Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Warhammer Fantasy: How To Win The Game Part Two

Hi all.  In part one of this series I discussed how to actually win the game in the close combat phase.  As you saw, it isn’t as easy as just throwing a bunch of random units into your list and pushing them forward; a plan is needed so that you can dominate a particular aspect of close combat and have the battles turn in your favor.  In this installment I’ll talk about how lists are crafted that are designed to win in the Magic Phase.

Throw two level fours and a level 2 in your list, add some items that boost your spellcasting ability and you’re good to go!

Unfortunately it’s not that easy.

Careful planning is key

The first step is to have a plan.  How will you use Magic to win the game?  This can be board sweepers like Purple Sun, unit killers like Dwellers/13th, or a close combat buff like Mindrazor.  If you don’t have spells capable of taking over the game, you can’t take over the game with spells.  It sounds obvious but you often see people bringing a huge magic investment in characters playing Lores that don’t have the ability to control the game.

Once you know what your weapon of choice will be, you will need spellcasters that get it to you.  This means either your Level 4 has to be a Loremaster, or you will need a Level 4 and a Level 2 at bare minimum.  If magic is going to be your major gameplan, I would highly advise you to bring a second level 4 in a different, complimentary lore, if you can afford it.  When Bad Things happen, this will give you another out.  You definitely don’t want all your eggs in a single basket if you don’t have to.

A Level 4 Wizard without a delivery mechanism isn't going to achieve much... for very long

The next step is a delivery mechanism.  Quite often in 8th Edition this will be in the form of a magic bunker.  Usually, this is a unit that will house the wizard(s) with enough characters or unit command to put the main caster at least into the second row, safe from close combat.  The unit should ideally be ultra-durable (Phoenix Guard/Temple Guard) or highly expendable (Skeletons, Night Goblins.)  Bunkers thus protect the wizards from shooting and enemy magic, but also act as a close combat deterrent.  When there is a BSB nearby (or in the unit) the bunker can be a rock that can only be dealt with through close combat.  The alternative to a bunker is to make your casters highly mobile.  Many of them can take mounts that have a movement of 8 or higher, and when rolling solo, it allows them to maneuver in a way that will keep them out of close combat altogether.  Generally, you’re going to want to equip them with some kind of ward save if you take this option, since they will be more exposed to shooting or magic.  The upside of this plan is that they are probably even safer from close combat than in a bunker, and you aren’t investing all the points a good magic bunker costs.

Screw you, Teclis
Now that you have your units picked out, you need to figure out a way to jam your spells through.  Not every army book can do this, and the ones that can’t are going to struggle to pursue Magic as their route to victory.  At this point you have a couple of options.  You can find a way to ignore miscasts (Teclis, Cupped Hands etc.) or generate extra power dice.  If you can ignore miscasts, just throw 6 dice at your key spells and there is a very little chance you won’t succeed in casting it.  Items like Book of Hoeth make this even easier.  If you can generate significantly more power dice than your opponent gets dispel dice (Power of Darkness, Focus Rumination, Banner of Sorcery, Warp Stone, Magic Mushrooms etc.) you can win the Magic Phase through attrition and force your key spells through.  The last option is to bring a lot of small spells and machine gun the opponent.  This strategy also relies on outclassing them with Power Dice.

It bears repeating at this stage that some armies simply can’t do this.  If you don’t have the ability to generate lots of power dice, or a way to use Irresistible Force to jam your spells through, you simply cannot count on winning the magic phase.  And if you can’t count on winning the magic phase every turn, you are going to be unable to win with a magic based list consistently.

With all of these things accounted for, your Magic shell is complete and you have to assemble the rest of the list.  The rest of the units you select ought to compliment the Lore you selected.  If your plan is go to Life Magic with a powerful bunker, you’re going to want defensive units that can stay somewhat close to your bunker and benefit from the relatively short range of Life buffs.  If you are going to use Shadow Magic, you will want some close combat units that can benefit from the enemy debuffs in the Lore, and really benefit from Mindrazor.  Since Shadow spells have a longer range, you can afford to have units that advance forward and play more aggressively.  This goes back to your Plan from the beginning of this article, but simply put, the Plan/Lore you choose should have tremendous synergy with the rest of your list.

With these considerations done, you can play a list whose goal is not to tread water in the Magic Phase, but to dominate it, and win the game on the back of powerful spell casters.

Thoughts?  Comments?  Questions?

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?

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Regurged Content: Dark Elves in 8th Edition... and a Rant!

Hey everyone.  I've been busy writing a comprehensive review of Dark Elves in 8th Edition for Kirby over at 3++.  The reviews attracted a lot of criticism from the usual know-it-all Fantasy players who show up when anyone blogs about Fantasy anywhere on the net.  While I disagree with Stelek about a lot of his analysis in Fantasy, I do agree with him that there is this odd group of people on the net who consider themselves Fantasy experts but don't have their own blogs and don't share their expert knowledge... except when they vehemently criticize those of us who do put ourselves and our knowledge out there.  

So while many of the things I think about Fantasy are opposite from Stelek, we both draw criticism from these goons, and much like Stelek I don't give a shit about them.  As far as I know, there is no NOVA style Fantasy event where people can prove themselves.  Most every Fantasy GT is heavily comped, while 'Ard Boyz is played at a ridiculous points level with ridiculous scenarios.  So as of today, there is no venue to decisively say what is (and who is) and isn't competitive, as there is in 40k.  All I have to go by is my experience and my interpretation of other peoples' experiences.  If you disagree with my analysis, fine.  Make a good argument and sway me.  If the extent of your argument is that I "don't know shit about Fantasy," then I have to take exception.  One, because it's a dumb ad hominem attack, and two, because I have done well in uncomped Fantasy tournaments and I trust my experiences.

Anyway, I hope you enjoy(ed) the Dark Elves articles!


Friday, January 20, 2012

Email In: Dark Elf Army Questions

Adam writes,

“Hello, I am a silent follower of your blog, mostly regarding your articles on Dark Elves, I am just starting to collect the army and like your lists and analysis (I wish the other parts of your Dark Elves army eval would be posted on 3++).

But to the point I am a fan of your "WHFB: Dark Elves @ 2500: Thoughts and a List" army, but I had a question for you.  I am new to Dark Elves, so I don't have access to a lot of models, specifically Dark Riders.  So I was wondering how would you change your list if you had no Dark Riders available? Depending on what you chose, how would you regear the sorcs?

Any and all help is appreciated,


Dark Riders, RXB, Shades! Oh my!


Hey Adam, Kirby was kind enough to post part 3 recently, so I hope you had a chance to check it out.  Part 4 should be coming along soon.

Dark Riders are a tough nut to crack.  They are overpriced and the models are old, crappy, and expensive.  My solution was to use Wood Elf Glade Riders with left over repeater crossbow bits from Warriors boxes, but I understand your hesitancy there.

You’re quite astute to notice that the Sorceresses would have to be re-geared.  They are riding Dark Steeds for defensive purposes.  The 18” march should enable them to always be out of someone’s charge arc.  Additionally, they can stand behind Dark Riders and benefit from hard cover, as well as a 4++ Look Out Sir! save.  Thanks to those defensive benefits, points didn’t need to be wasted on defensive ward save items.

Without Dark Riders, the list will be below points in Core.  My suggestion is to bring more RBX warriors to fill out the Core required points you need.  Put the Sorceress on foot, and they can hang with those units.  Thankfully, most Shadow Magic spells have decent range, so this shouldn’t be too crippling, though you might have to march the first turn to get into position to shoot/magic effectively on subsequent turns.

That handles the business end of things.  We still need a fast unit to threaten flanks and backfields.  For this, I would bring a unit of Shades.  The Shades can scout deploy so that they can turn 2 charge enemy warmachines if they are unguarded.  If they are guarded, they can shoot the piss out of the guarding unit and hopefully out maneuver it enough to avoid being charged.  Additionally, with whatever points you have left you can bring a bunch of MSU Harpie units for charge blocking/redirecting and general annoyance.  The mix of Shades and Harpies is far from ideal, but they will serve in a pinch.  The big drawback, of course, is that there aren’t cheap models for either Shades or Harpies either.  So rather than buying those sub-optimal units you might want to just get Dark Riders!

I hope this helps you out somewhat.  You can see how much synergy the list loses when it loses the Dark Riders and how replacements are clunky and awkward at best, but serviceable. 

Thoughts?  Anyone have any other suggestions?

Monday, January 16, 2012

Email In: Dark Elf Match Up Breakdowns

Daniel writes,

“Starting out my DE army im currently looking at either running a chariot list close to your own for 2.5k or a mish of witches and black guards and more of a foot aproach, so I figured id ask how does your chariot list do vs warriors of chaos, vampires, ogres and tomb kings? :/

Id appreciate any response, thanks in advance and keep up the good job i allways enjoy reading your articles when I come across them.”

My Chariots Are Fight

Reply: Thanks for the praise, Daniel.  It’s been a while since I’ve posted my Dark Elves Chariot list.  The 2,500 point list is here, and the 3,000 point version is here.  I have a few tweaks to them since I posted them, but those are more or less the deal until next tourney season rolls around and I post the current lists.

In regards to specific match ups, it really comes down to the different styles of those army books.  Obviously, the match up with a Chosen Deathstar list is different than a Marauder horde list, but there are a few generalities for each.

Warriors of Chaos:  This is generally a good match up for the chariots.  They don’t have much shooting, and their movement is generally slower than mine.  This means that most of the time I will get the charge off, and usually the desired multi-charge.  The lack of shooting means that quite often my Hydras and Chariots will reach combat unscathed, whereas my shooting and magic will soften their units up somewhat.  Hellcannons can bring some shooting, of course, but generally blast template shots don’t scare my list since I don’t have big blocks to be vulnerable to them.  Additionally, 8th Edition really hurt WoC magic, and really buffed DE magic so that is a big advantage that further punishes them for their lack of ranged attacks.

Vampires:  I’ll be honest, I haven’t played against the new book yet so I don’t know how differently they play now.  My initial impressions are that the fighty characters are rather scary since they have easy ways to get ASF and have equal or higher initiative compared to our fighty characters.  Their large Core units aren’t too scary since Hydras and chariots kill them by the handful.  As always, the key to the match up is killing the casters who can bring back their minions as quickly as possible, since they can tarpit chariots easily.  I believe we still have the advantage in the magic phase and their army is low Initiative, so our Shadow/Death Magic stuff will hurt them badly.  With Grave Guard losing regeneration, we don’t have anything to fear from them, nor any of their other elite units.

Ogre Kingdoms:  This wasn’t a great match up with their old book, and it isn’t any better now.  Why?  Because Ogres are essentially chariots.  They have impact hits, medium movement distance, high toughness, high strength etc.  They play like a chariot list plays, but with the bonus of having better combat resolution bonuses.  The best thing you can do if they have a large deathstar type unit is to tie it up for as long as possible with an invincible-dreadlord and kill the rest of their army.  If they have a more balanced approach, you have to hope you get the charges off and are able to multi-charge their units.  Using your fast cavalry to redirect their units will be the key to ensuring you get combat to work out the way you want it to.  The one advantage we have is that DE magic is better than theirs, and we can use that to swing things in our favor.  Additionally, regeneration is one of their best tricks, and our Hydras can mitigate that nicely.  That said, this is far from a favorable match up.

Tomb Kings:  This is very dependent on their build.  They can run really shooty, or chariots, or heavy on monstrous creatures.  The shooty lists don’t bother us since we have high toughness, good armor and a lot of wounds.  Their chariot list is a lot like the Ogre match up, except theirs are more numerous, but not as good as ours.  I don’t particularly fear their chariot list as much as I fear a good Ogre list.  Their monsters can be a massive problem, since they don’t really fear impact hits, and their Sphinx monster eats Hydras for breakfast and is nearly impossible to kill.  Their magic isn’t bad, either.  In my experience, if you can win in the magic phase you can de-buff their monsters enough with Shadow to make the fights in your favor it will go a long way towards winning.  Unfortunately, there are those games where magic isn’t effective and that Sphinx monster eats your whole army.

I hope this breakdown helps you out.  If you have any specific questions or comments please feel free to comment.