Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Critera for Evaluating Warcasters

Honestly, the leaders are kind of the focal point of a Warmachine army. They provide the spell list and feat around which you'll construct an army. Or, you'll pick a favorite unit/model/what-have-you and then pick a 'caster that fits with them. Either way, part of this game is figuring out just what you're going to do with your leader.

I've spent some time trying to figure out how to approach this question. Here's what I've got so far.

These questions are in no particular order, but here are the things I've started looking at:
1) How vulnerable am I to assassination?
2) Can my warcaster kill things?
3) What support does my warcaster offer to my army?
4) What does my feat do?

Once I've answered those questions, I'll move on to a few broader questions:
5) How does my warcaster prefer to play?
6) How do I win with them?
7) What warjacks/units/solos do they particularly like?

First Round of Questioning
1) What's my vulnerability to assassination?
It's important to know what gets you killed, and how easy you are to kill. What goes into this? The basics aren't too hard: look at your statline.

What's your base size? Smaller bases are easier to screen; a 30mm base can comfortably wander around behind a couple of heavy jacks and can use clouds to great effect. A 40mm base starts getting rougher to hide, as you can use medium bases to screen from infantry. A 50mm base is a special concern; warcasters like the Harbinger, eThagrosh and Terminus require special care to avoid stuff like ranged assassination.

The next part is to look at your DEF, ARM, and the number of hit boxes. Don't kid yourself; DEF 14 and 15 are pretty hittable. DEF 16 is where most warjacks start needing a boost to get the job done reliably, and DEF 17 is where you MIGHT be able to get comfortable. Base ARM speaks to your vulnerability to stuff like blast damage; a DEF 17 warcaster with ARM 13 in base with a low-DEF warjack is begging for a boosted blast damage roll. Always bear in mind that you CAN sit on your focus and boost your field, but that may not save you from a dedicated attempt.

2) What's my warcaster's personal threat value?
You might have to look at your spells for a better idea of this, but you can look at some gear and MAT/RAT values and figure out if you WANT your leader to swing or take potshots. Someone like Kara Sloan, with a high RAT and weaponmaster on a sniper rifle with good range, WANTS to shoot at the enemy. Someone with a RAT 5, POW12 hand cannon, on the other hand, is packing a backup ranged attack. Similarly, MAT 6 and a POW12 melee weapon is not exactly threatening, though there may be some hidden utility there.

Sometimes, casters may need a little outside support to reach their full killy potential: Dawnlord Vyros can get a flank bonus from a warjack to become an effective MAT10, POW14 reach weaponmaster, AND can get SPD7, Pathfinder, and can ignore forests for LOS. Kinda scary, when you think about it.

3) Spells/utility
What's your spell list? What does it do? Do you have offensive spells, buffs to offense, buffs to defense, denial, what? If you have offensive spells, what's your FOCUS stat? What kind of upkeeps do you have, and how often do you expect to have them up? IE: Dawnlord Vyros has a FOCUS stat of 6, and at least one upkeep you'll be using. He also has Mobility, which costs 2 Focus, which he'll probably be using most turns. So, really, he's looking at having 2-3 spare focus a turn for whatever.

If you have offensive spells, your FOCUS stat (and admittedly access to Arc Nodes) is going to determine how effective you can be with them. If you're primarily a buffing/upkeeping caster, then you don't actually CARE about hitting the other guy with your spells.

4) Feat
What's your feat do? Most feats tend to fall broadly into offensive, defensive, or denial categories. There are some oddball extras (IE: pMagnus grants you extra battlegroup movement) that take a little more though to use, and not all feats are created equally. Maybe your feat is best used early to either soften up the enemy (many ranged feats fall into this category; kill the other guy before he gets close). Maybe you have a feat useful for finishing off the enemy (IE: pKreoss knocks you down; rest of the army KILLS YOU). Maybe yours is defensive, in which case it'll buy you time to position for the kill or scenario win.

Round Two of Questioning
Once you've given the first four questions some thought while looking into your warcaster's stats, it's time to look at the broader questions and put it together.

5) What kind of game does the warcaster play?
Do you lead from the front, or from behind? Remember those questions about survivability? You don't want to put a frail warcaster towards the front where they're undefended and open. Some warcasters thrive on leading from the front and getting into the thick of it; the Butcher and Terminus are examples as the Butcher is a walking killzone and Terminus can pawn shots off to his minions while closing in to personally kill the enemy leader. Others may not be in the front, but still want to be moving in close enough to threaten; warcasters like eStryker and Reznik are fully capable of mutilating enemy leaders in 1-2 hits but can use their army to get the job done as well.

Other warcasters that are a bit more frail are probably happy sitting in the back with arc nodes. I mean, honestly, if you don't need to be up front to shoot or stab something, don't be up front. Someone like Severius, with a mighty DEF and ARM of 14, should be using his large control range (16") and an arc node or two to make SURE the enemy has to work to get to them. Honestly, DEF/ARM14 isn't going to stop a blessed thing that wants to kill him. Being out of range, on the other hand, is a fine defense. Same goes for the Harbinger; poor defensive stats are somewhat forgiveable when you have a 20" control range.

After your survivabilty and weapons, look to your spells for a hint on how close you should be. Most buffs have a 6-8" range if they're targeted upkeeps. If you're going to cast those first turn and not cycle them between units, then you don't really need to be that close. pMagnus has several buffs, and once those are out he has one offensive spell with a decent range, and past that? He's probably sitting behind a warjack. (though unlike some, he's perfectly capable of defending himself between an auto-knockdown melee weapon and a solid sword).

Basically, do you need to be close to the action in order to do damage and/or support your troops? How close is 'close enough?' Do you have a way to deny the enemy anything? What does your feat do (offense/defense/denial/other) and when should you use it? How close do you need to be to use it?

6) Win Condition
Some 'casters love assassination; you only have to kill one enemy model to win if it's the right model. Some are capable of playing an excellent scenario game and wearing down the enemy. Some can do both.

This one's a bit trickier. Honestly, the minimum you need to do is make sure you don't lose the scenario. Make sure you don't pull something out of position and end the game this turn. That's a player thing moreso than a warcaster thing, but it always bears mentioning.

The type of victory you want to go for may also play into your force selection.

7) Army Composition
What kind of army does the warcaster want/need?

If you have the ability to bring arc nodes (IE: someone other than Khador) then do you need arc nodes? If you're squishy and have good offensive spells, you might consider arc nodes. If you have primarly buffs, then you may not need arc nodes that much.

What does your feat do? If it favors a specific type of combat, make sure you bring that. Kara Sloan's feat favors a battlegroup that specializes in ranged combat, so don't bring warjacks with melee weapons.

How do you maximize your feat's effectiveness? eKreoss lets people move, auto-hit, AND make an additional melee attack. Unsurprisingly, he likes a lot of infantry to take advantage of this fact. pSkarre buffs to-hit rolls naturally, and hitting power with her feat; considering her spells/feat are 'control area' you can give more models the benefit if they're infantry instead of a few warjacks. On the other hand, eSkarre's denial feat has 1-5 targets, so she can protect a few hardened targets better than a horde of infantry.

Regarding warjacks in general, do you have support for them? Debuffing the enemy or buffing the warjack are both viable sources of support. Bear in mind you're also going to need to fuel warjacks with focus, and not all warjacks have the same demand for focus. A Cyclone can deny a swath of space with zero focus, and the Deathjack and Seether can both crush face. on the flip side, a Leviathan can decimate infantry with eSkarre IF you can debuff the infantry and feed the warjack 2-3 focus.

Do you have any buffs for infantry? It's crucial to read your buffs for 'friendly model' or 'friendly model/unit.' Vyros can give a warjack +2ARM, or he can give a unit of Dawnguard +2 ARM and fearless. It's the same cost; either 1 focus to upkeep a +2ARM bonus for one warjack OR +2ARM on a dozen infantrymen. Sometimes you want to buff the unit, sometimes you want to buff the jack. Figure out how far you can spread your buffs, and bring units that can take advantage of them. If you have snipe, consider bringing someone with a gun, for example.

Another thing to look for when picking your units/solos/jacks is what weaknesses do you need to cover? If you've got a huge warcaster, you might want to consider something with Shield Guard; warcasters in particular HATE the disruptor bolt from Eiyrss. A 3pt Ogrun Bokur or similar bodyguard can nullify that threat. Anyone with cloud effects can keep you out of sight and potentially out of danger. If you don't have a lot of focus to fuel warjacks, then jack marshals and support solos like Arcanists and Warwitch Sirens can help you run your warjacks effectively (though make sure you don't necessarily NEED jacks in your battlegroup, first).

And here's that wall of text you've been waiting for. Honestly, I'm trying to cobble together a framework for evaluating warcasters, and this is the first pass. It's big, but I feel that you kind of need to evaluate your warcaster before you pick the army. Know what the caster works well with, and then build the army. On the one hand, it sounds like common sense, but I really doubt it's that easy to come up with the ideal force, as good stuff isn't always obvious.


Plarzoid said...

Amazing article. I've been struggling with how to go about understanding each 'caster I'm interested in, and this guide will really help out. Well done!

Raptor1313 said...

Thanks! It's good to know some of this stuff is A) sensible and B) useful for others.

I imagine there will always be things that make classification difficult, but after playing the game for several months I'm starting to find some value in building up a framework before I go into an analysis on the casters...and, well, frankly, other things too; it's just that warcasters are the focal points.

A.J. the Ronin said...

Great Article. Printing for prosperity.