My warband underwent a bit more fine-tuning for this match after picking up a Wizard Tactician from Steve Montano. Bigby's slapping hand is a terrific spell to team with two heavy hitters such as the Iron Golem and Hunched Giant. I dropped the Xorn and Kobold Miner and subbed in the Wizard Tactician. The Elf Stalker was retained for its reliable ranged attack, even though I felt that 5 damage was too often negligible against the types of creatures one encounters in 200-point sealed bounty format.
Played Wednesday, February 8, against Ian Richards of the Organized Play department. Ian is not an opponent to approach lightly. He is a top-notch tactician who comes in with a plan and doesn't miss an opportunity. I couldn't state for sure how many times I've played Ian in various events around Wizards -- it hasn't been that many -- but I knew for a stone-cold fact that I've never beaten him at anything. I also knew that he likes to get an early lead and force you to play his game (who doesn't?). Barring bad karma on his part, I would have my hands full just staying in the game.
Ian's warband was very similar to mine. Perhaps it was a bit more brittle and demanded slightly more finesse. It also had no ranged threat other than the Wizard Tactician's spells. Those were the three 'weaknesses' that I knew I had to exploit if I was going to come out ahead in the match.
I won map initiative and unrolled the Fane of Lolth. That surprised Ian, who thought it was an odd choice for my warband. Maybe he was just playing head games with me ….
I also won my choice of map ends to deploy on and chose the right side. At first, I began setting up in the upper right corner, but then thought better of it. "I have quicker access to the sacred circle from the opposite corner," I thought.
So bad, in fact, that it may have cost me the game.
The mistake was concentrating too much on what I was going to do and neglecting to consider what Ian was likely to do. You'll see what I mean all too soon.
Ian set up in the opposite (upper left) corner and we rolled for first turn initiative.
Turn 1 -- My initiative, Ian moves first
Ian maneuvered toward me along the top edge of the map. I took up stations on the sacred circle, just in case he was foolish enough to engage me recklessly or expose a figure to a ranged attack. I needn't have bothered (then again, maybe the sacred circle was why he didn't engage …).
Turn 2 -- Ian's initiative, I move first
Knowing full well that Ian would never fight me on the lopsided terms I was trying to dictate, I moved cautiously forward out of the sacred circle area and into the right-central area of the map where I could easily swing many directions. I carefully kept my weaker figures and the Half-Orc Paladin sheltered by the Golem and the Giant.
That's when I realized my setup mistake. Ian sent figures forward to occupy the victory area near my upper right setup area -- a victory area I could easily have kept him out of if I'd set up in that corner as I originally intended. Instead, I had just served him everything he wanted -- a sheltered area and a points lead that would force me to come to him.
Turn 3 -- My initiative, I move first
As I pondered who should take the first move, Ian graciously reminded me of the Marut's mass inflict light wounds spell in light of my compact formation. That was all the spur I needed to spread out the targets, keeping the Elf Stalker hidden from Ian's Wizard Tactician and positioning my own Wizard Tactician where it had good lines of sight, was far from the action, and remained in command.
The bulk of the round saw both of us maneuvering carefully for the impending assault, with my forces spreading out as much as possible to gain line of sight into Ian's festung and be in assault positions for turn 4 without exposing themselves to turn 3 spoiling attacks. Meanwhile, Ian prepped for the onslaught and arranged his figures to deny me easy shots. The advantage still lay solidly in Ian's hands.
Turn 4 -- Ian's initiative, I move first
My Golem swung up the corridor to the right of the victory area. From where it stood it could attack the Mercenary Sergeant, Marut, or Half-Orc Paladin. I actually debated for a while over targets before attacking the Half-Orc Paladin. That was followed by an immediate empowered magic missile from my Wizard Tactician for a total of 45 points of damage on the HOP. If only it wasn't fearless. Sadly, Bigby's slapping hand wasn't an option because the HOP was not based by my Golem.
In his phase, Ian pulled the Half-Orc Paladin away from my Golem and behind his own Marut, where he Lay on Hands, pumping the HOP back up to 45 hit points.
Ian carefully positioned everything too far from the Hunched Giant to let it attack after moving. After a bit more maneuvering with my Paladin and Elf Stalker, there was no choice left but to advance the Giant into the meatgrinder of the victory area …
Where it promptly took 20 damage from Ian's Grimlock Barbarian followed by 35 from his Marut. Fifty-five points down and the Giant had yet to swing a club. A lot was riding on the next initiative roll.
Turn 5 -- Ian's Initiative, Ian moves first
Ian won the big initiative, leaving him with a tough decision to make. He wanted to eliminate the Hunched Giant as quickly as possible, but he had several ways to approach it. In an effort to preserve freedom of movement for his Grimlock Barbarian, he decided to toss Bigby's slapping hand first -- but the Giant passed his save. That left Ian with one activation against the Giant's 65 hit points. The Grimlock's two attacks would cause 25 damage each, which was better than the Marut's one attack for 35, but neither would be enough to kill the giant. My relief was visceral.
Then the Grimlock Barbarian rolled a critical hit with its first attack. The Giant passed his morale save but had only 20 hit points remaining. The Grimlock's +6 second-attack bonus was enough to land a killing blow on the Hunched Giant, which never even got to roll a die in anger.
I was depressed.
Looking for a little revenge, my Elf Stalker put two arrows into Ian's Wizard Tactician -- or would have, if not for Conceal 6. My Iron Golem then sank another 30 points of damage into Ian's Half-Orc Paladin, but thanks to the previous round's timely healing, it still had 20 hit points left. Looking for the kill, I tossed a Bigby's slapping hand at him, but he passed the saving throw.
Turn 6 -- Ian's initiative, Ian moves first
Expecting that his Half-Orc Paladin might not live much longer, Ian attacked the Iron Golem twice, missing both times. The Wizard Tactician then dumped 15 points of automatic damage into my HOP with an empowered magic missile.
Hoping for a rout, my Elf Stalker launched two more arrows into the opposing Wizard Tactician, enough to cause a morale check -- or it would have been, if not for Conceal 6 again. I hate Conceal.
Ian's Marut rolled a critical hit against my Iron Golem, which is thankfully immune to such indignities. Still, it was by then down to just 20 hit points. The situation looked downright bleak.
Turn 7 -- My initiative, I move first
Finally, progress -- the Iron Golem routed the Grimlock Barbarian. Lest I grow cocky, my Half-Orc Paladin then missed the Marut twice. Sic transit gloria mundi.
He also missed his saving throw against Ian's Bigby's slapping hand spell, letting the Marut slap 30 points of damage on him with an attack of opportunity, then follow it up with a critical hit on its own activation. That was more than enough to kill my HOP, deactivate the Golem, and put Ian well over the 200 points he needed to win.
While I had my share of bad luck and then some during this match (lost all the key initiative rolls, failed half of my Conceal 6 checks, cast both BSH spells without any effect, and suffered two key critical hits), I can't blame the loss on luck. I gave Ian an opening, and he jumped straight through it to victory. In fact, I lost the game before the first miniature moved. My poor choice of setup area put Ian in such a strong position that I was behind the 8-ball from that point on.
As of Wednesday, February 15, standings in the league among players who'd played more than one game were --
About the Author
Steve Winter has enjoyed a long and lustrous career in the hobby gaming industry, beginning at TSR in 1981. He is currently a web producer and writer living in Seattle.