(skip ahead if you just want the battle report)
A number of us at the FLGS (Bridgetowne Hobbies) had been looking forward to the new theme list only league, but it was also a bit divisive, because others didn't want to be restricted.
This ended up with a smaller league than last time. Because of this, the store opted out of a buy in (and, by extension, prize support). The stated reasons:
"With fewer players, we (the store) won't get free shipping on the prize support. Also, themes aren't balanced."
This is the first time I've been thoroughly dissatisfied with the store. This is incredibly counterintuitive and detrimental to everything a league is about, in my opinion, for several reasons.
"But Billy's toys are better than mine!": the balance argument
Warmachine/Hordes are inherently competitive games. They're designed as competitions. Part of why Warmachine has been so successful is because it has a tight ruleset and continual releases that change what you need to win (*cough* Colossals *cough*). People come into the game expecting a competitive atmosphere, even in casual games. The game is designed around the person with more time, money, and thought devoted to the game having an advantage. This is not unique to PP, just how the vast majority skill-based games with new releases work. Unless both players come in with the same experience, mental aptitude, emotional state, army, and luck (and play the scenario twice, with each player starting once, for good measure), you'll never have a perfectly balanced game.
Warmachine is unbalanced: Even the battleboxes, which are theoretically balanced, have clear winners and losers. Deneghra is still considered well above-average and has an expensive battlegroup, while Madrak's feat doesn't do much of anything, and he doesn't even have a heavy; there's something like a 30% variance in point sizes of battlegroups, and radically different numbers of models. Some factions are stronger than others. Besides this, you'll always have the chance to run up against poor match ups or just have terrible luck. Theme lists are no different than the rest of the game. If you choose poorer competitive options, you either made a mistake or decided the advantages (such as just liking the pieces) were worth it.
"Commitment is a two way street": prize support
Prize support means there are stakes. I was fine with last league, buying in, knowing there were slim chances of me winning anything. It still meant there were stakes because there were prizes. Bragging rights are nothing without something to show off. I don't care about painting the most models, without a prize. I paint models professionally (if you're reading this blog, that should be clear), so it's not about saying "I paint a lot," but about getting a reward. Similarly, "I've won a lot of games" doesn't matter. A prize means you competed for something, committed, succeeded, and have something to show for it.
Not only is there no incentive for commitment, there's actually disincentive to commit. Painting models is a fair amount of time commitment: toy soldiers cost a lot of money, and painting them takes a lot of time, even if a pretty basic job. Furthermore, if you've got a busy life, not every night can be a gaming night, and you may play multiple games, so this is a choice. For most people, time is a limited resource. When I have the option to compete for a prize or compete for nothing, I'd rather do the former. This means that I regret painting the models I painted for the league: if I did the math correctly, that's 16 points from painting that I could have earned towards a prize, that instead will be earned towards nothing, and I planned around playing in a competition.
Game stores have only one thing to offer: community. I can buy anything they sell for 10-30% off, depending on where I look. I'm not buying from them purely out of the goodness of my heart or the convenience of impulse buys. I expect something in return. The sole purpose of leagues is to encourage community and people coming in to play. Every single person in the league, and a number who didn't join the league, wanted prize support, and stated they'd be willing to pay extra to do a little extra since there wasn't free shipping- this was also why some didn't join the league. The game store flatly refused to allow prize support. They weren't even risking anything to get players to commit more. Stakes mean commitment, and commitment to the league mean there is a reason for players to come in, and coming in means players would buy merch. Without the store committing, there's no reason for the players to support the store.
"De-evolution, self-execution, no solution!": conclusion
I can make arbitrary restrictions on my own time. As established, there aren't any stakes in this league. This meant there was no reason to play it, unless you really, really wanted the bragging rights of "I did this thing more than other people." I already challenge myself to use poorer pieces, play only in theme, etc. I don't need a challenge from the store unless they're willing to back it up with... well, anything.
My opponent and I talked for a while, then decided to bail. We agreed that neither of us cared about the league's restrictions, and would rather have fun on our own terms.
Those Steelheads aren't there randomly at the top of the page. They're actually an older unit I finished retouching, because I didn't feel the green worked very well. They're also the first models I tested with a new style of base. I used to use an oranger looking soil color, closer to what you might find in the (American) Southwest, however, I decided that it wasn't good enough, and went with the sandier color I've been using on a recent commission. I also tried, for the first time, using some sticky tufts of brush, and am quite happy with them. I'll be updating my battlegroup from last week with this new look and will be continuing that look from now on.
This isn't for the league, but I'm eventually planning on making a lot of Magnus/ex-patriot-themed mercs for Four Star, and possibly even expanding them into Highborn and beyond.
The first of these is my yet-to-be-named rogue Inquisitor. He'll be my proxy for Sylys Whytyvr, as I've got no love for the look of the Retribution nor his model in particular. Fortunately, he also fits in well enough with most of the casters I'll be taking him with, too.
Game 5/League Game 4
We both wanted to field our Galleons, and decided on 50 point armies, and theme lists. Since I could, I decided to try eMagnus.
(It was at this point that I decided that I'll continue playing Magnus's themes for the duration of the league, but won't necessarily play league games unless others really want to.)
These are approximations... can't remember exactly:
His list (T3 IIRC):
SH Halbs x2
My list (T1)
Boomhowler & Co
My theory: I don't like the tier requirements, so the goal was to try playing this list where it wasn't just a watered down Four Star list, so I wanted to take advantage of my new options (cheap Manglers, access to Trenchers).
Setup: our Galleons were roughly opposite, his in the forested left side, mine stomping through the river on the right (all notes on position will be from my perspective). He set up with MacBain far back behind Galleon and the Vanguard, two units of steelheads in front of the Devil Dogs and solos (except Kell, AD'd in a forest). I was pretty crammed in between a forest and the river, with the Trenchers out front and the Cav and battlegroup in back. Boomhowler took the middle between the Galleon and the rest of my army, the only place he'd fit with his squad.
Early game: His steelheads come after the Galleon with Countermeasure, forcing me to reposition a couple times to keep being able to fire (moving in towards the middle gap left as my army advances). My trenchers move up and dig in.
Middle game: Boomhowler & co. take a ton of damage and make a spectacular set of tough rolls. The Dug In Trencher wall of Smoke is aided by Boomhowler's trollkin preventing tramples and some halberdiers protecting the trollkin. The wall of smoke hides the cavalry and Magnus's battlegroup, minus the Galleon. Both Galleons continue to be ineffectual at range. IIRC most of his steelheads have crumpled at this point, and my units have all taken some damage except for the cav. Boomhowler is hiding in some smoke on a hill with Bullet Dodger and intervening models, to be sure he doesn't die.
End game: My wall of smoke clears, the Renegade pelts Macbain (the Vanguard takes the hit), and Magnus Calamity-s the Galleon through his arc node and feats (lateral only)
The trenchers part and smoke a few pieces including Magnus and Boomhowler.
The Halberdiers kill a grunt or two, and, most importantly, a few charge his Galleon and CMA for a surprisingly decent amount of damage.
That leaves plenty of room for all three flanking cavalry. They can only miss on snake eyes and are doing an extra die of damage on all of their attacks. They end up doing about 3/4 of its health, and it's held together with Failsafe and dreams. The Mangler blocks LOS to Magnus. Boomhowler Rage Howls to scare the remaining unit of halberdiers (who fail their check) and lower the accuracy of the Mule and Galleon.
I don't remember a fair amount, but the focus is that Taryn Dark Fires my Mangler and clears LOS to Magnus (I forgot about her special shots, but was also keenly aware that Magnus was sitting on no focus and he'd probably find a way of getting LOS to Magnus, meaning I was relying on defense to survive).
With the smoke bomb and Boomhowler's call, combined with the Galleon being locked in melee (so no aiming bonus), the Mule and all of his Galleon's shots miss Magnus. He called the game here, because my Mangler, 2 cav, and Galleon were untouched, and it was clear his was going down next turn, meaning I could probably spend the rest of the game hiding behind my kill-o wall, handing out focus.
Trenchers in large games are actually worth it, which was pleasantly surprising. While it's more likely they'll have a counter, it's also more likely they'll be able to protect stuff. Also, their high expense becomes less difficult to take as a purely defensive unit, as the game gets bigger. They're also a pretty good answer to Colossals' guns, in that they can only be in a single place at once, meaning it's easier to react to the bulk of the opposing ranged threats.
Calamity was gold against a Colossal. I'd have liked to take a second Renegade as arc node insurance, but they're expensive for what usually amounts to a single shot, an arc node, and eventually a road block.
Neither Colossal actually did a lot- they certainly didn't amount to the massive damage in the last couple one-sided games. I think this was because we played both conservatively and kept our other warjacks away whenever possible. We both knew that the other's was capable of, so played it safe until the perfect opportunity arose- I just got mine before he did. I also think that denser terrain contributed to their weaker performance, as it didn't just mean a broadsides to each army once a turn. I actually was much happier with this, as having one on each side made them feel much closer to two heavies than one immovable object and chump.
I was much happier playing this game than the league. I'd rather play what I want, when I want to, than play with their constraints and no rewards.
Oh, also, if you're reading this, Michael (if I got your name wrong again, sorry...it really takes me forever to learn people's names), a couple rules mistakes: Cover doesn't stack with Concealment (for Trenchers w/ smoke and dig in), and we both forgot Boomhowler when you were jack hammering with the Galleon.