søndag 24. juli 2016

Deployment, Patterns & Board Space Development

In chess, a lot of time and energy is spent on mastering the opening part of the game. Tons of theory has been written on the topic and it's acknowledged to be a crucial part to master to become a strong player. In my opinion Warmahordes shares a lot with chess. I think it's time we take a closer look at some of the related concepts that exist between the games.

What is your victory condition? Before you start a game, you should have a notion or two about what your options for winning said game are. If not, try and think about it and see if you can at least rule out extremes and come up with a hypothesis or two.

Typically, once you know a matchup, you'll have a clear and correct picture about how you typically win, unless the matchup is unplayable. Clearly identifying your victory condition(s) lets you take the planning a step further: In order to accomplish this specific goal, what do you need to do? Thinking about this in a structured way like this often reveals certain obvious things you might not have come across otherwise. For example, let's say you are playing Entrenched and there is no way you can achieve a scenario victory by camping your caster in your own zone. You certainly shouldn't feel obliged to put your caster behind that zone even. To many it feels safer, perhaps it even becomes a habit, but if it is in fact not a victory condition to have your caster there it's detrimental to your options.

In a way, this resembles chess opening theory. Prior to the game even beginning, a skilled chess player knows how the popular openings play out and thus move his pieces accordingly. One of the first things aspiring chess players learn for example is how not to lose in four moves (also known as Scholar's Mate).

Getting assassinated top of turn two is in many ways Warmahordes' equivalent to the Scholar's Mate. Picture from a Mk. 2 game between Haley3 and Lylyth2 where this happened. 

:: Overview ::

I: Introduction
II: Deployment
III: Patterns
IV: Board Space Development
V: Examples
VI: Conclusion

I: Introduction

Deployment is a very crucial part of the game. It broadcasts your ideas about the game, what you are trying to accomplish and what limitations you put on yourself. When I first started playing warmahordes I had my hands full trying to learn the game and the various rules. As I've played more and improved as a player, I've come to focus more and more on deployment as some of my gravest mistakes have happened at this stage of the game.

Patterns typically emerge in certain matchups. Once you learn how to approach a specific matchup you will frequently find yourself having your models in the same positions relative to your opponent's. Evaluating these positions either in-game or post-game can help you understand who held the upper hand and why. Perhaps there are measures you could have taken to improve your standing?

The map, scenario, matchup and who goes first will largely determine the board space development. Much like White tends to seize the initiative and look for openings in chess, the first acting player in Warmahordes seeks to establish a dominant position from which an opponent is forced to reply instead of playing his own game.

These conceps are closely related. Failure to understand any of these can result in a loss. Succeeding in understanding them and capitalizing on that can often win you a game outright, to the point where it might not even be down to die. I've heard opponents saying they feel like they are completely out of options as early as bottom of the first turn, which is often because I've managed to capitalize on their misunderstanding of the dynamics of the matchup. I've often felt the same way myself as well, at which point I try and go back to understand where I went wrong.

II: Deployment

Deployment. The first thing that happens in the game and something I believe many players take too lightly. Before deployment, the first thing you should do is agree with yourself on what your win condition is. Can you win on attrition? If not, what about scenario? What assassination angles are relevant?

Can you tell from this picture what my intended win condition is here?
This is hugely important because the answer to this question determines what the optimal deployment
looks like. If you can't answer the question, go with your gut feeling. Try your best to deploy accordingly. Ask yourself in hindsight, preferably with pictures from the game, did my deployment help me achieve my goals?

I'd like to illustrate my points here with an example from my games so I can show you what my thinking was beforehand and how my deployment helped me execute the plan.

The example here is from a scenario victory game. I was playing Entrenched against Baldur2 where he brought two Gargantuans. I don't think I can grind that down but he should be susceptible to assassination angles if I can get Thorn and/or heavy hitters around him. Furthermore, I know from experience with Stryker1 double Stormwall that two huge bases with SPD5 are very, very hard to move around.

Based on my opponent's deployment then I made the decision to go for my own zone. My win condition was to simply physically block him out from contesting me and slowly edge my way up to 5 points. If possible, I also wanted to try and get Thorn at least around his Wolds so as to threaten Assassination.

Take a look at this picture:

How is he going to contest me from here? How did we end up in this position? You can read the report here and see if you can recognize the concepts in this article. Try and look for how my deployment enabled the position above.

The one most important question you should ask yourself when you have finished deploying your models (but before you clock over) is: "Do all of my models help me accomplish my win condition from where they are now deployed?".

III: Patterns

Your army as a whole creates a threat projection which affects what an opponent can and cannot successfully do. I've written about this previously and how the dynamics of these threat projections affect games: The Ping Pong Theory.

Stormwall and Ironclad in positions to rush up and both apply their power and protect Haley2. Storm Lances and Firefly flanking to secure Haley's intended spot. A fairly classic pattern for this list. 

Various models produce different threat projections. Some are explicit, some are implicit, some are easy to spot and some are hard to spot. Regardless, setting up for any kind of successful attack or defense requires you to make the most out the choices you have at hand. These work together and often their optimal positions for cooperation is close to completely irrelevant of what you are fighting against. Relevant concerns include traffic jams (i.e. your models are blocking eachother from getting to optimal positions), getting in range to provide bonuses (Squire, Reinholdt, Gobber Tinker, Arlan, Junior for Power Up etc) as well as the aforementioned threat projections. What's fascinating with these elements is that how they affect your overall position is not something you can deduce on paper. You need to play games and see how these end up in practice. Some situations are trivial but learning how to have Arlan in range for the next turn possible repair action without exposing him to unnecessary danger takes time.

With pre-measuring we can plan the support better than we ever could before. We can also to a large degree plan our entire turn before activating a single unit, or even handing out focus. Coming from Warhammer this is something I am used to doing a lot and I think most players have a lot to learn here. Properly using proxy-bases and pre-measuring when applicable gives you a big advantage as you uncover flaws in your plan you weren't able to visualize, as well as confirmation that an angle you saw indeed is valid without exposing yourself too much.

IV: Board Space Development

Many matchups develop a certain dynamic based on who gets first turn. The threat ranges in this game are frequently of such a nature that the 2nd player cannot simply push his models up ahead at full speed. As the game goes on the momentum will flow back and forth (as per the Ping Pong Theory). Knowing how the board will look ahead, e.g. how your opponent is likely to react to your turn, gives you a big advantage as you can already set up a counter move for his would-be optimal position.

Would you feel comfortable pushing the Cephalyx models full speed ahead into this Cygnar army?
Knowing your own army and your opponent's army allows you to deduce a number of things based on his deployment and evident patterns. Pay attention to what his likely win condition is and how his pieces are set up to accomplish said win condition. By doing this you can play as though you are always one step ahead. There's no other way to do this than to get practice games. Understand the matchup, the nature of its dynamic and how your opponent's decisions can be exploited before they've even materialized on the tabletop. This goes both way: Sometimes you have to think offensively, sometimes defensively. A classic case for this in Mk. 3 I believe is Haley2 vs Rahn. Whoever moves first dictates what the opposing player can do to a large degree, sometimes even taking away win conditions completely (e.g. forcing Rahn to play attrition instead of assassination as the Chimera's angles to Haley are simply blocked by how you're claiming the table with your models).

There is no one answer to how this works. Typically the first player claims the majority of the table space and the second player has to respect this. However casters like Sloan and Vayl2 have such extreme threat ranges that you can quickly find yourself having to be cautious even as the first player. If you understand the dynamics of the matchup though you can typically "read" your opponent's thoughts and ideas just as though he broadcasts them based on deployment and his optimal army patterns alone.

Father Lucant caught in a horrible spot because I exploited his failed aggressive deployment. I knew this matchup well enough to know that I could stall a push towards my own flag quite easily. The situation he faces above was thus a result of me adapting to capitalize on the Convergence deployment mistakes. 

V: Examples

Haley2 vs Father Lucant. In this game I basically broadcast my strategy as follows: The Stormwall will move on the side of the central obstruction which allows it to put the most pressure on the Convergence forces. I have Thorn and the Ironclad set up to run to where they are needed as well and the Lances will likely keep Haley's flank clear. I don't care about broadcasting this because the Convergence list doesn't have the speed or the threat range to punish me before I've had a chance to adapt, seeing as I move first. Against other casters I might need to position Haley or the Lances in a less commital position to allow myself to respond to my opponent's deployment in a better way.

As the game evolves I have a typical pattern at the end of my second turn: The Ironclad has been sent in and wrecked a heavy, the Stormwall is protecting Haley and zoning a pretty big portion of the map and the Lances are ready to counter-attack whatever comes up to contest. Note that the support pieces are all in good positions here as well. By capitalizing on my opponent's deployment mistakes and sticking to my optimal patterns I claimed more or less the entire table which ensured a scenario victory.

Sloan vs MacBain. In this game I am not moving first and I anticipate that my opponent will respect my firepower with the Galleon and thus not move within threat range of Sloan or Defenders in the first turn. Notice how I deploy these elements to slow him down as much as possible. One of my fears in this game is letting the Galleon get a ton of shots on Sloan so keeping him far back is the best bet. The deployment is also symmetrical so that I can funnel him into a killzone eventually.

As the game progresses I shuffle my models around a lot to respond to the various pushes which the Mercenary forces attempt here. Sloan's extreme threat ranges however allow me to keep the Lances safe from shooting while MacBain is unable to score and I win the battle of attrition eventually.

Caine2 vs Exulon Thexus. When I play a Stormwall with Caine2 one of the most important things to do is to cover the angles so that an opponent cannot set up a wombo-combo to one-round the Stormwall. That is typically disastrous. In this game then I deployed so that I could advance the Stormwall max in Turn 1 and threaten an opponent wanting to deny said Stormwall a contest angle in my second turn.

With the entire army converging towards a fairly aggressive point, the Cephalyx are left with a bit of a dilemma: Go all out and tank whatever I throw in his face or slow down and let Caine establish control of large parts of the table? My opponent chose the former and the alpha I got crippled him.

Haley2 vs Wurmwood. This last example shows a different situation and one which many people struggle with in my experience (myself included). When you have to respect your opponent's extreme threat ranges you play a very defensive game. At the same time you can't completely give up on the board space because you'll eventually be crushed on scenario. Wurmwood's Curse of Shadows + Stranglehold combination is very powerful against colossals. As such I moved the Stormwall up more to the flank than ahead, making sure Cassius would not be able to run and channel Curse of Shadows.

The Ironclad is positioned directly ahead of the Stormwall. The positon of the Lances allow me to possibly move up and take control of the left flank of this table unless my opponent finds another opening. Wurmwood struggles with traffic jam issues and time due to having so many models which need precise patterns to function optimally so here I am basically trying to just buy time and pressure Circle to make a hasty move. That works out well for me as he commits with his feat and I win on assassination.

VI: Conclusion

We've looked at deployment and how it often broadcasts a strategy. The patterns an army wants are often independent of what you are facing. Board space development is crucial to establish a winning position. Can you claim a part of the table or are you constantly pushed back? There is no silver bullet for any of these concepts but they are closely related and can all be analyzed on a case-by-case basis. The important thing to remember is to have a conscious relationship to these conceps so that you can analyze what you could have done better and where you went wrong. Once you get better at it you will be able to predict what your opponent will do and already have your pieces in place to capitalize on his mistakes and opportunities presented.

It is very hard, if not impossible, to fight an opponent which seems to know your every move in advance. In the same way a chess opening advantage of a pawn can lead to a win, it's only a matter of time before the advantage builds up to to 5CP or an assassination.


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