To take a break from writing and promoting my roleplaying games, last weekend I attended a tournament for Steamforged Games' Godtear with my good friend Elliot (check out his blog here). We ended up 4th and 3rd respectively, and Ell won best painted, so a decent showing for a first event.
When Godtear first launched after the kickstarter delivered, I hit upon a list that at first was a bit of a joke-list, but has turned out to be a fairly powerful option: Dubbed #TeamYellow, it is constructed from entirely Maelstrom champions
Given the tournament is still somewhat fresh in my mind, I thought I might take some time to talk a little about this list and how it works in this article, and them look at the specific champions I ended up taking and why in part two.
How it works
#TeamYellow is essentially an aggressive list that scores most of its battle-ladder steps, particularly in the early game, by killing off the enemy's followers. It seems like a fairly simple approach to the game: just outscore the opponent by killing lots of followers and triggering the maelstrom bonus steps multiple times each turn. However, having played this list quite a lot now, there's some important subtleties and synergies to it's play, and some important pitfalls to avoid.
Firstly, lets look at the weaknesses of a list of 3 maelstrom champions:
- Low defence stat combinations across the champions
- Few abilities to affect the banner game
- High follower counts leave you open to counter-maelstrom play
- Few attacks that will threaten enemy champions
Maelstrom champions typically have 5-point totals between their Dodge and Armour. Only Titus and Jeen are a little more survivable, with 3 dodge and armour, but that's really the worst 6-point combo in my mind - I'd much rather a Dodge 2 Armour 4, dodge 4 armour 2, or even Dodge 5 armour 1. Compared to Shapers and Guardians, this well below the curve, and most Slayers are better defensively, too. Add to this the fact that you want to be in your opponent's face with your champions, it makes the list a massive glass cannon.
So, how can you deal with this? To some extent you just have to accept that your champions are going to die, and just try to control when it happens in a turn and what their options are for moving you so that they can't take you too far out of the fight. Given the nature of this list, it's often more problematic for your champion to be taken out before they have acted in the Clash phase. Make sure you activate any champions getting low on HP early, so that they lose their action in the following plot phase rather than teh clash, where they're likely scoring you the steps back to mitigate the 4 or 5 step hit for them getting KO'd.
Another, albeit minor, option is boons. By giving yourself dodge and armour boons where possible, you can really slow down the rate of damage your champions suffer.
However, perhaps the strongest option in the Maelstrom arsenal is follower screening. Not only do you typically have a large number of your own followers you can use to create defensive walls for the enemy slayers to cut through, but also several Maelstrom champions have the ability to move enemy followers around the board. You need to be careful that you don't end up blocking your own movement around the board, but you have a great tool for making it hard for the enemy slayers to get to you.
To be honest, I tend not to play the banner game very much. I like the cut and thrust of combat, so I only tend to plant a banner when I'm short of better options in the plot phase. That said, putting down one banner a turn is not a bad option, as it can either counter the scoring of an enemy banner or draw an enemy champion away from the rest of the action to rush it.
However, you do need to be able to crush enemy banners to stop them scoring and stealing the turn from you despite all that "good" work you've done moving the battle ladder by killing off their followers. This is actually something that Maelstroms excel at. Almost every maelstrom has decent movement, and their ability to get on banners and crush them can be as important as killing followers, especially late in the game where you might not have as many followers left on the board to score off. Even Grimgut at movement 1 can roll for 3 and then if he's got a move boon from his followers move another 2 - that often gives him great range for banner crushing.
Particularly in the early stages of the game, when there was only 3 Maelstroms to pick from, it was true that you could be badly hurt by counter-maelstrom play as they worked through your 15 minions in reply. However, now we have Jeen, Luella and Kailinn, you could bring a list with only 8 followers, so picking a suitable threesome to face your opponent is critical. There's also a question over Grimgut's retchlings and whether they should be slayer fodder or not. Yes, they're easy to kill, but you're only getting one step each rather than the 2 you get for one of Blackjaw or Titus' followers. Personally I think I would be looking to score off them, but Elliot thinks that even that feels like a poor return, so I will just say the jury is out on whether you should play Grimgut into an enemy maelstrom list.
Finally we come to the struggle the list can have in knocking out enemy champions. Several of the champions just don't really have viable attacks that can be used against champions. Grimgut just plan cannot, and Blackjaw and Jeen's attacks are likely so pathetic you're not going to get very far with them if you're forced to use them against enemy champions. However, Titus, Luella and Kailinn have options with decent dice rolls that can target enemy champions, and Titus' Glory Seekers are particularly adept at it. I especially like how Titus's Sweeping Strike and Luella's Chain Lightning can both chip a chunk of HP off an enemy champion whilst also scoring you some points with a slayer kill. A well-set up Surround Pound from the Glory Seekers can be devastating, but is also a great soft control option - watch how your opponent reacts when you surround their champion with five Glory Seekers in the plot phase. It will either force them to activate that model early and sub-optimally to keep them alive, or draw attacks onto the glory seekers that could have been threatening your champions instead.
What the list does well
By looking first at the list's weaknesses and how to counter them, I have also I think covered a lot of what makes the list strong, beyond just scoring a lot of steps by killing off followers:
- Soft control elements, like using followers to screen and threaten enemy champions
- Speed to get around the board, recover from champion KO and crush banners
- Surprising flexibility of list construction to counter a range of enemy threats
However, I think it's also talking about what I have experienced from playing the list competitively and how the game progresses through phases.
I have found with this list that I tend to find the list creates games that can be divided into two stages. In the early game you are focused on getting the follower kills and scoring lots of steps on the battle ladder as a result. However, as the game progresses into its later stage you will find there are fewer scoring opportunities available. In these phases you need to turn your attention to the tools you have for killing enemy champions and ensuring the banner game doesn't net your opponent more than a few steps on the battle ladder.
I think it's also worth noting how in the late game you will likely find that you have a big advantage in terms of what you can achieve with your follower activations. Many of your opponent's activations and actions will likely be spent recruiting, or using skills at low dice due to the lack of numbers to get up to the big effects. It also clears space on the board to allow your quirky-manoeuvring maelstroms the freedom that they need to roll and charge with impunity.
Overall, though, I think the biggest advantage it gives you is in terms of the thinking game: You have reduced the number of options you ned to consider, whilst increased the options your opponent needs to think through by adding recruits and activation order issues, letting you just sit back and react to your opponent as they scratch their head.
In deployment I am often looking to counter deploy against my opponent so that I can get my champions best matched up against theirs. If I am first player, I prefer to put a fast champion down first (Kailin is excellent) in the centre, so that I can swing them over to either side of the board depending on where my opponent has set up her favourite targets.
It's also worth considering plot phase boon distribution, so that you can maximise the boons and similar buffs you can gain during turn 1. For example, I tend to spread the Retchlings out across the back line of my deployment so that they can give out double move boons at the start of turn 1 and accelerate me towards my opponent.
As with many Godtear players, I tend to consider that it is often optimal to lose turn 1. However, I think it is much more important that you get yourself set up, positioning for optimal match ups for your champions and getting them booned-up, than worry about whether you end up winning or losing turn 1.
However, I wouldn't be worried about planting a banner, or trying to stop my opponent doing so, and if targets presented for killing followers, I would only shy away from them if there was a strong reason for wanting them in a particular position for turn 2.
I do like to spend any attacks I can make in turn 1 against enemy champions or large followers, in the hope that I can chip away a few HP and set them up for a quick kill in turn 2.
Turn 2 is where the bulk of what I describe above as "early game" takes place. In this turn you want to be scoring points by taking down enemy followers to help clear the board and, hopefully, put your opponent on the back foot.
However, it's really important that you don't get caught up to too much in the rush of blood that you neglect to prepare yourself adequately for turn 3. Keep a close eye on your positioning and your enemy's positioning and try to see who is most likely to win the turn as it progresses. If you can catch early enough that you're likely going to lose, stop trying to kill followers and make sure you're set up for turn 3 instead.
This will likely be because your opponent has manged to take out a champion or two of yours, or has defended their banners so well you can't score enough to counter them. If it's the former, make sure you get to use your one action to sort out your positioning, rather than scrabbling for steps in a losing battle.
If you've had a good turn 2, then turn 3 becomes the "late game", if not it'll still be the early game. Whichever way, it will likely be crucial that you win this turn, either to keep you in the game if you lost turn 2, or to win the game before you run out of steam (and scoring opportunities) if you won it.
During Turn 3 you will likely need to cope with a slayer KO, so try to identify who will be KO'd and at with them before they are lost. Be careful to consider how you can crush banners, and make sure you do so early on so that you don't have the ability denied to you later on in the turn.
If you run out of followers to score points off, try to look to concentrate fire on one of their champions and bring them down instead - a 4 step swing and costing that champion an action is a really big swing in your favour.
Turn 4 and 5
If the game drags on this late it probably means that things aren't going well for you, but you're not without the ability to fight back. You've likely in what I consider "late game" now, so If you've been chipping away at the enemy champions so far you've likely got a couple of juicy targets set up ready to finish off, and your champions are likely coming back on good health so make sure you get good position on them, maybe get a banner down, and crush your opponent's banners so that if you're not scoring huge amounts of steps from kills, you're at least matching them for banners.
Going First or Second
Ideally, this choice isn't yours, but if you manage to lose turn 1 as planned, or are on the back foot later in the game, it's well worth having a think about whether you want to go first or second. Generally speaking, other than in rare circumstances, I think this is a list that prefers to go second. Having both the plot phase and the clash phase to crush enemy banners is a big advantage, and you have several threats that you can put out to give your opponent a massive headache for how they approach their first activation of the clash phase.
However, that is not to be mindful of situations where the opponent can just lock you out of the objectives during the plot phase, or you have the opportunity to do the same in return by screening the objectives with your followers, or if you think going first in the clash phase is going to provide you a big swing (e.g. by KO'ing an enemy champion that was about to KO the champion that you were about to have a big activation with... if that's not too long a string to wrap your head around). That said, I have found in most cases this latter fear to be something to fight against, too often I have done so only to fail to get the kill, or be able to get as much as I need out of other champions than the one I was worried about losing.
Where possibly, I like the ultimates that give me a chance of dealing damage in the plot phase, as this can provide a massive positional advantage early on, and if I'm going second, its almost like having the first activation in the clash phase. I also like to be conservative in their use, trying to not use them at all if I can, and only use them where it is going to swing a losing round back into a winning one. Here's some tips on how I like to use them:
- Blackjaw's ultimate is great in the early game to help clear a ton of minions off the board. However I have found it quite unreliable, so be careful about expecting it to do work that it might not manage.
- The real strength to Titus' ultimate is the movement it provides. He can do both his attack skills, potentially taking out 4 minions, and he can move 3 hexes in the process. This is one that often gets used to pull me out of a hole, either allowing Titus to have a strong activation after being KO'd or allowing him to both score some steps and crush a banner my opponent thought was safe.
- Grimgut has a great ultimate for dealing with both large followers and those followers with high dodge or armour. I'd happily use this on only two followers rather than the full 3 if it game me some key board clearance at a crucial time (usually in allowing Grimmy to roll over an enemy banner)
- Luella's ultimate is similar to Titus' in that it includes additional movement, to allow her to score and crush banners that were thought safe in the same turn.
- Jeen's ultimate seems strong - it looks to be pretty much the same thing a Raith Marid's ultimate, which is very strong. Potentially it can turn the game around for you if used at the right time. The trouble is finding that time and not getting bogged down in enemies with nowhere to move to.
- Kailinn's ultimate is particularly great at dealing with large minions, but even reliably killing a 2/4 dwarf or quartzling or a 5/1 goblin and getting 3 steps for it cannot be underestimated either. There are many circumstances with Team Yellow that you need to kill off a particular follower that's blocking a particular move you want to make. If the dice fail you at this critical juncture it can be game-losing. Having such a reliable kill is just amazing.
Hopefully I have shown you how a team of 3 maelstroms can be a powerful list and not just some quirky gimmick or joke list, like I thought it would be when I first tried it. You have surprising options for controlling the opponent, and can score faster than any list out there.
Tune in later for part two where I examine each of the champions and talk about list composition for Team Yellow.