Taken at face value, the Deathclock is a scary concept. Not only do you need to play the game and avoid losing to the innumerable machinations of your opponent, you need to do it in a timely fashion. The Clock becomes another loss condition, ticking away to your doom.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. You and the clock can be friends and, with some preparation, you can mitigate the clock to the point where it becomes a valuable win condition. This is intended as a guide for those for whom The Clock is a concern and something they feel that they need to address.
So, without further ado, let’s start with the simple things.
Practice with The Clock.
Obvious enough. But when I say practice, I don’t just mean have a clock running and carry on as normal – there’s little value in doing this and, if you feel like you’re a fairly slow player, you’ll time out as soon as a game goes past round 3 or 4.
Take account of your actions as you go along. How long is each turn taking? If you’re spending 10 minutes on turn 1 and 20 minutes on turn 2, something is going wrong. How long are you spending thinking at the start of each turn? Analyse your play and think about where the time is being spent; more on that later.
Not in a training montage kind of way. Before the game begins, have all your cards, counters and widgets ready and easily to hand. Spending a minute at the start of turn 1 rummaging around in your stuff sets a poor precedent.
There is no excuse for not knowing the stats and abilities of your own models. These are your dudes and you need to know them like the back of your hand. Spend a bit of time now and then looking through War Room or the cards until you can confidently tell me what the Magic Ability of a Rune Shaper is, or what the POW of a Naga’s melee weapon is. Or watch videos of games and listen to podcasts – you’ll gradually pick up a base of knowledge about stats. The amount of time you’ll save, just by knowing these things, is surprising.
The flip side of this coin is more challenging, but much the same process; know your opponent’s stats, as best you can. You should have a reasonable knowledge of their abilities (unless you want to die randomly during games), but a knowledge of specific DEF/ARM stats means you can make maths based judgements on situations without waiting for opponent’s to rummage through their things. It’s also helpful for individual attacks – if you can go in and just say “I’m a 7, you’re a 12, I need a 5”, it’s a lot faster than discussing the whole thing.
Prepare during your opponent’s turn
The opponent’s turn is not for getting up, walking around or drifting off – this is when you need to make your plans for the following turn. A good rule of thumb, which I can’t take credit for, is to make an assessment on the current board state as soon as you finish your turn – what would you do if the game was handed back to you immediately?
You can think ahead and try to predict the moves of your opponent, but they can be wily creatures.
With each move that your opponent makes, and each model they commit or kill, you can then reassess what is possible/desirable. Then, when your turn comes back around, you should have a reasonable idea of what you want to achieve and be able to limit the additional time you spend thinking at the start of a turn. My personal rule of thumb is that, if I’m spending more than 2 minutes thinking at the start of a turn, my plan is probably too convoluted.
The exception here is when you’re sure this will be your last turn (one way or another) – then knock yourself out and take all the time you need.
Sometimes, taking every attack available to you is not always the best course of action. For an extreme example, you’ve got 8 gunmages with no viable target but a full-health Tiberion. He can’t be pushed, so you start taking Critical Brutal shots into him – this activation has negative value.
You’ll use a minute or so of your clock (as you roll dice and check for crits) and be very lucky to do more than a couple of points of damage – far better that you had just run the gun mages somewhere they may be more relevant next turn and saved the time.
This becomes more relevant once it gets late in the game, when you’re getting low on clock, and even attacks more effective than the gunmage/Tiberion situation become of questionable value. This is extremely situation dependent, but when you reach this stage, it’s worth considering the time/value ratio of each activation. I mean, you could make those Dark Fire attacks against their ‘caster, needing 10s to hit and dice -7 and get lucky. Unless they’re close to death, though, you might want to reconsider.
I think it’s quite easy to assume that in a situation where a low model count army faces a high model count army, the low model count army is advantaged for time. In my experience, this is generally not the determining factor – rather, the speed of a list to play can be predicted by the following:
- The number of attacks a list can make in an average turn.
To use two lists I’ve been using recently as an example, there’s a pSkarre list with around 60 models and a pDenny list with around 40. Contrary to what you may think, the Skarre list is much, much faster to play for the reason determined above. The first two turns for the melee-orientated Skarre list largely involve running, with a few charges thrown in depending on how my opponent set up. The pDenny list, however, combines a number of ranged elements and Turn 2 involves taking a whole heap of ranged and magic attacks, which can eat a lot of clock. This can be true even for very low model count armies – if the volume of attacks from a small amount of models is high (as from colossal with AOE attacks, for instance), it can take a lot longer than you’d imagine.
- The complexity/volume of interactions and choices
Basically, how complex is your average turn to plan out? Using the pSkarre/pDenny example above, it’s easy to see why activating 60 models with Skarre is considerably faster than 40 with Denny. Skarre’s options for each turn are largely the same; do I need Dark Guidance/do I need to feat/where can I stand to be safe while casting Dark Guidance, and then make some melee attacks and position your force. Denny, on the other hand, begins every turn with a multitude of options – where do debuffs need to go/can I cast them and not die/can my nodes get there/where will the multitude of range attacks go/can my buffing solos get to where they need to be and activate in the correct order, and so on.
This is in no way a comprehensive guide to navigating the Deathclock, but hopefully this is a reasonable foundation for becoming better acquainted with it. If anyone else has any useful advice/theories regarding clock management, please chime in.