Thursday, September 17, 2015

Harkevich vs. Grim2 - ConVic Test Run

As I slowly continue to get the chance to test out various lists using models from Warmachine: Reckoning, I keep coming back to the idea of Harkevich with two colossals. I've taken Harkevich for a spin with two Victors in the past, and liked it quite a bit.

However, that list has one big problem: it would require buying a second Victor that I would almost certainly never use outside of that list. That is a fairly steep price to pay to drag Harkevich out from the bottom of the barrel (and I'm still not sure how far up the ladder it gets him, but it is a dramatic improvement).

Ever since that game I have been kicking around the idea of trying out Conquest and Victor, instead of two Victors. I already have a Conquest, so if this idea pans out it saves me a lot in both painting time and money. Join me after the break to see how it works out.

My List:
Kommander Harkevich, the Iron Wolf (*5pts)
   * Black Ivan (9pts)
   * Conquest (18pts)
   * Victor (17pts)
Battle Mechaniks (Leader and 5 Grunts) (3pts)
Winter Guard Field Gun Crew (Leader and 2 Grunts) (2pts)
Winter Guard Field Gun Crew (Leader and 2 Grunts) (2pts)
Man-o-war Drakhun (without dismount) (4pts)

This list is the same as the double Victor build, with the two Mechanik units mushed into one max in order to free up the one point I need to take a Conquest instead of one of the Victors. Full Tier 4 of Harkevich's theme force, with all the bells and whistles that brings.

My Friend's List:
Hunters Grim (*4pts)
   * Troll Impaler (5pts)
   * Dire Troll Bomber (10pts)
   * Trollkin Runebearer (2pts)
Pyg Burrowers (Leader and 9 Grunts) (6pts)
Trollkin Fennblades (Leader and 9 Grunts) (8pts)
   * Trollkin Fennblade Officer & Drummer (2pts)
Trollkin Highwaymen (Leader and 9 Grunts) (8pts)
Horgle Ironstrike (3pts)
   * Slag Troll (5pts)
   * Slag Troll (5pts)

This is the original version of my friend's Grim2 list (Zerkova2 faced the other version), which trades out utility for the second Slag Troll, giving it very scary shooting against non-living models (especially colossals). Backing it up are still quite a few warrior models, all with Tough and various other shenanigans (massed CRAs, Burrowing, charges from faaaar away).

Scenario: SR2015 Incursion

Deployment and Round 1
Model Notes: For Khador, The Gun Carriage is a proxy for Victor. For Trollbloods, the Storm Troll is a proxy for the second Slag Troll. The white circles are the Wreck Markers allowed by Harkevich's theme list.

Harkevich wins the roll off and opts for first turn. Harkevich begins the game with Fortune on Conquest and Escort on himself.

Round 1:
Harkevich Turn 1:
Everything runs forward, except Harkevich who advances and casts Broadside.

The Conquest's Main Guns scatter away from the Burrowers, but the Victor's Siege Mortar scatters into the group, killing one (a second model is Tough and on Fire).

Grim Turn 1:
During Maintenance, the on Fire Burrower remains on Fire, but passes another Tough check.

Grim casts Mirage on himself and advances, Horgol casts Hot Shot on one of the Slag Trolls and advances. The Burrowers burrow. Everything else runs forward.

Round 2:
Start of Round 2
Harkevich Turn 2:
Harkevich upkeeps Fortune and Escort, and allocates 1 focus to the Conquest.

The Conquest advances and shoots one of the Slag Trolls, throwing it with a critical and doing moderate damage. The Secondary Batterys put down Creeping Barrage templates.

The Victor advances and shoots into the Highwaymen with its Autocannons, forcing two Tough checks. It then fires its Siege Mortar into the knocked down Slag Troll, hitting it and the Runebearer. The Slag Troll takes mild damage from the shot, the Runebearer takes a couple points of damage from the blast, and both models are set on Fire.

Black Ivan advances slightly and shoots the knocked down Slag Troll, doing light damage to it.

Harkevich advances, pops his feat, and casts Broadside. Black Ivan's shot goes into the knocked down Slag Troll (more minor damage). The Conquest shoots the knocked down Slag Troll again, gets another critical which throws it and the Runebearer back, and does more damage to both models. The Victor attempts to shoot the knocked down Runebearer, but misses and the shot scatters wide of everything.

The left Field Gun has one crew member advance towards the Fennblades while the gun stays put. The Blunderbuss shot kills a Fennblade and the Field Gun forces a Tough check.

The right Field Gun tries the same thing, but only manages to force a single Tough check.

The Drakun charges in and kills a Highwayman and forces another Tough check on an already knocked down Highwayman. The Mechaniks run to stick to the back of the colossals.

Grim Turn 2:
During Maintenance, the Slag Troll's Fire goes out, while the Runebearer burns but Toughs through the damage. The Fennblades advance due to Vengeance and the Burrowers pop out.

Grim upkeeps Mirage and shuffles up using it. Horgol upkeeps Hot Shot on the Slag Troll and his knocked down Slag Troll shakes knockdown.

The Fennblades activate No Quarter and charge into the Field Gun and Conquest. They kill one of the Field Gun crewmen and force the unit to flee. The two models charging the Conquest hit and do light damage.

Horgol and his Slag Trolls activate and do their usual "shoot, cycle Hot Shot, shoot" set of activations. The previously knocked down Slag Troll also uses Regeneration to heal 2 damage off itself. The combined efforts of the Slag Trolls do damage to the Conquest, but not a lot due to Harkevich's feat.

Grim shoots the Drakun and kills it in one hit with a boosted damage roll. The Bomber and Impaler run forward.

The Highwaymen advance and gun down the forward Field Gun crewman. The Burrowers advance and shoot into the Mechaniks but are unable to land any shots.

Round 3:
Start of Round 3
Harkevich Round 3:
Harkevich upkeeps Fortune and Escort, allocates 1 Focus to Conquest.

The Victor activates, scootches over to contest the right flag and shoots its Autocannons into the Burrowers and Highwaymen, missing all of those attacks. The Siege Mortar fires into the Highwaymen, scattering onto one model and killing it.

The Conquest shoots the damaged Slag Troll, hitting with a critical which throws both Slag Trolls back (not into anything). The directly hit Slag Troll dies. It then shoots the right Secondary Battery into the remaining knocked down Slag Troll for slight extra damage, and uses the left Secondary Battery to lay down Creeping Barrage templates.

Black Ivan aims and shoots into the center of the Burrower trio in front of it, killing one and forcing Tough checks on the other two.

Harkevich moves to the side and shoots one of the knocked down Burrowers, killing it. He then casts Broadside and shoots the other knocked down Burrower and kills it.

Black Ivan shoots into the Burrowers in front of the Victor, hitting the center Burrower and killing all three. The Victor shoots the knocked down Slag Troll for moderate damage, forces a Tough check on the Runebearer, and sets the other Slag Troll on Fire. The Conquest shoots the remaining Slag Troll for moderate damage.

The left Field Gun crew rallies. The right Field Gun crew has the crew member advance while the gunner sits still. They shoot into the Highwaymen, killing another one.

The Mechaniks repair all damage on the Conquest.

Grim Turn 3:
During Maintenance, the Slag Troll burns for more damage (knocking out the Spirit) and the Runebearer finally succumbs to a damage roll.

Grim upkeeps Mirage and uses it to move 2" forward.

The Fennblades continue to move around the forest, killing the Field Gun crew and one Mechanik. One Fennblade dies to the Creeping Barrage and the Officer takes 3 damage from the templates.

The Burrowers advance and attack but aren't able to do any damage to anything in the area.

Horgol moves up into the forest and heals the Spirit of the Slag Troll. Grim advances and pops his feat.

The Slag Troll shoots at the Conquest, doing mild damage.

The Bomber advances and throws bombs at Harkevich, but misses both shots. Boosted blast damage puts a few points of damage onto Harkevich.

The Highwaymen advance. Two CRA into Harkevich but miss both shots, while the rest mow down the Field Gun crew.

Round 4:
Start of Round 4
Harkevich Turn 4:
Harkevich upkeeps Fortune and Escort, allocates 1 focus to the Conquest.

Black Ivan backs out of melee with a Burrower, taking a free strike for light damage, and shoots into the two Burrowers in front of it, killing both of them.

The Conquest turns to engage more of the Fennblades and shoots the Slag Troll with a critical hit, throwing it into Grim. The impact heavily damages the Slag Troll and does a couple points of damage to Grim. The Conquest puts down Creeping Barrage Templates with the left Secondary Battery while the right Secondary Battery finishes off the wounded Slag Troll.

The Victor shoots Grim with its Siege Mortar, hitting him and setting him on Fire. Grim transfers the resulting moderate damage to the Impaler (the Bomber being at full Fury). The Autocannons kill two more of the Highwaymen.

Harkevich moves behind Black Ivan and casts Broadside. All three warjacks shoot Grim and connect, forcing him to transfer a lot of damage to the Impaler.

The Mechaniks move around, attack the remaining Burrower (miss) and repair Black Ivan and the Conquest.

Grim Turn 4:
During Maintenance, Grim burns from the fire for massive damage, forcing him to transfer to the Impaler and killing it.

Grim drops Mirage.

The Fennblades run/charge, with the one in melee with the Conquest attempting to charge out of melee to Harkevich. It dies to the free strike. The remaining Fennblades run around the forest and Conquest, but two are killed by Creeping Barrage damage rolls, including the Officer.

Grim aims and shoots Harkevich for moderate damage, then backs up with Reform.

The Bomber advances and attempts to get Harkevich in range, but comes up short with the first shot. The scatter goes wide and kills a Mechanik. The second shot goes towards Black Ivan and also misses, this time killing nothing.

The Highwaymen advance and take pot shots but can't hit due to Cover/Iron Sentinel/hills/etc.

The remaining Burrower duels the Mechanik, to no avail.

Round 5:
Start of Round 5
Harkevich Turn 5:
Harkevich upkeeps Fortune and Escort, allocates 3 focus to the Conquest.

Black Ivan aims and shoots Grim but misses.

The Victor fires its Siege Mortar at Grim, scattering off of him but getting Flare onto him and the Bomber.

Conquest advances and punches the Bomber with his initial melee attacks, leaving on just a couple damage boxes. It then buys a boosted attack onto Grim, hitting and doing enough damage to force a transfer. The transfer kills the Bomber and the blowback damage is enough to kill Grim, who fails his Tough roll.

Result: Harkevich wins via assassination!

Post-Game Thoughts:
This is a bit of an odd game, in that I played it relatively recently to this write up, but I there are some things I'm kind of foggy on. Chalk it up to pushing through the turns pretty quickly (we wanted to make sure we got the game wrapped up before the store closed) and general "end of day" brain overload.

Everything else belongs in one of the subsequent sections, so without further ado...

Things That Went Well:
I was surprised at how well I was able to hold on to scenario. Turns out that Huge bases can just barely contest two flags each for Incursion, though you have a very fixed position from which to do so. I almost flubbed it up with the Victor on the right flank; thankfully I was able to correct it before it got locked down.

That said, two things made a huge difference in being able to get into a good scenario spot: 1) getting first turn (another area where the theme list helps out a lot), and 2) the speed boost from Escort.

The second point there is, I think, the most important one. Without Escort I'd have been 4" further away from both flags if I took the same set of actions (run then advance). That puts me well outside of contesting range and makes it pretty reasonable for the colossals to get boxed out before they can even get there. You need the extra movement from Escort to even have a chance at it.

Building on that, I think Broadside makes a big difference in terms of the viability of running two colossals. Being able to run and still shoot (even inaccurately) first turn is a really big deal: you can't afford to not run first turn (see: previous board positioning concerns) but you also need to get as many attacks as possible out of your Huge bases (since they're so dense in terms of points per model). Broadside also makes a big difference on the advance turn as well; by that point you've taken three shots with each colossal, which you desperately need to be doing if you want to maintain any kind of attrition footing.

All that is to say: I think this is a list that is uniquely suited to Harkevich, and quite possibly uniquely suited to his theme list.

Things That Did Not Go Well:
I had blinders on with the Drakun and ended up throwing it away as a result. I wanted to try and thin out the Highwaymen to take out some pressure on that flank, and a string of Tough checks made it very easy for me to validate sending the Drakun in to try and thin the unit out a bit.

That didn't work out so well, and the icing on the cake was how trivial it was to remove him. The Drakun was almost certain to die with the Bomber and Impaler right there but Grim made it so they didn't even need to sully their hands (or bombs/spears as it were). Trading a 4 point solo for zero stalling and one 0.5 point model wasn't a tactically sound idea.

To add to that misplay, there was something I had in mind for the Drakun that I really should have stuck with as his plan, and shifting from that plan put me in a pretty bad spot. More on that next section.

I have no other place to lament this, but it was a beautiful set up and I need to mention it somewhere: the turn 2 Critical Devastation of the Slag Troll and the Runebearer set up a beautiful shot. Crump, the Runebearer, and Grim were all well within a 5" AOE. A knocked down model is about as good a shot as a Victor is going to get, but even then it managed to boff that up and the shot scattered off into the nothing. Such a beautiful moment, lost forever.

Key Mistakes/Things To Do Differently:
The absolute biggest mistake I made this game was on the turn where I moved Harkevich over to shoot at two of the Burrowers. In hindsight, I think the decision to take those shots was the right one; I needed to thin the herd as quickly as possible and it was going to take every shot I had to do it.

But in lining up those shots I moved Harkevich laterally, instead over over and back. That right there almost cost me the game, as it ended up leaving Harkevich just barely in range of "walk and shoot" on the Bomber under Grim2's feat. I got lucky when the Bomber couldn't convert either of those shots into direct hits, but it was way, way too close for comfort. 12's to hit with a boost should convert at least one of the two shots, and it isn't terribly unlikely for both of those shots to connect. If they do, Harkevich might just die right there, let alone when Grim gets a shot on him later.

The biggest thing with this list is that, like any version of this archetype, Harkevich is the weakest link. Cover from the Wreck Markers improves his survivability significantly (so much so that I don't think its worth playing this style of list without the theme) but equally important is spacing. Being out of range is way, way better than being difficult to hit. I screwed that up this game, and I was very fortunate that it didn't come back and bite me.

In addition to just throwing the Drakun into the jaws of death for no real gain, I also totally bailed on the plan I had for him prior to deployment: I wanted him to run in and gum up the Fennblades a bit. He'll almost certainly die there too, but the Fennblades were much more troublesome (fast, Reach melee models with Vengeance are never fun to deal with) and I didn't really have a great solution for them. Tossing the Drakun into their lines would have at least given them some pause, and the Drakun probably wouldn't have been picked off nearly as easily.

Instead of running the Drakun straight up towards the Highwaymen (I also wanted him to help contest that flag, but there was no way he was going to survive over there even doing that job), I should have used that first turn to run it over to the left flank (the ability to rapidly redeploy cavalry models is one of their biggest strengths). Additionally, I should have had him more centrally deployed - possibly even behind Harkevich - so he could respond wherever he was needed.

I also had at least one significant order of activation flub. There is a surprising amount of flexibility with how you sequence your battlegroup shots with this list, and as a result the optimal sequence isn't always obvious.

The main one that jumps to mind is on the last turn where I was going in on the kill against Grim. I knew I was going to try and Flare him with the Victor, so I should have tried that at the very start of the turn. Black Ivan aiming is already at pretty good odds to hit him (with Harkevich's Affinity); with Flare it brings the odds even more in my favor. I biffed the roll, probably badly enough that it wouldn't have mattered, but it is still a good thing to bear in mind for the future.

Noteworthy Model Thoughts:
The meat of the discussion here, and the whole reason for playing the list is: how does Conquest + Victor ("CV" from now on) compare to Victor + Victor ("VV" from now on) under Harkevich?

My "one game impression" (which, to be fair, is all I have with Victor + Victor) is: pretty favorably.

At a high level, VV gives you a strong initial bombardment (especially if they have AD models for you to drop templates on) along with better secondary guns and an extra point to work with (a surprisingly big deal in this list).

CV trades out that initial bombardment - you can still potentially get Conquest shots into AD stuff, but Victor is the only one threatening deployment zone damage - and the extra point for a stronger "midfield" game. Conquest's Main Guns are more threatening as the opponent closes the distance (since he can actually hit and potentially throw things) and Creeping Barrage is a way to either force your opponent to move in a different way, or get some free damage rolls in (that periodically convert to kills).

To dig a little deeper, here are some benefits of the CV setup:

 - Critical Devastation can, as happened a couple of times in this game, set up very interesting Siege Mortar shots that wouldn't happen otherwise. Knocked down models are about the only thing that a Victor can easily hit by itself, so having models go flying near other, juicier targets can set up interesting follow ups (especially with Broadside).

 - Flare + Fortune makes Conquest rather accurate, even with his crappy side guns. Alternatively, lower DEF can bump up your crit chances by giving you more successful paired results.

 - Conquest makes for a much better Fortune target than a Victor. Although a Victor may make more use of the re-rolls by volume (thanks to 2d3 shots from the Autocannons), it is largely wasted on the Siege Mortar. Conquest, meanwhile, really needs those Main Guns shots to connect (and hopefully critical) so a re-roll goes a long way to making sure that you're getting some value out of his primary attack each turn (and also potentially alleviating some of the need to boost attack rolls if you want that focus elsewhere).

 - Creeping Barrage is, despite how much worse it is than Covering Fire, still periodically useful. As this list really doesn't want to be jammed up and primarily wants tools to be able to handle infantry, having a tool that lets you get extra damage rolls (even if they are weak damage rolls) on infantry as they close with you is valuable.

 - Conquest's general rule set makes him more of the "forward" colossal, which (in a scenario that isn't so spread out) can allow him to take point and give Victor breathing room for Siege Mortar shots.

 - The Minimum Range rule on the Siege Mortar isn't terrible (it would be much, much worse if it was any larger than 6"), but it limit your options when infantry get right up in your face. The Main Guns don't have that problem which lessens how much of a problem it is if the enemy is able to get within that 6" bubble.

 - Critical Devastation is a wonderful control tool for enemy warnouns, durable infantry, brick formations, etc, especially for a double colossal list (and even more so when you can apply difficult terrain with Crater). It is unreliable (as all critical effects are) but Harkevich has enough focus each turn to boost Conquest's initial shot and still Broadside which, when combined with Fortune, gives you about the best odds at getting a Critical Devastation as you're going to get in the faction.

All that said, Conquest is still at its absolute best when it criticals, and I was getting them like mad this game, including one or two from Broadside shots. It is impossible to say how different my opinion of Conquest in this style of list would be without those criticals.

I will say that even at absolute base it was nice to have a big gun I could fire anywhere (and directly hit things) with the chance to throw stuff around, and the Creeping Barrages were nice to have.

I wouldn't say that CV is better than VV, but it also doesn't seem to be much worse. They seem to both have their strengths, just against different things. VV is a much harder fire template skew, which is going to work magnificently against enemy infantry. CV gives up some of that infantry hate (though it keeps light infantry hate a bit) and gives you tools for controlling/softening harder enemy army elements via the Main Guns shots.

List Changes/Tweaks:
Having the Mechaniks tied up in one unit straight up sucked. I was able to sort of play around it by stretching the unit to its absolute maximum command, but I don't really like how much that forces the models into more vulnerable positions (since they end up having to hide out on the back sides of the colossal).

I would love to get two minimum Mechanik units back into the list, but I fear the only way to do so (while maintaining this battlegroup) is to break the Drakun down for spare points. I am hesitant to do that, as I like the jam and speed elements it brings to the list, but there aren't a lot of other options.

Dropping the Drakun frees up 4 points. One point goes to transforming the max Mechaniks unit into two minimum units. Two points can go towards a Widowmaker Marksman, which gives the list a decent anti-infantry gun, as well as a Stealth solo that can also help with scenario play. That last point can then be used to either upgrade one of the weapon crews to a Mortar - they aren't nearly as useful as they once were, but a Mortar is still way better than a Field Gun - or a War Dog - gives Harkevich some melee protection to compliment his shooting protection, and it gives the list a cheap, fast solo to run around and collect points.

I'll probably try some permutation of that swap around next game. Otherwise, there isn't much you can do to change things around when you're starting with 47 (44) points in the battlegroup.

I'm also looking at non-theme lists as an alternative, and I have a hard time going for that option. You gain a significant amount of flexibility out of theme; not only are you allowed to take whatever models you want, but dropping theme allows you to nix Black Ivan and the two weapon crews, which frees up a decent chunk of points.

However, Black Ivan does a good bit of work for me in these lists (especially since I'm spamming Broadside anyways for the big guys guns) so I don't feel like he is dead weight. The weapon crews are almost always unimpressive (which is news to no one) but I'm not sure that freeing up those points is worth losing out on the other benefits of the theme.

Being able to start with all upkeeps in play both allows you to literally run your battlegroup (otherwise Harkevich can only afford to run two warjacks himself first turn) and gives you the first turn Broadside shot (which is essentially a random chance at free, early game kills while doing what you would need to do anyways).

The +1 to starting roll is a big deal when running a double colossal list. You want to either be able to get into position before your opponent, or be able to choose a table side that doesn't screw you (if early movement is less critical). Getting that +1 to starting roll helps to give you that option more often.

And probably most importantly, the Wreck Markers gained from the theme list give Harkevich and Black Ivan relatively safe places to stand while they're doing their job (shooting and casting spells, respectively). As mentioned previously, Harkevich is absolutely the weak link in the list, so if your opponent can send attacks at him they are very likely to do so. Having a Wreck Marker to stand in gives Harkevich significant protection against the most common threats to him - ranged and magic attacks - while also not slowing him down thanks to Pathfinder.

Every game I play with Harkevich, I notice how much more boldly I can position him due to pretty much always having cover right where I need it. I'd be hard pressed to not take a comparable replacement in a non-theme list (as I don't like to rely on having to hide behind the colossals all the time), which further reduces the allure of a non-theme list for me.

The other problem I'm having with non-theme lists is that the math in those lists seems to work out best with double Victor, which is something I'm trying to avoid to save my wallet far off future suffering.

Closing Thoughts:
This was a weird game. The Grim2 list is sort of non-traditional Trollbloods (especially with everyone supposedly running the two popular theme lists for them) and it has been long enough since I've played Warmachine that I'm sure there are things we screwed up with the rules (too many games systems made them all blend together).

All that said, I really did like this version of a double colossal list with Harkevich. For as much as I don't like double colossals, this is one that I am at least more likely to run (especially if it continues to be effective) because, while I am very unlikely to buy two Victors, I am almost certainly going to buy one Victor for general use. Being able to run a solid double colossal list with Conquest and Victor would be great; double bonus if it gives me a Harkevich list that is at least decently competitive.

I look forward to trying out this list (with a couple of tweaks) more in the future. And I damn sure am looking forward to an eventual release date announcement for Victor.

As always, thanks very much for reading!

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