“Hello, my friends! Yes, yes, hello!
“I see from your frowns that you do not recognise me – truth be told I would not recognise myself, tied upside down to a tree in this gloomy wilderness so far from my humble home. Yet I assure you, it is I – honest Akbar! Yes, yes, that Akbar! Honest Akbar of Honest Akbar’s Discount Machineries and Magics! You have heard of me perhaps? You have heard my claim of over one thousand generals satisfied with the performance of Akbar produce?
“No doubt you are wondering how your old friend and comrade Akbar ended up in this mess, mm? Do not worry. I remember it all. Well, bits of it. The violent bits.
“It all started the day I sold the Wand of Jet. I knew the customer was not to be trusted. The foul texture of his skin – the crack and grumble of his bones – that wild, unkempt beard – I knew him for a student of the dark arts the moment I laid eyes on him. But his gold was good, you see, and Akbar, Honest Akbar… he does not discriminate.
“Yes, yes. Perhaps I should explain.
“As I say, it started the day I sold the Wand of Jet…”
A third level wizard was a must. Relying on magic to bring my units up to strength was a no-no. Wight Cavalry were more trouble than they were worth, with so many attacks that outright ignored their armour save available in these comparatively small games. A poor Winds of Magic roll or draw could spell death, so I’d need to do the business even if I had a hand full of Dispels on my own turn.
With all that in mind, here’s what I came up with.
My general remained fundamentally unchanged from the test games: the exploding/resurrecting Vampire trick worked pretty well in the four turn/two hour games we were playing. I’d have to really screw up for someone to kill her twice, and the Heart of Woe can put a dent in any would-be “deathstar” unit (it’s very likely to go off at Strength 10 and with each hit inflicting d6 wounds it’s basically a cannonball with a 3″ impact). She’d be using Dark Magic, swapping out a useless spell like Power of Chaos or Transformation of Kadon in the hope of a nice juicy Arnizipal’s Black Horror, Blade Wind or Soul Drain.
My Master Necromancer would be pumping up his casting kit this time round. The Wand of Jet allows him to cast Vanhel’s Danse Macabre or Summon Skeletons for free, and throw out something more impressive like Gaze of Nagash or Raise the Dead (my favourite of the three ‘raise dead’ spells, a compromise on cost and range that still has good odds of springing up a new unit if I want them) on one power card.
Instead of the second Vampire Count and cheap Champions, I opted for mini-heroes in the shape of the two Wraiths. These are possibly the best unit Champions around, between their terror and their multiple wounds and their attacks which bypass armour saves; while they can’t cut down an enemy general in one round like a Wight Lord, they can potentially drive a whole unit into retreat, and that’s quite something.
The infantry corps needed a beefing up, so the Skeleton spearmen lost their light armour and went to eighteen models with a magic standard that should guarantee they’d see off ordinary chargers. Clarimonde would join this unit and hopefully take point with an early Danse Macabre from Serapíon, who’d be lurking in a much bigger bodyguard unit. Zombies aren’t much worse than Skeleton swordsmen (no save and lower Initiative, but I’ve found I don’t pass many 5+ saves and they usually strike last anyway) and they’re cheap enough that I can take twice as many for the price.
This time around I opted for Vampire Bats instead of the Banshee. It was a tough call, but I’d realised in these small games, most units would be within 12″ of their Generals and most Generals would have Leadership 9 or 10 – it’s not like sixth edition where games of this size often feature comparatively modest Leadership 8 Heroes in charge. The Bats, meanwhile, could fly high (it’s fifth edition, might as well give it a go!) and dive-bomb the nastiest artillery piece, lone wizard or middleweight missile unit they could find, then fan out to clean up the back lines and chase down fleeing units.
With only one Vampire on the field I could only take one half-price Bat Swarm, and that’s about all I have to say about the Bat Swarm. They’re absolutely brilliant – people always forget that they’re not Undead and so can tie up units with the Banner of Arcane Protection or Banisher Sword longer than anyone realises, and they have to lose every last wound before they go away. Dumping five attacks onto a low level wizard or army standard bearer is usually enough to sort out these comparatively vulnerable targets. (I didn’t realise how squashy most Army Standard Bearers were in fifth edition – they’re basically unit champions, which means something very different when your unit champions aren’t equivalent to another army’s heroes like the Chaos or Undead ones!)
When it came to the hard aggressive centre of the army, I had a mad yen to use my ‘new’ Black Coach. I say ‘new’. It’s the old one, around nineteen years old in fact, but I’ve only this year decided to actually pick up and paint a couple, and of course I’d only finished the first one when GW releases a new plastic version that looks infinitely less shoddy and doesn’t fall apart when you breathe on it. BUT I DIGRESS.
I’d finally built a Black Coach and it was high time I fielded one. After all, it’s the only chariot in fifth edition which isn’t complete rubbish against anything that can kill the horses before it makes contact, which is of course anything with a missile weapon. Have I got my contempt for chariots in pre-millennial WFB across yet? Good. But the Black Coach is magic, you see, and causes Terror, and comes with a Wraith who can hop off if it’s shot out from under him, and so might not be a complete waste of 200 points.
Of course, I needed another fast unit, and my Wights were ruled out (if only because I couldn’t get them off their horses and onto unbarded ones without totally wrecking the models in the process), so Dire Wolves it was. I really rate these in fifth edition, where their charge hits harder than most proper cavalry (two S4 attacks each and three S5 from their leader, who might not even be a proper Champion and so can’t be challenged into fighting something too big for his bite), and I’d never tried the stacked up ‘assault Wolves’ in a unit of ten or more that can soak some damage and still hit hard when it lands.
And that, more or less, was that. I was as ready as I’d ever be and confident that neither I nor the army would fail in the same way as before. We’d have to find all-new, different and innovative ways to fail!
A big-up to Bristol Independent Gaming at this point. I’m quite fond of this new trend toward huge gaming venues on industrial estates, with room for chairs and comestible goods – makes a massive change from standing up all night with no elbow room, always one careless customer away from a boot landing right in me Zombie box. Good supply of terrain, reasonable rates of refreshment, chairs were pretty comfy, and lord let thy servant go down to rest, neoprene mats on the tables. So much easier to shove trays around than those knobbly textured things. I draw the line at 2D terrain but I’ll take a smooth board over a sandy one any day of the week.
Those of us who’d arrived on Friday night arrived early, somewhat the worse for ale (although at Bristol prices, not too much the worse) and somewhat the better for a McWhirter fry-up (thanks Paul, that put a pleasant lining on the day), and then others started to filter in. Gamers from as far afield as Liverpool and Torquay had hauled ass up to Bristol for a chance to shove some square bases around, and it was genuinely quite moving to see so much enthusiasm for a ‘dead’ system and not a surly game face in sight. A pleasant variety of armies were in attendance – Dark Elves, Chaos Dwarfs, Empire, vanilla caffeine-free Undead, and all in all the only double-up was on the Orc and Goblin front (and those armies were radically different: one was classic fifth edition Savage Orcs all the way, the other was mostly chunky sixth edition models and very much built around the common or garden Orc). Our host Mr. Panting lined me up against Lee from Liverpool and his Dogs of War, trying to pair off according to experience (I’m not quite sure how this calculation worked, but I ain’t questionin’) and… away we went.
(I didn’t take my usual obsessive notes or any good photos today, because I had this wild and crazy idea about actually trying to enjoy and concentrate on the games, so I’ve nicked off with everyone else’s photos and I’ll be presenting highlights rather than a turn by turn.)
Lee Benson (Dogs of War)
I hadn’t seen most of these in years.
Lee brought 24 members of the Alcatini Fellowship (the worst Pikemen, but still terrifying), 10 Fighting Cocks, 5 of Tichi-Huichi’s Raiders, a Galloper Gun, a perfectly generic level 1 wizard and general, and the Giants of Bleedin’ Albion.
Now, I don’t want to take anything away from Lee here. He played this game like a champ: the sweep of the Skink cavalry around the flank, the meticulous line of the Galloper Gun, the ruthless domination of the centre ground with his highly aggressive Giants. He absolutely deserved to walk away with the win.
However, I played like an absolute moose, compounding his good decisions with my bad ones and making what could have been a close game into a washout. It didn’t help that my Wand of Jet fizzled out on the first attempt at Vanhel’s Danse – stupid thing, fifty points well spent there.
I’d had it in mind to play an oblique line, with the Zombies as the anchor and the Coach and Wolves heading out in front, using Vanhel’s Danse Macabre to push the Skeletons forward and complete the arc. This fell apart on a table with a big lake and a high, 40K-style ruined building in the middle, but like a complete div I tried to press forward with the plan anyway. This meant my Black Coach and Dire Wolves spent forever and a day tracking around the lake, while my infantry had barely shuffled into Dark Magicking range before the Giants were all up in their business.
My spell priority was appalling: I picked Wind of Death because I was really worried about the Pikemen and I was lucky enough to draw Blade Wind for Clarimonde, which should have made mincemeat of the Giants. I just… didn’t actually think to cast it on them. I was so focused on making sure the Fellowship kept having to shuffle out of the way of the Wind of Death template that I let the Giants reach me unmolested, and compounded the error by not just feeding Clarimonde to them and letting her Heart of Woe blow them up after they did twenty-two Jump Up And Down hits to my Skeletons. I mean, twenty-two. Come on! I had the right kit to deal with them, but I’d totally failed to read the board or find the priority targets and Lee took me apart.
At least my Fell Bats shooed the Galloper Guns off and the final charge from the Coach caused a terror test on the Fellowship.
Chris Nicholls (Chaos Dwarfs)
Well, I hadn’t seen these outside the pages of White Dwarf at all, and I hadn’t seen these even there. I asked Chris where he’d sourced them and he made some noises about some little company called Macrocosm (it’s funnier if, unlike me, you know that Chris runs Macrocosm and had actually sponsored the event) before adding some uncalled for remarks about the provenance of Vampire Counts and how they weren’t proper Herohammer. I was all ready to get testy and then I noticed he was smiling and that was the kind of game we were going to have.
(Incidentally, Chris brought a Lord, a level 2 Sorcerer, a brick of eighteen or so Warriors, two bricks of eighteen Blunderbusses deployed deep, twenty Goblins with shortbows, three Death Rockets and an Earthshaker Cannon.)
After Chris had explained, with much pointing of fingers and careful interrupting, exactly how Chaos Dwarfs had worked, and actually told me how to beat him by outranging his boomsticks with my Dire Wolves, I decided he’d been so nice that I may as well take the hint. While Chris set up to cover most of the table, with carefully aligned threat arcs from his blunderbusses and his Warriors covering the most open flank, I refused the flank so hard my army was almost out the window overlooking the table, staying well out of sight of Chris’ Death Rockets because we both had the feeling he’d be going first.
I needn’t have worried, as one after the other they cheerfully exploded, fizzled, or launched their rockets into the wild blue yonder. The Earthshaker flattened one whole Skeleton, while Chris’ Sorcerer simply couldn’t get a spell off. Not that my Necromancer did much better, as he’d evidently forgotten to leave his Wand of Jet on charge after the last game and it fizzled on the first one-card spell here as well.
In the second round, another Death Rocket blew itself up, while my Bats descended to devour Chris’ Earthshaker crew and watch them leg it off the board. Meanwhile, my Dire Wolves sprinted across the line, catching a unit of Blunderbusses in the flank and shooing them off in short order. They’d have had help from the Bats, but the Bats were busy rescuing my Black Coach: it had ploughed into a stack of twenty Goblins, whiffed its impact hits, and spent two turns slowly crumbling under the weight of static combat resolution. The rest of our armies were standing at arms’ length and neither had the pace to close the distance, so that was more or less all she wrote.
James Oram (Empire)
James offered me the choice of a two-unit Savage Orc army or a beautifully painted I-also-play-historicals Empire force. Savage Orcs are a bit more Middlehammer but I really didn’t fancy facing huge units of Frenzied lads late in the day – not when I could be playing the classic matchup, anyway.
Here we have a mounted General with a Runefang, six Knights Panther, a second level Wizard, twenty-four Spearmen with detachments of twelve Crossbowmen and Halberdiers, twelve Halfling bowmen with a Hot Pot, a Great Cannon, and… one of them. Those things. A Helblaster Volley Gun.
Once again, I opted for the refused flank, especially since we’d agreed the big hills would block line of sight. The Coach and Dire Wolves would be going up the side to draw fire while my slow units crept onto the hill ready to unleash MAXIMUM NECROMANCY.
MAXIMUM NECROMANCY was slightly impeded when the Wand of Jet shorted out – on the second spell this time. The first, naturally, had been dispelled. It had clearly come from the same discount military goods emporium as Chris’ Death Rockets in the last game… and also James’ Great Cannon, which drew a bead on the Black Coach and promptly exploded.
When he’d recovered, James (correctly) calculated that if he didn’t fire his Helblaster on turn one it was going to be dive-bombed by my Vampire Bats and die before turn two, so he let rip and pulled off the full nine barrels without a single misfire! Granted, he didn’t exactly need thirty-seven hits to kill eleven Dire Wolves, but that’s not the point.
This initial bout of hilarity aside, I decided to have the Fell Bats divebomb the Hot Pot (a Helblaster with no ammunition left isn’t exactly a threat) and sent the Black Coach into the Halflings, hell bent on maximum spicyness after its previous poor showings. James elected to flee with the Halflings, who bolted through the Spearmen and Wizard behind them, who failed their Panic tests and also legged it, driving his entire army back into the deployment zone bar twelve befuddled Halberdiers who were suddenly left on point duty.
After that, James… did his best. He sent the Knights Panther up into my grill, putting a Bless on them and a Curse on my Skeletons. Neither spell proved easy to shift and to be honest, I chickened out of going after his General with a combined +1 for him and -1 to me, especially when that Runefang showed itself. They got to fight the Bat Swarm and spend the rest of the game turning around instead. I felt like a bit of a heel for doing it, but that’s how my army deals with heavy cavalry, especially in four turn games; try to ensure it doesn’t have to fight them at all. I ploughed on with the Black Coach, which routed James’ Crossbowmen, and sent my Bats in to snarl up anything else that looked like it’d die quickly.
This was the only game where we actually had to count Victory Points to see who’d won, and it was a pretty narrow one in my favour, mostly because James had been forced to castle up and spend a turn getting his army to face the right way again while I had the luxury of dictating where the fights would happen. He was courteous to a fault though – even gave me a lift back into town afterwards and split the price of some fine (expensive) Bristol burgers.
I’ll start with the list, and then go on to the event itself.
Clarimonde was… satisfactory. Taking Dark Magic was the right call, but I never actually got to blow her up – in the game with Lee I chickened out and used Escape to save her instead of letting her explode and maybe take the Giants out, which might have kept me in the game a bit longer. Other than that, nobody got near her, which tends to be a problem with my footslogging Vampire generals. It’s weird; in the PC game I always struggle with defensive caster generals because I need the combat punch of a good fighter, whereas on the tabletop I seem to cry out for the caster general and never deliver the fighting stats to where they’re needed.
Serapíon did stirling work but good lord, where did he get that Wand of Jet? What kind of low-down, two-bit, scum-sucking dud-peddler passed that one off on him? Granted, the kind of situation where I needed it never came to pass, but whenever I’d have liked it, the stupid thing let me down.
The Wraiths were nonentities. My infantry only saw combat with things that didn’t care much for terror tests and could flatten whole units through combat resolution.
I was pretty pleased with the big combat units: while the Giants totally romped over my Skeletons, they were able to absorb whatever piddling casualties came their way from missile fire. The Banner of Defiance wasn’t much use – again, anything that’s made it far enough to engage them is probably quite capable of wiping them out – and I think the Banner of Sorcery would be a better call (providing some extra cards for Necromancy casts without the one third chance of ceasing to function).
The Dire Wolves and Fell Bats and Bat Swarm? Absolute charms. Every single time. The Wolves either ate firepower that would have severely worried a more expensive unit and given up more ground, or they made it into the enemy backline and pinned units down or shooed them away. The Fell Bats excelled at hunting war machines, rescuing other units that struggled, and I’d like to try out a combined charge with a bigger unit of these airborne nasties and the Dire Wolves. The Bat Swarm, barring its complete inability to delay a Giant, did what it always does and disrupt whole games by being in the right place at the right angle at the right time.
Then there’s… that. The disappointment on four wheels. Now, in the first game I let the Black Coach down. In the second game, the Black Coach let me down: it’s more reliable than a traditional chariot but the lack of scythes until it’s already killed five enemies is a real drawback, with too much hinging on the single d6 roll for impact hits. In the third game, it did more with its terror than with its actual combat potential, and I think that’s the key to using it well. If I’d slapped the Banner of Doom on the back (or, outside the limitations of the Tournament Battle, the Hell Banner) it could have wrought some real havoc.
The event, as a whole, was stonking. I’d all but written off these three or four game in a day jobs – at my last Warmachine event I dropped out at the bottom of game one, cognitively overloaded and about to ‘sperg myself unconscious. This one flew by, absolutely flew by, and there wasn’t a single unpleasant person in the room (which probably means I was the biggest git there, but I don’t think I was bad). I’d do it again in an instant, although… well…
… don’t tell anyone this…
… I might actually prefer to bring the 4e Undead.
I’ll explain why later.
“So, you have heard the full and sorry tale. Would you mind, a-ha. Would you oblige Honest Akbar by untying him? A joke is a joke, between friends and dark wizards, but it is cold in this tree, and the wolves are howling and the ghouls hissing in the darkness. I assure you I have learned a valuable lesson, and even now I am prepared to offer this compensatory Staff of Damnation, which will…
“No no no this one is fine! I tell you, over one thousand generals have – well yes, of course they were enemy generals, but the point is they were satisfied!
“What do you mean, it is no more than I deserve? Come back! Please, come back!”