Picture this. You finally painted up all your gargantuan warbeasts, and build a list that’s sure to hit hard and terrorize your opponent. Instead of shivering in their shoes, they drop a ranged army that blows away one of your kings before you’re able to reach the center of the table. Two more turns, and you’re left with your warlock and a couple of support pieces. The next game, you field your miserable meat mountain, only to have it chewed up by tons of guns before your opponent’s army is even in charge range. Feels bad, right? Nobody wants this type of experience at their game store, especially on tournament day.
How can you play Trollbloods into ranged armies when all trolls want to do is run until axe meets face? Put on your reading glasses, because this will be a long read. We’ll cover a couple of army archetypes, look at ranged game counterplay offered by themes, and take a deep dive into the Trollblood warlocks.
Different people have different ways of describing army archetypes. You can categorize armies by how they try to win the game (attrition/scenario vs assassination vs clock), or how they play the game (control, defense, offense), or the type of combat they do (gunline, melee, magic), or the type of models fielded (medium based multi-box infantry, warjack/warbeast, single-wound infantry, battle engine, gargossal).
For the purposes of this article, I’m classifying Trollblood armies by predominant model type (infantry or beast heavy lists), the type of combat (combined arms, melee, ranged), and how the warlock plays the game (control, defense, offense). I’m going to assume that the lists want to win by attrition/scenario, but acknowledge that some warlocks enable assassination better than others.
An infantry list is comprised mostly of units and solos, with only a small number of warbeasts, usually only enough beasts to consume the warlock’s warbeast points. Trollbloods have access to single wound infantry and multi-box infantry. Single wound infantry for trolls represents the masses, and possess mediocre stats and abilities, while the multi-box infantry boasts superior stats, special abilities, and a higher cost per model. Compare Kriel Warriors with Trollkin Champions. Trolls offer both types of infantry units in ranged and melee combat varieties.
The “beast brick” usually consists of five to six heavy warbeasts, but the recent change to the troll warbeasts means light warbeasts are seeing action again. Building a list for a gargantuan or two is also possible. The warbeast list means most of the points are headed to warbeasts, and support of warbeasts. Doomshaper 3 with several heavies, a krielstone, whelps, and a couple solos epitomizes the classic beast brick. Calandra with tons of light warbeasts also sees common play.
How do these troll lists deal with guns?
It’s all about counterplay. Counterplay is something that reduces your opponent’s capability. Things that provide cover or concealment, or stealth are tools with counterplay into ranged armies. There is a list of spells and abilities that offer ranged attack counterplay on the LOS Warmachine University site. Depending on the theme being played, the Trollblood army has different ways of mitigating ranged attacks.
Power of Dhunia
While Power of Dhunia only offers one native Shield Guard, the Troll Bouncer (available in every theme, so only mentioning here), the Runeshapers may dig in, giving them cover against ranged attacks. Janissa’s hill that is not a hill (Raised Earth spell ability) offers a defense bonus against ranged attacks. Northkin Shaman may create clouds, which block line of sight, and grant concealment. Outside of those few options, ranged counterplay will fall on warlock capabilities.
Band of Heroes
Band of Heroes offers shield guards in the form of Trollkin Warders, multi-wound infantry. Their armor jumps to 21 against ranged attack damage rolls thanks to Carapace, and their Roadblock ability provides cover to nearby friendly models. Under the Krielstone, their armor reaches 23, making anything but boosted damage rolls a threat. Additionally, Kriel Warriors now provide Mobile Cover, which grants Carapace to nearby friendly models. The two together make typical targets of ranged attacks (like Champions) more difficult to kill by forcing decisions on your opponent. Try to shoot a Champion being blocked by a Warder, and its defense is 16. Hit the Champion, and the Warder might take the damage anyway. If the Warder already used its shield guard ability, the nearby Caber Thrower grants carapace to the Champion, who is now ARM 23 under the krielstone, with sanguine bond, effectively making the shot worthless.
Kriel Company offers few models with resistance to ranged attacks. The solo, General Thunderstone Brug, can make a Pyg model/unit dig in, so things like Bushwhackers might live a little longer when standing rifle to rifle with another ranged unit. The strategy for running a Kriel Company army into a gunline opponent poses the classic question of who brought the better gunline? Who threats farther and who has higher quality shots?
Storm of the North
The theme itself offers two snowdrift terrain pieces which offer concealment to cold immune models. Within the theme, Kriel Warriors are allowed. Scouts may benefit from the snowdrifts, due to Prowl. Ambush is a sideways method of dealing with ranged attacks, as not being on the battlefield always stops an army from attacking you. Northkin Shaman may create clouds, which help block ranged attacks, and are a source of concealment.
Vengeance of Dhunia
Another theme with a terrain benefit, the Vengeance of Dhunia theme offers two trench template terrain features. The Farrow Valkyries aren’t as resilient as Warders, but they are still competent shield guards. Pygs benefit from Brug, and the Swamp Gobber Bellows Crew can create fog clouds. Additionally, Gudrun the Wasted offers a defense bonus with Kinetic Disortion.
Warlocks possess differing abilities that empower them to handle all sorts of battlefield conditions. Whether their abilities are in feat or spell form, the combination of their abilities make some warlocks better than others when facing ranged armies. Ranking warlocks by ranged game counterplay is possible. The way I rank the warlocks here is based on my understanding of their kit, and my opinion of ability strength versus ranged armies.
Identifying ranged game counterplay
First, looking at the spells, feats, and other abilities on the warlocks’ cards, it’s possible to group the abilities into five categories:
- Speed Buff
- Increasing the speed of your army closes range quicker. The faster you engage enemy gunlines, the quicker the battle switches to a melee brawl. This is crucial if your enemy out-threats your army with their guns.
- Defense Buff
- Defense skew can prevent attacks from landing. Many sub-par gunlines don’t have ways of boosting attack rolls, and a defense of 14 or higher can cause problems for RAT 6 or even RAT 7 guns.
- The Defense Buff could be in the form of a spell that outright grants defense against ranged attacks, or grants concealment or cover.
- Armor Buff
- Classic gunlines top off at POW 12, with exceptions breaking into POW 14 attacks. Anything above 20 ARM starts to have a dramatic effect on the ability of a ranged army to kill multi-wound infantry and might struggle into single wound infantry.
- Clouds don’t totally shut down ranged attacks, but hinders line of sight, and forces movement in order to attack things that would be obscured. Some warlocks offer clouds as spells, and others offer clouds as a feat.
- Total Shutdown
- This is an ability that just says no. It states that enemy ranged attacks do no damage, or that an enemy can’t make a ranged attack.
Second, note that some of these abilities are multi-turn or single-turn. Multi-turn abilities can be used more than once in the game. Spells that warlocks cast over and over. Upkeeps that linger on a unit or solo. Single-turn abilities are one shots, usually in feat form.
Thirdly, some abilities affect the whole army, or part of the army, or may require an offensive attack roll. Other abilities require the army to be in range of the warlock, or the enemy may need to be within a certain range.
The question becomes: “Which of these abilities are more effective at ranged counterplays?”
Ranking Ranged Counterplay
Essentially, ranking capability is a form of trade study. By arranging each of the abilities into a comparison table, each ability can be ranked against one of the other abilities, as shown here. Each row is given a value, based on whether it is extremely less effective, very less effective, strongly less effective, moderately less effective, equally effective, moderately more effective, strongly more effective, very strongly more effective, or extremely more effective in handling ranged armies. In the table, a single turn speed buff is equal to itself, but extremely less effective than a multi-turn speed buff.
|Speed buff (single turn)||Speed buff (multi-turn)||Defense buff (single turn)||Defense buff (multi-turn)||Armor buff (single turn)||Armor buff (multi-turn)||Clouds (single turn)||Clouds (multi-turn)||Shutdown (single turn)||Shutdown (multi-turn)|
|Speed buff (single turn)||1.00||0.11||0.20||0.11||0.14||0.11||0.11||0.11||0.11||0.11|
|Speed buff (multi-turn)||9.00||1.00||0.33||0.11||0.33||0.11||0.33||0.11||0.11||0.11|
|Defense buff (single turn)||5.00||3.00||1.00||0.11||3.00||0.11||0.20||0.11||0.11||0.11|
|Defense buff (multi-turn)||9.00||9.00||9.00||1.00||5.00||3.00||0.33||0.14||0.14||0.11|
|Armor buff (single turn)||7.00||3.00||0.33||0.20||1.00||0.11||0.20||0.11||0.11||0.11|
|Armor buff (multi-turn)||9.00||9.00||9.00||0.33||9.00||1.00||0.33||0.14||0.14||0.11|
|Clouds (single turn)||9.00||3.00||5.00||3.00||5.00||3.00||1.00||0.33||0.33||0.11|
|Shutdown (single turn)||9.00||9.00||9.00||7.00||9.00||7.00||3.00||1.00||1.00||0.11|
Here is the decoder ring for the values in the table:
- Extremely Less (0.11)
- Very Strongly Less (0.14)
- Strongly Less (0.2)
- Moderately Less (0.33)
- Equal (1.00)
- Moderately More (3.00)
- Strongly More (5.00)
- Very Strongly More (7.00)
- Extremely More (9.00)
Math happens, and a geometric mean and weighted factor result in a ranking of abilities.
|Abilities||Weighted Factor (Normalized)|
|Shutdown (single turn)||17%|
|Clouds (single turn)||8%|
|Defense buff (multi-turn)||7%|
|Armor buff (multi-turn)||6%|
|Defense buff (single turn)||2%|
|Armor buff (single turn)||2%|
|Speed buff (multi-turn)||2%|
|Speed buff (single turn)||1%|
This means that I value a multi-turn defense buff more than twice that of a multi-turn speed buff, but a multi-turn cloud ability more than twice the multi-turn defense buff. And a multi-turn shutdown (are there any in the game?) reigns supreme.
Scoring the Warlocks
Next, I created a table with each warlock and a scoring of their abilities. However, rules need to be had. You can’t just willy-nilly drop a number on an ability. Note, no comparison is being done yet. In fact, the warlocks aren’t really compared or ranked with each other. They’ll be ranked according to their scores generated after rating each of their abilities in accordance with the rules below.
|Shutdown (single / multi turn)||Complete shutdown of ranged: 5|
Affects army in range: 4
Affects only part of army (ex: single unit): 3
Affects only part in range: 2
|Clouds (single / multi turn)||Single cloud: 1|
Each additional cloud: Add 1
AOE 4: Add another 1
AOE 5: Add 2
Clouds are a hazard: Add 1
|Defense Buff (single / multi turn)|
Armor Buff (single / multi turn)
Speed Buff (single / multi turn)
|Affects single model: 1|
Affects unit/battlegroup: 3
Affects whole army: 5
Offensive ability: subtract 1
Restriction (only affects x): subtract 1
In the following table, each warlock is graded. Kolgrima has Hunter’s Mark. That’s a speed buff that could affect her whole army. However, it requires an offensive attack, so instead of rating a 5, it rates a 4. Borka has a single turn speed buff that affects his whole army, so he gets a 5 on that ability.
The magic of the math that will follow is that Borka’s 5 and Kolgrima’s 4 don’t really compare with each other. Those abilities are rated differently (from Table 2) and weighted appropriately. Borka’s 5 is really worth less than Kolgrima’s 4, because the multi-turn speed buff is weighted twice as more effective than the single turn speed buff.
|Warlock||Speed buff (single turn)||Speed buff (multi-turn)||Defense buff (single turn)||Defense buff (multi-turn)||Armor buff (single turn)||Armor buff (multi-turn)||Clouds (single turn)||Clouds (multi-turn)||Shutdown (single turn)||Shutdown (multi-turn)|
When everything is normalized, and ranked, the results are sorted from top to bottom, and we have the following:
I am not surprised to see Kolgrima at the top of the list. She boasts multi-turn clouds, and a powerful shutdown feat. I am a little more surprised to see Gunnbjorn 1 further down, as I always felt his feat was oppressive into gunlines. However, that really is his only defensive capability besides the wall spell. I ranked clouds so much higher than the defensive bonus granted by a wall, and rightfully so. Kolgrima covers so much more of the field with her clouds than Gunnbjorn does with his wall. Her clouds also can convey a defensive buff when enemy models are inside the AOEs. I don’t think I took that into account in this study.
Having very limited experience with Azazello, I was surprised to see him so high on the list. He offers Storm Rager, which is a shutdown spell, multi turn, but to a single warrior model. He offers a Defense bonus to himself, and Phantasm, a range reducer that requires a hit. His feat buffs ARM. He grants a defense bonus to farrow henchmen, and beacon on his pistol. So, he can speed things up if he’s close enough (22″ at the beginning of his activation, thanks to troll impaler’s far strike), and make things harder to kill via ARM and DEF buffs, or partially shut down a ranged unit with Phantasm. Sure, he has to be selective in who has Phantasm, but it’s probably going to be something the enemy wants to shoot. This type of counterplay requires an understanding of which models in your army are prime targets. Note: I can’t recall if I started this before or after the 2021 rules changes. I think Az may be ranked slightly higher, due to distraction? Regardless, he still sits in the top 5.
Let me know below if you think I should have ranked things differently, or if you have a better method. If you’re interested in seeing an excel sheet, hit me up on Facebook, and I might send you mine. If you’d like more of these types of analysis reports, let me know. The comment area below uses Facebook as a handler, so I don’t have to fuss with running a comments section.