A Monster Mash

Since my next Spartans Summer Cup game has been cancelled I’m going to have to write about something else in the meantime. I haven’t got the next bit of my Shadows inspired story penned yet so it’s going to have to be a gaming post! We won’t talk about how unsuccessful my running attempts have been until I post that entry…so back to the Ninth Age for some thoughts on monsters!

I’m putting together a review of Blizzard’s massively successful Hearthstone e-card game but that’s not ready either so I am going to talk about list building for Ninth. Does this tie into a game I’m having soon? Most definitely! My Dark Elves are having another outing after their rip-roaring victory  in the debut battle, after a couple of haggling deals brought their numbers up from zero to about three thousand points for the low, low price of £125. For those of you not familiar with Games Workshop prices in shop and in points, it’s normally a ration of £1 to 10pts, so this was a fantastic buy.

Their first outing was against David L’s Skaven horde and, while he dealt with my Hydra in fantastically tactical decision making and a unit of Corsairs with some pretty powerful magic, my main battle line blended everything it got into contact with by taking the Skaven tactics of outnumbering your foe and striking first on using them against him. We had a post game discussion about why it’s sometimes okay to risk losing a few wounds off important war platforms and mostly unimportant blocks afterwards, so I don’t think I’ll have the same tactical advantage there again. I’m also posting this blog entry the day before our game, which is probably as tactically sound as telling him what I’m going to be bringing along. Which might be what this blog entry is about.

But hey; it’ll guarantee at least one reader, right?

We are playing at the low-ish points value of 1,500 points because we’re actually organising a 4 way gaming night between David, myself, my flat mate Mr Matt ‘TheStampede’ Doran and a long time friend Paul E. We’ll be playing Skaven, Dark Elves, Lizardmen/Beastmen and probably Empire respectively, so ideally our lists should be balanced with the goal of dealing with several different types of threats from all these armies.

My thoughts basically went like this:

“I have a dependable, reliable, dangerous and survivable central block with two cheaper supporting blocks that total 949 points with a decked out Battle Standard Bearer for emergency break check support and magic combo-powers. That leaves me 550 points for whatever I want to support these 60-odd mainline infantry.

“I have a whole bunch of monsters and I want to use them all. So let’s do that instead.”

As you can see, I’ve been bedazzled by all the dragons, hydras and various other mythical beasts both in the Dark Elf list and in the bundles I bought. This might not seem like a bad idea, but in the Ninth Age beasts of myth and legend suffer greatly against the co-operative might of a solid infantry block – and every army has solid infantry blocks.

Let’s start by clarifying the disadvantages that monsters have in Ninth Age. Firstly, they’re alone. They straddle the battle field as singular colossus and so can be picked off fairly easily. This is only made easier by the fact they are Large Targets and so anything shooting at them gets +1 to his.  Despite an average toughness of 5 and a save of about 4+/5+, simple weight of firepower is going to cause some severe, potentially lethal, damage to them. Cannons and other artillery are especially dangerous due to their high Strength missiles and multiple shot or wounds. Very few monsters have much, if any, ranged ability so they have to close the distance between them and their next meal as quickly as possible before being gunned down.

Their second issue is that once they get into combat they have their work cut out for them. Even if they cause a wound with each of their attacks and the enemy infantry fail completely, the monster might lose to combat resolution. As an example, my Kraken has five attacks. If it causes five wounds, I have 5 combat resolution. If the enemy block charged and contains three ranks and a standard me they also have a combat resolution of 5 before they deal any wounds. Even if they cause no wounds as long as they have some poor sod who was given a drum, horn or chime instead of a weapons they win the combat by one. Most monsters have an average Leadership of 6 so with even the very minor reduction from the musician frantically playing his instrument it is unlikely that my Kraken is going to hold its bottle.

That low Leadership value is also going to probably keep it running too, so once it’s broken the best you can hope for is that it happened in the enemy turn, you escape and rally in your turn – ready to receive another charge from the same infantry block. This normally relegates monsters to being distractions for artillery to get your own infantry blocks across the field. Since my blocks are just two units of seventeen corsairs, this strategy may not work.

So what do monsters have going for them? I’m glad you asked. They’re scary – it’s literally a rule. They cause Fear and Terror, so there’s a chance an enemy unit might just drop its shit and run when it sees one hurtling towards them. If they don’t, there’s still a chance they’ll be unable to fight effectively in the combat, making it hard for them to hack your monster apart. Monsters are also pretty frightening as weapons; multiple high strength attacks, breath weapons, poison and all sorts of things can be found across the Dark Elf monster Special Rules entries. So they are very likely to mess up whatever they get into combat with for as long as you can keep them there, especially if it happens to be low model, high value units like heavy cavalry or monstrous infantry. They’re usually pretty darn quick as far as covering ground goes, so can catch cavalry my surprise or rival them charge distance, and can threaten flanks with surprising ease. Again, all of this points towards using a monster, maybe two, as supporting elements in place of a cavalry unit for a main battle line.

So why the hell don’t I just use a Main Battle Line (MBL)? Because I want to use all my goddamn monster, that’s why! I even have some third-party miniatures which I can substitute in for Medusas (who are terribly average at best so they may be left on the bench). This means I have the exciting tactical challenge of finding away for my monstrous menagerie to fight, red in tooth and claw, to victory over the tried and tested strategy of the MBL.

Step One: Playing against my weaknesses.

Monsters are weak because they fight by themselves. They do not have support of buddies encouraging them from behind, a command platoon yelling orders, waving flags and playing inspiring tunes.

To counter this I will institute a buddy system. If two monsters get into combat with the same enemy unit they will tear into it. If three get into combat with the same enemy unit, they will tear it apart. If two get into the same combat with one of my slightly lost and much less scary Corsair units they will still tip the tide against my enemy as surely as the tide turns on beaches. The tactic is better than that analogy so I’m pretty sure it’ll work as long as I get them working together like the bro-migos all creatures being hunted to extinction should be.

Being shot easily is simply countered by getting into combat quickly. If I run my Corsairs as a central pair of blocks and hit hard on one flank I should be able to turn the centre of an enemy MBL before my shadow of one crumbles. The inclusion of a cheap BSB will assist this. Additionally enemy war machines and artillery will find themselves labelled as ‘Appetiser’ and eaten with extreme ravenousness.

Step Two: Playing to my strengths

Monsters are monstrous. Big, tough and scary. I need to hit fast and hard against something that won’t be able to put up much initial resistance. My worst enemy here is big, stubborn blocks that I can’t terrify into flight. Any War Altars or Leadership-boosting characters need to be eaten first and foremost in these units, but these units should be left until last so that they don’t get support from a weaker one just in the nick of time and are instead left chasing down my beasties of legend. And hopefully flank charged.

Step Three: Deploying Sensibly

War machines will be as close as possible on turn one, and I may use some Raven Scouts (main possibly incorrect) to scout forward and deal with them quickly, or at least tie them up. Sure, this goes against my monsters-only line of thought but for 85-90 points it’ll be more effective than a Medusa.  My Corsairs will be used to redirect unfavourable charges away from my monsters and generally slow down or harass the enemy MBL until I’m ready for it.

That’s kind of everything. I will do a follow up post which provides more detail as far as using monsters goes after I’ve had more experience in using them in an instrumental rather than a supporting role. One of the key issues I’ve not covered here, and I stress key issue, is that they are not Scoring Units and so cannot take or challenge objectives. My last point is going to cover this.

Don’t try. You literally can’t so don’t bother. If your enemy sends even one unit of his MBL to take an objective, more like two for fear of the first being overwhelmed, then that is a massive loss in power from his MBL. If he moves his entire MBL to secure objectives then it will either all have to face the same way, or split its facing. The first option maximises its threat level but limits its targets, whereas the second maximises its targets but limits its threat level.

Any Main Battle Line depends on all its parts working in concert, or at least holding a turn before reinforcements can arrive. It is far greater than the sum of its parts, so break those parts into easily digestible chunks and divide and devour!

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