Both Minion Pacts got 4 new toys in Domination. Since we already had a look at Blindwater that must mean it’s time for Thornfall. I love my pig-mans, so like all Thornfall players I was really looking forward to see what the newest Hordes book would bring to this pact.
I went into this feeling like Thornfall really needed more. Having played the faction quite a bit in 2010 and 11, I’ve really felt starved for three things: good counters to mass infantry, defensive buffs, and SPD buffs. Let’s be honest; I never expected to win every game with Thornfall, but time after time I found myself staring across the table at a foregone conclusion. Most of my opponents learned their way around the Farrow’s few tricks very quickly while simultaneously figuring out how to capitalize on the faction’s many short-comings. While I’m still not convinced Thornfall has what it takes to be truly competitive, all these issues were addressed to some degree in Domination. I’m quite happy with most of these new choices since they increase Thornfall’s options tremendously.
Sturm & Drang are the new Farrow Warlock. These are a very strange pair with one of the more unusual warlock rule-sets. For anyone unfamiliar with the bicephalic swine-taur they work like this: at the start of each turn, their controlling player chooses which of their two minds has dominance. This choice will dictate their melee stats, CMD, their usable weapons, their spells, and their special abilities. Regardless of which is in control, their defensive stats are very middle of the road with DEF 14 and ARM 16. And with 18 hit boxes they aren’t too high above the curve in that department. But perhaps most importantly the duo occupy a medium base. So small-based infantry won’t block line of sight to them. The good news is that they have FURY 7 which will give them room for a lot of transfers. Their Feat, Psychic Apocalypse, can be a great defensive Feat. It reduces enemy Warbeasts’ Fury stats to 1, and only lets you allocate 1 focus to Warjacks. So if it doesn’t look like your enemy has too much infantry to threaten you with, you can set up your next turn with little fear of reprisal.
Now that we know what they have in common, let’s look at what sets them apart. I’ll begin with Drang since he strikes me as the less interesting choice; at least with the army selection Thornfall currently has available. Drang only has two spells and while they both have potential neither of them exactly inspire. Killing Ground gives friendly models Pathfinder and lets warbeasts in his battlegroup charge or slam without being forced. I know this one can come in useful, but it’s hard to get too excited about since Massacre, the War Hog’s animus, already lets beasts charge without forcing. And between Farrow Brigands and the Road Hog giving it to themselves, and Saxon Orrick being able to hand it out, Thornfall isn’t exactly starved for Pathfinder. Drang’s other spell is Obliteration. While a POW 15 4″ AoE is nothing nothing to sneeze at, it costs 4 fury to cast so you won’t have much left for anything else.
Drang has above average melee stats for a Warlock: two MAT 7 Mechano-Fists swinging at P+S 15. With Critical Pitch there’s a chance he might be able to toss something out of the way and clear a charge lane. Or maybe even knock down a high defense model with a throw. But since he’s only SPD 5 it won’t be easy for him to get the drop on anything until pretty late game. His special abilities are both pretty good. With Goad any warbeasts in his battlegroup can be forced for an extra 2″ advance immediately after they kill an enemy model. This is by far Drang‘s coolest trick. There’s no limit to the number of times you can Goad, so it can give you a lot of extra SPD and maneuverability. And with Drang‘s other special ability, Pack Hunters, you won’t have to worry that much about hitting. The downside is that your opponent has to set up the table just right for you to be able to do anything really great with Goad. So while I think Drang will be the form you end using the least, don’t just forget about him. There’s always a chance the Battlefield could be set up just right for a great Drang turn. But be prepared to let Sturm‘s upkeep spell’s expire from the Shortsighted ability when you switch from him to Drang .
So why do I think Sturm is so much more useful? While he doesn’t have any cool helpful abilities like Drang, his spell list strikes me as just generally stronger. With Deflection, friendly faction warrior models get +2 ARM against ranged and magic attacks. This will bring up the armor of Slaughterhousers to a nice respectable 17, and help keep Sturm alive by bringing his ARM up to 18. With his next spell, Vision, a friendly model can ignore the damage from the next direct hit it takes. This can give Sturm himself a little added survivability which he’ll probably need if he gets close enough to the enemy army to cast anything. But I’ve also used Vision a lot with Severius1 to ignore a free-strike one of my models would have taken trying to slip past a heavy-hitter on the way to its target. His next spell, Watcher, has a pretty long description so I’ll summarize by saying that when an enemy model gets too close to Sturm, (within 6″) a friendly battlegroup warbeast can move and make a fully boosted attack against that model. That might be enough to take out a system, or even finish off a damaged model late game. But the cool thing about Watcher in a Thornfall army is that all our heavy beasts have a melee weapon with critical knockdown. So if you screw up, and it looks like Beast 09 is about to take Sturm‘s head off, you might always get lucky and knock him down with a boosted Gore Watcher attack. But I’ve saved my favorite Sturm spell for last. Telekinesis can be a game changer as it allows you to move a target model 2″once per turn. You can give a friendly model an extra 2″ of Spd, then close the gap even more by moving an enemy 2″ closer. Unfortunately Sturm has to be extra careful when casting it offensively. With his defensive stats it’s all too easy to overextend and get him killed for that mistake.
If you’re thinking of taking this Minion Warlock with another faction, you could do worse. Telekinesis will be a helpful addition to any list, unless you’re already taking a warlock that has it. Unfortunately two of Sturm & Drang‘s best spells, Deflection and Killing Ground, are “friendly faction.” Because they generally have such slow warbeasts and because they offer great help to Minions I think Skorne would benefit most from having Sturm & Drang as a second caster. Any Warlock that excels at face to face assassination will also love the extra 2″ move from Telekinesis.
Take Sturm & Drang with at least one War Hog and one Road Hog. This will provide a good balance between SPD and damage output. Gun Boars are a good choice as well, since ranged attacks can be great with Watcher. And you can double up on out of activation attacks with Watcher and Counterblast. Bone Grinders are an auto-include for the extra range on TK or Obliteration. Bring some Slaughterhousers since they will be great with Deflection up. Targ should join this list as well, since he can be really useful for an Ancillary Attack. Keep him close to the front. He may be that key piece that helps you finish off a caster or warlock that you didn’t quite manage to finish off with the Warhog that you Telekinesis-ed/Goaded into the perfect position. Rorsch & Brine are also fantastic here, since Telekinesis only adds to their incredible speed, and Deflection can help keep Rorsch alive. Fortunately Sturm & Drang‘s Theme force, lets you take all of these things.
Split Decision allows you to take everything that is Farrow, and nothing that isn’t. Its bonuses are fairly mediocre though. This is kind of to be expected given the huge advantages offered by taking a Thornfall list in the first place. At Tier one you can begin the game with free Sturm upkeeps or get +2 SPD for warbeasts depending on which of the two Warlock forms is Dominant. For Tier 2, you gain +1 on your starting roll if you take Targ. At Tier 3 Slaughterhouser units get advance move if you take at least one of them. Finally, Tier 4 reduces the cost of Road Hogs by 1 pt., provided you have 2 of them. While this isn’t the best Tier, it converges a lot with the kind of list you’d make for Sturm & Drang anyway. This means it’s definitely worth trying.
Having spent what should probably qualify as an article’s worth of space on the new Farrow Warlock, let’s move on to the new beast. The Road Hog is a very useful warbeast for 9 points, and will open up Thornfall’s play-style tremendously. Its stats are similar to the War Hog‘s with one less STR, 1 more SPD, and four more RAT. It has two melee attacks: Gore which you should be familiar with, and a Mechano-Claw which unsurprisingly has the open fist advantage. They are both a bit weak with a rather low P+S 14. But that’s ok, since what makes the Road Hog great is his Heavy Flamethrower. This POW 12 SP 10 weapon with Continuous Effect: Fire is only made cooler by the fact that the Road Hog has the Assault ability. This already impressive threat range only increases with another special ability. Full Boar allows the Road Hog to suffer D3 points of damage to gain +2 SPD and Pathfinder for a turn. This puts its potential threat at a hefty 20″. And since this beast is using a Spray attack, you don’t even necessarily have to see the thing you really want to hit with that assault.
Thornfall Alliance is full of ways to increase that distance. Lord Carver and Sturm & Drang can both tack on an extra 2″. But Arkadius can use his feat to give the beast an out-of-activation 8″ charge. Even though it’s more than just a numbers game, I can’t help but look at 28″ and think “hey… that’s first turn assassination victory potential right there.” Yeah I know… that’s some pretty serious theory-machining going on here. With focus camping and transfers there are only a handful of casters you could really threaten – even if you brought three of these beasts. But a man can dream can’t he?
His animus is also a tremendous boon to the faction. For two fury, Lightning Strike, will allow a friendly model to make a full advance if it destroys one or more enemy models during its activation. This will help Lord Carver and possibly Sturm & Drang since both Warlocks can do some real damage in melee. And since there’s no “faction” qualifier on the animus description you can always think about the Road Hog as a costly addition to a Rorsch battlegroup. Really I think what makes the Road Hog a success is that it’s such a vastly different beast for Thornfall players. Combined with some of the SPD enhancing spells and feats the faction already has, the beast gives some real alpha strike capability. And Thornfall also has its share of ways to ensure that even with its low P+S, the Road Hog can dish out the pain once it gets there.
The new Farrow infantry choice has actually been available for several months now. I was really hoping to find a great bread and butter faction mainstay with the Farrow Slaughterhousers, but instead found myself handed a somewhat niche Minion unit. What I mean is, these guys are most helpful filling a very specific role for the 4 main Hordes factions. The Take Down rule, which will let them eliminate models and remove them from play without allowing them to make a Tough roll probably contributes heavily to their rather hefty cost of 6 points. Yes I know… that 6 points will probably sound like a worthwhile price to anyone stuck dealing with Boomhowler & Co. or Trollbloods in general. But as a Thornfall player I find myself wishing that half of my choices for combat infantry weren’t burdened with the expense of an ability that I’ll be lucky to find myself using every other game or so. Fortunately there is a lot more going for them than just Take Down. With Powerful Charge they’ll get to hit with Mat 8 when they charge. A boon for Thornfall players struggling to hit high DEF models. They’ve also got Finisher, letting them roll an additional die against damaged models for some extra hurt. And then there’s Tough, Fearless, and if you take them in a Thornfall list, Advance Deployment. The big downside to these guys is that they’re only DEF 12. But at ARM 15 they will survive most blast damage. All in all they’re good at what they do, but I’m still keeping my fingers crossed that the next Hordes cycle will provide a Thornfall unit that’s a little cheaper and more all-purpose.
Finally there’s Targ. The only thing I’d change about him would be to make his FA something other than C. He’s a great support model with a handy toolbox of helpful abilities. The first one, Ancillary Attack is a great thing to have around. It bumps up the Gun Boar‘s usefulness tremendously by letting it attack a second time. That makes for some decent anti-infantry right there. And you can use it on the Road Hog for an extra 10 inch Spray. His next ability, Herding is really useful for a faction that can easily overextend and send a beast out of its Warlock’s control area. And given how two of the three Farrow warbeasts have abilities that require them to injure themselves, Targ’s Medicate ability will also be welcome.
So, to summarize a lengthy article… I started by saying that I saw three big shortcomings in Thornfall Alliance; a lack of good counters to mass infantry, defensive buffs, and SPD buffs. The first point has been adressed rather well with the Road Hog and Targ. The faction is still lacking a little for defensive buffs, but Deflection helps some. And Sturm & Drang, and the Road Hog help rather well with SPD. But what I think is more interesting is to have a look at what the faction is shaping into. There’s a pattern here and I’m really curious to see where it ends up going. Telekinesis, Goad, Watcher, Sprint, Ancillary Attack… they all allow a model to move or attack out of sequence or out of activation. And of course similar abilities were already out there with Counterblast, Monster Mayhem, Massacre, and others. A very interesting picture is forming but I don’t think it’s quite complete. Thornfall Alliance looks like they are beginning to take shape as the “out of sequence faction.” And I can’t wait to see where they go from here.
~Well I think I’ve said enough. Now it’s time to hear your thoughts. What do you think Thornfall players? And everyone else for that matter.