Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Game Theory: Spotting Linchpins

As you know I've been playing around with some Circle lists, and I've discovered a few linchpins I didn't know about (since there are so few Circle players in my meta). That got me thinking about the many opportunities I must be missing against other factions as well.

Identifying linchpins can be a difficult task, so I've spent a little time thinking up some guidelines to make it easier. In case you're not familiar with the term, a linchpin is something you can remove to cause a larger structure to collapse. In the case of Cryx our best known linchpin is Bane Lord Tartarus, because Banes are a lot more manageable without him cursing enemy units and replenishing their ranks.
Unit Attachments
The obvious place to begin is with Unit Attachments, because they're easy to spot and nearly always worth killing. The things to look for in Unit Attachments are abilities that are:
  • Orders
  • Granted abilities
  • Mini-feats
  • Command range
These things all disappear when the attachment dies, so take a quick look at his Unit Attachments and see if they're worth the extra effort. An example of an Unit Attachment that isn't a linchpin could be the Gun Mage Officer, since he's just a Gun Mage with +1 RAT unless he's marshaling a Warjack, while the Satyxis Raider Sea Witch would leave her entire unit high and dry if she died.
Unit leaders/members
Just like Unit Attachments, there are several unit leaders/members in the character units that are worth another look. If you bring down Blackbane the Ghost Raiders lose Reanimation, the Nyss Hunters lose CRA when Cylena dies, the Great Bears lose Steady when Kolsk dies, Boomhowlers lose 4+ tough, and the list goes on.

You can really neutralize a lot of the character units with a single kill if you pay attention, and there are several abilities based around the number of models in a unit as well, like the Withershadow Combine needing all three members to use Dark Industries and the Shifting Stones can't teleport unless they're at full strength.
Solo characters
These are by far the hardest to spot. It can be hard to tell what one ability does before the hammer comes down on you and it's to late to act, and knowing how every solo interacts with models/units in factions you don't play is almost impossible. Let's take a tour of the common Cygnar solo characters, to illustrate the problem.
  • Journeyman Warcaster. This guy is worth considering a linchpin if his Arcane Shield is making your life difficult, but he's not a real linchpin unless he's controlling a jack. If he is controlling a jack it has a huge impact when you take him down, so go get him.
  • Stormsmith Stormcallers. Taking down just one has a significant impact on the rest of them. These we can spot because of the way their numbers interact with their abilities.
  • Squire. This ridiculous little machine adds so much power to it's warcaster, that it's always a linchpin. Taking it down makes just about every Cygnar caster more manageable, though actually killing it is damn hard.
  • Arlan Strangeways. If there's a solo character mechanic hanging out, you can bet he does something interesting. The thing is that he really isn't a linchpin, because while he does add something to his jacks, you're not making a huge impact by killing him, unless of course you have several disruption effects to apply.
  • Archduke Runewood. There's a picture of this guy in the dictionary under "linchpin", as his Battle Plan ability is a real force multiplier. Removing Runewood, right when a unit parked itself behind terrain expecting his Pathfinder to help them through, can turn a game around. It's worth noting that his Elite Cadre ability is permanent, so killing him doesn't remove it's effect.
What do these models have in common: nothing. That's a problem with no easy solution right there, and while there are plenty of linchpins that are instantly identifiable like General Slaughterborn (with two abilities that specifically support Bloodgorgers), most of them are hard to spot.
  • Things that support a caster. These are models like the Skarlock, Sylys, Hierophants, Druid Wilders, Succubus, Wracks, and more. Terminating these models can mess up your opponents Focus/Fury economy, and activation sequences. These are very often linchpins, though more so in Warmachine lists.
  • Things that support XXX. The game has more than a few models that boost/buff  models/units, and some models like Kovnik Joe or Tartarus have abilities that only work on a specific unit, while Rhupert and Fell Callers can support just about anyone and would be harder to spot if we didn't already know where to look.
  • Things that break the system: This is Madelyn Corbeau, Anastasia di Bray, and other solo characters with the ability to break the system. In my Terminus list I have Madelyn, and while she lives my Bile Thralls are incredibly potent, to the point of being broken, but when she dies they're reduced to being "a good unit".
  • Things that control others: These are things like Lesser Warlocks, Journeyman Warcasters, and Jack Marshals. These are all fairly squishy models that have big expensive models depending on them, so getting them down earns you a solid lead in resources.
Honestly though, most of the solo linchpins are hard to spot, and you'll just have to remember how bad it was and kill them the next time around. In a tournament with limited time to read up on your opponents list, you should stick to watching for easy targets in the UA and Character unit departments, while watching for obvious targets like Kovnik Joe or caster attachments in the solo department.



    1. Nice article, but I wouldn't call the ATGM UA useless.

      On top of being a jack marshal that hands out runeshot to its attached WJ, he also grants tactics: true sight. Ignoring terrain def boosts and stealth isn't something to cough at.

    2. I don't think I call him useless anywhere?

      I say he he isn't worth taking down (I'll change that to avoid confusion), unless he's marshaling anything because he already gave the unit true sight (as you say it's a tactic). He's basically just a Gun Mage with +1 RAT, and not a linchpin :)

    3. Ah my fault! For reasons unknown (most likely not reading the rule book enough) I labored under the thought that killing the officer gets rid of the granted tactic, but yeah if ATGM keep True Sight killing him doesn't accomplish much unless he is marshaling a jack. Dooh...

    4. You do get rid of "Granted", but "Tactics" stay ;)