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.

Grolar Epilogue: Progress and Dojo

In a few of my most recent articles, I talked about how I painted up the Kodiak/Grolar multikit that I won in the Iron Arena at the Capital City Bloodbath this year. This is actually my second Grolar, and if you put them side by side, I think you can get a clear picture of my progression as a painter over the past year and a half or so. I think the newer model showcases a few key aspects where my skill has increased.

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New Grolar (left) and old Grolar (right)

The most obvious difference here is the weathering. The first model was painted long before I started looking into weathering techniques, so when you look at them side by side, you can see that the newer one has a lot more character to it thanks to all the dirt and rust and battle damage. It took me a long time to really get into weathering (outside of character warjacks), but I think the results really do speak for themselves. Weathering adds character and can help your model really tell a story.

The second big difference, I think, is the whites. In the older model, I was probably still just painting the white in a straight white. Whereas in the newer model, I had actually highlighted the whites, starting with a mix of grey and a touch of P3 Frostbite to push the white into a slightly cooler area of the spectrum, and only going up to straight white on the edges and in the highest highlights. I feel that just looking at these two models side by side, this makes a huge difference, especially on the white piece around the neck area.

But the biggest difference of all has to be the metals. In the old one, I was probably just painting them with a silver or brass colour, washing it with nuln oil or some other black wash, and maybe drybrushing it a bit before calling it a day. It looks okay for a gaming piece, but to really take it to the next level, as on the second one, I had to learn to highlight metals. I would start with a darker silver or brass colour, then after applying a wash, I’d work my way up to either a bright silver or a bright brass. Simply look at the curved pieces on the hammer and the guns to see the difference; the newer model looks a lot more three dimensional, and the brass really “pops” in a way that the older model doesn’t.

In addition, the later model has more brass to it. This has been a theme with a lot of the models in this colour scheme. My early models were mostly purple, white and silver, but as I played with colours a little more, I found that the more brass I put on them, the better they looked. This was before I had an understanding of colour theory, of course, so when I first learned about the colour wheel and how to get good contrast, it totally made sense. Gold is directly across the colour wheel from purple, so of course, mixing purple and a warm gold on a model is going to give you both the complementary colours contrast, as well as some cool/warm contrast, and it’s going to look a lot more balanced and pleasing to the eye than a model that is all purple, white, and a cool silver.

Further, adding more gold can help show more details. For the pipes on top of the original model, I did them all in silver, while on the newer one, I did the pipes in silver but the elbow joints in brass. In addition to adding some visual interest and breaking up the big giant silver piece, it also makes it so that the detail is more easily apparent to the viewer at a distance or at a quick glance.

Overall, I would say that these two models represent progress on my hobby journey. The older once is not perfect, and by my new standards, it’s probably not even that great. However, I’m not ashamed of it or anything like that, because it represents how far I’ve come. That’s the thing with any hobby – no model is perfect, and you get better and better with every piece. It’s a journey, not a destination.

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With apologies to Cyanide and Happiness

Bonus! Grolar Dojo!

As an aside, I took the Grolar variant to a tournament a couple weeks ago, and he did very well. He personally killed two warlocks, which helped me clinch third place after a total brainfart in the second-last round cost me a game I had pretty much won (“I’m going to table my opponent except for his caster, get ahead on scenario, then walk into Butcher3’s threat range!”). Since it was a two-list event, I had a Vlad1 Rockets list in my bag, but didn’t bring it out because I forgot my tournament tray and didn’t really want to unpack 50 models every round. So, I just played the following list all four games:

Theme: Jaws of the Wolf

Strakhov1
– Behemoth
– Torch
– Grolar
– Juggernaut
– Marauder

Greylord Forge Seer x2 (free)
Eilish Garrity
Yuri the Axe (free)
Kayazy Eliminators x2
Battle Mechaniks (max)

This list has been something that I have been tweaking for a while, and I straight-up love it. Though it may take a while to learn all his tricks, Strakhov1 has quickly become my favourite caster, and I would argue that with all his movement shenanigans, he is one of the best jack-support casters in Khador right now (perhaps even better than Harkevich and Special K) because of his sheer ability to put warjacks where they need to be, and threaten to assassinate a caster from downtown. Like Sorscha1, even holding onto the feat in the back pocket can help you control the game by simply threatening to kill the enemy caster if he gets too close, with “too close” being defined as “anywhere within 20 inches of any of these warjacks.”

If we go back to the old page 5, and take away some of the puerile and unnecessarily-gendered language, we can see that Warmachine is a game of aggression. You have a better chance of securing victory by taking control of the game and going on the offensive than by sitting around and waiting for your opponent to come to you. With very mobile, deep-striking heavy warjacks that have the base stats to do a lot of damage when they get there, Strakhov can effectively take control of the game and send powerful pieces deep into the enemy’s line in a way that someone like Harkevich really can’t. Harkevich excels at a fair fight, but that’s something your opponent doesn’t always give you. Strakhov, with all his movement shenanigans, can do some interesting hit and run tactics, and he always has an assassination run in his back pocket.

In short, nothing in Warmachine kills things quite like a Khador jack once it gets there. And with the ability to take a model with a SPD of 4 inches and send it 19 inches up the table in non-linear fashion, no one gets a warjack there quite like Strakhov.