Monday, August 01, 2016

Warhammer: AOS Tips and Tricks for Tournament Players

The new edition of Warhammer has had a great increase in event attendance around New Zealand in the last six months. For many of the entrants, this is has been their first tournament experience - and even their first ever games of Age of Sigmar!

As someone with what I regard to be fair bit of experience in the game at this point (at least one game a week on average for the past year), I would like to present my own take on some 'tips and tricks' for those brave souls venturing out into Sigmar's Maelstrom.

Please note that my concern here is with the Matched Play, Pitched Battle format. Open and Narrative Play are much more diverse gaming experiences, and have a different approach entirely - many of the following tips do not apply to those formats.

Special thanks to Daniel S. for suggesting the topic for this post :)

Nagash and his Mortarch of Despair take on the Children of Grimnir and Grugni

General Tips

  • Print and learn your warscrolls!
    I've found that when teaching new players the game, the core rules don't need to be referred to after turn two of their first game. They melt into the background and let the flow of the game take over. From then on it is about remembering what each of your units do. There is far more rules interaction with and between units than there was in 8th edition, and this is where you need to do the most learning. Have the warscrolls on hand during a game (or on your app), and it might even be worth coming up with a 'cheat sheet' of main abilities and synergies you need to remember.
  • Consider movement trays!
    I know what you're thinking. Trust me that it's not the first time I've heard it. But movement trays are still very useful, particularly in the early turns. Some armies have hundreds of models, and moving each unit model-by-model is tedious. Even just a cardboard cutout would help. A few of us locals have used the likes of Litko or Sarissa Precision. It really helps for army transport and presentation as well!
  • Be time-efficient!
    You will be playing to a time limit at tournaments. That's not to say you need to rush, but you can have a leisurely game while still being efficient with your time. Consider your next moves while your opponent is taking their turn. Perhaps keep a notebook on hand so you can list what you want to do so you don't forget. Pre-measure, and try not to be precise with positioning your models if you don't need to. There is no need to agonise over positioning when charging, for example, when you get to make a 3" pile in during the combat phase.
  • Make your own tokens!
    Tokens, tokens, tokens. I can't really stress enough how much you need tokens. There will be so many synergies, rules and abilities in play affecting different units that you will want to keep track of them somehow. If you don't want to make your own, I can suggest the likes of Scenery Dice and Mortal Realms (in addition to the likes of Litko, linked earlier). 

    Some of the main things I've found essential to have tokens for are:
    • Terrain (Mystical, Damned, Inspiring, Arcane, Sinister, Deadly)
    • Terrain Effects (Ensorcelled, Befuddled, Cause Fear etc.)
    • Command Abilities
    • Spell Effects
    • Other abilities and buffs

List Building

Creating your army list is fairly straightforward, and is outlined in the General's Handbook (GH). Here are some things you should keep in mind:
  • Read the Battleplans!
    I'm referring to the six 'Pitched Battle' scenarios (or 'battleplans') in the GH, which is what you will be playing at tournaments more often than not. What you are looking for are the ones with different deployment rules (Escalation), and how the objectives work. For example, requiring more models than your opponent within 6", or having at least 5 models within 6" could be difficult to achieve with a low model-count army. Think about how you will achieve the objectives and cope with the deployment as you put your list together.
  • Reinforcement Points!
    This is essentially your side-board. You can put aside a number of points with which to summon, or bring on models during the game, as the rules for your army allows. You do not need to state which models you are bringing on at any point, allowing you to be flexible, and have different options on hand to counter your opponent's list. If you have a small collection, you can also bring back a unit that was killed earlier that game, so long as your army's rules allow you to do so (via summoning for example). Your reinforcements are also not bound by your army's allegiance. So you can have a Deathlord allegiance army, and summon Nighthaunts without losing that allegiance.
  • Choosing your allegiance!
    Generally speaking, you will want your allegiance to be to one of the four Grand Alliances (Order, Chaos, Destruction, Death). However, you can take a faction allegiance to gain access to different battleline units. For example,  a Nighthaunt allegiance will allow you to take Spirit Hosts as batteline units, but each warscroll in your army needs to have the Nighthaunt keyword. The most recent faction releases, such as Sylvaneth, Bonesplitterz and Beastclaw Raiders have their own allegiance abilities. For the rest of us, for now at least, you can always chose the Grand Alliance allegiance abilities, even if you have a faction allegiance.
  • Allegiance Artefacts!
    You normally get to pick one and give it to a non-unique Hero. However, if you deploy Warscroll Battalions, you get to pick an extra artefact for each battalion. This adds additional value to them, so keep that in mind.
  • Look for synergies!
    There are a lot of them, usually between warscrolls in the same specific faction. This is a great way to get more value from your troops for no extra points cost. It's also very themey!

Setup / Deployment

  • Why a low number of deployments is an advantage!
    In 8th Edition, having a large number of deployments was a good thing because you can dictate favourable board positioning. Even missing out on the +1 to the dice roll wasn't a huge deal compared to the benefits. 

    In Age of Sigmar, if you finish deploying first you get to choose who has the first turn. You usually want to let your opponent go first, generally speaking. This is because by going second, you have a 50% chance of winning the roll for turn priority for turn two, which would give you two turns in a row. This is crucial, as it puts your opponent on the back foot early in the game. They will get the same opportunity at the start of turn three, but by that point you have had the opportunity to neutralise key threats.

    An exception to this advice might be if you are up against a shooting army, and have units fast enough to engage them early. Even then, your opponent might have two turns of shooting in a row after that, so it's quite a risk.
  • Be mindful of terrain!
    If there is a lot of Mystical terrain in your deployment zone, it might be tempting to swarm it for that sweet, sweet Ensorcelled goodness. But consider what would happen if key units become Befuddled for 3 turns. Believe me, it happens. Arcane terrain is super useful if you have any wizards, particularly if summoning is part of your game plan. Plan your advance around any Deadly terrain - remember that you remove the whole model if you fail the roll!
  • Be aware of deep-strikes!
    These can come in the form of special deployment options, most notably the Stormcast Lightning Strike abilities, or summoning. You can deny table space required by these abilities by making sure there are no 'pockets' of the battlefield more than 9" away from any of your models, which would otherwise allow sneaky deployment drops. Ask your opponent if they have any units that do this before you start deploying.

The Hero Phase

  • Don't miss anything!
    A lot of things happen in the Hero phase. While you are getting used to your army, you may want to make a list of things you need to activate, and use those tokens I suggested earlier. Besides spells and command abilities, many of your other units may have benefits that you need to activate in the Hero phase.
  • Pay attention to when things happen!
    In the ability rules, you will be told when an ability is used in the Hero phase. This will be either at the start, during, or at the end. If you have two abilities that activate at the start of the phase, you can choose the order, but the have to happen first. Given the choice, make sure you do the most beneficial actions first. For example, casting spells and rolling for Mystical terrain both happen 'during' the Hero Phase, so cast all your spells before you roll on Mystical terrain, lest you learn the pain of Befuddlement!
  • Casting spells and command abilities happens before moving!
    This means you need to be in a position and range to use your synergies in the previous turn, so you have to think ahead, or you will find yourself out of range at key moments.
  • Summoning... it's not useless!
    When you hear otherwise online it is usually because folks are familiar with some of the community tournament packs, where you could increase your starting army size considerably through summoning. The GH has a more balanced approach, which still has important uses. The ability to react to your opponent's deployment via 'deep strike' summoning is very useful, as is dropping in end-game objective holders or assaulters where needed. You also get to react to your enemy's army list, by summoning from a choice of models to best counter them. 

The Movement Phase

  • Remember that the Charge Phase is coming!
    Get as close as possible if you intend to charge.
  • Remember the double turn!
    If your army advances, consider that your opponent also gets to do a full move before charging. And if they get the double turn, can move twice before charging. Don't leave yourself exposed, and consider whether you need to advance early.
  • Discretion is the better part of valour!
    Retreating can be very powerful. So long as you finish your move outside 3" of the enemy, anything goes. Sneak out of combat and onto an objective. Remember that you can run as part of this move. Now those cavalry and chariot units are starting to look a bit more useful.
  • Don't stop the music!
    Unit musicians for each faction have some benefit to movement - usually in the form of bonuses to running, but also on charging. It varies from faction-to-faction. Use of these bonuses will help you get where you need to be.

The Shooting Phase

  • Split your shooting!
    Most of the time you will want to focus fire, but if there are mop-up jobs you need to do, remember that you can split the shooting your unit can do between multiple targets, so long as you specify that before rolling.
  • Shooting while in combat!
    This seems like a bugbear with many people. Why can a unit shoot while it is in base-to-base contact with an enemy? It comes down to the balance of the game in context of armies being able to get into combat one or two turns earlier than previous editions. If your archers are in combat turn one, you would rightfully have to question their value. I remember a lot of complaints about ballistic skill shooting being useless in 8th edition, so it's nice to see that change. This makes 'gunline' armies quite potent of course, especially in objective-based battleplans, but most shooting units are pretty dire in combat, and units can die very fast. Countering 'gunlines' is just part of the meta-game.

The Charge Phase

  • Roll before declaring a target!
    This is true of magic spells too. Roll the dice, then measure to see what is within range, then move your models. If you roll high enough, you might be able to charge units that were not your original target, that you thought were reasonably out of reach.
  • Don't move in to base contact!
    You only need to get one model within half an inch to be successful. Bring as many models as you can up, but don't put them in base contact. This will give you some control during the pile-in that happens in the combat phase.
  • Do move in to base contact!
    Wait, what? There are situations where you do want to move into base contact! Primarily this is to restrict the movement of the unit you are charging. If the enemy is in combat with one of your other units for example, a flank charge will stop more of their models being able to pile in and attack, splitting the unit's effectiveness. Who said flank and rear charges were pointless?
  • Be aware of drawing in other enemy units!
    If your charge brings you within 3" of other enemy units, be mindful that they have to join the ensuing combat. Stay out of 3" if you don't want other units joining, or deliberately put your models within range if you do want to draw them in. There are situations where you will want to do each. 
  • Multiple units charging... think of the combat!
    You get to pick a unit to attack first, but then your opponent gets to attack. That means that one of those units you just charged in will have to endure a round of attacks before they get to do anything.

The Combat Phase

  • Combat order is CRUCIAL!
    In your turn, you get to choose which unit attacks first. But then your opponent gets to pick a unit. You have several factors to consider. Do you mitigate your opponent's strongest unit first, go for a unit you can wipe out completely, leave your durable units until later, make the most of your unit before they retaliate? Some units gain bonuses with certain numbers of models. Skeletons get an extra attack each with 20 models. Reducing them below 20 before they can attack is a good idea. Monsters lose effectiveness the more wounds they take, so consider attacking them first too. 
  • Pile-in like a pro!
    Remember how we kept our charging units half and inch away? Now is the time to use that to our advantage. There is a lot you can do with a pile-in. Each model can move 3". Understand that you can move 3" anywhere, so long as you finish your move closer to the nearest model than when you started. This could allow you to move models around behind the unit. Or within 3" of another unit, to start attacking them. If you can fly, the possibilities are greater still, as you can move over enemy troops. You can use piling in to move closer to an objective, or to draw your opponent away from one (they have to attack you).
  • All your attacks happen simultaneously!
    All attacks on a unit's warscroll happen at once, so even if your opponent is removing models within range of you first, you still get to complete all your attacks.
  • The art of removing casualties!
    You get to chose which of your models to remove. Usually this will mean anything except your standard bearer. But it can also be used to pull your unit out of combat with a second enemy unit. 

The Battleshock Phase

  • Remember your banners!
    Like musicians, unit banners provide a slightly different benefit to the unit depending on the faction. They usually have something to do with battleshock or bravery. 

The Most Important Rule

  • It's important!
    It really is.
  • Value your opponent's experience of the game!
    Without getting too existential, take the time during your games to consider how your opponent might be experiencing the game. Is there anything you can do to improve it? Sometimes mercilessly and ruthlessly crushing their army into dust is not the best strategy. It may feel like you won, but did you really?
  • Paint your armies! Write a back-story!
    Having a fully-painted army with its own epic history on the table is super important. Why? Because you can enjoy the journey. Relish each game turn. Move around the table, and enjoy the spectacle and the narrative value. That way, when things go against you, you still have the story. You win, even if you lose.

Can you think of anything I have missed? Please let me know and I will add them to this post! I am sure there will be an exception to everything I have listed above. The beauty of the game is that there is such diversity of unit abilities that you really never can plan for everything. Enjoy learning this amazing game.

Are you in New Zealand and want to attend a local event? Check out the following for this year:

Thanks for reading :)


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