Social Distancing 2020 - Closing Thoughts and List Review

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  • So, Social Distancing was a great team event. It doesn’t compare to “real life” events because you lack the rush that comes from winning or losing for the team, as well as the quick succession of events: this was more of a slow burn, with a single round per week and games spread out. However, that had its upsides, too. You can actually see your teammates play the game, which offers an opportunity for improvement as you get critique post game from people who watched the entire battle as opposed to just a recount of events. Knowing the matchups and scenario/map beforehand meant that a decent amount of theorizing went on, which adds to the depth of the game: you cannot rely on surprising your opponent as much, and you expect him to have a coherent battle plan by the time you actually get to play the game.

    Curiously enough, the social aspect was present in this event: through interactions via Discord I actually got to discuss more with the other teams than I would have during a 2-day event. Team USA and the TO @Sergrum have achieved something spectacular with this initiative, which is bringing T9A enthusiasts together to talk about the game and get to know each other in these weird times we live in.

    So who won? Our team certainly didn’t, we ended up near the bottom (28/34) of the board after suffering yet another loss in the final round. But Belgium did win: the team Beer, Cheese and Surf, comprised of 3 Team Belgium current or former members and an Australian (now honorary Belgian, too!) beat all that stood before them and claimed the first place. Right behind them were the Germans and the Spanish, completing the podium in a multi-national way.

    This field was one of the toughest I’ve ever faced, rivaling the ETC. So congrats are in order for all of the top finishers, for they truly showed they are the best in this game we so like to play! While our final placing isn’t what we had expected going in, we got 6 great rounds, meeting people from all over the world in the process. Shout out to my 7 opponents, they were all very fun to play with and very competent generals as well: Paul, Dave, Anton, Pablo, Justin, Mike and Marek, thanks a lot for making this quarantine easier to bear!

    Before the list review, I’ll do a team review: we took a gamble going into the tournament, and that was to bring lists that we hadn’t had experience with. What we learned was that

    1. Undying Dynasties cannot pull off the same plays as last year: large units with big footprints get swarmed by superior opposition and crumble away before the -lacking- magic phase can even begin to raise them and boost them. Another approach is needed in list building, and -after watching some UD games- I’d also point out that a book rewrite cannot come fast enough.
    2. Tree spirit lists are good if they match the player’s demeanor. Our SE player has played so many games with the elven part of the army book, he’s gotten used to striking first and charging into combat instead of getting charged. I admit that I’d find playing a Tree Spirit list quite boring, and lacking in flair: not unlike a Dwarven Holds vanguard list, the trees lack the potential for late game counterplay if things do not go their way.
    3. MSU Vampires. They either work beautifully, or they don’t. Having played a game with the list as a stand-in, I felt that one could accomplish the same thing with KoE, only better and without the risk of your army crumbling.
    Overall we lacked the go-to armies for a 4-player event. These proved to be Daemonic Legion, Vermin Swarm, Highborn Elves and Warriors of the Dark Gods (the latter tied in 4th position with Vampire Covenant). This doesn’t come as a surprise, as these armies are highly reliable in terms of Leadership (yes, even Vermin!), with a good amount of Fearless troops, good fighting power/magic/speed, and able to play any scenario.

    "But what about the Beasts?", I hear you say. If I had to sum it up, I’d say that the list exceeded expectations given the opposition. What I mean by this is that I brought a list based on infantry, vulnerable to psychology (way more than any of my previous lists) and with a good amount of points invested in discipline-based tricks (Aura of Madness, Hereditary, Whispers of the Veil, Terror). The opposition was in the vast majority comprised of armies immune to most of these effects. Where the opponents had good magic, high-performance shooting and overall a skewed/extreme list building approach, the March of the Jabberwocks army brought a minimal-investment magic phase, low-armour (and low-agility) infantry and very few traditional hard hitters.

    Some of the entries I tried surprised me in a positive way, while others portrayed the shortcomings of such a take in BH listbuilding. But as a whole, the army always gave me ways to approach the game with the goal of winning. Full-combat beasts are not the army that will play for a draw or a small loss anyway, so in all of my games I pursued the win. So here’s a unit-by-unit analysis.

    Beastlord with Wildhorn retinue : (B) Anyone who has followed this blog will know by now that I love that unit. In this tournament they did not always perform: against the Ogres they came close to winning it big for me, but leadership said otherwise, against the Bulgarian Daemons they had the chance to seal the deal with that risky omen charge but fell flat on their face, against Pablo’s VS they failed a crucial 5+ charge that would see them get in combat a turn too late, against Justin’s Skinks the improbable 2 wounds on my general from a Skink Champion denied them the chance to add a Taurosaur to their trophy list. And finally, in the KoE game they did fail to kill the Pegasus Duke.

    One common denominator in all of these occurrences is chance. If played well, they have a lot of potential. But even then, an improbable series of dice rolls are enough to turn a win into a loss. While this is true for most things in T9A, you’ll notice that tournament players have a tendency to shy away from such wildcards.

    Beast Chieftain with Longhorn Retinue: ( C ) If ever there was a unit that could be accused for snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, that would be the Longhorns. On paper they seem decent, and out of combat they perform a very important task of zoning opponents and seeming threatening. But once they get fighting, it becomes apparent that they are very lackluster in their role as Bodyguards. I would play a Longhorn block again in a heartbeat, but putting your BSB in it is an unnecessary risk. The T9A ruleset has a built-in weakness for Bodyguard troops, and that’s the vulnerability to Duels. With monstrous characters and other cowboys being almost ubiquitous, all it takes to shatter such a block is a monstrous character charging into them and issuing a challenge: either you take it with the BSB, and have to weather the character and monster attacks plus stomps with a relatively easy to hit R5 character, or you refuse (after offering the champion, of course) and have to hold on the unit’s own Ld without a reroll.

    The fact that Longhorns have no means of protection from Fear and its Discipline-lowering properties only makes things worse, and proved disastrous in my games against the Daemons and the Vermin Swarm. The KoE game is also a nice showcase of how the Duel mechanic does this unit in, especially since you’re relying on the Line Formation to get enough attacks.

    Evocation Soothsayer: (B+) The magic phase you get with an Adept of Evocation and the Greater Totem Bearer is probably the best bang-for-buck that you could get in the BH book. Spectral Blades and Whispers can be must-dispel spells, leaving you enough dice to push a couple of totems in. As long as you design your list around this combination, you will always have enough useful spells. The importance of that magic phase interaction between known spells and bounds can be seen perfectly in my last game against the KoE: the Soothsayer was too far away from the action, and that crippled my late game magic.

    Going into the tournament I had wanted to try out the Echoes of the Dark Forest. I did, and found it useful overall, either as a means of pulling dice (nobody wants their steadfast unit to test at -4 discipline via Fear/Echoes/Jabberwock interaction) or as a way to stabilize my battle line against panic and Terror. I do feel that the casting cost could be a bit lower, and the Heirloom felt an expensive investment at times, but these have more to do with the way the other T9A races have evolved.

    Among all the armies we faced, I’d say that a rough two thirds were immune to fear and terror. That’s not to say that a -1 to discipline is bad, but the fact that you cannot use the spell to try and get protection in combat (thanks to Fear) greatly diminishes its power. I’d probably never pick Echoes over Whispers or Spectral Blades, which is the main issue with the spell. If all Soothsayers knew it for free, or if a non-magical option existed to buy it, I’d consider it more often.

    Evocation spells make certain units in the army more effective, namely Razortusks, Mongrels, Longhorns and Chariots. But it does lack the stabilizing factor of Druidism, that synergizes quite well with other elements of the list such as the Wildhorns. Still, for the points it’s a sound investment, as long as the army is built around it.

    Mongrel Herd: (B-) These did well overall, although their need to stay close to the Discipline bubble sometimes hurt the battle plan, or forced me to play the Soothsayer away from the rest of the army. They did kill a Scourge, though, so that counts for something. The more I play with these the more I become convinced that they’d be just as effective without the Banner of the Wild Herd. In most cases what matters is getting the Spectral Blades or the Blooded Horn totem on them, so perhaps keeping them cheaper would be a better idea.

    Raiding Chariots: (B-) More of a zoning tool than anything else, but a good one at that. Denying battlefield space and soaking up ranged damage is very welcome in a beast herd army, an the chariots do a great job at that. I liked how they combined with the Razortusks and Razortusk chariot to create huge no-go zones. They never accomplished anything spectacular, but they were pivotal in the objective wins most of the time.

    Ambushing Longhorns, Gargoyles, Feral Hounds: (B+) The “special deployment” part of the force, these are well worth their points. Sometimes they do great, and on other occasions they panic and run off the board. But they always force the enemy to take them into account. Just like with chariots, sometimes it’s better to keep them as a threat rather than commit them in combat. A good example can be seen in my game 3 vs Daemons; keeping the Longhorns out of combat would have been a winning strategy, and throwing them recklessly into a fight they could not possibly win cost me the game in the long run.

    Razortusk Herd: (A) At 410 points, these are a very decent addition to the list. They rely on good deployment and proximity to the general and BSB. But still this allows your army to cover almost the entire table if the two HQ choices deploy on either side of the Razortusks. They are vulnerable to psychology, strike last, have no armour, do not get rerolls and so on. BUT they are a great disruption tool. A well-timed long charge from these transforms them into a battering ram with which to open the enemy battle line. This worked perfectly against the Daemons (both of them), the KoE and the Saurians, and could have also won me the game against Vermin. The way this works is that you launch them at the enemy, pin him down and start grinding and occupying the enemy while the real hard hitters move into place right behind them. Their lack of maneuverability make them a subpar flanker compared to other BH options. These belong in the middle of the board, threatening anything that dares come close.

    I’ve seen people claim that they are only good with Evocation support for rerolls to hit; I never took that spell in my 6 games, and I never really felt the need for it. The Razortusks become scary enough with rerolls to wound, Terror or +2 AP without needing an extra spell specifically for them.

    Razortusk Chariot:(B) A force amplifier when deployed next to the Raiding Chariots and Razortusks. The difference between a 10+ swift or an 11+ swift is huge, and that’s why the chariot is there. It rarely does anything spectacular in combat, but that’s the case for all of the chariots really, unless you spam them.

    Jabberwocks: (B+) The "raison d’être" of the list. The much-maligned Jabberwock, the worst of our monsters. The more I play with it, the more I become convinced that it’s a game-winning piece. Flying charges are hard to defend against, and Terror occasionally comes into play. But the way that the Jabberwock covers space board is second to none. Quite often you need to leave a blind spot when moving your infantry blocks. That’s where the Jabberwock shines, in covering these spots.

    During the tournament, I used these as flankers, as battering rams, as late-game chaff, as bait. The enemy was rather worried when facing these, and the relatively low price tag means that any resources the adversary dedicates into killing these are not a great investment, especially if we’re talking about magic missiles and/or small arms fire.

    As noted before, a lot of their potential relies on chance: forcing an opponent to take a Ld5 or Ld6 test can win you the game, but him succeeding it might put you in a bad spot. I’ve noticed that playing with Jabberwocks is all about stacking these odds in your favor. But it still remains a dice game, perhaps more than a tournament-minded player would appreciate. In the games that I won, these were amazing. In the games that I lost, they could have been great but weren’t because of that unpredictability.But even if you ignore their Discipline-lowering abilities, I’ve found the Jabberwock to be a very good fighting piece, and an even better maeuver element that can function outside the discipline bubble. In any case, they are miles away from what the internet makes them out to be. I would suggest them to any player, as long as he’s aware that they are not a Gortach with wings.

    So after 6 hard-fought games, I ended up with 63/120 points, landing in the middle of the pack: I had won 3 games, lost another 3. In terms of secondary objectives, I never lost one: 4 were a win for the beasts and 2 ended up being draws. That’s a testament to the list’s ability to claim battlefield space, which I really appreciated.

    But how did the Jabber list affect team pairings? Overall, the pairing matrix for the Beasts looked like this:

    So not great, but not that bad either. Most of the games were at least “open”, with only a handful being genuinely bad. I would expect things to be better in an 8-player matrix, where there’s a greater chance of coming up against armies that care about psychology or that cannot handle a coordinated rush.

    However, none of the games in that matrix were unplayable: the list gave me enough tools to play for the win, and that’s something that I thoroughly enjoyed. Being an infantry-based list, it has less maneuverability and is more difficult to adapt to a sudden change in power balance on the board, but that’s a greater T9A concern.

    So what’s next for the Beasts? I will be participating in an 8-player team tournament on UB starting next week, which is poised to become this year’s replacement for the cancelled ETC. Ran by team USA once more (thanks guys!), it should give the Belgian team an opportunity to play in a competitive scene during the coming two months.

    Will the Jabberwocks make a reappearance? Possibly, but I still haven’t settled on a final list.

    More to follow in a few weeks’ time!

    979 times read

Comments 2

  • Parmineo -

    Outstanding overview of your BH army and their weaknesses. I am looking forward to your review of the next event.

  • PTG-Lucky-Sixes -

    Excellent run down fella! Really enjoyed reading and appreciated the feedback on the Beasts...