My fourth practice game in September was against Mike’s Vermin Swarm, as mentioned previously. Having already played Mike I was confident I could beat him. He had changed his list, adding in even more ranged firepower and somehow shuffling points about to get not one but two war platforms. He’d used this new list to beat John P, a regular tournament attendee and very good player, so perhaps I should have had slightly less bravado about going into this game. Mike was also the one who clarified how powerful the Magic Resist rules are to me, so again I should have gone in with a fairly sharp mind.
There were things I needed to work on in my list, most precisely how they were used. Primarily the Assassin – despite his big debut against [Matt’s Stampede], he had only really contributed to the list as either an expensive, short ranged crossbowman or a rather threatening re-directer. He had made it clear how bloody dangerous he could be though, so I needed to take advantage of that to get proper worth out of him. The other big failing I’d had so far as a general was commanding cavalry. While the cavalry in my army is not being used in the classic hammer-blow way most heavy cavalry is in 9th, or was historically, I still think I’ve been using them rather sub-optimally as heavy skirmishers and mobile anti-chaff. Party this is because I’m bad with cavalry, but also it’s due to being too worried about losing them. I treat them as fragile glass cannons mounted on angry lizards, and still seem to hold them back or protect them as game winners even though I acknowledge that, due to their small size and dedicated role, they aren’t. These were my two goals for self-improvement this game.
I made no changes to my list, because I was happy with it and changes to the things I wasn’t good with would defy the whole idea of practice. Mike’s list evolved into the more combat-supported gun line listed below:
Magister on Screaming Bell
Plague Prophet on Plague Furnace
40 Vermin Guard
40 Plague Monks
2x 25 Slaves
2x 6 Jezzails
2x Lightning Cannon
2x 8 Globadiers
1x Ratling Gun
1x Naptha Thrower
And some magic items. So two war platforms, pushed by two large blocks of unbreakable semi-respectable infantry and a lot of very dangerous ranged firepower. After entering into a long debate with John P about whether the Bell was overpowered – during which we argued tangentially so couldn’t didn’t come to an agreement – I was aware it had caused problems for an Orc block, possibly Savage and possibly Big ‘Uns. At the low end, this was cause for concern. At the high end, this was a real worry; if thirty or so Savage Orc Big ‘Uns couldn’t beat it, my Elves might be in for a challenge. However, I was confident in my block, my characters and their magical supportso would still do what I could to engage it.
My only worry was being flanked. Losing three easy points of combat resolution, along with having the attacking power of a second horde AND war platform applied to my Spearmen, could well spell doom for my undefeated block. Not for a second did I expect Mike to play fair – he was playing the Vermin Swarm, and I know Mike; the only way her face me on my terms was if he had no other choice. Tactically sound, but frustrating.
If you have already spotted my error, well done. I don’t know when Mike spotted it, but he did and was acting on it by turn four at the latest. All will be revealed in the report. We rolled Breakthrough so banners would have to get moving this game.
Mike got to choose deployment edges so I, as usual, dropped everything so I could get first turn. I used the impassable terrain to shield my large Spearmen unit in the centre, so Mike’s ranged firepower would have to shoot through the forest in the middle to get at me. My Corsairs went to their immediate right, facing into the wood, and my Auxillia lined up on their right, to the left of the hill. My Dread Reapers took their normal place on the hill and then all I had left was my cavalry to place.
One unit of Dread Knights went down on my left, facing the wide, open tundra that was my left flank, ready to see off anything looking to move on my flank. The second went on the far right, with the Dark Acolytes in front of them as a bit of a screen. An expensive screen, but they didn’t have a standard so were of less use to me late game.
Mike through down his blocks in a fairly central location, one pack of globadiers near each one. Both his weapon teams went on my right, since they had no targets on the my left flank, but his artillery did set up split. One unit of Jezzails and a Lightning Cannon went on his central hill while the other artillery went on my far left. A unit of slaves went between his large blocks and the second covered the artillery on my left – although deployed somewhat centrally for the role – and then he put a Dreadmill down on each flank. He had clearly had enough of my Raven Cloaks and was willing to devote the war machines to protecting his artillery. The one on my right presented a problem as, although it was the only thing stopping my cavalry from ploughing down that flank, my cavalry were unlikely to be able to beat it without significant losses.
My Raven Cloaks still went down on the far left, and the Assassin also sold his watch to his best (possibly only) mate before joining them. I was damned if he was going to waste his points doing nothing, and Assassins are high-risk-high-reward investments so I thought I’d better use him like one. Also his Poisoned attacks would hopefully bring the Dreadmill down, especially with the expensive but already proven Nightshade venom.
I almost elected to go second then decided not to. Retrospectively, this was a mistake as even though it would give Mike an extra shooting phase – and possibly be able to break the Raven Cloaks – I’d get a fair chance to charge into a Dreadmill with my cavalry. Lessons for the future, and not wholly relevant in this game as the Dread Knights were behind my Dark Acolytes, but worth nothing for future.
My Corsairs Vanguarded into the wood in front of them and we were ready to go!
My cavalry on the right flank shuffled forwards, the Dark Acolytes still in front, so they could get a second turn charge on the Dreadmill when it came towards them. I should have move the Acolytes out of the way and allowed both units to get a possible charge line but I had the ridiculous notion that I could through the Acolytes with their Poisoned attacks in first and soften up the Dreadmill before finishing it off with my Dread Knights.
Lofty ambitions tied with some interesting tactical decisions. As I said, I’m still learning how to use cavalry.
The Raven Cloaks danced into short range of the Warp Lightning Cannon and so ended my movement phase.
The game was unfortunately so long ago that I can’t rightly remember our Magic phases – most likely because I rolled my normal twos and threes for casting and we dispelled anything that did get through. Apologies, but imagine Black Lightning and Fireballs flying across the field to variously fizzle or achieve very little.
Shooting saw my Raven Cloaks try to sneak some wounds onto the Dreadmill and one stuck. The Assassin would have been out of range so I didn’t reveal him. My Corsairs were just in range of the Naptha Thrower but only caused a singled wound – this was finished off at a later stage by Fire, but I can’t remember when. Fairly quickly as, my Bolt Throwers and Auxillia spent this phase as they spent most of the game; shooting in the general direction of rat things and being inefficient.
With no combat we moved to Mike’s turn. The slaves and Dreadmill on the left turned towards my Raven Cloaks, an entirely understandable and appropriate choice after their successes against Mike in previous games. The cannon did not move this time, wisely, resigned to being charged on Turn 2. Mike wisely placed the slaves on the hill there so no matter what I did I was going to be in charge arc next turn.
Both his blocks shuffled forwards a little, afraid to commit but aware they’d need to as the only banner bearers in Mike’s army. In all honesty Mike may have already realised at this point that I had mucked up royally. The impassable terrain in my centre meant I had shut off my Spearmen from my entire left flank, at least without some painful marching orders, and so Mike basically had a free board to get his Plague Monks there and sit about as a scoring unit. Sure, he’d be wasting a few hundred points but it wasn’t like my five Dread Knights were going to present a threat the frenzied horde backed up by a Plague Furnace.
To compound my deployment error I hadn’t even moved the block, sheltering it from the firepower on Mike’s right flank even though I’d committed the Raven Cloaks and the Assassin to disrupting it. Well frigging done me.
The Dreadmill on my right rattled forwards, well into charge range of my Acolytes but Mike didn’t appear worried about what five naked elves on unarmoured horses could do to the war machine. His globadiers met up and marched in a column towards my Corsairs, preparing to threaten them for woodland camping rights while the central unit of slaves moved a little more conservatively, looking to close the door between the edge of the wood and the end of the impassable ruin cutting my deployment zone in half. I doubt mike thought they would threaten – or even delay – my Spearmen but they could redirect and distract them away from the Plague Monks.
Shooting saw a Corsair and a Spearman die, and as mentioned the Magic phases of this game were not memorable. We moved on.
My Raven Cloaks charged the Warp Lightning Cannon and my Acolytes, fulfilling their roll in my somewhat idiotic plan for them, charged into the Dreadmill on the right. My block moved forwards a couple of inches but didn’t commit to anything, further compounding my mistake while also wasting their points. I was too busy thinking about preserving them rather than applying them, and this made for a tactical blunder.
Magic and Shooting finished off the Naphtha thrower and the Corsairs sniped a globadier. Combat saw the death of the Warp Lightning Cannon and one of my Acolytes – although the managed two wounds on the Dreadmill. What the hell had I been thinking…
I revealed the Assassin in Mike’s movement phase, although this made no difference to his decision to charge the Raven Cloaks with the slaves, who lost five to my stand and shoot response but it wasn’t enough for a panic check. With no other charges I tense my butt cheeks for the Dreadmill’s supporting ‘charge’ – the random movement rules make these terrifying, as had I been unengaged I wouldn’t even had a chance to stand and shoot! It was only seven inches away so I did my best to jinx Mike’s roll by saying, “That’s definitely in. It’s got to be.”
Mike was not happy when he rolled a total of six on three dice.
Consoling himself with the fact that he still had three ranks and a down hill charge in his favour, he moved on from my left flank. The blocks again shuffled forwards, the central slaves now completely covering the Plague Monks’ flank, and moved both his globadier units into range of my Corsairs.
Magic and Shooting was again either ineffective or dispelled, although I lost a Corsair and a Dread Knight from the unit on my right. A Raven Cloak was killed by the Dreadmill’s discharge but so was a slave. Not a fair points trade but I was still glowing from the hamster wheel failing its charge so took it in stride.
In combat my Assassin unsurprisingly killed three slaves and the Raven Cloaks each managed a kill of their own, bringing my total to eight while also reducing the slaves to a mere two bonus ranks. The slaves managed nothing, to no one’s surprise, but it did mean I had won the combat! The slaves failed their break test by one and Mike had to remove them! However, as I hadn’t charged and the slaves hadn’t technically fled, I could only combat reform towards the Jezzails – making sure one of my guys was on the hill so they could see over it to charge the rat snipers. This meant I wouldn’t be far from the Dreadmill in Mike’s next turn.
The Acolytes died, confirming what had been a growing suspicion of mine that I had once again failed to use them well.
My right hand Dread Knights were in an awkward position, further exacerbating the swift collapse of my plan to use them for a late game finish. They turned to face the Vermin deployment edge so as much was in their front arc as possible, including the blasted Dreadmill. My Spearmen again decided against moving, for some unknown reason I cannot fathom at time of writing.
The Corsairs decided to assert their dominance of the wood over the globadiers by charging into them, losing one of their number to stand and shoot. The Raven Cloaks, lead by the Assassin, were also in charge range of the Jezzails but I’d had to have rolled a ten. I decided instead that a March would be wiser, also hopefully saving me from the Dreadmill by putting fourteen inches between them and it.
Shooting and Magic occurred but not much happened.
EXCEPT my bolt throwers managed to finish of the right hand Dreadmill between them. At this stage they had already achieved the sum total of their previous accomplishments and decided to go on extended vacation. That’s at least the story their widows were told, as Mike correctly identified them as an ‘easy target’ for his unengaged Jezzails while also having an excuse for punishing them for curtailing his planned flank charge with the Dreadmill on my entire line.
In combat the Corsairs ruined the front unit of globadiers and overran into the second unit for only the loss of a second of their number.
Mike’s turn saw the slaves charge the very corner of my Corsairs, the placement of his globadiers meaning only one file of the unit could get into combat. Mike decided this was best for him as while fewer slaves got in, he explained the only thing they’d be getting ‘in’ to by being properly maximised was a line for early death – he may have been slightly underestimating them after half a dozen elves had killed his other unit in its entirety, but it did mean he would stall my Corsairs. Tactically, this made sense, but had the Corsairs overrun they would have been at a bit of a lose end. I think Mike thought they had a banner and would therefore have had a free shot at his deployment zone. They didn’t, so his tactical assessment of them was somewhat over-estimated.
With the combat in the wood his Vermin guard had to move to the far right of my line – and this is when I finally cottoned onto what was actually happening on the board. As Mike moved his Plague Monks forward I saw, in an awful moment of revelation, that my Spearmen were now stranded behind an impassable ruin, a messy but long-looking combat in the wood and about fifteen inches of open ground somewhat cluttered by my crossbowmen. My Dread Knights ‘guarding’ my left flank had been wasted all game, and should have marched out wide after the Raven Cloaks escaped the Dreadmill so at least I had a banner still available for a late game grab. The game, as you may have noticed, had also been fairly peaceful and while I had a bit of a runaway success on the left flank the points made there were somewhat overshadowed by the loss of my Acolytes and the impending loss of my right hand Dread Knights. My poor position was further worsened when Mike’s remaining Dreadmill made the fifteen inch charge into my Raven Cloaks.
Shooting and Magic were more impressive this turn, as the Jezzails finished off the unit of Dread Knights on the right flank and took a wound off a Dread Reaper.
Mike rolled five impact hits with the Dreadmill, and that left five crushed Raven Cloak bodies on the ground. The last Raven Cloak resigned himself to death – finally, after he and his boys had barely been shot at for four games – and then stood and watched as the Assassin dismantled the Dreadmill piece by piece, leaving it a quivering wreck of wood and the dismembered remains of the engineer as the rats swarm powering it disappeared into the foliage! I’d been confident of him doing something to it, but both Mike and I were somewhat non-plussed as we stared at the four failed saves he’d rolled. Mike broke the spell by shrugging and taking off his Dreadmill, but I think we were both still a bit surprised.
The Corsairs were less impressive this round, killing only a few globadiers and a slave, losing three of their own number. They held, however, intent on winning the wood they seemed to end up occupying every game they participated in.
So began my efforts to repair my tactical blunder in deployment. If I could get my Spearmen into the Vermin Guard and erase them, I had a god chance on winning on points split, even if Mike got the objective. To that goal I did a swift reform and faced them through the only gap big enough for the unit to fit through, which left me around twenty inches from making contact. My Dread Knights probably should have charged out at this point, but the Assassin and the remaining Raven Cloak hadn’t charged the Jezzails, as I decided moving to guarantee the charge next turn was better and I’d get a shooting phase out of it. So I made what was probably another mistake and shuffle them backwards so they definitely couldn’t be charged by the approaching Plague Monks. Charging out with them would have been a risk but would have been far more likely to bag me the win, retrospectively, but I was trying to limit losses so that any gains I made were maximised and this lead to a conservative decision.
Magic saw my Spearmen gain S4 & T4 from Beast Within, which I snuck through at the end of the phase simply for the Wilderness Attribute which let me move my unit D3+2″ further towards their target, repositioned so they would be even closer. My shooting was a Jezzail crew get perforated and some Vermin Guard dying – not that any of the rest cared as they hummed along to Bell Trance Radio FM.
Combat was surprisingly tame this round, the Corsairs winning by a single point but both their opponents holding due to the Magister glaring at them from atop his bell. Oh well; the Corsairs had unknowingly prevented further disruption from Mike’s chaff units and were now actively buying time and precious space for me to get my Spearmen to where they should have been a turn or two ago.
No charges from Mike, the blocks moving forwards – the Vermin guard were thankfully hampered by the impassable terrain to their left, leaving them in a slightly awkward position only thirteen inches from my Spearmen. Victory could yet be mine!
Magic saw Mike finally manage an impressive roll on Crack the Earth, which would have ripped into my Spearmen had I not still had my Dispell scroll. There was some hesitance before reading it, as Mike had also Miscast. However, since it was only on three dice he wouldn’t be throwing his general and half the escorting unit into a magical pit of fire and regret so I read the scroll.
Mike’s Jezzails decided that their fallen comrade had definitely died of natural causes and so ignored the blood and oil soaked Assassin dragging his plus one to another combat. They instead shot my Dread Reapers to pieces. At this stage I will explain why I haven’t mentioned Mike’s second Warp Lightning Cannon; it had been reliably killing a single Spearmen a turn, on average, and Mike had been wholly unimpressed with it as a result.
Combat finally saw his globadiers die, but at this point only five Corsairs were left. I still combat reformed so they could try and blend the slaves but I was less confident about their chances than I had been.
Turn 5 and Beyond
The Assassin charged into the Jezzails, ordering his accompanying Raven Cloak to get out quill and parchment to right down his achievements, now that he actually had some worth reporting. My Spearman also managed to charge the flank of his Vermin Guard, but only one file could get in due to the really massively unhelpful placement of his remaining weapon team, who had basically stopped firing anything more dangerous than hard boiled eggs. It was about two inches behind the front of his Vermin Guard, and there wasn’t enough space between my Corsairs and the Vermin Guard for my Spearmen to charge it instead due to the angling of the units. This meant that while I had made contact, I would be significantly limited on how much I could kill. I was also mostly in the wood, meaning I didn’t count as having any ranks so didn’t discount his frigging ranks and the Vermin Guard would be taking their Leadership tests at their full compliment of 10 and remained steadfast. This was not ideal, but I couldn’t count on keeping up with them or worse failing a charge later on after they’d had time to reform and then have them potentially charge me. Maybe this was a decision made in desperation, but these were desperate times.
Magic saw me buff my Spearmen and not much else. Shooting saw nothing happen as everything was engaged.
Combat saw two Jezzail teams eviscerated by the Assassin, the survivors fleeing through the remaining Warp Lightning Cannon which in turn fled into the other Jezzails – who held. For now; my Assassin had overrun and caught the first unit and now stood poised for his next triumph.
My Spearmen did not break the Vermin Guard, which was unsurprising but disappointing. I killed about fifteen rats over the next few combat phases and didn’t lose a significant number of elves, but it was too little to score points. Mike got his Plague Monks into my deployment zone at the end of turn six and took the objective, although the Dread Knights didn’t die by simple means of running straight past their charge arc. The Assassin charged the remaining Jezzails who wisely fled and outpaced him, preserving half their points. We shook hands and began totalling our losses.
I won on points narrowly 11-9, scoring 850 to his 630, but Mike taking the objective swung him an 8-12 win – all without remembering to ring the Bell a single time. This was wholly down to me not moving the Spearmen. Mike rightly pointed out to me what he’d known all game – that they were wasted points sitting pretty in my deployment zone. I should have powered them straight at one of his big blocks and murdered it, then taken up residence in his deployment zone. Ideally I would have managed to keep my Dread Knights and their Standards hidden behind the hill in my deployment zone and then rushed them over to join the Breakthrough party late game. With 14″ of movement they could have cover a big distance in the last two or three turns and got me the objective.
I’m still bad with cavalry. I am also underwhelmed with Magic; not just mine, but with the phase in general. It is perhaps because I have too many wizards and try to cast too many spells as a result, making them easier to dispell and/or more likely to fail due to me holding back casting dice. The Dark Acolytes were underwhelming, although ‘incompetently used’ is also a fair description. I was trusting their 4+ ward and Poisoned attacks to see them through, which was pretty retarded against the Dreadmill. More learning required on the use of Multiple Small Units of cavalry.
However, the Assassin is a different matter. I imagine him walking tall through the army camp for the first time, grudgingly respectful glances being thrown his way instead of the normal things – moldy food, insults, laughter and shit, most likely. He not only paid for himself but also his accompanying Raven Cloaks/ablative hit points and then some. More importantly he and the unit he joined threaten Mike’s entire flank by themselves. They had no support, not back up and no artillery cover yet still managed to roll up Mike’s line. There was some luck involved, but this game definitely demonstrates his potential. If I force the risk in future games like I did this game and forcefully apply his points to the enemy’s weak, squishy back line then I can see him swiftly becoming a star player in the list – which is a relief after his most prestigious previous achievement was ‘dying in the right place’.
This was my army’s first loss, but the list itself is not responsible; I am. I managed it poorly, I approached the game poorly and I play it poorly. Mike, on the other hand, has evolved his list and works it to the edge of efficiency every game and he played this game brilliantly. He deserved the win, and he got it.
There will be a next time. And I will have my revenge upon the ratmen…most assuredly.