Thursday, December 2, 2010
Warmachine 101 – The Factions: Khador
Hey everyone! Over the next couple weeks we’re going to take a look at the various factions of Warmachine, including some ideas on where to begin, what type of play each faction represents, and some land-mines to avoid when you’re starting out. I’m not going to try and throw out specifics about how fast a given faction is or that their troopers are overall better shots; I’m going for a general overview. I trust you guys to figure out the numbers on your own if you’re interested in a faction. I will also be putting up what I consider to be a good ‘learner’ list for each faction at 35 points, and some ideas behind what went into them. For this first installment, we’ll be starting in the cold north with the faction that is dearest to my heart, the sons and daughters of the Motherland, the Khadorans!
Thematically, Khador is reminiscent of Imperial Russia under the Czars. The land is harsh, and breeds harsh people. Military service is mandatory and embraced by male and female alike. The government is headed by the Empress Ayn Vanar, under whom various quasi-feudal political factions vie for influence. Khador lags behind Cygnar, its chief rival, in the production of warjack cortexes, the magical ‘brains’ that imbue Warjacks with a rudimentary autonomy (This fact leaves me scratching my head sometimes when I read fluff about one Kommander or another blithely throwing Warjacks away in battle, but I’m never going to complain when I get to read about Karchev the Terrible annihilating a Cygnaran strongpoint, regardless of fluff inconcistencies!), which has resulted in a design philosophy focused on heavy armor and staying power. Khador does not manufacture light warjacks, and instead has created a corps of men who go to battle in steam-powered suits of armor and acting, effectively, as units of light warjacks. The army, much like the political factions of the government, is made up of a number of disparate elements: the Winterguard represent the lay conscripts and recruits into basic military service, Iron Fangs are drawn from noble families bound to a tradition of military service, the Man-o-War corps are made up of hardy men willing to risk being boiled alive to fight in steam-armor, and the Doom Reavers and Kayazy represent the more shadowy elements of the war effort; Doom Reavers are criminals literally bound to ancient fellblades of terrible power that whisper to them at the corners of their minds and drive them into berserk frenzies, and the Kayazy are the enforcers of the various criminal elements of Khadoran society, specializing in stealth and assassinations. Other irregular elements like the battle wizards of the Greylords Covenant and the Kossite Woodsmen support the main army. Khador was once the Khardovic Empire, and has steadily lost prominence through treaty after treaty. They only recently have re-crowned their Queen as an Empress and begun a campaign to re-conquer the lands that were once theirs.
On the tabletop, a Khador army is generally slow, implacable, and relentless, with some noteworthy bursts of unimaginable speed. Whether you're getting there step-by-step, inch-by-inch or in one fell swoop, the plan is almost invariably to get into melee combat with the enemy. The standard color scheme is a good, solid red with black, gold, and metallic details; but I have seen very well executed schemes of military green, dark greys, and even a black-and-tan color scheme. As long as there’s a splash of red in there, the army looks very good in a number of militaristic, earth-tone focused colors. Khador armies tend to like their units and solos more than their Warjacks, as their Warcasters often have a handful of powerful unit buffs and/or a feat that is maximized with the larger number of attacks units can pump out over warjacks (Karchev being the primary exception).
Khadoran units cover a wide spectrum but one rule applies: a powerful punch! Even a basic Winterguard grunt has a powerful short-ranged gun to go with their axe. Iron Fang Pikemen are melee-only, but their stats mark them out as elites and their pikes are strong enough to wreck light warjacks en masse. Doom Reavers are little more than skin-clad savages (which always reminded me of those crazy dudes in Beastmaaster that had the slug thing put in their ear and the black mask bolted on their face) but their powerful blades and Berserk ability allow them to shred units of troopers. In general, Khador units have good defenses, whether they be heavy armor, access to abilities like shield wall, high defense or access to defense increasing buffs, or more esoteric things like being shielded from all spells (friendly and enemy). This mitigates the fact that Khador has a predilection toward melee combat, with the ranged elements of the army falling squarely in the ‘support’ role. If you want dudes (and ladies) that are going to charge headlong at the enemy to smash (and crash, and bash, and bust and burn!) them, you’re in the right place.
Unit of Note: Widowmakers
After going on for so long about how Khador brings the pain in hand-to-hand combat, it probably seems counterintuitive to call out a shooting unit as the Unit of Note. Here’s why: Khador has so many exemplary melee units, each of which is, in their own way, noteworthy at beating face, that to pick one would be pointless. The humble unit of four Widowmakers, seemingly innocuous throughout all the meat and metal of the Khadoran army, is something that earns its paycheck game after game. With so much emphasis on close combat, having a very specialized unit that excels in picking out a couple targets each turn and getting them out of the way of your bruisers is solid gold. Widowmakers find their way into most Khador lists for one reason: they are precise where your larger army is blunt.
Unit to Avoid (at first): Assault Kommandos
AKs are a unit that, at first glance, seems to have a smorgasbord of awesome to pick from, with two ranged attack options, two swings in close combat, cool immunities, and abilities that let them shoot and charge into combat... Sounds great, right? Here's the rub: they aren't very good at doing any of those things. They're relatively poor shots, and in a faction with specialized shooting where every shot needs to count, putting points into a unit that's butterfingers with their guns doesn't bear out. Finally, they don't hit very hard. I'm sorry, but this is Khador kiddies. You don't have to be able to do much besides smash things hard. Is that too much to ask? Assault Kommandos can be useful, and can be made to work and support your army well, but it is something that you have to focus on and they need a lot of help. Leave them on shelf until you're ready for a challenge.
Khador employs a similarly wide variety of solo fighters to support their armies. Manhunters and character solos like Yuri the Axe, Kovnik Markov, and Fenris are quintessentially Khador. They have survivability to help them get to grips with the enemy, and they have the muscle to make it count when they do, often in a big way. If Fenris or Markov go the distance, the enemy is in for a very bad time. The other end of spectrum is occupied by support elements like Kovnik Jozef Grigorovich, the Koldun Lord, and the War Dog offer unit buffs and support to other army elements like the Warcaster and Warjacks.
Solo of Note: Fenris
Fenris is a nightmare. He’s hard to deal with, fast, survivable, and kills swaths of enemy at a stretch. As a cavalry model with the Dismount ability, Fenris has access to a bevy of abilities while on horseback that increase both his threat range, maneuverability, accuracy, and hitting power, and he must be killed twice, once to get him off his horse and once to get him off the table. Fenris can vaporize enemy infantry with his excellent melee attack score (MAT), and has the power to go after big stuff as well. Fenris is Khador: implacable, inevitable, wild, brutal, and dangerous... in short, a threat that cannot be ignored. It doesn’t hurt that his model is awesome, as well.
Solo to Avoid (at first): Man-o-War Kovnik
The MoW Kovnik brings a number of abilities, but none of them are all that useful. 'Jack Marshal is an ability that is largely lost on Khador; most of the Warcasters want one or two Warjacks in their battlegroup, and Karchev requires that all of his Warjacks are under his control. With all the great unit options available to fill points, paying for an extra Warjack for the MoW Kovnik to run with limited effectiveness isn't a great idea. He allows an extra unit of Man-o-Wars, but one unit is usually enough, and he has a respectable hit combined with the ability to slam models, but is hampered by that most Khadoran of drawbacks: he's slow.
He is a piece that will find its way into lists that have been designed to accomodate him and the 'Jack he may be running, but even then he's not all that useful.
Khadoran Warjacks are a bit of a sore spot with me. They’re all awesome, but I find myself reaching for my units and solos first. I have a few favorites. Like the Kodiak, which provides speed and the ability to navigate terrain with a pair of respectable hits and the ability generate a free power attack against an enemy model that can knock them down, lockdown a weapon, or throw them at something, commonly playing out with an enemy warjack getting thrown at a mass of enemy infantry or the opposing warcaster. Or the Devastator; with the highest base armor found almost anywhere, the Devastator excels at holding positions and not dying to anything, which can mean the difference between victory and defeat in a tournament scenario with the control of an area of the board as a victory condition. The Devastator also has one of the neatest abilities in the game. His special attack, the “Rain of Death” is when it opens its armored shell and detonates a batch of short-ranged grenades, annihilating anything nearby. When you perform that attack, your opponent (with few exceptions) just gets to pick up any model standing in base contact with the Devastator. The minimum damage from the attack, with the worst possible roll on 2d6, is still 20, and even the most heavily armed trooper can’t live through that. Khadoran Warjacks, while universally strong and tough, all share the same crippling flaw. They are painfully slow, with some of the worst threat ranges in the game. Without help, they are at the mercy of the enemy’s faster models, many of which will still wreck or cripple even a mighty Juggernaut. This is why a Khadoran warjack has to bring something more to the table besides a couple big hits or a big gun. A Juggernaut hits hard, but the Greatbears of Gallowswood hit harder, more often, with a longer reach and greater mobility. A Destroyer has a big gun, but a unit of Widowmakers has a longer reach and more precision. And both of those units cost fewer points and don’t drain your Warcaster’s resources. Khador has a number of solid Warjacks that bring interesting tech to the table: the Kodiak ignores terrain and has a powerful combo-attack, the Decimator has a powerful gun with useful movement tech, Beast-09 has a huge hit, powerful melee abilities, a high MAT, and movement tech. What you will find, though, is that unless you’re playing Karchev, you’ll be picking one or two of those very awesome models for some specific abilities, and filling the rest of your points with dudes.
Warjack of Note: Spriggan
The Spriggan is a Warjack with a lot going for it. It has a shield, adding to its already solid Khadoran armor that also comes in handy when slapping models into paste. It has a big spear that increases its melee range while providing a useful boost to the accuracy of charge attacks. It has a pair of grenade launchers that, while low-powered, still provide a bit of ranged support if necessary, but more importantly can throw out a flare that denies enemy models ranged defenses like Stealth and Camouflage. Finally, the thing is so big and heavy that it can literally shove other models out of its way while it moves. The Spriggan provides ranged support and tech during the opening moves of a game, and can clear its own path to get to enemy models when it’s time to get serious.
Warjack to Avoid (at first): Juggernaut
Sadly, the iconic Juggernaut takes the nod here. He's slow, and his big hits aren't all that accurate without help. He'll wreck whatever he gets to, provided he gets there first (not likely) and he doesn't need to boost to get hits, which is situational at best. For the points you can get any number of strong units that synergize better with most Khadoran Warcasters, or, within a small range of cost, get a Warjack that brings something interesting to the table. We've discussed the Kodiak; the Marauder can charge and make a Slam power attack; even Drago and a basic Berserker have interesting abilities and tech that allows them to cross the field quicker and more efficiently. Unless you've got a hankering for a bunch of Juggernauts clustered around Karchev or simply want lots of heavy metal in your list, leave the Juggernaut at home and reach for something that isn't redundant.
Khador is an army of big personalities. Khadoran Warcasters all have very unique styles and prefer very different things in their armies. The Butcher of Khardov likes lots of infantry to maximize his powerful unit-buffing spells and feat. His game is an attrition game; the more models that die, yours and theirs, bring the game into the Butcher’s court. With a small handful of exceptions, an enemy Warcaster needs their entire army to keep them safe from him. Kommander Sorscha works best with lots of long-range guns to blow away her enemies at range after she freezes them solid. She can very easily play a quick game where she freezes an unsuspecting enemy Warcaster, who is then blown to bits by those big Khadoran guns that have a hard time hitting you, unless you’re already a popsicle! Kommandant Irusk and Epic Sorscha play infantry-heavy games to utilize their feats and abilities best, and Karchev and Strakhov like having some warjacks around so there’s always one handy to throw at the enemy Warcaster, usually from a lot farther away than they thought was possible!
Warcaster of Note: Alexander Karchev
It was a toss-up here between Alexander and the Butcher, but Karchev wins out for me both as a matter of personal preference and for sheer coolness factor. Finally, lots of players new to Khador have the misconception that the army is all about big heavy Warjacks, which is not often the case, as we have seen. Karchev, on the other hand, is so about Warjacks he is one! There’s a joke that the Model types in Warmachine are Warcaster, Unit, Warjack, Solo, and Karchev. He is literally a Warcaster encased in Warjack armor, and everything he does on the table is about supporting his battlegroup of Warjacks, be it boosting the accuracy and power of all their attacks, making them harder to hit and immune to being knocked down, or towing them across the battlefield (often into position to walk over to the enemy Warcaster and spank them). Even his feat is beneficial to him and his Warjacks only! Karchev occupies an interesting place in the Khadoran military; while officially only a Kommander, Karchev is over a century old thanks to life-sustaining mechanika and his suit of Warjack armor, and therefore is granted a level of respect and deference in battlefield affairs that even Kommandants don’t have. Supreme Kommandant Irusk himself eagerly accepts Karchev’s rumbling counsel. And, Karchev has the best quote, ever. When informed that a Cygnaran patrol had escaped their pursuers and would survive to inform the Southerners of the impending attack, Karchev’s response was:
“Good. Surprise is for the weak.”
And that’s Khador in a nutshell, if you ask me.
Warcaster to Avoid (at first): Aleksandra Zerkova
Zerkova is a Warcaster that really really wants an Arc Node. She doesn't help her units in any meaningful way with either spells or her feat, so she isn't able to play to Khador's greatest strength. She has a few neat tricks to play with models in her battlegroup, but they aren't game-winning, which leaves her Warjacks to fend for themselves; Zerkova's abilities are centered around her own spell-casting, which means she wants to hang on to her focus in most cases. Zerkova can win games, but it is an uphill battle against nearly anyone and she can be incredibly frustrating. Get good with one of the Khadoran heavyweights before you reach for her; she's a serious challenge.
• The Butcher of Khardov
• Winter Guard Infantry (minimum unit) + Unit Attachment
• Doom Reavers
• The Greatbears of Gallowswood
• Kovnik Jozef Grigorovich
This is a 35-point army that includes a good mix of units, solos, and Warjacks. The units either generate multiple melee attacks (Greatbears, Doom Reavers, Manhunter) or have accurate, medium-ranged shooting attacks with respectable power (Winterguard, Kovnik Joe), all of which utilize the Butcher’s feat very effectively. The Spriggan has already been thoroughly discussed, and the Berserker has the unique benefit within the faction that he is free with the Butcher’s bonus warjack points. His role is to run at the enemy full steam, be a bullet-magnet, try to hit something really hard, once, then blow up and take everything in the vicinity with him; which fits the Butcher’s playstyle and fluff perfectly. The Butcher himself is powerful, survivable, and reliable, much like Khador as a whole. He is slow, but that’s how it goes in the Frozen North. Overall this list is a great entry into Khador, full of models you will reach for even after your collection grows and you start trying different Warcasters and tactics. The entire army would run you around $240 at retail.
If you think the cold northlands of Khador are the place for you, take a look at some of the models to see if you think they look cool. After that, take a look through the Khador book and see which Warcasters you think are cool; we only touched on a few of them and the most important consideration in choosing a Warmachine faction is: how many of the Warcasters do you think are awesome? If you think the faction is awesome and the minis are great, but you’re not really excited about any of the Warcasters except Irusk, you’re going to find yourself looking over the fence at the other factions pretty quick. If, however, you think that Vlad is awesome and Sorscha is amazing and the Old Witch of Khador is great, you’ve got a good foundation to work with and can grow into the faction, trying new models and different play styles as your skills develop.
I hope this first foray into the factions of Warmachine has been helpful, and I encourage you to go check out all the factions to find what you think is the coolest crew around.
Thanks for reading!