Highwaymen look fun, but are they?
The Trollkin Highwaymen look fun. They sport several poses with enough mix and match parts that a little variety can be added with a little love and green stuff. They look great, with their cool hats, guns, and stuff. They look like buff gun mages with a rough and tough mean streak.
On the table, they’ve always been a little problematic. They haven’t changed much since their introduction in Exigence. They lost Camouflage (benefitting from an additional +2 DEF from cover or concealment), but they gained a point of DEF (from 12 to 13), gained Pathfinder, and gained Practiced Maneuvers (ignoring models in the unit when determining LOS and being able to move through each other). They’ve always relied on combined ranged attacks (CRA) to hit and damage models in a straight up fight. They want to somehow sneak into the back arc of models while staying within Braylen’s command range in order to grab those backstab attacks.
While the Highwaymen look interesting, sporting a cool sculpt and having some unique gameplay mechanics, orchestrating the optimal setup can be difficult, and often unattainable.
Who can help Highwaymen score a backstab?
As far as abusing their backstab ability goes, Calandra Truthsayer, Oracle of the Glimmerwood, gives the Highwaymen a turn-to-turn output unparalleled by any other warlock. Changes to Befuddle during a Mercenary nerf accidently broke the Calandra/Highwaymen team, rendering the Highwaymen pointless. Shortly after, Calandra was given a new spell, Discombobulate, to achieve the same effect. She effectively makes a model or unit treat their front arcs as a back arc, granting the Highwaymen backstab any turn she can reach their prey. While this is good, a unit should not be confined to one list, one warlock, and one plan of attack.
Hunters Grim makes them work sometimes, with Mortality making the Highwaymen guns a little more lethal, and Mirage pulling them out of melee. His feat is actually super helpful, making the Highwaymen pretty accurate at an average range. His hat also matches theirs.
Grissel Bloodsong, Fell Caller, used to combine Hoof It with the Press Forward order, moving them 18 inches in the first turn, and sneaking down a flank on the second turn. They hugged the side of the table, avoiding combat until they could pop out behind the enemy. It was a poor man’s ambush. She’s had to revise this plan, since Hoof It no longer works on models that run. Grissel also depends Calamity to help Highwaymen hit and score damage.
Jarl Skuld could also send them down the side of a table, with Quicken kicking DEF against magic and ranged attacks to 15, while pushing their SPD to 8. He does nothing for their hitting or damage ability. His feat feels like it should do something to help their positioning, but doesn’t allow movement through enemy models or obstructions, so it doesn’t help either.
Other than backstab, what good are they?
Playing Highwaymen feels different from playing normal trolls. They’re not hard hitting, or heavily armored, and they don’t carry axes. However, like most Trollkin, the Highwaymen depend on stacked magic abilities and other shenanigans to get work done. Even with the recent changes, they take Hoof It well, walking and shooting, then trying to sneak behind enemy lines. Sometimes Swift Hunter enables them to score a backstab hit with their second gun.
Unfortunately, outside of backstab, they don’t offer much to a troll army. Their shots are only POW 10, and they have to be close to combat, which usually negates the CRA ability. They should be a disruptive unit, but they have little way of becoming disruptive. Bushwhackers are actually better at getting behind the enemy, due to their Slip Away ability. Bushwhackers could, in theory, slip away behind the enemy, then also Hoof It, giving them a lot of distance behind enemy lines. If an enemy is foolish enough to turn around to fight Bushwhackers, then the Highwaymen could backstab. However, this type of strategy depends on players making mistakes, and so isn’t a great strategy if you want to win tournaments.
What prevents them from applying backstab?
The main problem lies in pushing the Highwaymen through enemy lines. To benefit from backstab, they must remain within 9 inches of Braylen. Most people try to keep Braylen with the unit, but she often falls prey to an AOE or some singular attack to remove her threat from the table. It’s sometimes better to separate them, trying to position the Highwaymen, then setting up for a pincer on the next turn.
Outside of Calandra’s Discombobulate, the unit absolutely depends on your enemy making a positioning error or allowing Braylen to join the highwaymen in battle. They want to be independent, but they can’t function alone. With two small changes, the highwaymen could become the disruptive unit they need to be, even outside a Calandra list.
What could improve the Highwaymen, and make them worth taking outside of Calandra?
Add Ambush and Backstab to the Trollkin Highwaymen.
By adding Ambush and Backstab, they become the disruptive unit everyone wants. Their whole job is to jump out of the bushes to surprise the enemy! Within the faction, Northkin Battle Bears and the Bear Handler serve the disruptive unit role so much better. Battle Bears cost more per model, but they work so amazingly well! Highwaymen, when compared to units outside the faction, just fall short of being good. They cost 14 points to field, while Kossite Woodsmen (Khador) cost 11. The Kossite Woodsmen threat 16 inches with Backstab while the Highwaymen threat 14 inches. Adding Ambush and Backstab permanently to the back of their card fixes the unit, detaching them from Braylen and moving them into other possible builds within Kriel Company.
Change Braylen because she won’t need to add backstab if the Highwaymen pick it up.
Braylen could still carry a leadership ability. For example, she could pick up a leadership ability that grants Highwaymen Prowl, Parry, or Dodge. I like the Parry possibility, because there isn’t much of it in Trollbloods (outside Grissel 2), and it could help pull Highwaymen off models in melee, so they can get those good CRAs in again.
Adjust Jarl Skuld’s feat to allow passing through enemy models within the cloud.
Whoops! This should be in another article. Its relevance here is worth pointing out. With the change to his feat, he could run Highwaymen with his army, and actually get work from them for one turn. They could pass through enemy models, and then backstab them. Of course, they’ll need some sort of Parry…. like from Braylen maybe?
That sums it up for the Highwaymen. They’re an okay ranged unit, with some interesting play, which could be improved upon. I will probably keep running them for funzies, because they look cool, and give new players a different kind of Trollblood list to fight. They’ll pair with Calandra, because she’s the only warlock with a consistent game plan for them. They’ll pop up in my Hunter’s Grim list, because they match his look.
As always, good luck in your upcoming games, and thanks for reading.