Expanding in Gates: What Army Next?

Have you ever found yourself in a quandary over where to start, or even what army next? Justin Shearer of the Freeborn Shard podcast takes on the challenge:

Justin: Like every other wargamer that ever lived, when I start a new game I find it almost impossible to stick to just one army. If you’ve been listening in to the Freeborn Shard, you’ve probably heard me lament my struggles to resist a second army…

…well, I’ve buckled. My resolve is no more! But, now that I’ve committed to picking up a second force, I’m faced with the frightening prospect of actually choosing between all of the shiny options. One of the things that appeals to me most about Beyond the Gates of Antares is the overall aesthetic. This means that, frankly, I like most of the range… this is not going to be an easy choice. I’m hoping that you, fearless reader, will hold my hand through the mental gymnastics of choosing a new army (far more impressive than my physical gymnastics, I might add), and then join me on the journey of putting it on the table.

Freeborn Domari
Freeborn Domari

Boromite Lavamites
Boromite Lavamites and Handler

Isorian Phase Sniper
Isorian Phase Sniper

The first place I generally start when picking a force is by looking at the models… in this case, I’m stumped. I love the Freeborn Domari, I love the Boromite gribblies, I think the Phase Sniper is awesome… eeek! I don’t think there’s a range in Beyond the Gates of Antares that doesn’t contain some seriously awesome models.

So, I think I’ll have to go beyond appearances to make an informed decision. My primary force is Concord – I chose them because I really like the fluff and, frankly, they were one of the starter forces. I gave one a test paintjob and I was really confident I could make them look great on the table. All of those factors are important to me. What I’d really like is to put an army on the table that is very different to the Concord.

So, this helps me eliminate some choices right away. Isorians, you’re cut. I love the range, I like the fluff… but, on the tabletop they’re a little similar to the Concord and, if I’m honest, I’m just not confident I can put down a good looking force when I’m faced with intimidating models like the Tsan Ra. I can also discount the Ghar Empire on the basis that, although I really like the range, I just can’t connect to the fluff – a purely personal choice!

So, that leaves me with the Freeborn, the Boromites, the Algoryn and the new Rebel Ghar. Unfortunately, there’s a lot to like about each of these!

The Rebel Ghar are the newest available force. I have the limited edition Black Guard figure that came with the Battle for Xilos supplement and he’s just a really great little figure with a tonne of character. The preview images for the rest of the range are also very exciting, I have to admit. Fluff-wise, the supplement goes a long way to connecting me to Fartok and when I brought the supplement home, my one-year old snapped up my blister of the Black Guard to munch on faster than I could say “Hail Fartok!”.

The Boromites offer something also rather exciting. The rules for allied forces in the supplement would give me a few different ways to get those units onto the table, press ganged into serving the C3, while I work on the army as a whole. That might be rather motivating in terms of getting them painted! Not only that, but an army of the Boromite gribblies would look great on the table and a melee-centric force like that would be quite a departure from the forces of the Concord.

The Freeborn appeal too – much like the Boromites, there are a number of ways for me to get them to the table early. In addition to the mercenary and combined forces rules, I can draw on a large part of my C3 collection to flesh out a Freeborn force more quickly. Beyond that, the Freeborn Skyraider Squad are among my favourite models across the whole range. And, of course, I’m virtually obligated to have a Freeborn army as I’m co-hosting the Freeborn Shard podcast!

As for the Algoryn, I really love the look of their infantry, especially the AI Infiltrator Squads. I also really enjoyed the fluff in the supplement – I felt like some of the passages about the Algoryn added the most to the universe and I rather like the character of Tar Es Janar. I also have a paint-scheme in mind for these guys already – I think I could put down a force I could be really proud of. And finally, I think they’re very different, rules-wise, to the Concord.

But I have to pick one… although I’m convinced to start four new armies, these arguments just aren’t as persuasive to my wife. *sigh*

As much as I’d love to pick up the Rebel Ghar, I think they’ll have to wait. I’m going to try and paint the figure I already own, but I’m not the most prolific hobbyist in the world and the Rebel Ghar are going to have an awful lot of infantry. I’m not sure how I’d approach painting them and I don’t relish trying to keep motivated through several squads of Outcast infantry… and that’s a lot of integral bases to cut! I’m afraid, as cool as they are, I have to pass these guys over… for now. My little one remains committed to Fartok’s rebellion, however – he’s been spitting peas onto the floor in support of the overthrow of Karg.

As to the Boromites, I have a really cool idea for an army in mind and I’d really love to put them on the table. The trouble is, while I would really enjoy playing that army, I just can’t connect, yet, with the Boromite fluff. I like the look of them, I like the rules for them and I like the idea of the dual-purpose mining gear… but the role of the Boromites in the wider story just doesn’t work for me yet. Since the fluff is a big part of keeping my interest and motivation, these guys will have to wait until the story develops.

The Freeborn will be waiting too, sadly. I thought I had decided to go for them, but as I built some lists to toy around with what pieces I’d like to collect, a niggling doubt crept in… would they be different enough to my Concord, especially in bigger games where I was putting down some of the Concord toys, like the X-Howitzer? My favourite units seemed to push me toward playing units that are very similar in role to Concord units. I think I’ll probably still buy myself some fearsome penguin-riders at some stage, but for now, I think it is time to start work on…

…my new Algoryn army. The Algoryn just tick all my boxes: fluff, check; hobby, check; rules, check. I especially love the idea that the infantry that will comprise the bulk of the army are varied and also make up my favourite figures in the range.

Choosing the Algoryn

Algoryn HeaderI’ve made more impulse wargaming buys than many people have had hot dinners, so, nowadays – a little older and wiser – I tend to overthink and plan new hobby projects. The most important thing for me to maintain a high level of effort is to ensure that I have a clear plan for buying figures, assembling them, painting them and getting them to the table.

Last time I had reached an important decision: I’ll be building an Algoryn force. So, where to begin?

For me, I like to look at where the army will be going first by reflecting on what I’d like to include and what I see the army eventually becoming. For me, I’m picturing my Algoryn force as being one centred around parking some Infiltrators up the board: the Infiltrators are my favourite Algoryn infantry and I really want to make sure they’re well represented in my force. With that in mind, I want some reasonably speedy units to support them and some big guns to leverage the incidental spotter drones that those squads will bring. Eventually, I’ll work towards an army of around 1000 or 1250 points and at that level I think I’ll support my Infiltrators with a Mag Mortar (maybe even two!).

Algoryn Inflitration Squad Colour
Algoryn Inflitration Squad

My other favourite Algoryn models that I’ll definitely want to include are the infantry AI Assault Squad and the AI Avenger Attack Skimmer. I’ll definitely put some Assault troopers onto the table, but the Avenger might have to wait for larger games… maybe I’ll be able to work it into a 750 point list, but if not, I’ll definitely include it for bigger games to help punch through armour with its MOD2 mag cannon or MOD2 twin mag light support.

Algoryn AI Assault troops
Algoryn AI Assault troops

AI Avenger Attack Skimmer
AI Avenger Attack Skimmer with Mag Cannon

Now that I’ve had a bit of a think about some of the big picture for the army, I need to plan out the first part. I’d like to put together a 750 point army list that has a few options available to it for tweaks over time. I think 750 points gives me a great starting place to go bigger but is also big enough to have some really deep games with sufficient units and variety. I think it is a good point value to learn some of the faction’s strengths and weaknesses… but I’d be foolish to jump straight in and build the ‘end-point’ of this project. I’ll start by figuring out a good 500 point scouting force that will let me get them to the table quickly and will be a great springboard to add the next 250 point block after some testing. What is really important, however, is that I’m not building the most brutal scouting force imaginable – I want a playable 500 point force that will build into a great 750 point force… but one that also includes my favourite models.

A 500 point Algoryn scouting force must include 3 tactical units and can have an additional tactical unit, a support unit and an auxiliary unit. So, we should start with filling up the minimum slots to maximise the amount of dice we can put on the table. I get five dice with my Concord at 500 points, so I’d like to get at least five here too.

I’m going to start by adding the AI Infiltrator Squad. These girls are my favourite Algoryn units and I’m definitely going to have to paint them to realise my future army goals anyway. Their mag repeaters are reasonably good at taking on other infantry – after all, up close, they’re just as good as plasma carbines! In small games, I might ordinarily be better taking more bodies through AI Infantry Squads, but I’m confident that I can get good value out of the Infiltrators with my other choices and, frankly, I don’t want to plan to paint more AI infantry than I’ll realistically use in the future.

My next choice is my next favourite Algoryn unit, the Assault Squad. In general, I prefer Mag Repeater armed units to those armed with Mag Guns and these guys back those up by bringing D-Spinners which can really put the hurt on Ghar suits that might otherwise be difficult to crack in such small games.

I have a few options for my third required Tactical slot, so I might consider how I’ll fill my other slots up first. Seeing as I’m playing a squad of Infiltrators and they will bring their own, free, Spotter Drone, bringing an X-Launcher team makes a great deal of sense. The X-Launcher, with its own Spotter, will be able to utilise the Infiltrators to help ensure they have vision of targets for overhead fire. Although the X-Launcher lines up well with my army as it stands, I could also choose AI Intruder Skimmers or a support team armed with a Mag Light Support or Mag Cannon.

WGA-ALG-25 Algoryn AI X-Launcher
Algoryn AI X-Launcher

The Skimmers are exceptionally effective in scouting forces. They’re fast and are very capable of chewing up infantry squads with their Twin Mag Repeaters. On the other hand, however, I’m not sure that I’ll have room for Skimmers in my grand plan yet – because I don’t have easy access to Plasma Carbines and Plasma Lances as I do in my Concord, I don’t want to have too many units that can’t pin Ghar suits with their RES value of 12. As to the support teams, a Mag Cannon isn’t going to have many good targets in small games outside of Ghar matchups and a Mag Light Support, while it can pin suits, might not have a place in larger games. An X-Launcher team with a Spotter Drone is, on the other hand, easy to include into any list and is, if nothing else, a cheap order dice that has a useful synergy with my Infiltrators. Let’s stick with the X-Launcher team.

My auxiliary slot is also surprisingly versatile. Because numbers are decisive in small games like this, a Medic Team can really add a great deal of survivability to my forces. On the other hand, Targeter Probe Shards are exceptionally effective at increasing damage output, especially with high rate of fire weapons. For now I’ll opt for the probe shard, but I might try the Medics out too – I think both choices are excellent and if I had chosen AI Infantry Squads with their Mag Guns over the Mag Repeater armed Assault Squads and Infiltrators I think I’d have gone with the Medic Team.

WGA-ALG-37 Algoryn Medic Team
Algoryn Medic Team

So far, that gives me:

  • AI Infiltrator Squad.
  • AI Assault Squad.
  • AI support team with X-Launcher and a spotter drone.
  • Targeter Probe Shard.

In total, I’ve got 4 order dice and have spent 307 points – leaving me with 193 points to upgrade my units and add at least one more tactical choice to the force…

Expanding from the core

There’s a few different ways to expand this force, and there’s a few considerations to make. The very first is that, as things stand, I don’t really have any reliable ranged punch against the Ghar. None of my weapons can currently put pins down on Ghar Battlesuits at range, although Mag Repeater fire is not bad, especially supported by the probe shard, at actually killing suits. I think a big part of designing lists in Beyond the Gates of Antares is ensuring that you can actually hurt Ghar Battlesuits – the Ghar are popular, after all!

The low hanging fruit here is to add ammo to my Support Team. Both Net and Grip are very effective against Ghar suits: Net ammo on the support teams can very reliably force suits down, whereas Grip can effectively hold suits in place. Net is generally more useful, so, for now, I’ll just take Net Ammo, but if I have a few points left over I’ll have to consider taking the Grip option as well.

The next obvious choice would be to take grenades on my Infiltrator squad. That doesn’t solve the issue of range, but if you don’t have grenades you miss out on the free, pre-game minefield – surely one of the most attractive reasons to choose Infiltrators!

Beyond that, with grenades, Infiltrators become much more threatening to suits in melee. Because I’m tight on points, I’ll take the cheaper Plasma Grenades for now – in bigger games, I’ll take Solar Charges. Again, if I have a few points left over, I’ll have to consider upgrading to Solar Charges… they’re exceptionally nasty and mine-fields of Charges are scary enough to deter infantry from accessing important parts of the board.

I still have plenty of points left over – realistically, not quite enough to take two Tactical Choices, although, I could drop the Support Team and have enough points for two choices. That would be “dice-neutral”, so it is worth considering, but a Support Team synergises with my Infiltrators and their spotter drone and without it I just don’t have anything that can reliably hurt Ghar suits.

Algoryn AI Command
Algoryn Command Squad

I’m still a little worried about the Ghar and so I’m wondering what else I can do to improve the matchup. I have two tactical choices that carry Plasma Carbines – AI Assault Command Squads and AI Command Squads. Plasma Carbines are useful because they can put pins onto Ghar Battlesuits. Another benefit of the command squads is access to Medi-Drones which stiffen infantry by providing a bubble of rerolls. That’d be rather interesting to sneak in to this list!

The downside, however, is that you pay a lot of points for relatively few bodies. Beyond that, I don’t have units that can readily and easily utilise the Squad’s Follow rule. The Assault Squad will want to run, whereas the Command Squad will often want to Fire, Advance or Ambush. The Infiltrators might be hard to position in range for Follow as they’ll usually be a little further up the board. On the other hand, Infiltrators, if I can give them a Camo Drone, can avoid accruing pins by causing incoming fire to automatically miss with a Down Reaction. That means they’ll be targets for Follow well into the game.

The second consideration is that, aside from the Support Team, my ranges are fairly short. I need to get reasonably close to the enemy to be effective – Plasma Carbines definitely help address that, as would regular Mag Guns. The regular AI Infantry Squad would bring a little ranged fire – albeit not very valuable against Ghar Battlesuits (unless I also opt to upgrade to Overload Ammo). The other advantage of the Infantry Squad is that for a few points less than the Command Squad, I would get an extra two bodies! And reinforcing that unit is cheaper.

Before I make a choice about that, I really should think about what other upgrades are necessary on my other units. I’d like to add a 6th member to both my Assault Squad and Infiltrators. Adding troops to units in Antares is rather strange and I think the “optimal” number of infantry in a unit is not a settled question. Oddly, adding more infantry to units makes the whole unit a little more vulnerable to taking wounds – and this effect is magnified by how heavy your armour is: the heavier, the more vulnerable you are as you add more bodies. The reason for this is that the Leader reroll gives you more opportunities to save against incoming shooting and so, generally speaking, you want your Leader to wear as many shots as possible from any given volley of fire. Units with more base models aren’t all that likely to receive so many shots in one burst that the extra body is going to prevent you assigning a second attach to a Leader model, however!

There are other advantages to more models, and, primarily, I think that is that it will play around with your break tests. More numbers will help you avoid break tests (since pins equal to bodies will trigger a break test) whereas even numbered units are generally better because the condition for fleeing from the table after a failed break test is based on more than half of starting number. On the other hand, because friendly models block Line of Sight to each other you won’t want huge units – although melee units tend to be less harmed by this as the whole unit reaches melee if any single model makes the distance.

Algoryn Drop pods

Taking all of these things into account, I’ll take my extra members – I’ll also make sure that my Infiltrator’s leader is carrying a Mag Repeater. Factoring in the extra two troops, the net ammo and the plasma grenades, I have now spent 367 points, leaving 133 for my last squad and any other final upgrades.

One option would be to take a four man Command Squad and upgrade my Infiltrators such that they are carrying Solar Charges. On the other hand, I could take a 5-man AI Infantry Squad with two Micro X-Launchers and upgrade the Leader’s weapon to a Mag Gun. The latter leaves me with 36 points and creates a lot of options for me for final tweaks. I could spend those points in a few different ways – I could add another member to take the squad to 6 troops, leaving enough points for Solar Charges on the Infiltrators and a drone somewhere… a spotter for the AI Squad or a Camo Drone for the Infiltrators. The other option would be to keep the squad at just 5-strong, but give them Overload Ammo, which adds a nasty SV3 weapon to the list. Going that road leaves me with 21 points – since I’d like those Solar Charges, I’d have just 15 points remaining. Again, more choices…! I could take a Camo Drone or a Spotter and have enough points for either Grip Ammo for the Support Team and a Block army upgrade… or, I could downgrade the Leader’s Mag Gun for a pistol and add a 6th body to the unit. This would, of course, keep the exact number of Mag Guns in the unit anyway and improve them for the purposes of taking break tests.

Painting Decisions

Before I go on, however, there are a couple of very important hobby considerations to make.

Justin Shearer's Concord
Justin Shearer’s Concord. Piiiink!

The first, of course, is how they’re going to be painted. My Concord force is very clean and bright – I imagine the Concord as keeping their equipment in perfect shape between battles and so I’ve kept everything pristine, save for a bit of dust and dirt on the feet and legs of the infantry. The Algoryn, on the other hand, are presented as being a much more militaristic society, constantly under threat. With that in mind, I picture their fighting units as seeing a lot more action and being far more concerned with function over form. I still want to paint a fairly bright army (this is a sci-fi game, after all!), but I’ll opt for something much more traditional. I want my Algoryns to look like they’ve been in the field for a long time.

Justin's trial Algoryn and base

I recently painted some models for another sci-fi game. Overall, I was happy with how the scheme turned out, but there were a few things I’d change – and this is the perfect opportunity to make those changes. In that case the models had a lot of pouches and some cloth – I introduced a dark brown and a mauve to the palette and, frankly, I think it just took away from the white. I’m going to stick to white and the reds and browns introduced by the weathering. Some lights, lenses, metal highlights and soot should give some other details some life, but hopefully not take away too much from the basic white.

It is also very important to make sure that I keep the time per model down so I can keep my motivation and put an army on the table. I used to hate painting white, but actually I have a very simple technique that I’m pretty happy with for doing whole models in white. I’m not exactly the world’s best painter, but I think the method works well, especially for the time involved. I start with a black spray, then a cover almost all of the black with a grey spray paint. From there, I use a white spray at a slight angle to cover up most of the grey; I try and focus the direction of the white spray so that the top of the model is brightest. Beyond that, I give it a rough drybrush (again, concentrating on the top half of the model) with a true white and then use that same white to paint some edge highlights in. And finally, I take a very thin brush and paint black back into any of the deep recesses in the armour. Overall, it is a very fast technique that suits batch painting – and works particularly well painting models with blocky sci-fi armour.

The weathering on that white is also incredibly easy. I mix up a “damage” colour based on black, orange and a reddy-brown. I tear off a tiny piece of sponge from a blister pack and dab it in. As if you were dry-brushing, remove most of the paint from the sponge and then just dab it onto the edges of the model where chipping would accrue. The most damaged areas then get a little teeny-tiny dab of metallic paint in the middle of the chip and I also get an orange-brown colour, water it down (seriously, 90% water) and then streak it down the model from the damage.

Justin's bases
Justin’s bases

I’m pretty confident that I can keep all the above steps down to just a few minutes per model when I do put them on the production line. Including the detailing, I’m fairly hopeful that I can get an average time of about 20-30 minutes start to finish per infantry model. Even quicker than my Concord!

The next challenge is determining how they’ll be based. I did consider mimicking the same style as on my Concord force to somehow tie them together (as allies or enemies), but I think given the muted colour palette these guys need something a little brighter and more colourful. I’ve opted for something very green and have included some flower tufts to tie the bases to the colour scheme.

What type of bases to use, however, actually has some impact on gameplay, so it is an important consideration. My favourite bases are the round-lipped options that have become standard in a great many games. I quite like the look of the “border” the base provides each model. The bases that come standard with Antares models is, essentially, the furthest one could possibly go from the round-lipped options: they’re smaller and have a very low profile. But, I’ll concede, they do look great when they’re used.

In the meantime, I hope you enjoy my test scheme model.

Justin Shearer's Algoryn Test Model
Justin Shearer’s Algoryn Test Model