[Confessions of an English Zombie Fancier] Doing Demo Games All Wrong

I come with glad tidings and good news, my dears: I don’t hate Warmachine this week.

The decision to drop out of the Journeyman league (run the same caster and list, week in week out, against all comers – what was I thinking?) and return to the CWG has been a good one, since this week saw a demo game which taught Corehammer’s Stuart the meanest machinery of the game and the awesome potential of the Iron Lich. By the end of the game Stuart had racked up soul tokens on the Lich, salvaged a gun with Cankerworm, and… in fact… done better with him than I generally do (though I was pleased to see him adopt my teleport-into-melee-for-DEF-19 trick).
Photos of the actual game? Of course not. Here’s my painted Iron Lich and associates though.
What I’d like to talk about this week is how I approach Warmahordes demos. I do so in a way that would have an actual Press Ganger weeping into his standard issue Privateer Press beard, but which – I think – is calculated to introduce the game more honestly and effectively than the usual “get yer battlebox out” experience.
For one thing, I don’t use the battleboxes.
Warmahordes is a competitive game, as are all games with a victory condition which only one participant can achieve. Fairness is the prerequisite of competition. The battleboxes are not fair. Some of them have more or fewer points’ worth of stuff in them, some of them have ‘casters who don’t fare well with multiple ‘jacks, some of them (coughTrollbloodscough) effectively have no feat turn outside of extremely niche circumstances. One of them has fucking Deneghra in it and Deneghra is inherently Not Fun To Play Against even when she doesn’t have four more points of stuff than you.
“Hi, I’m Deneghra. I’m an asshole. Please ignore the terrible paint job on Saxon, our owner can’t do living skin.”
Warmahordes is also, despite the coolness of the battlegroup mechanic, about more than just the battlegroup. I don’t want new players to come in, build big battlegroups, and then be all downhearted when the game as played beyond the battlebox level isn’t what they experienced the first time out. I like new players to have a unit and a solo to play around with too, getting a feeling for how infantry work in harmony with the big fellas.
For a similar reason, I like to use scenarios in my demo games, rather than straight assassination runs. The reality of Warmahordes is that there are two ways to win – kill the ‘caster or take the ground – and using a simple scenario, even one of the ‘shitty’ ones from the rulebook (you know, like Killing Field, or Mosh Pit, or No Man’s Land… the ones which… tend to reappear in Steamroller… often… with a slight deployment tweak to take the edge off the first turn advantage) helps to demonstrate that and show how controlling the table through placement is as important as having the best NUMBERS.
NUMBERS  help, though. Like seventeen. Seventeen is a good number. By lucky hap, there are seventeen of us!

So, I roll up for… a small game of Warmachine, with proper, points-balanced lists, with a variety of stuff in them; I’d almost take a Highlander approach (one ‘caster, one ‘jack, one unit, one solo, one attachment) but I’m aware that sort of fucks the Hordes factions a bit (“oh, you lost your warbeast, too bad, so sad”) so they’re straight-up 15 point lists. I go for a simple, effective melee unit – Bane Thralls or Houseguard Halberdiers – and a simple solo that does something to help the army – Saxon Orrick (for Pathfinder), Sylys and an Arcanist (for efficiency). No Tartaruses or the like here.

The casters I choose are generally straightforward. As I’ve said, I love Asphyxious for demo games – he’s destructive, he’s robust, and he doesn’t do much fiddly control shit. For the Retribution… I went with Garryth, this time out, because while he does say “no” for a turn that can be quite helpful for new players to phase in gradually. If they’re using him, they get to stop me doing stuff for a turn while they get to grips with the game; if I’m using him, I can say “well, your infantry can still attack my dudes, and those dudes still have guns, so let’s get used to those and muck around with spells next turn.” This might also be down to my complete inability to play Kaelyssa worth a damn and my continued lack of a Vyros model – I think Vyros is great for demo games for much the same reason that Asphyxious is. For my Mercenaries I use Magnus the Warlord because he’s the only Merc caster I own quite tough, shows off his spell list, and has a feat which, again, buys us an extra turn to learn stuff or breathe.
The battlegroups are generally one or two fighty ‘jacks – with the Cryx it’s some combination of Stalkers and the Cankerworm (I’m slightly limited by what I have the cards for: my second-hand army didn’t come with them and I’ve already paid for the deck on War Room), with the Retribution it’s the Banshee (no farting around with force fields) and with the Mercs it’s a Nomad and a Mule (giving Magnus three models that benefit from Mobility feels nice). You’ll no doubt have noticed the lack of arc nodes – Stuart did, having glanced over the demo rules a couple of times before last night.
“I’m prettier than the Defiler anyway.”
Arc nodes are indeed a huge part of the game but a) they provide a skew toward the Warmachine factions, since Hordes has to work for its channellers outside the Circle Orboros and b) they encourage casters to sit around at the back slinging spells and not mix it up using all their abilities for great justice. That’s not only an issue for the new players, but for me; I tend to get very cagey when I have two or three arc nodes on the board, and start to play Boringmachine. Boringmachine is not good for demos. The lack of arc nodes forces me to get my caster into the fray and, well, play like I’ve got a pair. It worked when I was learning to play epic Magnus (no Renegades means he’s more than just two Renegade shots and an overpowered character unit or two) and epic Skarre (did you know how much ass she kicks in melee?) and it worked here – our game ended with Asphyxious charging Garryth and using the extra focus from the previous turn’s soul-collecting and rolling exactly what he needed to kill him, which is the perfect end to a demo game really.
It helps, of course, that I play like an absolute moron, using my feat a turn earlier than is tactically advisable and making poor attack allocation choices (trying to take out two high-DEF ‘jacks instead of focusing down on one, and leaving myself out of control range to boot) and getting overambitious on my last-ditch turn instead of allowing the Banshee to take one for the team (just walking away from Asphyxious, eating three free strikes and bringing his DEF down to manageable levels again)… but then, I do that in regular games too. At least here it’s justified. Right?

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