In our Battle Reports, we cover interesting games we’ve played, talking about the plans we made, the tactics we employed, the mistakes that rendered those plans worthless, and the memorable moments that are the reasons we play the game. In this inaugural edition of the column, Robert “TheChirurgeon” Jones is covering a game from his ongoing campaign, The Astradus Campaign.
Trajann Valoris readied his forces for war, knowing full well that his Custodes forces would likely fall in battle. It would all be worth it however, if they could destroy the Despoiler once and for all. And now, on the world of Paulus, would be their best chance. Gathering a handful of his finest warriors, they made haste for the icy planet, preparing to make planetfall and launch a desperate strike at the heart of the Black Legion.
I was a big fan of the Schemes of War when they showed up in White Dwarf last year, and was happy to see them return with more missions in Chapter Approved 2019. We both had cards from the faction decks, so we figured we’d create a couple of decks and play one of the new Schemes missions. Randomly selecting, we ended up with Territorial Control. In Territorial Control, the player holding more objectives gets to draw an extra card every turn. Otherwise it’s normal Schemes/Maelstrom.
The mission also uses the Acceptable Casualties, First Strike, Slay the Warlord, and Linebreaker rules.
I brought my Black Legion, led by Abaddon the Despoiler. That gave me lots of CP to work, which I’d need because shooting effectively with the Forgefiends can be expensive – 1 CP for Daemonforge and 1 CP for Blasphemous Machines. This is a more casual game, so it’s a good time to dust off the Vindicator to use its new upgraded Demolisher Cannon, which will put in work against T5 Custodes. And then there’s the Heldrake, whose one job will be to charge some Jetbikes early and often, and prevent them from assaulting for as long as possible.
TheChirurgeon’s Black Legion, 1,500 Points
Black Legion Battalion Detachment (+5 CP)
HQ: Abaddon the Despoiler, Warlord
HQ: Sorcerer w/MoS, Force Staff, WL Trait: Warp Lord
HQ: Dark Apostle w/MoS, WL Trait: Trusted War Leader, 2x Disciples
Stratagem: Council of Traitors
Troops: Cultists x10 w/MoK, Autopistol + CCW
Troops: Cultists x14 w/MoS, Autogun
Troops: CSMs x5 w/Heavy Bolter
Elites: Berzerkers x10 w/Chainaxe, Bolt Pistol
Flyer: Heldrake w/Baleflamer
Black Legion Spearhead Detachment (+1 CP)
HQ: Lord Discordant on Helstalker w/Baleflamer, MoS, Relic: Sightless Helm
HS: Forgefiend w/3x Ectoplasma Cannon
HS: Forgefiend w/2x Hades Autocannon, Ectoplasma Cannon
Crab-Stuffed Mushrooms is a fellow goon and also a local in the area who I’d never played against. He has some beautiful Custodes models, and while he doesn’t play very often, he was eager to get back into it. His army is led by Trajann, on whom he played Victor of the Blood Games, with an assist from a Shield-Captain on Bike.
Crab-Stuffed Mushroom’s Custodes Army, 1,500 Points
Custodes Battalion Detachment (+5 CP)
HQ: Captain-General Trajann Valoris
HQ: Shield-Captain on Dawneagle Jetbike
Troops: Custodian Guard Squad x3 w/2x Spear, Sword + Shield
Troops: Custodian Guard Squad x3 w/2x Spear, Sword + Shield
Troops: Custodian Guard Squad x3 w/2x Spear, Sword + Shield
Elites: Custodian Wardens x4 w/Castellan Axe, Misericordia
Elites: Vexillus Praetor w/Castellan Ax, Vexilla Magnifica
FA: Vertus Praetors x4
One of the key aspects of the Schemes of War format is that, similar to ETC, players don’t use all the Maelstrom cards but instead use tailored decks, allowing them to do things like remove cards that require them to use a psychic power if they have no psykers.
For my decks, I’m a big fan of being able to score all three objectives per turn, maximizing the rate at which I can tear through the deck. That usually means fewer multi-point objectives, which are usually harder or more time-consuming to score, and more simple objectives. The big challenge here is that “kill one” objectives are very hard to score against Custodes, and “kill 3+” are basically impossible. Because we’re playing a Narrative game, the faction-specific objectives were also in play. Here’s what I brought:
- Secure Objective 1-6
- Supremacy (I knew I’d be able to hold more on a given turn just by numbers)
- Hold the Line
- Overwhelming Firepower
- Scour the Skies (taking out bikes)
- Master the Warp
- Blood and Guts
- No Prisoners
- Black Legion: Conquer the Galaxy
- Black Legion: The Long War Continues
- Black Legion: Death and Destruction
Crab-stuffed Mushrooms took a similar tack, focusing heavily on “kill” objectives, and taking all 6 of his Custodes-specific objectives (note: They’re all pretty good and easier to score than the Black Legion ones). but went over his minimum deck size, building with 27 cards. As a veteran Magic: The Gathering player, I will now explain to you why this is a tactical mistake. One of the key benefits of Schemes of War over Maelstrom is reducing the amount of variance in the objectives, turning the game from less of a luck-driven endeavor, e.g. “Did I draw the right card at the right time?” and into more of a strategic one, e.g. “Did I take the right objectives and play them at the best times?” Because there’s no penalty for running through your deck, you generally want to reduce your randomness as much as possible, so you can cycle back through the same smart objectives if you score enough to run through them all. Taking more cards reduces the likelihood that you’ll draw any single card, and increases the amount of variance. So take 18 cards in your Schemes deck.
I win the roll-off and choose to defend, so I get pick of zone and second deployment. Custodes don’t have a ton of range, so my plan is to force them to come to me on turn 1, then I can close the gap. We place the six objectives and CSM goes heavily on one side of the table, leading me to pick Vanguard Deployment and the side with more objectives as mine. That suits him just fine, since he’s planning to push forward.
Crab-Stuffed Mushrooms (“CSM”) gets the first turn by virtue of deploying first. Custodes are nasty, but they aren’t known for their long-ranged firepower, particularly when they don’t have any of their Forge World vehicles with them. So I know that any first turn will be filled with walking forward, getting into range of my guns and allowing me to counterattack. I decline to Seize. Before he can act, I use my Dark Apostle to lay Benediction of Darkness on my Heldrake. I need it to survive reaching the Custodes bikers so it can tie them up. This was probably a waste.
True to form, CSM presses his Custodes forward. He fires off a few shots where he’s able, but nothing dies and he’s more concerned with staying hidden. He fails to score First Strike, but by holding his bikes back on Objective 3, he’s able to score Secure on that one. Right now it’s 1-0, CSM.
On my turn, it’s time to press the attack. More than a third of my deck (8 cards) refer to holding objectives, and I can hold three easily on turn 1, so that’s what I turn my Cultists toward. I play my three cards: Supremacy, which I’ll score easily, The Long War Continues, and Death and Destruction. If I can kill a single unit this turn I’ll score D3+2 VPs for it. The big squad moves to hold Objective 1, while the smaller squad holds Objective 4, and my Chaos Space Marines are already sitting on Objective 5, and have a good line of sight to the Custodes. They combine with the Vindicator to kill a single Custodian, essentially scuttling my hopes of a turn 1 kill.
The only thing left now is to use the Heldrake for its intended purpose: Delaying the arrival of the jetbikes by a turn, keeping them from killing better units and forcing the rest of the army to outkick its coverage. Jetbikes are nasty, but they’re far scarier when charging rather than being charged. I score Supremacy (and roll a 3!), but with no kills I can’t score the other two and I’m not going to score First Strike, either. The score is 3-1 in my favor.
Key Moment: The Heldrake Assault
The Heldrake is here to tie up a unit on Turn 1. If he can trap the Bikers, then he can prevent them from charging something else for a turn, and if he also manages to kill one with his claws in melee, all the merrier. The Heldrake charges and, using the Daemonforge Stratagem, manages to put 3 Wounds on a Bike, but can’t close the deal. On the plus side, the Bikes only do 2 damage back to it, leaving it alive to stall them for a turn.
Now it’s CSM’s turn to go on the offensive. He’s pressing forward with his Custodes in the church, looking to rumble and positioning them on his side of the wall so he can charge through and avoid taking overwatch from the Forgefiend and Rhino. He manages to charge the Rhino and his Custodes put a whopping two damage on it.
Meanwhile, CSM charges his Bike Captain into my Heldrake and just immediately slaughters it. The Heldrake dies without killing a single Jetbike, but it has managed to hold up the bikes for a turn, which should be enough. CSM scores Big Game Hunters and Eliminate Threats for killing the Heldrake, and evens things up, bringing the score to 3-3. Well played, Custodes.
I’m still holding two “destroy” objectives at the start of my turn, and I add Hold the Line (no enemy units in my deployment zone) to the list. I need to take out the Custodian Guard to do it, but I’ve got the resources I need. Also this turn, Abaddon shows up to lend his re-rolls aura to the Forgefiends and the Berserkers, who have now stepped out of the Rhino and are ready to rumble. That’s too bad, because the Forgefiends wipe out the Custodian Guard in the shooting phase, leaving the Berserkers another turn away from any charge targets. My Sorcerer attempts to case Delightful Agonies on Abaddon, but fails the roll with a double-1 perils and then fails CP re-rolled cast with a 3. Not ideal. Still, destroying a single squad of Custodes allows me to score all three of Hold the Line, Death and Destruction, and The Long War Continues, for which I roll a 1. Lame, but the score is now 7-3 and things are looking up.
I activate the Dark Apostle, chanting the Dark Zealotry prayer to give nearby Chaos Marines re-rolls to hit in melee combat. Might be needed. CSM realizes this is his moment. I mean, maybe it is and maybe it isn’t, but he really wants to kill Abaddon in a game. He starts by activating the Moment Shackle with Trajann, and gets back 3 CP, basically giving him a full grip. Then he pushes all his Custodes forward and prepares to charge Abaddon, using the Teleport Homer to pull his Wardens to the Vexilla’s location out of Deep strike, which costs him the 3 CP he just got back. The Jetbikes, no longer tied up by the Heldrake, also rush forward, preparing to charge after they wipe out my 5-man Chaos Marine Squad with their Hurricane Bolters. CSM charges Abaddon with Trajann, a Vexilla, a squad of Wardens, and a lone Custodian, and lacking the space for the Jetbikes, has them charge the Autocannon Forgefiend. I Heroically Intervene with my Dark Apostle, hoping to get in a couple of extra hits. CSM’s Bikes make short work of the Forgefiend, and he’s able to consolidate them into my Vindicator.
Key Moment: The Fight Against Abaddon
The Custodes charge forward, hoping to take out the Despoiler before they die. The Wardens take the first swings, using the STRATAGEM Stratagem to improve their output, dealing 6 damage to Abaddon. But Abaddon strikes with a Counter-Attack before Trajann could fight, and using the Talon of Horus, killed the Custodes Commander. But a lucky blow from the Vexilla proved his undoing, and Abaddon was taken out of the battle as well. Both players score 1 VP for Slay the Warlord.
Losing Abaddon is bad. Really bad. Not only does CSM score Slay the Warlord for that one, but he also scores Kingslayer, rolling 2 VP, The Emperor’s Vengeance for taking objective 5 (scoring 3 VP on his roll because I held it at the start of his turn), and Behind Enemy Lines for his Jetbikes. This gives him a massive 7 points for the turn and now the score is 7-10 and I’m playing catch-up. Also, he’s jumping around celebrating his kill.
Well that stinks but I’ve still got a few tricks up my sleeve, including a Sorcerer, a Lord Discordant, one Forgefiend, and a buttload of angry Berzerkers. I start the turn by playing Master the Warp and Secure Objective 4. I’m already on 4 with my cultists, so that one’s easy. I throw Prescience on the Berserkers to score the other. I fall back with the Vindicator. It’s tough, but there’s no sense tying it up if I don’t need to. I push it out toward CSM’s deployment zone, in case I need to swing over to capture Objectives 2, 3, or 6. Then it’s time to charge. Custodes aren’t the only ones who can put out insane numbers of dice and my double-buffed Berzerkers quickly tear through the Wardens, quickly slaughtering them across two rounds of 31 S6, AP-1 attacks. Meanwhile my Lord Discordant charges the Shield Captain on bike, but despite the silly number of Attacks he gets, he can’t quite close the deal and the Shield Captain lives with a single wound remaining, then puts 2 damage on the Lord Discordant. I score 2 points at the end of the turn and now it’s 9-10, I’m still behind.
I chant the Dark Zealotry prayer again at the start of CSM’s and I blow my final CP making sure this goes off. CSM draws and plays both Secure Objective 5 and Defend Objective 5, which he can score this turn thanks to being on it the prior turn. He’ll just have to keep a bike around on it. That ends up not being terribly difficult since they can FLY, and he one of them upstairs on the building where they can’t be assaulted. Then he proceeds to wipe out the Berserkers with the shooting from the Jetbikes, dropping them down to a single model who fails his morale test and flees. The upside is that in his Fight phase the Lord Discordant finishes off his Shield Captain on Bike. CSM scores 3 VPs on his turn and now it’s 9-13.
Ok, time to get sneaky if I want to win this. I need a series of 3-point turns and I need to stop CSM from scoring. I draw Area Denial, which can score me points for keeping enemy units more than 6″ away from the table center (and D3 if there are none within 12″), and I play it face down. I also play Secure Objective 1, which my large Cultist squad is sitting on, and Secure Objective 3, which my Vindicator can advance to with a roll of a 3+. I make it on a 5. In the Fight phase, the Lord Discordant kills off one more Jetbike, leaving on a single one left out of reach but allowing me to score the D3 points for Area Denial, but I roll a 1 to bring the score to 12-13.
Key Ability: Council of Traitors
One of the key abilities in play this game was the Council of Traitors Stratagem for the Black Legion, from Vigilus Ablaze. For 1 CP, I can give a Sorcerer and a Dark Apostle in the army each a Warlord Trait. I gave the Sorcerer the Warp Lord trait to help his casts, and the Dark Apostle the Trusted War-Leader trait, allowing me to get back CP every time I use a Stratagem on a D6 roll of 5+. Over the course of this game, it was worth an extra 3 CP for me, paying for itself and then some.
At this point Crab-Stuffed Mushrooms still had a slim points lead, but I still had at least one turn to go and all he had left was a single Jetbike with 2 wounds remaining. Not a great place to be, but with a bad enough turn on my end, he could potentially survive and, with some luck on the Random Game Length roll, pull out a win. He knew what he had to do. He plays the Secure Objective 4 card and one of the objectives based around killing an enemy unit.
Key Moment: The Custodes’ Final Push
At this point, the Custodes needed a lot of help to pull out a win, but CSM had options. One thing he absolutely had to do was make sure his final Custodes bike ended up in my Deployment zone, so he could score the extra point from Linebreaker. He also needed to capture Objective IV, which meant taking out a squad of Cultists. Fortunately, he was able to kill 4 in the shooting phase and another 4 in the Fight phase, causing the remaining two to flee, scoring him an additional VP.
Turn 5 goes pretty quick. I move my large cultist squad into position along with the Lord Discordant, ready to open up with some emergency shooting, but I don’t need it; the Sorcerer casts Smite and puts two mortal wounds on the final Jetbike, killing it and wiping out the Custodes. CSM scored some good points on his final turn, and now he’s up 15-13. On my final turn, I score Secure Objective 2, Secure Objective 5 to tie things up, 15-15. CSM up a good fight, but I’ve got Linebreaker if the game ends right now to put me ahead 16-15.
At this point, the Acceptable Casualties rule calls for us to walk through the rest of the game. I draw my cards and score only one more objective on Turn 6, since I’ve got a jhandful of cards that score off of killing things. The game ends at the end of 6, and I score my final point for Linebreaker, plus a point for Behind Enemy Lines. These two bring my score up to 17, winning me the game.
One of the things to note is that, because you’re choosing Objectives you can score, and ideally only playing the ones you think you can score immediately, scores are likely to be much higher in Schemes than traditional Maelstrom games. At final tally, I scored:
– Supremacy (3)
– Hold the Line
– Death and Destruction
– The Long War Continues (1)
– Master the Warp
– Secure Objective 4
– Secure Objective 1
– Secure Objective 3
– Area Denial (2)
– Secure Objective 2
– No Prisoners
– Secure Objective 5
– Slay the Warlord
Final Result: Victory, 17-15
This was a great game! I continue to love how the Schemes of War rules play; they turn what was otherwise a totally random, luck-driven experience into something much more tense and tactical. Crab-Stuffed Mushrooms jumped out to a big early lead thanks to a HUGE turn 2, and it took me the entire rest of the game to catch up. For a moment there, I was worried I’d be replicating the results of my Lockdown game last week against Brandon, tabling my opponent but losing on VPs. Fortunately for me, this week’s army proved a little bit better at holding objectives, and I was able to score points late when I needed them. I’m a bit torn on the construction of my Schemes Deck here; on the one hand, kill objectives are some of the easiest to score in the game; on the other, Custodes is one of the armies they’re hardest to score against, and where control-based objectives would have helped me more. Overall, I’m happy with what I fielded though, and I’m looking forward to future games against Crab-Stuffed Mushrooms, a swell person with beautifully-painted minis.
As always, if you have any questions or feedback, feel free to drop us a note in the comments below, or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.