As 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.
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
Arch Lector/Warrior Priests/s
Halberdier Block x2
Small Halberdier Unit x2
Inner Circle Knights Block
Archer detachment x2
Great Cannon x2
Helblaster Volley Gun
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.