Domination was very kind to Skorne. we got several nice beasts, an interesting unit, and two fantastic casters. In the midst of all these awesome additions, we got one model that no one seems to like. The Siege Animantarax hadn't even been released and already it was completely written off. So what is our battle engine good for? is it really that terrible?
As I mentioned in my previous article, I tend to take "forum wisdom" with a lot of salt. I will always maintain that playing the model for yourself will be much more valuable than listening to players who supposedly have the game all figured out. I may be proven wrong, and the SA might actually stink, but I am willing to give it a fair try first. so let's dive in and take a deeper look at the Skorne Battle Engine
I have had mixed feelings about the model. the first concept art we saw was awesome. The first pictures we saw of the model were much less impressive, and a lot of people didn't like how much it looked like a turtle. After seeing the model in the display case at Adepticon, I really warmed up to the model. Like a lot of models PP has put out, the pictures don't always do the real model justice. Now that I have the model, I really love it! I have started painting it up, and the level of detail is pretty sweet.
Maybe I'm just a sucker for a big stompy beast with a howdah. Back when I started gaming with the Lord of the Rings tabletop game, my favorite model was the Mumak of Harad. big stompy elephant with guys on the back with spears. I know the SA model doesn't appeal to everyone, but I think the model is really neat. Even if it doesn't end up getting a ton of playtime, it is hard to turn down the painting opportunities that you get with an awesome centerpiece model like this!
Having a cool model only gets you part of the way there. What most players care about is the rules. Unfortunately, compared to other Battle Engines, the SA looks a bit weak. The Animantarax is a Battle Engine, following all the normal rules (pre-deployment, huge base, pathfinder, can always be targeted, can't be moved, etc). Its stats are similar to our heavy beasts with less hit points. Still has ARM 19, high MAT, low RAT and decent STR.
For weapons, it has one P+S 16 tail attack with 360 degree LOS and Reach. It also has 2 independent spear attacks that can only hit in their designated side arcs. Each spear has reach and a P+S of 10. The Animantarax has one gun with a Double Reiver. this gun works like the other Skorne guns, getting stronger against medium and large bases. against a large base it has a pow of 15. the gun also gets D3+1 shots each turn.
For special abilities, the Animantarax has Hyper Aggressive (move when damaged), Cantankerous (gains a token when damaged, gives a bonus to damage or can be spent to boost tail attacks), and weapons platform (can make ranged attacks and melee attacks, and can shoot while engaged).
Compared to other battle engines, this isn't terribly impressive. I think a lot of people stop here. If it's not as good as another faction's model, it must not be good. this is the same thing that keeps a lot of people from using the Cannoneer. if you compare a Cannoneer to a Ravagore, it looks bad for Skorne. In judging this model, I want to avoid comparing the model to things that other factions get and focus on what he brings us in-faction.
The biggest thing the SA brings to the table for Skorne is having a multi-shot gun. the only other multi-shot weapon in Skorne is the Flayer Cannon. the Siege Animantarax has a slightly higher POW, one more shot per turn, and the ability to move and shoot. it also can't be tied down by running infantry like the Flayer can be.
The SA is also not bad in melee, with a higher Rat than most of our beasts and a decently high powered attack. it won't be trashing heavies like a Bronzeback, but that's not what we need him to do. Skorne already has plenty of answers to high armor, and the SA gives us good anti-infantry options on a big model.
There are also some benefits inherent to Battle engines that we can take advantage of. if you put the SA in a zone, the enemy has to deal with him. he can't be pushed out of the zone, and has to be killed. you can hide anything you want behind that large base, which helps some of our mid-range casters that tend to die if they get too close. inherent pathfinder is a plus, since you will already have enough beasts needing Rush.
The one thing I think the Animantarax is missing is something that works with the models around him. After seeing the concept art, many people were hoping that the guy on the back with the horn would do something to boost infantry around him. without any kind of synergy there, the Animantarax is really just there for his weapons.
With that in mind, there are two roles I can see using the Animantarax in:
The biggest draw for the Animantarax is his ranged ability. having multiple shots that can't be shut down by engaging him and with enough pow to put some points on most heavies is actually pretty good. As I've mentioned in previous articles, I really enjoy using the Cannoneer in many of my lists. I think that the SA is a great replacement for the Cannoneer. his gun has the same pow as the cannon, but has one higher Rat and up to 4 shots a turn. he won't be taking down full health heavies, but he can wound them or take out troublesome solos before your armies clash. and for the same points as the Cannoneer it makes for an attractive option.
To get the most out of this role, run the SA with eHexeris. To make sure you get the most out of your Animantarax, you might also want a Soulward and a raider, though you will usually take both with eHexeris anyways. Far Strike on the Animantarax helps get more out of his shooting, and eyeless sight lets you tackle things like Eiryss and Tartarus.
The big synergy here is with Black Spot. Now, most every model can take advantage of black spot, but the Animantarax does it better than most. Because of the wording on Black Spot, and Weapons Platform, you get to choose which type of free attack you use. So if you want to, you can take a free Black spot attack with your gun after killing an affected model with a spear (or the other way around, of course).
So, if your opponent has a front-line infantry screen within your charge range, you hit it with Black Spot. then charge in with the SA, killing one with your charge attack. you then take a shot at any model with your double reiver. then make your initial attacks with your spears. if you kill 2 more infantry models (not hard to do with black spot, high MAT and pow 10), you'll have 2 more Reiver shots. then you roll your D3, getting an average of 3 initial shots. if you put those into the black-spotted unit, you can potentially generate another Reiver shot with each one of those shots.
So in a perfect turn (not likely, but it's possible) you can fire the Double Reiver up to 11 times! this of course requires rolling 4 shots and killing an affected model with all 3 melee hits and all 4 Reiver shots. you can't rely on it, but if it works it's amazing. Way stronger than just taking a second cannon shot with the Cannoneer. in most cases, you'll still be getting off at least 3-4 extra pow 13-15 shots a turn.
Instead of focusing on the ranged firepower, let's look at using the SA for its melee ability. while not as strong as a Bronzeback or Gladiator fully buffed up, the SA can still dish out some hurt, and is not as big a loss if it dies. To look at it's max potential we'll be using him with Xerxis. I call this an Anchor because you can run him right in the middle of a Xerxis brick. He will likely die early, but your opponent will have to send something decently strong after it, which will then be in charge range of an entire Xerxis brick.
Let's look at the extreme example first. As you advance up the field, you keep a Krea next to the SA, making it much hardier against shooting. if your opponent was foolish enough to pop off some shots and damage the SA, it will gain some rage tokens. let's say he has 2 tokens on him (I doubt he will ever hit 3, so we won't look at that even in an extreme example). before he charges in, Xerxis pops feat and puts Fury on the SA. Now the big guy is a lot scarier. you will get one initial charge attack with the tail at POW 21 with 4 dice of damage, followed by two POW 15s with 3 dice of damage. And after all that he still gets d3+1 shots with a Reiver cannon. This is actually a lot more damage than most battle engines can put out in a single turn.
While it is unfortunate that the SA seems to have been balanced with Xerxis in mind (making him a little less inspiring with other casters), he is still very beefy with Xerxis. While it might not be the most competitive choice, it still adds to Xerxis melee capabilities and adds in some ranged support you don't normally get in the brick (helpful against those armies that just run away from the brick master).
While I agree that the Siege Animantarax isn't the most amazing model for his cost, I am very hesitant to jump on the bandwagon of players that have been ignoring this model before it was even released. The SA is a really cool model that will make for an awesome centerpiece, and should work quite well with support heavy casters that can beef it up a bit. I want to give this model a fair run before making any final judgements on it. I really hope that others do the same. So don't get sucked in by "forum wisdom" and miss out on using a really unique and cool model.
Is anyone else out there using the Siege Animantarax? Have you had any success with it using different tactics or casters? If you come to Wargamescon this year, you very well may see mine across the table from you!