MvB of Whiskey and 40k posted a breakdown of his ‘army core’, the stuff he doesn’t feel his Guard builds operate without and which he has to get out of the way before moving on to the stuff he actually feels like playing. In responding to his post, I went straight for describing what’s in my army core without really evaluating it, or addressing why I find the very notion of an army core problematic in Warmachine terms. So I’m going to do that now.
The mechanics of 40K require certain unit types (the force organisation chart insists on HQ and Troops units, the scoring mechanics of scenarios demand sufficient Troops to hold objectives without giving away too many kill points, and the strategic demands of coping with particular targets and opposing build styles mean that the Elites, Fast and Heavy sections need to provide the build with the capacity to deal with transports, heavy armour, hordes, elite melee and so on and so forth).
There are fewer pieces which have to be included in a Warmachine army – there is a warcaster, naturally, and since all warcasters come with warjack points you would be mad not to take at least one warjack, even if it’s an effectively free one that’s just there to screen your caster and ensure you’re not n points down*. Beyond this, however, there are no strictures on what you have to take, beyond the occasional Mangled Metal, Tooth and Claw or fanmachine equivalent thereof – no particular model type is required in order to win any of the scenarios.
However, there are nonetheless certain things without which I feel a bit lost. I find it very hard to devise Cryx lists that do not feature two bonejacks with arc nodes and, where possible, guns, and tend to default towards some combination of Mechanithralls, Brute Thralls and a Necrosurgeon as my first infantry choice. Pistol Wraiths and Bloat Thralls often make an appearance in support, and I may conceivably field a Slayer-chassis helljack if the points can be found.
These pieces make their way in for some fairly solid reasons. Cryxian arc nodes are comparatively cheap, although not as cheap as they used to be, and the Defiler and Nightwretch both provide a fast, hard-to-hit platform for channelled spells (extending the area of the board which my warcaster is able to influence) and a ranged attack that cannot be shut down by spell denial, forcing choice on the part of opponents who can stop one or the other, but not both at the same time.
Mechanithralls and Brutes provide me with a large footprint and average threat range at very low cost; they are able to threaten a variety of targets with Combo Strikes or two lesser attacks, and the Brutes can also block line of sight to a medium-based warcaster like what both my favourite ones are. The Necrosurgeon turns them from disposable chaff into something approaching an effective tarpit, and can patch up wounded Brutes or repair casters who like to hurt themselves like Skarre.
Pistol Wraiths and Bloat Thralls both provide mobile ranged attacks, with one serving as an assassination tool and one opening up lanes for other pieces to do so. Finally, the Slayer chassis provides me with the full range of power attacks for relatively cheap, or (in the case of the Reaper) with a positional play tool coupled with respectable apply-to-single-point damage.
The problem I have is that this little lot comes out at 35 points on its own, assuming the cheapest Slayer variant is fielded, along with the most Mechanithralls I can, and a pair of my preferred Defilers. That doesn’t leave me with much in the way of customisation, assuming I can even fit it all in to a game, which doesn’t happen often.
This brings me neatly to my issue with army cores in Warmachine. The small size of engagements, which is part of the game’s appeal for me, means lists build around the core tend to turn out rather samey. Furthermore, the game offers such potential for locking down, bypassing or otherwise not having to engage particular target types, and I’m sidestepping that with my core and looking at how to most effectively kill them. Finally, and this is the important point, when a list starts out with all this stuff it tends to end up with a warcaster that favours that stuff, which means not all my ‘casters get used, and not all my pieces see play with them.
That’s why I’m trying to move beyond the core – why my Epic Skarre lists don’t include the Mechanithralls or Surgeon, why my Asphyxious lists don’t include the Wraiths or, frequently, the Slayer chassis, and why my Mortenebra lists often forsake arc nodes. I’m trying my best to try new things now and again, and even to look at obtaining new new things. It’s why I’m looking with interest at the Oxford Tier Tournament and seriously considering running an Asphyxious force with no arc nodes and three heavies. It’s sensible to ensure that you have some ranged potential, some area control, some ability to manage both chaff and single hard targets. It’s not interesting to do it the same way every time.
* – such is the approach of former UK Nationals champion Martyn, whose current list features twenty Bane Knights, ten Mechanithralls, and a Goreshade whose sole purpose is to stand behind his Slayer and project six Bane Thralls onto the board to make his contribution to the game for him. He may also cast Mage Blight, upon occasions.