This segment was brought on by recent Retribution discussions on Muse. A lot of points were put forward about what is good and what isn’t. It got me thinking about some of the core aspects of the game. I decided to take a look and highlight some of the good things–and the bad things–about playing Retribution. This ties in with one of the key concepts of Warmachine or Hordes: understanding what your faction can do.
Good: Arcane Assassin, Phantom Hunter (Seeker), and ranged defense.
Retribution has a lot of abilities that cause first time players to say “it does what now!?” Arcane Assassin and Phantom Hunter are two of those abilities. In essence, they allow a model or unit to ignore defensive measures including the armor bonus from overboosting, spell buffs and even line of sight. At first, this doesn’t seem like a big deal. Ignoring line of sight doesn’t mean much when compared to abilities that amplify raw damage output or increases stats. Those are hard numbers that show concrete results. The real effect is more conceptual, but once on the board, you see the greatness of this rule. Is your opponent behind a cloud? Behind a jack or a beast? Behind a giant wall made of reinforced steel ten feet thick? Not a problem for Phantom Hunter. A target has nowhere to hide. If you’re in range, you can shoot them or potentially charge them. Add in Arcane Assassin and their ARM and DEF buffs are useless to the ever-seeking bullet flying at their face.
This sets up some great assassination tactics. You can hit casters hard–at their base ARM–and deal enough damage to kill them after only a few attacks. There are several units that have Arcane Assassin in Retribution. The most notorious is the Mage Hunter Strike Force. It’s an eleven-man unit–with the UA, who is required for Phantom Seeker–with POW 10 crossbows and POW 9 swords. They also have jack hunter, which greatly increases their damage output against Warmachine. Kaelyssa can also give a jack in her battlegroup Phantom Hunter. Putting that on something like a Banshee, which has a gun that slams targets, allows you to knock down models through battle lines, making them easy pickings for the Strike Force. These rules also cause your opponent to be very cautious. Move up too close and they’re bound to get shot down by a hail of bolts coming from that dark patch of woods.
Retribution also has some of the best ranged defense out there. This mainly comes from the Force Barrier ability and Discordia’s Kinetic Field imprint. These create a bubble of either added DEF or ARM and immunity to blast damage. This gives Retribution a leg up in the gun line meta. The fact that Battle Mages and the Artificer have this inherently is impressive as well, making them good choices when facing an opponent with a lot of shooting or AOEs–like everything in Protectorate for instance. It brings their DEF up from average to hard-to-hit-even-while-aiming. Add in warcaster spells like Force Field, Deflection and Quicken, and you’re looking at an army that is a potential hard counter to the other gun lines in the game.
Bad: Thinking Arcane Assassin, Phantom Hunter, and ranged defense are the only things Ret can do.
While the abilities listed above are great, Retribution has a lot of other things they can do too. Our Mage forces (such as Battle Mages) can push and pull targets as need be. You can draw out individual models, or clump models together to maximize AOEs. Even when running the Mage Hunter Strike Force, one should not just try to move them up as far as they can and hope that their opponents stumble into an assassination run. Using Strike Force as a jamming / screening unit or keeping them back for late game cam be just as effective as running them screaming straight toward the enemy caster. Judging the situation you’re in and using your pieces to get the best of that particular situation is key to being good at Warmachine and Hordes.
This leads me to another point. The Mage Hunter Strike Force is not an auto include in every list. They’re extremely powerful, but they are not the end-all-be-all of our forces. They become significantly less effective against Hordes because they can’t handle heavy or even light beasts. Without the additional die of damage POW 10 becomes rather puny. Now, before you cry out in anguish, I am not saying they’re useless against Hordes. They can still attack support staff, but, with their run of the mill RAT, it’s a lot harder for them to hit support staff than warjacks. This makes them less effective on the battlefield: sometimes they wipe out all the Legion Shepherds, sometimes they whiff and are left out in the open for a hungry Ravagore to eat. All of this comes around to the point that I made earlier. Having these abilities at your disposal does not mean they fit in every list.
Focusing too much on one ability can also keep you from taking certain models. The Artificer is an excellent example of this. As stated above, the Artificer can create a three inch bubble that gives everyone added DEF against ranged attacks. However, at SPD 5, he has a hard keeping up with some of Retribution’s faster troops. But that’s not the only thing he can do. The dude is a beast. He has high ARM, an ungodly amount of boxes, and two POW 13 fists. On top of that, he also has two other abilities besides the bubble. Polarity Field allows him to deny charges. Since the Artificer is on medium base, this is an excellent way to block either line of sight or charge lanes to important pieces, such as your caster. He also has a spell that can push or pull models around its target. This has huge potential, especially with AOEs from units like the Stormfall Archers. Finally, when push comes to shove, he is still a great beat stick. All of this shouldn’t be ignored just because he can’t always keep his bubble up.
So how does this tie into Warmachine and Hordes in general? Well, while the tactics are Retribution, the lesson is universal: don’t limit your faction to a few units or rules. Knowing every single aspect of your chosen army is one of the key principles to becoming a better player. One of the things I love about this game is that there are no simple ways to win. Part of this process is understanding everything your army can do and not just picking out a few highlights. You can’t min/max a unit and expect to win a Masters. Each unit has a place in the game no matter how small that place may be. Now that being said, I’m not saying that there aren’t more optimal units or combinations than others. You can make the Mountain King work, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t better options in Trolls. All I’m advocating is figuring out the good and the bad for yourself. You may be surprised by the results.