Monday, January 30, 2012

Warhammer Fantasy: How To Win the Game

HERO recently posted a great article on his blog about the vast gulf between those of us who play Warhammer Fantasy and those who live primarily in Europe and play a house-rule version of the game that is more than heavily comped.  Regardless of which version of the game you play (or are forced to play) you still win the game by the same methods, though.

One theme I’ve brought up time and again when discussing list building is that you need to have a goal in mind of how you plan to win the game.  If you just throw random units into your list and play a battle force army, you will do really badly.  Unlike 40k 5th Edition where realistically only shooty armies can win consistently, in Fantasy there are multiple ways to pull out a victory.

When I’ve brought this concept up in the past, I took it for granted that people knew the nuts and bolts of Fantasy well enough so when I said “make sure you have units that can win close combats consistently” but I see that idea needs to be expanded upon so that a new-comer can make a list that wins, or conversely, when he loses he won’t wonder why he lost.

chop chop chop
Close Combat

The game is designed so that close combat is king.  Even if your list isn’t a close combat list, you need to know how to deal with your opponents’ so every list will have some combat element to it.  The difference is whether you want your close combat to dominate/win the game, or do you want it to be just good enough, and let one of your other strengths carry you to victory.

The first thing to know when planning a close combat list is how to win.  The rules give us two ways to win a close combat, killing power or combat resolution.  You’ll find that the best close combat lists skew one way or the other.  Building a list that tries to be ultra-killy and also win through attrition/combat res you will find that you don’t have units capable of both, and that it isn’t efficient.  Usually killy units cost a ton of points (Chaos Warriors), and combat res units are cheap (Skaven Slaves.)  If you try to make either of those units play like the other, it will be a spectacular failure.

The hallmarks of a unit that plans to win with killing power is the attacks characteristic.  Because most units have armor that is rather insignificant, the amount of attacks tends to be more decisive than the strength of the attacks.  Additionally encouraging this trend is the fact that you need to be able to kill combat resolution units.  A unit that dishes out a few high strength attacks will lose to a large unit of properly built Slaves.  But a ton of medium strength attacks will do the trick.  How do you know if your unit is enough?  Let’s say a Slave unit has a +5 static combat resolution and they will manage one kill back against you per round.  Based on that, you have to your unit needs to score at least a 7 per turn to win.  If you are going to beat a dedicated combat res unit you need to average significantly more in order to avoid the turns of bad dice when you go below average.   If you are only beating them by 1 every turn, you will probably never break them.  You need to remove their models by the handful to have a chance.  A little mathhammer will let you know if you unit is capable of being a beater or not. 

Lot's of rank bonuses to calculate...
To succeed at combat resolution, you need a high static combat resolution bonus, bodies, and/or toughness.  The goal here is to have a giant unit that has enough leadership and combat resolution to stay steadfast while losing combat to beater units.  Eventually either you will attrition out the enemy or the dice will go in your favor and you’ll win a round of combat and break them.  To achieve these goals, you need lot’s of ranks and to either have good leadership innately or to benefit from the general’s inspiring presence.   Lastly, a BSB bubble will be key to staying put during the turns you will be taking casualties.  I want to add here that several big units are better than one mammoth unit.  If you have 200 skaven slaves, you are better off with three units of seventy(ish) than one unit of 200.  You do not want to make it easy to get flank charged, because if you lose your Steadfast, you will blow up.

Deathstars are the third method of winning with a CC list, and by far the most risky.  The concept is to have a unit that not only crushes anything it touches, but also costs so many points and is so hard to kill that your opponent cannot possibly beat you in Victory Points without wiping the Deathstar (which is very difficult, in theory.)  A Deathstar unit needs to be a beater unit, by definition able to kill the enemy by the handful.  But it needs the additional property of being extremely tough to kill.  It needs to have 2+ (or better) armor at least, and preferably some kind of ward save or Regeneration on top of the armor.  Not every armybook is capable of fielding a quality deathstar, and when you try to do it with one that is unfit, what you get instead of a deathstar is a very expensive unit that will die very quickly without doing much.  I am not a big fan of the Deathstar strategy because it loses to magic heavy lists, as well as combat resolution lists.  Despite good armor and/or ward saves, there are many spells that laugh at that, and can kill the unit.  That isn’t a fun way to lose the game.  Neither is it fun to have your Deathstar get charged by Skaven Slaves and be locked in combat for the rest of the game achieving nothing.  Unfortunately (or fortunately?) lists with powerful magic and good combat resolution units are all over the tables at tournaments.  Betting that your deathstar list will dodge every good player with Dwellers Below, 13th, Mindrazor, Purple Sun is a bad bet.  It would also be similarly dumb to expect not to run into Skaven Slaves, Night Goblins, Zombies, Pink Horrors etc for the whole tournament.  It’s just not a good time to be playing a deathstar list at a tournament, but feel free to disagree.

I think that this has gone into depth so that we can all be on the same page when I ask of your list, ‘how does it win the game?’ and you say, ‘close combat’ and I respond with, ‘how?’  In the second part I will discuss Magic and how magic based lists intend to win the game.

Thoughts?  Comments?  Questions?


  1. Seems logical to me. I think there are definitely some armies which steer certain ways. Just considering the ones I've played: Vampire Counts find it easy to go for static resolution, deathstars are not implausible, multiple beater units less so without careful enabling through character support, whereas Chaos are pretty much able in any area, and Dark Elves struggle with deathstars, can just about do static, and excel at throwing out attacks. Not sure about Orcs and Goblins, I suspect it's no to deathstars but yes to the other two...

    1. O&G have got the Grimgor Black Orc Deathstar. It's pretty gnarly. Also, huge units of trolls are pretty gross too, as well as cheap. Then they can back up these deathstars will all the little crappy but hitty units that O&G bring; chariots, Mangler Squigs, Pump Wagons, etc.

    2. Fair enough - I haven't played 'em since sixth edition so I'm not quite sure what they can do these days. I remember Pump Wagons being hell on wheels though.