This article is about that nebulous word playstyle.
Precisely for this article, I'm going to identify two general playstyles that I've observed, the impact of those playstyles on Warband composition and perceived value of different models. I'll highlight what I think are the strengths and weaknesses of both styles.
These are entirely my opinion, based on a bunch of supposition and not much else. Please don't read these opinions as my statement of definitive fact, they are more something to consider and think about. Maybe it fits your experience, perhaps it doesn't.
The first of the two playstyles I'll discuss is the one that I personally tend towards when playing Judgement.
I'm calling it "setup" for short, though I think of it as "setup-payoff".
The Setup playstyle is characterised by planning your turns as a build-up to a "payoff" activation later in the turn.
To do this, you typically need to include three types of models:
- Those that can be used early in the turn to decent effect without committing. That most often means Soulgazers, models with buffs, models that are naturally very resilient and occasionally models that have ranged effects or chip damage. Any Defenders fit in this category, along with the Soulgazers that can buff such as Saiyin or Zaron. If you're intending to deliver damage with someone like Istariel, then models that can set targets on fire for her are helpful in either this category or category 2 below.
- Those that can be used either early or late to decent effect which often includes characters like Bastian. For the Lorekeeper, his positioning is essential, but he also has a generous window of flexibility as he can heal mid-turn or contribute a push to move the target enemies around without being himself too deep. Gendris fits this role also, and characters like Jaegar are similarly ideal for this slot. Kvarto and Styx can likewise fit in this slot since they are set up pieces that can move friendly or enemy models into the right place. Kvarto provides the added option of activating after your primary aggressor to give a touch more damage output.
- The model(s) that are intended to do the business. They are going to activate late and generally aim to deliver as much damage as possible. These models are almost always Aggressors, and usually, the ones that have a damage cap of 5-20 under reasonably typical circumstances. If you're playing melee focussed, this can be Zhonyja, Brok, Nephenee, Bale and theoretically Rakkir. If you're working at range, then Kogan, Barnascas and Loribela are all capable of extremely high optimal damage output. Note that most of the characters in this category are capable of 2 attacks per action.
Builds for setup players are typically either melee or ranged and rarely mix and match. They will usually show redundancy in each of the critical roles to ensure that a single ban can't break the plan. As a result, banning against these warbands is often quite easy but not particularly effective.
The goal of this style is to spend your first 2-4 activations setting up your and your opponent's models by either baiting them into positions or by directly pushing or placing them there. If done correctly, you should have a smooth delivery of your primary aggressor to your opponent's juiciest target. The middle activations can also allow the setup of conditions such as poison on the right model if you've had rakkir as your finisher, fire if you've got Istariel, or curse if you've got Nephenee. In place of that, some simple chip damage can ensure your finishing aggressor gets the job done.
My example of this Warband is the one I use the most: Marcus, Skoll, Bastian, Brok, Nephenee, Zaron, Saiyin.
Generally, I'll end up with one aggressor, two defenders, a soul gazer and the last slot will either be Bastian or the second aggressor depending on who got banned. So my early activations are typically Skoll (put up bulwark on primary aggressor), Saiyin (put up Holy Shield on an aggressor, soul gaze if possible), then Bastian to position and/or heal someone, followed by Marcus to knock down a target and position it. Finally, Brok to kill the knocked down model.
A similar Warband for ranged can be made as Marcus, Skoll, Jaegar, Kogan, Barnascas, Zaron and Saiyin.
You'll note it's a very similar Warband, but in this case, we're looking to bait in an opposing model or two, knock down one and Retarius the other and then shoot both simultaneously using either Kogan or Barnie. Loribela can also be in that build comfortably.
The strength of this approach to my mind is that you can focus your attention on playing with basically one Warband and one strategy. No matter what is banned, you can play a roughly equivalent Warband, so you don't need a tremendous amount of practice to be able to perform reasonably consistently.
The primary weakness is the lack of flexibility. You may find you simply don't have the tools available for specific situations, and if your opponent has a diverse Warband, they may be able to pick the right tools with which to take you apart.
In Judgement, because of the you-go, I-go format of turns, this style can be challenging to master and a canny opponent will definitely have the opportunity to interfere. People that favour this style tend to value models that are involved in combos more highly and tend to look at "maximum theoretical output" and assume you can make a Warband to get there consistently.
As an example, I value Brok and Nephenee higher than other aggressors because their consistent maximum theoretical output without fate is 24 damage in an activation. Zhonyja is 15, as is Rakkir. I've used consistent maximum theoretical output there, which to me means "the output that is almost entirely within my control as the player". It's not dependent on being able to apply a condition, it's not reliant on having fate available and being able to spend it. It's merely the maximum the character can do with basic attacks.
Similarly, I value characters like rakkir lower because there is no way to 'fix' his damage curve. You are very reliant on Toxin to deliver significant damage and if you cant get poison on target, or you roll low on Toxin it can be a very disappointing activation. Setup warbands rely on a small number of high power activations for their damage output, you can't really afford to have a damage activation fizzle.
I value characters like Kogan and Barnascas higher because their theoretical damage output can be extremely high, and the cost to make it happen is all in setup. I value Zaffen less highly only because his damage is capped out well below my threshold even though it may well be more comfortable to apply.
When it comes to defenders and Soulgazers, I value them more highly for the buffs they can provide and their facilitation of the setup through things like knockdown. Marcus is a double whammy since protective stance is fantastic to keep the aggressor up and running and knockdown is his stock in trade. Similarly, Skoll can provide knockdown and bulwark. Thrommel, though a great defender in several builds, rarely makes it into my setup warbands since he really doesn't offer either one (his KD requires fate …that's not what I want).
This playstyle is much more free-flowing, intending to evaluate each activation for the best moment to stick the knife in and delay with other actions if there's no suitable opportunity. This playstyle is characterised by flexible builds with relatively flexible and independent characters.
If you see a build that mixes ranged and melee aggressors, chances are the player is an opportunistic type who is happy to break the board up into multiple skirmishes and mix and match which of their characters end up in which area. It's hard to give a clear example Warband of this type since they vary wildly, but I'll give an example of what I'd build when working down this path: Barnascas, Allandir, Marcus, Jaegar, Svetlana, Zhonyja and Haksa.
This build gives you options for a res-heavy melee build if you wish with Marcus, Barnascas, Haksa, Svet and Zhonyja. Alternatively, you can go a ranged heavy build via Marcus, Barnascas, Allandir, Jaegar and Haksa. This lets you competently play a variety of scenarios since you've got access to Monster Hunter and monster control if you're allowed both Jaegar and Svetlana and options on fire if you want it also.
These builds typically don't have complete redundancy and might not have any apparent redundancy at all. Banning against these warbands can be hard simply because there are so many different threats it's hard to work out which components are most troublesome for your Warband. To me, this is one of the strengths of an opportunistic Warband since you can often include any and all characters that you feel are powerful and then fill the rest with models that combo with any one or two of those chosen. This gives you a lattice of possible Warbands that you could play.
It does, however, require the player to get a lot of games in with a lot of different options to be comfortable in any given game that might come up. That is, to me, the biggest weakness going into a tournament since it provides many opportunities to make the wrong call.
In-game, this playstyle doesn't give you a "default" pattern to play to and every activation you will find yourself performing probability calculations in your head. Is this activation the right one to send Zhonyja in, will she immediately die and if so, can I trade back again? Am I better off drawing another activation or positioning the monster or soul gazing etc.
Without a simple structure to follow this style is hard to master for newer players since the game can present so many options that it's effortless to get overwhelmed. Since the options can change dramatically from activation to activation, the time spent working out your best options on the first activation isn't always well spent when you get to the next activation and come to re-evaluate.
Opportunists value characters that can do several things. Examples might include:
- Xyvera – Soul Gazer, source of direct damage and source of healing
- Jaegar – Soul strip, retarius and ranged direct damage, plus monster hunter
- Marcus – Knockdown, resilient, wall, buffs, can be built to be a tank with AGI as well
- Barnascas – Competent at both range and melee, can be made to tank as an off-defender
They also value models that can threaten to burst damage on a target if an opportunity presents itself, the most obvious examples being both Zhonyja and Fazeal.
In my observation players that favour opportunism don't typically like to be pinned down to just melee or just ranged, will commonly run single soul gazer (or even none), single defender (or none) and will often struggle to directly articulate the "plan" for the Warband (because it has so many).
General thoughts (Compare and contrast?)
To be clear, I don't propose that any player is "one playstyle", merely that most players have a preference to how they want to approach a game and how they most often play it. You might approach each game with a general plan for how each turn should roll out (particularly turn one I'd hope!) but be very much focussed on adaptation and making the most of opportunities. Similarly, you might approach each game with a very rigid plan, but still, be capable of taking advantage of opportunities ( I hope!)
However, I've generally noticed that playstyle is really a collection of attributes. I prefer to have a plan, I frequently play a setup-payoff playstyle. I like to think I'm still able to take advantage of opportunities and make surprising plays, but I'm less likely to swing for a chance at a lucky kill and more likely to ignore the opportunity to continue my setup for a later play. That means I definitely miss some opportunities. It also colours how I perceive other people's games. I will often offer bait that I think is the wrong play for my opponent to take, only to find they jump on it with glee and then roll the 40% critical and set me back significantly. My opponent obviously felt that was an excellent opportunity while I thought it wasn't, and that shaped both of our plays.
Looking at your opponent's Warband (and your own) can reveal to you what playstyle they (or you) are likely to favour in the upcoming game, which may, in turn, give you insight into what they are likely to ban (given what they value) and/or pick. As with every good tactical game, the depths you can think and counter-think are really only limited by your time and effort, so I encourage you to develop simple strategies for the pick and ban phase with your Warband, but that's a whole other article.
For now, I've got to get back to work. I hope you found something of interest amongst the dross!