[WM/H] Road to SmogCon – Winter Warmup Tournament Report

*sigh*

I’ve lied to you a bit. This isn’t going to be a conventional ‘report’ in the sense that I talk about what went on in my turns and their turns and what we were thinking and who won and who lost. This is instead going to be a series of reflections on why I came last, why I had two appalling non-games that I didn’t really enjoy, and my awkward relationship with 50 point games and the tournament scene.

The Winter Warmup was pretty much the first event of the year for Cross Gaming Club and the first time I’d played in the shiny new Dark Sphere site on Hercules Road. I was the odd man out in more ways than one; the only Claphamite to put in an appearance, the only player that Press Ganger Tom hadn’t met before; the only one, I suspect, who hadn’t played a fifty point game or a tournament in about a year; and the odd-numbered player who induced the bye.

Shiny new Dark Sphere.
Shiny new Dark Sphere.

Fifty points for me means one list, dumping everything I own into it, and hoping like hell. Two lists are impossible when nine points of my collection are FA: C and when I’ve blown money I barely have on the Banshee and the entry fee. Whatever, I’d been laid up with a horrible infection for a week and wanted to do something in the real world before I went back to work. Nonetheless, going single-list in a multi-list tournament is generally a recipe for disaster, given the number of hard counters and bad matchups inherent in the game’s design.

The list/collection I ran with was:

Kaelyssa, Night’s Whisper
– Phoenix
– Banshee
– Sylys Wyshnylarr

10 Dawnguard Invictors with Officer & Standard
10 Houseguard Halberdiers with Officer & Standard
Stormfall Archers
Lady Aiyana and Master Holt

Arcanist
Arcanist
Eiryss, Mage Hunter of Ios

Not bad, but not brilliant, and lacking a really obvious, simple-to-execute win button. A recurring theme during the post-wipeout chit-chat was that I’d bought the wrong caster (some people laboured this point more than others), and in retrospect I agree. I’d probably have been better off running Ossyran, leaving Eiryss at home, and picking up a Houseguard Thane, for reasons which will become clear as we move along. The Banshee was totally new, only built the day before the event. I hadn’t played fifty points or a tournament game in over a year. I was, as a great man… demon… elf… thing… once said, NOT PREPARED.

DSCN0251

That smug git across the table is Sicily’s Marcin Garbino, a nice chap who’s played everything under the sun and, unfortunately, had brought a meteor to a gunfight. His Baldur Theme Force (that’s the Stonecleaver, at Tier 4) was entirely occupying the scenario control zone, shown centre, by the end of his first turn, and everything was either ARM Obscene or hiding in one of the two trenches (the black felt bits). Cross use trenches a lot. Cross toss trenches onto the board and put them in the scenario zones. This is not forbidden anywhere in the rules but it definitely made a bad situation worse for me; hitting the Druids on DEF 20 and knowing that they were immune to blast damage was definitely not sexy at all.

I had a vague shot at assassinating Baldur on my second turn, but I gimped it by firing the Banshee first since it had Phantom Hunter on it. That slammed Baldur back, even though he was immune to being knocked down thanks to his feat, and left him out of range for either Kaelyssa or the Phoenix. That was, in essence, game, since there was no way I could crack that wall of DEF/ARM 20+ sitting in the middle racking up control points, and I’d already blown Kaelyssa’s feat on forcing the Woldstalkers to move forward if they wanted to massacre my infantry (and they did). Since I’d moved Kaelyssa up to try for the shots on Baldur, she was hanging out in front of the army, and… it wasn’t really worth going on. I was in a foul mood by the end of this game, and quite prepared to turn around and go home if the prospect of similar non-starters was likely.

Tom and the neighbouring players talked me down, though, and instead Marcin and I went for a walk, since we had an hour to kill. He treated me to an informative if slightly overlong lecture on the merits of Issyria, the Mage Hunter Assassin, and those of the Houseguard Thane in the absence of Riflemen. I have, I think, underestimated the effect of Desperate Pace; I looked at the Thane, saw the obvious synergy with Riflemen (who I don’t own), and wrote him off, instead of considering the advantages of more speed in scenario play. Fair cop, and by the time I’d calmed down a bit, I saw what he was driving at. I also think he was right about taking Ossyran; I’d just nailed the list together the night before and picked the caster who’d let me take everything, but if I’d had a Thane handy I’d have gleefully chucked Eiryss to field him instead. Marcin’s a decent chap, just light-years beyond me as a player, and not the best first-round draw. I like losing my first round game, but I like being able to play in the game at all. Didn’t help that I was well flustered from arriving half an hour late to an event fifteen minutes’ bus ride from my house. I’m just the MOST prepared sometimes.

DSCN0253

Exhibit B: Rob Parsons and his Menoth. Tom had politely asked him to go easy on me since I’d had such a shit day so far, and laughed bitterly when he saw that “going nice” involved the Harbinger, the Covenant, the customary ‘jack wall, Visgoth Rhoven and a big unit of Exemplars Errant. A classic ‘Menoth Says No’ list, then, but at least I’ve fought and beaten the Harbinger before, and she’s on that nice big base that makes her easy to shoot.

I actually really enjoyed this game. Why? Well. Here’s the top of turn two:

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And here’s the bottom of turn four, when dice down were called:

DSCN0260

This was closer than it looked. Rob’s left-hand Reckoner and Vanquisher were both badly damaged (the former was on one box and had been for two damn rounds!) and the latter was immobilised ready for more Stormfalling, and I had cleaned out many of the Menite infantry. The Harbinger had been forced to spend most of the game camping focus and avoiding Eiryss, and I was able to weather the feat turn by bunkering up between those two rocks, taking hits on the two myrmidons (who could eat a power 14) and having everyone else shoot at whatever Menites they could see before Kaelyssa’s feat came down. I did manage to layer some damage onto the Harbinger through Martyrdom, as Rob Martyred a lot of Errants and one of Rhoven’s bodyguards at least twice in an effort to make my flanking Dawnguard behave themselves.

The only huge cockup I made involved sinking far too much effort into killing two Exemplar Errants engaging my Banshee so it could be free to charge Rob’s Vanquisher. As well as squandering the activations of Eiryss and Kaelyssa, who could have been locking down a ‘jack with Disruption/Arcantrik Bolt a turn earlier than they did, it meant diverting my Halberdiers’ attention, which mean leaving the Vanquisher on one sodding box on its primary weapon, which meant that when the Banshee was eventually freed, it took a free strike in passing that crippled its own primary weapon, and ended up scrapped by the Vanquisher on the next turn. Should have just trampled and taken my chance on the free strikes, maybe, or wailed on the Exemplars and had Eiryss and Kaelyssa paralyse the Vanquisher for next turn.

I was losing, but I lost through identifiable errors and Rob only scored one control point in the whole game. I did, however, only score two tiebreaker points, as most of Rob’s units had one or two guys left alive, and I hadn’t been able to nail his ‘jacks while he’d trashed both of mine. This was a simpler game, where I could see what went wrong, and I enjoyed it – my brain simply overheated with the combination of timed turns, more actors to handle than usual, and winkling into the “Menoth says NO” rules combinations to work out what I could actually do.

After lunch, round three, and this is where the beast emerged…

Obligatory crotch shot.
Obligatory crotch shot.

Sometimes, good players have bad days, and end up in the bottom of the brackets with the likes of me. Trevor Couper is such a player; he was running on next to no sleep and had, I think, timed out on one of this games and badly misplayed another. I drew him in a complex scenario (so many ways to earn and deny points – my brain hurt just trying to deploy in a way that would manage its impact), and while he was list-locked like me, his list was… simpler, and brutal, and had more direct ways to deploy greater killing power on a broader range of targets. Martial Discipline, twenty tough Weapon Master infantry, a feat that delivered them to the control zones and points quickly with extra ARM (just like the first game) and a Colossal that could point, click and delete one of my myrmidons or units every turn. To cap it all off, I’d misdeployed, giving my Dawnguard the task of keeping the Colossal from racking up all the Control Points in the world, and maybe taking it down with Flank charges (not likely at four dice minus twelve). I’d have been better off putting them in the lines to take down the infantry, and feeding both my myrmidons and the Stormfall Archers at the Colossal.

Despite Trevor point-click-deleting the Banshee, and being in a very strong place at the top of my turn two, I did actually have a way of putting some damage onto Ossrum and maybe securing the game. I just didn’t think of it in time. See, the Dawnguard could, with three or four man CRAs, put damage on the Colossal, as could the Stormfall Archers and the Phoenix. They’d been doing it since turn one, when Extended Fire let them get a few shots in before Trevor’s feat turn. Now, had I thought to slap Backlash onto it ASAP, I’d probably have been able to get nine to twelve damage onto Ossrum and maybe, just maybe, keep Kaelyssa alive long enough to Phantom Hunter her way to the win. Alas, I didn’t think of that until turn two, and after losing most of my Halberdiers and my Banshee and realising that I’d lose either the Dawnguard, the Phoenix or both in the next turn, I just gave up. Dishonourable, strength-of-schedule wrecking, but fuck it, I was having an appalling time in this game and I had no intention of inflicting my grotty side on Trevor any more than was necessary.

I asked for the bye in round four, just to save myself from melting down any further, and spent the round doing two things. Firstly, watching Trevor’s next game, since he’d drawn another Retribution player, and I wanted to see how that would go. The Retribution that rolled up – and I’ve forgotten their owner’s name, alas – were a very different beast to mine, with Ossyran, two units of Mage Hunters (Strike Force with their Officer, Infiltrators with Eiryss). Trevor had the shot at a first turn win, and spent seven minutes of his extended first turn puzzling it out and talking it through. The Colossal could just about inch forward, have range to Ossyran, knock him down with one of its guns by shooting the warjack next to him (and boosting its damage roll to boot), then lay into him with the rest of its guns. If Trevor hadn’t rolled double ones for the number of multi-shots, he’d have won before the game started. As it was, he did roll double ones, and Ossyran lived. The high-DEF infantry fanned out and jammed up the zones, and Trevor settled in for a longer, slower grind. He did eventually win, but by this stage I’d moved on to my second bye-round activity; talking 50 points with Kev Bryant and his hat.

Fortunately, Kev Bryant and his hat were on the next table, and convinced me not to.

 

Kev and I had a good old natter about the effect of Colossals on the game, and he re-introduced me to the concept of ‘list poker’. Not playing many multi-list events, or having much of a collection of anything, this hasn’t always been something I’ve thought about, although I’ve always known it existed. Anyway, it’s the pre-game stage where you’re looking at each other’s lists and identifying the potential matches and, if you’ve prepared at all well, identifying the pairings that just won’t work for you and picking the list that can take any of the opponent’s two or three.

Colossals skew this hugely. Being so huge and hard to either kill (so many boxes!) or tie down (so many immunities! can shoot out of melee! though factions with Gorman di Wulfe or unshakeable effects like Death Chill have it so much easier – in related news, I almost miss Cryx…), the Colossal presence demands that one of your lists is capable of dealing with one. Which is fine, except that the Colossal will also have a caster behind it, effectively meaning they have an extra card for list poker, and it’s always an ace. Let me explain.

Say I take Ossyran as my Colossal-smashing caster, with his whole extra-damage-on-ranged-attacks thing going on. Say now that the caster running the enemy Colossal is one who Ossyran struggles to beat, or that the rest of their list hard-counters the stuff in my Ossyran list. Say also that Issyria (for example’s sake) might be a better match for the caster running the Colossal. Do I take the Issyria list, which is just not equipped to handle that giant mass of boxes lumbering across the table, and hope I can score an assassination when I’m losing ten points of my stuff every turn, or do I take the Ossyran list, and focus on negating the impact of the Colossal at the expense of managing the rest of the enemy army and trying to win the game?

It’s doubly hard when the other thirty-odd points are, as they were in Trevor’s list, already quite hard for me to deal with; that’s a lot of weapon masters to pin down and chip through the high ARM on, and a few spoilers in the form of fireproof Tactical Arcanist Corps and the like, and they can all move through one another. And this is before we factor in the prospect of Trevor or whoever maybe having another list to consider. Zugwang, for those who don’t know, is the chess term for a situation in which every possible move is a bad one. That’s kinda how I feel when I see a Colossal in someone’s list. I don’t think they’re too good in and of themselves – they cost twenty points and focusing twenty points onto ten of mine should leave me coming off worse, after all. I do think that they break, or at least skew, the ‘list poker’ stage of gameplay, and that’s awkward.

So. All in all, an unsatisfactory day’s gameplay, in which I either didn’t really get to play at all, or in which I made some significant errors, or both, and for which I was NOT PREPARED. And yet, on balance, I think I had an informative day. Everyone was friendly, despite the rather spiky mood I was in while and after playing Trevor. I think I’ve learned a few things about how I might approach Steamroller 2014, and 50 points, and the prospect of encountering Colossals, assuming that I don’t just sulk in my bunker and refuse to interact with any of them (also a possibility). The day was supposed to be a warm-up and a clue-up for the 2014 season, and to be honest, it did what it said on the tin.

Time’s a-wastin’, word count’s a-creepin’, and I have to be at work soon. Next time, I’ll have some thoughts on my Retribution and where I might go with them post-SmogCon, in the light of the experience I had at the Winter Warmup. For the time being… duty calls.

9 thoughts on “[WM/H] Road to SmogCon – Winter Warmup Tournament Report

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  1. Interesting reading! Doesn’t sound like the best of days all in, but is this sort of thing the normal for a WM/H tournament or was it just a combination of many small things coming together?

    I’m yet to actually start anything with my hordes faction, in spite of them being built and undercoated, and the idea of another game where its possible to turn up and not really engage/play is a bit of a worrier.

    At least one ex-Claphamite amongst yr opponents as well!

    1. I think it’s normal for a tournament under these circumstances, i.e. inadequate collection and prep, being a bit late, not knowing what kind of game I was going to draw…

      1. …and in drawing a second higher tier player after losing twice. When I used to tournament, I’d aim to finish just above the half-way mark up the leaderboard, and used to expect to get a pasting on the first game, then get opposition more my level for the rest of it.

        That is a mean list he had there too. I’d say that’s a moral victory though, seeing as he only had paint on 3 models, and didn’t even have arms stuck on his colossal.

        1. Yeah, my usual “get tanked in the first round and relax” didn’t work too well when Trev bounced down there. I used to shoot for the same sort of place – top of the middle – but I’m sufficiently out of shape and out of touch that that’s probably unrealistic.

          I do have plans for 50 points though, they’re just plans that have to wait for a while…

  2. It is a shame you had such a tough time at the tournament and didn’t really enjoy it. Marcin is definitely a tough first round opponent, and that list has made me tear my hair out in the past. Since most of us at the Cross do like competitive games and the whole 50pt level, it is tough to get into that. I am glad you didn’t leave though, since I am sure you picked up on handy advice there. As for my points and guidance (I know you didn’t ask but this is all stuff I learned the hard way, and I hope it helps stop some of the frustration):

    1. 50pts is completely different than 35. At 35 your list normally does one thing, and if a piece gets removed then it is a downward spiral from there. You also know that your opponent has a list with the same weakness, and if you can identify it then it makes it a bit simpler to know what you are going to do. Scenario is also less of a factor. Once you get to 50pts then attrition and scenario becomes much more important. It also means that you can normally build some redundancy and counters into a list. It is possible to have some support and a sacrifical unit.

    2. Two lists are there for a reason. Because of how broad the game has become, and the introduction of Colossals it is almost impossible to cover everything in one list. What you want is to cover most stuff in one, then identify the weakness in that list and cover it in the second list. It sounds simple, but this can be very difficult if you are not familiar with other armies and what the potential weaknesses are. I know that if you need any help with this then just either PM me or post on the Cross forum and we will give you as much guidance as possible as to potential weaknesses of a list.

    3. Covering the extremes of opposing armies. You actually identified a lot of the potential obstacles in your article above. In the simplest terms there are three extremes that you need to cover: High Defence, High Armour and High numbers of models.

    In your game with Marcin you experience High Def, with DEF 20 in the trenches. With Retribution you have one of the best counters to this in Ravyn and Mage Hunter Strike Force. They would have received no bonuses (so DEF14) and would have boosted attack rolls as well on feat turn, so need 8s to hit on 3D6. This would have made it much easier. Even with Ossyan the MHSF is very good. Also, be aware of the rules for trenches. Blast Damage originating OUTSIDE the trench is ignored. If the centre of the blast marker is INSIDE the trench then they take blast damage, which probably would have been helpful. In short, having Ravyn would have given you a much better game, even with the same list you had there. (as an aside, we NEVER use trenches at the Cross, but Tom thought it would “fun” to chuck them out there so we are a bit thrown. I know I had to check the rules before we started).

    In your game against Trev you went up against high armour. It can be worse than this, but this is pretty indicative of the levels most lists need to be able to crack. I think Ossyan would be a good caster to use here. With your list you could crack his armour and probably take the colossal down, or if not, it would be seriously hurt and ready for dying next turn. It would also have enabled you to clear out most of his infantry. With Kylessa it is tougher. Her feat is good for getting you across the board, and I would almost say you want to be running as fast as possible so you are blocking him from the zone, and keeping your models protected on the way. It is a much tougher game. Again, you could keep the same list and swap in Ossyan. I do think the MHSF would have been good here again since if you can get them shooting the earthbreaker on Ossyans feat that thing is going to hurt bad.

    You didn’t experience troop spam, but as a former Cryx player you should be familiar with this. When building your 3 lists you should be planning for all of these. Can a list handle DEF18-20 troops? Can it kill an ARM 22 Stormwall? can it kill 3 ARM 23 Dire Trolls? Can it kill approx 20-30 infantry, and perhaps prevent them coming back by removing them from play? If you can build each list to cover 2 of these and all 3 both together then you are going to be able to get a fair chance in games. This is why Ossyan and Ravyn are popular choices, since they cover he high armour and def respectively, and then can handle troops with massed shooting. As I said above, anyone at the Cross would be more than happy to help you out with this, we love building lists and stuff.

    4. Colossals. This is a big question for a lot of lists and you do need to plan for them. Everything you said above is true for colossals, and they have changed the game a lot by their presence. There a few disadvantages to colossals though. They are predicable in where they move. Since they can’t stop on linear obstacles, flags and objectives and they have a huge base there are normally only a few places for them to go on the board. If you can see where these are (and you should know where they are going due to predeployment) then you can plan for where it will be in turn 1-3, and hopefully set up charges or shooting against it. It is also easy to tie up a colossal with a couple of infantry models. If you opponent doesnt have sprays you can make it so he cant move that turn, and then it has to choose what it is going to do; stand still and shoot or kill a couple of trooper models. You can then use this blocking to set up charges for your colossal killer models next turn. As you noticed, it is a big chunk of your opponents army, and your opponent will be protective of his investment. This could make it possible for you to divert attention from the other parts of your army, and perhaps a scoring zone, thus allowing you to get some control points.

    5. Finally there are Scenarios. Scenarios are tough to know how to play and TBH I am still not very good at them. You have to be able to commit something to the zone and it survive so that it stops your opponent scoring. You want to be able to clear the zone or restrict the opponent getting models in there (either by putting a unit on the opposite side to physically stop him getting in or some sort of movement restriction). You also need to have something quick which can get up there to stop your opponent blocking you out of the zone. Rahn is amazing in this situation since him and the battle mages can push and pull stuff out of zones and flags, but this takes a lot of finesse and I would not suggest using him until you are familiar with other armies and their strengths and weaknesses. If you go to tournaments you will start to get a feeling when it is getting close to dice down (normally because the are 10 people watching your game) and then you need to think about running everything into the zone and hoping.

    I hope this helps, and please do come on our Forums and ask questions, we try to be inclusive as possible. I have a big dislike for any cliquey/newb bashing environments on our forums, so you are more than welcome.

    1. 1. Intellectually, I know this. Experientially, I don’t. There’s a gulf between apprehending the realities of 50 point play and actually building to them, and the trouble I have is with designing 50 point lists rather than overgrown 35 point lists that lose a couple of things and start that process of collapse. I was better at it with Cryx but that had years of play to back it up, and the Battle Engines and Colossals weren’t a factor in that experience. I’d also factor in that I struggle with high activation counts; I used to go ‘jack heavy at 50 and that seems like a poor choice with Retribution. This list just has more STUFF than I’m used to.

      2. Again, I apprehend why dual lists are a thing, I’m just poor. I have to take collecting slowly so I can actually afford it, and building a collection from which I can build multiple viable 50 point lists will take time. I am also reeeallly out of the loop in terms of knowing what other stuff does; the days when I could afford to buy all the books to learn the stats are long past, and there’s only so much you can get from Battle College.

      3. Other than pointing out that Marcin’s list had high DEF infantry and high ARM beasts, I’ve not really got much to add; that thinking “can I handle X/Y/Z” is something I have to get into now that I’ve played my collection at 35 points and, broadly speaking, know what most of my bits and bobs can do.

      4. Fair points all, and stuff I would/will probably reason out for myself, with my hands on the models, once I’ve played against them some more. The trouble is that I only tend to see them in tournament play, although a couple of the lads at the CWG have them. The other trouble is that I’m pretty sure that the Colossal owner’s choice will always be “stand still and shoot my Colossal killing models”. That said, the scenario in which I played Trev was… weird. Lots of ways to score and it was very hard to deny all of them at once while still keeping his infantry at bay and dealing with the Earthbreaker.

      5. I do actually play scenarios quite a lot, although at 35 points it seems harder to create those “oh look I’m all over the zone and you haven’t gone yet” builds. One major flaw in my current collection is that it lacks a way to get in the zone on turn one; I’ll be looking at that in my next post, seeing what I can do to have more presence in midfield at greater speed.

      Also, I like Rahn, although I’m not so great at Telekinesis yet. Can definitely see the potential there. Ossyran’s my current favourite, and I want to like Ravyn but I just find that she doesn’t always… do much.

  3. Immensely enjoyable read, just came back from a very frustrating match and this really helped me get over the rage :D Also thanks for the helpful comments below the article. One nitpick: Zugzwang (like so) means a position where you’re coerced to act, “Zug” is “to draw (a piece on) the board”, and “Zwang” is coercion. It means you can’t sit something out. Sorry for being so German. Happy gaming!

    1. Corrections of my terrible schoolboy German are always welcome, don’t worry. Zugzwang: you can’t just wait for the right move to present itself. Correct?

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