Wednesday, 7 May 2014

Dude! What army should I do next?!

A short one today as I share the thought process in and around a mid-life crisis of sorts…

We’re at that time again… a mythical time of wonder and hope that seems to occur every few months or so with somewhat depressing regularity.

Events are on the horizon (hmm not sure I have booked any accommodation yet… dammit!) and on a drizzly (well, this is London, so its randomly sunny now, but still, it was drizzling when I started) Wednesday morning with masses of tedious work to do (but the boss safely away in Houston for the week) the brain is drawn to the Next Army Challenge. The fact that there is no way any new army chosen could possibly be completed in time for the events that sparked off the thought process is completely beside the point.

There is a deeper motivation at work here too – I have mentioned before my fear of the burn out associated with over exposure to one army for literally years at a time. My aim has always been to have three tournament-ready armies so that I could switch them around depending on comp, general gut feel and whatever other excuse I come up with at the time. Alas, this is not something I have succeeded with. Sure, I have my Lizards, but the painted (if we are being kind enough to call it that, and as I am writing I don’t really feel like picking on myself just now, so we will go with it) VC I do have are very limited in build. I have bought a beautifully converted VC army with almost all the options… but I just can’t bring myself to paint it. I really think I need an airbrush – it’s the base coating that utterly defeats me every time! This always happens to me. I have an Empire and a Beastmen army waiting to be painted, but this basic step keeps getting to me. Heck, I gave away a Skaven army for this very reason. But I digress (regular readers will be shocked)…

I have borrowed, at various times, a WoC army, a Beastmen army and (under their old books) Dark Elves and Daemons. All painted and ready to rock. None of these did enough to grab me.

The Quartermaster app on my phone is full of endless lists for almost every race, trying to find the thing that an unforgivable TV show would call the ‘X Factor’.

I was in the process of putting together an order for Wood Elves with Element games (you may have heard of them, and the very eagle eyed amongst you may even have spotted a way to get to their website from this very page) when I stopped. I have played some 6 games with Wood Elves under the new book, and have been enjoying them (I’ll write about them in more depth next time). However, are they the “right” army for me? An army I want to invest a couple of hundred pounds on, commit to base coating [shudder], take to events and become part of (the probably relatively short lived) bandwagon?

No, this decision was going to involve serious thought. I can think of many reasons for not doing any single army, but then I have quirky views on what I want from the army and the game.  No. I am going to solve this problem with cold, hard logic.

Logic Bomb

A lot of people scoff at the “fluff” of the game, and a lot of very good players know literally nothing about it other than general themes. That’s completely ok. For me though, the Tolkienian aspects of the Warhammer World plays a big role (well, that and the social side of things). Being rather boring and not into either hard Rock or Metal (though I appreciate you can’t kill it) music, I have always preferred the good guys in the grand scheme of things. Now this is a generalisation of epic proportions – I, for example, like Vampires a lot, but this (ahem) scientific study is looking big picture, so let’s move on.

For those who don’t know, the armies of the Warhammer World are broken down thusly:

Forces of Order:               High Elves, Lizardmen, Empire, Dwarfs, Bretonnians, Wood Elves (though I personally think these should be neutral)
Forces of Destruction:   Warriors of Chaos, Daemons, Beastmen, Dark Elves, Skaven, Vampire Counts, Orcs & Goblins, Chaos Dwarfs*
Neutral:                               Tomb Kings, Ogre Kingdoms
*not a real army

The written word aside, obviously the general look of an army is of extreme importance – for people that actually like painting it may even be *the* most important thing. There are two aspects here – individuals models, and the general army aesthetics, and how you rare these is a deeply personal thing. For me it breaks down as follows:

Like:                                       High Elves, Lizardmen, Wood Elves, Bretonnians, Vampire Counts, Orcs & Goblins
*meh*:                                Dwarfs, Dark Elves, Beastmen, Daemons
Dislike:                                  Empire, WoC, Chaos Dwarfs*, Tomb Kings, Ogre Kingdoms, Skaven
*not a real army.

Now, this is not to say there are not aspects of each of the armies that I really like, but your gut feel of the general look of an army is very important. They will, after all, require base coating [gulp].

As primarily (solely?) a gamer at heart, the way an army plays is extremely important. To throw yet another caveat out there, obviously almost any army can be made to play in a different way to their “norm” (if they even have one), but being all scientific-like, we are assuming a somewhat median position in the behaviour of the various armies.

On a very basic level one the easiest differentiators between armies is that of the horde vs the elite. In my opinion the various armies can be divided thusly.

Slavering masses:            Beastmen, Skaven, Vampire Counts, Orcs & Goblins, Empire^, Tomb Kings, Lizardmen, Daemons^
Thin red line:                      High Elves, Dark Elves, Wood Elves, Bretonnians, Dwarfs, Ogres, Warriors of Chaos, Daemons^, Empire^, Chaos Dwarfs*
^Depends on build
*not a real army.

Whilst I have a strong theoretical preference for the more elite armies, Vampires (and my skink-heavy Lizards) are a classic example of how that perception of what I enjoy is not actually always correct. Hate proving myself wrong.

I have previously decried what I consider the ever rising tide of the defensive armies out there, the pervasiveness of the avoidance MSU armies, and the perverse Dwarfenisation of the rest. Conserve points, snipe your opponent’s points. This gets dull. Sure, any army can be played in a different way, but as a starting point:

Offensive:                           Dark Elves^, High Elves^, WoC, Bretonnians, Ogres, Vampire Counts^, Daemons of Chaos^, Beastmen
Defensive:                          Dark Elves^, High Elves^, Empire, Dwarfs, Skaven, Orcs & Goblins, Chaos Dwarfs*, Tomb Kings, Lizardmen, Daemons of Chaos^
^Depends on build
*not a real army.

I was discussing with some friends recently the possibility of doing Tomb Kings. There is a LOT I like about that book, and I spent a lot of time working on some lists. But this whole endeavour came crashing down around me when Craig made the very simple statement “I occasionally get interested in TK, then remember that they don’t move much...”. And he’s right. They can be made to move, and their threat range is actually decent, but on a fundamental level, this is a static army. Mobile armies are (in my opinion at least) simply more fun. What do I mean by mobile? Well, the most important in some ways is sideways movement, the ability to redeploy and counter enemy movement on the fly. Then there is also the basic top speed sticker price of an army – can it get across the table, fast?

A leaf on the wind:          High Elves, Dark Elves, Wood Elves (though less than before), Lizardmen, Chaos Warriors, Daemons^, Bretonnians
Turtle Power:                    Empire, Dwarfs, Beastmen, Skaven, Vampire Counts, Orcs & Goblins, Daemons^, Chaos Dwarfs*, Tomb Kings, Ogre Kingdoms (come to think of it these are actually pretty fast)
^Depends on build
*not a real army

“Herohammer” is a term used by us old timers to remember a now-distant past when Warhammer really was about the characters (ok, arguably for some it still is), and it is either remembered fondly or with disgust. Personally I miss my Chaos Lord with 10 ASF attacks that ignored armour and any wound inflicted caused instant death, whilst also being immune to any magic weapons, whilst his mate the BSB (not quite touching his base) negated any and all magic items an opponent had (and I think made my unit immune to spells)… but that’s just me. I like combat characters that do things, that create stories that you remember years later. What armies naturally lend themselves to character beat sticks?

There can be only one:  High Elves, Dark Elves, Lizardmen, Bretonnians, Warriors of Chaos, Daemons^, Dwarfs, Beastmen, Vampire Counts, Ogre Kingdoms
Power to the people:     Wood Elves, Daemons^, Empire, Skaven (Verminlord notwithstanding), Orcs & Goblins, Chaos Dwarfs*, Tomb Kings
^Depends on build
*not a real army

Magic, as no Dwarf player the world over has ever fully appreciated, is fun. Being able to dominate magic phases is a brutal ability. To do this you need access to effective magic, with high impact spells, ideally generating extra power dice and an army that lets you make the most of this. That being said, it’s a fickle mistress, and investing a lot in it a recipe for disaster. Interestingly, most armies at the moment seem to put a big reliance on magic, the point where it becomes a crutch.

Wind surfers:                     High Elves, Dark Elves, Wood Elves, Lizardmen, Warriors of Chaos, Daemons^, Beastmen, Skaven, Vampire Counts, Orcs & Goblins, Chaos Dwarfs*, Tomb Kings, Empire
Magic… meh:                     Dwarfs, Bretonnians, Ogre Kingdoms, Daemons^
^Depends on build
*not a real army

Something of particular importance for a strong long term relationship with an army is the flexibility on builds. Having an army you like but can only make one list type with is very limiting (something I have found to a limited extent with my Lizardmen).  The key here is twofold. Effective core units that fulfil different functions are the perfect way to start this, as it can change the entire direction of the builds. Following this, different, viable special units that undertake markedly different roles are the hallmarks of flexible army potential. With this in mind, how do the armies square up on this front?

Play-doh:                             High Elves, Dark Elves, Daemons, Warriors of Chaos, Empire, Vampire Counts
Old chewing gum:            Ogre Kingdoms, Bretonnians, Lizardmen, Dwarfs, Wood Elves, Chaos Dwarfs*, Orcs & Goblins, Beastmen, Skaven, Tomb Kings
*not a real army

Maybe it’s because I live in leafy South West London, maybe it’s because I work in the West End, or perhaps simply because I am too kool for school (or, failing that… a stubborn old git), I am never happy doing an army that everyone else seems to be doing too. It makes me grumpy(er). There is no way of really knowing what are the most popular events, but having a quick look at those at SCGT and Call to War, with a sprinkling of observation and gut feel and we are left with:

Popular for a reason:      High Elves, Dark Elves, Daemons, Empire, Warriors of Chaos
Unwashed middle:          Ogre Kingdoms, Vampire Counts, Lizardmen, Dwarfs, Wood Elves (at a guess)
Hipster’s choice:               Beastmen, Bretonnians, Skaven, Orcs & Goblins, Tomb Kings, Chaos Dwarfs
*not a real army

In much the same way, no one wants to be yet another person doing well with a powerful book. Firstly, there is less satisfaction in that, quite simply. Sure, there is something in being the BEST with a book lots of people are taking, but really, it’s far better to do well with a medium book. Obviously you don’t necessarily want to go for one of the weakest books out there, but avoiding the power armies is good for the soul.

Goliath:                                                High Elves, Dark Elves, Warriors of Chaos, Daemons, Ogre Kingdoms, Empire
Random Chap:                  Orcs & Goblins, Vampire Counts, Lizardmen, Chaos Dwarfs*
David:                                   Tomb Kings, Bretonnians, Beastmen
*not a real army

Finally, a “nice to have” in my opinion, is the potential that something will likely change in the not too distant future. Being a commitment phobe  (don’t tell my wife) I don’t like the idea of embarking on a new army for one of the newly released books, knowing there is every chance that there is a decade or more to wait before a new book comes out.

8th Edition Book:               Orcs & Goblins, Tomb Kings, Ogre Kingdoms, Vampire Counts, Empire, Warriors of Chaos, Daemons, High Elves, Dark Elves, Dwarfs, Wood Elves
Awaiting New Book:       Bretonnians, Skaven, Beastmen, Chaos Dwarfs*
*not a real army

So… what does that tell us (other than writing ‘High Elves’ a lot gets tedious)?

It’s time to unleash the science (also known as slightly dubious math, as our colonial friends inexplicably like to say). Obviously not all categories were created equal, the look, style, mind-set and flexibility of an army meaning far more to me than if there is a new book on the horizon. For the purposes of this exercise, armies that straddled boundaries got half points, for no other reason than that seemed appropriate.

When in doubt, throw stuff in a spreadsheet and see what comes out, right?

Time to see what army I am going to do next!

Well… ok. I can get with this. At least it’d elves…
I have often considered doing a Bretonnian army, liking everything about them save their build flexibility.

At least that’s settled. After writing nonsense for 5 pages I can hardly not follow through now can I?
Time for the playtesting to begin (that, and learn how to spell “Bretonnian”…)!

I thought they were meant to have horses...

Until next time!