I recently took a trip to Cancon to play a couple of tournaments for Warmachine and had a pretty good run with the new tharn theme force and Una28.
This isn’t an article about that.
While we were at Cancon, the kickstarter for a new game launched: Judgement.
I’ve been involved in the play test group for this game and I really like it, it’s got a great depth and it’s built beautifully for competitive play.1
I feel like it’s pretty hard for a game to convey those strengths during a kickstarter, so I thought I might try something.
What I’ve written here is basically a competitive gameplay article for Judgement, as an example of the sorts of content I’d expect to see crop up as this game really takes off4. There’s a huge amount of tactical depth to each character and a bunch of complicating factors based on maps and warband composition, but I thought I’d have a go at a tactica for one specific character as an example.
BEFORE YOU READ THIS, IF YOU’VE NEVER HEARD OF JUDGEMENT BEFORE, THEN I SUGGEST YOU HAVE A LOOK AT THE FOLLOWING TO GET A BROAD IDEA OF THE GAME BEFOREHAND!
Turns out I cant make links work. I have no idea why, I’ve just spent a very frustrating fifteen minutes trying and my wife is angry…so yeah.
This article is written to be an example of a more advanced tactics piece, it will probably make little sense if you’ve never read the rules.
You can check out the game rules at kickstarter (Google kickstarter judgement)
Voracious gamer has a three article set up on learning judgement:
Cassio is the character I decided to write about this time around2, not for any particularly good reason, though he was one of the meta-influencing characters in our playtest group, going from being never selected, to suddenly appearing in every warband, then back to a more normal distribution once we all worked out options for dealing with him.
This article requires some knowledge of the game rules, but I’m not sure how much you really need to get the general gist and some of the value. I just wanted to give people a chance to see the game written about in a non-kickstarter fashion.
The cards look pretty dense when viewed like this, they print nicely into a pretty standard card-size, fits in a protector as normal and you can write on them as most of us are used to with cards in Warmachine.
Cassio has an above normal (for a human) Agility score, paired with an average melee attack and no alternate attacks (no magic or ranged weapon). He dishes out a slightly below par amount of damage for an aggressor, 2/3/4 is ok, but certainly not in the same range as Zhonjya or Rakkir.
Cassio is identified as an aggressor, but in reality he functions as somewhere between aggressor and defender. This is because of his unusually high Agility score. Typically dwarves and minotaurs are agility 3, humans are 4 and elves are 5. Cassio is a martial artist with great personal balance which is reflected in his higher Agility and his special rule concerning knockdown.
Cassio also brings great utility since his starting fate ability “Dragon Kick” provides a form of on-demand knockdown which is very valuable in most warbands. The kick provides value for choosing Cassio even if you gain nothing further. Fortunately he also provides a couple of useful combat manoeuvers that allow him to stun or knock down opponents.
Most champions are fairly strongly defined in a single direction. Thrommel is a defender and it’s difficult to build him as an aggressor, regardless of item build or the others you combine him with. Plenty of champions can be built in at least two different directions, but very few can realistically be used in three. Cassio functions as a tank, a damage dealer or a utility/support character and can do all three well enough to fill that role genuinely if you wish.
Most warbands want a tank. In fact it’s likely you’ll bring two or more in your pool of seven for warband selection. Cassio fits very well as your second tank option (or even a third that could instead be another role once selected) and really only needs one item to play that role. Simply level him off the monster turn one and give him the boots of agility. At that point he’s a problem your opponent needs to answer. If you can get him in the way of opposing characters with melee ability of six or seven, he’s basically immune to their attacks unless they are charging. He blocks charge lanes very effectively and his parting blows hurt enough against anything but the highest resilience targets.
For most high agility models the direct counter is knockdown since a knocked down model suffers -3 agility and is forced to spend one of its actions to standup. Cassio’s personal rules reduce the penalty to -2 and allow him to stand up for free. This allows him to be one of the only genuine agility tanks in the game.12 Equipped with the boots of agility he can stand toe-to-toe with almost any enemy and be largely immune to critical strikes which greatly reduces the opponent’s damage potential, with an end result pretty similar to resilience tanking but with the bonus of reduced combat abilities from the opponent (it’s much harder to get the necessary symbols and damage when you’re only rolling two dice). While knocked down he’s still Agility four with the boots, meaning that melee attackers still struggle to deal serious damage and he’s also not a victim to ranged attackers the way most knocked down models can be (As a bonus he isn’t a lightning rod for Eredeth if you’re opponent brings her along)
Once he is level 2 Cassio effectively gains an item for free by gaining leach (1). If you get him to level 3 this will combo with his ability to gain an additional action each turn, making it possible for him to heal for four health during his activation while dishing out pain and disables left right and center.
He makes a good tank because he’s very difficult to reliably bring down and if he’s left alone he can deal out significant inconvenience in addition to damage. The main areas he is lacking are abilities to hold his ground (immunity to push etc) and abilities to lock opponents in place. His free strike hurts, but it’s nowhere near as scary as Thrommel’s and his ability to stun/knockdown opponents certainly does limit their ability to execute their plan…but it’s nowhere near as disruptive as Doenrakkar’s stone grasp.
If you end up with a need for Cassio as one of your primary aggressors then you’re going to want to get him a vorpal blade to bring his melee attack up to a better level. Obviously if the opponent is running resilience heavy then you may instead consider the armour shredder, but generally speaking the extra melee ability is very welcome for Cassio given his relatively low starting melee attack stat. The armour shredder is probably going to end up on one of your other aggressors if you’re facing a tank-heavy lineup.
Unfortunately to get him to his true potential you’re going to also need to get him to level three as soon as you can. The additional activation per turn, though fate-hungry, is a very significant increase in damage output, particularly when you’re looking to close out a kill or closeout the game on the enemy effigy. As a bonus, leach gives him a bit of sustain at level 2, though a dedicated attack on him will probably still bring him down.
If you want to really make him into a nightmare you’ll probably still end up giving him boots in addition to the blade, at which point he’s one of the most difficult aggressors in the game to kill.
Dragon Kick deals d69 damage through resilience and if you can setup to use it from a position where the opposing model can’t go far (stopped by a shrine or another model), then it can make multiple critical hits much more likely and maximize his output.
His speed and reach are both average at best, leaving him with an 8” charge threat that really doesn’t give him a very good shot at a solid initiation. He’s more often a secondary engager, hopefully your tank can bait them in and Cassio plus one of your support can bring them down. His survivability is important in this role, since it’s pretty likely he’ll be standing in the middle of things after they bring down your tank, a situation in which most melee aggressors (Zhonjya for example) are dead meat.
Given that you’ve selected Cassio in your warband, your opponent is already obligated to come up with a high defence solution, which leaves you completely free to pull the bait and switch. Cassio without any items and without any levels is still an annoyingly difficult champion to kill and perhaps his most useful ability of all is available from the word go. Dragon kick is an amazing fixer for a huge range of situations, it displaces the target, automatically knocks them down and if you can line it up will grant you two knockdowns for the price of one!
If he’s not in the center of the action then most opponents won’t be able to spare the necessary resources to bring him down and that leaves him free to play a mini-game at the shrine using dragon kick to remove a contesting opponent at the end of a turn, or to be one of the more annoying disablers in the game. Stun is not the strongest debuff in the game, but reducing the number of actions available to a champion can be game altering. A soul-gazer just out of range to harvest (with the intent to move and then harvest) can be locked out by a well placed stun and many aggressors rely on multiple attacks to land their full damage combinations.
In the utility role Cassio can be near the action without as much fear of “accidental death” which can easily befall characters with Agility 3 or who don’t have his ability to deal with being knocked down.
Unfortunately if he’s in the utility role then it’s unlikely you’re going to give him any items and he’ll probably suffer a horrible death from time to time, but by then he’s hopefully setup at least one kill, maybe even won you a shrine.
Dragon kick lets you cause all sorts of havoc. Used relatively early in a turn it can setup an easy kill (particularly if you can use it directly after they activate the model you then kick) and used late in the turn it can win you a shrine by kicking the sole opponent out of contest range, or cause your opponent a massive headache by kicking a champion into monster range just as the turn ends, leaving them knocked down and savaged by the monster twice….enough to kill a lot of champions outright. If it doesn’t then it probably gives you an option for a cheap kill and the opponent with the unpalatable option of monster-suicide to avoid giving you the soul and level.
Choosing and playing Cassio:
The flexibility of this champion comes from how he is used and as such you can include him in a 7 champion pool very easily.
However you need to be conscious of his needs if you want him to be a tank or aggressor. Specifically he needs boots of agility and he wants fate. Unfortunately you can only have one of any given item in your warband, so be careful of choosing warbands where multiple characters want the boots. Without them Cassio still functions fine as a support/utility champion, but his tanking suffers greatly and he becomes a MUCH more fragile aggressor. Given that his damage output is simply not in the same bracket as the strongest aggressors, there’s no really good reason to bring him as a dedicated aggressor if you can’t give him the boots to make him survivable.
Fate-wise he really wants one per turn to be able to use Dragon Kick as often as possible. It’s rarely a bad use of fate, but you do want to make sure that you don’t bring too many champions that are fate-hungry. If you can’t afford to use Dragon Kick then a lot of Cassio’s strength goes out the window.
The rest of your warband and your opponents remaining pool (after the ban) will most likely determine what role he plays best for you in any given game. If your opponent has no obvious answers to Cassio as a tank or aggressor, then kit him up with boots immediately and see how your opponent decides to deal with it.
If they obviously have a method for bringing him down (Aggressors with very high melee attack, abilities that auto-hit), or locking him out (Doenrakkar, thrommel, Haaksa), or if their warband is simply not particularly susceptible to him as a tank/aggressor (heavy resilience for example) then it may be a good game for him to run a bit wide on his own. He can stay in range to move, charge and dragon kick (12” threat) while contesting shrines, killing monsters or harassing the opponents flanking models. Since it typically requires multiple champions to shut him down, he can play with impunity while they’ve only got one in the area. This kind of play can really cause an opponent problems if they were expecting him to be central. If you buy a vorpal blade for Rakkir as an option to counter Cassio (He goes to melee attack 8 and with a helper he can get poison on pretty reliably and then seal the deal) then it’s a bit of a pain if Cassio is dragging him wide of the main battle line and you really wanted to get assistance from multiple champions to make sure you can reliably land the poison and kill.
No matter which role you pick for him, it’s very likely that his impact will come primarily from Dragon Kick. So you need to make sure you have a plan in mind every turn for what you’re going to use Dragon Kick for. It makes a great setup move early in a turn and it makes a great closing move for a turn, but it can also be relatively ineffectual if you haven’t planned for it.
Since he’s a very flexible champion, it’s likely you’ll see him in the warband of many opponents and the game will be significantly easier if you have a plan going in.
Most of the time you can expect to see him at Agility 6 with the boots on from the start of the game. Knockdown doesn’t stop him and hitting him with anything less than an attack score of 8 is going to be largely a waste of time. So you’re going to want at least one aggressor with melee of 8 and/or a vorpal blade.
If you’ve got access to auto-hitting damage-dealers then those are a great way of bringing him down, particularly after softening up. In that way he’s pretty similar to other tanks, though you don’t need to ignore resilience to bring him down.
Most of your tanks can largely ignore his damage output, though the continuous application of stuns will annoy you. If he’s tanking then he’ll probably end up in a standing melee with your tanks and not much of anything will happen. If you can find immunity to knockdown or movement in your lineup (Level 2 Thrommel is a good example) then that can reduce his effect dramatically.
If you want to specifically counter him then Haaksa is one good option. His normal fate ability deals auto-hitting damage and his ultimate ability lets you permanently destroy Cassio’s boots, which changes the way he plays significantly. Doenrakkar is another counter in that he can lock Cassio down very effectively due to his 1” melee range that allows you to stone grasp from 1.5” away and leave Cassio with no real option to get out of the lock (assuming you don’t give him any other targets to use for pushes).
Alright, that’s the end of that!
It’s a bit awkward trying to write for an audience that doesnt know the game, when the goal is to demonstrate an at least slightly more tactically in-depth content…but hey hopefully it worked ok!
I’m mostly busy writing other content, but if this turns out to get a good reception I’ll see if I can either write another or get some others to post some tactical thoughts.
1 I’m also involved with the team writing lore, so I have an interest in seeing it do well, but I’m also in a great position to write an article about it.
2 Which is probably not a great choice given that unless we get a wiggle on with the kickstarter you wont get to see Cassio until a bit further into the games development! 3
3 It’s already confusing for me to remember which characters are in the kickstarter and which aren’t, out of those I played. See I REALLY want Nephenee to make it into the game as soon as possible but unless you bastards get involved I’m going to have to wait ages for that sculpt to happen…and she’s awesome.
4 Given that I wrote quite a lot for warmachine during my early year or two of playing, you could reasonably expect me to write a LOT of random articles on Judgement…and I’m guessing you’d see stuff from a lot of other writers too. It gets you thinking.
5 Actually she had a bat coming from before anyone did particularly well with her I suspect.10
6 Did not use this one. But I am now because deleting a number in a sequence makes me sad… Did you know that Doenrakkar in stone form is an excellent lightning rod for Eredeth? The lightning doesnt hurt him…but it sure hurts all his friends. So much so that I kind of think of her as a counter pick to Doenrakkar.
7 This one was also empty. Zaron is a fate hungry son of a gun. You want skeletons every turn, but unless the rest of your warband runs with minimal fate (or you’re playing 3v3) then you just cant afford it. I recommend a warband built with only 1-2 fate-hungry characters in 5v5. It matters a lot less in 3v3
8 So it turns out a few people had a damn good run with Una2….and that resulted in her getting slapped with a nerf bat5
9 Oh jeez another empty one. I’ll go back and add a link to it randomly. People love that. 11
10 Interestingly judgement has a few in-built mechanisms that make what happened with Una (and with Karchev before her) almost impossible, or at least greatly reduce the impact. Firstly, there’s no faction, so if ‘the new hotness’ did manage to appear, you can use it in your warband from day one, just like everyone else. Secondly there’s a ban phase….so if you DO get the new hotness, your opponent will likely ban it out (unless they have a good counter) and you’re going to do the same to them.
Finally, they have a rolling errata approach since the individual models can be altered without greatly affecting other models in the game….and there’s no point cost to worry about.
Also…you cant spam. Seriously.
11 See people think I write these for their benefit. It’s really a giant chance to enjoy other people struggling with footnotes. Upon reflection there may be easier ways to achieve that goal…
12 A change of one agility might not seem like a big difference if you havent played the game, but it’s a huge difference to the likelihood of critical strikes. Keeping one action when you would ordinarily lose one is also a much larger difference than you’d think.
13 The models are awesome. Honestly, the scale difference makes for a much bigger impact than I expected and they are just so damn pretty.