The Miniatures War College
Advenio paratus. Egressus melior paratus.
D&D Miniatures strategy and analysis.

January 31, 2005


What is overactivation, and why do you want it? Simply stated, overactivaton is activating more than two creatures in a row. Huh? But don't the skirmish rules state that you activate two creatures per phase and then let your opponent go? Yes it does, but there are two corners in that rule that allow for overactivation.

The first corner case allowing overactivation is written into the rules: if your opponent has no activations remaining you then activate all of your remaining creatures. This is what I term Simple Overactivation. The second corner is the result of the initiative rule: if you activated in the last phase in a round and then in the next turn you have the first phase then you will activate three or more creatures before your opponent will get to react. This will be called Initiative Overactivation, and if a creature is activated twice that will be termed Double Activation.

Initiative overactivation is the more powerful of the two overactivations. By activating last and then first you have the option of double activating a very powerful creature to maximum effect. The classic example is double activating a Large Red Dragon. You can move the dragon 3 times it's speed and then use it's breath weapon. With a flying range of 24 spaces you can move all the way across the short end of the battle grid with movement to spare. And with that range you can easily use it at the boundary of an early game turn to attack a clump of your opponent's warband.

Initiative overactivation does not really provide any intrinsic advantage over simple overactivation other than allowing double activation. Simple overactivation is a more reliable form of overactivation that does not depend on you winning the initiative but instead relies on you outnumbering your opponent. The effects can sometimes be just as powerful, especially if you have saved up all of your "power hitters" for a concentrated attack on a valuable figure of your opponents. Extra consecutive activations can allow you to respond more effectively to an early event like destroying the key guardian protecting the fragile elements of the warband, so the other creatures can move on and go in base to base contact with a spell caster or destroy a key commander. And the more creatures you have to overactivate with generally the better.

It is primarily because of this outnumbered activation that some warbands have been bloating in size. In addition to creating an opportunity to gain overactivation a large warband also serves as a very powerful defense against being overactivated against. Given these two factors feeding it there sometimes is little argument against using 5 Men-at-Arms instead of a Warforged Fighter. While comparable in attack and durability (actually an edge to the war forged in durability with all its immunities) the biggest advantage you get with the tin can brigade is two whole phases dedicated to deciding if now is the right time for your LG beatstick to strike or not.

Many warband builds specifically do this as a feature: Forward Turtle (a Large Silver Dragon band with 11 activations), Malice HEBI (Two Half Elf Bow Initiates with 4 Elf Warriors) most of the Trifecta builds, and the Ryldfecta builds all have large numbers of creatures with full intent of using the ability to time the best attack and use overactivation if possible. Interestingly enough, there is even a command figure in CG, the Moon Elf Fighter, that can give (to a limited degree) simple overactivation at any time.

This, in my fallible wisdom, is why 200pt skirmish bands generally need at least 8 figures to be competitive. Next we will see why this is causing games to be longer than they should.

January 26, 2005

Large Warbands, what are the advantages?

Why do so many successful warbands have such a large count of figures? Unless the pack a real large wallop any competitive band will have at least 8 figures, and some even go up to the tournament maximum of 12. But why do this? The reasons are many...


One is to provide a "barricade" or a meat shield between you and your opponent's figures. Two 100pt warbands excelled at this: Snowballs from Hell (CE with Cultists of the Dragon summoning Abyssial Maws) and Too Many Puppies (CG with Greycloak Rangers and Wolf minions and Evermeet Wizards summoning Wolves as well. The strategy here is to take advantage of two Skirmish rules. First, barring special movement modes, you cannot move through an space occupied by an enemy. By creating tight corridors where the battle would be fought and flooding them with a large number of creatures protecting the core of the warband the pilot of such a warband can reduce the risk to the most valuable pieces, usually spellcasters.

These was much more effective in the 2003-2004 season, because the second rule it abused was that summoned figures and minion figures didn't score victory points for the opponent. For most of the exisitng summons and minions the point value was for the most part already figured into the creature cost, if you consider that they were costed aggressivly for the core figure plus the additional creatures. However, seeing the abuse that this created in the 2004-2005 season WOTC decided that eliminated minions and summoned creatuers now score victory points. Hence wading through 13 wolves to get to the ranger and wizard will net you 65 points, which is halfway to your goal.

Bait Targets
Another reason to use lots of figures addresses another quirk in the Skirmish rules: Whenever you target something by default you have to use the closest available target. Given the recent glut of dual Half-Elf Bow Initiate Bands this can become quite an issue. You don't want to have your main melee muscle beaten up before they engage the enemy, so you run them behind less expensive figures that will need to be removed before the big bad HEBI can force your high cost figures to make a morale save while advancing.

This is also useful for special abilities and spells. For example an Azer Raider, with it's immunity to fire, should always be the closest creature to the Gauth so it cannot target the rest of your warband. Also a figure that is at least 6 spaces from any of your other figures but is the closest figure will make an opponent thing twice about flinging a fireball to take out a single figure.

Increasing the Odds
Sometimes many small shots can be more effective than a couple of larget ones, especially whne command effects come in to play. Consider the Trifecta warband, this is the warband that Brian Mackey piloted to victory at the 2004 Championship Tournoment. In additon to big hitters like the Orc Champion and Ogre Ravager he filled out the band with a platoon of 6 Orc Warriors. What is interesting is that it out does likes of 2 Orc Brutes, which hit better and do more damage and are comperable in point cost. On average, against a creature with a 19 AC the warriors, as a group, will do 15 points of damage a round. The brutes, even though they will hit more often and do more damage, will do on average 12 points of damage. When you add in a commander like the Drow Sergeant which will give each a +5 damage the effects multiply. The brutes will do 16 and the warriors will do 18.75 points.

Obvioulsly you can't ever do three quarters of a hit point in damage, but when you consider that damage will come out in discreet quantities you will see that the warriors will more reliably get at least some damage off and the brutes will leave you empty handed more often. And with a single creature, like a Minotaur, the numbers get worse with 11 HP damage, and that's with two attacks of 20HP each.

The most importiant reason however is to gain a reliable large block of activations at one time. Since I have already written alot for one blog post I will deal with that in a later post.

A Tale of Activations

Many experienced tournament vetrans may notice that any winning 200pt warband tends to have a large number of figures. And not just a large number, but in figures that are basically throw away figures. Why is that? What effect does it have on the skirmish game, and what can be done about it? In the next few posts I will look at the issue, look at proposed solutions, and propose what I think is a solution that addresses the core of the problem.

  • "wow that makes so much sense that there's no way it will be implemented". -- rhane

January 23, 2005

6x6 Broken Fountain Tile Analysis

Wizards has finally released the January D&D campaigns, an in it is one of the most fundamental changes in skirmish play since, well... the mushroom tangle. The first of what will be more to come of 6x6 tiles.

Several months ago before I wrote my Denying Assault articles I was considering writing an article on "magic numbers" in tile layout: 4 space gaps prevent any tile from going in, 6 prevent tiles with all hard edges, etc. etc. But now it appears that such cut and dried rules no longer apply.

What is interesting though is that any rule to prevent a 5x8 tile from going in also apply to blocking placement of a 6x6 tile. You are still OK placing tiles 4 squares apart to keep new tile from going in, and issues with hard and soft edges are the same. The only rule is really a "can't place any more" type rule where you have a 7x7 (or 9x9 area that has wall issues) you cannot place the 5x8 since one side is too long.

So the mere shape of the 6x6 tile isn't going to give any advantage in preventing your opponent from doing anything. What advantage I do see is that it can be rotated in any of 4 different ways when you pick the spot you are going to place it. This is unlike rectangular tile that can only be placed in one of two ways. Unless they make a 6x6 treasure room or torture chamber where two adjacent sides are continuous walls then it's not useful for barricade or blocking use. This would provide a distinct advantage over the treasure room and torture chamber since their corner is formed with the same "handedness" which limits the pair of sides you can fully block. But if it was in a square it could block any two adjacent sides from where you want to play it.

This first 6x6 is mostly useful (in my mind) to provide a way station without line of sight for one, and maybe two squares depending on how you use it. But I have heard the next tile is supposed to look like a series of smaller rooms. That tile looks to me to be more tourney worthy than the fountain.

Would I use it? For now just to get a feel of how the 6x6 tiles work with tile layout, but it really doesn't provide any specialized value that other tiles don't do a better job of. It will have to be a future 6x6 to get put in my standard set of considerations.

January 20, 2005

Evacuate, the template formerly known as Ultra-Quick Strike

The two new formats that wizards introduced today are not really entire formats in their own right, much like in third edition a vampire is not really a moster in it's own right. These two new additions are really templates to existing formats that subtly tweak the rules but dramatically change the strategic implications of the game. I will refer you to the article at WOTC rather than re-state the formats here.

My favorite is the second template, named "Ultra-Quick Strike," mostly for it's potential. There are two problems I see with it. First, the name has got to go; it's got quick-strike in it which it really has nothing to do with. The template has nothing to do with the quick strike last man standing hoser which is the deining victory condition in my opinion. In fact, once you move your next to last creature off the board technically you lose at that point. Instead for a name I recommend "Evacuation," since really what you are adding is the ability to evacuate the battlefield and call the game based on points.

The second problem is really related to where I see the potential to this template. As currently stated you can leave by your own exit squares at any time. In fact it's only your own exit squares and not your opponents exits. This is too unbalancing to ranged bands in my opinion. Consider a warband that consists entirely of Inspiring Marshals and Elf Pyromancers playing off of the Assembly (Rubble) Tile. It is concievable that you could win at the end of the first turn by moving the pyromancer into position with the marshals, blasting a low HP figure with the fireball, and running off of the board after firing the bait spell. I've played paintball games like that on really small fields, and it isn't a whole lot of fun. It may help with the time problems in 200 points, but the irony is that with so much measuring for line of sight in time may expire even before the tiles are set up.

To fix this I recommend a minor change that brings it closer to another format in the minis rule book that has a problem of it's own. The tweak would be that you can only voluntarily move your own figures off of an opponent's exit square. This is much like Reconnisance in Force, except that is solves a major problem unbalancing it towards large fast tanks. With Reconnisance in force Malice LRD will almost always win since it can fly it's dragons off the board and score 83 points without any fight, and since they fly nothing can really stop them. But if they don't score points it merely makes the Large Red Dragon very strong rather than abusive. But if there is another tweak, in that the point value of figures evacuated cannot exceed your total VP scored. This limits the drive by to somethign more of a crash by. This then makes the dragons strong, but not strictly the strongest.

So now I present the new and improved Evacuate Skirmish Scenario Template:

Evacuation [Template]

Number of Players: Any, but works best with two.

Warbands: Warband construction is as usual.

Terrain Setup: Setup is as usual.

Victory: Victory points for destroyed creatures and occupied tiles are awarded as usual.

Ending the Game: Evacuation differs is in its ending condition. The game ends when only one player has figures on the battle grid. Any figure may voluntarily exit the battle grid by an opponents exit square, but only if the total point value of all evacuated figures would be less than the controlers current VP total. Figures doing so are removed from the game without scoring victory points for any player. In all other respects the creature counts as eliminated once it leaves the battle grid.

Two New Skirmish Scenarios at Wizards

Wizards of the cost has posted two new scenarios for th eSkirmish game: Ultra-Quick Strike (which is a combination of reconisance in force and quickstrike) and Escalation (the losing player can double up the VPs scored after, kind of like backgammon). I will post on these later, starting with Ultra-Quick Strike.