Warmachine: State of the Game 2019

So, one of the things they’ve been doing at the Southern Ontario Open for the past few years was getting together all the Warmachine talking heads into one big room for a discussion on the state of the game. This year, I thought I would share my thoughts in a written format, as I’m not cool enough to have a podcast and don’t have the voice for radio anyways.

Evolving Meta or Power Creep?

They started off with a discussion about how the meta seems to be constantly evolving, and how it was great to see people constantly trying out new stuff. However, I would argue that this has less to do with a meta where people are trying interesting stuff to try to counter what other factions are playing, then other players trying to counter the new interesting stuff, then that leading to a state of flux as everyone cycles between rock, paper, scissors, lizard and Spock, trying to stay ahead of everyone else. I think it has more to do with the CID process breaking down a little and causing some power creep. I mean, when one considers all the boogeymen that have reared their head in the meta over the past year, just about all of them save perhaps Nemo3 was a direct result of some new release or rules change that may have been slightly overtuned as a result of clamouring in CID.

I feel like the competitive balance of the game is healthiest when there is no boogeyman. While I’m not necessarily the best player, I think the few months between when Una2 got taken down a notch and someone figured out that Ghost Fleet is good was a great time for Warmachine, where there weren’t really any extreme outliers dominating the tournament scene, and people were doing a lot of experimentation. Since then, the internet chatter feels like it’s been just one boogeyman list after another.

I think the proof is going to be in the pudding in the next few months. With Privateer Press taking a CID break, it will be interesting to see if the meta settles down a little and we start seeing more flux and experimentation or if people are still going to be complaining about Lord of the Feast and Iona until the next new hotness drops.

Cutting models?

A large portion of the cast was devoted to the question of whether Privateer Press should start eliminating models from their range and from the game, and the general consensus seemed to be that it is time to do it. Two rationales were discussed for this – the idea that there are just too many SKUs clogging up the supply chain and making it hard on retailers and distributors, and that the number of models is a barrier to new players.

To be honest, I’m not sold. I’m not sure that SKU bloat is that much of an issue, because I’ve only ever seen one or two stores actually attempt to stock at least one of everything, and both of those stores do online sales as well as in person. Most stores tend to stock a limited number of models and get in some of the new releases, but for the rest, they generally order on demand.

Rather than cut SKUs by eliminating models, if SKU bloat is an issue, then what PP could do is consolidate some SKUs by bundling existing products. The three Man-O-War units could be combined into one multikit with the same bodies and different arms. Units could be bundled with attachments and non-character solos instead of sold separately. And, more importantly, PP could help provide stores with a little more guidance as to what products in their back catalogue are the sort of things that are popular or are starter products and should be stocked, and what you can get away with being special order only. Perhaps just classifying all those SKUs as starter, core, and supplemental would help a retailer with the daunting task of figuring out which of these hundreds of SKUs they should stock. They’ve already made steps in that direction by changing how they did distribution and by doing direct order for new huge based models that tend to sit on shelves for a long time and not move.

Not to mention that if the goal is to help retailers and distributors who are carrying Warmachine and make them more likely to want to carry the game, rendering a portion of the stock that they currently have on the shelves completely useless is likely going to have the opposite effect.

As for the idea that the sheer number of models is hard on new players, I have to counter that with one question: are new players really being turned off from Warmachine because they keep getting their faces kicked in by Assault Kommandos and Kossite Woodsmen? Or is the real negative play experience for new players running up against Iona and Lord of the Feast and not knowing that they need to place all their models exactly 3.2 inches apart and answer a geometry final exam question with shield guards and blocking models to not instantly lose? And, of these, which of the two is a new player more likely to actually run into in the first round of his first tournament?

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Kossites OP, plz nerf

I get that the sheer scale of WMH can be overwhelming, but I don’t think the solution is simply cutting models from the game. Miniature games fundamentally aren’t card games. There is a more intense connection with game elements in a miniatures game than there is in a card game. Hobbyists spend hours lovingly crafting and customizing their models and sometimes even take models in their army based on their visual appeal more than their combat effectiveness; telling them that they can’t use them anymore is going to frustrate a lot of people. There are ways to address this such as through promoting limited formats and lower points games where there aren’t as many models on the table with rules that need remembering that aren’t as drastic as telling people they can’t play with their toys anymore.

Which brings me to Champions.

As for Champions, the main problem is that it has an identity crisis. People think that it is supposed to be a limited format to make it easier for new players, but if you actually read the document and the dev notes in the CID, that’s not what it is. It is supposed to be an alternative format for experienced players to prove their skill; one where the limited roster changes up the meta and allows these players to showcase the skill with all their faction’s casters (including the off-meta ones) as they rotate through ADR, not just stick with the few in their faction that are the most powerful and/or slightly broken.

The problem with that is that the ADR has historically been somewhat difficult to balance; there is often one or two factions that are on top because their restrictions are that they are only allowed to take the best stuff in the faction, while everyone else has to try to counter it with their B-team. Further, removing the painting requirement also took away one point of distinction between it and masters.

However, the fact that people keep saying that Masters is an introductory tournament format indicates to me that there is a recognition that there is a need for this sort of thing. In my opinion, if you want a truly limited format for new players, you need lower points and a more static, more limited roster that only includes the relatively straightforward things in each faction and fewer really obnoxious gear checks. Call it Warmachine: Core and push it as an alternative to no-restriction steamrollers. The catch is that with the current community, at least those who regularly go to events and are loud on the internet, getting them to embrace anything that isn’t standard, 75 point steamrollers is a challenge to say the least.

Bringing in new players

As is par for the course in these “state of the game” podcasts, Evan hit the nail on the head when he identified onboarding new players as the biggest issue with the growth of Warmachine. While part of it has to do with the density and steep learning curve of the game, it is also the fact that the community, while it can be very friendly once you get into it, can also be very intimidating for new players.

Another important point that was made was that people get into WMH because it is fun and because they identify with the cinematics of the game and the badass warcasters that they love. The ones that got hooked had some exciting cinematic moments that brought them to the edge of their seat; for me it was getting my ass handed to me by Haley2 until I figured out how to assassinate people with Sorscha1. From that moment on, I was on Team Sorscha and refused to play Butcher because he was the jerk who killed Sorscha’s dad.

I didn’t get into this game because someone told me that it is the most competitively balanced tournament game and that I should look forward to getting my face kicked in 50 times before I am able to git gud enough that every game isn’t a miserable experience. If I was that masochistic, I would play competitive Starcraft or some other e-sport.

However, as someone who is currently in the process of dragging a coworker into this world, I think the biggest challenge is that to an outsider, competitive Warmachine doesn’t look fun. You generally have two people crouched over a flat table with flat scenery and unpainted models, staring intently at the apps on their phones. As often as not, one of the two players is frustrated and afterwards, they engage in a loud discussion about what is OP and what needs CID and what little things they hate about the game. That’s not conducive to bringing in new players.

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At its finest, wargaming is a social affair. It requires much more agreement and back and forth between opponents as you discuss movement, measurement, terrain, etc. While one of the strengths of Warmachine is that there is a lot of clarity in the rules and it lends itself to competitive play about as well as any wargame can, pure competitive gaming can at times be a little soulless and doesn’t look fun to outsiders.

Conclusions

Perhaps this article ended up being a little more negative than intended, but that wasn’t my intention. I love Warmachine. I love the steampunk aesthetic, the bell curve probability distribution of 2d6, and the resource management and push your luck aspects of the focus/fury system. And I’m not on the doom train; I think this game is going to be around for a while and I’m excited for things like Archons and Oblivion.

But, while I disagree with a few of the points made in the cast, these conversations are important. So much of the growth and longevity of the game is down to the community these days. We can’t just rely on being the system that is the default for castaways ragequitting That Other Game.

Moreso than a lot of other games, a player’s experience in a wargame is directly related to the people they play it with. Even if we aren’t up to the task of being community leaders, it’s up to all of us to make that community and each other’s experiences the best that it can be.

Southern Ontario Open 2019 recap

So, I went to the Southern Ontario Open for the third year in a row this past weekend. The SOO, which takes place in Hamilton every year around the beginning of May, is undoubtedly Canada’s premiere Warmachine event. Drawing 100-plus players in their Masters tournament, having a six or seven round Masters, as well as featuring Iron Arena, IKRPG, MonPoc, and hobby content over three full days, it’s kind of a big deal.

Champions

I chose to participate in Champions this year and forgo Masters as I did the previous year. I knew that going to both tournaments would be just too much Warmachine for me, and I wanted to focus on hobby lounge and iron arena. I ended up choosing Champions because I really didn’t want to pack three lists, and I thought it would be nice to get all the hardcore gaming out of the way early on then just chill the rest of the con.

My biggest apprehension about Champions, aside from the distinct possibility that I would be getting my face kicked in by Iona all day, was the lack of a painting requirement. Since I’m not a hardcore competitive player and there is about a zero chance of me qualifying for either the WTC or the Iron Gauntlet finals, the SOO for the past few years has been my one opportunity to attend a fully painted event. As someone who appreciates the aesthetic aspect of wargaming, that made it a particular highlight for my year in Warmachine and made whichever tournament had the painting requirement a can’t-miss event.

I know a lot of people disagree with me and have a serious problem with the above opinion, so if you are one of those, please direct all your hate mail to podcast@chain-attack.com.

Anyways, that all changed this year, with PP changing their official tournament packet in such a way that if a tournament organizer wants to have an official Masters or Champions event that counts towards their Iron Gauntlet qualifiers, they can’t have a painting requirement. As those Iron Gauntlet points are a big deal for top-tier competitive players and Warmachine celebrities, that basically precluded the organizers from doing a fully painted event, whether they wanted to or not.

However, it turned out to actually be less of an issue than I was anticipating. I was worried that with no painting requirements, it would open the door to a swarm of grey hordes. But when I walked around the tables, I was pleasantly surprised to see that at least half of the armies were fully painted and a lot of the others were clearly on their way there. Three of my four games were against fully painted opponents, so that was actually a pleasant surprise.

Regarding my army lists, I knew I wanted to do Sorscha3 with plenty of Man-O-War models, and I had those painted up and ready to go. Due to the ADR restrictions, the other list had to be in Wolves of Winter, which meant a few things. First, it meant that Vlad2, which is the only model in my collection painted by my sister and not by me, would be the ideal choice. Second, it meant I had to get a lot of models painted to make a coherent list. Third, my list wouldn’t be very good because I didn’t have enough Doom Reavers painted up to really swarm my opponent with them. Finally, it meant that since I hadn’t ever actually played Wolves of Winter and trying to follow the CID made my brain hurt, my plan was to put the Vlad2 army on my tray and make a show of thinking about which list to play, but actually just play Sorscha3 every game.

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I went 1-3 in the tournament, losing to Old Witch 2, Zaal2, and Ossyan. My one victory came against someone playing Deneghra in Slaughter Fleet Raiders. He had little opportunity to take advantage of drag, as my Shocktroopers were granted Sturdy from the unit attachment and I had a shield guard in the list just in case. I ended up catching Ragman with a spray from a Suppression Tanker early on, and from there on out, I pretty much just watched his army bounce off the heavy armour of my Man-O-Wars, smacking them around with retaliatory strike as they came in. I actually started feeling a little bad for him because once Ragman was dead and his alpha strike was denied by my clouds, he just didn’t have the armour cracking to effectively deal with my army.

Now, I’m not one of those people who loses one game in a tournament and drops out because there is no point to playing unless you’re winning. I typically stay in throughout the whole thing, outside of extreme circumstances. However, I hadn’t been to a tournament in a while and after four games, my brain was hurting and I had done enough Warmachine for a weekend, never mind a day.

However, in spite of going 1-3 and dropping, I still managed to win Champions, or at least the most important part, the best painted army award.

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Painting

While the main attractions for most people are the competitive tournaments and the Iron Arena, the SOO does have some excellent hobby programming, and I feel like everyone who attends the SOO should at the very least pop into the hobby lounge for a few minutes and check out the contest entries or see what they can pick up from their fellow hobbyists.

I managed to squeeze in a couple classes. I took one on polychromatic shading with Ben at Primal Poodle, where I learned some more about colour theory. While I may have been a slightly difficult student by asking questions like “is grey a colour” when told to basecoat a part of a model in a colour that interested me, I did take a lot away from the class. I also got the chance to show off some of my work with Ben and Faust and get some valuable feedback on what I’m doing right and where I can improve.

But even outside of formal classes, you can pick up a lot from just getting the chance to talk shop with your fellow painters. There was a fellow hobbyist who was having difficulty with a resin pour, and I was able to offer up a couple pointers on doing the formwork as I had gone through that pain a little while ago. And I did have to chuckle a little when someone said that she should look up some guy who did a Swamp Siren and read up how he did it.

I ended up spending an inordinate amount of time in the hobby lounge. Part of this was because I didn’t have a huge based model completed before the event, and was inspired to finish painting my Siege Chariot conversion and get it into the contest. Which meant that I stayed up until 6 am on Friday night working on it, then got up again at 9 and got back to work, eventually getting it banged out with a few hours to spare.

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Why did I leave this until the last minute?

However, my valiant effort was all for naught when a very nicely done Sea King, which is one of the coolest models in PP’s entire range, edged me out in that particular category. That said, I came away with victories in two of the four categories – small and medium model – with Sorscha0 and my Sorscha bust, respectively. And the Sorscha bust also won the best in show award, not to mention that it was Sorscha3 running my best painted army, so… Sorscha OP, plz nerf?

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Patrick Miller’s Sea King

In some ways, this was coming full circle. My first year at the SOO, I entered into the painting competition but came away empty-handed, and to be honest, I felt a few pangs of disappointment. By the time the next year rolled around, I had improved my painting skills and had some display only models to enter, and while I did win one category, the top prize remained elusive. Now, I know it’s unhealthy to compare yourself to others as a painter and get too competitive about it, but I decided I would make it a goal to win the painting competition this year. I upped my game with the skills I picked up over the past year and the classes I attended, and focused on getting that Sorscha bust looking good, and it really paid off. And, since Sorscha was my first warcaster and is my favourite character from the Iron Kingdoms, the fact that I was able to do so with her was a little poetic.

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In the categories I didn’t win, I got some good feedback from the judges, and to be honest, I can’t really argue with what they said. For the Siege Strider, they liked the conversion and a lot of the painting, however the main issue was that I had overweathered the upper half of it, which wasn’t super realistic and worked against the highlights I put in. This probably had a little to do with the fact that instead of putting it all together and then painting it, I painted and weathered the model in sub-assemblies, starting with the legs and working up to the gun and the driver. As such, instead of following a logical weathering progression tapering the weathering off as I went up which would have been much more effective, I just did a default amount of weathering on each part. While I did add some additional dirt and mud stains on the feet afterwards, it wasn’t enough to truly get across the story behind the weathering – that of a big walker stomping around the battlefield, with its legs getting beaten up as it grinds the filthy Cygnarans to dust beneath its feet.

Also, having stayed up until 6 am the night before working on the model probably didn’t help much with my ability to pull off a coherent weathering scheme while running on three hours sleep and three cups of coffee.

As for the group category, I debated whether to enter my Man-O-Wars or my Cygnar. I went with Cygnar because it was some more recent work, but then I ended up getting too hung up on what made a tournament-legal list, and included some models which were from when I was still working out the finer details of the scheme. This meant that Maddox, who was my first Cygnar infantry model, kind of brought the entry as a whole down a little with her mediocrity, as did my first Cygnar jack or two. And since consistency is important in group categories, that knocked me down a few notches. Had I not included Maddox in my entry and perhaps thrown in a couple of my more recent stormdudes instead, I think I would have been a little more competitive.

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Group winner – Vincent Beaulieu’s Dreamer

I also want to give a big shout-out to the competition. There were some real top-shelf entries this year, and in particular, I want to recognize Vincent Beaulieu’s Captain Ahab bust from Scale75. It was pretty awesome and I feel like it really gave my Sorscha bust a run for her money; in fact, I would say there are some aspects where it outshone my entry. However the nature of winner-take-all or ranked judging systems means that sometimes, amazing models that get edged out by other amazing models don’t quite get the recognition they deserve.

The Final Word

The SOO is always a great show, and is kind of a highlight of my year in Warmachine. Even as someone who isn’t a hardcore competitive player, you have to appreciate the passion for the game we all love that is on display in that room. This year in particular, I was feeling some frustration with the game and the community and the SOO kind of reinvigorated my love for this game. If you are a Warmachine player and can possibly make it to the SOO, circle the calendar and make sure you go. And, while you’re there, pop by the hobby lounge for a few minutes and say hi.

I’ll be the one still painting at 3 am.

Southern Ontario Open 2018 – Recap

I alluded to this in my last post, but a couple weekends ago, I attended the Southern Ontario Open in Hamilton. For those that don’t know, the Southern Ontario Open is a three day con and probably the biggest Warmachine convention in Canada, and it features both a Masters and Champions tournament, Iron Arena, hobby programming, IKRPG, and some other events like Steamroller scrambles and Company of Iron. It’s attended by a lot of big names in the Warmachine community, and is getting more and more popular among Americans, in part due to the high caliber of competitive play and in part because the exchange rate on the Canadian dollar makes it a relatively inexpensive con.

I headed out on Thursday, and I decided that this year, I would moderate my goals. Last year, I went with high hopes, only to be crushed repeatedly by bad dice as well as my own suckitude. Protip: never say “All right, I need a six, so I’m going to boost to make sure.” I went 1-4 in Champions, lost a good chunk of my Iron Arena games, and lost every single game where I played a caster other than Harkevich. Knowing that the SOO has a very high caliber of player, I decided that I would just try to equal my previous record, and try not to get frustrated over silly things like dice.

Champions

Champions is an interesting limited format in Warmachine. The two big differences between Champions and other tournaments are that players are restricted to warcasters who are on the Active Duty Roster list, and official Champions tournaments have a painting requirement. I enjoy Champions, because the limited meta means that you don’t have to worry about some of the boogeymen out there and you have to worry less about tailoring your list to defeat the Mad Dogs, Una2, Denny1 Ghost Fleet/Coven Dark Host, Gaspy3 Nine Slayers, Nemo3, or whatever list is running roughshod over the meta at any given time. You get to see some casters and lists that you don’t usually see in other formats, and ironically, you might even have a little more freedom beacuse you don’t have to worry as much about whether you can deal with that boogeyman list out there. To quote Tim Banky from this year’s State of the Game address, one could say that the format is very Hegelian.

I know this is probably a controversial statement, but I also like that Champions is a fully painted format. The painting requirement is one of the big reasons why, when I decided that I would do one of the two tournaments and spend the rest of the time in the Iron Arena or hobby lounge, I settled on Champions instead of Masters. There is something about two fully painted armies duking it out that makes the whole experience a little more enjoyable, and it was nice that seven out of my nine games at the SOO (six Champions, and one Iron Arena) were against fully painted armies.

I know there is talk about removing the painting requirement from Champions, and I do kind of see an argument for it. After all, it can get awkward when you combine a limited format and a painting requirement because it is possible for players to end up in the unfortunate situation where they are limited to models they don’t have painted yet and aren’t allowed to play their painted stuff due to the restrictions in the format. However, I hope that PP keeps the painting requirement in at least one of their official tournament formats, both to encourage painting and to make it so that events with painting requirements are run once in a while. Even if they don’t, I hope people who run big events like the SOO will consider retaining it for part of their official programming. It’s nice to have the occasional fully painted brawl and a convention where there is plenty of other programming going on like Iron Arena and hobby classes is the perfect place to implement a painting requirement for one of the two big tournaments.

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Top secret tech; do not steal

Anyways, getting back to list construction, my choices were two of Sorscha1, Kozlov, Old Witch2, and Vlad3. Since I don’t have the model for OW2, and didn’t feel like acquiring and painting enough cavalry to make a Vlad3 list, my pairing was basically made for me. For Sorscha1, I went with a Winter Guard Kommand list, featuring a Grolar and a Demolisher in her battlegroup and a Juggernaut on Andy, as well as Aiyana & Holt because magic weapons are a thing these days. The battlegroup is a little unusual, however with this list, I was gunning hard for a pop and drop assassination so between the d3+2 POW 12 shots on the Grolar, and the two POW 15 shots on the Demolisher (as well as Bulldoze, Girded, and ARM 23), I figured I would have plenty of additional guns to finish off any enemy caster who survived Sorscha’s assassination run.

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Also, these lists barely fit on one tray, so that’s a bonus

When it came to Kozlov, my list build was relatively simple. Go in Armoured Corps, and take two of all the good models. Double Shocktroopers, Double Drakhuns, Double Kovniks, and Double Forge Seers. Fill out the battlegroup with cheap jacks, and take Saxon Orrik for Pathfinder and a unit of Kayazy Eliminators as my second merc choice because they are Friendly Faction and good. Kozlov is usually not considered a competitive caster, but I feel that the toolbox available to her basically gives an Armoured Corps list pretty much everything they need to get up the table, hit hard, and be obnoxious to remove.

I ended up going 3-3 in Masters, losing to Denny2, Heretic, and Vlad3, and defeating Borka2, Kozlov, and Rhyas. While going into the tournament, my theorymachine told me that my Kozlov list was probably kind of meh, I actually really enjoyed playing it and ended up dropping it five times, playing my Sorscha1 list only into Heretic. I went 3-2 with Kozlov, and I’m happy with my 3-3 overall record. It’s probably better than I excpected, and definitely exceeds my goals for the tournament.

In my Vlad3 game, I was cursed with bad dice, but I also had good dice in the Kozlov mirror match and my opponent’s dice in the Rhyas match absolutely went out the window and his Blightbringer couldn’t kill anything. I also had two games go down to tough rolls – Kozlov failed his tough roll against Deathjack, but had he survived, Denny2 was about to get POW 22 Juggernaut to the face, but next game, Borka2 failed his tough roll after almost facetanking an entire unit of MoW Shocktroopers and a Juggernaut, both with Fury cast on them.

I’m not going to do a play-by-play of all my games, because quite frankly, I don’t think those are all that interesting and the details are starting to fade from memory, but I have five general things to take away from my experience in Masters.

1.   Warmachine is a lot more fun when you aren’t getting frustrated over things like dice. Last year, I didn’t have the best time because after getting my face kicked in four times in a row, I was starting to get a little frustrated. This year, I resolved not to get salty and to try to stay positive no matter how bad the game was going, and while I got frustrated my first game over losing Saxon early to an arced spell, I was able to recognize that and get myself back into the proper state of mind to enjoy the game by the end of that game.

2.   Dice happen, but while I had individual games where they didn’t do what I wanted them to, in the long run, it all averaged out. It’s important to not get frustrated over them, and try not to get yourself into situations where you really really need to make any single roll. It’s easy to say you lost because of dice, as in my game against Vlad3 when there were a couple important rolls that I didn’t make. It’s more productive, if you want to get better at Warmachine, to ask yourself what you could have done differently to not have your game hinge on a single die roll, no matter how good the odds. In that game, I missed some critical die rolls and flubbed some damage rolls, however, I could have been a bit better at playing the scenario and then I wouldn’t have been so far behind on points that I needed everything to go right on my turn to not lose.

 

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Kozlov mirror match? Only in Champions…

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My Kozlov. Yes, the axe is unrealistically large, but this is Khador.

3.   Kozlov might be better than everyone thinks she is. Yeah, she is your average, kind of dull, straightforward battlebox caster, but she can give an Armoured Corps list a lot of what they need to pose a serious threat. Under her feat, Shocktroopers can charge with a threat range of 13” which isn’t bad for a slow unit. Unyielding is great on Shocktroopers, as it can give you a turn of ARM 23 against melee in shield wall. Fury makes them hit harder, and Tactical Supremacy can help them get up the board without running and lets them stay in shield wall. No-knockdown and pathfinder on your battlegroup is legit, and a no-knockdown tough warcaster is just icing on the cake. Pending soon-to-be-released CID changes, something like this list might actually make it into my competitive pairing for unrestricted formats.

4.   Especially on Spread The Net, you need to consider the scenario starting on deployment. In my game against Vlad3, I managed to win the list chicken and get a favoured matchup and also take a commanding lead on attrition, but I still lost in scenario. No doubt part of this was due to dice (see what I said above about not saying “I need a six, so I’ll boost to make sure” – it’s hard to win any game when you roll multiple triple ones in a turn), but had I managed to position my solos a bit better from deployment and either score one more point or contest the opposing flag one more time, I wouldn’t have lost on scenario and then with a massive attrition advantage, I would have likely been able to come back and win.

5.   Models with 2” reach are really good at denying countercharges. In my game against Borka2, I managed to only take one countercharge the entire game, and I had factored that in when I moved my unit in. Part of this was because of experience playing into Karchev, but part of it was the fact that I had a lot of models with 2” reach. It gets easy to prevent enemy models from being able to countercharge by engaging them when you can take advantage of long reach to engage multiple models at a time, particularly if you have fast models like Drakhuns who can get to the sweet spot they need to tie up multiple beasts.

Iron Arena

I managed to get three Iron Arena games in this year, playing Kozlov twice and my old Strakhov1 list once. I mentioned in my previous article how my Strakhov1 game was probably the most fun I’ve ever had in a game of warmachine, but the other two games were pretty good as well. The first was playing the brick of MoW into Circle, where I managed to win by scenario via attrition. Finally, the last game was also without a doubt the drunkest opponent I’ve ever played against in Warmachine. He could barely move models or do math, but since it was on Spread The Net, I figured that accurate math or measurements didn’t really matter because he was also too drunk to effectively play scenario, so I won 5-0.

By the time I went to trade in my Iron Arena points, the prize table was pretty picked over with a most of the stuff there being for factions that I don’t play, so I picked up something for a friend I thought he could use and which I know he will enjoy painting.

Hobby Lounge

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WIP: My Fenris conversion. This is going to be fun to transport…

I spent a good chunk of my time at the SOO in the hobby lounge, working on my Fenris conversion and trying to pick up what I could from the more talented painters in there. The hobby lounge at the SOO is a little out of the way so there are a lot of people who don’t set foot in there the entire weekend, but it’s a great place to have a seat between rounds and paint some models to unwind from an intense game, or just to hang out and learn from the masters. It’s almost criminally under-utilized by the mass of attendees, and I think more people should at least pop in check it out over the weekend. Personally, I got a lot of progress in on Fenris, probably getting the mounted version at least half-finished there alone. Which is good for me because I don’t paint mounted models very often and tend to get frustrated when painting horses.

Painting competition

I also entered in the painting competition again this year, entering Nancy Steelpunch in the small models category, Mary Read in large, one of my Man-O-Wars in Medium, and a whole pile of Man-O-Wars in the group category. The competition this year was more intense than last year, but I managed to eke out a victory in the small models category, and win a Bradigan Pitt model, which I will probably convert into a Kayazy Assassin Underboss because I’m not a huge fan of the movie Fight Club. Will from Moosemachine won best overall with his Borka bust, and there was an amazing Cyclone in the medium category. More importantly, I got some really good feedback, particularly on Mary Read to help me get the bird right and on doing eyeballs. The only suggestion I might have for the painting competition is that since it takes place in the out-of-the-way hobby lounge, it might drum up more interest in the hobby aspect of the game to have a display case in a higher-traffic area for entries.

Overall

The SOO was a blast, and I would say that if you are anywhere remotely near Southern Ontario and vaguely interested in Warmachine, you should really consider going. With Masters, Champions, Iron Arena, and the Hobby Lounge, the SOO has a little bit of something for everyone. I had a lot of fun, and in terms of my win/loss record, I exceeded all my goals and had a lot of fun and got some experience with a new list. The event definitely re-ignited some passion for Warmachine that had been fading as of late, and I would definitely give it five Hegels out of five.

hegel

You don’t even know who I am, do you?

My best game of Warmachine

So, I made it to the Southern Ontario Open on the weekend, and I plan to write an article about my experience sometime over the next week or so (protip: go to the SOO), but I wanted to touch on one experience in particular and give a shout out to a fellow Warmachine player.

By the time Saturday night rolled around, I had spent a good chunk of the day in the hobby lounge painting my Femris and recovering from Friday’s Champions tournament, but I did want to pick up some Iron Arena points because there was one prize that I had my eye on for a friend. For the uninitiated, Iron Arena is just an area to play casual games and get points for playing which can be redeemed for prizes which are generally donated to the event. Anyways, I was strolling around, looking for an opponent, and found one in a Mercenary player named Jeremy from London, Ontario, who was rocking an Ashlynn list.

Little did I know that my little exercise in farming Iron Arena points was going to provide me with best game of Warmachine I had ever played.

The Game

So, my opponent was running Ashlynn in the Llaelese Resistance theme with a couple Nomads, a unit of Trenchers, a unit of Stormblades, and some other miscellaneous stuff. I brought out my Strakhov1 list that I had been playing just about all the time into literally everything right up until I fractured my hand and took a break from the game for a couple months. Both of us were fully painted, and the scenario was The Pit II from the SR2017 packet, also known as “wrestling belt.”

Anyways, I got to go first and I knew that Ashlynn has an upkeep spell that grants her and her battlegroup no-knockdown, so I decided to put Superiority on Torch instead as it seemed like with sustained attack, Torch would be much more effective as an assassination piece than the Grolar. Both me and my opponent ran forward, me positioning aggressively with the jacks and him using Dig In to give his Trenchers cover.

At this point, the first thing I do at the start of my turn is measure the distance between Torch and Ashlynn. I’ve done the top of two Strakhov1 assassination many times, so it’s kind of old hat for me. With Ashlynn “only” about 16 inches out and with just a few trenchers between me and her, it was going to be an easy assassination. At this point, I started to feel a little bad, and offered to proxy base out my assassination run and maybe do a take-back. After all, killing someone top of two is kind of a “gotcha” move and can leave an opponent with a bad taste in his mouth. I chat about it for a bit, and decide to go for it. After allocating focus and activating my support models, Strakhov1 casts overrun on himself, feats, and charges the nearest trencher, killing him. This triggers overrun, allowing Torch to take an out-of-activation movement, getting him to within charge range of Ashlynn. Strakhov sprints back to relative safety, keeping Ashlynn barely within his control range to allow Torch to get on-target.

Next, my eliminiators activate, charge across the board under Strakhov’s feat and clear out the trenchers in the way, side stepping out of the charge lane that Torch needed to get to Ashlynn. So, I go in on Ashlynn, killing Sylys with the assault shot, and bring the saw down to bear, boost the attack roll to ensure a hit… and miss.

Damn. That’s not good. Missing with the initial reduces the amount of damage I can do, doesn’t trigger sustained attack, and makes this assassination run a lot harder. I swing with the fist and go at her with the saw, connecting and giving her a couple good hits, but it’s not enough to kill her. She ends up sitting there, with one hit point, taunting me for my failure.

So, this is bad. Leaving a caster on one box sucks with no focus kind of sucks, and if I don’t kill her, I’ve basically given away an 18 point warjack for free. So, I come up with a plan to do that final point. I’ll have Behemoth walk forward and boost a shot into the back of my own warjack and kill her with the blast damage. No problem, right?

Well, the first shot hits, and I roll to finish off the game, needing a nine on three dice. And… I roll an eight. Okay, no biggie, I have a second shot. Boost the attack roll… and I miss.

Okay, well, if I get lucky, the AoE will deviate onto Ashlynn and… nope, straight back, far enough to not contact Ashlynn. With nothing else in range to possibly put any damage into her, I have to accept my failure on the assassination run.

It’s at this point that I look down and see Eilish Garrity, a model I could have activated before my assassination run to get a reroll on one of my horrible dice and probably succeed on the assassination.

Damn. I’m rusty with this list.

So, I do what I can to try to protect Strakhov from the possibility of counter-assassination, running forwards with some jacks and battle mechaniks to protect him, while other models do what they can to engage or damage my opponent’s army and pass the clock over to my opponent, who is sitting there with his caster on one box and Torch in his face.

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Fuck this guy and his fuck his cat too.

People who are familiar with Harrison Gibbs will know what happens next. He has a once per game ability to restore Llaelese warrior models back to full health. Fun fact: Ashlynn is a Llaelese warrior model.

So, my opponent got to live the dream, restoring Ashlynn from one hit point back to full health. At this point, I’m pretty sure I’m boned, but instead of trying to go after Strakhov, he easily kills Torch on the counter-attack, gets some work done with the Nomads, contests his zone, and moves his gunmages towards mine.

So, with my feat gone and Torch lost in exchange for nothing in return, I’m definitely down but not out. I look at the board and see that if things go well for me, I could get up on scenario points and get into a good position. There’s a Nomad in my opponent’s zone, but it’s at that point that I remember that Strakhov has Battering Ram, a spell that I always forget he has because I never cast it, and which can be used to push a model out. Things go well; I manage to kill my opponent’s objective and score his zone, as well as snagging a point in another zone to get up 3-0.

We keep going, and things start looking up for me. I get some luck here and there, and have some fun plays, such as a Forge Seer charging a Trencher, killing him, and triggering Battle Wizard, which allows him to throw a snowball at a couple of gunmages and kill them both. My models get a lot of work done, my Eliminators are really hard and annoying to remove, and eventually I start seriously threatening a scenario victory.

At some point I clock out, but the game is so damn fun that we keep playing it out. Eventually, it comes down to him needing to kill my objective to get enough points to prevent me from easily winning on my next turn. The objective had taken some damage, so between the surviving gunmages and Taryn, he should be able to easily destroy it and stay in the game so long as his dice don’t totally fail him.

You can guess what happens next. With the objective left with one hit box remaining and no more models to activate, he passes the clock to me. Behemoth blows away the last gunmage with a bombard shot, and just saunters into the zone to give me the last control point I need to win.

We shake hands and report our games, then a little while later I see my opponent staring at his phone in the hall and offer to buy him a beer in the hotel bar because that was a great game. He accepts, and we discuss controversial issues like Khador jack costs (Marauder and Juggernaut should both be 12 points), and my theories on Mercenary list-building (Take Shae, Devil Dogs, a couple Jack Marshals, and about eight freebooters).

Why was this game great?

There were a lot of reasons why this was the best game of my life. First, I’m not saying that this was the best-played match that I had ever played; far from it. We both made a lot of mistakes, and probably a couple rules mistakes (“Hmmmmm, would that AoE have hit and killed Gibbs last turn?”), but it was just a hell of a lot of fun, and I think there were a few reasons for this.

First, fully painted armies. I know this is controversial to some, but I agree with the concept in the Steamroller packet that fully painted armies makes for a more enjoyable experience for all. With both of us fully painted, this made the game just that much more visually appealing.

Second, the game didn’t matter. It wasn’t a tournament game where the winner advances and the loser is knocked out. It was just a casual Iron Arena game, and since there are no points for winning in Iron Arena, there were no stakes and no pressure, so we were both in it to give the opponent a fun and challenging experience.

Since it didn’t matter, we didn’t get hung up on trying to correct things we forgot and rules issues. I’m not saying there were no take-backs, but if one of us forgot something on our card or went scrambling to War Room to figure something out, we just said “screw it” and kept going. I could likely have killed Gibbs with blast damage before he fixed up Ashlynn, but we were so focused on Ashlynn that I totally forgot to even roll for it. Then he forgot some damage buff and took an extra activation or two to kill Torch. Then I charged something, not noticing a cloud that was staring me in the face and I had already moved the model and neither of us knew whether it started out in the cloud or not and could actually draw line of sight. In fact, from a technical perspective, it was kind of a comedy of errors. But, we just took the D&D approach of “if it takes this long to figure it out, make a decision and go with it.”

Also, since it didn’t matter, it meant we could laugh at stupid stuff like dice which would normally make us frustrated. During the Champions tournament the previous day, I had one game where I couldn’t roll worth crap, including rolling two triple-ones on the same turn and flubbing some key attacks that I in all probably should have hit. Then I had one game where my dice were on fire, and one game where my opponent’s dice just went cold. One game I lost by not making a tough roll, and another game I won when my opponent’s caster failed a tough roll. Overall, I had been on enough dice roller coasters the previous day that I resolved not to get mad and just laugh at it.

This is one thing that I’m really happy with my play on this game was going hard for scenario and utilizing every rule on Strakhov’s card (yes, I even cast Battering Ram) to get a point here and a point there and keep the scenario pressure going. Instead of getting angry that my assassination run failed and now Ashlynn is going to go back up to full health, I knew that so long as I didn’t get counter-assassinated, I had a lot of pieces threatening deep into his scenario elements and even with the failed assassination run, I killed a fair chunk of his infantry just to clear a path. By realizing the potential for assassination was not great after I screwed up the first try, and that I was threatening deep enough to make a serious play for scenario, I managed to pull out a victory that I wouldn’t have been able to had my reaction been to get angry, go on tilt, and basically give up.

Finally, I have to give a big thanks to my opponent. The game was a thoroughly enjoyable roller coaster, and we both got to live the dream on a couple things (see: Hot Meal restoring Ashlynn from one hit box to full health). This wasn’t the sort of game that people are going to watch on a stream to see our strategic genius, but it was a hell of a good time.

And, at the end of the day, isn’t that what truly matters? My goal as a Warmachine player isn’t to win the WTC, but if I can laugh at failing a Strakhov1 assassination run, then I think that qualifies as winning regardless.