the Wold Guardian should charge the Throne to get it out of the way. He should have no problem doing this without being forced. This will help with the fury allotment for the next turn.

Megalith can now activate and walk forward to shoot Crevasse at the closest Incubi engaging the Fulcrum. With careful positioning he can keep LOS. Megalith can easily boost to hit. At DEF 16 in melee, the Incubi might be hard to hit, but I think it's reasonable to do. After hitting (and hopefully killing it – with the resulting spray attack), Megalith should use his animus. This will reduce the DEF of the nearby Legionnaire.

Baldur should activate next and advance to Crevasse against the nearest Legionnaire. This will result in a spray attack which should easily take down the two Legionnaires behind it. Now the Fulcum is only engaged by three models. Baldur should probably toss a Wall Template nearby to keep charges away from him.

The Druids can now activate and charge the remaining Legion models engaging the Fulcrum. Hopefully, they'll successfully kill them all. If they do, the Fulcum can move to shoot up the Legion models on the other side of the pillar. This will also serve as a deterrent to nearby charges. If the Druids fail to kill the infantry, the Fulcrum can either risk the free strike(s) or it can shoot them up so that it can be used next turn.

Instead, Chris failed to free up the Fulcrum and failed to shore up his right flank. He's in a bad position going into the bottom of turn 3.

Fourth Turn

One of the great things about playing Hordes is that even when you make a huge number of mistakes like Chris, you can still win the game via assassination. Turn 4 presents Chris with a prime opportunity to win the game. Of course, he fails to see it at all. Spotting potential assassinations is an art – but while playing Circle – it's a necessary skill. If you can't see assassination runs, you won't be able to use Circle's prime advantage – speed – to your advantage.

It's difficult to tell from the picture in the magazine, but it looks like Baldur is approximately 10” from Kallus at the top of Round 4. That means that Megalith is probably around 7” from Kallus. Either way, at the absolute worst, Baldur is out of charge range but Megalith is in. Sometimes you just have to go for it.

Kallus has 2 fury, will be ARM 18 in melee and has taken no damage. Megalith can dish out 6 P+S 16 attacks. His first attack might miss, so he might want to boost to hit. Once he gets Weight of Stone on Kallus, it will be easy to continue to hit him. So if we run the numbers, Megalith's first attack will hit for 8 damage, his remaining 5 attacks will hit for 5 damage each. Assuming Kallus transfers off the charge attack and another, he's still going to take 20 damage points. Baldur can activate and advance to throw Crevasse at Kallus if all else fails. He may miss, but he could also hit with boosted damage for an average roll of 5 damage.

In short, Chris could have won this with a desperate but reasonable assassination attempt. But he couldn't even do that.

I hope that this breakdown has helped you to see where Chris could have done much better. I hope that you can see where you can improve your game as well.

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