Empire vs Khorne Tactica Part 2

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In Part 1 of this Tactica, we covered which units to take against the pure combat focus of a Khorne army and with an idea of what your list includes, let’s now look at deploying and using them effectively.

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I’m a firm believer in having a strong core at the heart of your army with everything else flowing around it – the expendable stuff, and that word synergy is at its most prominent at this point as you will want as many of your units as possible to benefit from your ability ‘bubbles’ and not have to spend time shuffling about after the game starts to get into range.

By keeping your core intact you can still win even if the rest of your army gets smeared into a fine red paste, which is still a very real possibility no matter how well you’ve prepared.  This core will of course tend to be your slower foot troops who don’t tend to move much, backed up by their support elements which make them better, and the simple diagram below shows that by deploying them in a compact line with the Celestial Hurricanum behind them, all three infantry blocks will be benefitting from the +1 to hit in combat.  The white squares in the Greatsword unit represent characters which can also then spread their influence to these units – namely the re-rolling of Leadership tests provided by your Battle Standard Bearer and the increased Leadership of 9 provided by your General in the shape of an Arch Lector. This entire group is now re-rolling its Leadership tests on an unmodified Ld of 9 (through Steadfast and Stubborn) whilst hitting back on 3’s with a ton of Strength 4 and 5 attacks. The Lector is also granting Hatred to the Greatswords and can also cast a prayer on them either increasing their chances to wound or improving their survivability. It would take a brave enemy General to charge headlong into that and he will bleed for the damage he inflicts – and seeing as you have around 110-120 wounds in that formation he’ll be hard pressed to outlast you.

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Once you throw in your Archer Detachments that can range in front of your line, you should be able to divert enemies units looking to charge you and set up favourable flank charges for when you do want to step out of formation.  This core also has the benefit of accounting for a significant proportion of your points making it harder for your opponent to achieve a victory and easier for you to avoid defeat.

Some of your more combat capable units can also act as powerful deterrents to those who think themselves strong enough to break your core.  For example, a Steam Tank makes a brilliant protector of this formations flank, it’s hard as nails and unbreakable letting you focus on what’s in front of you.  A counterattacking unit of Demigryphs or Knights can also fulfil this role.

If circumstances are permitting, always endeavour to get a unit of Demigryphs in a position to flank the enemy. This doesn’t have to be out on a flank necessarily, simply using a piece of terrain to hide behind waiting for the enemy to come past is just as, if not more useful.  At worst it delays your enemy as he doesn’t want to get flanked, at best you get to pull off a devastating charge that can roll right up a battle line.

You should always try to place your cannons out on the flanks and this is for two reasons. Many opponents forget to look sideways across a battlefield when moving their army forwards and often assume you will shoot the unit directly in front of the Cannon in an effort to keep them alive. Whilst this is an option, shooting across the battle field into the flanks of units of Skull Crushers and Chaos Knights is far more damaging to your opponent.  Your Cannons’ days are numbered as your opponent will do much to remove them as a threat as quickly as possible, so their only job is to inflict as much damage as possible before they go. The other reason to put them on the flanks plays into this.  They’re a great distraction and buy the rest of your army time while they’re being dealt with – and if they’re way out on a flank it’s even longer before their disposers get back into the fight.  I usually deploy the small halberdier units with my cannons to buy them another turn or two of firing to really soften up the enemy before they go and make sure my opponent has to commit a significant unit or two to deal with them – playing even further into reason two.

In the compressed battle line below, you can see the core formation in the centre – although it can be positioned anywhere – supported by the Steam Tank and unit of Knights protecting its flanks. These, and any other units, moving to assist the centre also have the advantage of coming under your ability bubbles too, further adding to their potential.  The Cannons are way out wide supported by the small halberdier units and the Demigryphs are well placed on either side to support either the centre by arcing around or the flank if necessary, or even to advance forwards and punch a hole through vulnerable points through the enemy line.  You can also see how a simple copse of trees can be hidden behind to set up a trap for any unit advancing on the core formations, with the screen of skirmishing archers being used to pull enemy units into favourable positions for flank or dual charges.

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By angling the archers correctly, you should be able to ensure a flank charge at least somewhere along the line and your opponent will likely be hoping to pass his Ld tests to stop his frenzied units charging into your traps.  Don’t be afraid to advance your skirmish screen aggressively to take the initiative away from your opponent who is used to having it when playing with such an offensive army. By getting those archer units high up the board you can clog up his approach with unexpected combats or slowed units trying to avoid getting into combat with them, and then overrunning into your lines unsupported.

The elements not visible in the diagram such as the Helblaster, Outriders etc. can be placed where they are needed as your enemy deploys.   If you can see he’s going to try to rush your core in force, put your Helblaster down in the centre to really make him suffer – or even abandon his plan. If he’s emphasizing (refusing) a flank, you should have an opportunity for your Outriders to find a prime firing position. A lot will depend on how your opponent deploys so try to keep your best stuff until the end. Things like Halberdiers and Knights aren’t going to hold many surprises with where they go, but the likes of Demigryphs and Steam Tanks are crucial units so try to get favourable match ups across the board to maximise their damage potential – and your opponent will be doing the same as he will be fully aware of the danger these units possess. Steam Tanks need to avoid anything with multiple high strength attacks like Slaughterbrutes, Dragon Ogres and tooled up characters. Demigryphs should simply avoid wasting their offensive power on grinding down units in multiple rounds of combat.  They are the point of the blade and if applied correctly should be able to take on almost any unit if they avoid a frontal charge.

The army is also surprisingly offensive when needed, with three mounted offensive units plus a Steam Tank battering ram, you can really take the initiative when the time comes and launch a crippling counter attack to carry the day.  Look for gaps or vulnerable points in the enemy line, as charges are made these holes will appear and capitalising on those moments to get a unit in behind his line will create a real headache as to how to deal with them – all the while you’re pounding him with black powder and magic.

Don’t be afraid to feed your expendable units into his to buy you the time you need to whittle him down with your shooting and get into position with your best units.  Expendable covers everything that isn’t in your core formation – even things like the Demigryphs.  As long as they are buying you an advantage with their sacrifice, you know that by protecting your core (which accounts for around half your victory points) you can still win.

The trick is to get him to underestimate your army.  Let him think he can roll over any unit you’ve got without consideration with his hulking combat monsters, ignoring the risks of charging across the board as fast as he can [With a Khorne army one doesn’t have much choice in the matter. – Ed].  Capitalising on his overconfidence and haste in avoiding warmachine fire will let you dictate where the combats happen and with who. Constantly deflect his best units, either into flank traps or off the board to waste their time, and only taking them on when the circumstances are in your favour.  Do this and you will win the battle.

Empire vs Khorne Tactica Part 1

 

TaleOfTwoArmies copyAs we near the end of our ‘Tale of Two Armies’ series, I thought it would be helpful for those interested to put the lessons I have learnt into a Tactica article of sorts – but one that focuses on tackling a specific opponent. This is the first part of that article which will cover general army selection against a foe which favours combat over all else, with the second part moving on to deployment and tactics.

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I’ve enjoyed a large amount of success in the series of games Phil and I have played out, only losing once in the first game – to a total bloodbath where but a single Chaos Warrior was left standing at the end, a Pyrrhic victory if there ever was one.  This was in stark contrast to how I thought the series was going to go after the decision was taken to do it and getting my hands on the army books.  I still stand by what I said in my Empire Army Book review, the subtleties of the changes in the Empire book still leave a slightly sour taste in my mouth knowing what the author’s motivations were, and the fact that the list suffers from significant imbalances corroborates my opinions when paired with the Chaos book.

I feel a large portion of my success was actually down to Phil’s choice of which Chaos God to theme his army on as much as it is to my playing ability. Playing as Khorne is certainly a limitation – at least when it comes to playing the Empire.  I’m sure it would have been harder for me to succeed if I was playing against say, an Undivided list, with all its magical gizmos and tailoring potential – it has a hideously powerful potential in the hands of someone willing to throw any kind of theme or fluff out the window. The lack of any shooting or magic are both huge advantages to an Empire player as you don’t have to invest any of those precious points into protecting yourself from those elements and can focus more on directly dealing with the biggest threats you know you’ll face. But anyway, on to what I’ve learnt which will hopefully benefit those budding Empire General’s out there for the times when they’ve run into an army of Khorne frothing at the mouth.

Army List Selection

Games of Warhammer Fantasy Battle can be won and lost before a dice is even rolled, the choices you make in building your list will have a significant say in how easy or hard your games will be to win.

Frenzied Khorne units are like lawnmowers when it comes to the green grass of the Empire.  Most of your soldiers will die horribly by the wagon load in a stand up fight – you will typically be striking last, with inferior weapon skill, lower strength, and with far less attacks. You will need numbers, and it will be crucial to get your units working together – synergy is a term used a lot with Empire armies and harnessing it is the key to victory.

For your Core, you will need at least one, maybe two, big blocks of State Troops to act as both an anchor for your battle line and an anvil to break the enemy on.  They will need to hold their ground in the face of the whirlwind of death that will inevitably hack its way to them, at least 40-50 bodies if you’re going down the single block route.  I personally prefer to go with two units of 35-40 but that’s what works for me against my opponent and it can be hard to maintain character support across the two of them which we will come onto a bit later.  Which type of State Troops to use for this depends on your style of play, but there are some definite good and bad choices when it comes to deciding which to field.

Swordsmen are the most durable being able to make full use of shields that also provide them with a parry save, plus having an extra point of WS meaning Marauders and Hounds only hit you on 4+ instead of 3+ adds to their durability. They are great for absorbing attacks but will kill very little in return, particularly against anything wearing Chaos Armour.  They are an ideal choice for a true anvil with which to hold the enemy against, but are also the most expensive in points per man.

Halberdiers can actually kill something occasionally, but will die doing so. The extra strength helps with causing wounds and also getting through the thick armour you’ll face. However, the inability to use a shield at the same time as a Halberd means they die very quickly. For a mere 6 points they are generally considered to be the best all round choice in any Empire Army – shields are only worth taking against armies with lots of shooting so leave them behind against Chaos and take more bodies instead.  They are probably the best choice against Chaos.

Spearmen give you many attacks – albeit with very little chance of success against the high toughness and armour saves.  The Spears also make them very static and completely defensive as they only work if they don’t charge. They are the worst choice against Chaos, limited in their usefulness to only the weaker units, which are few in a Chaos army.

To back up your block/s you can add in detachments if you so choose – although there is a lot of debate as to whether they are worth it anymore after the changes made to them. My opinion is generally no, with one exception. There is a definite use for smaller 10/15/20 man units in the army, for sure, but now without the benefit of the auto flank counter charge rule, attaching them to parent units means they often just provide additional squishy bodies for your opponents superior troops to kill and gain yet more combat resolution with – that goes double for Chaos units, and triple for Khorne.  Add in all the Psychology involved with having them in amongst your line means I rather have the flexibility of taking small units on their own.  Independent 10 man Halberdier units (cheap) are fantastically useful and can be used as warmarchine protectors, charge redirectors, speed bumps, flank protectors etc.  Easily worth the measly 60 points they cost per unit.  The exception is for the lowly Archer – they’re brilliant.  They can range in front of the army and become a very irritating distraction for your opponent who must overcome their charge redirecting and blocking. Panic isn’t a problem when they die as they are out in front and the fact they can shoot is just a bonus which lets them soften up the hounds which are usually tasked with removing them.  Costing as little as 35 points in units of 5 makes them invaluable at buying you time – they are one of the most important units available to the Empire.

The rest of the ranged State Troops unfortunately are poor.  They are now very expensive for what they do and against a Khorne army with no real shooting or magic to worry about the more fragile Outriders are a much better choice.  10 Handgunners costs you 90 points for 10 shots, 5 Outriders cost you 105 points for 15 shots – all at the same equivalent BS.  Plus the Outriders get a free move at the start of the game to get into a better position, and also have horses for if they ever do need to move again – which you should avoid.

Knightly Orders are decent. The 1+ armour save is still very hard for even Chaos Warriors to get through, just stay away from Chaos Knights, or worse Skull Crushers,  who will still make a mess of them. You can also choose to equip them with Greatswords as you’ll be striking last anyway, but losing the 1+ save is a big decision as it’s their biggest strength. They won’t win in a head on charge against most units but get them in a flank and they will be hard to shift – particularly the Stubborn Reiksguard who can pin a unit in place almost indefinitely.  Their problem is they struggle to deal out enough damage and need character support if you want them to charge through units of any significance – mounted Warrior Priest’s help them massively with their Hatred.

One of, if not the best units available to you will be the Demigryph Knights – they are the one truly combat capable unit available to the Empire and can eat their way through almost anything if you play them right – just don’t forget you’re playing Chaos who are also very combat capable.  If you’re careless with them they will die just as quickly as anything else in the Empire army. Their armour-piercing beaks are tailor-made to beat Chaos units, get them in a Flank and watch them go – its carnage. Take two units if possible.

Warmachines are fairly straight forward.  The Steam Tank is a beast and you should always take it when possible.  Its hull mounted cannon is a bonus but it’s the D6 plus D3 impact hits per steam point used in moving when it charges is where the real use is. Plough it into units like Chaos Knights and Warriors and watch it mangle them – but stay away from Dragon Ogres unless you’re confident of crippling them in the impact.  Their S7 Great Weapons can do a lot of damage and at 4 wounds each are still durable despite the lack of decent armour or high toughness. The steam turret is still useful against Chaos despite their smaller units and generally high toughness.  One bad roll for armour saves can still be crippling if you ramp it up to S4 so keep an eye out for opportunities to use it.

Take at least one Cannon, preferable two – there’s multitude of fast-moving units with either high armour or multiple wounds running around for you to shoot at: Skull crushers, Dragon Ogres, Chariots, Chaos Knights, Slaughterbrutes etc. Back these up with a Volley Gun and Engineer (he’s a must).  Chaos players are terrified of the Helblaster and rightly so – it can and will remove entire units when it fires using the Engineers BS and re-roll, and will also act as an area denial weapon.

A few other things I’ve found useful are Greatswords and the Celestial Hurricanum.  Greatswords are a 50/50 for a lot of Empire players as they’re expensive, but against Chaos Warriors their weapons can wreak havoc against their tough units. Put a Battle Standard bearer in the unit and they will (almost) never ever run away. Cold blooded, unmodified leadership 8 with a re-roll is nearly impossible to break and it’s easier to just slay the entire unit, and although expensive they are very hard to get points out of because of this.  The Hurricanum enjoys the benefit being something of a wild card as well providing some reliable effects. The +1 to hit 6” bubble is valuable beyond measure for your troop blocks and means that when you do finally get to hit back, those numbers you’ve sunk your points into will do some serious damage.  It also provides an extra power dice to help get those all-important spells off, and that means the random weather spell is a bit of a bonus afterthought really – you’d take it for the first two reasons alone.

And last but no means least, we have the characters – Empire armies rely very heavily on them and thankfully they’re cheap.  First up is a Captain upgraded to a Battle Standard Bearer and he really is non-negotiable as it will be the rock of your entire army. Back him up with as with a few Warrior priests where you think you’ll need them and you should have a pretty formidable formation all benefitting from each others abilities. After you include the previously mentioned Engineer for the Helblaster, you just need some Magical firepower in the form of some wizard levels – Level 2 or more, it’s up to you really. As you don’t have to worry about any spells coming back your way you can put as much or as little into magic levels as you want. Lore of Metal really hurts Khorne with their sky-high armour saves so I take at least one Wizard with that lore in my army. The biggest choice you will face in your character selection is who to make your general.  A Wizard Lord gives you access to the very desirable Ld 9 and can hang back from the battle line relatively safe.  Another good choice is to make one of the Warrior Priests an Arch Lector, who can sit in your battle line and benefit the whole formation with his leadership and prayers – just remember to protect him adequately.

Things like Grand Masters and Generals are good but typically being mounted they tend to move away from your force so the army doesn’t usually benefit from the leadership bonus.  Sitting still in units are a waste of points for what a cheaper character can do – and if you do want them to go charging off to plough through enemy units you really have to invest the points in his unit and his magic items – which all significantly weakens the rest of your army.  Besides, who’s stupid enough to actually go chasing a Khorne army?

So based on what I’ve gone over, in a 3000 point list you should have a unit roster looking something like this:

Captain – BSB

Wizard/s

Engineer

Arch Lector/Warrior Priests/s

Halberdier Block  x2

Small Halberdier Unit  x2

Inner Circle Knights Block

Archer detachment  x2

Demigryphs  x2

Greatsword Block

Outriders

Great Cannon  x2

Steam Tank

Helblaster Volley Gun

Celestial Hurricanum

Don’t be under any illusions, its hard work getting it all to fit – there just never seems to be enough points when making Empire lists – but it can be done. Some sacrifices will need to be made depending on how many magic levels you want or how many points you wish to invest in magic items.  A few things can easily be trimmed to free up points like the Outriders or one of the small halberdier units, but by including at least most of the units above you should have a flexible and tough army that your opponent will struggle to do any meaningful damage to.

In the next part we’ll look at deploying the army to get the maximum benefit out of each unit and how to use them once battle is joined.

-Lee

Empire Great Cannon – A Review

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Okay, so Phil has already posted a few reviews for his Khorne(y) army so it’s time I caught up.  I thought I’d start with a kit that can only be described as the ‘ol’ reliable’ of the Empire list. The nemesis of mighty heroes, the scourge of terrifying beasties, a model where the line ‘why not take three’ is not a joke but a serious consideration. Found in almost every Empire army to grace a battlefield, I am, of course, talking about the Empire Great Cannon and Mortar kit.

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When going up against Elite armies full of high toughness close combat monsters (which I am), you wouldn’t want to leave the safety of your city walls without at least a couple of Cannon’s up your sleeve depending on your points limit. Their mere presence is enough to alter an opponent’s list before it’s even taken to the field – and will sure as hell affect his deployment.  It’s a terror weapon in its own right, holding sway over other units bearing the same moniker and able to recoup it points in a single shot.

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The Cannon has increased in point value in the latest iteration of the Empire Army Book, coming in at a considerable 120 points.  A bargain I hear you cry – it can kill a dragon in one shot.  And you’d be right.  But at the same time you’d be wrong.  Although there are many more beasties flying and stomping their way around the Warhammer World for it to shoot at it now (probably the reason for the point increase), there are also many more ways to take them out quite quickly. Even before they’ve fired a shot (flying units are really good at this).

When you add in the changes to the way grape shot works (you have to roll to hit which sucks for Empire), the 100 points was probably about right in the first place. It was still a sizeable enough investment that had the potential to do some real damage, but not too much of a loss when it quickly gets taken out. It’s still a must have as a Cannon is the Empire’s only real sure fire method of dealing with the truly mighty units out there, but simply punishes the rest of army instead with less points to go around. When you factor in the point increases across the core section of the Empire list, the reduction in units on the board is a very serious bone of contention.

The Mortar also received a hefty increase to 100 points up from 75 points.  Now a change was definitely needed here as the changes in 8th edition meant that the removal of partial hits made this quite an overpowered unit – even against high toughness armies as the sheer number of dice you were rolling still made for a significant impact.

The problem though is that the Mortar was also penalised with a strength reduction to a frankly pathetic 2. This has made it almost useless against most armies – unable to beat high toughness and unable to recoup its points against cheap hordes, elves are probably the only realistic opponents for its use against.  An even higher point increase would probably have been sufficient to keep it a viable option while making sure you paid for its destructive potential – I don’t think you would have had too many complaints for even doubling its point value if it stayed at Strength 3.

The kit itself has been around for some considerable time now and is now showing its age, but it it goes together well and the kit performs its role without any fuss and between the detail on the barrel and  provided you give it a decent paint job, it still holds its own amongst the newer, shinier, kits.

If I think about it, the fact it hasn’t had an update has kept it, in some ways, pure and untainted by the slightly over the top fantasy element that’s currently pervading. I’m unsure how it would even be changed if it did receive a new design, but I’m guessing it would involve a large skull somewhere. The actual war machine itself isn’t actually the problem when it comes to the age of the kit, it’s the crew. But this can be quite simple to fix as all the spare parts you accumulate from the other kits you’ll no doubt have purchased can all go into breathing new life into them, giving each war machine crew in your army a slightly different twist to its character.

Ultimately, whatever your thoughts on the kit itself, it’s essential.  You need it. And you can bank on Phil facing at least one Cannon whatever size force we’re playing with. [Oh goody. Ed.]

The Empire Great Cannon and Mortar kit is available from Firestorm Games priced £13.95.