Warcry – Competitive Events

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Is Warcry Competitive? That’s a question we often get, and the answer is Yes.  But not everyone agrees, and that’s with good reason. For some people, Warcry is a fun Beer and Pretzels game. The reality of course is, it can be both

In this video, I’m going to talk about competitive play in Warcry, specifically looking at tournament formats currently used and how they could be improved.

From day one, Warcry came with a fantastic scenario generation system using random cards to determine terrain, victory condition, deployment, and a fun little twist. This kept games interesting and quick to put together, but it also resulted in some games which were decided before they even started.

Now, you can play those games to win, taking every advantage you can and being absolutely ruthless, but the level of randomness in the setup diminishes the contribution of pre-planning and tactical play on the board. This is why this type of format is considered casual.

If you want to play Warcry competitively, you need to take a different approach. We want to keep the starting field as level as possible so the game is a decent test of skill rather than pure luck. One approach is to only use the scenario cards with the matched play symbol. A more extreme approach is to use pre-made scenarios where we completely remove the random generation.

These are the scenarios from the back of the rules pdf. Ley Lines and Reaper. Let’s imagine a competitive scene where we only ever played these two scenarios and nothing else. 

Ley Lines is an objective-based scenario while Reaper is about having the most points worth of kills each turn. In Ley Lines, you’re probably going to do better with a chaff warband where you have lots of fighters able to control as many of the objectives as possible. In this scenario, 2 skeletons on an objective are better than 1 Stormcast. In Reaper, things are reversed. You want to get kills each turn and even though skeletons are cheap, your one Stormcast is going to get you more victory points each turn.

Another aspect is deployments. In both scenarios, the Dagger starts the game in play, with the shield arriving in turn 2 for Ley Lines while in Reaper it’s the hammer. If we put our best fighters in our shield group and end up playing Ley Lines, we’d be at a disadvantage.

So these scenarios aren’t fair,  but going into them we know what to expect. We get to craft our warband and tailor them to the scenarios as best we can. When we start the battle, the deployment and victory conditions are mirrored, so that battle will be decided based on our choices before the battle, our tactics in the battle, and a certain amount of random chance based on the dice.

That’s what makes it competitive.

In this competitive scene, certain factions would rise to the top and others will fall behind. We’d see YouTube videos with Tier lists weighing the pros and cons of various war bands. If GW then decided to remove Reaper and instead replaced it with a treasure mission, the meta would shift massively. Suddenly the game is less about killing, although that’s always going to be a factor, and we’d see movement become a lot more important.

I’m labouring through this point a little, but the key part here is we make our warband for the scenario, not the other way around.

These are two sample packs GW have used, the Tangled Depths and Gnarlwood Champion. In each case, 6 battle plans are presented. These have victory and deployment already combined to avoid any problematic combinations. The tangled Depths used the matched play missions from the Rulebook while Gnarlwood Champion uses some of its own.

Here are the missions from the Gnarlwood Champion pack, which we’ll focus on for the remainder of this video. While there are six in total, each event only has 3 games. This has pros and cons. We’ve narrowed down the variety to just 6, so the unbalanced scenarios have been removed. Players can prepare for those 6 games and try to have a plan ready but they’ll never be 100% sure what they’re going to face so they can’t hyper-specialise. On the downside, since the draw is random you can end up with a tournament favouring one strategy heavily. 

Personally, I feel losing the variety and having fixed missions actually makes for a more competitive event. So the pack would just have 3 scenarios rather than 6 and players would know they will get to play each scenario once even if the order might be random.

After we have our tournament pack, we can start working on our Warband. We need to look at a number of elements to determine what will give us our best chance at victory.

First, we look at the terrain.

It’s unlikely that detail on the terrain will be included in the pack, typically events will just cobble together whatever they can and you’ll have a number of different tables on the day. That might mean tables with terrain already set up or scenery from the Warcry boxes along with the deck of terrain cards to randomise it, using only the matched play ones with the symbol below. 

Both approaches have their own problems, especially when combinations of terrain and objectives clash. For example, if you have mounted troops and there is no terrain to climb up on, then you don’t have to worry about the drawback of cavalry. A table with lots of platforms on the other hand along with treasure or objectives would make mounted fighters a liability.

Similarly, lots of blocking terrain will reduce the effectiveness of ranged fighters, while an open board will improve it.

Of particular interest in the current meta is how much room you have to place monsters. If the board is relatively open then a monster will be free to rampage across the board but if there is a lot of terrain the monster might not be able to fit and will end up out of the action.

In theory, you’re only really limited by your imagination when it comes to victory conditions. They aren’t baked into the rules so as an event organiser you could come up with anything you think is fun and write a scenario for it. In practice, the main victory conditions can be lumped into three categories: Treasure, Objectives, and Kill. For those conditions, you will find certain fighters are better.

Speed has always been king and being able to get in and out with treasure can be game-winning. You also need to look at who can actually hold treasure, so beasts are out as they can’t even pick it up but consider also who can take a few blows and walk it off.

The default rules for controlling an objective are to count the number of fighters within 3 inches. So having cheap fighters can be a big advantage. Some packs may adjust this to be count points or total health, so keep an eye out for that.

For kill-based missions, you’re obviously taking fighters good at inflicting and soaking damage, but even without those types of missions, it’s likely you’ll be counting kill points as a tie-breaker. With this system, you keep a running total of the points of fighters you take down during the event.

Looking over the victory conditions in this pack we can see a lot of objectives missions, 5 out of the 6 with the one remaining a treasure mission. So this pack is going to favour war bands that are better at controlling objectives. Whether that means lots of chaff fighters or just enough fighters that are hard to shift.

As an extra quirk, the Ghur Champion pack adds Sidequests. The side quests are a mix of treasure, objective, and kill options. They are randomly decided along with the scenario and give an additional way to score victory points.

I have to admit, I’m not really a fan of these. As we talked about earlier, part of the goal of competitive play is to minimise random bias. Usually, secondary objectives are something you select for a Warband rather than having it randomly decided, this means even if the main objective is poor for you, you’ll still have a backup that you’re good at. This version essentially changes the 6 scenarios we previously had into 36 different scenarios. While this doesn’t necessarily introduce any unbalanced scenarios, it means you can get a more heavily biased event, where for example you draw 2 kill missions out of the 3 and your side quests are also kill-focused.

The next aspect to consider for the event is deployment. Unfortunately, I think this has been an underutilised aspect of Warcry. In the current edition, we’ve pretty much always been splitting the Warband into 3 even groups without much consideration over which is which. That’s because the deployments have intentionally been designed to be balanced with each group getting an equal showing.

When it comes down to the mechanics, there really isn’t much of a difference between Warcry and Killteam which is considered a very competitive game. The big difference that I can see between the games is battle groups in Warcry which are great for getting you into the action but end up random because you can’t actually plan for them. 

If we look at the Gnarlwood Champion pack we can see Hammer starting turn one in the two battle plans on the left. Then in the middle, we have two Shields turn one and on the right we have two Daggers turn one. So when it comes to splitting your groups, it’s pretty much even based on what starts turn one. If you want to go into more detail, you can consider distance and the objectives and perhaps tailor your group to be better at particular scenarios.

I’ve already mentioned the potential problems of having 6 victory conditions and only playing three, and that’s the same for deployment groups as well. You can end up with a situation with the hammer group starting 2 out of 3 games giving players with strong Hammers an advantage. 

In my personal opinion, a better approach is to have the scenarios defined ahead of time so players can adjust their groups to favour one particular game over another.

Obviously, an important consideration when going into an event is what the current meta looks like. Both the greater hypothetical meta of whatever YouTube channel has just produced a tier list to the very local meta of what your local players love to play. As a tournament organiser, you can have some impact on this as selecting certain scenarios will favour certain archetypes. Often that’s something you’ll want to try avoid but it sometimes can be fun for everyone to shake up a scene if a certain warband is consistently winning.

As a player, you’ll want to consider what you can take to give you an edge on the assumption your local players don’t pull any surprises. That might be a simple tuning of your current warband to favour damage versus T5 targets or it could mean starting from scratch to pick the perfect meta warband.

Last up, I’d like to talk about Monsters. Up to now, I’ve kinda been talking in the abstract about structuring an event and considerations when playing in one. This is a little more current meta.

Edit: This was before the points increase for monsters in the recent FAQ but this advise is still good as even with the cost increase some monsters like the Chimera may still be worth it.

If you’ve been paying attention to recent Warcry tournaments you’ll be aware that Monsters have been making a big impact. Due to this, it’s a good idea to understand how monsters work and consider whether you should play one yourself or not.

In a matched play list you can have 1 monster from your grand alliance. They take up an entire deployment group by themselves and deploy within 3 inches of their deployment group rather than wholly within, so they get a decent push forward. Rather than having 1 activation with 2 actions, they get 3 activations each with only 1 action. They cannot make reactions and if they climb their base must be wholly on a platform or they fall. 

There are a number of special abilities associated with Monsters. All your non-beast fighters get access to the monster-hunting abilities, but honestly, they aren’t great. The monster has its own three abilities, of which one, in particular, you should be aware of. That’s Drag and Maul. It’ll let you move an enemy a considerable distance since you can pick it up and move it to the opposite side of your monster, often another 5 inches. Although often the monster will use their considerable damage to just eat the target, especially as Drag and Maul does some decent damage itself.

This is something to be aware of more than something that needs to change. I’ve heard of TOs declaring events monster free, but that’s to shake up a meta after running several tournaments where monsters eventually took over. As a player, you definitely should have a strategy on how to deal with a monster if you face one.

So, what have we learned? 

This video was focused on competitive events rather than necessarily playing competitively. The two conversations have cross-over for sure, but in this video, I wanted to focus on tournament structure because I don’t think we’ve fully broken away from the casual approach that we started with in the core box.

Using the combined victory and deployment has definitely removed the more egregious combinations, but we still have the potential to skew an event heavily in one direction or another. To be fair, that’s less of an issue with the Gnarlwood Champion pack but only because the 6 scenarios already heavily skew towards objective-based missions.

I also think we have some untapped potential when it comes to deployments, specifically because the current ethos is to evenly balance these which unfortunately removes any meaningful choice for the players.

A perfect event for me, would be one where we already know the scenarios and get to fully tailor our lists for them. That way, players can account for any bias in the setups when developing their Warbands strategy.

So is Warcry competitive? Definitely. You can tell because we’re seeing similar style lists win events. Monsters and lots of cheap chaff. Warbands that leverage the power of slow fighters with movement boosts like the tempest eye ability. Undead war bands that just keep coming back. We’re even seeing innovations like Death Master + Stormvermin list SaltySea recently covered. 

Can it be better? I definitely think so. All in all, Warcry is still a relatively new game and I think to a certain extent it’s being held back by how good the casual play is. The good news is nothing needs to change about the game to make it more competitive, all we need to do is tighten up the tournament packs and give players actual decisions to make by actually sharing the scenarios ahead of time. Hopefully, that’s something we’ll eventually see coming from GW themselves, but it’s also something you can start going in your local scene to encourage other players to enjoy the competitive side of Warcry.

If you have any comments or feedback please post them in the comments section below. Check us out on the Optimal Game State website, Mastodon, and YouTube channel for more discussion about the Games Workshop Specialist Games.

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