First of all, a big thanks to everyone who supported the first positioning article! These are a lot of fun to write and go into one of my favorite aspects of the game to talk about, and I’m glad to find people have found the first one so useful.
Today we’re going to move on to another fairly simple principle of positioning, and one that is often done a bit too hastily. We’re going to talk about how to position your troops against a couple of the most typical anti-infantry tools, blast damage and sprays.
Blast damage is actually fairly easy to account for most of the time, what I’m going to talk about is mostly how to do it quickly and how to remain mindful of it without eating your entire clock.
There are three sizes of blast in Warmachine: 3”, 4”, and 5”. These increase in rarity as the size of the AOE increases, with 5” AOE’s being extremely uncommon and 3” being fairly standard and will appear in most lists for most factions pretty consistently to at least some degree, even if it’s just a random nuke on your warcaster or something. Overall, the positioning from one to the next doesn’t really change, you just have to account for the size increase. 5” AOE’s are, in many cases, so large that you just can’t really assume you’ll protect much by spreading out unless your units’ command range is pretty good.
The first thing I would suggest for handling blast damage is to pick up blast gauges. Broken Egg Games sells a set here, but a few other retailers do sell them or you could 3D print them yourself, although I don’t personally know the exact measurements. Blast gauges gives you a set of three templates, each sized for a different base size (small, medium, and large,) and each with a measurement on it based on the size of AOE you’re dealing with. If your medium base model is struck by a 4” AOE, for example, you take the Medium Base gauge, set the side marked 4” down flat on the table, and touch it sticking out from the base and you’ll see exactly how far a 4” AOE goes.
The usefulness of these in positioning, though, is that you can use them to premeasure exactly how much stuff a single AOE can touch if it hits a single, specific model. These gauges allow you to do this so quickly that it’s fairly easy to, if you’re worried about a particular size of blast damage, hold the gauge in one hand while you move units and rapidly check AOE striking distance for every model you move. Keeping this in your head is important if you’re dealing with something AOE heavy with troops that need to be delivered into it all.
However, note that this doesn’t help you against deviations that miss. However, as long as you’re spread out to account for direct hit blasts, you’ll typically be spread out enough that deviations shouldn’t hit too many targets unless they get lucky. This is one of the randomized aspects of Warmachine that can’t always be accounted for; sometimes, no matter how much you spread out, a deviation just lands in that juicy spot.
This is a difficult one to spend too much time over-explaining, but here’s a couple pictures just showing some errants spaced using a blast gauge as tightly as possible against 3” blasts and 5” blasts.
Positioning vs. Sprays
Alright, we’re getting into stuff we can talk more in detail about.
Sprays have a tendency to really prey on the more typical ways that people position units on the way up the table. As a quick example, here’s one of the same images above where I’ve notated areas in which a single spray could easily strike 3 troops at once from the front.
The big thing about sprays is that in most situations, the ideal setup to be in is a straight line, perpendicular to where the spray can come from. A good example of a model with a dangerous, extreme quantity of sprays you need to keep an eye out for is the Convergence of Cyriss Transinfinite Emergence Projector. I’ll be using that as an example here.
It’s fairly typical for many units to end up moving around in a formation somewhat similar to my Errants above, what I often refer to as a ‘grid’ formation. Grids are pretty much the best way you can spread units out as far as possible while maintaining unit coherency, but also allow sprays a relatively ideal situation.
The Bane Knights above are in a grid formation, albeit a somewhat tight one. The TEP is able to fire five sprays in a turn if it wishes, and in this situation, dice aside, the five sprays could easily wipe out basically the entire Bane Knight unit.
In a straight line, however, only half the Bane Knights can be hit and possibly killed, giving the rest of the unit a chance to try and kill the TEP.
Now, I’m not saying you need to start moving your forces in colonial-style straight lines, but merely to start thinking about how you’re approaching a large number of sprays in perpendicular lines. An example of a situation I’ve had come up more recently was the first round of the Warmachine Weekend Invitational 2018, in which I played against Iron Mother Directrix with a pair of TEPs. While I lost the game, I was able to gain a significant advantage on the table early in part by thinking about how I positioned Idrians and Vengers vs. a TEP. I wanted certain models to be in range, to entice it to move forward, but not give it anything major from any one single spray. I can’t reproduce the table exactly (there was terrain involved and, frankly, I don’t remember the exact positioning that precisely) but the general idea was something like this.
I verified to make sure the further back pieces couldn’t be in range and truthfully he likely would have needed enough dice to kill Vengers he shot, meaning it was likely about three sprays at most. This leaves the TEP in a very vulnerable spot, and my opponent chose not to approach because the sprays just weren’t going to get enough value to justify putting the battle engine forward.
There is, however, a huge problem with straight lines. If the straight line ever becomes parallel to the spray, this is the absolute worst position you can be in.
In order to position against a spray, you need to know how far the focal point, in this case the TEP, can move. This actually most often comes up after things have charged; in my same game at the Invitational, a TEP was able to kill about five Errants in one spray because they had charged his Prime Axiom, leaving them in a pretty convenient little line. Sometimes there isn’t much you can do about that and have to accept them as losses, but just account for that in your positioning. This can be particularly dangerous against models like Northkin Fire Eaters or Flameguard Cleansers, which have sprays and Assault, letting them send those sprays pretty deep, or things with quick work sprays like the Trencher Commando weapon attachment. You can get hit from some crazy angles and, at the end of the day, there’s only so much you can do. Sprays were designed to clear infantry, and the deeper and more angles they can be sent from, the more effective they tend to be. Further, spells like Crevasse or the gun of the Shrine of the Lawgiver can center sprays off of your own models, which further makes those lines really, really bad since it puts the focal point of the spray inside the line itself. Against those, which have limited range (6” sprays), it mostly just comes down to spreading out in a wide grid to make sure they can only get one, maybe two extra models off the sprays.
The main couple of principles here are this when playing into sprays: know which models are going to be in move and attack range of those sprays and try to place those in a wider formation that doesn’t allow multiple pieces to be struck, and know which models won’t be in range and know you’re safe to put those behind your models without worrying about the spray. The best thing to do is bust out a spray template yourself and just start checking any line you can think of while moving your models, as long as it doesn’t eat through too much of your clock. It’s worth practicing and getting quick with these measurements, as it will save many troopers who will be very grateful when they return home safe (or when you shove them in your battlefoam, anyway.)
Thanks for reading through this article on positioning vs. blast damage and sprays! Keep an eye out for part 3, in which we’ll expand on unit positioning a bit further.