Monday, December 23, 2013

First Battle Against Hordes

I just played a game against Legion, my first time playing against a Hordes army. I played all my Khador models, which totals 33 points:

- Destroyer
- Berserker
- Wardog
Man-O-War Kovnik
- Spriggan
- Juggernaut
Kell Bailoch

He put together a list that went something like:
- Scythean
- Ravagore
- Nephilim Bolt-Thrower
- Nephilim Protector
2 Nyss Shepherds

My opponent was actually a Press Ganger, and as I hadn't read the Hordes rulebook (and I'm still new to Warmachine) we were taking it easy and he put a lot of time into explaining to me how Hordes works. Highlights of the game include:
- My Berserker charging his Legionaires and doing nothing at all, then getting eaten by his Scythean.
- His Scythean destroying my Destroyer with seven(!) attacks in one round.
- His Scythean surviving a charge from my Spriggan (while knocked down and having taken damage from a boosted bombard, mind you).
- His Scythean finally going down to the Spriggan.
- Him using Thagrosh's feat to bring back the Scythean.
- His Ravagore and my Juggernaut getting into an extended slap-fight, with him eventually coming out the winner.
- Thagrosh surviving two pretty decent assassination runs by transferring damage.
- Thagrosh killing my Kovnik and then Sorscha.

It was an interesting and fun game, and things did seem to be going well for me a number of times. It certainly gave me a lot to think about, which is why I wanted to write more about my thoughts on the game and on Hordes. This rest of this post is very long winded and boring and is mainly written so I can get my own thoughts on the subject straight.

Battle Report
To the best of my recollection the actual battle went something like this. I didn't take any pictures as I hadn't originally intended to write a report.

He won the roll off and decided to go first. He put his Warlock and Warbeasts in the center, and his Legionnaires on my left. I deployed Sorcha's battlegroup with Kell opposite the Legionnaires, and the Kovnik's group a little to the right of center, so I could draw his heavy hitters away from Sorscha or I could converge on them as needed.

Round 1
Everybody ran forwards for a turn, and he shuffled some fury around in order to explain to me how it works. He started to split his warbeasts, with theBolt-Thrower and the Scythean heading towards Sorscha on my left and the other two towards the Kovnik on my right. I ran everyone forwards (except Kell).

Round 2
He put a surprising amount of damage on the Juggernaut and a little on the Kovnik with the Ravagore's AOE spit attack, and continued moving everything else forwards.

In my turn I ran the Juggernaut up to the Ravagore to try to shut down his shooting as quickly as possible, and put some damage on his Protector with the Spriggan's grenades. The Destroyer landed a boosted bombard onto the Scythean and did a few boxes of damage. The Berserker ran into a knot of Legionnaires and whiffed. The Wardog charged a Legionnaire, missed, and came running back with his tail between his legs. Kell sniped a couple of Legionnaires, then Sorscha peeked out from behind the Destroyer and took out a knot of four with Tempest.

Round 3
He used the Ravagore to shoot the Juggernaut again, taking out his axe, but didn't move away for some reason. The four remaining Legionnaires surrounded the Berserker and put some damage onto him, then the Scythean finished him off. Oh, and the Bolt-Thrower killed Kell.

Now that everyone was nice and close together, I popped Sorschas feat, catching the light warbeasts and the Scythean, along with a legionnaire. It was at this point that I made the mistake of charging the Bolt-Thrower and not the Scythean - the Bolt-Thrower was between my forces and Thagrosh, while the Ravagore was farther out, and my natural instinct was to get close to him. I finally got the Juggernaut into combat, but with a crippled axe he wasn't able to finish off the Ravagore, although he did take out it's body. From this point on my opponent kept forgetting to heal the Ravagore's body, and so the two cripples kept flailing at each other till the end. The Spriggan moved towards Thagrosh, I think he did a little damage with his grenades again. Also, I think I killed a Legionnaire with the dog and maybe another with Sorscha's hand cannon.

Round 4
This turn he charged the as-yet untouched Destroyer with the Scythean, getting seven (count them) attacks and scrapping it in a single round. The two remaining Legionnaires charged the Wardog and killed it. His Protector walked over to stand near the Scythean for some reason.

I had been moving Sorscha towards the center to keep her distance from the Legionnaires, and the Spriggan was coming the other way to get to Thagrosh. Happily this meant the Spriggan was close enough to have Boundless Charge cast on him, so he was able to charge over the Destroyers corpse to attack the Scythean, who Sorscha first knocked down (along with the Protector) with Tempest. With only a single extra Jack Marshal attack, he wasn't able to kill him though. The Kovnik took a shot at something after moving closer to the action, and the Juggernaut kept flailing around.

Round 5
After gaining fury to stand the Warbeasts back up, they attacked the Spriggan. He didn't want to max out their fury as he wanted them as potential transfer targets (no doubt the close proximity of my Kovnik to Thagrosh did not go unnoticed), as a result the Spriggan only lost about two thirds of his damage boxes (I think he lost his left arm on the last attack, but his other systems were fine). I think his Ravagore managed to take out the Juggernauts left arm this turn.

The order of activation was very important here, now that I understand damage transfer better I think I may have risked doing it in a different order. First I activated Sorscha to cast Boundless Charge on the Kovnik. I tried to kill the last two Legionnaires as well, but only killed one as I missed the other with either her shot or the spell, and decided to spend her last two focus wind-rushing away (but making sure to stay in range of the action). Then I activated the Kovnik so he could drive the Warjacks, then charged Thagrosh. With boundless charge he had a nine inch charge plus half-inch melee range, Thagrosh was just about nine inches away so that worked out. The Kovnik hit, and rolled pretty well as I recall on his with P&S 15 Weaponmaster charge attack. Of course Thagrosh just transferred the damage. The Spriggan then finished off the Scythean and the bodygaurd Warbeast. The Juggernaut did very little.

Round 6
I though things were looking alright this turn; he was down to a single quite badly injured Warbeast, a Legionnaire, and Thagrosh (and the Shepherds), while I had my Spriggan, Kovnik, Sorscha, and the Juggernaut was still standing. Then he used his feat to bring back his Scythean. Crap. Thagrosh killed the Kovnik and the Ravagore finally finished off the Juggernaut. Double-crap.

The Spriggan was standing on the wreck of the Destroyer so he couldn't move far enough to get to anyone, and with his back to everything he couldn't have charged even with Boundless Charge, my only option was to move him as far as I could and shoot his grenades at Thagrosh, but at RAT 4 and without the Kovnik to boost his attacks he was never going to get a direct hit, and the blast damage from his grenades is POW 5, meaning he needed a double-six to put one point of damage on Thagrosh. He didn't get any double-sixes. All I had left was the Hail-Mary Sorscha charge. It wasn't enough.

Round 7
Thagrosh needed elevens to hit Sorscha after wind-rush. With boosted attack rolls, he got them. Twice in a row. Exit stage left.

So... Warlocks literally bleed fury, can heal their warbeasts from a distance, and can't be killed because they can just pass off damage to their warbeasts? Good to know. I find it funny how after the game two people spent a good fifteen minutes trying to explain how Hordes isn't actually overpowered compared to Warmachine, even though I never said it was - me thinks the lady doth protest a little too much...

Like I said, it was fun game, and very interesting. In retrospect and with a better understanding of how Hordes works, I can see some things that I should have done differently.

First, swapping the Berserker with the Spriggan would let me make better use of the Spriggan with focus, and better use of the Berserker with boosted attack rolls, plus it would have put all my shooting in one place for better effect against infantry - at least it would have worked out better that way in this game.

Second, I loaded up the Destroyer with focus, cast Boundless Charge on him, then charged a light warbeast (the crossbow fellow) instead of the Scythean. The little guy died in two hits, leaving the Destroyer with two unuseable focus, then he got murdered by the Scythean. This was before I realised just how dangerous that monster actually was. It might have something to do with the fact that the crossbow guy had just killed Kell Bailoch and wasn't too far away from Sorscha of course.

Third, the Spriggan should have stuck with the Juggernaut and wiped out the Ravagore. At the time I thought a P&S 19 beatstick could take out a shooty gribbly, but this was before I lost my axe and understood how Warbeasts use fury. I now understand that, because Warbeasts don't have the same focus limits and are extremely easy to heal - at least enough to restore systems (or aspects or whatever they are called), to deal with Hordes you have to use overwhelming power at one point in order to knock out Warbeasts in a single round.

Fourth, on the turn I attacked Thagrosh with the Kovnik, I should have activated the Jacks first in the vague hopes I could have taken out his transfer targets. I could have even tried to charge him with Sorscha as well to try to overwhelm his ability to transfer damage, but of course that would have been an all-or-nothing round. Going by the first plan, I think if I had been lucky enough to take out the two Warbeasts with the Spriggan without boosted attack rolls, he would have had to transfer damage to the Ravagore, which would have killed it and left the Juggernaut alive. The next turn I would have had a chance to move in with both Warjacks, and who knows what would have happened then. The second plan, charging in Sorscha as well, would probably not have been enough to kill him as she would have been down to two focus at best even if she had been able to reach him, and then he would have just killed her next turn.

Thoughts about Hordes
While I can see the limitations of the fury system and Warmachine's Focus mechanic certainly feels less complex, at this point the fury system intrinsically more powerful than the focus system to me. Let me break it down. To keep things simple we'll deal with focus/fury six casters/warlocks.

Warbeasts generate fury that the Warlock can then use.
Warjacks use focus that the Warcaster could have otherwise used.
In Warmachine, you have (for example) six focus points a round. You can use them to cast spells or buy or boost attacks. In Hordes, you force warbeasts to boost or get extra attacks, which generates fury that your Warlock can use next round - but your warlock can only handle (for example) six fury, if you generate more you risk your warbeasts frenzying. Since your Warlock will probably have six fury from last round, it's basically equivalent to having twelve focus points per round in Warmachine.
In my game he also had two Shepherds who could strip off three fury points each, so overall allowing him up to generate up to six extra fury points from his warbeasts without worrying about them frenzying. In Warmachine, Cygnar has a journeyman warcaster who can run his own jack with his three focus points, but you can only take one of him. Menoth have wracks which you can get extra focus from (but I'm not sure how much focus). Khador has a Koldun Lord who can give one jack one focus point as long as it doesn't already have any focus. I don't think any of the Warmachine options are as powerful as having those two Shepherds - and I don't even know if he could have taken more.
If your warbeasts generate more fury, there's a chance they can frenzy next round. Well, it's a chance not a certainty, and if they do frenzy there's a decent chance what they will actually do is just attack your enemy anyway. Besides, it's an option, one that Warmachine doesn't have; that extra fury you generate might be enough to prevent your beast from getting killed next turn or even to win the game when you need that crucial attack.
There is another aspect to this; Warlocks are dependent on Warbeasts; if they start to run out they won't have enough fury to be effective. If they don't have any they need to take damage in order to generate fury or else they can't do very much at all.
Warcasters meanwhile generate their own focus. While they have lots of Warjacks to sustain they generally can't do very much themselves without leaving Warjacks to go hungry, but when they run out of Warjacks they can still be pretty effective themselves.
Take for example Sorscha; if she runs out of Warjacks she can still move, shoot, cast a couple of offensive spells then wind-rush away from harm, meaning she can cause some mischief all on her own. And Butcher or Karchev? If a Warlock and Warcaster are the last two models left in the game, on average I figure the Warcaster has the advantage.
Focus is a more consistent resource in Warmachine armies, while Hordes armies get more use out of fury initially, but can run dry when their army gets depleted, so if the game goes on long enough a Warmachine army can start to get the advantage. Of course, that means a Horde army has an advantage right from the start and it's only later that thing might possibly swing back the other way, so I would say Hordes has the advantage here overall.

Some warbeasts can generate up to 4 fury. Most generate less I think. If you reach your threshold, there's some limits, like not being able to accept transferred damage from the warlock.
In Warmachine:
All Warjacks can be allocated up to 3 focus. Many don't typically benefit from that much, such as one-shot ranged warjacks, who rarely need more than 2.
A heavy Warbeast generating 4 fury is a real monster. The fact that some can't generate as much fury as some warjacks can be allocated isn't such a calamity since the warmachine player probably won't be able to allocate three focus to all his warjacks, especially not if he has more than two. And having that heavy Warbeast go crazy with four fury at the right time can be a big advantage.

The Warlock can transfer damage to his warbeasts using fury.
The Warcaster's armour is increased by his remaining fury.
The Warlock pays a point of fury for every attack's damage that he transfers. The Warcaster gains a point of armour for every point of focus that he has left.
The Warlock needs to have fury, a transfer target (one of his warbeasts) in range, and some things (such as maxing out their fury) makes a warbeast unable to accept transfer damage.
On the face of it the fact that the damage doesn't "disappear" but is in fact taken by a warbeast makes it sound like it's not really all that good, but since the alternative is losing the game, that's not that bad. Consider that a Warcaster who hasn't spent any focus at all is probably at armour 20 max (highly unlikely most of the time), and a charging Warbeast or Warjack is going to be doing P&S 18 plus three dice damage on his first hit, the warcaster is going to take damage, and is in fact unlikely to survive the encounter. A Warlock on full fury won't take any damage at all, or can choose to eat the damage from attacks that have a low damage roll to save the fury for transferring the high rolls. Yes, in theory a Warlock could run out of fury or transfer targets and start taking damage from lots of low power attacks in a situation where a Warcaster would take very little damage due to his high armour, but it feels to me that it's unlikely to actually happen unless the game is almost over anyway, since most early to mid-game assassination runs involve getting a few high power attacks on the target rather than a whole mess of lower power attacks. In my game Thagrosh survived an assassination run by Sorscha that would have taken out your average Warcaster (she landed four attacks, the second one froze him), with 2 fury to spare no less. This is after taking some shots from the Spriggan's grenades and surviving a high-damage hit from the Kovnik (a P&S 15 weaponmaster charge attack).

The Warcaster can heal Warbeasts in his control area at 1 fury per damage point.
It is possible to buy units, such as mechanics, who can heal Warjacks (typically if they are in base-to-base).
While the mechanics in Warmachine can heal more damage without costing you focus, they cost points, have to be in base-to-base and must pass a skill roll. The dice rolls make it less reliable and being in base-to-base makes them vulnerable, plus if a warjack runs or charges more than five or size inches they won't be able to fix it that turn (or the next if they fix it before it moves) as they aren't fast enough to catch up on their normal movement, and they need their action to perform the repair. The Warlock certainly can't heal as much damage, but is almost guaranteed to be able to restore a lost aspect restoring their combat ability for one turn.
I think maybe Hordes has the advantage at lower points levels and Warmachine at higher points levels; personally I think the reliability of the Hordes ability is valuable.

Warbeasts are forced, which generates fury, during the activation phase, though they can only be forced while in their Warlock's control area.
Warjacks are allocated focus in the maintenance phase (I think), and can only be allocated focus while in their Warcaster's control area, but can then move out of it and use the focus.
In Hordes your warbeasts are greatly diminished if they leave the Warlock's control area, while in Warmachine they can get their focus then charge off to use it outside the Warcaster's control area. However, next turn they won't be able to get any focus. So in Hordes, the Warbeasts really need to stay close to the Warlock, while in Warmachine there's a bit more freedom to spread the Warjacks out, as long as you're sure they won't need focus next turn, however in Hordes if the Warlock is too far from a Warbeast that needs to be forced at the start of the turn, he has the option to move up to it; an option you don't have in Warmachine.
In Warmachine the player has to plan ahead and guess how much focus he needs, and if he misjudges it costs him dearly. For example, if he loads a Jack up with focus then fails a charge, he now has a bunch of focus sitting there unable to be used (this happens to me a lot).
Consider a scenario: the Warmachine player has two Warjacks and wants to charge two Warbeasts. He has four focus to spare on them. He decides that one beast really has to die and gives on jack three focus, and the other a single point. That jack charges in, gets some really lucky dice rolls and kills the warbeast with two focus points left. His other warjack, with only the single focus point, fails to do very much damage do it's opponent.
Now consider a Hordes player with two warbeasts that he wants to charge into two warjacks. He can only leach four focus off them, and doesn't want to risk them frenzying. He decides one warjack simply has to die, and resolves to spend up to the first Warbeast's limit of three fury to do it. He gets some lucky dice rolls and kills the jack with only one fury point generated. Now he's free to generate up to three fury with the second warbeast, so no fury is "wasted".
It looks to me like in this case Warmachine might have the potential to be more powerful, but Hordes is more forgiving.

Obviously I'm new to this and my experience is severely limited, so I'm sure as I understand the games better I'll revise my opinion, this is just how it looks to me right now is all.

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