Trenchers! Or, why Cygnar needs smoke clouds.

autojack80by Autojack

The other day, I was sitting down and trying to work on my thesis (again), when I found myself pondering the mysteries of my Cygnar faction, how it works and how it has been manipulated over the course of development, as I often do, and I came up with an alternate profile for trenchers.

I had enjoyed a conversation the night previously with a few friends that probably kickstarted it. I felt it needed a follow-up. It began as a rant to gdaybloke, became an article, then an essay, essentially. Basically it was about Cygnar, it’s emphasis on mercs that I find kind of repellent for it’s being a crutch. Largely also unnecessary, but I’ll rant about that another time. For now, here’s my essay on trenchers and why they need to be more awesome, but with less stuff. Love to hear some feedback if you have any.

So I found myself chatting with a new Cygnar player with Spud and a friend who works for the LGS the other night, and we were giving him a bit of a run-down of where he should start with the faction. He was still pretty “battle box”, and I guess he was talking about the Black 13th and how he thought they were good and looking for advice. Considering the steep curve I felt the faction had, for a number of reasons, really, it was quite interesting to see my opinions shared by the other guys. Anyway, the somewhat inevitable mercs conversation came up (my own fault, really.. we agreed that it wasn’t something he should try to get his head around yet, and probably subconsciously wanted him to avoid as I think we perceive it as something of a crutch for the faction). We talked about how Cygnar really doesn’t have a kind of a tarpit unit, so we look elsewhere.

When you think about the mercs that most frequently show up in Cygnar lists, at least far as I have seen, you get Boomhowler’s, Forgeguard, Alexia, and for solos you get Rhupert, Reinholdt, often you get Maeddy Corbeau, Lanyssa, Taryn, Ragman, and of course Eiryss. The list is bigger than for most factions that occasionally have one, like the gatormen you will see in Skorne, or the Nyss you’ll see in Cryx or Khador. You might wonder why you don’t see the Nyss as much in Cygnar, but that’s because we already have high-costed, hard-hitting ranged troops with high defence that are made of glass. We don’t go to mercs for power, we go to mercs largely for two reasons. One is to augment our already impressive ranged ability (Taryn, Reinholdt, Eiryss [usually for ranged assassinations]), and for making good tarpits. Sometimes also for assistance in melee, but only in very precise circumstances (Corbeau to deliver Stryker2 and almost no one else, Lanyssa to get a jack going farther and charging for free, Ragman for effectively the same reason, getting a jack to hit harder so that it will one-round an enemy jack)–most of the time, this is uncommon. The tarpit thing is the real issue.

What makes a good tarpit are several things: cheap cost, they get in the way, they are at least annoying to remove if not hard to remove, they are in some way threatening and they act as pawns for other stuff. Usually a cheap enough cost gives them a deficiency in maybe one of these criteria, but most of the time, they’ll be good at the others. Examples include Zealots, who manage all of the above extremely well, but they do lack reach and their threat can be mitigated somewhat by immunity to blast damage and such. Neither of these are real drawbacks, and they are arguably the best tarpit. But then you have Winterguard. Very scary if Kovnik Joe can get them going, and they have high def when they want it, tough when they want it, and they are cheap. They lack in the getting in the way a bit without reach too, but the spray threat is really scary. You also have mechanithralls, who are as cheap as cheap gets, they come back to life with the obligatory surgeon and they hit like mack trucks. Trib even has their houseguard halberds who have reach, shield wall, cheap cost, ways to make them fasty-fast, they have set defence and will get in the way handily. While not as ideal as the rest as far as staying power goes, they tend to do alright.

My argument is this: Cygnar experiences a gaping hole where their old tarpit used to be. Trenchers used to be that tarpit, and now they aren’t. They now have sword knights, and they are inadequate. We need a do-over with the trenchers, and I have been dreaming up an alternate profile and I want to see what you think, get some feedback, you know?

What ends up characterizing Cygnar troops and their potential, as a whole I mean, not just the trenchers, is that they’re fragile, but they hit like monsters. Lot of ranged attackers with their native drawbacks, but also things like stormblades, who have def 12, arm 15 and low model count. They hit at pow 15 with a pow 14 assault, and that’s monstrous, but they are made of cheap glass. We end up taking Rhupert to protect them, and we take Boomhowler’s to screen them, but they tend to go down. In faction, we have things like sword knights to act as our cheap tarpit. So bloated is the Cygnaran aristocracy that we send our noble knights out to take a beating as pawns. 😛 They are cheap, absolutely. Are they threatening…? Nooot really. Are they hard to remove? Really not all that hard to remove. Do they get in the way? Well, no reach, and they need to be in base contact with another member of the unit if they want to get a meagre arm bonus, so.. not very well, no. They’re not even that cheap in relative terms because all the hard-hitting stuff we have is so expensive.

What we *had* was better. Trenchers were the equivalent of a 5/8 unit back in the day. They also had the ability to place smoke farther away, so they couldn’t be hit either. They also hit hard because they had assault with access to deadeye, had CRA to slug a jack or a beast in the face, and were already up and dug in and slinging smoke due to AD. The smoke was a huge deal because you couldn’t charge them through the smoke, and smoke blocked LOS to the cheap-glass other stuff behind them. Other armies had bond of brotherhood, shield wall and stealth to protect them on top of their tarpits, but Cygnar just had a better tar pit. Cheap? Well, not relatively. Tough to remove? Like ticks. Threatening? CRA with military rifles, so absolutely. Get in the way? Better than anyone. All of this defence was built on smoke, mind you, so if you had a way around that, they were nothing to worry about. You engage them and they don’t even have cover anymore, but there’s also the army of eyeless sight, good ol’ Cephalyx drudges, Mage Hunter Strike Forces, *opposing* Gun Mages, lots of things. Not that ignoring cloud effects grows on trees, but Hunter is prevalent enough. Like most Cygnar advantages, they are conventional, but without a way around them they’re rock solid. Now, most of the end-arounds are new, mind you. This is why the smoke thing is less of an issue now. But how are trenchers different today, anyway? Well, their cost went up dramatically, for one. That dings them in the tarpit department. Their smoke now has to have them *in* it. Meaning they don’t slow things down anymore, and they can be shot. Perhaps not very well, seeing as they have cover a lot of the time, but they still get smoked, so to speak. Opposing CRAs still deliver, aiming bonuses, and def debuffs… Do they hit hard? Yes. The trouble is, in light of their now rather paltry defence against melee and even against guns, they get killed too easily to justify their once rather impressive offensive power against their cost. They aren’t even remotely cheap, they don’t get in the way as much, they don’t pose as much of a threat anymore because they don’t boast the same counter-attack potential, and they can’t pawn for things you can’t afford anymore because you took trenchers.

The consequence? Almost *no one* plays trenchers. At all. This is kind of a tragic and ignominious fate for a unit once considered among the best. I don’t want to see that happen, as Cygnar keeps getting *great* stuff in the glass cannon department behind them, but still has to rely on its incredibly strong control casters (whose name is almost always Haley), dip into the mercs pool for a tarpit that does not protect in the way Cygnar most needs it (blocking LOS), and instead forgoes melee altogether and relies on stalls (like covering fire) and guns, which are good, but almost always dicey in the damage department. Is this all that bad? No–it’s really not. Cygnar’s game may be *waaaay* unbalanced for their loss of their established tarpit defence (by which I do not mean broken, just out of sync), but if you’re not prepared to deal with Cygnar, they will eat you alive. Sadly, being prepared to deal with things is something armies can do. They are frequently able to get around those advantages, and even if they aren’t, luck tends to throw your dice when you *need* that flare to hit so you can ignore stealth and blow the tar out the sneaky caster. Or you need that knockdown gun or spell to hit. Or you need that rebuke to hit so you can advance unmolested. It gets silly.

Now, I’m not asking for the moon. What are Cygnar’s inherent disadvantages that stack against everyone else’s and should still be there in a re-imagined trencher infantry unit? Well, they’re on the slow side, actually. Khador’s supposed to be slow, but they’re not, as their amazing infantry and the boundless charge spell will attest to. Cygnar has almost no speed buffs, and theirs is not over the top in the slightest. Menoth’s is comparable, sure, but they also can afford a jack wall and amazing tarpits, again. Cost mitigates their being hindered much by it, but they still don’t generally dictate their engagements, so it is an inherent disadvantage, for sure. Bringing me to another disadvantage of Cygnar–cost. Since Mark I everything with a gun came with a price tag, particularly when they take synchronized shooting lessons at the Y. Long gunners used to be cheaper than stormblades, now they’re more expensive. Our jacks also pay for their beautiful core stat lines–9 is average. Trenchers went up, a lot went up. Seeing as guns are so big in Cygnar, the spare points you find you have in most factions (and in spades in Cryx) that you can use to buy solos and support models are just not there in Cygnar. We have usually one less *asset* on the board than everyone else when we take our support block intact. Finally, we are fragile. Everything we have is going to hold its breath when blast damage is rolled, and usually what a lucky roll takes out, we just don’t have the numbers to absorb without flinching. I hate it when I feel every model taken out to a lucky dice roll. But that just comes with the territory in Cygnar, I find.

So what would having a better trencher unit do for us? Well, it would be an available tar pit, for one. Having a pawn unit is critical. It blocks for our hard-hitting other stuff, our assassination runs, and our vulnerable support models. It would also be an *appropriate* tar pit, again. The smoke is really big. We would rather have our enemy tied up trying to see us than have a tar pit they fear on top of our hard-hitting stuff. All other good tarpit units are deficient in one thing or another on that list. Usually they’re really good at one thing, and pretty good at others. Zealots hit respectably, and they block areas rather well, but rely on a UA that is itself vulnerable, and makes them a little more expensive. So cost, blocking and threat all suffer a bit, but on that one turn you need them to live, they are harder to remove than a fishhook from your soft parts. Winterguard need support, so they like Joe, they like an Iron Flesh spell, they like a UA, etc. so they are not always cheap. They also demand attention. They don’t have reach either, so they don’t always block as well to boot. But Khador is known for its infantry, so they can threaten anything they can see, and with the support they’re almost as hard to remove as the zealots. Trenchers are not going to be cheap to do what they do best, but *a bit cheaper*, maybe. Anyway, I talk a lot as you know, but this is what I suggest:

NEW TRENCHER INFANTRY PROFILE:

Spd 5 Str 6 Mat 6 Rat 5 Def 13 Arm 13 Cmd 8
Tough
Military Rifle: Rng 10 Pow 11
Bayonet: Pow 4 P+S 10
*Action: Smoke Bombs
*Action: Dig In
Smoke Wall: When a friendly trencher infantry model is in B2B with another friendly trencher infantry model from the same unit and in formation, when that model uses Smoke Bombs (*Action), the centre of AOE smoke template may instead be placed up to 3″ from that model.
Bayonet – Powerful Charge
Cost: Leader and 5 Grunts: 5 Points, Leader and 9 Grunts: 8 Points
FA: 2

So the idea is that with a lower command, speed, and a lack of AD, CRA and Assault, these guys suddenly become a lot more simple. Less bells and whistles. They focus on the smoke defence and do it well. It’s how Cygnar protects its fragile guys. They’re not what you’d call *cheap* troops, but that’s Cygnar for you. They’re much more durable and hard to remove when they can hide behind the smoke, dig in and make tough rolls–appropriate for the square-jawed, battle-hardened infantry image PP is going for with them. They can’t spread out as much though, and the B2B requirement is a big one when moving takes you out of Dig In. What it means is they can’t blanket the board with smoke, but they can blanket a slightly smaller area much better. They’re less threatening on their own, because you pay through the nose for CRA, so less of that means cheaper, but with one more pow on their bayonets and powerful charge, they’re scary in the way Cygnar is scary–they are accurate. Mat 8 on the charge is nothing to sneer at. In accordance with all of this, the UA should probably be re-thought as well. And so I did:

TRENCHER INFANTRY OFFICER AND SNIPER:

Officer: Spd 5 Str 6 Mat 7 Rat 6 Def 13 Arm 13 Cmd 9
Officer, Jack Marshal, Tough
Military Rifle: Rng 10 Pow 11
Bayonet: Pow 4 P+S 10
*Action: Dig In
*Action: Smoke Bombs
Smoke Wall
Granted: Quick Work
Mini-Feat: Whites of their Eyes
Bayonet – Powerful Charge

Sniper: Spd 5 Str 6 Mat 6 Rat 7 Def 13 Arm 13 Cmd 8
Tough
Scoped Military Rifle: Rng 14 Pow 11
Bayonet: Pow 4 P+S 10
*Action: Dig In
*Action: Smoke Bombs
Smoke Wall
Sniper
Bayonet – Powerful Charge

Cost: 3
FA: 1

So a good UA makes a unit *scary*. This is no exception. While I think cautious advance was neat, and still would apply handily to the new profile I suggest, this one emphasizes what they do when the enemy is *there*. Still not largely power-oriented, so they don’t give anything to Cygnar they don’t *already* have, so neither breaking them or going out of theme, so to speak. The idea is still very accurate pow 10s, and the UA is still not cheap. It revives the old assault bit, which is fine, but focuses instead on the haphazard WWI over-the-top skirmish. Charge in with bayonet, stab, whip up rifle, shoot with fire discipline. Officer pops the mini-feat, declares the charge, they get Mat 8 charge attacks, smoke an infantryman, then deadeye their guns to shoot someone else. It’s better in many ways than assault because it doesn’t require that guys without reach make combat with more than one guy, then rely on an unboosted pow 9 to kill the second guy. Leave the big kills to the long gunners, these guys fight down and dirty. The mini-feat may be redundant with deadeye, but Cygnar casters rarely hand out things their units don’t already have, just make them better at what they already do. So doing this kind of thing on multiple turns sounds about right.

Naturally, there are more Trencher cards in the deck:

TRENCHER INFANTRY RIFLE GRENADIER:

Spd 5 Str 6 Mat 6 Rat 5 Def 13 Arm 13 Cmd 8
Tough
Military Rifle: Rng 10 Pow 11
Bayonet: Pow 4 P+S 10
*Action: Smoke Bombs
*Action: Dig In
Take Up
Smoke Wall
Military Rifle
*Attack: Rifle Grenade – Make an attack with this weapon with AOE 3 and Pow 12.
Bayonet – Powerful Charge

I’ve always liked the rifle grenadiers. Not because they do what most weapon attachments do–bring a heavier weapon to bear to the party for a whole extra point or three, but rather because you pay one point for a unit of guys who are currently all worth one point. Meaning you get the rifle grenade for precisely nothing. What you are getting is the ability to dictate exact unit size. That’s nifty to me. What that also means is, if you are paying less for the unit as a whole, than the weapon has to actually *be* a bit better in order to justify a complete point for them. I give it one more pow. Nothing too fancy here.

CAPTAIN MAXWELL FINN:

Spd 5 Str 6 Mat 8 Rat 7 Def 14 Arm 14 Cmd 10
Commander, Fearless, Tough
Mini Slugger: Rng 10 Pow 11
Trench Knife: Pow 3 P+S 9
Anatomical Precision
Smoke Bombs
Sprint
Veteran Leader [Trencher]
Martial Discipline [Trencher]: Friendly Faction warrior models with small or medium-sized bases can ignore friendly Faction Trencher models in this model’s command range when determining LOS and can advance through friendly Faction Trencher models in this model’s command range if they have enough movement to move completely past them.
Mini Slugger – *Attack: Rapid Fire [d3]
Trench Knife – *Attack: Thresher
Damage: 5 Boxes
FA: 1
Points: 3

Now we’re talking. This is where the trencher army starts to look cool. The expense is still up there, but now we can move through the trencher models when we want to. This is getting what you pay for, in my opinion. Desperate pace still would have been nice, but the kicker is in the waiting stormblade infantry behind the smoke wall. That’s the nasty bit if you ask me. I still like the drawback of making them need to see Finn at the front in order to fight better, but now they can charge in and see him more easily through each other. Neat!

As far as I’m concerned with the artillery, you’re still getting what you pay for. If we’re keeping it thematically consistent, they should lose the AD, but if it contributes to their cost that much, they should probably be re-thought a bit. Honestly, I’d still think you were getting what you paid for if they lost it. They’re dug-in artillery pieces, and that’s about the gist of it.

As far as commandos are concerned, I honestly think they carry the stigma of association with the Trencher Infantry and high costs. They’re actually a great unit. They have stealth, in Cygnar, which is a big deal. They have Mat 7 and anatomical precision, which is also a big deal. They have grenades and carbines and pathfinder and AD (which in this case I don’t think they should lose) and otherwise, honestly I’m happy. Might end up giving them speed five, honestly, that doesn’t matter as much in my opinion when you have stealth going for you.

So that’s it. That’s my collected thoughts about what I think trenchers ought to be. Some first instincts might be to think that I’m wishlisting, but I don’t think I’m asking for a lot, here. In fact, I’m handing back more than I’m asking for in the current climate. Hence the cheaper cost. Are they an auto-include as I’ve written them? No, they’re just an option, and lots of people wouldn’t be down with the associated costs, I don’t think. Just give Cygnar a faction tar pit they can use.

Thanks so much for reading!


2 Responses to Trenchers! Or, why Cygnar needs smoke clouds.

  1. I wrote a really long reply last night and bollocksed up posting it thanks to facebook, sk here goes again.

    I love Trenchers, genuinely love them. My ( late) Grandfather was an Australian Command in WWII in Borneo, and listening to the (child safe, admittedly) tales he told me as a child is the main reason for that love. They have always felt like the core, the real guts, of the Cygnaran armed forces to me.

    But I couldn’t agree with you more.

    Bugger CRA, bugger Assault, bugger half useless grenades – you’ve hit the proverbial nail on the head. A UA granting quickwork, on a stripped down cheaper unit wi tough, is exactly what would make it much easier to field Trenchers, but on the flip side I just don’t see it ever happening.

    A theme migt come that changes something a little, and a warcaster mayhave an elite cadre or a spell. That mimicka an ability, but at the core of the issue is that cost and base range of abilities. They aren’t able to BE like Winterguard, Mechanithralls, or Flameguard because of their cost.

    What I would do is make a them force that implements these changes, or at least some of them, if. I had the power. Alas the powers that be are not mine to command, but I’ll never stop loving my rough as guts troopers, you can have the, when you pry them from mycold dead fingers

  2. Yet ANOTHER unit with Tough is not the solution, Imho. Tough is getting so prevalent that it’d be easier to give ‘not tough’ to units that don’t have it.

    Smoke Wall is also probably too powerful on a 5-8 unit, probably also too powerful on 6-10 as well. That is 5-10 smoke grenades that protect the entire unit and EVERYTHING behind it. Your new Smoke Wall gives them the ability to make that wall 5″ (2 3″ side by side) x 5=25″, which means you’re only actually limited by the command range. This is better than the High Reclaimer, which is the High Reclaimers entire shtick, on a unit, in an army with arguably better guns.

    You have removed (flavourful) AD, CRA, etc, but given them an ability that makes them even better than they were before, at a reduced price.

    There is a reason smoke bombs were changed, and it was because this type of smoke on a normal unit is too good in Mk2. Sure, you could argue that it’s not good against Legion, but it sure is amazing against almost every other army you’d face.

    I don’t actually think there is anything wrong with the current Trenchers besides being vastly overpriced. They make a difference on the battlefield, they protect the things behind them – it’s just that at 10 points, they’re in the points bracket that you want to protect, not the one you want engaging the enemy.

    Frankly, I think just making them 5-8, and the UA 2 points would be enough. They would instantly enter tar-pit territory with AD, Dig In, and clouds. Cygnar already has Rhupert, which means tough on a stick when you need it.

    I too find the fact Sword Knights are the tarpit is kind of weird, but that’s a story for another day.