Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Thinking Cap: The Underdogs Part 1

I've always been supportive of the "underdog", regardless of game or genre.  This affiliation of mine with the under appreciated could be seen as a fault occasionally, but I see it as an advantage.  Regardless of what game you play (miniatures or otherwise) the player base is always capable of discovering the most 'optimal' tools at their disposal, it's part of being human and wanting to win.  I believe, however, that trying to make units or models which are generally considered 'sub-optimal' is a great exercise for a number of reasons which I wish to share with you all.  Today I'll discuss the benefits of playing with these underdogs and what you should be looking for in order to make them work.  Tomorrow, in Part 2, I'll discuss some of the most under-appreciated underdog models/units and reasons why you should reconsider trying them out and making them work for you.

I am well aware that I approach this topic with a bias that just happens to be the same bias, just the (opposite effect) as those who prefer the "optimal" choices.  I will not suppose that my method is any better than the others, and I do not suppose that I am somehow a better player/person, but rather I wish to defend the reasons for my bias of avoiding the preferred opinion.  I am aware that my bias towards the underdog has been reinforced by my upbringing (my father, in particular) but I still believe it is a valid exercise even if you are convinced that a particular unit is 'terrible'.  What kind of advantage is there in playing with the underdogs?

Playing with a new unit encourages you to try a different playstyle in order to get the particular model/unit to work.  I am a firm believer that every choice in Warmachine/Hordes is usable, since the game is built on the philosophy of synergy (that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts).  Even if you decided to swap a close-combat unit for another close-combat unit, you're forcing yourself to try a slightly different playstyle in order to make the unit most effective.

This change in playstyle, however slight or extreme, forces you to wrap your mind around different approaches to victory and can make you aware of avenues to victory that you might not have realized when you were too focused on how awesome the other unit was at killing stuff.  For example, you might compare Cygnar Trenchers to Long Gunners and think that they are vastly inferior for the same points.  If you try playing with Trenchers instead, however, you will need to play with the unit in a different way and you could learn a valuable lesson about placing LOS blocking terrain or how to play an attrition game against another faction.

There's also something that a lot of people who switch to playing Warmachine/Hordes (or even veterans) forget - you can win without killing everything.  This is especially true for scenarios, but even in a regular fun game, you can always win if you kill the enemy warcaster (there are exceptions, of course).  I don't care if you have 4 heavy warjacks that are totally undamaged if I can get to your warcaster/warlock and finish them off in one turn.  Most often, choosing a model/unit with less killing potential has other advantages that are quite significant.  It's these special abilities, however situational, that can sometimes make the difference between a win and a loss.

Most players will look at the statline of a Woldwarden or Woldguardian and compare them point-for-point with other choices like Warpwolves and think that they are far inferior because a Feral Warpwolf can scrap a heavy warjack/warbeast in one turn but neither of the constructs can do that - or so you think.  Aside from beefing up with buffs and debuffs, constructs are also immune to anything that affects living models - and there are a significant number of effects that do that.  You should always consider all of the special abilities of the 'underdog' and recognize that they can offer you some advantages that a more killy unit does not have, or consequently means that they could get shut-down more easily (access to pathfinder is a simple example of this).

In the end, special abilities can have only situational effects, but this is a game of situations and every faction has certain abilities they use to their advantage.  Being able to ignore certain abilities can be exactly what you need to give you the edge over a particular faction.  The more you play the game the more that you realize that there is always a solution to every problem, it's just up to you to judge how important those problems are.  Sometimes players get into a rut, thinking that they have to kill every model on the table when there are plenty of ways to achieve your goals without killing certain models (knock-down, throwing, slamming, avoiding free-strikes, etc.) and that's what the game is all about!

Tomorrow I'll give some specific examples of underdogs to reconsider for each faction.
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