Wednesday, 27 August 2014

The ETC in Review (Part Three)

ETC in Review (Part Three)

Victory and Shame.

Round 3, and if the train isn’t off the rails yet it is seriously teetering on the brink. Ashes humiliation followed by successive defeats against teams that traditionally play at the level that we want to (and believe we can) compete at.

Surprisingly I didn’t have a ridiculous hangover after my beaker-delivered rakia exploits from the night before. Obviously I was just burning all the rocket fuel I had ingested, as I went skipped breakfast and went straight to planning my pairing against the morning’s opposition: Northern Ireland.
Let’s face it, this was the draw we all wanted, and the draw the team needed. Confidence was at an all-time low throughout the team, and the only thing that was going to get that train chugging along again was a win for the team and some strong individual performances.
For once I was also coming into the pairings with a stronger than average pre-pairing prediction. The northern irish guys soon had us down as their worst team to play against pairings-wise, and we came out of the pairing process with a low-mid 90’s predicted score. Absolutely no excuses now, we had to execute.

Not wanting to dwell on being beaten by an Orc and Goblin army the round before, I paired myself with Orcs and Goblins. 3 on the bounce. Other pairings were:
Ivan (Empire) vs VC (0)
Nick (DE) vs HE (0)
Jamie (DoC) vs DoC (+)
Alex (Skaven) vs ChD (+)
Akhter (O&G) vs Dwarfs (-)
Sam (ChD) vs Ogres (+)
Mick (HE) vs WoC (+)

Ferraro contends with the might of Barry!

Deployment was pretty similar to normal, although my opponent opted not to deploy completely in the corner, instead anchored his line on a piece of impassable terrain, with the savage orcs and trolls spread between that and the board edge in a diagonal. A unit of night goblins guarded against units coming around the terrain and getting in behind.

Big mistake. I vangaurded the sisters forward, got first turn and had my mage safely behind the terrain from turn one. No more rock lobbers killing my mage thank you very much. Kevin admitted that he hadn’t realised quite how quick my army was going to be, so didn’t see the impassable terrain on his side of the table as a viable hiding place for my units. Purple sun went off in turn two, and I had a choice to make; send it through the warmachine line and eliminate any real ranged capabilities, or put it into the savages and trolls and go for the throat.

A quick consultation with Roy confirmed that things were generally going okay across the tables and that I should play the match up steady as she goes, so away went all the war machines. Not much else to say about this game. I camped my Deathweaver an inch from the savages for the next 4 turns and tried to cast Purple Sun but couldn’t get it through. I made a couple of silly small errors that cost me a couple of battle points, and a foot of gork came down literally 13-14 times in the last turn and cleaned up a couple of units. I’d cleaned up everything but the savage orcs by this stage, but couldn’t drop them below half strength with final turn shooting so had to settle for a 12-8. It’s a score I shouldn’t be unhappy about given it is in my predicted range of 12-14 points, but given the strong start I really wanted to crack on with it and bounce back properly from my last game.
Couldn’t be unhappy for long, because the train finally got away from the station! Wooo wooo!

99-61 against the Northern Irish, not quite a cap, but close enough really. Treble and Ivan both exceeded predicted score, Mick pulled his game out of the fire and got a good 9, and Akhter’s strippers for battle points incentive program continued to work wonders as he absolutely stomped the world, getting a 16 out of a dwarf army. Boom.

Tails up, happy times. Couldn’t have hit a better time to play the Kiwis. Didn’t matter, still lost.
Match ups were really close, Tom Dunn did really well designing them a program so that his old man couldn’t stuff it up. He still tried to, probably because he’s too old to use a computer properly. After half an hour of Pete Dunn typing in the match ups with 1 finger we were good to go.
Pairings were:
Ivan (Empire) vs Lizards (+)
Nick (Dark Elves) vs DoC (0)
Akhter (O&G) vs Dwarfs (-)
Jamie (DoC) vs Dark Elves (-)
Alex (Skaven) vs Empire (0)
Mick (HE) vs Skaven (-)
Sam (ChD) vs Ogres (+)
Myself vs WoC (+)

So dead even, 3 +’s, 3-‘s and some 0’s. Also for the first time I wasn’t going to be playing Orcs!
My opponent was Dan Butler, we’d played his team in the New Zealand Team Championships earlier in the year but I hadn’t played him personally. Top guy and we had a really good game. His list was basically a  tzeentch lvl 4 and a bsb on daemonic mounts, 2*8 trolls, 2*3 skullcrushers, some marauder cav and a bunch of chariots.

He cornered up really defensively as his list had two big troll units who didn’t want to go near purple sun. A really nice move was deploying his lvl4 and bsb as a unit together so he could allocate waywatcher shots between them and so that both would benefit from the MR1 on the mage.
I spread across the board as Dan didn’t have to commit to a corner early, and I was aggressive from the start with my mage. We started fairly slowly as we had a bit of a chat before the round began, so our game was running a bit later than the rest. D&D got through turn 1 on Dan’s general, which wasn’t a huge deal, but it did make both troll units fail stupidity and stumble forwards. They didn’t want to be anywhere near my army and would probably have moved back 3 inches, so bringing them both forward was useful. I followed this up with a turn two purple sun through one of the units, dropping four of them. At this point a look either side of me told a pretty bad tale. The Ogres were running the gauntlet, so a “stable 13” was looking a lot like “I’m getting 20’d”, which we couldn’t really afford given how close things were across with the board.

Not looking so stable...

One of the things I like most about my army is that it can change gears so well. I started every game in low gear, playing things safe and just chipping away at my opponent with the aim of hitting my predicted match up bracket, which each round had been 12-14 battle points. This makes for a pretty low risk game, my mage isn’t in charge range, my units are all in LD range, my opponent can’t really do a lot and I’m in position to deal with any pressure. In a game like this even with a bit of bad luck I’m not going to get much worse than an 11, unless something colossal happens like in the game against USA.

Unfortunately in this situation 12-14 just wasn’t going to cut it. So what I did do was move up a few gears to a style of game where with even luck I would get a big win, but a bit of bad luck was going to cost me more than it normally would. I played a game that I was in complete control of and didn’t need any special dice to take it to a big win. The risk was that I put myself into a situation that I had to play perfectly. Poor dice would mean the plan wouldn’t work (an element out of my control), but it also had to be executed perfectly.

It’s also difficult to describe accurately. My mage in her bunker went out hte front of the army. I’m talking like 10 inches away from trolls, skullcrushers and chariots, with no terrain in-between. Wild Riders lunged around beside his army, and the warhawks blocked some charges. The mage fled in Dan’s turn, through my own army before rallying and running straight back out in front of the army. A skullcrusher unit got baited into the flank of the warhawks, and somehow didn’t break them (this was bad for me as it turns out), so Wild Riders into the flank of them, with another unit hitting a chariot. I used one eagle to block the overrun of the wild riders that charged the chariot, with the other eagle and the glade riders blocking up the charges of various units.

The Wood Elves move in!

Things were set up pretty well, Dan didn’t have any charges he could make on units that weren’t chaff, and I had wild riders in and around his army. Unfortunately I fluffed against the Skullcrushers and didn’t break them, meaning the wild riders (with my BSB) were stuck in a protracted fight. Dan charged and killed my chaff in his turn, and finished off the wild riders with the skullcrushers. In my 5th or so I charged a soulblighted crusher unit with the remaining wild rider unit, fluffed again but ran them down because of the rear charge bonus. The fluff cost me though, as not killing a second skullcrusher gave Dan a lot more attacks back, so he killed enough models to make me miss the overrun into the flank of the other skullcrusher unit, which meant they just wailed on the bsb.
I tried a desperate move in the last turn to win the game (and therefore the Bledisloe), which involved casting doom and darkness on Dan’s general and BSB, then killing an entire unit of 8 trolls with a purple sun and panicking the characters off the board. Got the D&D but not the purple sun. I also failed to rally with the warhawks and the sisters (sans mage) which cost me a few points.
End result totalled up to an 9-11 loss. In a way I was disappointed because I thought I played a really strong game of Warhammer and a bit of bad luck cost me what could well have been a big result. At the same time I wasn’t too disappointed by it because I don’t think I could have played that game any better, but sometimes you just have to resign yourself to the fact that it doesn’t always work. Dan was a great opponent, and this was my second most fun game of the weekend. The best is round 5 and is an absolute cracker!

NZ won the Bledisloe, Rory Finnemore did an amazing Haka in the middle of the room, watching that was almost worth losing the round, one of the moments of the ETC.

I’m off to Clash of Swords in the UK this weekend, so the next update probably won’t be until Monday or more likely Tuesday.

Friday, 15 August 2014

The ETC in Review (Part Two)

Part Two: Switzerland, USA and the Party.

After the disaster of Thursday, it was an early start on Friday to prepare for round 1 of the ETC proper. I didn’t really have a plan for my match ups at that stage (this was consistent, I tended to be first down at breakfast each morning going over things) so I mulled things over at breakfast and decided that I wasn’t really going to change the way I approached things. The pairings weren’t really the issue against the English, so we just stuck with the process that was in place.

Pairing process went well, they didn't have any particular “problem army” that no one wanted to play, and post pairing we were set up for a medium win in the range of 88-90 points. We held the Wood Elves until late in the pairings and got them a good match against Orcs, which the Swiss O&G player was none too happy about.

Pairings were:
Me vs Orcs (+)
Treble (Skaven) vs Brettonians (+)
Ivan (Empire) vs DoC (+)
Akhter (O&G) vs High Elves (-)
Sam (ChD) vs Chaos Dwarfs (0)
Nick (DE) vs Dark Elves (0)
Jamie (DoC) vs Ogres (+)
Mick (HE) vs Empire (0)

Unsurprisingly my opponent deployed in a corner. I think he picked the wrong one though as there was a LOS blocking hill sitting just outside his deployment zone towards the centre of the table. My side of the board had one very small piece of impassable terrain that I would find difficult to hide both of my characters behind, so I gambled a little bit and deployed in the open and vanguarded forward aggressively. I didn’t get first turn, but his first turn went perfectly for me. He miscast and lost foot of gork in exchange for 3 Glade Guard, and his artillery didn’t kill enough sisters to expose my deathweaver. My first turn and I zipped off behind the hill out of line of site, and proceeded to start throwing dice at purple sun. My Glade Guard were set up to shoot trolls all game (they were standing between me and the war machines) and my warhawks started to probe for an opening into the war machines.

That hill top centre was the best.

Not much happened over the next few turns. I was safely throwing spells around, the warhawks flew over a goblin unit into the first doom diver and my glade riders turned up with their flaming arrows so I started to go to town on the trolls. At this stage the game was basically over. I got a purple sun in turn three but it only went 6 inches (18 would have been through all the savages and the trolls), the hawks cleaned up the war machines, wild riders finished the last three trolls in or around turn 5. Eventually everything turned around to shoot at the savage orc bus, but the lack of a second purple sun meant that all I got was half points for the unit. Turn seven would have been nice, as I could have charged the depleted savage orcs with my whole army.

Just needed one more turn!

A low risk high reward game for me, ending in an 18-2 win. My opponent admitted that absolutely no one in their team wanted to go near my army. Thinking about this afterwards, our list set wasn’t a huge fan of O&G, so to get them in a good match up like this one was a really good result for us.
Team-wise we had a bit of a shocker again. Legrand went down 20-0 in the mirror match, and Mick went down fairly heavily as well. Ivan looked like he was going to rescue the round when he charged his opponents plague bearer unit with his whole army, but some freak dice kept that to an 11-9. We didn’t get capped, but once again what was set up to be a fairly solid round got hammered by a couple of big losses.

Personally at this point I was really frustrated. Warhammer for the most part is an individual game, you live and die on your own merits and your own games decide your result each round. The ETC is a totally different beast, I’d had two smashing results and felt I’d played the pairings well, and we’d still gotten solidly beaten on both occasions. I’m not trying to slight my team or anything here as in these situations everyone gave everything they could and it just didn’t happen, I’m more trying to convey how frustrated and slightly confused I was at the time. I was trying to think of ways to help the team across the line, but when it comes down to it at the ETC you just have to trust in your team mates around you and play the game in front of you to the best of your abilities.

Round Two: USA USA USA.

Having not gotten capped in the first round we weren't assured of playing bunnies like we did last year. So we got to play team USA which was awesome. Really cool bunch of guys who I’d been hoping to play in the past couple of events. Language barrier was set to be a problem here, but for the most part they did okay and we worked around it.

Pairing strategy remained the same. Kudos (or not) to Ivan for making it way more stressful than normal by not actually analysing any team after the ones starting with “s”, which meant we had to do them on the fly. Next time someone does that they can go under the bus.

Special mention can also go to Akhter, who during the pairings changed a match up from a 0 to a positive, and therefore got put out slightly earlier than originally planned. Attempting to change it back to a 0 seconds later wasn't overly helpful, and funnily enough they took the 0 (if you’re confused, the scale goes --, -, 0, +, ++) when I’d been trying to bully them into a bad match up, but there was nothing to be done about it.

Pairings were:
Me vs Orcs & Goblins (+)
Jamie (DoC) vs Vampires (+)
Akhter (O&G) vs WoC (0)
Ivan (Empire) vs Skaven (-) (do your match ups ahead of time next time and I’ll give you better ones!)
Sam (ChD) vs Empire (0)
Mick (HE) vs HE (+)
Alex (Skaven) vs DoC (0)
Nick (DE) vs Dark Elves (0)

So another decent round. Mostly draws, with us theoretically edging it with some small wins. Also I had Orcs and Goblins again, which has a lot of potential to go higher than a small win.

Once again my opponent deployed in the corner. In fact deployment was basically the same as in the first round, except this guy had two units of trolls flanking the savages rather than the one that the Swiss guy had. Once again there was a hill just outside his deployment zone and curiously he deployed all four war machines in a position where I could use that hill as cover for my Deathweaver’s unit. Therefore the plan was simple, camp 18.1 inches away from the trolls with the Deathweaver and throw purple sun every turn, while shooting things with my archers. Because of this my whole army had to be crushed into the corner on the same side as the Orcs. Ordinarily I’d like to spread a bit giving me more room to operate in if the Orcs bring some pressure. I was a bit worries about two 10 wide troll units and a horde of savages just motoring forward at full speed in turn one, as I potentially just wouldn't
 be able to get out of the corner, and couldn't take any of those units in a head on fight.
6 foot wide table not required.
Turn 1 purple sun was dispelled without the use of a dispel scroll leaving me with 3 dice, in order to discourage pressure I used three dice for a curse of anraheir on the savage orcs. I cast the spell with irresistible force and lost 3 sisters from my unit. I attempted to nonchalantly remove the models and act unfazed, but funnily enough that didn't
work. Orc turn 1 and the only rock lobber with line of site to my mage hits, wounds and takes her off. Game basically over.

This is what the coach does when something bad happens.

I went into full on contain mode at this point. I decided I could get points out of a troll unit and very little else, so set out to do that with my archers and gave up on doing any additional damage. Immediately I started running stuff to the far corner and just had to hope the Doom Divers (shooting indirectly) wouldn't kill everything.

For the most part unfortunately they did. So did the foot of gork I was wearing every turn, including killing my BSB when I failed my look out sir. Balls.

Surprisingly the Orcs only brought half pressure. The trolls on my flank pushed hard, and just got shot off while letting me slide backwards. The savages for the most part stood still, as did the other trolls. I was surprised and relieved, a basic hand of gork could easily have put me under a lot more pressure or saved the trolls, but it never came. The doom divers did keep hitting though, and they did by far the most damage.

Final score was 5-15. I was well happy with the 5 points I got from the game, as I felt I acted decisively as soon as the game swung, whereas my opponent was slow to pressure. Frustrating though as my opponent played poorly and  still won the game.

Everyone was pretty dispirited again after this round. Legrand went down 2-18 in the mirror match, so with the two Nicks not scoring high we couldn't quite get a draw. Ivan did well getting a 12 from skaven, and Ferraro increased on his prediction as well. Akhter once again stomped the whole world. Round score was 73-87 in favour of the US.

We eventually headed to the official ETC party, which was awesome fun last year. This year it was just really awful. Food was bad (but it was bad last year), drinks were okay but it just didn't have the same vibe. No idea how long we were there or really what happened. I was drinking rakia out of a beaker, and no one except James Milner would drink with me. Eventually most people left, I shouted at Pete Dunn a lot and we went to the strippers. I bought Akhter a lap dance because he was killing it on like 35 battle points. Some other stuff probably happened but rakia from a beaker prevents me remembering it.

Thursday, 14 August 2014

The ETC in Review (Part One)

The ETC is done for another year, a year of test matches, matchup analysis, training montages and frantic last minute painting is once again complete, thankfully to be replaced by another year of exactly the same thing :)

This is going to be a multi-part post. There is a whole heap of stuff I want to discuss about the ETC including giving you guys a run down of my games, discuss how our team went over the weekend and give my thoughts on the event itself in 2014. Thankfully I pre-wrote almost the entire set of posts during the ETC awards ceremony, which only ended today.

Part One: Lead up, Practice and The Ashes.

As a team we really concentrated on our lead up to the tournament this year. We put a lot of effort into testing lists, coming up with new ideas and honing established ones. We started practicing and testing early in the piece, but we weren't scared to make late changes if they were required and good reasoning could be given. We had two late reshuffles of our army set with myself moving to WE and some other players shifting around to accommodate this. Late in the piece Jamie also switched from Bretonnia to Daemons due to the potentially negative environment for Bretonnia after the drop of the new Wood Elf book.

Our final line up was:
Akhter (c): Orcs & Goblins
Ivan: Empire
Mick: High Elves
Alex: Skaven
Jamie: Daemons of Chaos
Nick L: Dark Elves
Sam: Chaos Dwarfs

and myself with Wood Elves.

Going into the event I believed us to have one of the top list sets in the event, and the quality of our set was remarked upon by a number of people. In hindsight there were some issues that we hadn't identified, and these caused us a bit of grief over the weekend.

For reference, my full list was:

Nick "Father of Lies" Hoen, Wood Elves
Spellweaver on Elven Steed: General, Lvl 4, Death, Obsidian Lodestone, Dispel Scroll, 310
Glade Captain on Elven Steed: BSB, Asrai Spear, Starfire Shafts, Hail of Doom Arrow, Enchanted Shield, Dragonbane Gem, 156
10 Glade Guard: Musician, Trueflight Arrows, 160
10 Glade Guard: Musician, Trueflight Arrows, 160
10 Glade Guard: Musician, Trueflight Arrows, 160
5 Glade Riders: Starfire Shafts, Musician, 125
8 Wild Riders: Shields, 224
7 Wild Riders: Shields, 196
6 Wild Riders: 156
7 Sisters of the Thorn: Standard of Discipline, Standard Bearer, 207
3 Warhawk Riders: Windrider, 145
8 Waywatchers: 160
7 Waywatchers: 140
1 Great Eagle: 50
1 Great Eagle: 50
Total: 2399

On the list, I think it represents a really good balance of elements. The Wood Elf book particularly with the ETC comp is all about getting the right mix of effective shooting, speed, problem solvers and combat power into the list. For me this meant not wasting points on any shooting that wasn't top notch, so I stuck to trueflights and waywatchers for the majority of it. I hit the ETC limit on those, and could have had more normal shooting to go with it, however the issue was less about the comp on the shooting and more about the points I would have to spend. The problem solvers are the lvl 4 and the warhawk riders. Two issues with the list are high toughness units that can shrug off the shooting and a wild rider charge. Things like beasts of nurgle, plague drones, trolls etc. Between soulblight and purple sun the mage gives me options for dealing with these.

Something else I identified was that a large number of small-medium combat units was a potential issue for my list. The army does well focusing on the major targets one at a time and eliminating them, but units like screamers, chariots, small cavalry units etc had the potential to come in under the radar and be a problem. The Warhawks are one of my favourite units in the lists. They can be used as a stubborn blocker in a forest, they can go after war machines, they can handle a lot of medium-light units in combat and if really needed can just be a diverter. They were consistently useful all weekend, and I'm very glad I took them.

In Serbia we played three practice games. Two were just internal team practice, I 20'd Sam in three turns to give him a display of what the Wood Elf book could do, and rolled some sweet dice against Legrand to put him down 16-4. In our practice round against Spain I again played through a quick 3 turn 20, so I had some good form going into the ashes. Overall it looked like things were coming together fairly well, we drew with Spain who are decent opposition and everyone seemed to be playing alright.

Myself setting up during our round against Spain.
Ashes 2014.

Match ups were interesting. According to our ratings their list mix edged ours, with our pre-pairing predicted score being somewhere around 77/160. I felt we got the best of the match ups, at the very worst they were a tie, with a few players in good match ups and not very many poor ones.

Match ups were:
Myself vs Dan Thomas (Empire). Down as a small to medium positive.
Nick L (DE) vs Daemons: Down as a small positive
Sam (ChD) vs ChD: Mirror, down as a draw.
Jamie (DoC) vs WoC: down as a small positive
Mick (HE) vs O&G: down as a small negative
Akhter (O&G) vs DE: down as a small to medium negative.
Ivan (Empire) vs Lizards, down as a small positive
Alex (Skaven) vs Skaven: Mirror, down as a draw.

So mostly positives with a couple of draws and a couple of negs.

Dan was running empire with heavens and light lvl 4's, a halberdier block, some archers, 5 + 4 demigryph, a tank, a cannon and a hurricanum.

I set up in a position where my archers would have shots on most of the unarmored stuff, with some Wild Riders and the hawks in a position to go down the flank. I moved up cautiously, and knew I was in for a tough one after watching Dan's first movement phase. Sometimes you can just tell a player is really good based on how they move their units, and Dan's movement was precise, purposeful and well thought out. Game on. We also discussed the match up and were fairly open with the fact that it was edged my way, I was looking to expand on it and Dan was looking to contain.

The break came when I got a purple sun off with IF, killing the steam tank. I lost the spell but didn't mind that, although I was less thrilled with losing Doom and Darkness. From here I had a path into his back line and got the cannon with my hawks. It was all fairly safe from here, although I did make a stupid mistake in choosing the order of combats in the late game. I elected to resolve my warhawks vs his bunker first, in an attempt to kill his general (i got excited) which failed. This allowed the halberdiers to reform and get their BSB into range of the 5 Demigryph. I then resolved the charge of my WR and Sister units against the Demigryph, and while he didn't hold despite the BSB re roll (testing on a 3 or something), I missed out on the overrun into the flank of the Halberdiers which I could have had otherwise.

Dan holds up his Steam Tank after I remove it from play.

Thankfully Dan failed a clutch redirect test with his unit, which meant he couldn't claw back any points in the final turns.

Result: 18-2 win.
Team Result: very little to quite a lot. We got capped :(

Tbh I still don't know what happened. According to our players, my own gut feel and a lot of people in Aus and the UK we had a good set of matches which should have carried us through. We just couldn't execute the plan. Akhter, myself and Mick all improved on our predictions, Alex was set for a safe 12 but got asked to push after we were well down while Ivan and Jamie dropped points for a pair of 8's. Nick got 20'd in a positive match up, and Sam got 20'd in the mirror.

England win the Ashes... again.
Afterwards I was absolutely gutted, the last two ashes had been so close, it was all set up this year and just came crashing down big time. Its amazing what an effect two big losses in the 8 games can have. I was shattered, the team was pretty disconsolate, but we knew we'd have to pick ourselves up for the next days games.

Personally I want to thank a lot of the people back at home. We got a lot of messages of support from the community back at home and that really lifted me for the next day. You guys were really great all weekend, and while we might ignore you when we are winning and having a good time, when things are down the stuff you all say really helps. In the morning I was ready to kick some ass (as opposed to contemplating knocking over my toys and having a tantrum the night before) and got up early to plan my match ups against the Swiss.