Driven by Envy: Warband Relationship Therapy (featuring Beardarm)

Welcome again to another guest article! Today, I’m excited to introduce David Lancaster AKA Beardarm. Dave is a local player to me (well, a three hour drive, which is close here in the great white north). He’s one of the players I’ve had the most reps with and is always a blast to play. I’ve always appreciated his focus on learning, having fun and analyzing this wonderful game. Dave also runs the Vassal leagues, putting in a ton of time reminding us all to play our matches on time, dealing with rules disputes and setting everything up. His article today is around finding those truly special warbands to your heart. Without further ado, let’s get into it. -Matt

WARBAND RELATIONSHIP THEORY

Are you and your minis in a rut?  Are you getting in the reps, but just not enjoying your games?  Are your dice fine and your deck dealing out alright, but watching your fighter deliver a 5 damage coup de grace isn’t doing it for you anymore?  If you answered yes to any of these questions, you and your warband(s) might be in need of some relationship counseling and, lucky for you, I’m here to dole it out.

I can hear you now.  “Beardarm,” you ask, “What qualifies you to give relationship advice for real, living people and their little plastic murder squads?”  Well, thanks for asking.  Let me lay out my qualifications. 

  • First, I have NEVER won a Grand Clash.  But, you did place 5th at one with the Wurmspat… -Matt
  • Second, I have NEVER qualified for the second day of a Vassal Clash. 
  • Third, I once lost a local glass tournament to OBJECTIVE-HOLDING IRONSKULL’S BOYZ (and that was a Best of Three tournament no less, so no excuses of just being surprised). 
  • Lastly, and most importantly, I have been playing this game since Q2 of Shadespire and even with this overwhelming lack of success, I am in love with this game more than ever. 

Part of the reason why I still love Underworlds is because I have really bonded with a couple truly remarkable warbands (The Wurmspat and Zarbag’s Gitz in my case).  I’ve played a lot of warbands and like most of them, but there is something different that happens when you bond with a warband.  Matt and I were talking about how we both hope that Season Five will have a warband for each of us that we can really we can get into.  We talked a bit about what it takes for a player to really bond with a warband and that led to the idea that I should write this article.  An article about how we can find a warband that we like and then build a strong bond for with that warband.

Now, I want to be clear, this article is not a playstyle article, although playstyle definitely plays a role in finding the right warband for you.  The focus is not improving your win rate, although if you have the right warband, I think that your win rate will improve.  The premise of this article is that we have relationships with our warbands and, like real world relationships, they can get stale or unfulfilling if we are in the wrong relationship or not putting the work into our chosen relationship.  Let me suggest that you might need to find a warband (or multiple warbands for you polyamorous players) with which you can build a strong bond.  If you can find a couple warbands like that, you’ll always have the reason to build a deck and throw some dice. 

There are few things that I think are needed to truly bond with a warband. 

  • The playstyle of the warband and your own subconscious strategic biases need to be in synch.  For example, if you are quicker to see control choices on the board and in deck construction, you will bond better with warbands that can play well into a control option. 
  • You need to be able to win games with that warband.  Unless they are a complete masochist, anyone will eventually tire of losing all the time. 
  • You need to like the models.  If you think the sculpts are lame, it’s hard to really like the warband as a whole.
  • Finally and most importantly.  You need a history with the warband.  You need something extra that endears you to that warband.  Something beyond just a generally good game record or an affection for the models.  You need to have happy memories.
It was probably crits… -Matt

So, those are the ingredients to a good warband relationship, but how do you actually build that relationship from scratch?  For that we will turn to “THE FOUR STAGES OF THE WARBAND RELATIONSHIPS”

THE FIRST ENCOUNTER – CHOOSING A WARBAND

This is when a warband first sparks our interest.  There are many reasons a warband could catch our eye, but really most people are drawn to warbands for a mixture of the reasons listed below.

  • Aesthetics AKA The Most Beautiful Girl in the Room – whether the quality of the models or your personal love for that warband’s lore, this choice is purely superficial.  No thought is given to game rules or strength in the meta.  You love Sylvaneth and will play any Sylvaneth that are caught in the curse of the Underworlds. I have personally been drawn to many warbands just based on how they look.  Sadly, sometimes after a few nights out, I can see we have very little in common no matter how pretty they are (looking at you, Farstriders).
  • The Top of the Meta AKA The Sure-Thing – This is fine and natural.  Really, it is.  You never know, this could be the foundation for a long-term commitment.   Everyone is tempted by the sure thing in the dating scene and the gaming scene is no different.  It’s a competitive game and you are here to win, so chose the warband that everyone says is the most broken.  The models don’t matter and who gives a crap about the lore.  This beauty will get you glass and that is all you want.  This could be the beginning of a beautiful relationship that lasts for years.  But be careful, sometimes, the Sure-Thing isn’t as easy as you thought and you don’t get the wins you were hoping for.  Or, you could wake up the morning after a tournament, tangled together in the sheets with your warband and glass trophy and just feel a wave a shame at the depths you will sink to in order to get a taste of glory.  Those of you who raided local tournaments playing Steelheart’s Katophrane Relics pre-Beta Rule know what I’m talking about.  I include myself among that number, to my personal shame.
I planned to play Relics on a Saturday tournament, and then on the Friday they got the Beta-rule… -Matt
  • The Bottom of the Meta AKA My Fair Lady – This is the flip side of the “The Sure-Thing”.  What you like is that the warband is, at least on the surface, underpowered.  Like Professor Henry Higgins in “My Fair Lady” transformed an unrefined flower-seller into a “Lady” of poise and dignity, so too will you take that neglected warband at the bottom of the tier list and make them into something to fear.  You might be a bit of contrarian and march to the beat of your own drum, but you like nothing more than proving everyone wrong.  Of course, you know what they say about the wisdom of crowds.  They can often be right, and you might end up learning the hard way that your warband isn’t really a diamond in the rough. I was going to make the Pretty Woman comparison… -Matt
  • Running the Gauntlet AKA Playing the Field – Finally, if nothing is pulling you in any particular direction, why not give them all a whirl?  You are going to play every warband, because there is no way on God’s Green Earth that you paid good money for those models just to let them sit on your shelf and never see the table.  This is a great way to learn a little about all the warbands and see what you like and what you don’t like.  You’ll learn more about yourself as a player and the game as a whole.  If this approach interests you, you should check out the new blog by Davy from What the Hex Podcast (Hexodus — The Mortal Realms).  Be careful though, if you spend too much time tomcatting around, hopping from warband to warband, you might not get to know any of them with any true depth and never know if any of them were life-long relationship material.
THE EARLY ATTACHMENT STAGE – BUILDING GOOD MEMORIES

Ok, so you’ve selected a warband and gotten a few games in.  This is like the first few dates with a new person.  You’re seeing if you work together, but no one is exactly committed.  If things go well, maybe it will get more serious, but if the spark fizzles, hey, no one’s feelings will get hurt.  If you are winning games and seem to be getting the hang of the warband, it might become your main warband and you will probably play them for a while.  I remember the first time I played as Mournflight back in early Beastgrave.  They gave me my first experience with easy in-faction surges and fighters that started on 2-dodge, but they still demanded that I think about my plans and make good decisions.  It was fun and rewarding.  It was a whole new world and I was Jasmine to Lady Harrow’s Aladdin. 

On the other hand, this is the time to maybe be a little picky.  If the warband isn’t working for you, move on.  It was at the early attachment stage that I realized that Mantrappers weren’t really my jam.  I tried Hrothgorn and he was a good vessel for some gimmicky decks, but we didn’t really jive.  Partly it was me not being able to figure out what to do with the gnoblars and probably part of it was remembering how much I hated playing against him back before Hunter’s Reflexes was Forsaken.  We had some laughs, but we knew it wasn’t for the long haul.  No harm, no foul.

The important part of this step is to identify when you are building good memories.  Good memories can be based on any aspect of the hobby.  You could have really enjoyed painted one or all of the models for that warband.  You could have had a lot of fun deck building.  You could have won some games in memorable ways.  You could have even lost some games in memorable, but still positive ways.  It doesn’t matter where the good memory is coming from.  What matters is that you identify when they happen and connect them to part of your overall experience with that warband.

As a quick aside, negative memories of a warband can have the opposite effect and make you dislike a warband, even if you aren’t playing as that warband.  There are more than a few players who have a sincere dislike (possibly justified) for The Grymwatch that is at least partially rooted in that weird time when Grymwatch would just score 20 glory for moving around the board and rolling a crit defense or two.  There is nothing wrong with this, but, as a player, you should be careful of getting to salty about any particular warband if you ever want to give it a try in the future without carrying negative baggage.

THE CRISIS STAGE – THINGS GET HARD

This game is a living and evolving thing.  If we ever stopped getting new updates in the form of cards, warbands, and FAR lists, I think that the community would bore and drift away.  I hope that never happens.  Unfortunately, the same thing that keeps our game alive will kill your decks and knock your warband off the top of the meta.  This is the time to see if your attachment to this warband was really just an attachment to a particular playstyle, just because you liked winning, or if it ran deeper.  If you can adapt and change and still get enjoyment out of the warband when the old way of doing things won’t work anymore, you are well on your way to building a rock-solid relationship.  If you can’t find enjoyment in them anymore, maybe you just need a break to cleanse your palate, or maybe this warband isn’t really your forever warband.  I have an example of each situation in my own history.  

An example of not getting past the Crisis Stage is when I played Grymwatch at the tail end of Beastgrave and into Direchasm.  I enjoyed them and still have a soft spot for all the little crypt ghouls.  I played them with a priority towards early inspiration, with hold objective surges giving me the early glory to bring the pain in rounds 2 and 3.  Not ground-breaking at all, but fun.  Naturally, the cards changed and, as Direchasm progressed, I couldn’t play them the same way anymore.  The move toward hold-two objective and the introduction of several more aggressive and fast warbands made both inspiring and scoring glory more difficult and I just wasn’t adapting to it.  I realized that while I like Grymwatch, I really only wanted to play them one way.   I tried a few variations but just wasn’t feeling it.  It was starting to make me bitter so I deciding it was time to move on.

On the other hand, my relationship with Wurmspat went through a few rough patches and came out the other side the stronger for it.  I’ve had a few different deck styles come and go due to the vagaries of the FAR list and card rotation, but after each upset, and even when I am working through losing deck builds, I still found enjoyment in the game.  Part of it is how much I love these models and part of it is how much I like each fighter’s individual stats.  With the upcoming rotation of Beastgrave cards out of the Championship format, I am sure that there will be another crisis, but having gone through a few upheavals already, I am confident that my love of the Wurmspat will keep me hacking at it until I find something that works. 

I love these beautiful kids.

THE DEEP ATTACHMENT STAGE – TRULY BONDING WITH YOUR WARBAND

This is the sweet spot.  This is the goal.  This is growing old together sitting on the back porch and drinking sweet tea.  At this point, you will know your fighters inside and out and only very rarely forget your reaction windows.  What do you mean the Dread Pageant have Inspired sides? -Matt You will be able to quickly see how each new warband release might affect your own warband in terms of deck construction and potential match up issues.  You might still make mistakes, but most of your choices will get to the point of instinct.  You won’t need to flip over your card to know your inspired stats.  Not only that, but if you have really bonded with your warband and had the time to refine a deck, you should be able to give most other warbands a run for their money competitively.  There will always be better players and bad dice, but you won’t be losing games based on decisions that don’t work with your warband and you’ll likely be finding some diamonds in the rough of the universal card pool that have particularly strong synergies for your game plan. 

I have a couple warnings for this stage.

  1. Don’t get too comfortable.  There is a fine line between a comfort zone and a rut.  Ruts lead to boredom, and boredom is a relationship killer for your real life relationships and your warbands.  Keep trying new things and adapting your style.  Challenge yourself so you are ready when the Crisis Stage inevitably returns. 
  2. Don’t be afraid to take a break and try other warbands.   I get it.  You are committed.  You drew blood on your sword and swore a sacred pact that you would play no other warband until you won a Grand Clash with Morgwaeth’s Blood Coven.  You will never admit defeat and no matter how hard it is, you will keep hacking away.  This sort of commitment can help you really learn everything there is to love about a warband.  In the best of circumstances, you will build an intimate knowledge of this warband that will let you both achieve higher levels of glory.  But, in the worst case, you’ll start building more bad memories than good and perhaps forget why you started playing this warband to begin with.  Think of it this way: by playing other warbands from time to time, you are giving yourself a chance to find yet another warband that you can love forever or, at the very least, learning how your opponents’ warbands work so as to better destroy them.

That’s it.  You made it to the end of the article.  There is probably a lot more to say on the subject, but I am calling it.  I hope that this helps a few players and makes some sense.  Don’t think of your warbands just as game pieces but as allies in your ongoing quest for glory.

Message from the Editor

As Dave said, this topic came up between us a few weeks ago and it’s stuck in my mind. I’ll be honest that I’ve had a hard time sticking with a warband through my career in Underworlds. In Nightvault, I got into Farstriders and Cursebreakers (mainly because I love the lightning lads and ladies). Farstriders honestly never clicked (other than one deck that ended up with 13 Restricted cards right after Power Unbound became bound. Cursebreakers were something I enjoyed, but wasn’t too interested in the Control nature they had been generally played. I messed around with Mollog, Eyes of the Nine, Ylthari, Skaven and Wild Hunt too, but was always bouncing to the next thing. And then wolf-riding goblins arrived. And I had found my love. As stated above, I think it can also be a trap as when I’m not motivated, I definitely sink into my Rippa. That being said, I have really strong hope that Season 5 will bring me a new warband to love and sink into fully.

Thanks again for reading. What’s your favourite warband? Which one didn’t resonate with you? Who did you fall out of love with over the years? Please let David know if you’ve got any feedback, stories or comments! He can be found on the Discords as Beardarm. If you do have any other questions or comments, please reach out to me at setthetempoblog@gmail.com or on the Underworlds Discord channels as Matt ~ Set The Tempo. Take care and set your own tempo!

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