Thursday, 26 September 2013

Surviving the Reign of Chaos, Part 1 - Warriors

Hello once again for yet more rambling goodness.

This past weekend was the Blood & Glory (or, as I am renaming it, the Reign of Chaos) tournament held by the Bad Dice boys.

Will do a write up on the event at some later date, but something was abundantly clear from the event – the Chaos gods are waxing strong. In the 5th round (which I always think is the best barometer of how armies are performing before half are knocked out of the running) there was around 18 players in the top 20 who were using Warriors or Daemons.

This got me to thinking: are they, especially Warriors (for the purposes today's post), too strong, or have people just forgotten (or never learnt) to play against them?

The Power of Chaos

It is clear that the Warrior book is a powerful and flexible tool. In a scenario heavy environment they had all the tools required – and we have already seen they perform in a Battleline environment. Mobile fortitude is abundantly available, as are rapid “hand grenade” units. The Daemon Prince remains the bete noir of the scene, whilst Scull Crushers and Chariots are the cause of much complaining. And that’s before you consider Chimerae and their Heroes.

The army has mechanisms that are simple to use, and that allow the army to pounce on any mistakes by the opposition, as well as ram an advantage home for a big win – and big wins win big prizes.

Surely though they should not be terrorising everyone so much? The book has been out a long time now.

I think the situation is akin to the great Ogre scourge of days past, when armies simply failed to adapt to their arrival on the scene and the counter-meta tools they possessed. This time round things have probably been compounded by the rapid release of books. Players are still trying to make their High Elf and Lizardmen books work, whilst the obvious power in the WoC book was apparent from day one. Add in a low model count army, and you make it easy for a lot of people to do them.

Still though, looking around the tables (both high and low) a lot of people seem to be playing this bizarrely. It reminds me of when the old DoC book started rampaging through things in 8th all over again – people seem to have forgotten how to face them, treating warhammer as a very expensive game of conkers, except one side has 1+ save multiple wound conkers…

I think a lot of this is an internal view taken by players in the army construction stage. People spend a lot of time working out stuff they like in their lists, and perhaps not enough putting in answers to what their opponents are going to bring (other than token ones such as sprinkling in some metal magic) – the meta game as it is known. It’s a fine line of course. For some armies (Empire, O&G) the answers are obvious (though not always that reliable versus a good player, or with some slightly bad luck). Others have to do the best with what they have.

People keep trying to fight WoC. This is asking for trouble. Whilst several units in other armies can do a good job in the matchup, they are either slower than warriors or require some buffs/hexes. The power of WoC is and has always been that they outfight stuff without the need for hexes and buffs (which they can get too), and in this edition at least, they are fast.

The Daemon Prince is an interesting chap. Terrifying of course, but it is hard to know exactly why that is. They are not, after all, all that killy – a Vampire Lord will kill far more than a Daemon Prince, and several of the Greater Daemons will take his lunch money. No, his real power is in mobility and in the role of the spoiler, where he can use his Unbreakable ability to sit on a unit and slowly grind it out, often using the safety of combat to cast magic as required.

These two things are powerful because they capitalise on the quintessentially 8th ed conceits of the “bunker” and the “death star”. With the aerial threat brought to bear by the Lord, Hero and Special options in the WoC book, bunkers are easy points a lot of the time, and with the threats coming from numerous directions blocking off landing zones/ensuring no dangerous overruns and hiding is extremely hard to do. Most death stars (though not all) stop being fully operational when an “Unkillable” (they really aren’t) Lord or a Nurgle Daemon Prince sits on them.

So... how do we survive the Reign of Chaos?

There are several potential answers, though none of them are auto wins (which is after all a good thing, that would be a) dull and b) understandable, as, whatever else you say, warriors are good), and they vary depending on the various builds being used. To keep this even remotely on track I spent my time considering the more “normal” builds you see – I fully appreciate the variation in what the Warrior book can bring to the table.

People seem terrified of the Prince (I’ll admit, I am too) but break it down: T5, 4W, 1+ armour and 5++. Tough, but most definitely not unkillable – heck it’s about the same as a Vampire Lord, and I can tell you, they die plenty. Warrior players I assume (if they are anything like VC players) know this more than their opponent, and will take care not to lose them to the obvious counters – so simply having cannons or light councils is often not enough to rely on. These answers (assuming they are good answers) should work eventually, but this requires time you sometimes simply don’t get.

That being said, to deal with them you do not have to kill them. A tooled up magic Prince is almost a quarter of the WoC army – tying him up for the majority of the game is very much a win. How to do this? Well, as I mentioned, they are not all that killy. A Lord level combat character can in most armies have a 1+ or 2+ armour save with a reroll and a 4++ on top of it. A character such as this can take the Prince out for pretty much the entire game – depending on the Prince’s kit of course. Hard part if tying them down, given they fly – but this is doable. Even simpler in some ways is units – hell, a standard daemon prince kills around 1 and a bit Empire Knights a turn. Large infantry blocks will hold him for a very long time (though note: they will evaporate if too many monsters get in). The same is true for Chaos Lords (though they are often slightly more killy than the Princes against non-infantry targets).

The mobile versions of the WoC army we are seeing so much of these days tend to fundamentally lack in static combat res, and they have pretty bad leadership. One of these tanking characters mentioned above (or an Empire Knight unit) can easily charge the flank of a Skull Crusher unit and break them – hell, they don’t have to be that tanky – a mounted Elf Hero should win that combat, leaving them on a 7 or worse leadership test (the less tanky the obviously more risky, but often worth a shot, and will normally buy you a turn as well). The same most definitely applies to chariots, but on a grander scale. Heck, infantry units rock at this – a fully ranked up infantry unit in the flank of Scull Crushers automatically wins the combat unless the Crushers managed to wound with every single attack they make.

Warhammer is, as has often been said, somewhat of a rock/paper/scissors game. The issue is that there is a mind-set that thinks bringing a rock cancels out scissors. You see this mostly with the assumption that having metal magic is somehow all you need. The real game of rock/paper/scissors not only has lizards and Spock, but involves bringing the right element to bear at the right time in the right place – this is not easy, and is arguably the greatest skill in the game. As has been mentioned above, infantry units of appropriate size counter most of what the WoC traditionally bring (allowing you to focus on the things most infantry units really don’t want to fight, like Chimerae), but only if you manage to isolate the constituent elements and force combat on your terms. This requires a balanced list containing elements you are prepared to lose to eventually win.

All this talk of combat should most definitely not be seen as a suggestion that everyone line up on the 12 inch line and square off against warriors, something you keep seeing done. WoC have to get to you (ok, unless they are running some Death magic, Hellcannon variants, but normally even then), so it makes all the sense in the world for you to make them waste as much time as possible before getting into combat – this makes buildings and impassable terrain priceless (or as I noticed this weekend, GW hills, which are tall enough for Skinks to hide completely behind). This not only gives your magic and shooting time to do its thing, it allows your chaff screens time to have an impact on the game and furthermore, if you make the WoC army move diagonally at you it tends to break up their advance (especially with the help of terrain) given the different movements in the army.

In short, you have to design your army with the consideration of what you will be facing. Now is the best time ever for this – back when Ogres hit the scene trying to “play the meta” was tricky, as the things that were good against them were often terrible at other things. Now if you tool up to at least have a chance against warriors you will, in all likelihood, not be impotent against other armies.

When freaking out about WoC consider the many weapons that each army has that potentially (potentially is a key term here!) excel against them:

Empire: Knights, Demigriffs, Cannons, Steam Tanks, Light Councils, Tanking Characters
Orcs and Goblins: Artillery, Manglers, Fanatics, mass poison, Foot, chariots, Pump Wagons
Daemons of Chaos: Pretty much the whole book (more on them in a future article)
High Elves: Repeater Bolt Throwers, Frostheart Phoenixes, combat Characters, Sisters, magic-buffed units
Ogres: Death Magic, Ironblasters, Tyrants, Stonehorns  (and a lot of the combat units if played well/buffed)
Tomb Kings: Artillery, Casket, Light Councils
Vampire Counts: Hexwraiths, Screams, Ethereals, Vampires, Zombies, Death Magic, Vargheists
Lizardmen: Death and Heavens Magic (and others), Wandering Deliberations, Old Bloods, Scar Vets, Stegadons
Dwarfs: Artillery, tanking characters, Anvil
Bretonnians: Heroic Killing Blow, Peg Knights, Trebuchets, Heavens and Beast magic, multiple lances
Dark Elves: Getting a new book in a week – but until then, Death Magic, Dreadlords, Hydras… pah, loads of stuff.
Wood Elves: A tough one – they can do tanking characters quite well, and have the speed to mess around with the likes of Skullcruhers
Beastmen: Doombulls, Death/Shadow magic, Bestigor, Chariots
Chaos Dwarfs: Not a real book :)
Skaven: The usual stuff – Abominations, WLCs, Doom Wheels, Slaves, blah blah

Now, there is an obvious cost benefit analysis that has to be undertaken. What do you lose by taking things you think are going to be good against WoC, and is it worth it? Classic example is my Lizardmen list – I wanted an Old Blood who could sit on a Prince for a while, and to do this I had to take a much cheaper Slann.

Interestingly, most of the list above contains things that most tournament lists would contain already, so maybe the answers are not enough, or maybe people have to listen to the esteemed host of the Bad Dice Podcast, and play better J

 Apologies is the above was even more disjointed than usual - my brain is still not working this week :) 

Will look at DoC next time – a book that, in all honesty, I think is FAR more powerful than the warrior ones

Until next time


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