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Old February 21st, 2010, 04:14 PM
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Unit Strategy Review: How to use the Zombies of Morindan

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Unit Strategy Review
Unit: Zombies of Morindan
Author: dok, with help from the USRs' circle

Zombies are both loved and hated by the Heroscape community at large. Some love the way their three powers work together to create an experience that mimics their feelings for how a horde of walking undead should play. Others feel they don't fit the themes of Heroscape. Setting all of that aside though, the question is, how do you play them effectively? Some see the relatively low movement, attack, and defense, particularly for a melee squad of size 3, and assume that the zombies are a niche unit that can't be successful in a tournament environment. However, in reality, nothing could be further from the truth. Played the right way, the zombies can be a truly devastating force.

We will begin with their stats.

Vital Statistics
Cost – 60 – Pawn Class
Size - Medium - Vulnerable/Concealable
Life – Squad – 3 figures - Average
Move – 4* – Slow
Range - 1 - Melee
Attack - 2** - Poor
Defense - 3 - Vulnerable

* Horde Movement - Zombies may move with any six figures, and attack with any three, irrespective of which moved. High tactical advantage.

** Zombie Onslaught Special Attack – Three zombies engaged with the same target, standing on the same level, may roll all dice as a single attack. Moderate tactical advantage.

Zombies Rise Again – Non-undead small and medium figures killed by zombies become zombies themselves. High tactical advantage.

In-Depth Analysis
Below is an explanation of Agatagary's cost classification:

Pawn class (expendable, units that can be useful, but are not worth enormous trouble to protect)
Bishop class (more useful than a pawn, but still somewhat expendable)
Knight class (units that are interestingly powerful and can have a significant impact on the game in of themselves. It is advisable that they be kept alive, but if absolutely necessary they may be sacrificed)
Rook class (units that almost inevitably have a significant impact on the game, and whose death should be avoided as much as possible)
Queen class (devastatingly powerful or important units that should be protected at all costs)

Class

Zombies are a pawn class unit. They are properly played as expendable units, both because you will have a lot of them, and because you can get them back through Zombies Rise Again. Zombies can and should be used not just as an aggressive force to rack up kills, but also as glyph grabbers and to tie up opposing figures.

Note that being considered pawns should not be seen as an insult to the zombies. They are capable of winning many battles on their own. When I say they are pawns, it is in the spirit of the great chess champion Philidor, who famously stated "pawns are the soul of chess". In the same sense, any army that uses zombies should be tactically built around the zombies. They are the soul of your army, or as close to the soul as undead brain-eating savages can be.

To examine the Zombies' core stats, we will break them up into two categories—offensive ability and survivability.

Offense:

Zombies have a below-average attack of 2. An attack of 2 is especially bad for a melee figure. Simply put, there isn't another range 1 card in the game that is commonly used as an OM-intensive attacking source and has such a low attack.

There's a perfectly good reason for this, of course. That reason is the Zombies Rise Again power. Every kill made with a zombie on a small or medium non-undead figure isn't just a kill - it's also a chance to bring back a dead zombie. As such, the expected benefit of a kill made by a zombie isn't just the cost of the figure killed - it's that cost plus 20 points. With such a great payoff for every kill, it only stands to reason that kills should be a bit harder to come by.

The zombies also possess a special attack - zombie onslaught. This replaces the three normal attacks of the squad with a single strength 6 attack. Before we tackle the question of how to best take advantage of zombie onslaught, let's lay down some solid mathematical underpinnings for the discussion. For this section, I am consulting heavily from Sisyphus' Probability Tables, a valuable resource that you should be familiar with.

Against squad figures or 1-life heroes:
  • Onslaught will cause more kills on average than three attacks of 2 against figures with 4 or more defense.
  • Onslaught will cause more kills on average than two attacks of 2 and one attack of 3 against figures with 5 or more defense.
  • Onslaught will cause more kills on average than one attack of 2 and two attacks of 3 against figures with 7 or more defense.
  • Onslaught will cause more kills on average than three attacks of 3 against figures with 8 or more defense.
Against multi-life heroes:
  • Onslaught is always better than 3 attacks of 2.
  • Onslaught is stronger than two attacks of 2 and one attack of 3 against heroes with 2 defense or better.
  • Onslaught is stronger than one attacks of 2 and two attack of 3 against heroes with 3 defense or better.
  • Onslaught is stronger than three attacks of 3 against heroes with 4 defense or better.
(You may want to consider putting these guideline values on a note card and referring to them while playing the zombies. You'll probably find that after referencing the card a few times and playing the zombies this way, you will get the hang of making the right choice pretty quickly.)

The take-home lesson here is that zombie onslaught is far from a be-all, end-all option for zombies. In a lot of situations, you should pass up zombie onslaught even if you have an opportunity to use it. Height advantage (or other attack bonuses) are more useful than onslaught in most situations. Only high-life, high-defense heroes really tilt the math in favor of using onslaught consistently.

That said, zombie onslaught is, of course, a special attack, so its use comes in handy against some opponents. Aside from the obvious high defense cases, you should strongly consider using onslaught against figures with counterstrike, disappearing ninja, defensive agility, hide in darkness, tough, exoskeleton, or scatter special powers. (Zombies versus Deathreavers will be covered in more detail later.) Incidentally, some other powers, such as the Sentinels of Jandar's "Shields of Valor", don't really change the math, and other powers like Crixus's and Migol's "One Shield Defense" actually swing things further in favor of normal attacks.

Survivability:

With a defense of 3, zombies have mediocre defense, particularly for a melee squad. You should expect to take losses at a fairly fast rate when the zombies take fire, unless their defense is enhanced by height or by Raelin.

The use of Raelin with melee squads is an idea that has gained some momentum in the wake of 2009 Gencon. With the zombies' slow per-figure movement, a zombie can potentially stay in range of RotV Raelin's aura for three turns while moving forward, and four turns with SotM Raelin. Perhaps even more significantly, horde movement means that once figures become engaged within Raelin's aura, you can reinforce the army with fresh figures from the rear without giving up attacks.

When using Raelin with zombies, you should consider whether your intention is for Raelin to enhance the defense of zombies as they are attacked, or for Raelin to draw (ranged) attacks from your opponent as the zombies move into position. If the goal is to keep Raelin alive and adding defense late into the game, you will want to stake out a position and set up a zombie perimeter. Unless your opponent has only melee, this will require some ranged support, though, as I will cover below.

On the other hand, using Raelin to draw fire while the zombies make their way forward is actually a pretty viable strategy. Raelin usually requires a couple turns of concerted attack to bring down, and by then you can have zombies engaging opposing ranged figures. Obviously, sacrificing a figure as valuable as Raelin is not ideal, but it's important to recognize that against some matchups, staying inside Raelin's aura won't work without investing an unreasonable number of order markers. In those cases, rather than letting Raelin be an anchor on the army's movement, use her as a turnstile, putting her at the front and ferrying figures past her.

SotM Raelin, with her extended aura range, sees more action alongside zombies than she does in almost any other army. There's certainly a strong argument to make for SotM Raelin, however, RotV Raelin remains the better value in nearly all matchups. If SotM Raelin were tougher to bring down than her RotV counterpart, then the extra 40 point investment would be easier to justify. However, sacrificing a point of defensive bonus while paying 40 points more is a tough pill to swallow.

Finally, no discussion of the zombies' survivability is complete without mentioning their hit zones. Ranged figures that want to hit zombies must have line of sight to their heads. While this can be little more than humorous flavor in some situations, it can make a big difference in others. Relatively small LoS blockers like jungle grass or small glaciers/rock outcrops can protect a well-placed zombie. Take care when placing zombies near these terrain features, as putting the figure at the proper angle can make the target zone much more well-concealed. Also, note the difference between the sculpts. One of the three zombie sculpts crouches lower than the other two. If low LoS blockers like battlements are prevalent on some parts of the map, use your crouching zombies in those areas of the map, when possible.

Strategy:
Horde Movement
Any discussion of zombie strategy should begin with Horde Movement. Even moreso than Zombies Rise Again, it is horde movement that makes the zombies into a competitive army. The tendency is to look at the zombies' 4 move and consider them a slow army. The reality is that zombies make for a very fast army composed of slow figures. Few armies (perhaps only the Gladiatron/Blastaron combo) have the ability to sweep the battlefield the way zombies can. What really sets horde movement apart (when compared to armies like knights with Gilbert, Ashigaru with Kato Katsuro, or Granite Guardians) is the ability to move six figures and then attack with three different figures. This distinction means you are freed from the tension nearly every other common squad army faces, where you have to decide between moving up figures from the back, or attacking with figures that are already in the best position.

You should look to take advantage of horde movement whenever possible, even after all your zombies have reached the front. Unless every zombie is already engaged and in a good position of height advantage, you should look to move. Furthermore, if you have a pretty healthy reserve of zombies, don't be afraid to roll for disengage with zombies in order to grab better height, take a glyph, or tie a figure up. Unlike with most squads, this move won't cost you an attack even if the zombie dies, and you can always recoup the loss with Zombies Rise Again. Moreover, because revived zombies are in the combat mix immediately, they free you up to use horde movement on the rearmost zombies, thus further speeding up the advance of the army.
How many squads?
Of course, in order to properly take advantage of Horde Movement, you need to have 6 zombies ready to advance, which segues nicely to one of the key questions when using zombies: how many squads are enough? Let's start with the obvious: one or even two squads are far too few. Even three squads doesn't consistently give you the numbers you need to absorb losses before Zombies Rise Again begins to turn the tide. To me, the minimum reasonable number of squads to use is four, or twelve total zombies. While this number can serve you well in many builds, I find that a fifth squad of zombies offers an even better safety margin, and is generally the sweet spot.

Beyond five squads, you begin to experience diminishing returns. While a sixth, seventh, or even an eighth squad certainly offers more benefits, it does so at the expense of adding other figures to your army that will probably help you against the zombies' more difficult matchups. I find that the battles where five squads proves insufficient are battles where the sixth squad would not have helped very much, and I would have been better off adding some other support.
Zombies Rise Again
While Horde Movement may be the most important power on the card, Zombies Rise Again is without question the signature power of the Zombies of Morindan. It is the power that drives fear into the hearts of your opponents and leads to blowout wins where a nearly unharmed zombie horde lords over the opposing start zone.

Perhaps the most underrated aspect of Zombies Rise Again is the board control aspect. Zombies can gradually overtake the high ground in a melee battle by converting the opposing figures on height. Only a few armies can grab and hold glyphs as easily as the zombies, because they can kill the glyph-holder and take the glyph in a single turn. Similarly, zombies can break through choke-points on the map by zombifying the blocking figures.

For these reasons, as well as the advantages afforded by Horde Movement and Zombie Onslaught, zombies fear the Deathreavers far less than most melee squad armies do. In many cases, particularly on wide-open maps, zombies simply shouldn't worry about triggering scatter. You will still be able to outflank the rat screens, Zombies Rise again will allow you to take glyphs and key positions anyway, and all those rats closing in are just zombies waiting to be born, anyway. Don't be hesitant to use zombie onslaught when you need to take out a particular rat, but don't allow scatter to dictate your choices to too great an extent.

To flip that script around a bit, the threat of Zombies Rise Again will often change the way your opponents play. When zombies are backed by Raelin or other powerful figures, many opponents will prefer to avoid attacking the zombies altogether until these other figures are taken out. After all, they reason, what's the point in attacking the zombies at that stage, when they will just come back anyway?

If your opponent takes this tack, then you need to up the aggressiveness with which you use the zombies. Engage the ranged figures, even if it means taking some disengagement. The worst thing that happens is that you suffer some early losses, and Zombies Rise Again starts working. At the far extreme, there may be times that you will actually want a zombie to die, because having access to Zombies Rise Again will allow you to grab a glyph or other key map location. If this is the case, don't fret too much about tossing a zombie off a cliff or into lava.

One major side-effect of Zombies Rise Again is that zombies are among the most order marker intensive cards in the game. Once they've suffered a couple losses and have medium or small figures engaged, every turn they get is an opportunity to bounce back, and every turn on another card is a missed opportunity. To put it in Jexik's terminology, they are the sharkiest shark of all the sharks. This figures prominently when working on army construction with zombies.
Problem Figures
When constructing armies with the zombies, it's important to recognize which figures unsupported zombies struggle against. This helps you figure out which figures zombies should be paired with, to cover those weaknesses.

Large and Huge multiple attackers: While all large figures prevent the use of Zombies Rise Again, single attackers like Charos are actually not a bad matchup for the zombies. It's only when you pair suppression of ZRA with multiple attacks, that you begin to tilt the long-term prospects against the zombie horde. Note that when I say multiple attacks, I'm referring not just to Q9 or Nilfheim, but also to large squads like Marrden Hounds or Templar Cavalry.

Phantom Knights/Death Knights: Like with large/huge figures, undead also prevent the use of Zombies Rise Again, thus turning what would be a slight head-to-head advantage for the zombies into a large disadvantage.

4th Mass and 10th Regiment: The WTF squads have the ability to hit zombies eight times before becoming engaged even without backing up, which is pretty brutal. Combine that with reasonably stout melee defense, and you have a difficult situation for the zombies.

Gladiatrons & Blastarons: The 'trons are one of the few armies that can spread figures out as quickly as the zombies. Cyberclaw hurts the zombies board control, and the 'trons will generally be hitting harder than the zombies through most of the battle.

Kurrok & Fire Elementals: Normally, you want the zombies to swarm your opponent en masse, but the fire elementals' ability to attack all engaged figures turn the strategy on its head. Combine that with their ability to bypass Raelin-enhanced defense, and it's an extremely tough matchup for the zombies to win.

Very tough melee: While not as much of a problem as some of the others, this matchup does deserve mention. When fighting knights or Minions, or other melee that reaches 4 or higher defense with 12+ attack dice per turn, the long-term math typically does not favor the zombies on flat ground. For this reason, it is crucial that zombies fighting these sorts of opponents either work within Raelin's aura, or maintain consistent height advantage.
Complementary Units
Other than Raelin, the primary figures to pair zombies with are tough, range-killing ranged figures. There are three reasons for this.
  1. These figures are an excellent counter to the 4th, 10th, and 'trons, which are all problem matchups for the zombies.
  2. Having strong ranged figures to lead off with means you can avoid the worst possible tactical situation for the zombies - slowly advancing your horde while ranged figures continually fire and back away. Strong anti-range range reels in the opposing ranged figures, opening then up to fast engagement by the zombies.
  3. By picking figures that have high survivability, you can more safely leave them alone when the time comes to pour most or all of your OMs into the zombies.
For these reasons, four cards from the Vydar deck stand above all others: Major Q9, Major Q10, the Krav Maga Agents, and the Nakita Agents. Effective armies can be built around all four of these with the zombie horde, particularly if you mix in Raelin as well.

Of course, if the opposing range is one of these as well, then this can make things difficult. However, there are few armies that aren't either vulnerable to the zombie advance, or vulnerable to attack from one of these supporting ranged figures.
Sample Armies
80 Raelin RotV
100 Krav Maga Agents
300 Zombies x5
480, 19 hexes

This army (plus Marcu for 500) was used by Mechabeast to go 4-1 at an Ohio event, despite facing Q9 (four times), Raelin (three times), stingers, Nilfheim, Krav, and so on.

80 Raelin RotV
180 Major Q9
240 Zombies x4
500, 15 hexes

I ran this one (plus Marcu for 520) to a 4-0 record at 2009 Colorado NHSD. This one is still stronger at 560, with a fifth squad of zombies.

Both of those two armies fit the strategy in this article to a T. In fairness, though, we should note that that's not the only way zombies can win. To wit:

120 Raelin SotM
360 Zombies x6
480, 19 hexes

Velenne played this (with Marcu for 500) to a 4-1 record at 2009 Texas NHSD, losing only to a Minions+Raelin build, and beating two different rats+range builds. Velenne recognized that the map pool for that tournament featured small, melee-friendly maps, and decided he didn't need any ranged support.

For additional information, see the Book of Zombies of Morindan.

Last edited by Malechi; December 8th, 2010 at 05:17 PM. Reason: added exoskeleton to the list of "must onslaught" defensive powers, & Death Knights to problem figures
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Old February 21st, 2010, 04:24 PM
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Re: Unit Strategy Review - Zombies of Morindan

Great job dok!


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Old February 22nd, 2010, 12:27 PM
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Re: Unit Strategy Review - Zombies of Morindan

Great Job!
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Old February 23rd, 2010, 05:52 PM
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Re: Unit Strategy Review - Zombies of Morindan

Amazing job Dok, sorry it's getting overshadowed. Maybe the next Week at scapers will show it some press it deserves!

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Old February 23rd, 2010, 05:54 PM
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Re: Unit Strategy Review - Zombies of Morindan

Impressive! The sample armies and tournament reports are a great addition to the format. You've raised the bar on writing these.

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Old February 23rd, 2010, 09:14 PM
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Re: Unit Strategy Review - Zombies of Morindan

I love the zombies and I'm glad they're seeing the love they deserve.
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Old February 23rd, 2010, 11:34 PM
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Re: Unit Strategy Review - Zombies of Morindan

I was just thinking about playing with these guys and was in the process of theory 'scaping how many squads would be ideal when I stumbled on your article. Sounds like 5 is the magic number. Awesome write up!
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Old February 23rd, 2010, 11:49 PM
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Re: Unit Strategy Review - Zombies of Morindan

Quote:
Originally Posted by dok View Post
I find that the battles where five squads proves insufficient are battles where the sixth squad would not have helped very much, and I would have been better off adding some other support.
I really like this sentence. It kind of sums up the zombies, in a way. If 5 squads of zombies isn't doing the job, another squad is not going to change that, counter-counter units are what you need.
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Old February 23rd, 2010, 11:55 PM
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Re: Unit Strategy Review - Zombies of Morindan

I also agree with the 5 number. More than that is just going for theme. That's great, but competitively, it's nice to have some back-up. Fewer than 4 is really asking for them to be thinned out before you have a chance to get them there.

PS. Ask Shadesfan how effective Zombies are on lava maps.

"Well, either it allows a magic-user to cast the various Bigby's Hand spells, or it's a +2 backscratcher. So far we're not sure which."

Last edited by Taeblewalker; March 16th, 2010 at 12:58 PM.
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Old February 24th, 2010, 12:37 PM
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Re: Unit Strategy Review - Zombies of Morindan

Quote:
Originally Posted by Taeblewalker View Post
I also agree with the 5 number. More than that is just going for theme. That's great, but competitively, it's nice to have some back-up. Fewer than 4 is really asking for them to be thinned out before you have a chance to get them there.

PS. As Shadesfan how effective Zombies are on lava maps.
I don't think Hot Heights was the problem... I think it was the fact that you had all large figures except for Kaemon... who became a Zombie eventually!

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Old February 24th, 2010, 02:37 PM
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Re: Unit Strategy Review - Zombies of Morindan

"Hot Heights" is no picnic for zombies, because the heights can be tough to scale with 4 move. But a map like Fire Isles is really pretty good for Zombies. They can easily get across the smallish map, and they can reach the glyphs as fast as rats. But most importantly/uniquely, they can have a bunch of figures step onto the hot high ground on OM 1, and a bunch of figures step off of it on OM 3. Granite Guardians can do the same trick.
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Old March 16th, 2010, 12:51 PM
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Re: Unit Strategy Review - Zombies of Morindan

I made a couple minor tweaks: I added "Hide in Darkness" to the list of powers you should consider using onslaught attacks against, and I added Phantom Knights (and their ZRA-supressing undead-ness) to the list of problem figures.

ETA: mention of Fire elementals will wait until Kurrok is released.

Last edited by dok; March 16th, 2010 at 01:25 PM.
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