Stepping Up Your Game
Advanced Tactics for Warhammer Fantasy
Before beginning, I would like to point out that the audience for this piece is not designed for players that have been playing a long time and have their own strategies. This piece was written for those players that I play with that have been playing the game for over a year now and are ready to take a step past where they are now, to understand how the guys that have played for a while seem to know everything that they are going to do and counter it. To help them move past the frustration of not getting the entire picture. Hopefully this helps shed some light on the game and move past the basics, which after a year or so of playing most players will have picked up on fairly well.
I realize that this is not an absolute tactica nor is it meant to be the end all of “How to Play Warhammer”.
When you are first starting out at Warhammer, a lot of things can be daunting to you as there seems to be a lot going on and its hard to not scratch your head and wonder how those cagey vets seem to have your number no matter what it is you do or try.
I’ll let you in on a little secret: there’s not much to mastering how a game of Warhammer will go down. There are a handful of tricks you need to learn, and have some aptitude with math and having decent ability to figure out how turns will look in the future. This is a skill one can get good at by playing a lot of chess, which really works around those principals, knowing what happens when you move a piece and figuring out your opponents counter move, which sets up your next move, etc.
A good chess player can project up to a dozen moves in advance with surprising accuracy. Those skills for the most directly correlate to a game of Warhammer, only you have the added issue of having to deal with probabilities and dice, which is something chess with its absolute tactics does not have to worry about.
That’s where being somewhat good at math comes into play. When you are chucking dice around the table, you are dealing in probabilities. If a model needs a 4+ to hit or wound, that is a 50% chance of doing either. So what is the probability of a model with a single attack that needs a 4+ to hit and a 4+ to wound doing a wound to an enemy model? 25% or 1 out of 4.
How did I arrive at that? Basic algebra. ½ * ½ = ¼ or 0.50 * 0.50 = 0.25. Understanding how to calculate probability helps you calculate odds, and knowing the odds is important because it helps you know when to do something, and more importantly when not to do something.
Once you have really gotten good at predicting turns and knowing probabilities and odds, you just need to keep your eye on the objective and that really is the basis of comparison between a person who has played for a while and has gotten good at the game versus a person who knows the basics but hasn’t quite yet achieved the level of understanding that the other has, and results in losing matches against that player more often than not.
So where do we start? Well, the first place we are going to start is by having a good and thorough understanding of the rulebook and our army.
Warhammer Trick #1 – Know Thy Rules
I really cannot express how important this step is enough. So many players get beaten simply because they don’t understand the rules or understand their own army. No one likes to get beaten because they had a rule sprung on them that they didn’t know about and it cost them. Minimize this by breaking out the big red book (BRB) and having a solid foundation of the core Warhammer rules.
Once you have a good foundation of the rules, the next step is simply to know your army rules and what your army can do. This plays a part later on as you cannot calculate probability if you do not know your statistics!
This is why it is so important to know the rules for the system and your army. You cannot make good, informed plans if you don’t know your own army’s special rules.
With time you will quickly come to understand your opponents’ armies as well. If you have the money and time you can also purchase the other army books and learn their rules as well.
Warhammer Trick #2 – List Building
The next trick that is key to being able to field an army that is able to hold its own is decent list building technique. I will say that of all of the tricks there are to learn and be good at in Warhammer, that other than knowing the rules (see above) this is the easiest trick to learn.
The first thing to understand is that everything on the internet (to include this stratagem) should always be analyzed with close scrutiny. A player denouncing an element of your book as being “weak” does not necessarily make it weak; rather it may be weak for how the player denouncing it uses it in the context of their own planning.
Remember how I said it is important to know your army? Creating a good list stems from knowing your army. Some armies are more suited for certain roles than others. Certainly a chaos army could feature a lot of ranged weapons if the player really wanted, but it is a rare chaos army that will ever be defensive in nature.
Some armies matchup better or worse against other armies. Knowing your opponent is crucial to being able to create a solid list with which to counter his offensive strategies with your own.
To Cheese or Not To Cheese
A very controversial topic in the hobby that has existed since the long ago is the topic of creating over the top powerful army lists. This article is not really for discussing this topic, but I will say it is important to play in a group of like-minded individuals to fully enjoy the hobby. In our group, the requested playstyle is a hard list but not one that is overly broken or takes advantage of poor Games Workshop written rules. I call a strong, competitive, but not over the top busted list an “A” list.
General Army Roles
When creating an army, I find that I’m creating an overall strategy that is either going to be offensive or defensive in nature. List building is the first building block in a successful outing on the table and we need to be sure that our army supports our overall strategy.
I am going to use my Tomb Kings campaign / league list as the comparison points throughout this article. Beginning with that, I fall back upon the premise that I must know my army, so what do I know about the Tomb Kings in general from both a positive stand point, and potential weaknesses that my opponents could exploit?
- Tomb Kings are all undead. This means that they will never run away (good) and as such every unit has the potential to be a defensive anvil (more on that later).
- Being undead, my tomb kings are all immune to psychology, and as such will never have to worry about panic, fear, or terror. They are also unbreakable, so I never have to worry about my units breaking and fleeing, which makes my battle line a lot more stable.
- My army is tied together by a wizard that once killed causes my army to crumble. This means that I have to take care to protect this model, and that my opponents will be gunning for this model.
- My combat characters are fairly tough but lack any real armored options, meaning that most wounds that get through will not be saveable or the odds of saving them will be low. This means I need to lessen the amount of hits they take OR invest in magic armor and wards, which will be competing with my hierophant in items taken and points.
- My army as a whole has no real armor saves. The foot troops are fairly easy to kill though they can be healed and brought back up. This means I do not want them engaged in combat until I absolutely have to.
- My army cannot march which means that they are going to be very slow on the table. This makes an assault force more difficult to work with as opposed to a normal army as it will take me longer to get across the table. Against a defensive army this will have an impact as I will be relying on my magic to let me move again in the magic phase, making my army more suited for defensive positioning as opposed to offensive.
- My army’s ranged attacks are average. The advantage is my bows always hit on a 5. The disadvantage is that my bows always hit on a 5. I won’t be hitting much and when I do I only have S3. My skull catapults are pretty nice as the attacks are flaming (great vs regen) and do multiple wounds and force panic checks if they kill just one model.
- I cannot flee from charges so redirection will require me to throw units away instead of fleeing and rallying
Overall, knowing my army in general … to me it seems that the Tomb Kings are more of a defensive counter-punch army. As such, I will generate my army to work that way.
Offensive Armies vs Defensive Armies
In chess, the white side always goes first and as such is the army on the offense, while black is the defensive side and must counter-attack white to gain the advantage.
This principal can be applied in Warhammer. An offensive army is simply one that is going to be attempting to force the initiative the entire game through maneuver, assault elements, and shooting.
A defensive army is going to be one that bunkers up in a corner and waits for the enemy to get to them while whittling them down and dealing with the opposition’s ranged attacks to force the initiative to change hands from the assaulter to the defender.
It is always important to note that I find that the side that forces the more reactions is usually the side that is going to win. If you are playing the game on your heels the entire time reacting to your opponent, you are letting your opponent beat you through initiative.
When creating your army, know how you plan on using it and keep that battle plan as tight for as long as possible. Granted, you don’t know your scenario so you have to be flexible (more on that below) but if you go into a battle with no battle plan, you will have a very difficult time defeating someone that has a plan.
The key is to make your opponent react to you as much as possible. Dictate the flow of the battle on your terms and it will carry you to victory.
The meat and potatoes of list construction comes from understanding how the units will work individually to make the whole of your army work. It is important to note that those that rely on one or two units to carry them through the game can often times be defeated simply by defeating their key unit.
Knowing your army is again so vital in this as if you don’t understand your army, your list will be a hodge podge of things you throw down which may or may not be effective on the table. Below I explain the different unit types that I classify and then give an example of my league army list.
Hammer units are units geared towards the offensive. Their primary purpose is to inflict a lot of damage and kill a lot of models to push the combat score over in their player’s favor. Hammer Units typically have little staying power on their own (but not always) and so work best in conjunction with another unit.
Letting an opposing Hammer unit in on you at full strength can often spell doom for the target unit so be wary.
The opposite of a Hammer would be the anvil. These are units that are great at absorbing damage and not running away and holding their ground. On their own, anvil units do not break opposing units typically unless the opposing unit is very much inferior in stats or numbers. They are used to anchor flanks and hold up the enemy so that your hammer units can smash them from the side or rear.
Most units in the game fall into this category. A support unit is a unit that by itself cannot typically break a dedicated infantry unit in the game, but when teamed up with another unit can produce very good results for you. Cavalry units often fall into a support/hammer role, where by themselves they will have a difficult time beating an opposing unit, but combined with another unit (even another support unit) they can do some damage.
Generic infantry and chariots and monsters can also fall into this role as they exist to help out your primary hammers or anvils do their job.
A linebreaker unit is typically very small and their main role is to get behind the enemy’s main line and disrupt their warmachines and any individual wizards foolish enough to roam about on their own. They also work great in conjunction with main units to smash a flank as they will often be fast, highly maneuverable, or have a rule that lets them pop out behind enemy lines and position themselves to wreak havoc.
Chaffe / Garbage
Chaffe units are cheap, disposable units that are used as redirectors or as fodder to distract the opposing player, hold objectives, and generally as pawns whose loss means little to you, but can cause annoyance for your opponent’s army.
Putting it Together
You will find some units in your army can function at multiple roles. Also you may find that through the course of a game that you may need to switch a role where applicable and able. Roles are not permanent and you should not box yourself in from turn one unwilling to change roles.
Characters In Units – Death Star vs Spreading Out
A popular warhammer theme is to pack as many characters into a unit as possible. This makes a powerful unit. The disadvantage of this is that this makes your unit key and losing it can lose you the game.
It also means your other units will be significantly weaker. Choosing between the two strategies is important. I prefer spreading my combat characters out to make even my lowly skeleton spearmen something a little more formidable but your mileage may vary.
I refer to the central command unit as the “KING” unit. The KING is typically the most expensive unit on the table when you add the points for the unit and characters put into it and defeating it is often my primary task as in doing so I am scoring a large amount of points and taking away the combat effectiveness of my opponent, in some cases exponentially depending on how many characters are in the King Unit.
I refer to the second most powerful unit as a Queen. I take these names obviously from chess, though in chess the queen is the most powerful piece and in my head on the table, the queen is the 2nd most powerful unit.
Like the King, the Queen will be worth a lot of points and taking it out becomes a cornerstone in my overall strategy.
Being able to identify my king and queen units and my opponents is vital because it will help me know what to protect on my end and what to gun for on my opponent’s end, particularly in a victory point scenario.
It is also important to note that many players put a lot of psychological importance in their king and queen units and by defeating them, you may take a lot of fight out of them and enable them to start defeating themselves through defeatist attitudes. (which means take note: don’t put all of your emphasis on one or two units, learn that the entire army is a machine and even your king unit is just one cog in that machine)
The Army List
The first thing I do is to create a good core army. That will be the part of my army that rarely changes. Depending on my opponent, I will then configure my characters out and add some specials to combat what I think my opponent will bring.
Let’s examine the army list in my first league match of 2012, which was against Mitch’s Chaos forces. This match ended up being a horrible defeat on my end due to a late game purple sun that destroyed my entire army in one go, but I will discuss that later.
Putting my core together, I put three shapes on the board. The first is the unit of twenty skeleton archers. They are a support unit and their goal in most games is simply to escort my hierophant around so that she can’t be sniped by missile fire. The damage output they can put out is fairly limited but they serve as being able to reform into a block that can at least maybe blunt a charge if needed. I typically put them in the back and they act as a reserve unit.
My next unit is typically a unit of 40 spearmen. These guys typically run in horde formation and my king sits with them, giving them his WS of 6 (special tomb king rule). Skeletons by themselves aren’t that big a threat, but making them WS 6 and putting a mummy lord with them suddenly makes that unit a bit stronger. All in all, this unit is also largely in a support / anvil role. I don’t expect them to beat most things in combat if the enemy is at full strength, they are going to be more about absorbing.
My last main unit is a unit of 30 tomb guard. These guys also get a tomb prince added, boosting them to WS 5. At S4 T4 I can give them a halberd for S5, or keep them with shields for the defensive parry save. They also all have KILLING BLOW which means on a 6 to wound I kill a man-sized target. Not bad. In my army as a whole, they are the unit that hits the hardest, so they get to be the hammers.
After that I throw in some other stuff for good measure. A casket of souls is a fun support unit that boosts my ranged abilities and makes my opponent react more to me due to the POTENTIAL damage the casket can do (it also tends to lock up dispel dice freeing me to cast my buff and hex spells freely as my opponents do not want the casket going off so let my other things go through)
A unit of four or so chariots are in a support role. By themselves they do little, but teamed up with the spearmen (another support unit) they can really break the back of most things.
Support units work great teamed up with other units! There’s another trick for you to keep. You want the odds to favor you in combat, and two on one matchups are perfect for this.
Last, I will typically include a flying necrosphinx which acts as the speed in my army and whose primary role is as a linebreaker, busting up opposing artillery and then lending support to my units in combat if needed. He is also responsible for intercepting opposing monsters and hunting for lone characters or assassination of characters in units that I find need to die (such as wizards armed with a spell that can end the game)
Using the Army List
My list above is typically going to be very defensive in nature, much like the tomb kings in general. They are a counter-punching army. This is especially true against chaos, as chaos is renown for being an extremely aggressive and offensive army. I need to find a way to weaken his king unit and his queen unit, and then counter it with my own army which hopefully is then numerically stronger.
Overall I would rate my tomb kings list with a solid “B”. It can be competitive but has a lot of pretty big holes that can be exploited by my opponent, and as such is a fairly challenging list to do well with, but that was what I was after when choosing an army for our league. In a very competitive no-holds-barred tournament setting, this list would probably be owned pretty hard but in the context of our league I felt that it would be both fun for me to play and fun for my opponents to face.
Concluding, when designing an army list it is important to understand the role that each unit will play in your overall abstract strategy. Units should complement each other and be assigned roles which are mini battle plans that you want them to achieve.
Be aware though that at this phase of the plan, you haven’t seen your opponent’s army yet so your battle plan must be flexible enough for you to adjust it!
Also keep in mind the various scenarios you can roll. If you come to the field with just a single banner and roll up a Blood and Glory mission, you only need to lose that banner or your general to lose the entire game.
Warhammer Trick #3 – Deployment
A strong army list and a solid grasp of the rules have gotten you this far, but if you don’t know how you are going to line up your units and have them work with each other, you are in danger of a poor deployment phase, which often will cost you against a veteran player who is good at this.
Deployment sets the stage, and if the stage you set for yourself is weak, you will be fighting uphill most of the game. Against a skilled player, that handicap will often cost you dearly.
Most scenarios will use the alternating deployment rules. The one big one that does not is the Dawn Attack scenario, which has your units deploying randomly. This scenario really tests your ability to readjust your strategy and tactics on the fly since you can’t deploy how you want to.
When deploying an army, either by normal means, or by random means, it is important that you have a general idea in your head about how the army is going to work and move together as a unit.
It is also good to see how the terrain is placed and do your best to maximize its benefits while trying to hamstring your opponent.
Your army battle line is basically broken into four pieces:
- The center. This is typically where your main infantry pieces go, supporting each other, in a standard formation.
- Right & Left Flank – these are the sides of your battle line and where a cagey opponent may try to strike to “roll your flank” and bust apart your line. In a standard formation, speed elements usually sit here or unbreakable/stubborn anvil units which are used to anchor the side to protect your main battle line from being flanked.
- The rear. This is often where missile and warmachine troops go as well as any auxiliaries you may have. Hills are often centerpieces for your back line as they can see over the troops protecting them in the front.
Now what I have described to you is a standard formation on perfect terrain that favors you. You won’t always get that. Also, standard formations are not always desirable.
There is a weighted flank which features one of your flanks loaded down with speed elements with which your goal is to destroy and overmatch your opponents flank on the opposite end of the field.
There is the Tip of the Spear which features a tightly packed offensive formation consisting of a very powerful hammer unit at the top and backed by supporting mop up units close by.
A Turtle Formation is a defensive formation that puts you in a corner and uses the table edges to protect your flank and rear used to allow your ranged units to fire at full effect while not being able to be assaulted by the enemy’s linebreaker units or other units.
You can do some research on your own in regards to formations, both historical and gaming, through the internet and through military tactics books. Mixing up your formations is useful to throw your opponent off, just be careful you aren’t playing into their hands by forming up into a position that is to the advantage of your opponent.
Be imaginative and creative! Come up with your own formations and bring it to your opponent! I have a small “playbook” of formations I’ve developed over the years that I like to use depending on the situations, to include the basic formations above.
When deploying units, you are playing a mini-game where you want to create mismatches in the opposing lines that favor you. What does that mean exactly?
A mismatch is simply an area of the deployment, be it flank or center, where you carry an advantage and where your opponent must react to close that advantage off.
An example of a mismatch might be a unit of empire knights on the right flank and across from them sits a unit of chaos knights and a chariot. The right flank at this point would belong to the chaos player as the probability of him defeating the only unit on that flank (the empire knights) is very high, and the empire player will have to adjust his lines or deal with this weakness to prevent losing the flank and putting himself further at a disadvantage.
This is why stubborn and unbreakable units on the flank are so desirable oftentimes. Losing a flank is costly because it opens up flank charges on your main line and you often have to turn to face the flank threat which leaves you vulnerable up the middle as your flanks are now turned towards anything that may be there.
What you are doing in the deployment phase is keeping tabs on what units you have to deploy versus where you feel your opponent will deploy theirs, and sticking to a battle formation that takes advantage of that, while securing your flanks (either through units or terrain) and keeping a strong positional advantage.
Key Note: spreading your battle line out makes it harder to support your units, which can put you at a disadvantage if your opponent plays on your thin line with mismatches of their own.
The idea of the deployment phase is to set up your army in position where it supports itself and creates mismatches against your opponent. Look for the two or three on one mismatches. Support your units and stick to your battle plan.
Many games will be won or lost in this phase alone, so be very mindful of it.
Warhammer Trick #4 – Table Psychology
Of all the Warhammer tricks to learn, this one is both very important, and potentially not useful at all depending on your opponent.
Table psychology is something seen in chess matches which also carries over onto the warhammer table. Making your opponent think that he is already defeated can carry you through even in games where you may be the one that lost, but never got to that point because your opponent conceded.
Table psychology plays several key roles. This section will be fairly short, but keep these in mind at a minimum to avoid falling into the trap yourself:
- If a player feels he is defeated, he will make more mistakes or give up. Some players are prone to this much more than others. I like to refer to it as the Game over Man! Game over! Syndrome. (reference the movie Aliens for this classic quote) Sometimes the game truly is over. Often times there are ways to salvage a secondary objective and get back some points, even if its just for pride. Don’t put all your hopes in one unit and one strategy, and roll with the punches.
- Make your opponent second guess what he’s doing. This is a straight up poker face. If he’s got a serious mismatch on you, do not focus on that mismatch.
- Redirect. As Sun Tzu said – appear to be strongest where you are weakest, and appear weakest where you are strongest. Knowing that people value their King units so much can be a useful cog in the machine and knowing how to appear defeated on a flank when in fact you are pulling their battleline apart with a sacrifice is an asset.
- On the flip side of the above, don’t take everything your opponent is feeding you as genuine.
Not every player will be subject to this trick. A good player won’t let his opponent into his head to cause more mistakes. Know what to look for and keep your head clear.
If you think the game is over or that you will fail – you will fail.
Warhammer Trick #5 – Always know the odds
This trick is one that is employed throughout the entire game and is keystone in helping you adapt your strategy and tactics to maximize your army’s effects. It is also the most difficult for people to master, because it involves fast thinking and some decent math skills. Break it down, and see the patterns emerge.
So this section is going to be fairly long as there are multiple scenarios that this is going to be useful. Lets start first with discussing an important distinction.
Tactics vs Strategy
You will hear these words get thrown around a lot and the way I use these words is synonymous with how chess players do. Ultimately these things are very closely related, but there are some key differences.
A tactic boiled down is a decision making structure. If I do this, then this should happen. Otherwise this will happen instead. It is an action that leads to accomplishing my goal.
A strategy is a broad term plan that uses tactics to achieve its final goal.
There are many tactics that can be employed to accomplish their goals and achieve your strategy. Tactics are the small picture, strategy is the overall picture.
Key Tip: Learn to craft strategies long term, and learn to adjust them on the fly. Things will happen during the game. If you don’t react to them and adjust your overall strategy, you will be at a disadvantage.
The Battle Plan
So remember earlier I mentioned fighting Mitch’s chaos army and that my overall battle plan would be defensive in nature? That was my top level strategy. That means that overall, I need to overcome his aggressive army and turn their strengths against them with a counter-punching strategy. His strategy was fairly straight forward, as chaos typically wants to scream across the table where they will gently caress my army with the sharp end of their pointy sticks. One on one, I cannot match up with any of his units with my own. Even two on one I am still at a disadvantage so I cannot let him get at me at full strength.
I go into that game with that in mind, but my overall strategy cannot materialize until I know the terrain and my scenario.
Against Mitch, the battle was the Mountain pass which was hugely beneficial to me because it meant he would be very far away from me, and I as a defensive army had more time to hammer him at range. The terrain rolled favored me as well as it involved a Sinister Statue on his end as well as a wide open field of fire in the middle of the table.
My strategy then unfolded to be simply find his king unit, and shoot the hell out of it with everything I had until its combat effectiveness was reduced. At that point, move to the queen unit and do the same.
You’ll notice that strategies in Warhammer are not really that complex.
Mitch had a wizard on foot by himself in the far back, a unit of marauders, a unit of warriors, a unit of knights, and a chaos lord on a manticore.
To employ my strategy, I needed to utilize the targeting priority tactic. You hardly ever want to spread your fire out if you can help it because the end result of that is simply to take light casualties across the field instead of moderate casualties to one unit. (Meaning that those units you lightly wounded are still at high combat strength whereas the one you chew on with all of your shots loses combat capability significantly)
There were really only two targets that worried me in the beginning of the game: his knights and his manticore. They presented the immediate threat due to their speed and so I targeted them. His manticore died in turn 1 to my casket of souls, and his knights were dog eared from catapult shots so that when they finally engaged they were not at full strength and ended up getting hammered by my spearmen.
He fed me his units one at a time, which made the game perfect for me.
I ended up losing that battle by a lot due to a Purple Sun spell that wiped my entire army out with one casting however.
Magic and Its Power
In 8th edition, Magic can decide games and it can do so with minimal effort. There are game ending spells out there that can destroy your army. If your opponent has one of these spells, do NOT line up in a way that he can maximize his spell. Second: target his wizard and remove it from the table.
In my game against Mitch, we played the Purple Sun wrong because as a vortex it should have started with the wizard, but we played it where he could put it anywhere he wanted and then he rolled max range to let it roll 30” across my battle line.
That was my bad for not knowing the vortex rules (goes back to page 1 and KNOW THY RULES).
The end result for me not knowing my rules was that even though I had the perfect scenario and that luck was on my side and his forces were slowly getting routed off the table, I started the season at 0-1 because a misplayed spell ended the game with one roll of the dice.
As I was writing, knowing the odds is important to know if an action is favorable or not.
Target priority is a part of that. In the instance versus Mitch, my two main targets were the manticore and the knights because they posed the biggest threat in turn 1 as they were the fastest and could reach me sooner, whereas the foot units would take longer to get to me.
To Charge or Not to Charge
When looking at a potential charge, are you going to succeed or fail? What happens if you fail? Well, if you lose combat and get run down you are inciting panic in your forces and on top of that giving your opponent victory points.
A victory points scenario requires just a 101 point margin for you to be declared the victor. Every point counts. Throwing away points does not help your cause at all.
You do not always have to charge your units just because you can. Sometimes its helpful to not charge as it creates a presence on the table that must be overcome and you are forcing your opponent to react to its presence.
Same is true for war machines. A warmachine doesn’t necessarily have to fire to be useful. Its mere presence on a flank may make your opponent sweat. Who wants to run up on a flank guarded by an organ gun? There is some risk there, even if the organ gun never fired a single shot!
Let’s look at the odds of a real scenario.
The setup is a balanced formation versus a balanced formation. On the left flank, a unit of 10 inner circle knights led by a warrior priest is moving up the field. My tomb kings left flank is my general and his 40 spear and the casket of souls.
Off hand I’m going to tell you that a full charge by that knight unit into my undamaged 40 spear with tomb king is probably not going to hurt me, but then that begs the question why would I say that?
Lets assume a perfect scenario where the empire player charges all 10 of those knights and neither side has any wounds inflicted on it beforehand.
Know your stats, know your rules. You can’t calculate odds without knowing the stats on the table.
Skeleton spear with tomb king in it: WS6 S3 T3 I2 5+ armor in horde formation. Tomb King WS6 S5 T5 I3 with 5+ save. Facing off against that, inner circle knights WS4 S4(6 on the charge), T3, I3 with 1+ armor save and a warrior priest WS4 S4 T4 I0 with great weapon.
Knowing these factors lets figure out what the odds of those knights are going to be defeating the tomb king and his skeletons on the charge.
The knights will go at the same time as the tomb king on I3. The knights have a frontage of 5. Four knights will have five attacks (champion) plus back rank of five knights. WS4 vs WS6 means they need 4s to hit. We’ll be generous and round up. Should hit 5 times. S6 vs T3 means should wound 4 times.
Tomb King goes. Four attacks, he’ll hit three times. S5 vs T3 he’ll wound three times (4 attacks multiplied by 0.83 chance to wound (5/6) = 3.32 rounded down to 3). The knights will be at a 3+ save so one knight falls (3+ save is 2/3 save. 3 wounds at 2/3 save = 1 dies).
So far we should be at 4-1 in favor of the knights.
Now the five horses go in order of initiative. Five attacks needing fours means 3 hit (5 attacks, ½ chance to hit = 2.5 rounded up to 3). S3 vs T3 means 50% wound so the horses should inflict 1.5 wounds rounded up to 2 wounds on the skeletons. They have a 5+ save so odds are good two skeletons will drop if the empire player has the luck edge.
So far we are now 6-1 in favor of the knights.
34 skeletons remain. Frontage of 10 is horde formation so four ranks attack. Five horses mean seven models can attack per rank. The king is one in the front so six skeletons in the front and then 21 from back ranks, but one is a champion so we’ll say 28 attacks from the WS6 skeletons into the knights.
Needing 3s to hit, we get 18.48 hits rounded down to 18. Needing fours to wound, nine should wound (half). This leads to 1.53 wounds to the knights after the 1+ save rounded up to two wounds from the skeletons. Yes that is correct, 28 attacks on a 1+ save opponent with S3 nets me roughly two kills.
Wound count is now 6-3 in favor of the knights.
Priest goes last. He has two attacks. He will hit one. At S6 he should wound so in the end the combat score is 7-3 in favor of the knights. Sounds good right?
Let’s do total combat resolution now. Knights have a banner and charged giving them 9 to their score total. Skeletons have two ranks and a banner putting them up to 6. So the knights would win 7-6 on average assuming both sides were at full strength, and the skeletons lose another to crumbling. Now it’s 33 skeletons and mummy lord vs 7 knights with priest… and they are now S4.
Guess what will happen next? The knights are not going to overcome this. They just don’t have enough models to outlast the undead horde.
The odds of the knights breaking through that unit of skeletons is very slim, so charging them into the skeletons is essentially gifting the tomb king player a lot of free points (with priest, in the neighborhood of 400 points or so) for a return of nothing.
Know the odds. In that situation the only time that charge would be acceptable is a suicide mission in an attempt to get to the king and kill him.
How do I know that? Because the math and statistics support that the odds are slim. This is how you avoid mismatches like the above. A cavalry unit by itself will have a very hard time against a fully ranked out horde of infantry.
This right here is the main reason why players get frustrated that no matter what they do it seems they fail. If they charge, they seem to fail, if their opponent charges, their opponent crushes them. Why? Statistics and probability. Your opponent knows it and you aren’t employing it yet.
What would make this better?
Support. If you are going to charge that skeleton unit, pour all of your guns into it and cannonballs and mortar blasts and magical effects. Whittle it down to the point where the odds swing in your favor on a charge. Team that cavalry unit up with a unit of infantry to give a rank bonus to help you. At the very least STRIP A RANK AWAY FROM THAT HORDE to make him reform into a defensive formation (lessens attacks coming at you) or if he doesn’t do that, then to remove a row of attacks plus another point of Combat Resolution lost due to a missing rank.
NEVER GIVE UP FREE POINTS TO YOUR OPPONENT unless you are at a point in the game where you are down and need a play that busts the odds to secure a win or score some points.
Sit down and calculate on your own various matchups to determine their probability of success. Then employ it on the table and see how close the outcomes are to what your predictions were. Once this clicks for you, you will have unlocked a good sized chunk of the puzzle.
Warhammer Trick #6 – Projecting Future Positions
So vital in chess is the ability to predict movements on your opponent as well as to know where you will be in future turns. So too is that applicable in a game of Warhammer.
Knowing where your opponent will be next turn helps you adjust your strategy and position your troops to maximize your advantage.
The ability to predict future turns with accuracy will put you apart from those that cannot.
If you execute a move, what will your opponent do to react? And if he reacts that way how do you counteract? What if he doesn’t react the way you thought and instead does this instead? How will you react?
A game of Warhammer can have dozens of these scenarios. Blindly pushing your pieces forward and employing some of the above discussed measures but not all of them will work against players that don’t know any of the tricks, but against those that have played long enough to grasp them all, will still result in failure barring good luck on your part or poor luck on theirs.
Remember ultimately you want to make your opponent react as much as possible to you and not the other way around. Even on defense if you can make your opponent start reacting, then you are defending by attacking and forcing a reaction.
Actual Game Example
In playing skaven recently in a league match, my opponent skitterleaped his assassin behind my lines in an attempt to kill my hierophant. It was a bold move and a good one, and I had to react to it. I did so by moving my hierophant to a new unit to protect her and then reformed my skeleton archers to face the assassin to try to shoot next turn (as they did not have a musician they could not shoot that turn)
My opponent was so fixated by the hierophant that me moving to another unit broke his plan and he didn’t have another to fall back on. The end result was that his assassin was later killed by arrows as he basically stood there.
How could it have played out different?
When my hierophant moved out, the assassin was still in prime position to be a linebreaker, assaulting my catapult and then being able to destroy my casket of souls. If I ignored it I would give up roughly 255 points and most of my ranged attacks as well as D3 power dice per turn. If I reacted otherwise to it to save my machines I would be pulling myself out of position. (and remember, you only need 101 points more than the other person to win!)
That little assassin could have at the least scored 250 points for my opponent for free and at best scored those points, died and gave me some points back, and pulled my battle line out of order in the confusion (and me being on a swamp table, moving means dangerous terrain rolls so he could have potentially scored even more points).
Before he moved his assassin he should have thought about the various possibilities. Odds were I would move the hierophant out of harm’s way so knowing I would do that, then proceed to eye gouge my back line with impunity. In chess, we call this tactic a fork.
A fork simply means that the reacting player has to decide what he’s going to give up because he’s in a position where it’s impossible for him to not lose something. In my case, the assassin forked my hierophant and archers, or my catapult and casket.
Another chess tactic you can use in warhammer is the Skewer. A skewer is simply positioning a piece so that your opponent cannot move his affected models, because if he does, your piece then swoops in to destroy what is now exposed. A prime example of a piece being very useful even if it doesn’t actually kill anything.
Project positions and make plans based on possibilities. Don’t get tunnel vision and focus on one plan or else if that plan fails you will be caught in a trap.
Warhammer Trick #7 – The Only Sure Thing in Battle is that Your Plan Will Fail
No matter how solid you think your battle plan is, any number of things can screw it up. Your opponent not moving how you thought he would. Your opponent bringing a totally different army list. The dice not cooperating. The terrain being in a way that hamstrings you. Any number of things can occur and you will need to be able to adjust on the fly.
Calculating Superiority and Advantage
One thing that I do in every phase is figure out which side has ranged superiority. That player enjoys an advantage in that he can do more damage and score more points if both sides were to just sit there shooting back and forth at each other. This means that the side that does not have ranged superiority will need to take that back or else they will inevitably lose.
To calculate superiority I simply look at the shooting units on the table for those that are in range or could be in range and fire that turn and calculate the potential damage that they can inflict using the basic math above in calculating the odds.
If my opponent can do more damage than I can in the shooting and magic phase, I need to equalize that quickly or else I am going to probably lose!
The side that enjoys range superiority and who is not in combat yet can be said to in many cases be at an advantage that turn. This can help determine if you want to employ a more conservative strategy that turn to weaken the opponent, or if you need to employ a more aggressive strategy to negate the advantage you are losing by not having ranged superiority.
Remember, just because you build an offensive or defensive army does not mean that that is what you are stuck with all game!
Another piece of information you want is Advantage. Simply put, Advantage is the side currently winning or who by odds based on the current layout of the table and combats taking place will be winning by the end of the turn.
If you are winning and the game is coming to a conclusion, there is no reason to gamble and sacrifice more models and give up points, and so you could apply a conservative withdrawal if possible.
Remember in victory points you only need to win by 101 points to be declared the victor.
Real Life Scenario
In a battle of 3-2 armies, my skaven opponent and I were playing in a special swamp scenario. I built a very defensive counter-punch army knowing he would be coming at me, and he didn’t disappoint.
The table had many marshes on it and a river rolling across it which turned out to be a boiling flood (doing damage when crossing it). The terrain was entirely randomly rolled per our league guidelines.
My opponent did not change up his tactics at all, and proceeded to come at me despite being faced with such unfavorable terrain. The terrain did most of the damage and I won a route 2087-0. Was it because I am a genius and just outplayed him? In this case, I’d say the table outplayed him and he outplayed himself by not analyzing the table. I didn’t really have to do anything.
The reality is that that game should have been a skaven victory and I should have gone home 3-3 while he left at 4-2 and a solid momentum boost going into the later part of the season.
How Could It Have Been Different
The table was a nasty one. A lot of dangerous terrain swamps coupled by the river of fire that had three crossings but made natural choke points. An assault army was going to struggle and my opponent built an assault army and stuck ahead with that plan despite the damage that the table was going to inflict on him.
The foregone conclusion as that I didn’t have to move at all, and simply let him kill his army by moving through the dangerous ground and fiery river. Indeed, I only moved a couple units all game.
The thing was at the beginning of the game, HE HAD RANGED SUPERIORITY ON ME! What does that mean? It means he could do more damage at range then I could, which meant that I would have had to be the one moving to him, taking damage from the terrain.
I had with me a casket of souls, a catapult, 8 bowmen in my chariots and 20 archers. The archers have a 24” range, which put them out of range of everything in the beginning of the game. That left me with a catapult and a dispellable casket of souls for range. He had a unit of 10 jezzails which gave him long range S6 shots.
The simple answer to his conundrum would be to not move across the river, and open fire at my catapult. 10 jezzails had a decent shot of hurting the catapult and a chance of killing it (not to mention the skitterleaping assassin that could have run rampant back there scoring for him).
This shift in his strategy would have caused me to have to react to him! I would have lost that game barring extraordinary luck on the dangerous ground rolls through those swamps and fiery river, and what got across would have been hurt by his fresh combat units.
Had I chose to stay and shoot at him, I would have had a chance to drive the jezzails back, but nothing was certain at that point, and if the catapult was taken out by the jezzails and / or the assassin, I would have had nothing really to range him with and would have had no choice but to advance.
You must be able to adjust your strategy on the fly turn by turn. Change the role of your units on the go. That skill is really worth its weight in gold.
Little things add up quickly. Forgetting victory conditions, getting tunnel vision and losing sight of your goals, these are all things that can derail you. If the goal of the game is to outscore your opponent by 101 points, don’t give up free points to your opponent and hit where he is weakest. You don’t need to table your opponent every game to win.
We talked about target priorities and how important that is. We talked about knowing the odds and how to calculate them and creating mismatches. We discussed offensive and defensive strategy and what that entails.
If you’re playing an aggressive army, stick to that. If your army needs to be in combat, don’t shoot yourself in the foot by running away from your opponent and hiding. If you are defensive minded, make your opponent react to you and then go on a strong counter-offensive and bloody them hard.
Learn the little nuances of the game, like redirecting. I can’t express how important it is to understand how redirecting works.
Sometimes you want to flee. It pulls your opponent out of position if he fails his charge. It also changes his facing to something that can be to your advantage.
IF A UNIT IS FRENZIED IT MUST CHARGE IF IT CAN! Use that to your advantage.
Understand how to calculate odds and don’t take unnecessary risks that net you little or no points in exchange for you giving up a lot of points.
Remember that you don’t always have to charge just because you can (unless you are frenzied) and that knowing when NOT to charge is as important as knowing when TO charge.
Remember your victory conditions. Understand your list and stick to the roles that you assign your units. Create mismatches and capitalize on them.
These things are why the cagey vets always seem to have the upper hand. Now its time to see if you can take it back.