(Note: As the blog doesn't allow me to put too many pictures, I decided to skip that process. If you're interested in pics, go to Great British Hobbit League Facebook group and search for #DoS2018)
1 year ago, Desolation of Stockport 2017 marked my return to competitive SBG after roughly 3 years break from the game (I only played 1 event between March 2014 and April 2017 and only because it was 20min from my door). When I first got to DoS17, I came with 0 practice and only a theoretical metagame idea:
- 800pts is a points level filled with Fell Beasts... what do Fell Beasts hate the most?
I took an army of High Elves with Arwen, 2 High Elf Stormcallers (because of Call Winds knocking down Fell Beasts and all sorts of threatening models) and Saruman (because once you've learned how to play the best character in the game, you can never unlearn it). It didn't surprise me that I killed 9 Fell Beasts over 6 games... but finishing 2nd on tiebreak was beyond all of my expectations.
What followed was a rather decent rest of the season including 2nd places individually on 4 of the 6 tournaments attended and a 5th at Cheshire's 2018 Season opener. I returned to DoS18 a year after my comeback began. The first thing I said when I got there was that I would finish 2nd. And so here's how that went down...
Betrayer on Fell Beast
10 Reavers with Axes
Shadow Lord on Fell Beast
10 Orcs with Spears
Total: 22 models, 4 Might, 0 Bows. Break at 12 dead. 25% at 5 alive.
ROUND 1: High Ground vs Ronnie's Durin's Folk led by Balin. Table 27
Starting on the bottom table I was paired with Ronnie, who was playing his 1st GBHL tournament. He brought a list with Balin, Floi, Captain and a mix of about 24 Dwarves including Iron Guards, Bowmen and Khazads. The tournament started for me by rolling 1 for each of my warbands, which I mighted up to 2 on both rolls, leaving me with entire 2 points of Might for this game, facing Ronnie's 6. The Dwarf Captain had an unlucky entry in the middle of my board edge, whilst the other 2 warbands entered on the other end. What that meant was that the Dwarves came very close to breaking very quickly, as I was able to push my entire army at the Captain's warband. As the Dwarves got to the middle, the points level meant that they weren't really able to occupy the whole area and block my access, so I was able to quickly take over control of the centre and kill off Transfixed Balin with the Betrayer (the re-rolls to wound are great!).
Total VPs: 3x in the centre, enemy leader dead, enemy force broken.
Result: 12:0 Victory
ROUND 2: Domination vs Ringer's (Jamie) All-Hero Good. Table 5
It isn't common to see The Ringer on table 5, but Jamie and James decided to play the Ringer player as a normal competitor, sharing the games between them and Callum on day 2. What I faced was Aragorn, Twins and Glorfindel, all mounted. That force at 500pts is extremely dangerous and is what I used at Warhammer Fest last year (with Glorfindel changed to Imrahil carrying a lance). A single turn with 4 heroic combats easily causes most armies to break and unless you have a heavy amount of magic, it becomes very difficult to stop that army from just tearing you apart. I had enough magic to burn all of Aragorn's Will and Might on the first turn, resisting a double Transfix. I then had to throw my Wraiths into combat and cross my fingers that my Heroic Strikes would roll higher than Jamie's. They did and the game ended on turn 3 about 10 minutes into the round, with all of Jamie's models dead and me controlling 4 of the 5 objectives. My last turn should have involved a Heroic Combat and move into the 5th objective with The Betrayer, but I forgot that in the flurry of dice and spells.
Total VPs: 4 objectives controlled, enemy leader dead, enemy army broken.
Result: 10:0 Victory
ROUND 3: Contest of Champions vs Jay's Lake Town. Table 1.
Always good to play against the best players and Jay with Ed are the two of my favourite opponents. As is usually the case, Jay brought his Lake Town packing Bard, his kids, Alfrid, 2 other heroes and a total of 42 models, outnumbering me by 20. At the start he pointed out that if every one of my models kills 1 of his, then he will be broken. All he needed to do is get his models to kill just over half a model each to break me!
The game started with Bard improving to 5 Might points (Alfrid still on 1 Will) and LakeTown charging into the Reavers. I tried double Transfixing Bard, but failed both times. However, his Might went back down to 3 and Will to 0. Although I generally play the game quite conservatively and safely, I decided this time that it will be better for me to take a slightly higher variance approach as long term I am bound to make more mistakes than someone who spends much more time playing than me, especially a player of Jay's calibre. Thus I sent my Shadow Lord behind Jay's ranks, with the hope of calling a Heroic Combat and hurling a Militia into Bard. As I called a Heroic, so did he, knowing that if he wins the roll off and kills 2 Reavers, he can charge the SL head on before SL's Heroic. I decided to call a second Heroic with the Betrayer to potentially countercharge Bard or someone nearby, should he win the roll-off and have a second go at hurling someone into him. Luckily, I won it and got a Hurl off at Bard, followed up by Betrayer killing 2 in first combat and 2 in the second (no Hurling, as that doesn't score for Contest). By turn 2 I was solidly in charge at 7-1 in Leader Kills and decided I needed to speed up the breaking process. But... being comfortably in the lead sometimes makes you lose concentration and make mistakes. I threw Betrayer into combat behind Jay's lines, scored 2 more kills and then saw Bard kill Shadow Lord... then charge and kill the Betrayer and leave us in quite an awkward situation...
Kill Count 7-1 and VP score of 7-0 turns into Kill count of 9-4 and VP score of 6-4 within a single turn (we both broke, he scored 3 for killing my leader with his leader and I scored 5 for killing double with my leader). As we were both broken, Jay won priority, charged what he could and my failing courage tests alongside more casualties meant that the game would end THIS turn. Because of the current conditions, it was only possible for me to lose, if Bard manages to kill 6 models in a single turn, which is physically impossible, so we quickly moved to the last combat of the game to see whether Bard can gain 1 extra kill. In summary: If Bard wins against 2 models and kills 1, the death count turns to 9-5, thus leading to a 4-4 draw. If Bard loses, it stays at 6-4. Out of Might... he lost combat.
Total VPs: Double Kills by Champion, Both Broken, My Leader killed by His Leader
Result: 6-4 Victory
ROUND 4: Seize the Prize vs Jasmine's Goblin Town. Table 1.
My least favourite scenario was up against Jasmine, who last time we played, smashed me with a similar list at the League Finale. As there was a rock in the middle of the board slightly towards East from where I was standing, I decided to pick West side of the board to deploy in instead of the standard North/South. On turn 1 I estimated that the only model that could get into the prize on turn 2 before any of my warriors was the Goblin King. Considering that it was Jasmine's leader, I made a decision not to fly in too early and let the King move in and try to dig up the prize. The prize got dug up and picked up. The Goblin King was then Compelled forward and charged by 1 Fell Beasts and a Reaver. The plan here was basically:
- The Goblin King gets isolated, surrounded and dies
- I pick up the prize
- I pass it to a Fell Beast
- The Fell Beast will never be caught by the 5" moving Goblins. I can't really lose anymore.
What actually happened was:
- The Goblin King took 4 wounds in the first turn of combat, failing 1 Blubbery Mass save.
- For the next 3 turns the Goblin King was transfixed and charged by 2 Fell Beasts each time, taking a total of 27 wounds, saving ALL OF THEM.
- My army got surrounded and wiped out by overwhelming numbers and Marauders.
- The Goblin King walked off my board edge.
As we kept the dice rolling, we both sat there in disbelief at what was happening. A game that was seemingly un-losable turned into a kind of 1-in-50,000 incident of godly dice rolls. The only thing I could have done differently was to perhaps try and kill the King with Black Darts... but then surely I'm more likely to kill him by causing obscene number of wounds than by hoping that my multiple Black Darts (channelled or not) don't get resisted by Resistance to Magic and Might and then cause 2 extra wounds.
Total VPs: Her leader wounded. My army annihilated and prize taken off my edge.
Result: 1-12 Loss
ROUND 5: Storm the Camp vs Luke's Goblin Town. Table 5.
Rolling back into the venue on day 2, I dropped to Table 5 and saw a mirror image of Jasmine's list, but with a Bat Swarm instead of a 4th Marauder. The scenario meant we had a lot more to figure out throughout the game, as the Marauders were trying to outrun Fell Beasts on my right flank, which were also trying to threaten the middle and left flanks without dying to the Goblin King's goblin-throwing-Fell-Beast-Killer ability.
On the first turn of shooting, 3 Marauders hitting on 6s managed to cause 2 wounds on the Betrayer's Fell Beast. He then compelled and assassinated one of the Marauders, before losing his FB in the very next combat, leaving me with just 1. Luckily Reavers are pretty good at cutting through Goblin Town and I managed to Break Luke very quickly. When that happened, I was myself just 2 models away from breaking, so decided to start pulling everything away from combat as to not lose anything, and keeping my Shadow Lord on FB within the Harbinger of Evil range for the King to hopefully fail. Both of my Wraiths ended the game on 1 Will and 0 Might each, and the King fled on the last possible turn before returning to the camp, leading to VPs for break + leader. Sadly, my remaining 10 warriors and 2 nearly dead wraiths were never going to force their way through a Goblin Captain and some 18 warriors back at the camp, so we ended the game there.
Total VPs: Enemy broken and leader dead.
Result: 6-0 Victory
ROUND 6: Lords of Battle vs James' Harad. Table 3.
Rarely does a game come up when you and your opponent compliment each other for correct decisions, but this was one of those rare times when to the huuuuge annoyance of both of us, neither of us made a single mistake throughout the entire game. James is of course a veteran and one of the best players in the country, plus a gentleman like no other. He played a list consisting of Betrayer on Fell Beast, Golden King, 12 Watchers with bows and 11 or 12 Serpent Guards for support. The exact sort of list that I anticipated would obliterate me if I don't take The Shadow Lord.
As expected I setup in the middle and James went as far back as he could. On turn 2 he compelled one of my Orcs outside of Shadow Lord's Special Rule's range and in a way that all of his archers could shoot at the orc hitting on 3+ and have in-the-way rolls for my Reavers and other orcs. The dice gods however had a different idea. In the first shot of the turn, an arrow hit... it missed the 1st ITW... it missed the 2nd ITW... it missed the 3rd ITW... it killed the Orc... The remaining 11 shots hitting on 6s scored 1 hit and a result of a 3... he kills on 5+ and re-rolls 1s and 2s!
On turn 3 I lost priority and got Shadow Lord stuck into combat to make a massive hurl across James's 15 or so models. I only killed about 3. Next turn the Shadow Lord died after being charged by the Golden King. His Betrayer went to my flank, whilst my Betrayer stayed far out of combat, as to not die by accident but still use his magic. Enemy Betrayer fell soon to lack of Will and a charging Orc and both of our forces broke. However, with no Might left on James' side, I was able to call a heroic with Betrayer and ensure most of the 'bad guys' died to courage tests once GK was pinned down. The game did not end after breaking for another turn, during which Betrayer and multiple Reavers charged and killed the Golden King.
Total Wounds Tally: 27:16. Both broken. Enemy leader dead.
Result: 6-1 Victory
ROUND 7: Heirlooms of Ages Past vs Alastair's Harad. Table 2.
Seeing Ed and Jay fighting it out on table 1 and a scenario where they can only ever really win or lose with a score-line of about +7 or +10 VPs to either side, meant that there was really no way for me to win the tournament anymore and I was fighting for 2nd place with Alastair.
The Wales Captain brought mounted Suladan, Harad Chieftain, a 0/7/0 Wraith, couple of Morannons and a mix of Half Trolls and F5 Venomblood Knights (The Black Numenorian upgrade, whatever it is called). I lost priority and Al got all 3 of his warbands set in the South West corner of the board, about 15" from the nearest objective. I then rolled for the Betrayer and got a result that meant I could pick North or South... So we could have a nice standard game on the opposite edges and picking up objectives... or I could just run into him. I set myself up just next to Alastair's army and compelled a warrior into combat with both Betrayer and a Reaver, setting up for a nice hurl. Then the Shadow Lord setup on the West edge, doing exactly the same thing, except this time compelling a guy into himself and an orc and getting 2 supporting orcs. SL called a Heroic Combat. Both of them hurled a model each and knocked down about 20 others. SL then went and took out the enemy Wraith. The Hurls themselves were almost entirely useless, as they only killed 1 or 2 models. However... the first one knocked Suladan down, causing 2 wounds on him, which proved to be pivotal...
For the next few turns we both fought bravely (my guys less bravely, as they kept failing terror tests to charge the Knights). He lost the Chieftain and I had only 8 models left to his 14 or so, but I was broken, whilst he was 1 model away from breaking. Both Wraiths were down to 2 and 3 Will points, so really out of resources. Alastair tried digging up one prize, but failed. I decided I wanted to end the game right now, despite some 15min left on the clock and neither of us in possession of the prize, as he was more likely to get to the prizes before me. All I had to do was to break him and lose 3 models (down to 25%). I started the last turn by taking Courage Tests with my warriors before heroes, losing 2. Betrayer tried casting Black Dart down to 1 Will, but failed. He then flew towards another prize, dismounted, tried to pick it up and rolled a 5 instead of a 6. The Shadow Lord cast Black Dart down to 1 Will, killed a model to break him, then flew into combat in an effort to die at the end of turn by running out of Will.
Total VPs: Both Broken. Enemy leader wounded.
Result: 2-1 Victory
6 Wins - 1 Loss / 43VPs for - 18VPs Against / VP Diff: +25
Runner Up... on tiebreaks... again...
It is now 5 individual and 6 total 2nd places in the last 8 tournaments over the last 12 months... They call finishing 4th "Doing a Jeffery"... I'm not far from having 2nd place named after me :D
Jamie and James as always did a wonderful job running the event and nothing but praise can be given. Element Games is a great venue, so once again, nothing but positive thoughts! All of my opponents were very sporting and very relaxed, leading to really enjoyable games throughout the 2 days.
Personally, I still need to work on my own game in terms of pulling off maximum VPs at all times. I still play with a "victory is a victory" mindset rather than "how can I pull the extra VP here or there", which in bigger tournaments is what is required to win or place well, as it's not uncommon to have 2 or more players on the same win/loss ratio, with only VPs to differentiate them, even on the podium. It has now been DoS17, Dos18, Cheshire 18 and WFest17 that I could have been 1st in, had I placed more attention to individual VPs rather than simply ensuring I win the games.
Multiple players have asked me throughout the event why I chose to play Betrayer over Knight of Umbar, when the Knight seems like a far superior choice, especially when I have no bowfire to benefit his special rule. I think Betrayer is a sound choice for small games such as this. Normally you won't face much magic from the opposition, so the extra Will you use in combat doesn't affect you in a significant way, thus the only difference between the two becomes 1 extra point of Might vs re-rolls in combat. At 500pts, unlike 800 or 1000, it is very simple to isolate heroes. Once isolated, throwing a Fell Beast at them will only average 3 wounds for D5/6 or 2 wounds for 7/8. Throwing Betrayer at them will average 4.5 wounds for D5/6 and 3.3 wounds for D7/8, meaning that you pretty much ensure you kill every commonly used transfixed hero in a single fight. In the case of 700 or 800+ points games, the further threat from Saruman/Gandalf/Galadriel/Wraiths means that you want to preserve as much Will as possible, plus when you face heroes with 3 wounds and 3 fate, even the Betrayer is not very likely to take them out in a single go, so it is generally not advisable throwing your Wraiths at them unless you also surround them with additional troops for more attacks. Finally the rule of stealing stats from opponents is not very good when all you ever face is F5 or F4 heroes at such a small points level. Overall, the Betrayer is a worthy contender. As for Shadow Lord... I knew I'd be outnumbered in every game and I had Defence 4 across the board, so I couldn't afford to take casualties from shooting.