Saturday, 22 April 2017

MSU Elves - some observations

Greetings!

Due to real life interference I had to miss the local event that took place in the always welcoming hall of Three D6 store - The Valley of Kings 2. If you are interested, you can check the results here: The Valley of Kings 2 - Results

It means that I am not going to have any new battle reports at the moment. However, it is not an excuse not to write something about Kings of War! The number of games I have played so far has just reached 50 so I think some kind of generic post about experiences and observation can be a good idea. I still would love to write something more detailed in the future but as it is going to take time. 

However, my fellow player Daniel (@Ecumenical_mate on Twitter), suggested I may write something about MSU Elves on the blog. Especially, that he is interested in trying his version of such an army too!
I think it will also be quite interesting to compare my initial impressions about KoW and a possibility to build MSU style army that can be found here:


But let's start from the beginning:

MSU - What is it?

MSU stands for Multiple Small Units and is a broad term used to describe armies comprised of many, relatively small elements. The aim for playing with such army is to utilize maneuverability and swarm tactics to overwhelm bigger units of the enemy, that would have an advantage in one-on-one melee situations.

MSU in Kings of War

This style of play, I found, can be used in Kings of War but it also may need to be defined in the context of particular faction. In other words, what is MSU for Elves may not necessarily be the same or even similar for Goblins. As you may have noticed in the case of my own army, I have currently 15 elements in it. Something that is considered above average for Elven forces but nothing out of ordinary for other factions that have access to cheaper units.

In addition, the way armies are constructed in Kings of War requires presence of hordes and/or regiments in order to unlock troops, war engines, monsters and heroes. In general, there is no "rule" that MSU force cannot have horde type of the unit. However, in the case of Elves and due my own preference, I personally chose to use only regiments in my armies.

Outcasts - my current MSU Elves version.

MSU - What is needed?

That will, of course, depend on the players approach to that style too. In my opinion, the army is always a function of the player's personal preferences and what may work for one, is not a guarantee to work for another. 

My own aim was to build and play with the army that is flexible and that is something more than just a sum of the elements it is comprised for. I wanted to emphasize maneuverability but also use a force that participates in all phases of the game. While my focus would be on the melee with the shooting as an important support, I also wanted to be able to play both, defensively and offensively, depending on the terrain, scenario and particular enemy.

With that in mind I wanted the following components to be represented in my army:

1. Higher than average number of units.

That is, of course, self explanatory but I still is worthy elaborating. The goal is not to have as many units as possible because that would require taking only the cheapest choices in the army list. The aim is to have more of them than a "typical" Elven army without losing the ability to put of a decent fight against a variety of opponents.

For me it means that I need to have a balance between the units that are fast and maneuverable, that can hit hard enough to take down the enemies and those that provide ranged support. That there are enough heroes to inspire the units and that the units are also flexible enough to allow me to assign different tasks for them to accomplish.

Higher number of units allows, in my opinion, for a greater flexibility as I don't necessarily need to deploy in a particular formation. It also increases the maneuverability of the army as a whole because I may be able to place some of the units in a better spot, especially against less numerous foes.

2. Maneuverability

Sheer speed is good to have but may not always be enough or even necessary for the units to get into positions to be able to attack the enemy from multiple directions at the same time. Hence, the access to the units with Nimble special rule is also very helpful. 

However, maneuverability of the army as a whole may be increased thanks to the fact it is composed of more units and of those with smaller base. It means they can easier fit against enemy units, especially when the battle lines clash and there is less space available. It also means they may be easier to move into flank/rear areas of the foe, as well as being able to avoid enemy attention. 

3. Crushing Strength/Thunderous Charge

Even perfectly executed coordinated attack may not be enough to take down a well armored horde of the enemy unit. It is often the case that some chargers will be hindered too. That is why it is important to make every attack count. 

Elves have a great army wide rule, Elite, that allows them to re-roll to hit rolls of 1. But if they can also combine it with Crushing Strength or Thunderous Charge, then it is even more desirable. Fortunately, there are units that have these abilities and Bane Chant spell can also be of a great use here. 

4. Inspire

Smaller units have lower nerve value and sometimes lucky shots may even rout them. That's why it is quite important to have as many of them covered by nearby heroes with Inspire rule. I like my mounted Army Standards for that reason, also because they may free Drakon Lord to go on individual missions.

5. Ranged Attacks

I think that MSU armies can operate well with minimum or none ranged attacks present. The shooting orientated MSU forces should also be viable. My own experience, however, does not provide me with enough knowledge on either as I try to use shooting as a support rather than a main option. It does allow me to eliminate enemy units occasionally but it is usually the case when the foe is not well armored. I also need to focus the fire to be able to do so and the foe is routed in 2 turns of shooting more often than in a single round. 

The role of shooting in MSU army I use is to provide me with the means to:
- add a few points of damage to tougher enemy units before melee
- be able to force nerve tests in the last turns of the game, when it may be difficult for other units to eliminate damaged enemies
- engage enemy light troops that would otherwise interfere with the movement of my army
- attack enemy war engines faster or when it is otherwise difficult/too risky to engage them in melee

6. Flexibility

This is yet another broad term and I use it to describe either units that come equipped with tools for both melee and ranged fights or that can perform different tasks. Sea Guard or War Chariots are good example of units that can shoot at the enemy or join the combat. Army Standards provide sources for Inspire but can also jump forward to block enemy advance for a turn. And any unit in the army in general can act individually and as part of any team.

That also means that the army should be able to deploy in different formations and switch between defensive and offensive modes, as situation demands.

MSU Army - Example

My own army and the way I tried to use it was featured in my battle reports so I would like to use another force as an example for MSU force. It is the army that Daniel sent me to discuss and we agreed I may do so in this blog post. Hopefully, some of the readers can comment on it too!


You will see some familiar units but there are also quite significant differences between our respective armies. Let's go through each unit type first:

Archers - very good ranged units, you can count on them to be able to hit the targets consistently, even with various penalties applied. They will be very good in eliminating light targets but as mentioned before, focusing fire on a single enemy may result in some routs too. 

They are better armored than some counterparts in other armies but should not be expected to hold on against many foes either. They can claim objectives too, which is very important.

Silver Breeze - I like fast cavalry a lot and these units are even better than archers because they are extremely fast and maneuverable but do not apply the penalties for movement when they shoot. They can also move to the better shooting positions easily and be able to hunt down units that would be difficult for archers to reach.

While not equipped for melee, they can always add their attacks to it as they have a good chance to move to flanks and rears. So while it should not be their main duty, it is an option worth remembering.

Drakon Riders - the most maneuverable and the hardest hitting elements of the army. They are able to take on smaller units alone and their speed and maneuverability should allow them to move to the positions where they can attack the enemies from flanks and rears.

Bolt Throwers - on the other side of the maneuverability spectrum are Bolt Throwers. The most static elements of the army, they need to be well positioned to get the most out of their abilities. They can make a dent in even the best armored foes but they may also need some protection or at least the access to them should not be easy. Combined with the other shooters, they can inflict significant damage.

Mage - quite typical source of both Inspire and Bane Chant. He can either add his support to faster moving drakons or stay with the shooters. Although supporting shooters with Bane Chant is also a bit more risky. If his main two roles are the ones above - I would consider replacing him with mounted Army Standard and Lute. He would do exactly the same for lower cost.

Drakon Lords - very good and flexible heroes. They can aid the other units in melee, especially that they can fit in easier in between the enemies. They can go for individual missions too, be it heroes hunting or war engines/shooting hordes disrupting. As Large Cavalry they are good at adding their weight to claiming objectives etc.

In general, this army has 14 elements and many of them seem to be quite specialized in what they do. There are 7 units that provide ranged attacks and 6 that are melee specialists. This means that the cooperation and coordination between the units will be about allowing the shooters clear line of sight to their targets and not limiting the movement of the Drakons in doing so.

I imagine this army may like to play defensively at the beginning, especially that it seem to need to do some damage to the enemy first. Either to rout smaller units that can potentially intercept/block Drakon Riders. Or to focus fire and make some opening in enemy battle line for the fliers to exploit.

It may need to deploy so that the shooters are positioned on one flank while majority of the fliers is on the other. In this way, in theory, it should be possible for the fast elements to move aggressively without interfering with the line of sight and for the shooters to bring the fire where it hurts the most. In that deployment the task would be for the Drakon Riders to sweep their flank fast enough to be able to flank attack whatever wants to attack the fragile shooters.

Another option would be to deploy in two lines with the shooters in front and the fliers behind. The advantage is that the shooters provide cover for the Drakon Riders while the flying cavalry can always attack over their companions and intercept incoming enemy. Which would be already damaged by the shooters.

Double Line deployment.

I guess the best advise at this stage is simply to have a few games with it, possibly against variety of opponents, to test the above ideas :)

I hope the above musing were of some interests and that they will prove useful for other players. I would love to continue with more detailed descriptions of deployments and particular interesting situations that occurred in my games at some stage. I think this post may be a good start!

I also want to thank Daniel for his suggestion for a blog post!

Thanks for reading!


16 comments:

  1. I think this is a great idea for a blog post! Maybe in the future you could do a post for each army and make a sample list for how that army could go about attempting an MSU style force? This may help others who don't play elves get an idea about how to start thinking about their army in a different way. I think KoW is balanced enough to were all armies can play MSU if they want to! Some armies may take to that style more than others of course, but I think it is a good thinking exercise/discussion topic if it's something you'd like to attempt in the future. It also is a good chance to learn more about armies that may not appear often on the blog!

    Regarding the actual post and list: I enjoyed what you have to say regarding what you look for when designing a list. I think a balanced approach is best as it gives the most flexibility. The list proposed seems like a good start! My only critiques would be that 1) It may be light on combat elements 2) there are not many inspiring sources if you take into account that often the Drakon Lords may be war machine hunting or moving far out on the flank away from friendly units to set up a charge 3) it may be difficult to protect the shooters in the list since all of the combat elements are so fast and may want to use that speed to start setting up traps. You did mention that this army may want to play defensively at the beginning which is accurate I believe, but then the speed of the drakons is wasted to a degree since they may need to baby-sit the shooters. Personally, I love the palace guard (reaper guard for me). They are cheap for what they do and offer a good number of crushing elite attacks and are very flexible. And if they happen to hit a flank, they are capable of doing incredible damage even on their own!

    Overall though, I believe it is a solid list that merits testing and I would love to hear how it performs on the table top and if it needs any tweaks, etc.

    Thanks for the post!

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    1. Hi Dan,

      Thanks a lot for your comments and I am glad you like this post too!

      It would certainly be a great thing to do, i.e. spark a discussion for MSU versions for other factions. It would had to be a bit theoretical and along the lines "what would I start with" rather than discussion based on real games examples. After all, I am only playing with Elves :) But I will keep that great suggestion in mind. Thanks a lot for the idea!

      The tricky part about so called balanced approach is that it means something a bit different to each player. Which is great because it adds to the variety! I do like the fact that I have different components in the army, some of which are unique due to the fact they come equipped for both melee and shooting. Other elements may be more specialized for one or the other type of warfare. But in the end all it matters is that whatever the army is, it should reflect the way the player envisioned it should be used.

      I am also very intrigued about Daniel's army because it puts melee and shooting elements on equal basis. He will definitely want to be able to eliminate enemy units with shooting alone and I think he has good tools for it. At the same time his flexibility lies in the fact these shooters can focus or spread the fire the way he wants and that these elements cannot be easily disrupted by a single, fast individual for example.

      The Drakon Riders are the other end of the spectrum and they will be intimidating enough for some of the enemy to reconsider very direct approach towards the shooters. With their long range of movement and charge, there is always a danger the foe would expose the flank. If that is going to be combined with even a single round of shooting before the Drakons hit home, they can be very successful too. In such case, even spreading the fire among many targets and then charging each with 1-2 units only, may be enough to rout the enemy.

      I hope to get back to this topic in the future with a much more detailed description and examples of how each unit was used in real games. But in the meantime, it is simply fantastic to discuss the options. I will ask Daniel to comment too, as I hope he will get something interesting for himself from the article and the comments.

      Cheers!

      P.S. How is the preparation for Lone Wolf going? :)

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    2. I've had my list painted for a while so I had that going in my favor. I've probably logged 15 games of KoW and it's been with the same list so that is a benefit as well. I did end up making a display board but it was my first attempt at one and it isn't very good, but it was a learning experience! My main preparation has been getting my school work in order to allow for the trip to happen at all!

      I found out tonight that my first game will be against Patrick Allen the US masters winner so that should be an awesome test for my MSU list. I plan on learning a lot from that game! I will definitely let you know how the weekend goes. I can't wait to head out to Texas, it should be a great time!

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    3. Hi Dan!

      Wow! That's a great start with the Master himself as an opponent. If you can win that game it is like winning the whole tournament already :) I will be keeping fingers crossed for you and can't wait to see the pictures from the event!

      All the best!

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  2. Being the one who came up with the above MSU list Swordie posted, I thought id also add my thoughts. Firstly, let me say that the list was designed purely to maximise a few things such as (i) Shooting (ii) Combat (iii) Speed (iv) High drop count. Why these things? It may seem obvious given that we're discussing MSU, but id like to go through them for reasons perhaps not so obvious (or at least not that ive often heard discussed). In this post (all I can manage tonight), Ill discuss my thoughts on shooting in MSU.

    Shooting:
    Although ive heard it mentioned that MSU style doesn't necessarily need much or any shooting, id find it hard to believe that a well-optimised MSU elf list in KoW wouldnt try to make use of the incredibly good ranged attacks elves have available. Lets be honest, shooting in KoW is strong, and to the best of my knowledge, not many KoW armies get access to basic unlocking-type units which have a 4+ ranged attack. Elves do. Couple that with army-wide elite, and its devastating.

    On top of this, I believe shooting (and also magic) is sorely needed to soften up enemy targets in an MSU army. Why? because these targets will need to be dealt with in combat by your own melee units, and these, being part of an MSU list, will likely be small, and have limited potential for damage output. You may say "I dont need the shooting - I can create traps (with flank/rear charges) to give the damage output I need". Perhaps - but its hard. Moving lots of units to be in correct positions while checking angles, distances etc is cumbersome, prone to costly mistakes, and lastly it drains your clock. Alternatively, you can move an archer unit a few inches forward then simply roll some dice.

    Does my above list have an over-representation of shooting units, perhaps at the expense of combat units? Personally i dont think so. Ive deliberately chosen some of those shooters for different roles. For example, Bolt throwers were included to soften up targets with high defense. With no shooting hordes for efficient use of the piercing (1) item, and the likehood of bane chant on shooters now drastically reduced, another means is required. Bolt throwers fit this role well. On the other hand, the silverbreeze provide both good shooting (with nimble to boot) as well as provide a very mobile means to pick up/contest objectives etc. In a game where scenarios are now everything, the more mobile your troops the better. Ill hopefully touch on mobility in a future post.

    Anyway, thats all for now.

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    1. Hi Daniel!

      First of all, thanks a lot for your questions about MSU and considering me the good person to ask. I really appreciate that!

      I would like to thank you also for the suggestion for the blog post - I can see we are going to have a very interesting discussion here and I can't wait to read about your comments about other elements you have just mentioned.

      Ok, let's talk about shooting in MSU in general and in Elven version in particular!

      I think my approach to shooting as important but not primary weapon comes from the fact that I used to focus on it too much. While there is nothing wrong with designing the army where shooting may be the main or at least equally strong tool - that was not the way I wanted to play with my own version.

      That is the reason why I abandoned Bolt Throwers, even if I really like them and I think they are very good war engines. I simply found I am constraining my movement and rely on shooting alone to win games.

      Having said that I totally agree that while other armies should be able to fight very well as MSU forces without much of the shooting, Elves have a significant advantages in that department to simply not to use it.

      I don't necessarily agree that moving units to set up multiple charges from few directions requires more time that to position units for efficient shooting round - partially because I learned to move my units faster and partially because with more mobile shooters I have more freedom to maneuver and don't have to constantly check if I don't block Bolt Throwers.

      However, every help in melee you can get is important. It is not always straightforward to be able to get to the right positions. It may be necessary even to attack head on and create that gap that would later allow setting traps and charges from flank/rears. A few points of damage from shooting may result in a success in the first round of melee.

      I think what I really wanted to stress out then is that while sometimes focusing fire of my shooters may eliminate enemy unit on their own - this is only one of the possibilities. The shooting is there to help the army in other ways, sometimes indirectly.

      I don't think your army has too many shooting units. What is probably the main difference between our respective forces is that you chose units that specialize in one type of warfare, either melee or shooting. While I added some multi-purpose units in the mix. Besides, I needed an excuse to field Swordmasters :D

      I definitely agree that each sub-group of shooters has different role to play, even if they all specialize in ranged attacks. It is a very good point about Bane Chant and how it affects the shooters now. One way to provide more reliability is simply to have better variety of tools as well as some redundancy. And I can see that this is what you did with the shooters.

      I believe that this discussion about shooting also emphasizes what I tried to highlight before. That each army, even if it follows similar theme, is mainly the function of the players particular style and preferences. And I am very glad to see your personal approach to it.

      I hope you will have some opportunities to play with the army soon so that we can see it in action! In the meantime, I am looking forward to your next comments!

      Thanks again for taking time to post them!

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  3. I'm really glad I stopped by your blog today! Very nice post - these kinds of posts are hard to present well and you did a fantastic job. As you and I know, pinning down and discussing MSU can be difficult, and I think explaining the reasoning behind your actual choices (rather than just generalizing or theorizing) adds a ton of value. I am looking forward to re-reading this in the coming days. (And getting caught up with your many battles!)

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    1. Hello! Long time no see! I noticed you are busy with some Varangur now :)

      Thanks a lot but I think you should thank Daniel first as it was because of his suggestion that I actually wrote it. In fact, I am already thinking how to incorporate the discussion that has just started in the future, more detailed and better structured post about MSU!

      Let me know how did you like the battle reports too :)

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  4. Really interesting, I´m working on MSU with my TK too, I will post some updates soon.

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    1. Very cool! I look forward to reading about that. I have been having fun with my MSU TK so I'm curious what direction you've taken your list.

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    2. Hi Phobos,

      Excellent, it would be interesting to read about your version, in particular that you are using "evil" Elves :)

      Cheers!

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    3. Hi Dan!

      I see you did well at Lone Wolf! I am looking forward to reading about your games and I remember you promised some photos of your wonderful army too!

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    4. Thanks swordmaster! I will do my best to give you a quick little rundown plus some things I learned.

      Game 1 vs. Patrick Allen "the Master" salamanders
      I got outplayed this game definitely. The scenario was dominate with a 6,12,18 inch circle. He took his huge horde of Primes? and parked them in the main circle in difficult terrain which gives him a 3x modifier on unit strength. I took a very big risk to remove two huge threats on top of turn 2 that didn't work out (it was not the best play, but I got greedy!). I couldn't shift the big unit from the center which prevented me from really getting this game into my favor. I had a chance to make it a 3-17 loss but couldn't roll a 6 on the final turn, so a 0-20 loss to start the event!

      Takeaway: He was a very nice and fantastic opponent that I would love to play again. The lack of pathfinder really hurt me in this one and prevented me from being able to retaliate. I only have one unit with pathfinder and they are shooters. Also, I took a huge risk trying to break the game open that backfired. So I learned a lot in this one.

      Game 2 vs. Dave The Herd
      I think Dave was newer to kings of war and he had a very small amount of drops (8 or 9). It was a very good matchup for my army and I played to scenario really well in this game. I ended up with an 18-2 win. However, Dave was an incredible guy and won 1st place in sportsmanship which was very deserved so congrats Dave!

      Game 3 Scott with Ogres
      I'd never played against ogres before. This was the lone ranger scenario where we had a strong individual to use and he was worth many kill points. My opponent played scenario very well and I was not as familiar with the scenario as I should have been. I had a slight advantage in kill points but once the lone ranger points were added in, I lost 8-12.

      Takeaways: Scenario is important! I have to focus more on scenario as it lost me this game, and my opponent executed his plan beautifully and deserved the win. Also, at this point, I have seen a trend that my list is extremely fragile. I have been making the right charges to kill the units that I need to kill, but even a small amount of retaliation can immediately remove my key pieces compared with other lists. I need a few units that can take a punch after I get the alpha strike that I'm looking for.

      Game 4 Jerimiah Ogres
      This was one of my better played games and the scenario was invade which my list does well. I went all in on the left flank and suffered minimal loses and managed to tie up the right flank so I got most of my army where it needed to go and ended with a 18-2 victory. He was a very nice opponent and I'd enjoy playing him again.

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    5. Day two: Game 5 Billy Capgun and his Christmas Gobbos!
      My good friend Billy and I are both in the same gaming club so I knew this would be a fun one! I'd never actually played against his goblins and they are as tough as they are beautiful! This game was a version of dominate with three zones. This was the most interesting game of the weekend for me and probably taught me the most about my list. I ended up losing 5-15.

      Takeaway: I was pretty far ahead in kill points, enough to be considered a solid victory in a kill scenario. It was the 1st game that I've lost where I don't think I could have played better. At lonewolf, individuals and warmachines had a unit strength of 1 which was doubled in this scenario. I focused on scenario but I had to focus on his stronger units to prevent retaliation or I would not have been able to hold any of the zones. So in the end, I couldn't chew through all of his heavy hitters and he was able to run his individuals and fast cav regiments into the zones and got a convincing win.

      So I've lost 2 games of dominate which is a trend, and I have had multiple games where even making the correct charges that I have to make has left me vulnerable compared to other players in this tournament. My units have no staying power. It is something to consider. Billy got to play Ed Herzig in his final game which made me very jealous!

      Last game JP Empire of Dust
      Most of this game went my way, my dice were pretty good and my plan was sound and at the end he was left with a priest or two and a bone giant I believe. But yet again, after getting his big units, his smaller units were able to remove my heavy hitters. It was a table quarters claiming game and I ended up winning 13-7. My units fragility let me down in this one again. I should have been able to win a bit bigger in this one, but the "trial by fire" of lonewolf led to some great realizations for me:

      1) Scenario is important! As a player, this is where I need to improve most. It is good to know where I need to improve so that I can work on it!
      2) My list is too fragile. It is a lot of fun, but with a few tweaks, I can make it much more competitive. I won't give away my changes yet, but I have a new list to test out! I'm hoping this list helps me with the dominate scenario which killed me this weekend.

      I hope you enjoyed my LoneWolf rundown! It was a blast and I can't wait to get back out there! I finished 31 out of 87 or 88 overall and I finished best Twilight Kin player overall! Much room for improvement but I was happy with my first really big tournament showing. I'll work on army pics today; I'll probably send them to you over twitter.

      Thanks Swordie!

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    6. Forgot my list!
      Regiment Buccaneers with Jar of the 4 winds
      Regiment of Shadows
      Regiment Reaper Guard
      Troop Reaper Guard
      2 troops blade dancers
      2 tropps gargoyles
      2 regiments abyssal riders
      Lord on Pegasus
      Priestess with inspire, banechant mounted
      BSB with lute mounted
      Basusu the vile

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  5. Hi Dan,

    Thanks a lot for a great write up and sorry for late reply. I didn't know LW had some modifications for the scenarios, I will need to get the players pack and see how did they change the ones from the books.

    Game 1 - Hm, that didn't look like a fair scenario to be honest. My understanding from what you said is that you tripled the units strength in the smallest circle, that is a huge boost for hordes I am afraid. While Pathfinder is useful I still find units with CS that normally hit on 3+ good enough to overcome enemies in defended positions. You do need multiple charges from flanks and rear though.

    Game 2 - congratulations for the victory and great that you had a chance to play against the best sport! That is also something worthwhile learning :)

    Game 3 - scenarios are indeed important :) Which is a great thing because even a fragile army can play well and despite some losses, win the game. I am not convinced you may need bigger units that take the punch well. It is one of the options but I would think how the game should have been played better to actually avoid these counter attacks. Sometimes it is possible to reform after melee in the way that only one of the units you attacked with can be charged.

    Game 4 - well done! Always good to finish the day with a win! :)

    Game 5 - I would still look at your game and look for the options to try and play differently. Were you the first player? If yes, did you choose it to do so? Not so sure about modifications to that scenario but I also know that individuals are easier to block than big units in terms of engaging them in melee (either by forcing them to do so or by attacking first).

    Game 6 - well done on another victory!

    It looks like the whole event was a great fun for you and that is what is the most important. I am very curious about the changes to the army too as it means new great looking units are going to be included!

    Congratulations on the best Twilight Kin player! That is always nice to have :) I really enjoyed your write up and thanks for the army pictures, the units are fantastic!

    Cheers!

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