As disappointed as I was with my performance in game 3, this match would prove to be even more embarrassing.
Still expecting great things from the Wizard Tactician, I kept my warband unchanged from my match with Ian.
Played Friday, February 10, against Mike Dunlap from Sales. I've played Mike once or twice before in previous leagues, but all I could remember about his playing style was that he's calm, quiet, and gives the appearance of playing a thoughtful game. The warband that he brought was completely different from mine.
Battle Plate Marshall
Mounted Drow Patrol
Gold Dwarf Soldier
Three commanders! Right away, I got a bit overconfident, thinking that if he'd spent points on three commanders, I'd have an easy time chopping my way through their bodyguards. There was no ranged threat, although the Mounted Drow Patrol fills much the same role. Nothing on his team had more than 65 hit points or hit for more than 15 points of damage. Most of them had good ACs, but I only needed to hit them once to trigger a morale check or twice to destroy them outright. Easy win, here I come.
Mike gave me choice of maps, and I chose the Tomb of Queen Peregrine. Aside from having good luck on it once before, it seems generally to be a good map for heavy hitting warbands like mine. I set up in the upper left corner, and Mike split his warband between the upper and lower right. With all those commanders, he had great flexibility.
Turn 1 -- Mike's initiative, Mike moves first
Mike moved forward generally. I advanced cautiously through the gap in front of my setup area, not being in any great hurry and trying to avoid setting up easy charges for Mike. In the process, I moved the Hunched Giant to a position where it could charge Mike's dwarves on turn 2 in the unlikely event that I got the initiative.
Turn 2 -- Mike's initiative, Mike moves first
Mike used the initiative to upset my charge by maneuvering his Githzerai Monk into a position where it was the closest enemy figure to the Hunched Giant but not a legal target for charging. His warband was arrayed in a semicircle around mine, so that any figure I moved forward could be fairly easily surrounded and attacked. I didn't plan to move forward and engage, however.
Instead, I intended to sidestep onto the sacred circle (which was also Mike's victory area), laager up, and use the Elf Stalker's high-probability ranged attacks to goad Mike into coming to me. I still say it was a good strategy, even if it didn't work. At the very least, it seemed to leave Mike slightly nonplussed. He advanced cautiously, seeking out sheltered locations from which he might use his superior speed for a concentrated attack.
My exaggerated confidence in my warband's ability to stand up to whatever Mike could throw at it was my undoing. I wanted to use the big figures to block both sides of the sacred circle area, as shown in the diagram. Why I wanted to block both sides, I couldn't say, but it seemed like a good idea at the time. I also believed that my fearless Half-Orc Paladin could stand up to Mike's weaker melee units, especially with the Iron Golem and Hunched Giant able to smash anything that stepped up to attack the HOP. I knew it was a risk, but I thought it was a small risk, and the bait might be just what I needed to pull Mike's head completely into the noose.
Turn 3 -- Mike's initiative, Mike moves first
As expected, the Mounted Drow Patrol used Wall Walker to rush in, stab the Iron Golem, and zip away. It couldn't get quite far enough away from the Iron Golem to be safe, however. If the Golem moved out of position, it could hit the MDP with melee reach and force a morale check. I considered the MDP to be the most dangerous unit facing me, so it was an attack well worth making.
The Golem hit the Mounted Drow Patrol and got past its Conceal 6 (this was the only game in the series in which Conceal 6 didn't bedevil me constantly), but the drow passed its morale check. Even so, it was reduced to 20 hit points and could be easily finished off by the Elf Stalker and Wizard Tactician.
I'm sure that all these same thoughts were racing through Mike's head, too. The difference was, he saw something when I moved my Golem that I overlooked. That move opened up a clear lane to my Half-Orc Paladin. I hadn't missed that -- I was just confident that the HOP, backed by the Hunched Giant, Wizard Tactician, and Elf Stalker, could handle whatever Mike threw at it for one round.
I was wrong.
Mike took a chance and rushed the Githzerai Monk up the alley that I'd left open. It used Unavoidable Strike and Stunning Blow against the HOP. It was a long-odds attack in that the HOP had a two-thirds chance to shake off the Stunning Blow -- but he didn't. The Troglodyte Captain followed up the Githzerai, adding another 10 points of damage and spreading its stench all over the place. Suddenly, from a position that had looked almost unassailable moments earlier, I was in deep trouble.
Turn 4 -- Mike's initiative, Mike moves first
The stunned Half-Orc Paladin took 25 more points of damage from the Troglodyte Captain and Mounted Drow Patrol, leaving it with just 15 hit points remaining. The Hunched Giant put a critical hit on the Troglodyte Captain, but the damage wasn't quite enough to kill the figure outright, and it passed its morale check. My Wizard Tactician had already used her empowered magic missile, so all she could do was add five more damage to the heap.
On his next activation, Mike's Githzerai Monk delivered the coup de grace to the Half-Orc Paladin. That attack put my warband permanently out of command and simultaneously wiped away the Iron Golem, which had suffered only a bare handful of damage points.
Turn 5 -- Mike's initiative, Mike moves first
The Hunched Giant followed its late leader's example by failing a two-thirds chance to avoid being stunned. The Troglodyte Captain fell to my Wizard Tactician's spells.
Turn 6 -- Mike's initiative, Mike moves first
When the Hunched Giant came around, it delivered a 50-point critical hit to Mike's Battle Plate Marshall, only to have the Marshall shake off a Bigby's slapping hand that would have finished it. That was my swan song. I won't bore you with the blow-by-blow account of what remained -- it was all mopping up after that, and this tale has been humiliating enough.
In hindsight, placing my Half-Orc Paladin on the fighting line was a major mistake. I knew what the Githzerai Monk could do, having used one myself earlier in the league, but decided that a 66% chance to ignore the effect was good enough. If I'd concentrated my weaker units on just one side of the sacred circle, with the Paladin safely nestled behind the Golem/Giant tag-team, and the Elf Stalker and Wizard Tactician occupying spaces to keep out the wall-walking Mounted Drow Patrol, this battle could have turned out very differently. I had lousy luck on my saves against Stunning Attack but compensated for it with good luck on critical hits. In the end, I was undone by being too aggressive with my commander, and his rapid destruction cost me over half my warband. Mike certainly earned the win for instantly jumping on that opportunity.
Next -- a rematch lets me regain some self-respect.
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.