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 State Troopers – A Review

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Third time round for reviews from the Empire Battalion box and I’m finally into the new kits. Yay.  I present to you the Empire State Troopers.

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Now I’m sure you’ve all come to terms with the new pricing format of the rank file for ‘new’ armies, which is 10 in a box for around £15 – £20? No? Me neither.  The State Troopers are no different, but you do get a wealth of components to make them into either spearmen, swordsmen or halberdiers which is quite nice as you have everything you need to cover all the army options for a change (see Knightly Orders).  Games Workshop made this one of their key objectives in all new releases and for the most part they’re succeeding – but at the cost of troops on the ground.

I don’t think the box of 10 is a problem as such, it’s just that if you want to do an infantry heavy army you’ll pay more as you need a lot of boxes to make the larger/horde units we’re being encouraged to take.  And as there’s no balance in the numbers you get in a box between the elite and lesser army troops, this could discourage people from choosing the more numerous army choices over the smaller elite ones purely as matter of expense. Simply throwing a few extra models into the lesser troops would go a long way to redressing this imbalance.

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When it came to the State Trooper frames I was actually quite surprised by the amount of detail crammed onto the main body components – armour, bags, belts, knives, kitchen sinks (okay, I made that one up), each one has something approaching a character model level of detail.  Which is great, but at the same time not so great.  The more I studied the models the more I was daunted by the prospect of painting up big blocks of 30 or 40 of them.

Overall though I really liked the kit, the models were very good and versatile enough to be turned to variety of poses if needed with the use of other components.  There are a few bug bears, like the banner being a bit crap and demanding an instant trade with the one from the Hand Gunners box (see next review), not enough head choice (e.g. you can’t do all feathered), and the way the spear/halberd tips attach to the hafts is a bit finicky, but it’s more than up to the task and a big improvement on the previous sculpts. Oh, and I hate the guy with no shoes (personal choice).

I sized up the models for their possible paint job hoping to gain some inspiration as I’ve actually been struggling with what colour scheme to do my Empire army in – my general is from Marienburg with its Red, Blue and Yellow colours but really you can do anything you want as they’re all ‘mercenaries’.  But Phil and I were both keen on tying in certain background elements – with the household colours being purple and white, plus I liked the idea of painting all the armour black.

The problem is Bogenhafen is very similar with a half white half purple uniform, so I figured by doing the same colours quartered and adding in the black armour and accessories it would provide enough of a difference for it to be distinct.  This colour scheme translated very well to the state troopers and the quantities of armour on some of them meant the black would be the prominent feature I wanted. Unfortunately a couple of the bodies didn’t have any armour at all to reflect the somewhat inconsistent nature with which Empire soldiers are equipped, but hey, you can’t have it all – they’ll just be relegated to the back ranks. [And die first. – Ed.]

An added bonus for all the extra arms you get in the kit is that Forgeworld have actually released a kit that enables you to make use of them – Mannan’s Blades.  They’re a group of Marienburg mercenary marines and would be perfect for my army, freeing those spare parts from their plastic framed prison.

I thought long and hard about how to assemble the 20 State Troops from the Battalion box.  There are various opinions on which choice is best but I had to slant any advice towards the fact I would be largely facing tough, heavily armoured, Chaos Warriors – or worse.  After the dreadful changes The Cruddace afflicted upon the Swordsmen (-1 Initiative and +1point) they’re usefulness has been seriously reduced.  So I figured if I was to add them (probably in the form of Mannan’s Blades mentioned above) it would be at a later stage in a detachment capacity – so they were a no for now.  I read somewhere that halberdiers were the best way to go for your blocks as they were statistically better is most situations, but I wasn’t convinced as the extra rank of attacks spears provided couldn’t be ignored.

I decided to put it to the test worked out the probabilities (because I’m cool like that) and the results were not so clear-cut as I had suspected. The short of it is Halberdiers are better the wider their formation is – and only against opponents that aren’t going to decimate you before you get to attack. This pretty much rules them out against Chaos despite the extra strength because A) you want as narrow a frontage as you can against Chaos armies to reduce the number of incoming attacks and B) those incoming attacks decimate the unit before you get to retaliate. The Spearmen have the (slim) chance of killing something simply because the extra rank provides more bodies than can be killed to actually attack back.

Armed with this knowledge I decided to go for blocks of Spearmen supported by the Halberdiers in detachments, where they would hopefully get more attacks to make their extra strength count.  However, seeing as I only had 20 Troops and Spearmen needed more to be effective, I decided to go for a Halberdier block now and split them down into detachments once I added the necessary amount of Spearmen.

With everything decided it was onward towards getting things painted – to the sound of beating drums and blaring trumpets, and maybe the crack of a whip at my back… [The whip cracks a purely motivational. -Ed.]

Empire State Troopers are available from Firestorm Games priced £13.95.