I've been doing a lot of thinking about positioning since the Seattle Open last week. One of the crucial mistakes I made in the finals was skewing incredibly hard to the left side of the table and sort of forcing myself out of the scenario based off of that positioning.
There are a lot of reasons why controlling the center of the table is important in any game with a finite board edge. The center gives you unparalleled ability to project threat to other parts of the table. It also gives you the most freedom of movement in rearranging your own pieces, and presents the greatest surface area from which your Warcaster or Warlock can influence the table through their control area.
Now, being in the center of the table also has a lot of risks associated with it. Everything can get to your pieces, and more power can be brought to bear in one spot in the center than in a piece off to the side of the board.
For now, let's look at a couple of examples of games and boards where controlling the center was key to victory. For my purposes, I am going to say that "the center" of a Warmachine table is about the size of a circular zone, that is to say a 12" diameter circle centered on the middle of the table.
Another quick note - one of the reasons Line of Sight blocking terrain is SO important in the middle of the table compared to other places is because it lets one player bunker down in the middle with their caster and be able to influence a huge sphere of the table in safety. Sometimes, this goes both ways, and in that case a lot of the nuances of list design and positioning come into play, and will not be touched on in this article.
In this game, the Grymkin player has completely taken over the middle of the table. This is one of the advantage that troop skewing armies can play to quite often. Notice the Farrow Brigands off to the side of the table?
They only project threat to about three inches into the red zones thanks to the Spell Windstorm that Old Witch has, and as a result either have to move far over to the center and then die on the following turn, or continue spending their time holding onto that zone and slowly losing the attrition war as anything that comes into the middle will inevitably die.
Here, on the other hand, the Cryx player has spread out quite admirably and has a nice closing position on the Grymkin player. Unfortunately, that means that it's extremely difficult to bring enough power to bear in one spot to reasonably kill a heavy, and if they commit their pieces they will surely die.
By comparison, the Grymkin player is able to project enough threat to either 1) keep his opponent out of the bottom zone completely whilst simultaneously advancing the brick or 2) force his opponent into making bad tactical decisions and hope for dice spikes.
Notice how, in this image, both players have purposely stayed away from the direct center of the board? This is a pretty common thing to see in competitive Warmachine, as being in the direct center often means that you will lose whatever is there. That central "zone" of importance is often only occupied in the back 1/3 of the space along the arc of the circle because this limits the opposing players' ability to commit forces in a meaningful way in one spot.
Here is another fantastic example of when a player was able to control the center, project threat, and utterly dominate the game. In this case, the Line of Sight blocking terrain in the center of the table meant that a whole bunch of Gatormen could easily get to a point where they threatened huge swathes of the board while staying protected from a lot of the threats the Skorne list brought.
Notice, once again, that the center of the table has been completely taken over by the player who is going to win the game.
Many people I've talked to have expressed a feeling that the roll to decide who goes first matters more than ever in SR 2017 and probably in SR 2018 as well. I think that the feeling has a lot to do with the first player being able to run up and capture the center of the board, often utilizing terrain, feat, and spells to blunt their opponent, and then to strike out from that position with incredibly concentrated power. One of the peculiarities of SR 2017 is that it encourages you to spread out very far and wide, and one of the byproducts of this style of play is the reduction of ability to hit into one area with a lot of redundant force.
The lists that are enjoying a lot of success right now are all able to sit in the center of the board with some flanking elements to tie up scenario (Gremlin Swarms, Kayazy Eliminators, Feralgeists, Machine Wraiths, ambush models such as Battle Bears and Hutchuk etc.) and project an incredible alpha strike on their opponent. A quick look at the tournament tracker on DiscountGamesInc as of this writing shows lists like Siege 2 Gravediggers, Borka 2 Storm of the North, Ossrum, Deneghra 2 with Slayers, Asphyxious 3 with Slayers and other such lists sitting at the top. I would argue that a lot of their success is due to their ability to take over the center of the table.
Controlling the center has been a core element of Chess for a very, very long time. It's not a new idea, but it is one that the wargaming community hasn't really analyzed or considered in detail. While this article is very brief, I hope that it touched on a point or two that you will find personally useful in games to come. Positioning in Warmachine and Hordes is extremely difficult to talk about, and as a result new and intermediate players often find themselves on a frustrating plateau as they jam games in an attempt to see what mistakes they are making without the ability to self analyze. Hopefully this article, and others like it to come, will make that transition less extensive.
Thanks for reading!