30 May 2011

The Gauntlet--Gunnbjorn Corner

When I heard that theummhmmguy/thegreatblah (hereafter known as TUHG) had Gunnbjorn picked as his warlock of choice, I was pretty excited. TUHG has a great selection of ranged warbeasts which play to Gunnbjorn's strengths, including his 13 Pyre Trolls.

That excitement was tempered by the fact that he decided to pick Borka for Goris. The problem isn't that I think they're horribly mismatched warlocks as far as overall viability--in fact, Gunnbjorn probably has an advantage in a field with all comers. The issue is that against each other, Borka has a host of tools that hard-counter Gunnbjorn's offensive toolset. Spells like Wind Wall and Iron Flesh are the bane of a shooty army, and the man himself has highly effective defenses. Should Goris decide to take a Krielstone along for the ride, there may be trouble brewing.

That's not to say that TUHG can't win, but he's going to need to dig deep into Gunnbjorn's core synergies and pull some fast maneuvering in order to shut down a strong Borka offensive, especially with his feat in play to extend his charge ranges. Ranged attacks, even from the offensive powerhouse Dire Troll Bomber, will fail to penetrate DEF 15, ARM 16-17 infantry with surprising regularity. Even worse, Fennblades with their UA will get a 15" charge under Borka's feat--something that's difficult to out-range with the guns in the Trollblood arsenal. Yes, Snipe is nice, but it's not winning this game.

Luckily, Gunnbjorn has an ace in the hole: Rock Wall. With Janissa in play, it's possible to lay down a 10" linear obstacle that not only provides Cover and +2 DEF against melee attacks, but can also double as way to make the Earthborn Dire Troll (EBDT) shine defensively. On Gunnbjorn's feat turn, he can place the EBDT in front of the wall as well, freeing the space behind for warrior models.

Speaking of Gunnbjorn's feat...how about it? It's very focused on saving the army from ranged attacks, which no Borka list will have in great supply. However, it also makes them immune to Knockdown for a turn, which is going to be a crucial advantage. Just like Wind Wall negates Gunnbjorn's ranged advantages, Fortification provides a nice solution to Borka's spell Mosh Pit, if only for a turn. Since high-DEF tactics are the cornerstone of an anti-melee Gunnbjorn list, immunity to Mosh Pit for a turn could be a way to slow Goris' momentum long enough to neutralize the most dangerous elements of his army.

Back to the walls though--there's some important things to remember here. The first is that models don't incur any sort of movement cost by going over one of them, as long as they are allowed to do so (by either advancing, running, or possessing the Pathfinder rule and charging/trampling/slamming. The second is that a model with any portion of its volume obscured by the wall relative to the attacker's position benefits from both the Cover bonus and the +2 DEF in melee bonus. On cannot stand on top of a linear obstacle by definition, so for the approximate inch of space the template takes up, a model cannot effectively be placed.

The tactical impact of this is that the Rock Walls can't really be placed in such a way that they would slow a Trollblood army, which is bad for Gunnbjorn. Between unit attachments like the Fennblade Officer, solos like the Fell Caller, and Borka's feat there's no way to effectively out-range Goris' army on the charge if the units sitting opposite each other are the same, which they will most likely be. On the other hand, the Rock Walls placed by Janissa and Gunnbjorn don't need to be right next to each other in order to be maximally effective; it's actually best if they are placed up to 2" apart depending on the model(s) sitting in the gap. Further, if one places a model about 1" back from the wall, it's impossible for another medium-based model to sit in the gap between them and the wall, preventing non-Reach models from attacking them at all, and preventing Reach models from being able to gang up on any model but the one directly across from them.

In the drawing above, you can see the practical consequence of this, which is that you can get an entire unit of Fennblades, plus an additional member (such as the officer) behind the wall and make placement for the front rank of some attacking Fennblades devilishly difficult. It takes some practice to get the distances just right in play, but if you do it well the opponent's medium-based models can't fit in the slightly less than 1" gap between the wall and the unit, nor the 1.5" gap between the Rock Walls (40 mm = ~1.54 in"), and have to slide to the side a good distance to catch the flanks. Now, an ideal formation would have the front rank of the unit be smaller--closer to about 8 models a little farther apart so that models charging from the flanks still have to travel a while before the volume of a 40 mm model is exposed. If you place an EBDT or something like-sized in the middle, that could further reduce the size of the front rank.

The whole point of this is to get it so that only one of the opponent's reach models can attack at any given time, and that almost none of the opponents non-reach models can attack. If Goris brings Scouts, they become much less valuable because they won't hit anything with their Assault attacks and can't make melee strikes. Goris' Fennblades lose some of their punch because TUHG's Fennblades with UA are now DEF 16 (+2 linear obstacle, +2 Set Defense) against charges and can only suffer one attack at a time, making the first strike benefit they'll have much less valuable. Burrowers will struggle to fit their bases in the gaps if you shrink them down to 3/4", which nicely deals with that threat. Because the Rock Walls are both positionable with a certain amount of freedom, you can always wheel the formation to meet attacks from the sides or create a Flying V and still gain some pretty nice benefit from the tactic.

That's only a cohesive strategy for up to Turn 2, because after that point either Goris will have charged TUHG with something, or TUHG's army will be ready to charge Goris'. The latter may well occur if Goris overcompensates his forward positioning to try and gain that first strike, and ends up within the 13" threat of TUHG's Fennblades with UA.

Why so much focus on Fennblades? Well dear reader, they're a clear and present threat, more so than anything else. Sure, Long Riders are out there, but they don't have the threat range that Fennblades will, they won't be able to make impact attacks against anything behind a Rock Wall, and their large bases are wide enough that you can push the distance the Walls sit far enough from your infantry line to prevent them from attacking with their axes, so they're not getting the charge, and without it they don't put out enough attacks to be a serious danger to TUHG's army once engaged. A mirror unit of Fennblades is much nastier than even Burrowers, because they can attack over the wall if TUHG's are close enough to benefit from the Cover and Melee bonuses, and can fit in the space between if his models are too far back. It's a nasty double threat, and the only real counter to what I'd now like to call our Great Wall tactic.

The Great Wall requires Janissa though, which is 3 points down the hole, Fennblades with UA are another 10, and the EBDT is going to clock in at 10, but drops to 5 thanks to Gunnbjorn's warbeast points. So right off the bat we're looking at 18 points for a minimum outlay. In order to make the ARM bonus of the EBDT pay out, we really need to bring in a KSB for the armor bonus which take us to 21. Fennblades can't hit anything under Iron Flesh without some Fell Caller assistance, which brings us to 24 just to get what we need for a workable exchange.

With only 11 points left to spare in discretionary offense, what should we do? It's tempting to bring in Runeshapers since Janissa is already in the list, and doing so may very well be a good idea in order to put the kibosh on Iron Flesh via Tremor, but the need to hit the target's DEF makes it unreliable, and 4 points is a lot to shell out for a benefit one will get less than half of the time. Yes, there's strategic value in Force Lock, but I don't think it's likely to be anything that would become relevant on the table. It's also quite tempting to bulk up the army with infantry--after all, a little goes a long way with those guys, and with six points one could get a full unit of Burrowers or Kriel Warriors with 5 points to either spend on attachments or maybe a support warbeast like the Pyre Troll.

That's not the way I find myself leaning though. I'm all about infantry--don't get me wrong; however, Gunnbjorn only has the ability to really support one unit at a time, and even then only in the most indirect way (Rock Wall). Sure, we could always throw some ranged stuff in there, but that's betting that Iron Flesh won't be on whatever their target of choice is, and that they'll also break the armor on a target under KSB support.

I don't like that bet, so I find myself gravitating toward another way to leverage Rock Wall, which is simply to have TUHG throw in his second EBDT, at least at 35 points. With 1 point left, he'd be in a position to also put his Feralgeist in play to ensure they have staying power, and the ARM bonus from Elemental Communion and the KSB ensures that even a charging Fennblade can only output 1-3 points of damage per attack, which is conveniently the amount of damage the EBDT could get from killing one of Goris' models, making them in all practical sense unkillable by any attack except one coming from another heavy hitter like a Dire Troll. Gunnbjorn also definitely needs more help on the higher end of the damage scale, because he's up against a defensive powerhouse with incredible melee skills, and won't be mixing it up in melee himself.

So that's the initial Theorymachine...how do we make this play out? Tune in for my next installment!

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