Saturday, November 12, 2011

Learning Center: Focus in Warmachine

In our second installment of learning how to play Warmachine/Hordes, we will discuss the main tool of your warcaster in games of Warmachine: Focus.  While Hordes has rules which are playable against Warmachine, today we will be focusing (pun intended) on some of the rules that apply specifically to Warmachine.  Last time we discussed the core mechanics, specifically how we use dice to represent the results of our desired actions, specifically looking at attacking with melee or ranged weapons.  Let us look again at the cards of the two warcasters we were comparing: Coleman Stryker and High Exemplar Kreoss.

Stryker's Card
When we were discussing these cards we did not discuss one of that stats on the card, and that is the Focus stat, found underneath the circular portrait.  Focus represents how much magical concentration and ability your particular warcaster possesses.  In the Iron Kingdoms, warcasters can channel their magical abilities through massive steam-powered robots called warjacks.  This is what makes warmachine so fun and unique among wargames!  We will eventually discuss warjacks in another article, but for now all that you need to know is that your warcaster can use some of their magical focus to push a warjack to greater levels of accuracy and damage

Kreoss' Card
So what does focus actually do on the table?  The first way is what's called your control area.  A warcaster has an awareness of what is happening on the field - represented by the Focus stat - and if we double the Focus stat, that represents the radius measured from the edge of your warcaster's base, or control area.  If we look at our warcaster examples from before, you'll see that Stryker has a 12" control area (Focus 6 x 2) and Kreoss has a 14" control area (Focus 7 x 2).  At any point in the game, you can always measure out to your control area from your warcaster model.  This allows you to see how far away your own or enemy models are.  This can be useful for predicting how far you can charge, shoot, etc.  It gives you some measure of assurance that your plans can be achieved.  Naturally, models with high Focus values will be able to "see" more of the battlefield and can predict more accurately if models will be in range of charges, etc.  This is really helpful, but there's more that focus does!

At the start of your Control Phase (before you start activating models) your warcaster removes any focus they might have and replaces it with a number of focus points equal to their Focus stat on their card.  We typically represent focus using little tokens or sometimes glass stones/beads that you can get at craft stores.  These tokens can be spent by your warcaster in a number of ways.

Stryker's Spell List
The first thing that a warcaster uses their Focus for is their magical abilities.  Each warcaster also comes with a spell card.  Spells come with their own line of stats: COST, RNG, AOE, POW, and whether it's an UPkeep spell or OFFensive.  The COST of a spell is how many focus points you must remove in order to cast that particular spell.  Arcane Blast for Stryker costs 3 focus points in order to cast.  Just like ranged weapons, the RNG of the spell is how far away the target must be in order to hit, the AOE indicates whether there is an area of effect, representing the diameter of the effect in inches, and the POW is used to determine whether the spell causes any damage.  What's different is that some spells can be cast on friendly models without needing to see if you hit if it says NO under OFF.  Otherwise, you need to roll to hit like any other attack, except you use your Focus stat instead of your MAT or RAT.  This means that Stryker is less accurate with his spells at Focus 6 than Kreoss is at Focus 7.  Lastly, UPkeep spells can remain on their target over several turns.  A caster only needs to pay one focus point during the start of their turn to make sure that the spell stays in play, instead of casting it each turn.  This can save a caster a lot of focus for a spell like Arcane Shield which costs 2 focus to cast every turn!

Kreoss' Spell List
One of the other major uses is by allocating focus points (tokens) to a warjack in your warcaster's control area during the Control Phase.  If your warjack is really far away from your warcaster, it's less likely to be in control and so it's often wise to make sure that your warjacks are in control at the start of your turn.  We'll talk more about warjacks in the future, but warjacks and warcasters can both spend focus points to:
- Boost an attack roll
- Boost a damage roll
- Make another attack (if it's a ranged attack then you cannot exceed the weapon's ROF)

Pretty neat!  So in our example from the last article, Stryker had some terrible luck, only did 2 points of damage to Kreoss.  Since he did not do enough damage to kill Kreoss, he decided to spend one of his focus points to make a second attack.  He rolled 2d6 to hit with a total result of 7 - a close call, but still a hit!  This time he wanted to make sure he did more damage, and so he spent another focus point to boost his damage roll, this time rolling 3d6 for damage (he cannot boost the roll more than once, though).  He rolled a 5, 4, and a 6 - a lucky roll!  Accounting for Kreoss' ARM of 15, this meant that Stryker did a total of 13 damage this time!  A palpable hit indeed!

Or you can spend focus to look METAL
The last two ways keep your warcaster alive longer.  First, is that focus can overboost a warcaster's power field.  Each warcaster is surrounded by a magical shield which protects them from damage.  When a warcaster has unspent focus points, for each unspent focus point that is on a warcaster, their ARM is increased by 1.  This means that in the previous example, Kreoss could have taken less damage if he had not spent/allocated all of his focus points.  If he had saved 2 focus points, his ARM would have been 17 instead.  This allows you the opportunity to protect your caster if you feel like you might get into a dangerous situation.  Secondly, if you're in a particularly dire situation, a warcaster can spend focus to heal by 1 damage box per focus point spent during their activation.  This is not necessarily the most efficient way to spend focus, but if you're in a relatively safe position but are taking damage from, say, a continuous effect like fire, those extra damage boxes might put your mind at ease.

Focus is one of the most fun mechanics in Warmachine and it forces you to make tough choices like: do I make sure I kill this one model by buying extra attacks?  Or should I save the focus to keep myself from taking too much damage?  Choices are what make the game fun and you feel like you are in control, instead of just feeling like your fate is tied to the roll of the dice.

Next time we will compare to the Fury system used in Hordes, as there are some similarities but a lot of differences.
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