Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Circle Tactica: Shifting Stones

"Shifting Stones... You use those models a lot, but I don't think it does what you think it does."

So, after re-reading the card multiple times, I have realized the limitations of the seemingly perfect Shifting Stones. I admit it, I have totally been playing them wrong. Unfortunately, so is the curse of the intricate rules used in Warmachine and Hordes. It's been my main gripe with PP since the early days of Warmachine: Their rules are horribly written. I know, I know; it's ironic that a GW fan would say this because GW's rules are unbalanced and "blah blah blah." Let me just come out and say this: I would rather have clear, concise and unbalanced rules than poorly written balance. Now, taken in their individual parts PP writes very clear rules, the problem is when the rules interact with each other and the sheer number of rules that exist just for one model.

The question: How are Shifting Stones supposed to function? What are they useful for in a Circle army?

First, lets break down the unit and then dissect it's individual parts. Shifting Stones have no attacks, def 5 and are immobile. They are also arm 18 with 5 wounds each. Sounds pretty crappy just via the stat line. But the special rules for the stones is where they are supposed to shine:

Serenity: At the beginning of your Control Phase, before leaching, you can remove 1 fury point from a friendly Faction warbeast within 1” of this model.

Hmmmmm, interesting. While this is beneficial for most Circle lists and really allows you to mitigate some of the risk involved with a heavy-kill run, I find this to be the most underwhelming rule of the bunch. As you may or may not know, I run a Construct Baldur list. My beasts don't have Thresholds and they have generally high Fury (4 for Megalith, 3 for Wardens and Guardians, 2 for Watchers and Wyrds). That being said, Baldur only has 6 fury so if I push with my force, I will have a lot of extra floating fury at the end of my start phase. Granted, this provides me with fury management beyond "oh shit, my guys got angry" but it also means that for one turn my beasts will be sub-par to what they can normally accomplish.

Another problem I have with this rule is the 1" requirement. If you are teleporting your army up the field, your stones are not moving. How will they be in range of beasts that will actually NEED to have fury pulled off them? If you teleport the stones ahead, hoping to preemptively place them for a kill-run, you will be let down by the fact that you won't have any other threats in range of your opponents' attacks. With only def 5 and 5 wounds, they will easily drop 1 stone per turn.

Usefulness score: 2/5

The next power is even MORE ineffective than the first.

Shifting Powers - Choose one of the following effects at the start of this unitʼs activation (More on this later):

1) Healing Field - Models in this unit that are in formation and friendly Faction models within 1˝ of one or more of them heal d3 damage points. Roll separately for each model. Healing Field can heal warbeasts with Construct ICON.

Again, this rule looks great at first, but if you look closely you can see that beasts have to be within 1" of a stone. This is a rule of convenience because frankly, you won't encounter this much, if at all, in a regular game. You might just happen to have the stones near a hurt beast, but that won't happen often unless you are fighting a range-heavy army that can see through trees (damn you legion). The other problem is if you want your stones to be within range of the damaged beast, you either have to use the beasts' activation to sprint to the nearest stone, or you have use this turn to move the stones up the field and then wait until NEXT turn to heal the poor beast. If your beast is so badly damaged that you would need to heal him, you won't have the time to get your stones/beast in position to heal for at least a turn. Now, if the stones healed for, say, d6 wounds over d3, then it MIGHT be worth it, but 1-3 wounds is less than optimal for sacrificing the stones ability to teleport. Now, if you combined this with Baldur and a Wold Warden you could be healing d3x3 wounds off a single model, but again, that requires a VERY specific build and a lot of crafty field manipulation.

2) Shifting - Place each model in this unit that is in formation anywhere within 8˝ of its current location

This is how you use the stones. They aren't affective if you aren't putting them where you think they need to be. However, because you can only choose 1 power each turn, you are losing out of 2/3 of the units effectiveness just to move the blighters. Granted, most units have to choose to either run, move attack or attack, but running is only a 50% decrease in ability, it generates 1 fury for beasts. To top it all off, unless you're running a buffed up Wold Guardian, beasts can usually run 8+ inches.

3) Teleportation - Place one friendly Faction model whose base is within the triangular area between all three Shifting Stones anywhere within 8˝ of its current location. The placed model must forfeit its movement after being placed this turn. To choose this Shifting power, all three Shifting Stone models in this unit
must be in formation.

Here is the best yet worst rule of the unit. You basically get a run action for free, allowing you to attack with the model AND have that extra fury you didn't spend on running to boost attacks or make additional attacks. You can also teleport BEHIND models, around cover, over enemy models, all allowing you to have a distinct tactical advantage over your opponent. HOWEVER! You can only move 1 model in this way each activation (my bad, lol). This also means that this movement happens OUT OF PHASE. That's right, out of phase movement. Honestly, yes, I can see the tactical effectiveness of moving a unit who has or hasn't already activated this turn, meaning your and teleport someone out of or into combat, but is it worth it?

The fact you can only teleport 1 model means that units basically cannot use shifting stones. Also, once your opponent kills one of the three shifting stones, they can no longer teleport your models around the field. That means, in 1 turn, they can shut down your ENTIRE strategy, and because of this you will have to play the stones defensively. This means that you will never use powers 1 and 2 in a game. Congratulations, you just spent 2 points on a unit who can only ever be 1/3 effective in any game. If you want to save your beasts/warlock you will have to throw your stones in harms way prematurely, giving your opponent the opportunity to prevent you from teleporting your model out of combat by killing one of your stones, thereby making your whole exit plan worthless.

Therefor, this power can only be used offensively unless you feel like losing the effectiveness of the unit. Also, you cannot use the shifting stones for non-faction models. Wonderful, so unless you are playing a tier list, you won't even be able to use these powers on roughly 50% of your army. Roughly every turn, your stones are giving 1/6 of their possible effectiveness to your force. For 2 points. 1/6.

Usefulness score: 1/5

Overall effectiveness: 3/10 or 1/3... huh, interesting how that works....

So, my questions for you: Am I over-reacting to this unit? How are they actually good? Why do these rules suck?


  1. Hmmm...from my point of view (as a potential opponent) I think they could be a useful supplement to your army's plan (whatever that may be).

    True, def 5, arm 18, 5 wounds isn't great but it is good enough to prevent your basic infantry from doing much, if any, damage to it and I'm certainly not going to dedicate a beast to taking them out when I have your beasties to worry about. I might attack them at the end game if I'm wrapping you up, but that is always a big "if" in WM/Hordes.

    I think I would use them for helping to hold objectives/scenario play. If your beasts are going to be in one area anyway, might as well try to get some supplementary benefits too.

    Another random thought...for the teleportation function (based on the rule you posted above), it sounds like you could activate a unit, move it into the triangle and then teleport it somewhere else for an additional 8 inch move. It just says that you have to forfeit your movement, so you could still have your combat action if you 'port into combat and tie something up.

    The best thing I could suggest, though, is to post up your comments above on the Circle boards on the PP forums (and, haha, you can't complain about how the GW forums are better than the PP forums either since the GW forums are kaput ;)) and see what some of the experienced circle players use them for.

    It could be that they're just not a very useful unit? There are some in every army, unfortunately.

  2. The teleportation happens during the Shifting Stones activation, not when the beast activates. This means it will require 2 turns to play your beast to where you want it, which is worse than run one turn, charge the next. Like I said, I can see certain tactical advantages, such as rear-arch teleporting and the like, but it's not NEARLY good enough to be so admonished by the PP community. If they lowered the cost of the stones by 1 point and made them FC 2, they would be worth it with the rules they currently have. If they raised the points by 1, made them FC U and gave them the ability to use all three of their shifting powers each activation, they would be balanced and fun, not to mention worth while.

  3. That would make them 3 points? Building a puppy-heavy list around them with your second suggestion seems pretty fair, but I have yet to play against them, so am not that familiar...

  4. The healing/caliming abilities is a lot better than you are giving them credit for.

    Also: 2 points gives you three structures that can contest, block charges and cannot be trampled. And the stone warden is possibly the best 1pt UA in the game.

    All in all I would say they can be 8/10 in some armies, but they average out at 6/10 (where Megalith is 10 and Reeves are 1.

  5. Upon using them correctly, I have come to realize that I rushed to judgement rather quickly on the stones. I still think they are rubbish, but they are useful rubbish; sort of like the kind they used to build out San Francisco.

    In all seriousness, the healing IS much better than I give it credit for, because it effects ALL FRIENDLY FACTION MODELS WITHIN 1" OF ANY STONE. That is REALLY good. The shifting/teleportation is good, but not amazing when you think of what it COULD be. I would like to re-rate this unit at a 7/10 for now. Once I figure out the Blackclad Wayfarer, we will see exactly how useful they can be.

  6. I have used the stones in nearly every single battle I have ever played. For the points you spend you get a very hard to kill unit (enemies have to kill 2 of 3 to make them unable to contest control points) which many opponents will under rate. Oh and the UA gives one of the units stealth too.
    Playing with a beasty E Kaya list I use them often to launch an alpha strike since the units get AD they can also be used in tandem. They do not port 8" they port WITHIN 8" giving them effectively a 9" move. Yes you have to actually plan how to use them and yes a smart opponent will destroy one of three for the sake of avoiding the 20" potential assassination run you can make just by planning your attack.
    Oh and only being able to send one model is not a handicap if it is a Feral warping Str, with Primal, and Forced evolution on it being teleported behind the enemy caster before it activates. I have yet to run into a caster who could survive that.
    If your opponent is clever enough to nuke a stone you still have a tough mobile unit to claim objectives, heal and manage fury.
    They may not be end all and be all of troops but they are so cheap and versatile I almost never leave them out of my list.
    One of my favorite tactics is to set up a stone triangle in a wood and have P Kaya nearby...port a heavy out onto an approaching anything..activate. Activate Kaya Spirit Door the heavy back to the stones. Lather rinse repeat if the enemy keeps coming. If not you just took control of that area and have a strong point for your caster to fight from.
    Remember that the stones teleport within and not completely within. So a large base model has a threat range of 8" plus most of its base plus reach. So for a stalker thats a foot or so of threat in ANY direction and almost regardless of intervening models.