So over the past year or so we’ve had a slew of army books released, going back to Feb/March last year you have Warriors, Daemons, High Elves, Lizardmen, Dark Elves, Dwarfs and Wood Elves. Wow that’s almost half of the armies have been updated in a year, first off Great going GW, truly fantastic achievement to turn out so much work so quickly, secondly great work GW as they’ve not overly suffered from horrendous power creep and unbalancing the game (unlike prior editions).
So that said what do I think about the books, are they well designed? For this I’m thinking balance of rules and units rather than aesthetic and background, while those are really important for choosing which army to play they are somewhat less important for the decision of what to put on the table.
If pushed I can probably put the armies into tiers, unlike prior editions though I don’t actually think this is all that meaningful as there are more matchups where A>B, B>C but C>A so overall it levels the field over the course of a few games. But again pure power and tiers isn’t really what interests me, I’ve always preferred to play the underdog armies as an additional challenge on myself. Though reading a blog recently it suggested that this was just a protection mechanism to explain away losses and I should really try playing with the gloves off and accepting the truth about just how good a player I am. An interesting point and definitely partly true, but I’m comfortable that it is very unlikely I’d win any tournaments if I did take the hardest thing, so I prefer the personal challenges I set myself.
What does interest me is the longevity of a book and the flexibility of the book. Obviously not all armies can do everything but most can be played in a few different styles and then secondary to the playstyle (or partly feeding into what defines them) are what the different units in the book can do and how effective a ‘bang for their buck’ they provide in doing it.
Those who listen to podcasts have probably heard some people saying that the cost of a unit is somewhat irrelevant if it does something in an army which nothing else can. This is hugely true, but for me the sign of a good book is where there are multiple different ways of achieving one thing. For example take the Dwarfs, sure they’re pretty limited in certain ways but if you need to kill a big monster there are a multitude of options from WMs, Characters with multi wound weapons or slayers with always wounding on a 4+ and getting extra hits as they die. All sort of do the same thing but in very different ways. So if I want I can make the decision my army won’t have any cannons and I don’t overly have to worry that suddenly there is one area of the game I can’t cope with.
So considering this and looking at the books what do I think? Well I’d say GW have been getting a whole lot better at this than they used to be. Are they getting it right every time, no not quite.
WE being the new kids on the block are what has inspired this. At first glance at the book it’s a horribly one dimensional gunline army with some mobile avoidance thrown in. Forest spirits are ‘nerfed’ and it has no combat power. But actually try digging g a little deeper, what if I put 3 units of Wild riders into the army, all of a sudden that’s a lot of S5 AP attacks on a relatively small frontage probably with rerolls to hit most things. So what happens if you throw them into the current ‘meta’? Armour isn’t going to like it a great deal, sure a 4+ save will deflect a decent amount of that damage but with multiple units and only about 150pts for a unit it’s a decent bit of punch for a throwaway unit. Then try pitting them against infantry and suddenly they’re utterly shredding them. Wild riders into White lions, Executioners or even T4 infantry like saurus, dwarf warriors even WoC are doing lots of damage before they die. Sure their damage output falls off after a single turn but that initial impact is pretty intimidating. The only unit I’ve thought of which still doesn’t really care are Plague bearers but even they should lose about 5 guys on the turn of charge to killing around 2-3 back. Combine all that with the hugely flexible movement then it’s such an appealing unit, of course they have frenzy so you’ll occasionally lose them to running off into something they shouldn’t but I just find that makes it even more fun to play with as it’s yet another control element to consider.
So all of a sudden that one dimensional gunline army has a new focus for me. Out go the 100s of shots (Zzzzz), in comes something like 18 wild riders! Do I need an anvil unit to go with that maybe? Well you have core dryads or their harder cousins the Treekin, sure the damage output isn’t spectacular but that’s not really what an anvil is all about. Plague bearers seem really popular still despite their weakness to death magic, admittedly they’re better in virtually every way than dryads due to poison, better ward and inbuilt -1 to hit plus access to command including a magic banner. But DoC can’t put down high volumes of shooting on the board to thin units down. Or maybe even moderate volumes of shooting and some mobile combat punch for a more balanced army.
Another look at the army and another model to consider. Captain on horse with spear, shield, probably throw on AP arrow too 93pts (with the arrow). 3S5 AP attacks with rerolls, 4+ save or enchanted shield, or dragon helm gives a 3+. Suddenly a couple of great chaff/WM killers again for throw away cost.
So the defining feature of the good books that GW has been turning out is variety and flexibility of how to do a particular thing with an army, all of this whilst they manage to maintain the theme of the background.
So where do I think this has been done well?
Obviously from the above I think WE have got it right, but also HE have it in spades. DE have a decent shot at it but I think there are some slight internal balance issues (basically read warlocks) which have very quickly driven them into a single build which has become hugely popular at the expense of all others. If you choose to ignore that build though there are so many good options in the book that you can get great flexibility out the list.
Sliding down the scale a little you’ve got DoC and to a lesser extent WoC. Both books have a standout build that has become very popular but actually stepping away from that doesn’t really hurt the power of the books significantly and they can still perform fantastically with a lot more variety of units, but in the case of WoC it is still all about getting stuck into combats largely by charging front on into your opponent and smashing them. DoC have a bit more subtlety about them but do rely heavily upon horrors and skull cannon for a pseudo gunline element to support some good grinding combat ability with the powerful smash element of a GD.
Pulling up the rear are Dwarfs and Lizardmen – Both of the books made attempts to diversify through the addition of new units, all of which are cool in their own way, but ultimately the tournament builds are exactly the same as before and the flexibility to build them in different ways generally results in weakening the build.
It’s pretty small things to be honest, Saurus need certain magic buffs to work, the changes to slann means you don’t really see them any more, so saurus remain substandard choices which with the core being the way it is results in only skinks amounting to much, the changes to skink-krox units has made them less flexible so again you don’t see them used and the builds become very one dimentional.
Dwarfs I’d say was a missed opportunity through a couple of very small things. 1. The hatred special rule should have been before deployment not after, the army doesn’t have enough flexibility of movement to change it’s setup to reflect a huge change in combat ability, so it forces a more defensive deployment. 2. Runic Anvil but no other bound items in the list. I think runesmiths should have had a lore of magic effectively added through bound spells, all buffs not damage output, not debuffs so it’s very much an internalised thing. Basically like the warrior priests do with empire. It would have made them able to compete in combats where they potentially go in as underdogs. All to often when playing dwarfs you set up for an even fight and then the opponent gets off a spell and you’re done, being able to have that same option to swing things would have made them a viable combat army so moved them away from the reliance on defensive gunlining.
So reading back I do wonder is it just the fact that it’s been elves that makes it look like the wonders of diverse flexible books has become a regular thing? It has always been a hallmark of theirs that they do all things fairly well so I’d expect them to be the more flexible books anyway. Hopefully we’ll find out when Brets, Skaven and Beastmen get updates (hopefully they’ll be the next three books before repeating any of the 8th Ed ones).