Monday, April 28, 2014

Harkevich vs. Convergence - Robot Jox

I am deliciously close to finishing up painting Butcher3, so before I get him on the table and play in the sprinkler for awhile I wanted to sneak one more game in with Harkevich. There has been a bit of a surge in "warjack heavy Khador" discussion, which I think is a great direction to explore. As Jamie Perkins put it: it's not something every Khador list should be trying to do, but it's a very useful skew to have in the context of a 3 list format.

Of course, that discussion naturally led to some talk of Harkevich, and I was happy to see I wasn't alone in viewing Harkevich as a decent candidate for a 3 list set. Fellow long time Harkevich-er Mindless posted up a really interesting pair of lists, including one with a pair of Grolars that he tested out with positive results. That of course set me off on more Harkevich theorycrafting, and as luck would have it I had a game coming up that would let me try out whatever I came up with.

A rabbit hole approach to list construction and clash of the titans battle report after the jump.

As mentioned in my last Harkevich post, I've had a few list ideas using Grolars that are pretty interesting. The most basic was just a quick swap based on the fact that Grolars cost the same as Demolishers, so why not swap two around in the Quad Clam list? Then I read Mindless' lists and I started thinking: if the Grolars can do enough work, maybe I can get away with not having the WGI in the list (which makes it way easier to pair?)

In that light, I put together a list I felt pretty good about:

Kommander Harkevich, the Iron Wolf (*5pts)
* Black Ivan (10pts)
* Grolar (9pts)
* Grolar (9pts)
* Demolisher (9pts)
* Demolisher (9pts)
Battle Mechaniks (Leader and 3 Grunts) (2pts)
* Battle Mechanik Officer (2pts)
Man-o-war Drakhun (with dismount) (5pts)

Plenty of armor, very mobile, and it even has the Battle Mechaniks around to patch up damage. 

But then I started thinking (never a good start to anything, that thinking.)

Since I have the Mechaniks in there, what about Conquest? It's pretty easy to swap out a few things and work it in the list, and the Grolar hopefully helps to make up for the lack of attack volume I ran into the last time I ran a warjack heavy list with Conquest at the center. 

Still, I had the same hang ups about Conquest that I did before: one target versus two, DEF 7 4 eva, issues with Huge base mobility, etc.

Then I started thinking about some problem match ups (which is how I usually veer back towards Conquest in Harkevich's theme list): Convergence, Mercs, Retribution, and Cygnar. 

Mercs and Cygnar are kind of specific, in that their colossals are very, very likely to be on the table and without something like a Conquest there is no way in hell I'm getting through them. Even with a Conquest it's not all that likely since Stormwall will be ARM 22, Galleon will be ARM 21+ (depending on 'caster and Spiny Growth prensence,) and Earthbreaker is just a big tough bastard with Tune Up to ensure it wins the melee fight, and that's without any other help. But it's better than just feeding warjacks to the colossals to keep them busy, and with Earthbreaker Conquest gives Harkevich something he can actually hide behind (his wreck markers won't save him against land torpedoes!)

Convergence is a combo threat: they can run a good number of heavies and do it well between Induction and loads of Repair, or they can put Prime Axiom on the table and pick off heavies at their leisure to then bully the board (though there is some jank anti-tech for that, which I'll get into later.)

Retribution is a much more niche concern: for the 'casters that can run the MHSF dangerously well (most notably Ravyn and Issyria) it's hard to get rid of them if Discordia is around giving them immunity to blast damage. Ossyan is a big problem, but he's up there with guys like Siege, Butcher1, or Xerxis that I wouldn't want to try and tank through if I could help it. Even ARM 25 has it's limits. So I was mainly trying to dream up a quick and dirty MHSF solution.

Conquest kind of hits all those bases (again, why I always seem to rotate back to the big guy): he hits hard enough in melee that he at least has a shot at taking down an opposing colossal or other heavies, he's immune to lots of shenanigans (KD, push, slam, etc,) and Critical Devastation, while not at all reliable, is often a game changer when it happens. 

Plus I just love the big lug, and even though I know running it with Harkevich isn't the most efficient solution, it just feels so right.

So the list I originally put together ended up mutated into something with a different focus:

Kommander Harkevich, the Iron Wolf (*5pts)
* Black Ivan (9pts)
* Conquest (18pts)
* Grolar (8pts)
* Demolisher (8pts)
Battle Mechaniks (Leader and 3 Grunts) (2pts)
* Battle Mechanik Officer (2pts)
Winter Guard Mortar Crew (Leader and Grunt) (3pts)
Winter Guard Mortar Crew (Leader and Grunt) (3pts)
Widowmaker Marksman (2pts)

I was 50/50 on keeping a Demolisher in the list, but I think it's still important for a few reasons: it lets me commit something to a zone that isn't Conquest if I have to (saving me from needing to feel like I absolutely have to lead with the big guy,) it makes it much easier to cover spread out scenario zones, and it's still got templates and Broadsides synergy if I need to try to carpet bomb.

My friend decided to run his recently acquired Convergence list, with a Syntherion theme list that I love:

Forge Master Syntherion (*6pts)
* Corollary (3pts)
* Diffuser (3pts)
* Galvanizer (0pts)
* Cipher (9pts)
* Inverter (8pts)
* Monitor (8pts)
* Prime Axiom (19pts)
Optifex Directive (Leader and 2 Grunts) (2pts)
Optifex Directive (Leader and 2 Grunts) (2pts)
Attunement Servitors (2pts)

Due to a bookkeeping hiccup, he may have had an extra Mitigator on the table, but it's not a big deal in terms of how the game played out.

This battle report is going to be a little more high level. The game played out in pretty broad sweeps due to our armies being so dense, so a turn-by-turn breakdown may be a little redundant. The first two notes should be pretty familiar:

Scenario: SR2014 Incursion

Terrain: A few forests distributed around the table, and two large, overturned train cars as major obstructions (blocked LOS to everything but Huge bases, Cover, impassible.)

Deployment: Both armies deploy centrally, as you'd expect with dense forces trying to deal with Incursion.

Early Game:
Everything runs forward, relevant upkeep spells go out on both sides. A lucky Critical Devastation throws the three Heavy Vectors back 3" on Turn 2 and does some damage to the Inverter, but it's fully repaired fairly quickly.

The left flag goes away, with Conquest and a Demolisher facing off against Syntherion's battlegroup in the center. Black Ivan, Harkevich, and the Grolar make a mad dash for the right flag. Harkevich is able to control the right flag on the bottom of turn 2 and score 1 CP, due to no Convergence models being able to make it in range to contest.

Mid Game: 
The Prime Axiom reels in the Demolisher and it is beaten to death (between Prime Axiom attacks and attacks from nearby Heavy Vectors.) Harkevich counters by feating, moving near the right flag (can't get into base,) and dumping everything into the Prime Axiom: Conquest bonus feat shot then charging with 3 focus, two Mortar shots, and a boosted damage Black Ivan shots. After the smoke clears, the Prime Axiom is actually in pretty good shape. Harkevich scores 1 CP on his turn by killing the only Servitor that wandered into contesting range of the right flag.

Syntherion's battlegroup responds by piling onto Conquest, killing it handily despite +3 ARM. The Diffuser runs over to get within 4" of the right flag, and a Reflex Servitor floats over there as well.

End Game:
Black Ivan Bulldozes the Diffuser away from the flag and into a nearby forest, then follows up to get into melee with it and punch it once. Between the Grolar and Harkevich, the right flag is cleared off, allowing Harkevich to Dominate and hide from Prime Axiom behind the two heavy warjacks.

The Cipher Flares Black Ivan, and the Prime Axiom attempts to use it's Tow Cables to drag Black Ivan in. Unfortunately, both shots miss (due to the combination of Concealment and the in-combat penalty.) Another Reflex Servitor runs over to contest the right flag, and the Diffuser runs to contest as well. Syntherion scores 1 CP this turn by controlling the center flag.

Harkevich clears off the right flag by killing the Diffuser and Reflex Servitor (between Grolar and Black Ivan attacks,) and Dominates to score the remaining CPs needed to win.

Final Result: Harkevich win via scenario.

Post-Game Thoughts:
For starters, some thoughts about terrain, Incursion, and Convergence:

 - Terrain can make a massive difference. Usually our group plays with a mixture of walls, hills, forest, and buildings, with some other random terrain pieces introduced every once in a while. Warmachine runs about the same when you're using that collection of terrain, but the minute you throw anything "odd" into the mix, the game can get very interesting.

During this game, my friend wanted to use two of the trains he had as terrain pieces, so we put them on the table. The train that ended up on the right side of the table was completely crucial for allowing me to hold the right flag as securely as I did; without that train in the way, Prime Axiom could have easily floated over there the turn after killing Conquest and started contesting, which would have put me in a really bad spot (especially since almost all the damage had been repaired on him at that point.)

 - Incursion is simultaneously a great scenario and a terrible scenario. It's great because it's very easy to set up (just need three 40mm bases,) the rules are straightforward (get to the flags,) and there aren't any extra factors to worry about (no special objectives, no "Balance of Power" shenanigans, etc.)

However, Incursion is also terrible because it can feel very random, while also feeling rote. The setup for Incursion for me is always the same: deploy centrally, then shift hard towards whichever outer flag doesn't go away while maintaining a presence at the center flag.

Unless you have a very potent fighting force, you can't afford to spread yourself out in the early game, and you probably can't keep up a fight on two fronts, so it behooves you to try and take the outer flag as fast as you can so you can start Dominating to end the game. In a fair number of cases, there's a "good" flag for you, and a "bad" flag for you. If the "correct" flag goes away (as it did for me this game) the fight goes a lot easier.

Incursion is a very valuable learning tool because these challenges do force you to approach the game differently. For instance, I've cemented how crucial it is to be able to double-time your 'caster towards the outside flag and that's not something I'd normally do. However, Incursion also forces a hard "army split" scenario (possibly more so than other similar ones, but I haven't played the general SR2014 packet enough to say for sure,) and that's either difficult or nigh impossible to do with a lot of lists (that otherwise are very viable.)

All of that combines to make Incursion a scenario that I like (though I think SR2015 can afford to iterate more on this version,) but I'm not sure that it makes for a really appropriate "default" scenario.

 - This was my first real game against Convergence, and damn if that army isn't beautiful to see play out on the tabletop. Nearly every turn all of his Vectors were running with 3 Focus (or at least, the ones that mattered) and he barely had to allocate any Focus from Syntherion to do it. Part of that was the Corollary, but the other big part was how effective Induction is at increasing Focus efficiency. It also goes a long way towards making the Light Vectors less of a drain on resources, which helps keep them on the table.

Syntherion himself is the epitome of what I love about Convergence: he gets his battlegroup running, then keeps them going at peak efficiency. Automatic Repair is a huge boon to the whole battlegroup (especially when combined with other repairs,) his battlegroup can scale up their hitting power as necessary, and you still have the general flexibility of your Vectors to fall back on. Add onto that his general durability (with his ability to camp regularly) and he's definitely a 'caster I'd play if I ever pick up Convergence.

The one thing I did sort of notice with this game is that Convergence does really like to operate in close proximity, and it's an army that relies heavily on order of activation and placement. Induction is the engine that keeps the army running smoothly, so when models start to spread out or spend Focus out of order, the army dips in terms of efficacy. It's not a huge knock against them - you can always just hard allocate to get around Induction hiccups - but it's definitely a challenge when playing the army. It's a very elegant design.

 - Prime Axiom is exactly as good as it is hyped up to be. It's a powerful anchor for a Convergence list, which lets them project threat in a fairly unique way: they're not coming over to you, they're bringing you to them. The free Servitor every turn helps to alleviate the need to pay for things like Attunement Servitors initially, or you can kick out Reflex Servitors and have them run shenanigans. Crucially, it gives the Convergence list something cheap (free in this case) and throwaway that they can at least use to contest zones.

The one thing I will say about the Prime Axiom is that, while it isn't easy to kill, it isn't the sturdiest of them either. At DEF 7, ARM 20, with 58 boxes, it ranks in raw durability above a Stormwall or a Galleon, but crucially it lacks the readily available ARM buffs that they have access to. I think this is one of the things that makes a Prime Axiom nasty to fight against, but less frustrating than others: you're almost always going to be dealing with it's base stat line when you're trying to hack through it. Lucant can buff it's ARM against shooting and with his feat, but outside of that you can come up with an anti-colossal plan and not have it rely on upkeep removal and/or ignoring buffs. After banging my head against the problem of an Arcane Shielded Stormwall for so long, that kind of straightforwardness is frankly refreshing.

Next, thoughts on this Harkevich list:

 - I originally really wanted to test out the Grolar, but then Conquest ended up in the list and (as it usually does) ended up stealing all of the attention. That said, I did like having the Grolar in the list for what little I did manage to do with it. Fleet in particular was very helpful in making sure the Grolar could make it over to the right flag in time to start controlling it. It managed to shoot one of the Servitors with it's Auto Cannon, and Ram could have potentially come in useful bashing something out of a zone (to facilitate a Dominate for CPs) while also doing damage to it.

It's gun is very interesting in the context of a Harkevich list. The Grolar can pretty easily get into position early in the game, and while it's gun doesn't have a remarkable range, it does have enough range to reach out across most of the scenario zones. This can allow the Grolar to try and keep a scenario zone clear without having to advance into danger, especially since it's gun is much more respectable with an aiming bonus and Fortune.

Failing all that, the Grolar is a solid melee warjack that has enough rules on it to allow for odd situations to come up what feels like decently often. The Demolisher is a similarly designed warjack, and I've greatly enjoyed using it with Harkevich, so I think further experience with the Grolar may pan out the same way. Also, the Grolar has an Open Fist, which is important for the jank-tech I'll be mentioning in a bit.

I'd definitely consider running a Grolar with Harkevich non-theme, and I think it's an even sweeter deal when the theme list knocks a point off of it's cost.

 - Conquest performed right about as I expected: made some shots, did some damage, and then died. This game highlighted pretty much all of the high and low points for the big guy. The Critical Devastation shot early in the game pushed the Heavy Vectors back enough that it bought me another turn of contesting the center flag without them charging Conquest, Conquest was the only thing I was going to be able to put near the Prime Axiom without it being dragged to its doom (though again, more on that in a minute,) and it has enough hitting power and threat to give me a shot at taking the Prime Axiom out.

The downsides to Conquest are what I've mentioned before: it's essentially automatically hit by anything - so if Syntherion was able to aim a Magnetic Hold at him, it's going to hit - and it's a dense target, so it's much easier to pile everything onto. I'm probably going to devote another post entirely to re-examining Conquest in context of Harkevich, but for now there are two things from this game I want to highlight:

1) So long as you aren't dealing with an ARM buff, Conquest is a great way to lay a lot of damage into a enemy colossal. Even considering an ARM buff, Conquest will get you farther than most. Unfortunately in this game, the dice didn't go my way.

Prime Axiom has 58 damage boxes, and it was unscathed the turn I was going to charge into it. Conquest had Fortune on him (I'm hyper paranoid sometimes) so missing was unlikely. On average, the bonus charge shot plus 3 focus worth of attacks with a free charge does around 51 damage. That leaves 7 precious damage boxes to pick off with two Mortar shots and a boosted Black Ivan shot, which is within reasonable bounds of probability. After all that (one Mortar missed, for the record) the Prime Axiom had taken around 41 damage, so it was effectively in mint condition. If I can finish off Prime Axiom in this scenario, the three Heavy Vectors will struggle to kill Conquest in return (though between Synergy, free charges, and Induction, they may be able to do it,) which buys me more time to hold the right flag (plus it stymies the tide of Servitors.) That'd be a huge upswing for me in this game, but that leads to...

2) I didn't necessarily need to commit Conquest. My best bid for winning in this game was to hold the right flag for as long as possible, and Dominate as early and often as I could. I moved some of my warjacks correctly for this (Black Ivan, Grolar,) one very incorrectly (Demolisher,) and one semi-incorrectly (Conquest.) Charging Conquest in did ensure that the Convergence battlegroup was going to be busy hacking through him, so they wouldn't be advancing on scenario, so in that regard it worked out.

However another, possibly smarter play would have been to move Conquest back and to the right as far as possible while staying in contesting range of the middle flag. That blocks off anything getting to the right flag via that route, and it makes it so that the only model that might be able to get to Conquest would be Prime Axiom. I'd still need to feat and this time it'd be purely defensively, but that may buy me two turns of Conquest bodyblocking instead of one. Now that I think about it, charging it may have ultimately been the right choice (even if it didn't work out,) but moving back may have worked out as well (especially if I'd somehow been able to keep Prime Axiom out of charge range, though I think that was generally impossible.) As always, it's worth considering alternate courses of action.

 - I like the Demolisher in the list. I misplayed it horribly in this game by essentially feeding it to my opponent, though that has two caveats: 1) I wasn't expecting him to kill it as trivially as he did (Prime Axiom rolled very well with most of it's melee damage) and 2) it did keep him from just running pell mell into the center. Still, I should have probably moved the Demolisher around behind the Conquest, as either another stalling factor for the middle of the table, or as another resource to help me keep the right side clean. All that said, I still like it in this configuration, for reasons I'll elaborate on in the near future.

 - I misplayed a crucial moment in this game when I ran Harkevich over towards the right flag. I was really worried about him getting shot by something, but looking back on the game it's almost impossible for anything in the Convergence army to get to him on that half of the table (thanks again to the giant train.) I was so concerned that I placed Harkevich behind the forest on that right side instead of in it, which ended up costing me later. I was able to score via Control on turn 2, but I wasn't able to Dominate on Turn 3 due to being unable to get Harkevich over to the flag while still getting my feat out (which I felt was critical in having Conquest try to kill Prime Axiom without being trivially removed.)

 If I had left Harkevich in the forest with LOS out, I could have arranged a Dominate that turn by charging the Grolar, while still popping feat. Due to model placement issues I may not have been able to charge the Prime Axiom, but then I can move back with Conquest as mentioned above and blockade most of his models from being able to get to the flag, ensuring that I win next turn at the latest (instead of having to survive a harrowing turn of Tow Cables.)

Lesson learned: if you're going to go for an aggressive scenario win, be aggressive (but smart) while you're doing it!

 - My friend made a mistake when trying to Drag Black Ivan into the Prime Axiom when he didn't just walk the Diffuser out of combat with Black Ivan. The Diffuser will probably die to the free strike, but that makes it much more likely to hit Black Ivan with the Tow Cable shots, which can then lead to him potentially pulling Black Ivan and the Grolar into melee (though that may have been tricky due to angles and the train.) In short, that would have been very bad for me.

 - Slight consolation: I could have counteracted that with the jank-tech I realized/remembered after the game (and I've been alluding to this whole post): when a model is weapon/head locked, neither that model nor the locked model can be moved via pushes until the lock is broken. Generally this rule doesn't come up, but it does a lot to prevent something like the Tow Cables from dragging in two heavies and eating them. In the case of this game, I could have had the Grolar and Black Ivan standing there, arms entwined blocking LOS to Harkevich. They would have been immune to the Tow Cables, and extremely unlikely to die from Accelespiker shots, which would give me almost a lock on winning via scenario next turn (as opposed to getting pretty lucky with dice there, with the backup of Harkevich clubbing everything around the flag to death.)

It's not a foolproof tactic: any other movement breaks the lock, so if your opponent can place either model or move them via a Slam, you lose your push invulnerability. Also, it is resource, activation, and positioning intensive: you need to spend Focus to make the weapon/head lock Power Attack, you need to hit (so make use of back arcs and non-Black Ivan models for targets,) and the model maintaining the lock needs to be the first model to activate the next turn so it can release the lock at the start of it's activation.

So this isn't a tactic that you'll be able to use all of the time, and even when you do it's prone to hiccups/counter tactics. The best place to use it seems to be when you want to have your warjacks hold a point, and a push effect would gaffe things up for you. Advancing this way seems like it'd be a big pain, and I think it would make switching over to going on the offensive problematic. If you need to really be aggressive, you're going to need some walls or forests to hide behind on the way up; this trick seems mostly defensive. Also note that it's impossible to use on clamjacks - their arms cannot be locked.


Overall, this was a very fun game that showed me just how awesome Convergence can be on the tabletop, and refreshed some of my ideas about using Conquest with Harkevich. I have some more thoughts about the latter, hopefully going up soon. Until then, thanks again for reading!


  1. I've also come to view the issues Hark has with Conquest as a case of "It's not about what Hark does for Conquest, it's about what Conquest does for Hark'."

  2. I'm approaching it from a similar track. I think the Grolar opens up possibilities with a Conquest list I ran previously, but didn't like due to lack of attack volume. Something else that bears testing. :)