Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Evaluating Warlocks

Having done an article about evaluating warcasters, this one won't take as much work. However, you can't do them quite the same.

I'm going to roll through the same basic questions I used for framing a post on warcasters, but the answers will be a little bit different.

1) How vulnerable am I to assassination?
2) Can my warlock kill things?
3) What support does the warlock offer to the army?
4) What's my feat do?

Then, we get to the tie-it-all-together type of questions.
5) How does my warlock like to play?
6) How do they like to win?
7) What beasts/units/solos do they like?

Initial Round of Questioning
1) What's My vulnerability to Assassination?
We start to answer this question by looking at your base side and card. What's your DEF? What's your ARM? How big is your base? How many hit boxes do you have? This is your way of figuring out how easy you are to hit (based on either 2d6 or 3d6 odds, and the occasional 4d6) and how easy you are to damage once hit. Your base size tells you how easy it is to hide your warlock; bigger bases are harder to hide.

Most warlocks tend to be a little...squishier...than warcasters. Some of this may be their specific statline, but the other issue is that unless you've got a buff on you, your ARM is your ARM. There's no overboosting your power field. However, the 'locks have a wonderful trick up their sleeve: transfers.

When you're calculating how hard it is to kill a warlock, you can't get the full story from their card. You can get an idea how easy it is to damage them, but the availability of transfer targets and fury talks to ultimate durability.

Note, though, that warlocks tend to take a fewer heavier hits better than they take the death of a thousand cuts. Why? One fury transfers 4 damage as much as it transfers 14 damage.

2) What's my warlock's personal threat value?
What melee weapons do you have, and what's the MAT that goes with them? Warlocks tend to play closer forward, so you're more likely to use your melee weapons. Similarly, if you have a ranged weapon and a decent MAT, you might be able to sit back a bit more and still contribute.

As a rule, warlocks don't channel spells. There are a few exceptions (spells that turn something into a node, or warlocks that bring their own special-issue arc node beastie) but they are very much exceptions. What's that mean? If you're casting offensive spells, you're gonna be close to the enemy. Most offensive spells have an 8 or 10-inch range, and if you're firing 'em off, then you're close enough for someone to charge or run to engage you. It's not impossible to roll this way, but it requires more attention to threat ranges, lest you be fatally surprised.
3) Spells/Utility
The spell list is one of the biggest differences between warcasters and warlocks. With 'casters, you look at your spell list and you know all the spells you have. This is where it gets complicated.

First, look at your spell list. Some warlocks have as few as three spells. Your spell list will generally speak to your core playstyle. However, your warlock will also have access to a handful of animi from its battlegroup. It opens up some versatility in your forces. It also means you need to familiarize yourself with all your beast' animi in the book. Your spell list might also tell you what to look for with beasts.

Most of the time, an animus that's a buff will have a single target, and they may be specific about what can actually benefit from them. Bottom line: you have more spells to memorize and track, but your beasts can ALSO use the animus. Pay attention to whether the animus has a range in inches or one marked 'self', as the latter limits the use to the beast that owns it and the warlock that runs it. It also means you can get some buffs/effects off outside of your warlock's activation.

Second, check your special rules (if any). Some warlocks have neat extras, like Baldur's ability to heal constructs by spending fury like everyone else can for regular living beasts.

4) Feat
What's your feat do? Most feats tend to fall broadly into offensive, defensive, or denial categories. There are some oddball extras 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; eLylyth's Field of Slaughter is good for +4RNG and a double-tap on all the beasts...it's as sick as it sounds). 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
After you've looked at the first four basic questions, it's time to put it together and try to get some overview-type answers.

5) What kind of game does your warlock play?
Someone like pSeverius has a 16" control range and access to an arc node, so he can sit WAY behind everything.

Your warlocks, on the other hand, need to be closer to the fight as a rule. Why? You can only force beasts if they're in the controlling warlock's control area. Some support models can extend this range, but the rest of the time, if you want that warbeast to crank out extra attacks after a charge, you've got to be aware of where they are in relation to their controller. It's a change of pace for warmachine players, as you can load a jack up, fire it out, then move the 'caster back up to keep it in control range for the next turn's focus allocation.

You're balancing this with the inherent fragility of your 'lock. I would hazard that warlocks tend to have a DEF/ARM in the 14-16 range, usually with more DEF than ARM. That's what transfers and beasts are for.

Here's another crucial thing to bear in mind with warlocks: attrition is not your friend. You need warbeasts for two things: 1) generate fury for you to spend, and 2) transfer targets. The kicker is that you can't reave fury from a warbeast you kill via a transfer. This shouldn't rule out a scenario win, but your warbeasts are both your sword and shield. Additionally, your warbeasts are likely to be your heavy hitters while your infantry are generally good at killing other infantry. You're also closer to the action (between your need for beast-forcing and lack of an arc node) so the longer things go on, the more likely you are to run out of screening bodies.

Past that, you're looking at your spell/animus list for how you'll play. Usually it's a question of what buffs you have access to in combination what what beasts/infantry/solos you brought. What do they let you do, and how does your feat help you out?

You want to know how close you need to be to the action (which is a function of threat ranges on your beasts, your control range, and range on your spels) and what you're going to do when you get there. Who do you buff, where do you send them, and how do you preserve/utilize your beasts and the life of your warlock?

6) Win Condition
As I've mentioned, warlocks tend to be closer to their beasts than warcasters are to their steam-powered crush-bots. You need them alive for fury, but you harm them to keep your warlock alive. What's this tell you? The clock is ticking.

That being said, you can still win by either assassination or scenario. If you see a good chance to pop the enemy leader, do it. If you're going to go for more attrition, do your best to keep some of your beasts intact.

And remember: play to not lose the scenario at the bare minimum.

7) Army Composition
What kind of army does the warlock want?

What do your buffs do? Are there particular animi that you want to bring? What does your feat do? What units/beasts/solos benefit the most from these? In general, what kind of utility do you have and what kind of utility do you need? Are there any animi in particular that you would like, and can you use both the beast and the animus in the list? Or is one good enough that you don't much CARE about the other (I mean, ok, ignoring Tough is useful but highly situational. The Scythean, on the other hand, is sick enough by itself that you're fine with a situational animus).

Make sure you carefully read what your buffs can target. Some are beast-only, some are unit-only. Some buffs may be cast on warrior models, but it may buff just one model. Keep this in mind when making your plans.

There's also the question of how many beasts you can run effectively, and how many you need. There is not a hard-and-fast guide other than you should probaly bring more than 1-2 beasts*. If you have a couple of beasts, the enemy is liable to prioritize them and screw you out of Fury and transfer targets, which usually means you're gonna lose. You want to be able to keep your warlock in Fury, and you want to make sure you can do so without maxing all your beasts out on Fury (since you can't transfer to beasts with full fury on them). You also want to be able to take losses without compromising your ability to keep your warlock fed.

And, of course, what weaknesses do you need to cover/what support do you need? Look at units/solos that help you with beasts; namely healing and removing fury. Beasts are easier to heal than warjacks, and you only need one unmarked box in a spiral to bring it online. Being able to heal one prior to your warlock's activation (or without spending their fury) can be helpful, and fury removal can let you run up more fury than you might otherwise think safe.

Past that, support is support and beefing up stats/threat ranges/other things applies as it would in Warmachine.

I honestly think that evaluating warlocks is a little more difficult than evaluating warcasters. Why? Two main reasons: 1) durability is harder to gauge due to the magic of transfers, and 2) access to animi and possible neat combinations thereof require you to look at more options and be familiar with them.

That being said, there's a big dividend to playing hordes: the fury system. On the one hand, it's a risk. The best analogy I have for it is that it's like heat in Battletech: run your mechs too hot and they blow up and do bad things. On the other hand, if you don't care what happens (read: can win this turn) who cares if you redline all your beasts? A Hordes army can deploy much more fury than a warmachine army can focus, and fury is more flexible. I mean, good dice on damage can see a warjack total a hard target and still sit on focus, which means wasted resources.

At the end of the day, though, I think sitting down and pouring over a warlock's stats, spells, feat, and the rest of your book will give you an idea of what to do with 'em. This is not a definitive gospel how-to by any means, but I intend to use it as a framework for analyzing warlocks in future blog posts.

*You can get away with fewer beasts if they're tougher, if it's a smaller game, or if you preserve them more. Bottom line: you need your fury. You know this, your opponent knows this. Hell, one of the primary tasks when plotting a Hordes assassination is making sure they can't transfer all the damage away, and you do this by one of three ways:
1) Hit them too many times
2) Hit them too hard so that damage spills over

**Laughter is therapeutic. Maniacal laughter is scientifically proven*** to be twice as therapeutic.

***That's what Doctor Arkadius told me. Didn't think it was worth checking his references.

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