Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Math and A Possible Harkevich Lightbulb Moment

As I continue to ponder Harkevich lists I keep running into one big problem: damage output. (Theory, maths, and findings after the break.)

To elaborate: Harkevich feels like he is set up to run a decent size battlegroup ('cause he damn sure isn't doing anything else for the rest of his army.) Heavy warnouns, and especially Khador warjacks, are primarily set up to face other heavy warnouns though a precious few have some duality that lets them deal with infantry decently well (these heavies are usually very popular and rightly so.) Harkevich does a pretty good job of getting his warjacks to the fight with Escort, Pathfinder, and a feat that gives out free charges and +3 ARM.

Things get a little more tenuous once you start to look at the offensive output of Khador warjacks. MAT 6 can be a problem when you're trying to get value out of your warjack activations; the moment you have to start boosting to-hit rolls, your damage output gets throttled back pretty hard. If you run into high ARM values and/or are dealing with lower P+S values (gets most egregious around P+S 16) you may need to boost damage, and the absolute lowest efficiency happens when you end up in the dreaded "double boost" situation. In those moments you'll probably be happy if you do noteworthy damage at all.

All of this is exacerbated by the fact that Harkevich has zero damage buffs and an alright but effectively single-target (when considering his battlegroup) accuracy buff. Harkevich can get his warjacks to the fight just fine, but he doesn't do a whole lot to help them out when they do get there, and that's a big problem.

I've run the Quad Clam list a few times, and in some ways I think it's a good solution to the problem: instead of trying to punch through your opponent's battlegroup, just push/slam/throw them out of the way. Four ARM 25 warjacks is nigh impossible for anything but the most dedicated of anti-armor lists to get through, so you have a lot of board control with that list.

The problem I have with the list is a Huge one: a colossal or gargantuan pretty much negates any scenario presence the list has (just need to get a toe into the zone,) and even four clamjacks throwing themselves at a colossal/gargantuan under ideal circumstances probably won't kill it. There is always the possibility of being able to assassinate their 'caster to sneak the win, but that can be hard to do with fixed threat ranges and RAT 4 on your guns (the best "shenanigan" tool you have for the most part,) and nevermind how much that option tanks if you happen to be fighting a decently sturdy 'caster or one that can afford to hang back.

I also don't feel like it's reasonable to expect to dodge colossals (even in casual play): Cygnar, Mercs, and Convergence all have amazing colossals that will be in lists; Khador and Retribution have colossals that are good enough to consider in a number of lists (and are quite popular in a few of them); even the more maligned Menoth and Cryx colossals will show up periodically and I personally don't think they're so bad as to be a pushover on the tabletop. Gargantuans feel less likely but they're still likely to show up periodically; there are a few list builds that maximize each of them, and if nothing else people want to put their Huge bases on the table.

So for as much as I like the Quad Clam list, I feel like it may have too many match ups where its effectively dead in the water and unfortunately Harkevich's theme list doesn't allow for any solutions to the problem. The list is super fun to play, until you run into a colossal, then it's kind of miserable and I wish I had brought just about anything else. However, as I mentioned in my last round-up of games played, I don't particularly like building a "general" style list with Harkevich. It's too easy to build a diluted list that, while workable, probably would have been better with someone more general like Vlad1 or Butcher1.

That led me to think about what I liked from each approach. I really like the Demolishers introduced by the Quad Clam approach; Harkevich allows you to run them super-aggressively (Escort and Pathfinder are a big deal,) and their synergy with Broadsides (either lots of templates, or getting to shoot without opening up) makes them feel like a good fit. I really like the availability of Mercs to the non-theme Harkevich list. As mentioned previously, Harkevich has very few considerations about Faction affiliation (Fortune is the only thing on his card that cares) so you can go nuts with Merc solos and units without really cutting into your efficacy.

That then got me thinking: how much can I ramp up clamjack damage, using all the tools available to me? P+S 16 is pretty sad, but I feel like Harkevich can very reliably deliver them, so if I can ramp up their damage enough maybe they can get something done. Keith Christianson from Muse on Minis came up with a Caine2 list based on an interesting premise: sure, Caine2 can kill a colossal by himself (especially if he gets some help) but what if I build enough stuff in the list that just about anything in the list can kill a colossal? The list is crazy stacked with Merc characters - Gorman, Aiyana and Holt, Eiryss2, and Ragman are all present - but the net result is a list that can very reliably remove a colossal without having to rely on Caine2's feat (which makes it truly terrifying since he can then either continue erasing your army, or use the feat for a very high odds 'caster kill attempt.) In that list, even Boomhowler's can remove a colossal with their Blunderbusses if you debuff it enough, which is hilarious and scary all at once.

So it was then time to break out pencil and paper, and run some (very, very rough) math. Lets start with the worst case scenario (using a Stormwall as the example, since it's the one most consistently able to get to ARM 21+ and is also very common):

Demolisher charging under Feat vs. Stormwall w/Arcane Shield:
Rough damage output expected:
5 (charge attack) + 5 (boosted second initial attack damage)  + 5 (buy attack and boost damage roll) = 15 damage

In this scenario, the Demolisher does a paltry amount of damage to the Stormwall and likely gets wrecked in return even with the +3 ARM since it had to open up (bonus feat shot not considered as it averages out to 0 damage.) If you can scare up the focus to somehow send in two fully loaded Demolishers you can at least do decent damage (30 damage total) but finding those 6 focus can be very difficult, and you're still likely looking at a completely functional Stormwall (since colossal systems are tough to disable.) Even then, at this rate you'd need to feed in 4 Demolishers just to kill a Stormwall, and the math gets worse when you don't get the free charge from the feat.

Now let's look at what happens if instead get a +2 damage buff somewhere in there (for evaluation purposes a +2 damage will be considered the same as -2 ARM [Dark Shroud], though they are different in application):

Demolisher charging under Feat with +2 damage vs. Stormwall w/Arcane Shield:
6 (charge attack) + 6 (boosted second initial attack damage) + 6 (buy attack and boost damage roll) = 18 damage

Better, but still not great. You'd need around 3 Demolishers worth of offensive output in order to be able to finish off a Stormwall, which is still way many more than you want to be tossing at the damn thing.

Next, lets consider how much of a difference Arcane Shield makes:

Demolisher charging under Feat vs. Stormwall (no Arcane Shield):
8 (charge attack) + 8 (boosted second initial attack damage) + 8 (buy attack and boost damage roll) = 24 damage, +/- 3 damage (bonus feat shot prior to charging) + 1 damage (Eiryss2 Snipe damage)

Without Arcane Shield, things immediately get a lot better. You're still not one-rounding the Stormwall with a Demolisher, but you are half killing it (more so if you get the bonus feat shot and Eiryss2 is stripping the AS) which means you could potentially finish it off with a second Demolisher charging in and/or shooting it, along with Black Ivan's shot and whatever other damage you can manage. Even if you don't kill it, you're likely to leave it seriously damaged which may set you up to finish it up later.

Now lets consider the combo of +2 damage along with taking Arcane Shield out of the equation:

Demolisher charging under Feat with +2 damage vs. Stormwall (no Arcane Shield):
10 (charge attack) + 6 (second initial attack) + 6 (buy attack) + 6 (buy attack) + 6 (buy attack) = 34 damage, +/- 3 damage (bonus feat shot prior to charging, may be higher if +2 is Harm or Rust) + 1 damage (Eiryss2 Snipe damage)

This is where the work really gets done. In this scenario a Demolisher over half kills a Stormwall by itself on the charge, and if you can get another Demolisher in there you can almost certainly finish the job (especially with Black Ivan's shot and other damage waiting in the wings.) You've gone from barely being able to scratch the paint to manufacturing a scenario where the Stormwall player needs to seriously start worrying about losing their colossal if it gets charged, and as a result they need to alter their game plan. That would be a huge improvement over my previous Harkevich list experiences, where the colossals are irritated by the clamjacks but not seriously threatened.

For fun, lets also consider how much damage a Demolisher's guns can do. The math only becomes interesting once you hit the point where Arcane Shield is off the table and you have a +2 damage source, so lets start there:

Demolisher shooting with +2 damage vs. Stormwall (Arcane Shield):
9 (boosted damage) + 9 (boosted damage) = 18

Actually, not bad at all. If you have enough Demolishers, you could conceivably straight up shoot a Stormwall off the table, though RAT 4 makes that dicey enough that I wouldn't make it Plan A. The real value in that data is knowing that a Demolisher's guns can take a pretty sizable chunk out of a colossal which can be great in softening one up or finishing it off.

Clamjacks are the most interesting part of this thought experiment because Harkevich has a very easy time delivering them, but you could also use battlegroup formations to deliver a harder hitting model like a Juggernaut or the Behemoth, or a longer threat range model like Beast-09 or a Spriggan. Some quick math for each:

Spriggan charging under Feat with +2 damage vs. Stormwall (no Arcane Shield):
12 (charge attack) + 8 (buy attack) + 8 (buy attack) + 8 (buy attack) = 36 damage +/- 4 (shield attack, may not get in range) + 1 damage (Eiryss2 Snipe damage)

Juggernaut/Beast-09 charging under Feat with +2 damage vs. Stormwall (no Arcane Shield):
13 (charge attack) + 9 (buy attack) + 9 (buy attack) + 9 (buy attack) = 40 damage +/- 5 (open fist, may not get in range with Beast-09) + 1 damage (Eiryss2 Snipe damage)

Behemoth charging under Feat with +2 damage vs. Stormwall (no Arcane Shield):
15 (charge attack) + 11 (other initial) + 11 (buy attack) + 11 (buy attack) + 11 (buy attack) = 56 (!!!) damage +/- extra damage from Bombard shots + 1 damage (Eiryss2 Snipe damage)

For completeness, a quick rundown on how Conquest does:

Conquest charging under Feat with +2 damage vs. Stormwall (no Arcane Shield):
16 (charge attack) + 12 (other initial) + 12 (buy attack) + 12 (buy attack) + 12 (buy attack) = 61 damage +/- damage from bonus feat shot + 1 damage (Eiryss2 Snipe damage)

As you can see, it's worth delivering one of these harder hitting models if you can (especially once you start to get out of the realm of Stormwall and into other colossals that are naturally ARM 20, so stripping off a defensive upkeep buys you less.) They can pretty comfortably move up the table behind the Demolishers, safe from most attacks, and even ranged Knockdown isn't that big of a hindrance thanks to Jump Start. Tossing something like a Juggernaut into melee gives you the chance to pile on enough damage that you can finish off Stormwall with just about anything you have left (potentially even without having to commit anything else to melee.)

However, I think one thing that is important to note is that a harder hitting model isn't strictly necessary: two Demolishers will, on average, get the job done (especially if you can get any early damage in before charging in.) This may end up being the easiest approach to manage consistently, since you can focus more on moving up aggressively and protecting your debuffers instead of having to run a formation to deliver a specific model to combat.

Of course, there are definite advantages to bringing a dedicated melee beater along with your debuffers: It gives you an easier time riding out the math curve since your minimums start higher, it gives you some tactical flexibility (if you can engineer the two Demolishers killing their colossal, you can have your dedicated beater hanging back to take out anything that goes after the Demolishers,) and I think it gives the list some needed flexibility if you end up facing another battlegroup with multiple heavies.

I've been playing around with this idea when working on lists, and I've really liked some of the things I've been able to come up with. The core of the army is almost always the following:

Kommander Harkevich, the Iron Wolf (*5pts)
* Demolisher (9pts)
* Demolisher (9pts)
Eiryss, Angel of Retribution (3pts)
Gorman di Wulfe, Rogue Alchemist (2pts)
Ragman (2pts)

After that, I think there are a million different ways to go, but the important parts are going to be: filling out the battlegroup more (I think 3-4 warjacks are necessary for attrition and formation in this list,) and getting some infantry in the list that will give you a strong tool to deal with your opponent's infantry.

I think one of the things to bear in mind with this list approach is that you want to be able to deal with a colossal (two colossals is probably very bad, but you can't handle everything,) but you don't want to build so single mindedly towards that goal that you give up scenario presence (a natural strength of the multiple Demolisher configuration.) 

Even something simple like this: 

Kommander Harkevich, the Iron Wolf (*5pts)
* Black Ivan (10pts)
* Demolisher (9pts)
* Demolisher (9pts)
* Demolisher (9pts)
* War dog (1pts)
Winter Guard Infantry (Leader and 9 Grunts) (6pts)
* Winter Guard Infantry Officer & Standard (2pts)
Eiryss, Angel of Retribution (3pts)
Gorman di Wulfe, Rogue Alchemist (2pts)
Kovnik Jozef Grigorovich (2pts)
Ragman (2pts)

Feels more "live" than the theme list version because of how much better it can do against colossals (and other heavies) thanks to the debuffs.

The downside of course is that this list is crazy character hungry, but that may just be the price of doing business. The good news is that there are some alternatives for the WGI, and you could even swap Ragman and Gorman for Aiyana & Holt if you wanted to put them elsewhere, though I feel like the thing you'd need to pair this with is an anti-infantry list and that will probably want A&H more than this list would (plus Ragman and Gorman gives you some redundancy.)


The most entertaining thing about playing Harkevich is that, even though his lists can be frustrating, I always feel like there are new directions to go that have potential. This direction is an extension of several concepts I've tried in the past and things I've read about, so I'm excited to see how it plays out on the tabletop. Barring a Cryx match up this week I'll likely give one of these variants a try, see how it does, and write up my thoughts. 

Keep an eye out for that post, hopefully later this week! Thanks for reading.


  1. I'm very interested in hearing how your test games go. I've gone to Juggernauts for the 5-Jack theme list I took to ClogCon simply because, well, somebody needs to be able to kick arse at straight dice or better...

    I do feel, though, that Harkevich gets better the more list chicken there is (3-List Masters D&C, for example), as he can create very good questions for your opponent.

  2. I agree about list chicken. It's one of the reasons I keep coming back to Harkevich (and why I always keep a side-eye on Zerkova) - he offers a chance to put a very non-standard Khador list on the table. If I can ever get to the point where I feel comfortable with his build (ha!) then that's one more useful tool to have in the box.

    That's one of the reasons I feel like it's important to push past the Quad Clam list, despite my strong initial impressions. Its very fun and very strong in certain situations, but it falls flat in others, and I feel like those bad match ups are much more probable (unfortunately.) If I can take the core concept (aggressive, mobile armor) and make it work against a larger set of the meta, I think Harkevich could potentially even slot well into a 2 list pairing.

    Or it could all be terrible and I'll just run Butcher3 forever out of disappointment/rage. :)