Saturday, February 18, 2012

How to play (and win) in 8th edition- Overview of options.

[Note: Most elements in this overview will hopefully have dedicated articles of their own. This is a way to get a good grasp of how to play 8th edition with any army, it is not in any way a complete tactica. If you're a Orcs & Goblins player you really should go over and hang out on Da Warpath]

8th Edition is on everyone's table and firmly set into our minds by now- but how well do we actually know the game? Many people are still stuck in a 7th edition mindset, but more people still are taking the concept of 8th edition a little bit too far.

Is it true that 8th edition is a game ruled by gigantic infantry blocks walking across the table to curb-stomp eachother and superspells taking entire armies off the table turn one? Are we stuck in a mire of complete randomness, with terrain running around all over the table, and luck being the biggest catalyst affecting the outcome of the game? Should we all be playing 7th edition instead and bury ourselves in range-guessing tecniques, learn how to spot the difference between 8" and 8.1" and cover our ears when someone mentions "random" or "infantry"?

I say; hell no!

8th Edition is great fun, and playing Greenies has never been better! Armies look like armies, risk management is a real part of the game and carpenters and veterans don't win automatically because they can eyeball 16". So, wich approaches can you take to win the game?

Defeating your enemy in combat
Is what most games come down to, but the way to do this isn't necessarily as simple as people think.

But, Large units of infantry, surely you can't play without those? I hear you say. Yes, you can! A MMU (Many Medium units) or even MSU (Many Small Units) army can play very well in 8th edition, in many cases even better than in previous editions. When people think of 8th edition they think "steadfast" and "horde formation" and decide that units of 40+ is a necessity, because they want to utilize these nifty rules. This is where people are mistaken. I agree that these things are very nice to have in a battle, if you have a suitable unit to capitalize on them. But the critical thing about steadfast is that you don't actually want to have it, you just want to prevent your opponent from having it, and then win in combat! Horde formation is only good for maximizing kills, wich is only really needed if your enemy is particularly tough, your own unit is particularly weedy or you need to overcome your opponent's steadfast. If your opponent won't be steadfast there's often no point in doing more than 8 wounds more to your opponent than he does to you, since they'll end up on double ones to stand on their break test anyway. (Excluding Stubborn/Unbreakable units- you have to kill lots of them.) Anyway, if your opponent isn't steadfast beating him/her by 2-3 points will usually be enough. After a certain point more ranks is simply better than more attacks, and that point comes earlier than you might expect. Do some math-hammer of your own and see how many attacks you'll on avarage need to kill 8-10 models of whatever units you have problems facing.

*Remember, if you have to take break tests, steadfast or not, you currently don't have the upper hand. (whether you have 20 or 100 gobbos left in the unit.)

*Remember, horde units are unwieldy and make it harder for you to be where you need to be. This includes things like being inside Inspiring Presence/Hold Your Ground bubbles and matching your units against enemies they want to fight.

*Remember, units wich are already killy don't have to be very wide. Unless the opponent is too, then you might need to be in order to beat him/her.

You'll also need a way to control the outcome of combats. This is important in order to achieve the first and main goal, but can also be considered a separate part of the game.

Here's where Support Units come in. A critical element in most battles, these are smaller units wich serve a specific purpose in battle; supporting your mainline blocks in some way. Things like chariots, light cavalry, small units of heavy cavalry, smaller infantry units, certain monstrous creatures and one group of things wich is collectively known as "chaff" (Basically everything cheap and expendable) can all be considered support units. The mastery of supportunits is a big part of what makes a good Warhammer general, and the use of such units deepens the strategical aspect of the game. I will not go into too much detail of the different jobs of supportunits here, instead choosing to give each subject more attention in other articles. Besides, I have myself not mastered the use of such units... But nonetheless, here are the most common uses of support units;

*Adding kills to a combat. Supportunits are often good at dealing damage, wich tandems well with the Static Combat Resolution (Ranks, banners, etc.) and Steadfast-breaking capabilities of your mainline units.
*Redirecting key enemy units. If your supportunit is very fast or very cheap (or both) it can, and should, easily be sacrificed to lead enemy units away from the real battle.
*Threatening enemy supportunits, or in some cases their main units. Some supportunits are very good against certain enemy units, often in a rock-paper-scissors fashion. This can be exploited.

Another way to direct the flow of combat is via Magic. This can also be done in several ways, but since magic in Warhammer is so fickle (I don't really like calling it "random", but it is to an extent.) this is not a completely reliable approach. However, as this is a game of dice neither is anything else really. When you decide to take magic it's worth keeping in mind how much the magic actually helps your army. If you have a great signature spell and a lvl1 caster you might be almost completely efficient in spending your points on that wizard, but if you have 6 magic levels and only really need 3 of them you have a lot of points tied down into something wich won't be all that useful. This depends on the synergy of your army and the lore(s) of magic you are using, but I disgress...

The main ways you can influence the game via magic are the following (That I can think of anyway):

*Weaken or destroy troublesome enemy units. A bit difficult to do since your opponent will almost certainly realize what you're doing and try to dispel your big damage-dealing spells. If it works however, the enemy unit will be crippled and easier to finish off in combat, or will already be gone.
*Using Augments or Hexes to directly affect a combat. Simple really, either buffing your own units to do better or debuffing your opponent's units to do worse.
*Making a crappy unit do less crappy. Not something wich people usually consider, but no-one wants a unit of Wolfriders with Sneaky Stabbing cast on them in their flank. Even though your opponent might ultimately win the combat his valuable unit will (hopefully) be severely weakened before it even gets into combat with your mainline units.
*Make your opponent change his/her plans. This includes things like making your opponent think twice about charging, or sitting back, or in some cases using magic of his/her own. Making these actions become largely ineffective through the use of spells can be helpful.
*Cause panic tests.

There's also Shooting to consider. A bit more straight-forward than magic, with a smaller chance of being completely uneventful and slightly less random (but usually with more dice being rolled) shooting shares a few similarities with magic. The overlap is generally not all that big though, since there are at least 3 types of magic (damage, buffs, debuffs) but usually only one type of shooting (damage). Some shooting attacks may have some kind of debuff worked into them (Or even a buff, but I don't know of any) like for example the Arachnarok's Flinga. Generally, though, you shoot at enemy units to do wounds to them, and since shooting is so straight-forward, so are most of its goals. Shooting helps your game in the followíng ways:

*Whittlíng down enemy mainline units. So that your own units can manage them. Usually you need lots of shooting for this.
*Killing off or crippling supportunits. So that they don't get into your way.
*Controlling board space. No cavalry unit will go within 24" of an organgun, for example! (Doesn't help us greenies much, but worth mentioning.)
*Keeping vulnerable units away from the action. Squishy monsters, most single characters and some other units are easy to shoot down and give you a great "return for investment". They will either hide in or behind units, stay away from the action completely or get pounded into the dirt. Overlaps with "controlling board space" a bit.
*Causing panic tests. Whether by causing 25% casualties to a an enemy unit or destroying one outright (wich causes panic tests for all of that side's units within 6") this can help clear the board a bit against many armies, or at least take a unit or two out of the game for a couple of rounds as they rally and make their way back.

Also, there are some miscellaneus things wich don't really fit into these categories, like Mangler Squigs/ Fanatics and other oddball stuff. Usually they follow the same pattern as shooting or some other category.
That's all for now about controlling and changing the outcome of combat, now onto alternative ways to play the game. There are only a few, and they are comparably rare, so I'll try to keep it brief.

Remember, your supportunits can't help you out if they've been blasted off the board already. It's therefore worth it to dispel the odd magical missile the enemy will try to throw at them, or keep them away from guns if possible (Keep in mind that attracting fire is probably more useful than sitting in a forest all game, though.)

Remember, magic is a tool to make it easier for you later in the game. It's not to win the game for you.

Remember, use your shooting and damage spells for a purpose. Shooting your archers into a unit of infantry is rarely the best use for them.

There are, of course, other playstyles. Instead of defeating your opponent decisively in combat these strategies aim for eliminating most dangerous enemy units before combat happens, and then mopping up the remains (Or rely on movement to pick on small units, mostly avoiding serious combat) The above tecniques are the basis of many of these armies, since they are the foundation of most warhammer strategies. Here's a rundown of other ways to play the game;

Gunline armies
Oh funline, how we hate you.

A gunline is an army wich is largely made up of missiletroops and warmachines, often with some mages with lores like Fire, Metal or other lores with plenty of long-range damage spells. Usually a gunline will have one or two dedicated combat units, to take care of whatever makes it through the wall of projectiles and mop up easy targets. Some armies can do this better than others, but I maintain that the best way to run a gunline is to not run a gunline, both for gameplay and sportsmanship purposes. It's a one-trick pony wich is largely ineffective against many different builds, as there is only so much you can shoot and it will only be effective for half the game. After that most units will be in combat already, probably eating all those tasty missile troops for breakfast. It's also considered kind of a douchy thing to do, running a gunline.

Any shooty army isn't necessarily a gunline- a gunline is characterized by being largely static and not having much damage-dealing potential except at range. The idea is that the list won't need it, but reality is rarely that simple.

Things to keep in mind when running a gunline:

*Focus your fire on one or two enemy units at a time. You haven't gotten any points off the unit until it's completely destroyed.
*Don't run all template shooting, since templates can only do as many hits as there are models left in the unit (meaning they are bad at mopping units up.)
*You may be considered a git by a large part of the playerbase.

Magical superiority armies
A slightly more interesting, less effective and more uncommon gunline. Zzzaap!

There's this myth that the big nasty spells in the game can and will wipe out your entire army first turn if you don't take huge blocks of infantry- on the contrary, I say, because the big nasty spells were made to counter armies made of stupidly large infantryblocks! For example, if every model in a unit must take a characteristic test or die, obviously fewer models will die in a smaller unit, and what's more, if you're using smaller units you'll probably have more of them, so one of them losing half it's models won't matter much.

An army wich aims to win by massed magic needs to have a reasonably consistant magic phase- a single Winds of Magic roll flopping in an early turn can completely ruin your entire game plan. This not only makes the army hard to play, it can also be very frustrating to use.

What this kind of army needs is some way to get extra powerdice- luckily there are several items and powers around wich can help you with this. Take a good selection of mages, these kinds of items and then sit back and blast your opponent. I would recommend plenty of combat troops, because enemies will make it through this kind of barrage. The upside is that you should have plenty of nice Augments and Hexes for when combat does happen.

Things to keep in mind:

*Take a few items wich add powerdice or adds modifiers to your casting result. You won't roll that average 7 Power dice every turn.
*Choose versatile lores. Lore of metal won't do much against a goblin horde!
*As with the gunline, focus your damage into a few units at a time.

Hit and run armies
Relying on manouverability to pick off weak enemy units, and scoring points mostly from those.

Playing this kind of army properly takes a lot of skill, and it's not a very forgiving playstyle. If you come up against the dreaded 3-unit armies you really can't do much except try to play for the draw- since any shooting you'll have will likely be ineffective against big units of infantry, and your small, fast-moving units don't stand up to protracted combats very well. What you want to do is to dance around the enemy all game, preferably isolating one unit at a time and fill it with high quantities of light shooting or combo-charge it with several of your units at once in an attempt to take away it's steadfast. If the enemy plays with a lot of supportunits you might have a field day- assuming they can't out-manouvre you. Sounds like I'm talking specifically about Wood Elves? That's because they are the one army wich usually tries to win this way, as most seasoned players will know.

You basically have to wait for the perfect oppurtunity to strike with an army like this, and only put in a decisive blow when you have your opponent sorrounded and in your grasp. One random event can completely wreck your battleplan, all the stars have to align for an army like this to win big. Armies wich rely on movement and planning like this is a great way to get to know your army and the game, and I warmly recommend trying to play this way since when you master it you will probably be a better player overall. Lots of fun is to be had as well, proving the people who think 8th is all about massed infantry and high-strength templates wrong.

Psychology-based armies
The so-called LD bombs and how they basically (don't) work.

There is a select few armies that can pull off a special trick, and actually build an army around this trick- the Leadership Bomb.

The LD bomb basically consists of several spells, powers or items wich drop the Leadership (LD) of enemy units and then forcing them to take panic or break tests. Not much to say, really. If it works several enemy units will run off the board, and if it doesn't nothing much will happen at all and you've wasted a lot of points.
The thing with these types of armies is that they're spectacular (broken, really) against some armies and completely useless against others. All of the Daemon, VC and TK armies out there are immune to psychology, all Tree spirits are ITP as well, Lizardmen are Cold Blooded, and so on on so forth. There just aren't enough suitable opponents to use the LD bomb against for the build to be very effective as an all-comers strategy. Anyway, since chances are anyone reading this is an Orc & Goblin player, we can't really pull this trick off at all, just to let you know.

Point denial armies
If you don't feel like winning anyway, or just like being a git.

All of the above styles are viable ways to play the game- some are duller than others, but there's one wich I really despise. Thankfully these types of armies usually aren't all that effective, but some people (usually kinda douchy people playing in cut-throat tournaments) persist with playing an army made up of one huge block, with lots of characters kitted out to make the unit almost inpossible to destroy, and a bit of chaff (The chaff can't be any more than 99 points, since you need to score 100p to win Warhammer in 8th edition) Then they basically sit back and don't do anything for the rest of the game, or throw lots of magic around trying to get points enough to win. If you are the type of person who think this is an OK way to play the game and think that anything goes in a are in the wrong place, this is a blog about tactics. This is not a tactic at all, it's just a kind of calculation wich makes for a horrible game. I advice anyone reading this to not play this way, and thankfully only very few people actually do that.

Even objectively speaking this is not a very good idea. You'll usually struggle to get any Victory points off of your opponent, so you'll usually be playing for a draw (That's no way to do well in Warhammer). Conserving points by moving severely mangled units out of harm's way is fine, and something wich should be encouraged. Even taking several rather large units of infantry in order to make it harder for your opponent to get a lot of points from you is a good idea, but trying to play the game by not actually playing the game is not good.

This concludes my thoughts on the basics of playing Warhammer. Basically, anything goes as long as you're not being a git. Find a strategy that suits you. The ones I mention are just outlines of the strategies wich you will typically see the most. Always keep your goals of the game in mind, and aks yourself "What do I need to do to win this game?" Maybe it is to deal with a specific enemy unit, hold the watchtower, or kill off your opponent's warmachines before they devastate your army. Whatever your goals are, remember to work towards then while if possible playing to the strengths of your army. Thank you very much for reading, I hope you enjoyed it and will be interested to hear more of my thoughts.



  1. That's a comprehensive write up, thanks for the effort.

  2. This was a good read. I can't wait for the more in depth stuff for some real discussion. I agree with a lot of things posted here =).

    1. Glad you enjoyed it, the next article should be up shortly. :)