The Denied Flank, Echelon and other confusing words!
Okay I lied, not doing scenario and terrain this time out. I wanted to instead cover a thought process that was the inspiration for this series. The idea is quite common in most wargames but is normally not a good idea in warmachine due to the nature of scenarios:
I played a fair bit of Bradigus after the nerf and I consistently won games when opponents advanced in a line and engaged my frontage en masse making it relatively mechanical for me to build synergy and then apply guardians or bradigus for the crippling/win.
What I really worried about was players who staggered their approach or focused on a flank and denied me the opportunity to use the bulk of my watchers to build synergy.
This was like a light went on in my head; I didn’t need to fill both zones evenly or engage my opponents line in an even fashion. In fact most of the time, unless I’m playing a list that is designed to jam, uneven or echelon ed application of your force works much better.
This got me thinking about where I wanted to make a play for scenario and where I could concentrate force and deny a striking area for a good portion of my opponents force. Of course scenario is always a consideration but sometimes giving up a CP or 2 is preferable to losing your capacity to mount a counter attack or offer up easy synergy.
DENIED FLANK not FLANKING!
Flanking is not really a tactic that works out in warmachine, the zones are extremely central and the general pace of the game means flanking forces are not present at the crucial points in the battle.
Of course there are exceptions, murder ponies (those gun mages on horses) can zip around the flanks and then shoot out support staff or kriel stones to great effect, the totem hunter can cause chaos in the back field and even wolf riders can come in hard from a flank and counter attack heavies with decent effect. These are all fantastic asymmetrical solution to a problematic match up but what I want to discuss is the denied flank.
Here’s a great definition from:
“Using various deployment techniques to gain an advantage in force ratio against the enemy on one flank whilst denying the opportunity of combat on the other flank.”
The emphasis here is on deployment, your slow elements need to be deployed in position from the get go while faster elements can redeploy during turn 1 and 2 if it’s important to disguise your intent.
The important difference from a warmachine perspective is that the forces you deploy on the refused flank will normally “refuse” to engage the enemy on that side in preference of just contesting scoring while the main effort goes in on the other side.
It is important that your denied flank force pose some danger to the opposing force so that they can’t simple turn in and put their strength against your main effort and this involves knowledge of threat ranges and your opponents capabilities.
This is a relatively simple concept that everyone gets but it gets very complicated when you apply it to warmachine as spells, abilities, feats and mini feats can make paper units hit like rocks, scalpel out like scissors all the while taking punches like rocks.
The basic notion is that if you are facing a rock unit (one that is slow and tough like bradigus or Meat mountain) you use paper to beat them (a unit or models that are high speed and defence). Paper units can wrap up rocks fast and bog them down so that your scissors and rocks can smash the other components of your opponents army.
Lets put this into some real life warmachine examples:
Bradigus Wold War Tier:
This army likes to roll up the table behind a wall of forests before Bradigus pops his feat letting all his rocks move like paper while synergy gives them all the accuracy of scissors with the hitting power of the heaviest rocks.
It can be extremely difficult to find the right solutions to this problem. First off realize that Bradigus’ army is very slow and predictable as soon as the feat is expended and generally takes a turn or two to reset the key pieces into the shifting stones. The trick is to not be crippled by the feat and maintain enough force to cripple or assassinate in retaliation.
Also the system relies heavily on the shifting stones to not also facilitate threat and speed but also to manage the fury. The more you force your opponent to charge with the watchers the more spread out and over heated the system becomes.
Denied Flank can force the bradigus player to feat prematurely to get the full scale engagement he craves and you need to be ready to capitalize on that. If the bradigus player is patient and holds his feat you can try to remove a watcher or two off the extreme ends of his line and the loss of 2 points of synergy is a bigger deal than you think.
Zaal Tier, Pirate Queen Skarre Bane Spam, Madrak of many shades:
As different as these lists appear on the surface, my experience suggests they have a similar play style and pose the same difficult question: “I brought a ton of dudes and I only need a tenth of them to destroy your entire army.”
Denied Flank can be a legit strategy against these types of lists as it can in general, be difficult for these styles of armies to concentrate a large quantity of their models in a small area. This isn’t ussually a problem as a spell or feat can make a handfull of grunts hit like the heaviest rock scissors. Still if they have to charge you or jam you outside of the feat then it’s better than when they pac man through your entire force.
You will have to give ground and focus your attacks on one unit at a time in the case of vengeance units or clip off bits on the edges of their defensive buffs. It frequently feels wrong not to make attacks with models but never kill 2 or 3 models and give them vengeance, always go for the whole thing in one turn.
I played a game with axis tier against skarre 30 bane knights and on her feat turn all I did was kill the 6 knights in one unit outside her feat and jammed as best I could on the rest. It allowed me to lock them down and the following turn my reductors killed 20 bane knights and tartarus.
Playing to the clock is a viable strategy but takes time to develop properly. I’ll probably do a separate article on this topic but I thought it might be worth mentioning that some armies (in particular the Zaal/Madrak/skarre ones) can take a fair bit of time to resolve. At the same time they take a lot of time for you to kill as well and if you don’t take the time to remove your opponents models they will get their opportunity to cripple your force like they want.
In general these forces will work on the following goals in this order:
1. Attrition: Especially looking for a crucial feat turn where a small portion of their force guts yours.
2. Scenario: With Attrition firmly in their hands they will push you out of zones and start scoring.
3. Assassination: They’ll do it if you make it easy but they’d rather not risk dice.
A WORD OF CAUTION
Using Denied Flank can help balance out a bad match up but you need to be careful when dividing your force up for their given tasks. Your attacking force needs to be fast and hard hitting enough to do what you want and the denial force needs to pose some sort of credible threat (or ability to slow/lock them down) to that flank to prevent the enemy from just turning in and swallowing your force.
Sometimes a denial force only needs to stand around and take 2 turns to die to allow the attacking force to accomplish its job (looking at you houseguard halberdiers) and that can be quite effective as well. Everyone loves killing stuff, give your opponent stuff to kill if you can spare them, it lessens their suspicion and makes them think everything is going to plan, that’s when you can:
Lets face it, if this is a bad match up you’re probably fighting a losing battle unless your opponent has made a mistake . Playing an echelon ed defence/attack can stretch the game out and even give you the upper hand if your opponent is in robot mode and plays into it poorly BUT you should always keep an eye on just flat out assassinating their warnoun.
There is always a “last call” on assassinating against decent players and it frequently (although not always) falls right after their Feat turn (more so if it’s an offensively oriented feat). The time to go for it against Defensive feats is generally 2 turns after as a fair number of defensive feats set up offensive action (some, like saern’s, are designed to prevent retaliation after offensive action).
Either way, know that your opponent will be planning to cripple your force and this is the point they are most likely to over stretch themselves and be exposed. If you can anticipate this moment you need to position and protect pieces you will need to make the assassination happen. Feed them everything else that won’t play a role in the assassination, the more they can kill the more likely they are to over-stretch themselves.
If a 50% opportunity presents itself in a bad match up, that’s usually the cue to go for it.