Saturday, April 20, 2024
Battle Reports

Blockade Runnin’ Right Into A Cutter

By the borisgreymenace

Overview

  • Mission: Blockade Runner
  • Forces: Tunguska Jurisdictional Command versus Varuna Immediate Response Division (300)
  • Deploy First: Tunguska
  • First Turn: Tunguska

My buddy Cowzar and I have been itching to get a game in and between the winter holidays and general craziness of life, it’s been a few months since we’ve played. The natural way to get back into the rhythm of infinity is by stepping up the points value to 300 and playing a custom mission with a new sectorial.

For context, Cowzar is fairly new to infinity and has maybe three games under his belt at this point. All of them have been 150 pt or less with Military Orders. There are a couple of reasons for why we started there, mostly rule of cool, relatively straightforward rules, and some powerful units, but making that work at 150 is hard. So we agreed to rip the bandaid off and jump right to a 300 pt game, and given that I’d seen a preview copy of the Blockade Runner scenario, I figured this was the mission for us to play on and write up a report for.

Of course, this presents Cowzar with several challenges–list building at this size is just different, and given the benefits for aquatic terrain, he opted to switch over to Varuna to avail himself of a parachutist zone. While there are similarities across PanO sectorials, almost all of the available units besides REMs would be new to him. But as this would really be the first time list building by himself, I would only know the faction he was playing but otherwise have no idea of list composition until I had to pack the minis. Since private information is so powerful and there’s a lot of information asymmetry between us based on experience, I wanted to give him as much of the element of surprise as possible. We had a call ahead of time to review the mission, its scoring, and some of the profiles in Varuna that should be in the mix for consideration–Kamau, Helots, and the Cutter. Based on his reaction to the Cutter, I had a pretty strong feeling he would drop one on my head, which is funny to me because I had wanted to do the same during phase two of Durgama but we didn’t have time to play a second game. Despite the excitement, all this ends up being a lot of information at once, and given that he’s never played with two order pools, I suggested Cowzar go with a ten order limited insertion list to minimize some of the cognitive load.

In the end, I guessed right about the TAG. Cowzar opted for a list built around a Cutter, with a Knight of Montesa multirifle to be his Master Breacher and HVT grabber, a Sierra TR bot, a Kamau sniper in a three man core to provide a hard ARO and two specialists (paramedic and FO) to grab the center console, a Croc Man hacker for additional specialist and hacking support, a machinist to protect the points investment of the tag, and two vanilla fusiliers to play the Lt shell game. This left him three points shy of 300, so a Warcor got dropped in to bring him up to 300, shifting the Croc Man out to G2 so he had the option to convert a single irregular order to regular as needed or use a command token to bring the Croc Man in after it’s revealed and a spot opens up.

Open in Army

As for my part, this is where I reveal myself as maybe not the best friend in the world. After something like twelve list permutations, I settled on a GML list built around a defensive Securitate core with Grenzer and Interventor Lt, powering a Hollowman haris led by the multirifle/pitcher profile with Wolfgang and a Tachimoto Stempler. There were some permutations of this list that put a Vostok in the haris instead of Wolfgang. I like Wolfgang but I always find him hard to take in a list because there’s something else I want instead, be it Perseus or the Hollowman spitfire. I haven’t played the Vostok either for similar reasons, but in the end since I wasn’t taking an engineer and he was cheaper, I figured I’d give Wolfgang the spot and not try to put another 55mm base in my deployment zone. Rounding out group one would be a motorized bounty hunter (cut from two to one for the same DZ considerations), and group two would have a Salyut to potentially put enhanced reaction on the Stempler or Vertigo, or Marksmanship on any of the remotes, and to refill pitchers for the Hollowman. There’s the aforementioned Vertigo and a Puppet Master with two FO puppets to grab the center console, a Zondnautica hacker to play spotlight ARO duty with the Interventor and to grab the HVT later, and a Transductor Zond to be a butt to anything that doesn’t respect the flash pulse ARO.

Open in Army

In terms of table construction, we are playing a 48×48 table for the first time. I am not really all that experienced with table construction, and I think the eventual table might have warped the game too much. We decided to place objectives first and fill up the table based with total amount of terrain accounting for about a third of the table space. We’d select our aquatic entry side before deployment by rolling dice. One side of the table was intended to be cramped like a shipping yard that would obscure some S2 movement but not S7 movement, though it would also have plenty of space to walk on. The other side of the table would have some larger buildings obstructing movement and fewer protected drop zones. For deployment zones, one would have advantage of larger sniper towers right outside deployment and the other would have some more open spaces that would provide relatively fewer places to hide. We tried our best to limit DZ to DZ firelanes but give the Brutus guns the opportunity to cover all the DZ approaches to the center console, while not having completely unobstructed shots to the console all the way in. I think there are some good ideas there but in execution it was really hard to take advantage of the verticality of the terrain, given that we both opted in to bikes. CC on the table construction welcome. We roll off and the shipping container side becomes our “water.”

In terms of plan, my thought is to win turn order against pathetic PanO WIP with my interventor, place repeaters on the guns, and total control them so I can walk my puppets up into base to base contact with the center console and score points. Phase two is to put some more repeaters down on the aquatic deployment side to take his TAG and make it mine. Then sit back and take spotlight AROs against anyone foolish enough to approach. I will hold my Zondnautica until T3 and then rush up to grab the HVT and power them over to the other half of the table if not the opponent DZ. Cowzar’s plan is to drop a TAG on me and do murder, use the Montesa to move up with the HTV, and use his superior shooting to keep me pinned while his Kamau and/or Croc Man takes the center console.

Deployment

I lose the Lt roll and Cowzar opts to take deployment with the sniper tower side. We go back and forth after the game whether this is a good idea, but it’s luck for me because it plays into my plan despite losing the Lt roll. He makes me deploy first and I pay a command token to hold back two reserves–the Puppets and my Zondnaut. I basically castle up my defensive link on the tallest building in my DZ, with the Grenzer partially obscured but facing the aquatic zone and able to dip out if there are any easy T1 shots for him to take. I cover the rest of that flank with a MBH (who will eventually roll up a monofilament weapon, which I’ll choose to keep for TAG intimidation) and the Securitate HMG on ground level to peak out and take fights when the Grenzer dies. The paramedic is prone with access to the Grenzer to try and bring him back, the Interventor prone to not die and have spidey sense, while the Securitate BSG covers the stairs.

My aggro haris takes the center with Wolfgang and the Stempler on opposite wings and the Hollowman in the middle prone, ready to deploy pitchers. I have it positioned so that it can refill from the Salyut without having to backtrack. The puppet bots are also stacked up in the middle to rush the center console. On my right flank, I plop everything else–the Salyut in full cover, along with the Vertigo, Zondnaut, and AI motorcycle prone so they won’t die with the sparse cover. A brave Transductor stares down one of Brutus’ guns.

Cowzar counter deploys his Sierra overlooking the objective. The Kamau haris (with the sniper as reserve) has a path to the tallest of the sniper towers, but it’s a hike to get to the top and a Transductor and Brutus gun along the way, while the Montesa is on the ground level. His Fusiliers deploy prone on separate buildings and his Machinist hides behind the other a big tower, with the Warcor also in full cover (which is a mistake). Then I leave the room to grab a couple drinks while he sorts out his hidden deployment.

For classifieds, I get three I can achieve, but opt for Net Undermine and Telemetry and ditch HVT Designation. Cowzar pulls In Extremis Recovery and Mapping. As mentioned above, my MBH rolls up a mono CCW to enhance her threat stature. Cowzar spends a command token to dock me two orders. Given the TR Brutus guns, we both opt to cancel impetuous for our bikes and take cover instead.

Turn 1

Top of 1 – Tunguska

My first order of the game is to deploy both of the Hollowman’s pitchers in range of the guns but hidden on approach from Cowzar’s DZ. Order two is to total control the one on my right flank (Cutter side of the board) and order three provokes the reveal of his Croc Man, whom I isolate before spending a fourth order to capture the next gun. Cowzar mentioned he’s not sure if the reveal of the Croc Man was a mistake. I think it’s not–letting me have the guns resistance free is probably worse than risking a 30ish pt model that I can’t brain blast off the board. But for neutralizing the Croc Man, I’m not even sure possessing the guns is a wise enterprise in retrospect, but more on that at the end. I spend the rest of group one orders moving the bounty hunter into position and putting her on suppression watching the walk-on from the aquatic zone and making sure her base covers enough board space that the Cutter can’t walk on just outside my DZ. I forget about my Tachimotos order and donate that tacaware to the angels.

For group two, my plan is to rush the puppets up, but the Sierra means I have to crawl out of my deployment zone. That saps basically all my orders in group two but I get in contact with the center console by end of turn and have an order to spotlight the Croc Man, scoring me telemetry and putting the score at 2-0 Tunguska, though I haven’t killed a single model.

Bottom of 1 – Varuna

Already I have used puppets to annoy Cowzar, so he makes it his priority to clear out the one holding the objective. The Sierra pulls a wound off and tries to reposition to be more of a factor overseeing the console. I fail guts back out of LoF, where I should have left the bot, but I was trying to avoid the incoming Cutter’s expected LoF. Using the isolated Croc Man’s single irregular, he unloads with his combi and I opt to template back with the boarding shotgun. He does enough wounds to kill the puppet to dead dead and tanks his armor save. One of the TR guns gets its shot off, but at BS 10 minus mimetism and cover, it can’t hit the Croc Man despite being at good range.

With my scoring stunted, it’s time to walk the Cutter on outside of LoF but in sight of the Grenzer and the MBH. The ODD proves to be useful even without cover, as I fail my shots from the suppressing MBH and the Cutter tanks the DA shot. What follows is a series of encounters trying to take down the shooters, first my Grenzer who goes down in two orders (to dead no less), but takes off a STR when I switch to AP and then my MBH, who also takes off an STR before tanking her own save and (unfortunately) failing guts away from the Cutter. Now it walks forward and takes on the closest Brutus gun which puts up an ineffective burst and is one shot off the board. 

On the other side the Montesa is able to eliminate its pair but my hackers are able to get off a carbonite.

Though he’s eventually won his gunfights, Cowzar is depleted for orders too. His Warcor moves up for LoF on the console and he spends his last regular order repositioning the link team to take down the Transductor which falls to second level unconscious.

Turn 2

Top of 2 – Tunguska

At this point, we’re pretty clear that we’re not going to get three rounds in, so it’s go for broke time. I splatter the Croc Man with the Vertigo Zond and crawl-crawl my way to the objective with the last Puppetbot, again taking all the group 2 orders and leaving nothing to allow my Zondnaut to grab the HVT. I spend the last group two order on baggage for the Hollowman, but I don’t even end up using the pitchers. The command tokens burning a hole in my pocket will also go up to the angels.

With what’s left in group 1, there’s precious little to take on the Cutter, but it is priority one. I roll the MBH out and try to use the SMG to mow it down, but with cover and mimetism and no negative mods for suppression, the weight of dice isn’t enough to break through. Shooting back on a single die means I don’t get hit, but I decide to force the issue by rushing the bike up to catch the Cutter out of cover. I telegraph my intent here as we’re talking about possible AROs, reminding Cowzar of the monofilament CCW. My main goal here is just to get into base to base and make him waste orders fighting me on the off chance that I might win with monofilament and delete the tag. But he opts to shoot back and breaks through, putting the MBH unconscious. With that plan dead, I switch focus on the Montesa and put it unconscious with one order from my Hollowman, some good luck for me with a crit. I try to do the same with Wolfgang versus the Sierra but lose a wound as punishment for picking a really bad fight for him. I then use the Tachimotos order to move the Stempler but realize that being a REM it can’t civevac, so I spend the last regular order trying to five dice the TAG with the Securitate HMG and being very lucky that he doesn’t die. Having killed two things now, it is 3-0 to Tunguska.

Bottom of 2 – Varuna

WIth our time ticking down, Cowzar devises a strategy to maximize his points. The Cutter moves forward and coup de grace’s the MBH for In Extremis Recovery. The Kamau link team starts its long march to capture the HVT and move her into my half for two points. My Hollowman held a narrow strip of a firelane that the team needed to cross to get there, and I made them pay in orders, though I lost an STR to the FO as he shoots the gap. I end up taking out the sniper on the next order with my Hollowman but the FO was able to seal the deal and walk a corner outside of my AROs.

This leaves us to a final confrontation where the Kamau paramedic makes a run for the console. If he can kill off my puppet, that will actually tilt the game in Cowzar’s favor. If he can get in contact he can force the tie. So basically, with the last three orders all momentum is for him to win or tie the game. Killing my puppet is a bit of a tall order. Though he can eventually get it out of cover, its transmutation makes it hard to efficiently kill with a combirifle and the boarding shotgun is always going to be a good range, which means I can just dice him. Our first face to face ends inconclusively. The second brings him within less than an inch of the console but not quite close enough and failing the face to face with the boarding shotgun, but the Kamau heroically tanks the save. With a classified and HVT in my board half, the round ends 4-3 for a narrow Tunguska victory!

Post Game Analysis

There’s a lot to unpack here. First, it’s a bummer that we weren’t able to get a full three turns. The last round played out rather quickly with some go for broke moves that wouldn’t have been countenanced if we were playing a third round. Setup and deployment took longer than we anticipated and there’s something to be said about the jump to a 300 pt game and the massive increase in considerations and interactions to resolve, especially in the hacking game. There’s also something to be said about how you can naturally fill up time if you’re not disciplined in how you use it, so there’s some lessons for us to take about how to make more efficient use of our limited time together.

In terms of the mission, I think it more or less played well. I think we were both more intimidated by the Brutus guns than we ought to have been. The Mk12 hits like a hammer but at BS 10 it’s not all that hard to avoid and the Cutter proved to be the perfect tool to beat it down. I think trying to Total Control both turrets was a trap for me. My only reason for it was to ensure a safe approach to the console and I think the Sierra wrecked that calculus. I probably would have been better served by hacking just the one that threatened the puppets and left the other one alone since they would do exactly the same in the reactive turn, but I would have saved myself some orders to place more pitchers on the aquatic side of the board to deny the Cutter or force it to take unopposed hacking AROs. That said, once I Oblivioned the Croc Man it ensured that those turrets belonged to me and in a different deployment or table set up, they were free high damage shots on my opponent that could have been game deciding. Though I have to take a fair bit of responsibility for bringing a GML built list to begin with, I think the TAG characteristic of the turrets potentially makes the mission non-interactive. To avoid that kind of play, I think there’s a case for an automatic reset of possession on the turrets at the beginning of each game round, so that no player can hold them for all three rounds. It might also make sense to add Discover to its list of action priorities, depending on how powerful marker state is intended to be in the mission.

We both forgot about the Master Breacher special orders (more for the angels), which was mostly a net neutral to the game. Using it would have broken my fireteam but the Montesa could have menaced more or spared a regular order in round one to do something else. Looking at what the designation means, I think it’s worth cutting the Zero-G terrain skill as it doesn’t add any ability for the Master Breacher or the scenario at large. It can just be cut and therefore one less thing to remember or replaced with something like Super Jump or the ability to complete Nanoespionage and Net-Undermine, which can always use an extra qualifying specialist. Also but for the order (which we forgot), there’s not much reason to interact with the Master Breacher. Maybe that’s ok, though having an extra point for your Master Breacher getting your HVT into the enemy DZ so long as it doesn’t take your total score above 11 pts might be a way to help prioritize that model in players’ minds. In any event, my Zondnautica should have done the job instead of the Hollowman, which really comes down to reading the mission and the board more closely.

As for the aquatic terrain parachuting, it’s a fun gimmick! But really only viable for helots/libertos and Varuna. If Cowzar had opted to stick to Military Orders, I would have suggested changing the terrain zone to Zero-G or Jungle. Maybe extending this benefit to Terrain (Total) holders might make it so that more factions can avail themselves of it. Though, maybe not, depending on the general appetite for chaos.

In terms of our game, it’s always easier to remember mistakes over successes. My first mistake was one of bad advice–a Palbot for the engineer to support the Cutter would have been more useful to Cowzar than a Warcor. So… my bad, but it only occurred to me during the write up. Despite that, I think there’s also more room for him to play the Warcor more aggressively in ARO. Having it left out and forcing me to take that fight, especially if it baits me to expose myself to some hidden deployment AROs, saps me of orders for 3pts and potentially blinds a key piece for a turn. Some other things we missed were that the MBH should have gone straight to dead instead of remaining for In Extremis Recovery due to the shock on the multi HMG. And my fireteam should have broken when I used the Tachimoto on the Stempler as Wolfgang was left out of coherency, which would have meant that I might not have had the extra shot that killed the Kamau sniper.

There were also some elements of deployment that we both regretted. Cowzar definitely felt that ceding first turn to me was a mistake. I think in context of our lists and plans, he might be right but end of turn scoring for this mission makes going second potentially powerful. But for a couple of dice rolls, the score easily could have been flipped in his favor and he had the orders to do so. While I think we could have made the deployment advantage on his side of the board more powerful, I do think there’s some value in making a sniper tower a little order intensive to dominate, otherwise the game would have been a fishbowl right off the cut. In any event, while I was able to capture the turrets, I’m not sure what value they provided me other than not being shot at by them for a single turn, which translated into one point for me. Mitigating the Croc Man was probably the more useful upshot of those four orders, and while four orders for a single point is not a bad cost in terms of a game, I paid for it with opportunity cost to really screw the Cutter. Meanwhile, by going second Cowzar could place his Cutter after seeing my plan unfold and still find a place to eliminate my best tool for killing it, the Grenzer. Again, I was maybe unlucky on my shots against the TAG but once the Grenzer was down I didn’t have a good answer for it, certainly not on that side of the board.

He also regretted not getting quite the right angle on his Sierra watching the central console. Again, I think it did its job. There was always a way for me to ensure that it wouldn’t shoot a puppet. They are small and fast. But having to be small and slower meant that I spent more orders on them than I wanted to and wasn’t doing other things in group two, which hurt me on the second round. So, while it scored no kills and only inflicted a couple of wounds, it changed my entire game plan, though I definitely understand wishing it did better.

Lastly, the deployment of the link team, even with just three Kamau, made it a little hard to get them moving when they needed to boogie. Again, I think it all worked out more or less for the best–HVT secured, a couple of dice roll away from killing the puppet and taking the console and thus the game, makes for a pretty productive link team, even if they just put down a Transductor. Though I had some White Noise to block off the sniper, it never was relevant, and only having it in active turn is just a bummer.

I also think counter deploying my HVT with his was probably a mistake. Like me, Cowzar’s plan was to have the Montesa bring her across the line. However, once we knew the TAG came in for free on the other side, I think it’s better for marching the HVT into my DZ. Though I did pull two STR off it, I no longer had the tools to seal the deal and already had enough repeater threat on the other side of the board to make it tough for the Montesa to push through, though as it turned out, there was just enough space to get across the center line for two points, which was essential to Cowzar’s end of game plan.

On my end, I stacked too many repeaters on the wrong end of the board. I knew where the Cutter was coming in, why was my Transductor on the other side of the board? Possessing the TAG and turning it against him was probably the most effective way to neutralize him, with a great back up a free flashpulse on entry, so having all repeaters and pitchers on the far side of the board made that impossible. I also wonder if putting my Vertigo up for some ARO duty on second turn just wasn’t worth it–we weren’t playing a third, so why have it prone and tucked away. Also, having the Zondnaut and Zondmate not next to each other meant there was no efficient way to mount once I had cleared any ARO threat to them speeding up the board. While that might not have cost me points in the end, I think it made it easier for Cowzar to secure some of his own, as he would have had to eliminate the Zondnaut to deny me the two if I had secured the HVT.

For lists, there’s always room to second guess. I think just because you can parachute a TAG doesn’t mean you should. I was able to lock it out and put my best anti-TAG piece watching the approach, and there was definitely a risk for a feel bad moment of five unopposed shots downing the TAG as it walked on with a full order skill and no way to contest the shots. I really think having the group 2 of helot LRLs coming once per turn is in some ways more terrifying than the Cutter, but it’s hard to argue with the TAG’s success. Just having the TAG possible would have forced me to respect it and allowed him to potentially push on a different flank. I’m not sure the corresponding vulnerability was there with my deployment, but sometimes the threat of the thing is more powerful than its reality. With the clarity of hindsight, I think a sidegrade of the Croc Man to a Zulu Cobra KHD makes room for at least one helot and menaces my hackers more, so there’s definitely some room for tinkering without changing the main composition of the list.

On my end, GML is a rough thing to do to friends. For sixteen points, deleting a Croc Man was probably worth it and it gave me good area denial capability. But it also made the mission less interactive and meant that I didn’t have the room to put a good gun in the Hollowman haris. B5 multirifle on Wolfgang is good, but I’m not sure it’s B4 Mk12 marksmanship Vostok good, which would have been an alternative. So would a Clockmaker, which I think would have given me durability to stand up to the TAG with the Vertigo. Some versions of my list also had a Szally, which I think would have been just as good at deleting pieces as the GML and its support. The Grenzer is good but B5 AP no bad range outside of 8″ and 3 STR would have felt like a more stable crutch in a fight. I think there’s also an argument for just having three puppet FOs rush the center. Cowzar certainly struggled to pick them off and getting that point without risking an order felt like a big advantage for me, and I would have capped out at the end of my third player turn with no recourse for Cowzar to oppose it.

I also took the time to really visualize my first turn and figure out what my priorities were. Though maybe I shouldn’t have gone for the turrets, I planned that to take three orders and it took four. I figured the puppets could secure the console in two and it took three orders. Though those additional orders taxed me from doing something more with my turn one (like kill a thing), it felt rewarding to have a plan come together. This is the one skill I need to extend to later states of the game (e.g. its turn two, the Grenzer is dead, and the TAG is not–what does this list do now?), which will just come with more practice.

But it’s not all negatives and coulda beens. I think, once again, Cowzar shows a really good grasp of the game. Swinging up to 300pts on a custom mission is hard, yet with just a half hour or so for a final turn he was able to assess the board state and come up with a plan to win or at least equalize the game even though he had zero points to begin with. That’s kind of amazing to me, and I’m not sure I could do the same if the tables were turned. Though there’s always some analysis paralysis, especially at the list building stage (and some caveat emptor, as he found himself wishing he had fifteen orders across multiple groups instead of just the 10/11), I think he’s got a fair eye for optimal moves and recovering quickly from reversals. Guided missiles and multiple hacking AROs are hard to deal with, as are really resilient puppets who can secure the objective without risking an order. Yet he powered through and had me on ropes through some good tactical and strategic decision making.

And though it was hard, playing at 300 points feels more rewarding than lower point games in that there really are more meaningful choices to make, more redundancy in the list, and more toys to play with. I think Cowzar really enjoyed tweaking the list and even though he definitely felt the trade off of power to orders, increasing the points value was overall a win.

Finally, I really liked the mission itself. The mix of scoring meant that there were multiple avenues to get on the board and it was hard to run away with the game early. This meant that Cowzar could find a win state even in his last round. I don’t think you always see this with the current ITS pack. Also, the fact that we basically had to throw a specialist under the bus each turn to score on the console meant that we couldn’t just opt for the best guns in the game and shoot our way to victory. There’s an element of strategic sacrifice that ups the stakes of each scored point, while the turrets also add an extra sense of risk to the calculus of each move. I’d also like to put in another plug for making Brutus the unseen third player of the eventual campaign. We left three points on the board which should have gone to the Rogue AI. It really adds an extra narrative dimension of “while the powers of the Human Sphere bicker amongst themselves and betray one another, a common threat grows more powerful.” All in all, though, a great mission in its current state.

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