Year in Review: The Scarecrow Gathering

It all started with a flat tyre.

The Northern Kings were just setting off from Bristol, having just played in the South West Clash, when Padley’s car got a flat tyre. Trying to find a garage open at 4pm on a Sunday was… not fun. We did find one and they were luckily able to replace it so we didn’t have to spend any more time down south, but amongst the waiting, I asked the random question of “How much nerve would it take until you can’t win?”.

There’s a finite number of turns in the game and your units have a finite number of attacks. At a certain point the amount of nerve opposite you, regardless of defence, is just too much for you to realistically break in a single game. Even if you can kill the majority of it, there’s just too much left on the board and your opponent claims the objectives.

The question became: “Is there a viable army in Kings of War which has so much nerve that a normal opposing army cannot kill enough before the game ends?”

The answer, as it turns out, is “No, but you can come very close – and close enough that people psych themselves out.”

We workshopped it on the way back home, looking through the 3rd edition playtest documents. We compared all the various trash units in the game and unanimously settled on the ideal unit: Scarecrows.

There are several similar trash units based on a similar unit archetype (zombies, drauger), but these had two distinct advantages; Stealthy and Mindthirst.

Mindthirst means that you don’t need to take Inspiring sources. That’s more points that can be ploughed into Scarecrows, especially when you consider how many Inspiring sources you need to cover a dozen or more hordes.

Stealthy makes the army effectively immune to shooting. High nerve is already tricky for shooting since shooting has lower attacks, but in addition Stealthy halves the damage of most shooting. Of the shooting that’s unaffected by Stealthy (notably spells such as lightning bolt), it tends to be far too few attacks to threaten a single horde of Scarecrows, let alone multiple.

Testing

Naturally, we turned to Universal Battle for some testing of the draft lists.

We were staggered.

They weren’t just winning by outlasting, they were killing as well.

The remains of an Abyssal Dwarf army: the lone Slavedriver in the top-middle. Surrounded by Scarecrow hordes.

Not only was the sheer nerve a problem for armies, but the sheer number of attacks was also an issue. Scarecrows might only hit on 5’s, but that’s still 10 hits from a front charge and with that many units on the board, flanks and rears were common. We knew that they would do some grinding damage but we were blown away by just how much.

In retrospect I still hadn’t even fully optimised the killing power yet (Horrors)…

Collecting, Building and Painting

The single biggest barrier to this army was the sheer number of models that would be needed. My early tests of the list had 14-16 hordes. Even at minimum model counts that’s still a staggering 336 scarecrows.

One of the things that we’d discussed drafting this army was how bad it would be if this army was done badly. Minimum model count (or even lower), a “ghost” paint scheme (paint them all white and give them a turquoise wash). It would look terrible.

I resolved that I would not give anyone the leg to complain about the hobby side of the army. I would use the Mantic scarecrow models. I would paint them all properly (well, Contrast paints), I would do at least preferred model count. I wanted around 600 Scarecrows.

Collecting the models was not going to be fun. At full retail that came to £480.

Luckily, the Vanguard Kickstarter had recently concluded and loads of people were swapping Nightstalker starter sets left, right and centre. People were also getting their hands on Nightstalker army sets and didn’t want so many scarecrows. I was able to scrounge most of the Scarecrows (and plenty of other Nightstalker units) through various trades and deals, then bought the rest at retail. Quite a big cost, but not as much as I initially feared.

Contrast paints were a lifesaver. This army would not be possible without Contrast paints. Naturally this was also a significant expense, going through several cans of the primer and around 8 pots of contrast.

They were painted in batches of 100 from sprue to painted model. They were stuck to large strips of balsa wood to make them easier to paint. I used big, cheap brushes (oh god they do not look good close up) and dumped them in a big box once done.

I timed the third batch, once I’d settled into a routine, and it took me 7 hours from sprue to dumping the batch in the completed box. It was long and arduous painting that many models and naturally I dipped in enthusiasm towards the end, but I got through it. It took me about 6 weeks to get through the whole lot, including a significant break in the enthusiasm dip.

As is usual for me, I built and painted all the bases at the same time using MDF bases, bark chips and Sculptamold.

I put a few of them on regiment bases, rather than hordes, for flexibility. I did not pin them down because dear lord that would take forever.

In the end, every single horde was above full model count. Over time, a few scarecrows have come loose and fallen off here and there so those hordes will be around or slightly below full model count.

In January 2020, the army was ready and Elliot was the first victim to experience it in-person…

“The face of a disgusted man” – Rob Burman

… and he won.

It was a really interesting game vs his Brotherhood army. I just couldn’t quite break through and ended up road blocking myself several times (a significant issue with this army, as you can imagine). Elliot managed to get pretty much every dice roll to go his way and there were several key rolls; key nerve tests, turn 7, an overrun onto an objective. If any one of them hadn’t gone Elliot’s way then I would have won.

While it was a little demoralising having the army stumble on its first real life outing, I was still confident. Elliot had proven that it wasn’t as unbeatable as our UB tests suggested, and he had already set in motion the strategies needed to break the army.

The weekend after that, we took it for its first tournament outing.

This series continues in part 2: The Invasion of the Scarecrows

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