30 May 2011

The Gauntlet--Gunnbjorn at 35

If you haven't seen my previous installment in The Gauntlet, I'd read it now so you have a little background, because I'm building on what I put there. Our lovable Trollblood Scrum overlord theummhmmguy/thegreatblah (I call him TUHG) is going to try and crush the Borka list championed by Goris at the first (and hopefully not only) Lock and Load with his own Gunnbjorn army. Bakaryu and I were tapped to provide analysis and insight into what this battle might look like, and this is my spin.

After much head scratching and nail-biting, I settled on this for the 35 point list that I'd play if I were taking Gunnbjorn against a fellow like Goris. The next installment in this series will be a 50 point version of this same list, but right now I don't see it differing greatly from the core elements below. So without further ado...the list!

-Earthborn Dire Troll
-Earthborn Dire Troll
-Officer and Drummer
Krielstone Bearer and Stone Scribes (4)
Fell Caller
Janissa Stonetide

Deployment: Form the Line

The deployment strategy is simple. Position Janissa in line with the first rank of Fennblades so that she can create her portion of the Rock Wall, and make sure that there's no overhanging members, keeping the front line to about 8 models total. Next, bookend the line with an Earthborn Dire Troll (EBDT) on each flank, and then layer your next rank of Fennblades close behind them with a split in the middle to house the Krielstone Bearer so that he can catch both EBDTs in his aura when up to maximum size, in addition to all of the Fennblades. The Feralgeist will have to pick a side--that's his lot, but he should be somewhat close to the middle so that he can move from one flank to the other readily. The Fell Caller should be somewhere in reserve where he can affect the Fennblades with his calls if need be--probably opposite the Feralgeist, and Gunnbjorn should float...somewhere. A Borka list will never contain any model that will present a real and present danger to him this first turn, so you're really just positioning him for where you want him to be next. If you want him to start reaping benefits from Elemental Communion first turn, I'd nestle him in with the second rank of Fennblades.

Terrain Considerations

Terrain will affect this deployment strategy fairly little--only to the extent that it may enable a faster initial advance, or force TUHG to pick a side of the board to focus on. I hate large terrain pieces plopped dead center in the board, but they happen and some people find them interesting. In one of those cases, it really depends on whether or not said terrain blocks LOS or not. If it blocks LOS for the opposing units, then it's a boon because it basically does exactly what we're trying to achieve with the Great Wall by limiting charge angles. In those cases, it's best to use it to one's advantage and see where the opponent might send his troops with the longest threat ranges. Whatever side they seem to be going to, that's the side you want to be driving toward. Don't worry about flanking strategies too much--that's why you have two EBDTs. If it doesn't block LOS, then it might as well not even be there except for where it might positively contribute to the EBDTs' charges or defense. For instance, Shallow Water is great to combine with Rock Wall to make an EBDT jump to DEF 16 and ARM 22 behind the Rock Wall.

Sometimes you'll get supremely lucky, and there will already be a Linear Obstacle on the board to start. In such a momentous event, the thing to do is assess its position and how well it would compare with where you would normally place one of your walls anyway. If it is, you can hold back Janissa and just use Gunnbjorn to place the first wall, since he has much more freedom in placement. If not, you'll have to judge what utility you can get out of it. Sometimes it can be useful as a refused flank, an extension for your front line, or a way to layer walls in front of each other to make it even harder for your opponent to place their models.

Turn 1: Let's Get this Party Started

The real question first turn, is who is going first. If TUHG goes first, that's ideal, because then he can run his army first turn, with one exception. The only thing that Borka could bring to the table to reach out and start doing damage with right away would be Pyg Bushwackers, and their presence would actually be good news, since they're both expensive and completely countered by everything Gunnbjorn does. If they're on the table though, they could easily try to CMA Janissa right away, so you'd need to start making the Great Wall right away to keep her protected. If TUHG goes second, he'll also need to create the Great Wall because by Turn 2, any Fennblades or Long Riders Goris brings would be within striking distance of the main line.

In the scenario TUHG wins the roll to go first and doesn't see Bushwackers or any other nastiness on the table, he can feel free to run the entire party forward and dump all of his Fury on the Krielstone Bearer & Stone Scribes (KSB). If not, then he'll want to go with the Great Wall strategy.

In the Great Wall strategy, Janissa should advance her full distance and drop the Rock Wall. Thanks to her 40 mm base, we can actually plop her Rock Wall with the leading edge centered about 4.5" in front of her, and it will still fit "completely within" 5" of her model; in a timed environment, that's a useful shortcut instead of painstakingly measuring the drop radius. Next I like to rile and run the EBDT on her side up it's full distance so that it nestles next to the wall, and then run the Fennblades into position about 3/4" back from the line set by Janissa's wall. Next activate Gunnbjorn, advance him, and create the second Rock Wall, dumping his remaining 4 Fury on the KSB. There's never really a target for the Bazooka, so there's no point in firing it this turn other than to remind your opponent what it's range and AOE are. The EBDT on his flank goes next and riles before running so that Gunny can fill up the following turn. Next the KSB forms the aura and runs into the midst of the Fennblades, the Fell Caller and Feralgeist follow up, and we're done. Nothing left to do but enjoy your fortress.

If TUHG is unthreatened and goes first, he can run his army forward (maintain the line, though), dump 5 Fury on the KSB, and make sure his EBDTs have enough Fury on them to fill Gunnbjorn up on the next turn.

In either case, if there's rough terrain around for the EBDTs to take advantage of, see if you can get the Great Wall to be positioned such that they can gain that +2 SPD bonus next turn--you'll need it if you can get it.

Turn 2: Location, Location, Location

At this point everything's following a pretty prescribed path still. If TUHG is first and was unthreatened first turn, he'll basically follow the strategy illustrated in Turn 1 for creating the Great Wall, with one exception: it's possible, however unlikely, that Goris runs his army full-out that turn as well. If this happens, even assuming staggered deployments (8/10) and TUHG running his Fennblades only 10" to keep them in line with Janissa and the EBDTs, the gap between the two sides drops to about 8". Goris might run his Fennblades  or Long Riders less than that to try and keep a safe distance, but even in that case if they're less than 13" away, TUHG suddenly gains the offensive position. He shouldn't take advantage of it if he's across from Fennblades with their Unit Attachement (UA), because under Iron Flesh they're DEF 17 against charging models, and while he might still kill a few, it's not worth triggering Vengeance for the next turn off of such a paltry kill count.

If he's across from Long Riders though, it's time to charge. Naturally, if for some chance of fate there are Fennblades on the field that don't have Iron Flesh on them, it's also time for some killing, and make sure to use No Quarter even if you don't need the movement bonus--Terror could pay out for you, and there will never be a better time anyway. The same goes for any other infantry on the field in range, like Bushwackers, Scouts, et cetera. If TUHG is charging, it goes without saying that he needs to hand out the Fell Caller's War Cry to help offset the Set Defense on the Fennblades or Iron Flesh on any other infantry. If they have the range and the targets, this is also a great time to get the EBDTs in play, and if you were fortunate on terrain placement they may be able to position well. The killing is standard, but what is done afterwards with Gunnbjorn and Janissa will be the critical part.

Where TUHG can, he's going to want to insert Rock Walls to maintain his defensive capabilities. Even if they can't be placed such that the Gunnbjorn player can get the defensive bonus, there's still the advantage in keeping the EBDTs' armor very high, as that will be key to grinding down the Borka list. Rock Walls can also be placed to mitigate charges, because they may end up giving the opponent a Sophie's Choice: do I use my Fell Caller to buff MAT, or do I instead try to get the charging bonus? Either way, it's probably a win for TUHG because he never has to make the same choice, as the Rock Walls will never really block him.

Once melee contact is made though, there is one situation where the Rock Walls may become a hindrance. Unlike Iron Flesh, the DEF bonus from a Linear Obstacle cuts both ways. Janissa's wall always expires at the start of a new round, but Gunnbjorn's won't expire until the Control Phase because his wall is an upkeep. This can create a problem for Fennblades that are making their Vengeance strikes, because unless there's space on the other side of the wall, they now have to make their attacks against models that are at +5 DEF from Iron Flesh and the obstacle bonus. So when choosing where to put Gunnbjorn's Rock Wall, considering what Fennblades on TUHG's side will be making their Vengeance moves will be critical.

At the end of Turn 2, the KSB will need to be activated and create the aura if it hasn't done so already, and then get filled up by Gunnbjorn. It's important to do it in that order because it keeps the aura at maximum size, since the KSB will fill up to capacity after it has spent the Fury to create it. If Gunnbjorn has an eligible target, he should take a boosted shot if he has the Fury and is well protected to try and get some Critical Devastation to occur. If TUHG ended up charging Goris' army, now would be the time to use Fortification so that none of his troops are Knocked Down by Mosh Pit.

Turns 3-4: When a Plan Comes Together...and Falls Apart

By now, melee is a sure thing. Models are dying or will be dying, and if TUHG hasn't used Fortification yet, now would be the time. Most Borka players will have majority of their army in the fight by this point, and Goris will not likely be an exception. I'm going to get more general here because depending on what components are in the actual list Goris fields and how he uses them, things could go a variety of different ways.

As a general rule, the only warlock in our faction more fearsome melee than Borka Kegslayer is Madrak Ironhide, World Ender (eMadrak). A large portion of TUHG's strategy is going to have to involve not getting Gunnbjorn assassinated by Borka while their armies duke it out. The good news is that Borka can't both protect himself well from Gunnbjorn's Bazooka or EBDTs and also buff his infantry--he has to choose. A high priority will be making him feel the pinch--that he has to pull Iron Flesh off of his troops and onto himself in order to successfully attrition him. Most likely he'll have a Dire Troll of some stripe in play, and killing that heavy hitter as early as possible is going to be the watershed moment. If Borka drops Wind Wall, TUHG should immediately pop a boosted shot from Gunnbjorn right into the mouth of that creature to start putting damage on it and possibly send it flying.

If Goris has support in the army, killing those support pieces should occur as early as possible. Things like the Stone Scribe Elder, Fell Caller, and even another Janissa need to be targeted early and often, and the presence of damage buffs can absolutely not be abided. The Pyre, the Slag, or the Dire Troll Mauler should be on the hit list immediately, because a primary advantage held with Gunnbjorn's list is ARM 22 Earthborns. Anything that prevents them from easily Regenerating/Snacking to full health each turn must be stopped. Borka is no slouch, but his only damage buffs come from warbeasts or the Stone Scribe Elder, and wacking them is essential.

It's worth saying that there's no real downside to killing the Keg Carrier. Yes, everyone gets Vengeance for a turn, but the Keg also makes Borka impossible to kill while he has Iron Flesh up, and balanced against that a couple extra melee hits are not going to make a difference. If there's a chance to plug that Pyg in his pie hole, TUHG should not turn it down. He shouldn't be afraid to use the Fell Caller and Janissa offensively if there's a case to do so, especially so with the former. The Fell Caller has a nice spray and even better melee weapons, and can do quite a bit of damage if you let him. Once the Fennblades start dropping in earnest, buffing their MAT with War Cry is going to stop being as relevant as it was, and it's definitely okay to commit the Fell Caller in order to keep the momentum going.

End Game: How Are We Doing?

In the perfect scenario, warbeasts are chewed up by the EBDTs, the infantry are held in check by the Great Wall tactic and Gunnbjorn is blasting away from a safe refuge. It never quite goes that way though, and so in the end game it's about milking the Feralgeist for all it's worth, and just trying to keep the scales tipped in Gunny's favor. There's no real guide for how this plays out, other than to say once the pieces start to get thin, it's more and more important to use Gunnbjorn's Bazooka effectively and keep him out of charge distance from Borka. Making sure the Fell Caller is dead by this point is crucial, because one of Gunnbjorn's best defensive tools will be his ability to restrict charge lanes by throwing up Rock Wall constantly, and then having the EBDT(s) throw Borka into them or the Keg Carrier as often as possible.

At the end, it's also important to remember that the Stone Scribes have melee weapons, and aren't terrible with them. They can kill Fennblades, Scouts, and Pygs with pretty decent regularity, and as the rest of the army fold having their aura at maximum size becomes steadily less relevant. Much like the Fell Caller, they change role from support to tarpit pretty seamlessly, and one shouldn't worry about keeping them alive just to maintain Gunnbjorn's armor. Believe me, if Gunnbjorn actually needs that +2 ARM from the Protective Aura, something has gone awry and it likely won't make a difference anyway.

So that's the lowdown on the 35 point list...but what if Goris and TUHG decide that they want to raise the stakes a little to 50 points? Well, tune in for my next installment of The Gauntlet!

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