The Beast Herds go to The Ocho - Game 3

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  • So after the sound beating we took by the French, we were going up against team Ukraine. These guys have been around for quite some time, and they’ve made their presence felt both at the ETC (6th last year) and in other international events. Our team strategy against them revolved around getting as many good matches as possible, which meant that yours truly had to be thrown under the bus a bit: this usually happens when one player’s estimation matrix is not good enough to guarantee a favorable matchup, and means that he’s instead used to draw a bad game away from the teammates.

    Team Ukraine’s lists were a mix of very defensive lists capable of point denial, with a couple of very aggressive armies tacked on. I’d be facing one of the latter, the Sylvan Elves of Artem @Artem Kurhanskii.

    I was intrigued by this army, because it combined elements that I am a big fan of (namely the bladedancers and the kestrels backed up by Shamanism and Cosmology) with some lesser used entries such as the Shapeshifters, as well as the Sacred Seeds/Mist Walker combo. I had rated this as a bad matchup, but was relatively optimistic about my chances of picking up the objective for the round, which was hold the ground.

    How does one deal with such an aggressive vanguard army? I thought about this a bit prior to the game, and I decided that stealing the initiative against a vanguarding army that moves 2-3” more than me and strikes first across the board was not possible. So instead my path to victory would have to come from forcing combats that would be favorable to me in the long run, or by baiting the enemy into losing positions.

    I got to pick sides, and opted for the one with the hill. My opponent then dropped his entire army for the first turn, which allowed me to counterdeploy and close off any passage to my backline for the kestrels and the vanguarding shapeshifters. I expected the SE to rush me so as to prevent the wildhorns from getting to the central objective, but there was no way around that, just hoping that my countermeasures worked.

    (deployment picture was forgotten, so here's a mockup based on the first turn pic - Spoilers!)

    For magic, I picked Healing Waters, Master of Earth, Stoneskin and Summer Growth, while my opponent opted for Ice and Fire/Perception of Strength and Beast Awakens/ Totemic Summon/ Break the spirit and the SE hereditary spell.

    TURN 1 – SE

    Artem wasted no time messing around: the Shapeshifter chieftain moved up in front of my Wildhorns, plonked the Sacred Seed forest down, and the Dancer unit teleported right in front of my general! The Shapeshifter prince moved up to block my rightmost minotaurs from aiding in that fight, while both kestrels used their 30” move to relocate to the center of the board and threaten big parts of my army. The heath hunters formed a conga that blocked half my left side in place, and the scorers just kept up, staying out of charge range for the time being. With the Dark Rain up, shooting only killed a single centaur, while magic managed to boost the teleporting Dancers with +1 Strength.

    TURN 1 – Beast Herds

    To say that I had the SE where I wanted them would be a stretch, but I was relatively happy with the position in the board: the dancers had used their mirror, and two key SE characters were exposed. So I went ahead with my pre-formulated plan: the minotaurs charged into the Shapeshifter Prince to pin him down, their counterparts on the other side charged the Heath Hunter chaff, and the Beastlord on foot charged solo into the Bladedancer unit: if the dancers have one weakness, it’s dealing with cowboys. I aligned him opposite the BSB, knowing that I’d get a champion for the first round of combat but that I’d get the BSB on the following one. Finally, the Gargoyles spotted the kestrel flank 19” away and went for it, sadly failing: completing that charge would make my life much easier by pinning the birds down for a turn, enough time for the Beastlord in chariot to wheel around and charge them.

    So with the charges all done, I had to deal with the elephant in the room: two kestrel units free to charge half my army, and able to single-handedly kill most of my units on the charge. Unit positioning would be key here, and with most of my units lacking musicians it was a tough task. Priority number one was to prevent the Kestrels from charging into my wizard bunker, easily accomplished by interposing my Wildhorns and Feral Hounds. Second task was to make sure that once the minotaurs dealt with the Heath Hunters they’d be able to reform to avoid at least some incoming Kestrel attacks.

    Part of the battle plan revolved around using the Ambushers to put pressure on the archer block early on, so as to divert attention from the other fights (and also potentially assassinate the wizards. Unfortunately, only one of the two ambushing longhorns made it in despite the reroll, meaning that they were without support behind enemy lines. Finally, the GW centaurs with chieftain moved up on top of the hill, within range of the Beastlord for Totems. That gave the Kestrels an easy charge, so I positioned my chariots to counter that on the following turn.

    In the magic phase my opponent used his Binding Scroll on the Stone Skin, and I got some good luck, forcing the Gnarled hide totem through on my Beastlord. My efforts then focused on boosting the Minotaurs fighting the Shapeshifter, but a 4 vs 4 casting attempt of Healing Waters on them was unsuccessful.

    Combat started in a predictable manner: the Beastlord got challenged out by the unit Champion, killed him and the Dancers passed their Stubborn check. My minotaurs killed the Heath Hunters and pivoted, interposing the Feral Hounds between them and the Kestrel Knights (that could have been done better on my part with a bit more planning ahead; as it stood I needed to stay 1” away from the Hounds, so could “only” avoid a single kestrel lining up. The ideal positioning would have seen the Kestrels fight corner-to-corner).

    However, the last combat of the round was where disaster struck: the Shapeshifter Prince managed to hit and wound with all of his attacks (on 2+/2+, granted), then the remaining minotaur only dealt a single wound back, lost combat by 4 and failed his Ld5 break, thus freeing up the Shapeshifter prince in the process! [ for the lovers of statistics, the odds of this happening is roughly 1-in-4, so not the end of the world, but conversely the minotaurs had a 50% chance of killing the prince and another 1-in-4 to pin him in place]

    TURN 2 – Sylvan Elves

    Losing that minotaur fight would be the butterfly wing flap that would cause tsunamis on the other side of the word: with the Shapeshifter free to engage my Beastlord in combat with the Dancers, the balance shifted greatly. The kestrels charged my (now drunk) GW centaurs, while the second unit charged the minotaurs in front of them. Finally, the shapeshifter chieftain spotted the flank of my feral hounds and also charged in, with an overrun path into the minotaur conga.

    With the center of the board stabilized for the elves, the archers were free to pivot and shoot at my longhorns, awfully alone in the enemy deployment zone.

    My opponent’s positioning meant that in the following (9-5) magic phase, he had a lot of great options: he started by boosting the Kestrels fighting my BSB’s retinue with +1 strength, and I had to let it through: my only hope now was for the Beastlord on chariot to come crushing into the middle fight, so I couldn’t risk a Totemic summon redirecting him. I also had to let the boosted hereditary in on the shapeshifter in the process, but at last the Totemic Summon was dispelled.

    Shooting felled 7 of my longhorns, but the remaining 3 passed their panic check.

    Cue the most crucial combats of the game: in the Centaur/BSB/kestrel fight, the kestrels - now boosted with extra strength – did as expected, only leaving my BSB and the champion alive; that was unfortunate, since losing that final wound would have meant I’d get to flee and rally on my BSB’s own discipline. The remaining centaurs attacked back and dealt some wounds, but the kestrels were victorious: the centaurs outran them though, and the sylvan flying cavalry got stuck into the flank of the centaur unit waiting right behind.

    In the main fight, the Shapeshifter challenged and my Beastlord had to accept. Aided by the Gnarled Hide totem, my beastlord only suffered a single wound. I struck back against the already wounded shapeshifter, and managed three wounds with divine attacks. Despite the forced rerolls my opponent managed to save 2 of them, keeping his Shapeshifter alive. With the added CR from fear, flank and charge, my general broke from combat and ran, getting caught in pursuit. Both the Shapeshifter and the dancers fell into the wildhorns waiting right behind, conveniently out of LoS of my Beastlord on chariot!

    Finally, the Shapeshifter chieftain easily beat the feral hounds, overran into the minotaur flank, which meant that the minotaurs’ fate against the Kestrels was sealed. And with some surgical strikes, I was left with one third of an army!

    TURN 2 – Beast Herds

    Needless to say, the situation was dire and the objective all but lost. But there were points to claw back: the Chariots flank charged the leftmost kestrels, while the longhorns went for a rear charge into the Heath Riders, who fled out of range. Maneuvering now would be very important, as I not only lacked hitting power, but I also lacked units to cover the Kestrel’s maneuvering. So the second unit of longhorns appeared in my own backlines, and positioned itself along with the Beastlord so as to cover the left side and keep my charge options open for the following turn. My BSB failed to rally and fled off the board.

    I then got a great magic phase: it started off with an unopposed Healing Waters on my Wildhorns, and continued with a successful Stoneskin on my middle centaurs, about to get pummeled by the charging Kestrels.

    Combat was a totally different matter, though; despite being R7, the Kestrels managed 3 wounds on my Centaurs, leaving the last two guys to try and wound the flyers (they failed) and try to hold their ground (they didn’t). They fled off the board, and the kestrels pivoted to face my Soothsayer.

    My charging chariots killed the second unit of kestrels instantly and pivoted, but in the main event things went south: between the dancers (even with the 3++ dance) and the Shapeshifter my opponent did enough damage to win combat against the regenerating wild horns, they failed their steadfast break test and fled off the board. The nearby Longhorns also panicked and fled.

    TURN3 – Sylvan Elves

    Despite the catastrophic turn of events, there were still opportunities to take advantage of. The kestrels charged my soothsayer and I fled, landing right in front of the Shapeshifter Prince. The kestrels redirected into my remaining minotaur, and then it was up to the Prince to catch my Soothsayer; the beast caster needed a 7 to push through the impassable piece and to relative safety, leaving the Prince stranded in front of my chariot. I got a 5, and the prince caught him, just managing to get out of he chariot’s arc of sight.

    With such huge point swings happening, my opponent didn’t need to take any risks; the rest of the SE army moved away from my chariots, leaving me with zero charges. In the magic phase my opponent managed to cast a totemic beast right behind my centaurs to the left, hoping to box them in on the following turn. In the only combat of the round, the kestrels unsurprisingly killed off the minotaur and panicked the nearby mongrels, then overran off the board.

    TURN 3 – Beast Herds

    The bad news kept on coming, but I had another opportunity to claim points: the kestrels had just pursued off the board, so between my two chariots I could hope to pin them and kill them. I used all of my remaining units to ensure this. The centaurs failed their march test and could only move away from the totemic beast.

    TURN 4 – Sylvan Elves

    The kestrels came back and stood close to the Beastlord, while the Shapeshifter Chieftain charged into the Centaurs. The rest of the army maneuvered in better positions, staying away from my units’ charge arcs.

    In the magic phase I had to let Ice and Fire through on the chariots (killed one), as well as Beast awakens on the Shapeshifter. I then tried to dispel a 4-dice totemic summon with 6 of my own, but failed; that put a damper on my plan, as the Totemic Beast parked itself right in front of my chariot lord, preventing me from charging the kestrels on the following turn. Aided by the extra strength, the shapeshifter made short work of my centaurs.

    TURN 4 – Beast Herds

    With my kestrel trap plan having evaporated, I needed another one: The gargoyles charged into the kestrel flank, and my 2 remaining chariots tried a hail-mary into them as well but failed. The Beastlord charged and killed the totemic beast.

    The charging gargoyles managed to draw combat, effectively pinning the kestrels into place for the following turn.

    TURN 5 -6

    Things were looking more than bleak now for the Beasts, but I tried my best to claw back points: the gargoyles had pinned the kestrels down near my beastlord, so on my turn 5 I charged in, killed the champion and broke them. As luck would have it, they fled 12” and I couldn’t catch them. The Beastlord’s flank was now exposed to the Bladedancers, who went in; I wasn’t particularly afraid of that charge, especially once the Perception of Strength failed to cast and I dispelled Awaken the beast. The SE hereditary did go through, though, making the dancers stubborn.

    In that fight, I opted not to issue a challenge, hoping for a healthy amount of 1’s to hit that would give my Fatal Folly some much-needed attacks. Only a single “1” came up though. The beastlord suffered a single wound from the flurry of S3 ap1 attacks of the dancers, but his return attacks were not enough to kill the BSB. Having lost combat by 4 or so, he failed his break test and fled, getting cut down in the process.

    With not a single Beast model left on the table, the game ended in a 0-20 defeat for the beasts!


    If I had to sum up this game, I’d say that I walked into a difficult game, made even worse by the excellent decisions of my opponent at every step of the way. Luck had – as always – a part to play, but that was mainly because I needed a lucky break to have a chance at winning the game in the first place.

    What went wrong? Several things:

    The first turn push: that was inevitable, and the bladedancer teleportation in front of my Wildhorns was what I was counting on: the only hope of dealing with the dancers and the kestrels was to pin them down, and to do so I needed to lure them in.

    I’m for the most part happy about my decisions on my turn 1: the beastlord charge into the dancers sees him kill the bsb on the second round of combat and pin the dancers down for my other units to pile into them, and -importantly- the minotaur charge into the Shapeshifter gave me good odds to kill the enemy general and excellent odds of pinning him for a turn and killing him off on the subsequent phase.

    A more debatable choice was the Centaur positioning that close to the kestrels. I will admit that I was counting on the Kestrels not having any buffs on the charge for various reasons: the Bladedancer fight probably requiring a buff more than the kestrels, and the archer bunker being under serious pressure from two units of ambushing longhorns. But then the shapeshifter prince killed my minos and turned to face the beastlord, plus my ambushers failed to arrive. This left my adversary with the opportunity to reliably put +1S/Ap on the kestrels, pushing their fighting ability beyond what I could hope to hold off with 13 centaurs.

    Despite all that, I was ok with the Centaur/BSB trade vs a unit of kestrels (the BSB had a chance of rallying, whereas the kestrels were doomed thanks to the chariot fight). What really hurt after that was the shapeshifter prince staying alive in the duel against my beastlord; winning that fight would have meant I’d still get a chance to have my plan work, even if it meant losing an important part of my army in the process. After that fail, it just kept on coming: the failed (admittedly, Dis6) break test of the wild horns, the failed dispel roll to counter the totemic beast, the failed pursuit of my beastlord on chariot vs the kestrels, and then the absolute humiliation of the BL against the dancers.

    But at that point my opponent’s maneuvering had already ensured that he’d win the objective and that he’d win the game handily. It was just a question of conserving points. In a bizarre way, the game was very enjoyable despite the huge loss: Artem was a great opponent, and the fact that he played an army that I love in a way that makes me happy (hyper-aggressive, all-in) meant that I couldn’t even be angry about the result! He had the advantage, I relied on some errors on his part (he didn’t commit that many!) and some good luck (I didn’t get much) to even the odds.

    Thankfully, my sacrifice in the pairings had helped the team: we had ended up with six positive games and just two negative, and that meant that even after my disastrous game and one of our positive games turning into a crushing defeat, we managed to get a 78-82 score for a draw-ish round.

    Stay tuned for the next round, against the Spanish!

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Comments 3

  • Cultivator -

    That is the true Sylvan list.

  • Endymion -

    That Sylvan Elf turn 1 is a glorious thing to behold, makes me want to play such a list. What puts me off is the feeling that it relies too much on getting the first turn; do you think the match would have been more in your favour if you had the first turn? Or does that counter your strategy of getting him to commit rather than dance? Would the answer change if you had a list with more ranged damage?

    • SmithF -

      I think that playing first can help, especially if you've got a healthy amount of shooting and offensive magic. In my case, it wouldn't have changed much since the only tool I've got to threaten the Shapeshifter with the Seed is the Master of Earth.

      I'd always rate getting the deployment right as more important compared to playing first. In this case, if I had played first I would have potentially just limited the "shock" potential of some units, but it wouldn't have dramatically changed the flow of the game.

      It would have still come down to whether the Minos can deal with the Shapeshifter, whether the Beastlord can solo the Dancers and/or whether the Longhorns can put enough pressure on the back side.

      I'd say that ranged (shooting) damage is not the answer to such a list, but magic damage potentially is. I would also expect it to struggle against other elves (I know I always do with my aggro SE), and potentially against Warriors of the Dark Gods with powerful cowboys, maneuverable units and killer spells.