Friday, May 9, 2014

The Battle of 8 and 9

Since I'm trying to ramp up excitement to paint more Retribution (and also because I haven't used them much after my initial foray,) I decided to break out my "starter" Retribution army for my weekly game. What follows is a game where both sides needed to roll a lot of 8's and 9's, and proceeded to so way more than either of us expected. Not at all to undermine the game; it was just a funny situation.

Full report after the break.

My list:

Kaelyssa, Night's Whisper (*7pts)
* Chimera (6pts)
* Banshee (10pts)
* Manticore (8pts)
* Sylys Wyshnalyrr, the Seeker (2pts)
Dawnguard Sentinels (Leader and 9 Grunts) (9pts)
* Dawnguard Sentinel Officer & Standard (2pts)
Lady Aiyana & Master Holt (4pts)
Mage Hunter Strikeforce (Leader and 9 Grunts) (8pts)
* Mage Hunter Commander (2pts)
Arcanist (1pts)
Arcanist (1pts)
Mage Hunter Assassin (2pts)
Mage Hunter Assassin (2pts)

I like to refer to this list as "Retribution List." It's got all the basic components you'd expect of a Retribution army, give or take. For being so basic and "bedrock", it actually works pretty well.

My friend was continuing his Sturgis streak, with a list that I believe is the same as the last time I played against him:

Commander Dalin Sturgis (*6pts)
* Stormwall (19pts)
* Squire (2pts)
Arcane Tempest Gun Mages (Leader and 5 Grunts) (6pts)
* Arcane Tempest Gun Mage Officer (2pts)
Black 13th Gun Mage Strike Team (4pts)
Horgenhold Forge Guard (Leader and 9 Grunts) (8pts)
Stormblade Infantry (Leader and 5 Grunts) (5pts)
Captain Arlan Strangewayes (2pts)
Eiryss, Angel of Retribution (3pts)
Journeyman Warcaster (3pts)
Ragman (2pts)

Looking at it, I think the only thing that changed was a swap between Sylys and the Squire, which is something I know he's been debating. It's a little bit of a wash in terms of Focus efficiency, but playing against it the extended control range of the Squire syncs up so beautifully with the Snipe'd Covering Fire templates that it may end up being the better choice. Otherwise, it's the same list, and it's still a very well rounded, tough list to face.

Onto the game! As always, "left" and "right" are based on my orientation and will be used consistently throughout the write-up.

Scenario: SR2014 Outflank

Terrain: Two forests around the left zone, some walls around, and a hill in the back 1/3 or so of the right zone.

Deployment: Sturgis wins the roll, opts to go first. Kalyessa deploys on the side closer to the two forests. 

Cygnar Pre and Standard Deployment: Stormwall deploys in the middle, slightly to right. Acane Tempest Gun Mages (ATGM) and Stormblades go on the right side, Forge Guard and Black 13th (B13) go on the left. Solos and support staff are scattered around in support positions. Sturgis posts up in the center.

Retribution Standard Deployment: Sentinels, Manticore, and Chimera go on the right, Banshee deploys slightly to the left. Aiyana and Holt (A&H) deploy on the left side.

Cygnar Advanced Deployment: Eiryss2 deploys on the left side, near the Forge Guard.

Retribution Advanced Deployment: The Mage Hunter Strike Force (MHSF) deploys centrally and Mage Hunter Assassins (MHA) deploy on the left side.

Round 1:
Sturgis Turn 1:
Lots of running and getting upkeeps in play. Snipe goes on Stormwall, Sturgis gets Arcane Shield and the Forge Guard get the other Arcane Shield. Stormwall advances and puts down Covering Fire to limit MHSF movement. Everything else runs up.

Kaelyssa Turn 1:
Similar running and upkeeps. Banshee gets Phantom Hunter, MHSF get Arcane Reckoning, Sentinels get Banishing Ward. Banshee advances, Manticore and Chimera run (with Power Boost assists from Arcanists.) Sentinels run up behind a wall (as many can fit,) and the MHSF runs laterally to the left to get away from the ATGM.

Round 2:
Sturgis Turn 2:
Everything is upkept, Stormwall gets 2 Focus. Stormwall shoots at the Manticore, connecting with one shot but missing the other. The one shot that connects does enough damage to blow out the Force Field, but no spill over. Covering Fire templates go out in front of MHSF and Sentinels.

ATGM shoot at Sentinels not behind a wall, killing 3, and edge into the right zone. Stormblades move up behind the ATGM for counter charges. The Forge Guard run up to the edge of the left zone. The B13 move up behind the Forge Guard while Lynch picks off a MHSF and Ryan throws out a Mage Storm (centered on a Stormwall pod that somehow survives the torrent.)

Kaelyssa Turn 2:
During the Maintenance Phase, the Sentinels use their Vengeance move to get past the wall. All upkeeps drop except for Phantom Hunter, which Sylys upkeeps for free. The Manticore gets 3 Focus, the Chimera gets 1, and Kaelyssa keeps the rest. The Chimera runs to get within Arcing range of Ryan, then Sylys gives Kaelyssa his Arcane Secrets buff. Kaelyssa then advances, shoots a Storm Pod, kills Ryan with an Arced Arcantrik Bolt, and pops her feat.

The Banshee shoots one of the Forge Guard, hitting and slamming it into the two it's B2B with. The hit Forge Guard is killed, the two are knocked down. The MHSF, MHA, and Holt all lay into the Forge Guard, killing 6 more.

On the right side, the Manticore advances and shoots at two Storm Blades, killing one but missing the other. The Sentinels charge the ATGM, getting 5 attacks and killing with the two that connect.

Round 3:
Sturgis Turn 3:
Arcane Shield on the Forge Guard is dropped, as is Snipe on Stormwall. Sturgis pulls 1 Focus from the Squire and allocates 3 to the Stormwall.

The B13 lead off by pumping shots into the Chimera, taking out a big chunk of it's grid. Eiryss2 shoots it as well, Disrupting it and doing a big chunk of damage herself.

Sturgis pops his feat. The feat pulls in all of the Sentinels, the Manticore, Banshee, and Chimera, and a few MHSF. The Chimera eats a POW 12 from the feat, and is destroyed. Sturgis then teleports over onto the hill on the right side near the zone, but not in it (due to proximity of the Banshee and the MHSF.)

Stormwall advances, drops a pod that fries several Sentinels, and punches the Chimera to scrap (killing another Sentinel with an Electro Leap.) The ATGM and Stormblades pile into the remaining Sentinels, clearing them out completely.

The Forge Guard advance and swing at the MHA. One connects and criticals, knocking it back into a MHSF (killing both in the process.)

End of turn: Sturgis scores 1 CP for capturing the right zone.

CPs: Kaelyssa 0 - Sturgis 1

Kaelyssa Turn 3:
Phantom Hunter is again upkept for free, Kaelyssa keeps all of her Focus.

At this point, all available attacks go into the models in the left zone, in an attempt to clear it out and let Kaelyssa dominate. Kaelyssa kills Eiryss2, Holt kills the remaining B13 members, and the MHSF pick off the remaining Forge Guard thanks to Harm from Aiyana.

One Arcanist runs into the right zone to stall scoring, while the other Power Boosts the Banshee to let it run and try and block off Stormwall being able to get into the left zone. The MHA moves over to also try and block a running spot for it.

End of Turn: Kaelyssa scores 2 CP for dominating the left zone.

CPs: Kaelyssa 2 - Sturgis 1

Round 4:
Sturgis Turn 4:
Sturgis upkeeps Arcane Shield on himself, allocates 3 to Stormwall. The Journeyman moves up and casts Arcane Shield on the Stormwall to start the turn.

The ATGM push the Banshee out of the Stormwall's way, and pick off a couple of MHSF. Stormwall charges a MHSF in front of Kaelyssa with the hope of getting Kaelyssa in it's melee range, but comes up just short of getting her in melee range. A Lightning Pod drop kills two MHSF, nearly kills Sylys, and does no damage to Kaelyssa.

One of the many available attacks kills the Arcanist contesting the zone, and Sturgis moves in to dominate.

End of Turn: Sturgis scores 2 CP for dominating the right zone.

CPs: Kaelyssa 2 - Sturgis 3

Kaelyssa Turn 4:
Kaelyssa upkeeps Phantom Hunter for free, allocates 3 to the Banshee.

Everything that can piles into Stormwall. Aiyana Harms it while Holt does one damage with his Hand Cannons. The MHSF shoot Stormwall, doing a decent chunk of damage. The MHA charges in and does 9 damage, doubled to 18 after ARM, and the Banshee's activation leaves Stormwall with 2 boxes remaining. Kaelyssa manages to finish it off with her charge attack. The remaining Arcanist runs to the right zone to stall scoring again.

End of Turn: Kaelyssa scores 2 CP for dominating the left zone.

CPs: Kaelyssa 4 - Sturgis 3

Round 5:
Sturgis Turn 5:
All that is preventing the final CPs from being scored is one Arcanist, which is handily dealt with (via a Critical Brutal Damage shot no less!)

End of Turn: Sturgis scores 2 CP for dominating the right zone, getting to the needed 5 CP to win.

Final Result: Sturgis wins via scenario!

Post Game Thoughts:
Very fun game, and very well played by my friend using Sturgis. It actually ended up coming out much closer than I anticipated - I seriously did not think I was going to be able to kill Stormwall when it marched over to the left zone - and I think I learned some good lessons this game.

Things To Improve:
I think one of my bigger mistakes this game was committing the Sentinels and the Manticore when I did on the right side of the table. The Sentinels were taking a beating, but they and the Manticore were also all I had to put in that zone to contest scoring. By charging/moving up and shooting with both of them, I made them much easier to kill (than if I had put them in the bottom right portion of the zone, for example.) 

Granted, if I do that the whole game probably changes in other ways, but I think being more conservative there may have allowed me to contest that zone longer. If I could have stalled Sturgis scoring another round (or if I could have miracled up scoring 1 CP earlier,) I would have actually had a good chance at winning, versus feeling like I was fighting to stay in the game.

I also look back on Round 2 and try to figure out ways that I could have engineered scoring a CP that turn, but I'm not sure it was possible to do so without putting myself in position for a nasty reprisal (which probably would have really hurt my ability to get those closer CPs.) Ryan absolutely needs to die ASAP when in a Sturgis list if you can manage it, and I didn't have a volume of accurate attacks on the right flank that would allow me to take out the ATGM that were contesting the zone. My best bet was to commit to the left zone as hard as possible, but ARM 18 Forge Guard against POW 10 MHSF made clearing them out a losing proposition.

Not running the Banshee first turn allowed Sturgis to feel safer hanging out further up the table. If I was 5" further in on the table, I would have been able to threaten a shot on him Turn 2 if he moves up, which may change things. The Banshee is a big part of the threat in this list, and while I was worried about it getting shot up by Stormwall, it was probably worse to leave it out of position. I had two Arcanists nearby if I absolutely needed to repair it, and the gun is impossible to break so I've got lots of wiggle room for damage.

Finally, I may have been served better by being a little more aggressive with Aiyanna & Holt. Maybe. If I was able to run them first turn, I may have been able to threaten a Harm on the Forge Guard Turn 2 when I try to clean them out of the zone, which gives me enough of a bump in damage that I just may be able to kill them that turn. Then again, in order to be able to make that a worthwhile act I need to do something crazy like dominate that turn with Kaelyssa, and that would have been difficult. 

In general I need to make sure that I'm not too timid with my damage fixers. I've had a few games in a row now where they've been too far out or "just barely in range", and that's no good when you're bringing a model to do one specific job (that you then botch via misplacement.) It's better than getting them killed all the time (something I'm usually pretty good about,) but now that I'm using models like that more often I need to work on improving walking that line of "just close enough to be dangerous, but not close enough to die easily."

Thoughts on The List:
Every time I put this list on the table, I feel underwhelmed by how "generic Retribution" it seems, but every time I play it I'm always pretty pleased with it after the game. The interaction between the Banshee, MHSF, and Phantom Hunter gives the list a very live assassination vector, while the Sentinels and MHA give the list some punch (and the Sentinels are a fantastic set of models to be benefiting from Kaelyssa's feat.)

The one thing right now I'm not super happy with is the Manticore. It's an okay warjack, and at least it's versatile - between it's melee capabilities, it's ROF 3 gun, and Covering Fire, it's got a tool for most occasions. The problem I have with it is I'm not sure if I it's "B grade" flexibility is really helping me out in this list, where it feels like that other warjack needs to have some heft to it. I also kind of like Manticores better in pairs/sets, as they seem to amplify their strengths when you have a few around (having faced sets of Manticores before.)

A Daemon would give me some better anti-infantry options, and something resembling an AOE attack. Blessed melee weapons are roughly equivalent to the +3 STR when you're dealing with a defensive buff (and better when you're dealing with a mixed DEF/ARM buff) but nowhere near as good against straight up high ARM. Kaelyssa's feat gives it a turn of relative safety, which helps a lot with it's RNG 10 gun, and it's not likely to want more than 1 Focus if it's shooting which is nice. Not an amazing option, but it's on the table.

A Hydra would be even less attack output, and it would probably necessitate Phantom Hunter to be really effective/scary. Kaelyssa also doesn't really want to feed it every turn, and I don't think it's worth putting one on Elara just for the Focus throughput. A cute Phantom Hunter target, but not much else.

A Sphinx is kind of a step in the other direction: instead of trying to have a warjack that does work, why not just have a warjack that's a melee back up? It's cheaper than the Manticore (though I don't have a great plan for that 1 point I free up this way,) and it's about as good as the Banshee is in melee. Plus it still has a gun, for what that's worth. Don't love the idea, but it's not a terrible option.

A Phoenix seems like the strongest candidate. AOE gun and Combustion for anti-infantry. Solid melee output with it's main weapon, along with a fantastic threat range. And it gives the list a second Arc Node, which would be very useful. I like the Chimera in the list as a goofy little throwaway Arc Node; great for getting out an early Backlash, or kicking out a damage spell like in this game, and then hopefully being a pain to take out. I really don't like lists where the Phoenix is your only Arc Node (it seems way too expensive for that,) but I like it a lot more as a secondary Arc Node with plenty of other flexibility.

So I think the debate boils down to Daemon vs. Phoenix, and unfortunately for my beloved Daemon, the Phoenix feels like it's a shoe-in to win it. But we'll see. I also need to figure out where I'm going to get the points for whichever warjack I upgrade to, and I think the most likely place is dropping one of the MHAs; they're nice, but not crucial to the list. With the Daemon I end up with a floater point I'm not sure what to do with, while the Phoenix slots right in. I guess I could use that 1 point to "upgrade" the remaining MHA to one of the many interesting 3 point Ret solos.

Before the game I was debating the MHSF, and even during the game I was kind of down on them (9's to kill sucks,) but my friend very rightly pointed out how much of a difference they make in that list. The threat of them combined with the Banshee keeps a lot of 'casters honest, and though they can't CRA to scale their offensive output, they also ignore a ton of buffs that would make Houseguard Riflemen or Dawnguard Invcitors just as inefficient in bad situations (if not more so depending on the buffs in play.) Plus they're the best unit you can bring along to threaten Backlash kills on 'casters, and while I don't love that plan, it's better to have it as an option than not.

Another thing I could change, now that I'm thinking about it, is swap the MHAs for some other solos (not a lot of other compelling options in that point range.) Ghost Snipers are kind of interesting - they could do another 2 Backlash damage (so 13 total between them and the MHSF, assuming they all hit) and failing that they can either pick off enemy infantry models or put 6 points onto a warjack a turn. The spike damage potential of the MHAs is so, so wonderful (it's why I was able to kill Stormwall this game) but being able to consistently put 12+ damage on a heavy from range seems pretty damn solid as well. Definitely worth considering. And with those two extra shots in there, I may be alright keeping the Manticore in, though the Phoenix does sound damn tempting now that I think about it.

Closing Thoughts:
Retribution is a very interesting army. In terms of structure, it's not too different from Khador: typically infantry heavy, with some warjacks along to help with heavy lifting/zones. But in practice it's a very different army to play (so many good, good guns) and that's been damn fun so far. 

For all I don't like about Kaelyssa (and there's a lot I don't like about her,) I am slowly warming up to her as a "starter" 'caster for Ret. She has a very solid feat, a useful gun, and some very "Retribution-y" gimmicks with Phantom Hunter and Backlash. Focus 7 also helps a lot when trying to keep your battlegroup going, and it makes her feat easier to use as well. I don't know that I'll ever really like her, but I'm at least learning to hate her less.

I'm still trying to figure out where I want to go to next with Ret. Odds are looking greater and greater that it will be someone like Ravyn, just due to how well the things I have now will transition to her list. In the interim, I may try out the aforementioned tweaks to this list (since they're fairly minor) and see where that takes me.

As always, thanks for reading!

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