Warhammer Armies: High Elves – A review

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I recently picked up the new High Elves army book for Warhammer Fantasy and spent last weekend having a read.

highelfbook copy

This is the first 8th Edition army book I have had the opportunity to examine closely and I was fairly impressed with the quality of the book itself. The full colour certainly adds to the experience of reading through the book and the hardback format doesn’t make the book as heavy and clunky as I feared it might. That said, the cynic in me still wonders if this lavish quality is entirely appropriate for a wargaming sourcebook, which is intended to be lugged about in bags, urgently thumbed and generally chucked about. Especially as you are paying for this with money you would otherwise spend on toys.

The book is well laid out overall, there is a goodly amount of background at the beginning, telling the history of Ulthuan broken down by the reigns of the successive Pheonix Kings, plus an overview of the ten provinces of the island and their distinctive characters and geographies. A lot of the information is not completely new (let’s be honest) but there are new bits. I certainly don’t remember learning as much about the elven pantheon from previous editions as I did from this one. Likewise, I don’t recall any previous book discussing the fate of elven souls.

The standard of writing is maintained in the entries detailing the various troop types. One thing I particularly like is the way that units in the bestiary have been grouped largely according to their provinces of origin, which adds to the sense of theme in the book and provides food for thought for potential army styles.

The new units I was most interested to see were the selection of new lords and heroes, which bring a welcome dose of both character and variety to what had previously been some of the blander sections of the army list. It’s nice to see the High Elves gain a range of more characterful choices comparable to the likes of the Empire. Of course, the traditional noble, prince, mage and archmage do have the benefits of flexibility.

My personal favourite is the new Loremaster, which is a kind character I’ve long thought the High Elves should be able to field. The Loremaster is a respectable fighter and comes with a Swordmaster style great weapon, and automatically knows all the signature spells of the eight core lores of magic. This could create a potentially very flexible character with a diverse magical toolkit to build cunning plans around. It will also be interesting to see if he can benefit from the appropriate lore attributes as and when he casts spells from each lore.

I also quite like the new Anointed of Asuryan, who could be a real boost to a unit. So much so that giving him a phoenix to ride almost seems a waste. I can well imagine a lot of players adding an Anointed to a unit of Phoenix Guard, turning it into even more of an immovable object.

The Lorthern Sea Helm (or Big Hat Shouty Man as Phil dubbed him) [What’s your point? Ed.] seems like a respectable hero choice. That said however, I think he would be best employed riding on a Skycutter as together they could form a formidable attack unit.

The Core Troops section has seem some welcome expansion. I was slightly disappointed that Shadow Warriors didn’t make it into core, as was widely rumoured, but having Silver Helms and Reavers both move to Core is nothing to be sniffed at. I know that there are many players who bemoaned the inability of fielding an all-cavalry army in the previous book. I imagine that Reavers may make a few more appearances now that they don’t count against the points you need for your precious units of Swordmasters et al. It also means that the Core content of the Island of Blood box has shifted in a way that may make it a more attractive deal to some. I can certainly imagine squeezing a few small squadrons of fast cavalry into an army, if only because they are a bit smarter than the now very old spearmen and archer models.

The Special Choices remain packed with strong units, and I think it comes to personal preference and/or the theme you are trying to create which you take. My own favourites remain the Swordmasters and Phoenix Guard. Though I have always had a soft spot for Shadow Warriors too. This is also the section where you find your Chariots and the White Lions which are solid choices. I think that the Dragon Princes are a decent unit too, but there’s no ignoring the fact that we are talking about some expensive elite heavy cavalry and you really have to commit to that idea to get the most out of them, with enough models and appropriate supporting choices. But toughness 3 heavy cavalry is a tough sell.

There has been a lot of grumbling about the new Lorthern Skycutter model and about how it is step too far in terms of introducing fantastical elements into the game. Personally I think the complaints say more about the failure of the imagination of the complainer than a problem with the idea. It helps that the model is quite a good one and executes the concept well. Game wise, it’s a nippy enough unit. Though it has the option to add a bolt thrower, this might not be the best option for a mobile unit. Personally, I would add a Sea Helm with a magic weapon to maximise the damage on the charge and increase the chance of breaking the enemy.While the Special section of the High Elf list has usually been an embarrassment of riches, the Rare section has generally been a more spartan affair. You will still find the Great Eagle and that ubiquitous old standby the Repeater Bolt Thrower here, but you will now also find Phoenixes and the Sisters of Avelorn so you have some real choices to make about how to spend your rare allocation. That said, I predict there will still be a lot of bolt throwers, because you would be a fool not to. The new Phoenix is another nice kit. Of the two variations, I personally prefer the Frostheart, simply because of the higher strength and toughness. I like that either version can be taken as an independent rare choice rather than just as a character mount. I can see the appeal of taking it either way, depending on your preferred tactics. As the only unit who can ride it is the Anointed, you will have to decide if that is the best use of that particular Lord choice.The new Sisters of Avelorn are quite a cool unit. They are a potentially powerful shooting unit and certainly a much more interesting version than the old 5th edition Maiden Guard, which were essentially Sea Guard by a different name. Like a lit of units in this book, the Sisters benefit from synergies with an appropriate character, in this case the Handmaiden, who can enhance the unit with the Quick to Fire rule. It’s nice to see the Everqueen reintroduced into the game too, and I notice that her inclusion is encouraged by being able to unlock magical enhancements for Sisters units.

The Sisters kit can also be used to make Shadow Warriors, and to my mind these new models are the best version of this unit ever and possibly my favourite of the new models included in this release. The models really capture the dark and sinister feel of these particular elven avengers and I can imagine them being used in a lot of Dark Elf conversions as well as High Elf ones.

The magic items are not much to write home about to be honest, though the Blade of Leaping Gold is an old favourite of mine. Otherwise, only the Shield of the Merwyrm and the Banner of the World Dragon really caught my interest. I’m guessing it’s easier to balance the magic items in the core rulebook. Or maybe GW just want to discourage taking magic items so we have to spend more money on units?

The rules that allow High Elves to always strike first have been slightly tweaked. The main effect is that ASF is cancelled out by the always strike last effect of great weapons. This means that Swordmasters and White Lions no longer get to reroll attacks and are now vulnerable to high initiative attackers like Vampires. This goes a little way to mitigate the perceived beardiness of the old Speed of the Asur rule. The rule that allows all High Elf units to fight in an extra rank is potentially more devastating as that can add up to a lot of extra attacks from the big units encouraged under 8th edition, all with the typically high weapon skill of an elf.

Overall, we’re looking at a well updated book, with some cool new bells band whistles, but no obviously overpowered units. The only serious disappointment in the whole release has been the failure to update the dated core archer and spearmen models. I imagine that lots of us will be hitting eBay in search of Sea Guard models instead. All the old stand by units are still up to snuff and none of them are overshadowed by new units. Indeed, a lot of the new units are best used in synergy with other units.

The High Elf army book is available from Firestorm Games for the sum of £27 of our Earth Pounds.

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