CIRCLING THE DRAIN: Battle plans and formations

In this article I am going to address the deployment and approach of attack for armies in a general sense. I will attempt to give some specifics on models and units that excel in a certain role or give some example lists but for the most part it will be a general examination of the manner in which people initiate attacks and which methodology is best suited to the circle faction.

There are 3 traditional battle attack plan/formations that a lot of battles follow. Now there are variations on these and a battle rarely follows the clean indications of a diagram, but these are the means by which most commanders organise their forces to attack an enemy.

To understand some of what I discuss in this article it is important you understand the make up of a force so that when I refer to that component you know what it is.

There are 3 components to a battle formation:

1. Screen: The Screen is normally comprised of Advanced Deploy or fast infantry that deploy and move ahead of the main force. The Screens duties include: harassing the enemy, make it difficult for them to claim table space safely and bait the enemy into committing heavily too early. Screening Forces are also used extensively to hold scenario in locations where your forces are weak (as in a refused Flank attack). Units that excel at screening in Circle are; Sentry stones, Death wolves with heart tokens, Blood Trackers, Wolf Lord Morraig, Blood Witch, Reeve Hunter and Lord of the Feast.

2. Main battle force: A German term “schwerpunkt” is used when discussing the focal point of attack, it refers to the point where you, or your opponent, focuses their strength, frequently the majority of your battlegroup, to punch through the enemy lines and affect a scenario or assassination victory. Where that strength is focused on the table, during deployment and onwards, says a lot about player confidence, ability and their expectation of the nature of the engagement. I will discuss each battle plan and where the schwerpunkt is normally located.

3. Flank protection/exploitation: This element is normally comprised of fast cavalry, ambushers or fast solos who can move quickly up the table, get behind the enemy and attack support or the flank of the enemy. They can also be used to contest back field scenario elements or be utilized as a second wave behind Screening units. This is a very versatile element and it is highly advisable for Circle players to invest in it.

There are three attack plans you can employ on the battlefield, they are:

1. Frontal Attack (schwerpunkt centre):

Frontal attacks are more common than you might think and most warmachine players use this approach when deploying and advancing on the enemy. Almost always the frontal attack develops into another form of attack as weaknesses in the enemies defenses are exploited and favourable terrain is utilized. Still the frontal attack is characterized by an almost even distribution of force along the frontage of the battlefield with some weight usually given to the center or just off center. Placing the schwerpunkt in the centre of the battlefield tells me that an opponent is extremely confident of their army and their ability to deliver it into your force. As a circle player it is generally ill advised to attempt to meet such strength and confidence head on. I find that circle prefers to exploit weakness and confound strength, to use terrain and the opponents confidence against them to break up, isolate and weaken the opponents focus.

A lot of times a screen of advance troops or solos will press forward to push the enemy back off the main body or lure them into engagement where it is desired. Other times raw strength and brute armour is relied upon to push through enemy resistance.

This type of attack plan is best utilized by armies that have a superiority to the enemy in some manner; whether it be, threat range, control feat/abilities, excessive armour or size of force in comparison to the opponents ability to generate enough attacks to deal with those numbers. As a result this is a battle plan best used by players who are confident of the results of a head on engagement.

In general this is not a battle plan I find works well with circle at all. Circle has the speed and terrain mitigation that is best suited to other battle plans and do not have the armour or threat ranges to confidently engage the enemy in a head on fight.

Screening Force: In frontal attacks the screening force can be deployed centrally or off center depending on the nature of attack the opponent has chosen. Be wary of being drawn into an early engagement with your main force just to destroy or disrupt the opponents screen. Luckily Circle is replete with models/units that are capable of gutting enemy screens at minimal cost (like Night witches), or a decent selection of medium ranged guns to eliminate them from a distance.

Flank Protection/Exploitation: these elements are frequently deployed on the flanks to protect the main force or to break through weak areas and affect scenario advantage or destroy weak elements of the opponents army (like support). Alternatively these elements can be deployed behind the main force or behind the Screen to act as a second wave that would destroy enemy screening elements and draw in the enemy Main Force so that your Main Force can destroy it.

Below is an example of a list deployed and developed as a Frontal Attack:

Kromac the Ravenous – WB: +26
–    Kromac the Ravenous (BEAST FORM)
–    Druid Wilder – PC: 4
–    Warpwolf Stalker – PC: 19 (Battlegroup Points Used: 19)
–    Warpwolf Stalker – PC: 19 (Battlegroup Points Used: 7)
–    Pureblood Warpwolf – PC: 17
–    Scarsfell Griffon – PC: 8
–    Scarsfell Griffon – PC: 8
–    Wild Argus – PC: 7
–    Gorax Rager – PC: 7

Blackclad Wayfarer – PC: 4
Blackclad Wayfarer – PC: 4
Ogrun Bokur – PC: 5

Shifting Stones – Leader & 2 Grunts: 3
–    Stone Keeper – PC: 2
Swamp Gobber Bellows Crew – Leader & 1 Grunt: 2
Shifting Stones – Leader & 2 Grunts: 3

Theme: Call of the Wild

Centrally deployed with a balanced front

Very Aggressive approach with little to no screening

2. Flank attack or Refused Flank (schwerpunkt right OR left) :

When you place your schwerpunkt and the bulk of your force on the right or left of the centre of the battle field (say within 14-16 inches of one side of the table), you are attempting a flank attack. The benefits to this are that you can potentially focus a larger portion of strength on a smaller portion of the enemies strength, neutralize it quickly and move through to the centre and beyond. Speed and canny use of terrain coupled with a suitable plan to prevent scenario loss on the “refused” side of the table are extremely important when attempting this battle plan.

Some perceive that a flank attack or refused flank is a sign of weakness and they are right to an extent; it does demonstrate a desire to avoid a head on engagement BUT it does not necessarily indicate and inability to deal with it should the battle develop that way. A flank attack allows you to minimize casualties against a larger/stronger force and is also a better way to manage an opponent that has a much larger model count that can envelope or overrun you lines.

In this attack the schwerpunkt is located strongly to one side of the table or the other, with frequently 80-90% of the army strength on one side of the halfway point. Terrain is the strongest determining factor when deciding which flank to attack. Look for difficult terrain, forests and impassable terrain, as they will creat the choke points and funnelling you need to successfully execute a flank attack. Sometimes it is important that terrain be located on the flank you are going to advance on so that your force may be screened by it and other times it will be more important that terrain create an obstacle to your opponents advance on your refused flank. As mentioned before, speed, aggression and even more speed are extremely important for the flanking force to break through and relieve the scenario pressure on the screening force.

Screening force: in this type of attack it is important to deploy the screening elements in a manner that they can cover the scenario elements that will be left exposed on the flank you are not attacking on. It is important that these elements be independent, hard to remove and capable of fending off token efforts to remove them. Death wolves in devourers host are excellent in this role as are stealth solos like night witches, sentry stones or a dragoon like morraig. The screening force’s job is simple: to prevent the opponent from achieving scenario victory before the breakthrough can happen and the scenario situation stabilized. If possible they should be capable of drawing a disproportionate amount of strength from the enemy centre as well to weaken it for the flank attack.

Flank protection/exploitation: this element, whether it be cavalry, ambushers, fast solos or the like are best utilized on the extreme flank of your main force to help effect a breakthrough and so they can then mop up support pieces and contest back field scenario elements. That is to say that if you are executing a right flank, your flank protection should be located in the extreme right of your deployment, or in the case of ambushers, ambush on the right to help push through or capitalize on scenario elements there. It is always better to reinforce success than to feed failure.

Flank attacks can be a lot more risky than frontal attacks as it is very easy for scenario to get away from you but if you are careful, utilize the terrain and attack fast with maximum aggression, it is possible to overwhelm a stronger opponent like Khador jack spam and the like. This is my favourite form of attack plan and started as an adaptation to what I thought was weakness in the face of superior jacks but it has developed into an exploitation of circles strengths: speed, terrain mitigation and unbridled aggression in one hand coupled with cunning and patience in the other.

Below is a table example of deployment and first turn development of a Refused Flank with a Baldur 1 Devourers host list.

Baldur the Stonecleaver – WB: +31
–    Ghetorix – PC: 21 (Battlegroup Points Used: 21)
–    Feral Warpwolf – PC: 18 (Battlegroup Points Used: 10)
–    Shadowhorn Satyr – PC: 12

Tharn Ravager Shaman – PC: 0
Bloodweaver Night Witch – PC: 4

Death Wolves – Skoll, Tala & Caleb: 9
Shifting Stones – Leader & 2 Grunts: 3
Shifting Stones – Leader & 2 Grunts: 3
Tharn Bloodtrackers – Leader & 9 Grunts: 16
–    Nuala the Huntress – PC: 4
Tharn Ravagers – Leader & 5 Grunts: 16
–    Tharn Ravager Chieftain – PC: 0

THEME: The Devourer’s Host

Left Flank attack with Death wolves providing Scenario Screen on the Refused Flank


Strong utilization of terrain with added Rapid Growth

3. Envelopment (schwerpunkt  left AND right): 

Envelopment can have some variations but most frequently it is a double flank attack. As a result it is probably one of the most risky attack plans but the one that can produce the most surprising results. This type of attack is best utilized by an army that is fast on all levels and has a larger component of flank protection/mitigation and screen than line elements. The goal of this attack is to pull the enemy apart in two direction, surround them and destroy them in detail.

Schwerpunkt: the main force is divided in this attack into two prongs that attack the extreme flanks of the battle field. Your warlocks battlegroup will make up one prong and as a result will need to be smaller than normal to allow some strength to be allocated to the other flank. Each flank should be capable of overwhelming isolated enemy units as well as withdrawing effectively in the face of superior strength. One flank will breakthrough, while the other pulls strength away from the side that develops successfully.

Flank protection/exploitation: a force that is going to try an envelopment attack needs to have a sizeable force in this section: cavalry, ambushing units and fast solos are essential for harassing and eventually breaking through the enemy lines. These elements are always deployed on the flanks to bolster the double envelopment.

Screen: the screen is used to pin or rather occupy the enemy in the center and needs to be highly mobile and capable of harassing the enemy with little or no retaliation in return. Ranged Units with AD and fast reposition units with a ranged component excel in this role.

Envelopment requires a lot of planning and a very specialized type of army build to pull off successfully as the risk of one of your prongs being overwhelmed by the enemy is a constant concern. Circle has the type of units and themes to attempt this battle plan and it is almost always better to execute this plan against a melee focused opponent. It is relatively easy for a ranged heavy opponent to isolate and neutralize one of the prongs attack before shifting attention to the other.

Below is an example of a list deployed and developed for Envelopment

Morvahna the Dawnshadow – WB: +27
–    Warpwolf Stalker – PC: 19 (Battlegroup Points Used: 19)
–    Gorax Rager – PC: 7 (Battlegroup Points Used: 7)

Tharn Ravager Shaman – PC: 0
Tharn Ravager White Mane – PC: 0
Tharn Ravager White Mane – PC: 0

Death Wolves – Skoll, Tala & Caleb: 9
Tharn Wolf Riders – Leader & 4 Grunts: 18
Tharn Wolf Riders – Leader & 4 Grunts: 18
Tharn Bloodweavers – Leader & 5 Grunts: 8
Tharn Bloodtrackers – Leader & 9 Grunts: 16
Shifting Stones – Leader & 2 Grunts: 3
–    Stone Keeper – PC: 2

THEME: The Devourer’s Host

In this instance Morvhana and her battle group have been deployed in with the screen so she can utilize the central cover and so she can rapidly deploy to either Prong as needed.


The right prong is substantially more weighted in this example but it is still an Envelopment


4. The super secret (not terribly effective) 4th battle plan: circle gun line:

Although gun lines follow the same 3 battle plans as any other army, I thought it would do some good to address circles ability to perform this role and the manner in which gun lines tend to be deployed.

For non circle faction gun lines the most common approach is frontal assault with the difference that closing with the enemy is not the goal. Rather,  the elimination of key enemy assets or the shaving off of the front line is the desired effect and as such the enemy gunline will stand off at a safe range outside of enemy melee retaliation. Still an even distribution of the force is desirable for a gunline as it is important that no section of the line get overwhelmed and reduce the overall effectiveness. When approaching gun lines I find flank attack still the best approach coupled with speed, defensive terrain and spells/feats to allow you to close the gap and engage the guns.

A circle gun line differs from the majority of gun lines in that it is relatively short ranged. With our guns topping out at 10-12” it is difficult to play the same game that other gunlines do with ranged in excess of 14”.

As a result circle gun lines need to utilize more of a flank attack to reduce the amount of models that can approach it and to destroy the enemy force in detail. It also needs to utilize reposition or teleportation to minimize the risk of retaliation. Another result of this relative short range is that circle gun lines need a larger melee component or screen to allow the guns to keep firing and deal with threats that cannot be neutralized by guns alone.

Below is an example of a circle gun line, its deployment and development as a Refused Flank.

Baldur the Stonesoul – WB: +30
–    Megalith – PC: 20 (Battlegroup Points Used: 20)
–    Woldwarden – PC: 16 (Battlegroup Points Used: 10)
–    Woldwyrd – PC: 9
–    Woldwyrd – PC: 9

Celestial Fulcrum – PC: 19
Celestial Fulcrum – PC: 19

Blackclad Stoneshaper – PC: 3
Blackclad Stoneshaper – PC: 3
Blackclad Stoneshaper – PC: 3

Sentry Stone & Mannikins – Leader & 3 Grunts: 5
Sentry Stone & Mannikins – Leader & 3 Grunts: 5
Shifting Stones – Leader & 2 Grunts: 3

THEME: The Bones of Orboros

Heavy Left Flank with Screening units thrown wide to skirmish in the far zone


The Fulcrums can dominate the Left Zone whilst the battle group supports and locks down the central zone with the corner this side of the forest


There are a myriad of ways to play Circle, the most important factor to is to always have a plan. You have been introduced to some basic tactical and strategic plans in this article, it is now up to you to determine your Battle Plan and deploy you army accordingly. The information you require to do so wisely is:

  1.  know your force: Know its capabilities and its weaknesses, try to minimize those weaknesses by focusing your strength in locations where the enemy is weak and delay and disrupt in areas he is strong.
  2. know and anticipate your enemy: It is not enough to know the stats and abilities of your opponents models. You must be able to anticipate and predict the manner in which he will deploy and proceed with a plan to attack your vulnerabilities.
  3. utilize the terrain: Terrain at this point in the game is a very strong determining factor in the flow and ebb of the game. ALWAYS use the terrain to your benefit and anticipate how your opponent will attempt to do the same. Circle is better equipped than most factions to deal with terrain and to utilize it to their benefit, don’t waste that advantage! If you go second carefully consider how you can use the terrain to mitigate some of the advantages your opponent will have going first.
  4. be mindful of scenario: Your plan must ALWAYS take scenario into consideration. There are some extremely live scenarios and if you are not careful you can lose the game before you are even given a chance to play. Anticipate what your opponent may do to try and steal scenario from you and ALWAYS have tools in your list that will delay or stop scenario loss, ambushers, incorporeal or stealth solos, all excel at this.

That is all for now, I hope this article was as helpful for you as the process of writing it was for me. Good luck and may the wurm feast on the corpses of your enemies.

Oh, and a few creeps on reddit made a snarky comment about the title of this series, so I thought I should explain why it’s called; “Circling the Drain”. When I started this series there was a general malaise in the Circle community, and the sense was that Circle as a faction had gone down the toilet, or the drain. I thought Circling the Drain was an apt title for the series as I made an attempt at curing myself and the community of that sense of despair, after all, the goal is not to avoid the drain but rather to pass through it. Sure it’s not super witty but there is a reason for it, so suck a dick Reddit.

Oh yah remember!

By |2017-09-27T08:36:06-04:00September 26th, 2017|Categories: Circle, General Discussion|Tags: , , |1 Comment

One Comment

  1. Greg Howley September 27, 2017 at 12:29 pm - Reply

    Really good article. Thanks!

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