Tuesday 9 April 2013

Acceptable in the '80s: Strategems, Ruses and Ploys: Warhammer Third Edition Tactica!

Nestled away among the pages of WD 101 is this rather short article. Its only two pages long in fact, and with a lack of pretty photographs or fancy graphics it is easy to miss it. What we have here is a short piece written by Peter M Haines concerning how best to win at Warhammer Third Edition.

Yes, that's win. Not take part in a structured, narrative led campaign where winning and losing is an arbritary notion unheeded by the players. Could this article be the first sign of what was to come? A harbringer of the tournament mentality (and by this I mean the mindset, not tournament gaming as a concept) that would blight GW games from the mid 90s onwards?  

Also, as many of you will be aware, I am building up a Khorne army for WFB3. What advice on its construction could I gleam from these two short pages? 

Well, let's investigate and found out, shall we?

"With the release of 3rd Edition of Warhammer Fantasy Battle, fantasy wargamers finally have a definitive set of rules." This is certainly a strong sentiment. And one that I agree with, for my fantasy wargaming needs that is. WFB 3rd is so ingrained in my soul as a fantasy battle system (and background) that no other will do... Its a personal thing, so please don't condemn me for it. I've tried other systems and just don't enjoy them as much. After all, WFB 3rd has a 25 year head start and I own thousands of Citadel miniatures from the period that are just screaming out to be played with. Now I am now foolish enough to use the quote above as a lumphammer with which to beat other systems, or even later editions of WFB, with; I know that Haines was preaching to the converted, not to mention writing from GW's house magazine. 

But he does go on to make some interesting points and share some old school tactical advice which may well be of some use for us Oldhammer Generals - especially with many of us heading to The Foundry this summer to play games of Third. The first thing Haines talks about is as relevant then as it is today, certainly in the minds of uber-armylist authors: cost effectiveness! He states that for every 100 points you spend on your army, you should hope (with a little luck and skill) be able to deal with 110 points of enemy action. This certainly makes sense. Haines uses the example of Chaos Warriors and Chaos Marauders, two very similar units but ones that vary wildly in points cost. Remember, Chaos Warriors were rock hard in 3rd Edition, they were (as they still should be) the elite of the chaos mortal warriors, not mere cannon fodder to be fielded. Marauders don't quite pack the punch of Chaos Warriors, but they are indeed far, far cheaper. This got me thinking about my chaos army I am working on at the moment. My plans for building the force are based on the armylists in Slaves to Darkness and Warhammer Armies, and too be honest, I am working through the lists in an attempt to field each of the list units. This drives my painting and collecting, but if I was to ever look at creating an army to play an extremely tactical game, those chaos warriors may well find themselves busted down to marauder level. 

Chariots also get a discussion. Now I have two painted examples of these. An undead one and my Khorne Chaos Chariot. Now I have yet to field either in a game, so I am largely unfamiliar with the rules as they stand in the WFB3 rulebook. Haines gives a good point though, for these units will be super expensive and would have no doubt created in my mind a sense of them being invulnerable. Then comes the trolls. Now this is something that I do have experience with. Good old Throgg, the troll in the Throng of Exquisite Pleasure, has been field in many skirmishes but insists on failing his stupidity test every time. It has happened so often that it has become a running joke between Dan and I. However, Throgg once managed to stay on task long enough for vomit the contents of his stomach over Dan's warhounds (killing one and severely wounding another, before causing half his warband to flee in terror of his sheer size. Stupidity is a curse, and a damn fine rule too. It brings a real sense of uncertainty to battles, which of course, makes the playing of a conflict more realistic, as throughout history there are examples of units not doing what they are told, with mixed outcomes. But for a more serious game of WFB3? Are they really worth their points?

Next, the article moves on to discuss Army Balance. "Warhammer Armies can contain such diverse threats where you have left yourself open to one type of attack." Well, this is certainly true of my Khorne army. Its slow and relies on close combat. Fast moving troops and missile troops could well be a problem for it, though I have a chariot to counter such things, and of course my Chaos Dwarf artillery. 

"The important consideration here is effective range. This is the sum of the unit's movement and damage range. If the unit is a melee unit then use its charge rate, if it is a missile unit count only the distance it can move and still fire. Try and achieve a balance of ranges to ensure that you do not get stuck at any distance . The average range of your troop types will tell you the optimum point to begin your attacks from." Hey, this a a great idea and not one that I have had before. Is it mathhammer? Or just clever gaming? Hmm, I am not so sure... He makes another interesting point about armies that rely on elite humans, as they are expensive troops but lack the ability to soak up damage with low toughness and wound scores. Better keep an eye on those thugs then!

When talking about character models, he gives an interesting piece of advice. "High level heroes are also a consideration. Equipping them with a magic weapon that flies enables them to choose what they fight. They may even choose to go after enemy mages!" Hmm, the generic magic items in the back of Warhammer Armies need careful perusal it seems, not something that I had thought about doing before! The use of magic items seems very important in Haines view of WFB3, after all you must 'ensure that you have one melee unit that sorcery cannot destroy.' As far as I can tell, magical support via items or standards is the only way to do this.

The section on battlefield strategies is also of great interest. Here, Haines states that you should always have at least one flying unit. Well, this is going to be easy to do if you field a dragon or some other flying beastie, but magical items will do the same for characters as will spells for sorcerers. As well as going on about the standard strategies that can be used on the field of battle. 

To conclude, what can we draw from this article? Certainly the 'to win' ethos existed in the later '80s and Warhammer Armies was created to support competitive gaming, though the word tournament is curious by its absence. What can we Oldhammerers draw from this? Well, I am going to go out on a limb and say this. When approaching battle, with our painted forces before us, we should make every endeavour to take the role of the commander of that army. He'd want to crush his foe, wouldn't he? So we should embrace the narrative slice of gaming goodness that we are taking part of, but we should never skimp on the character driven need to 'win' in the context of the story we are acting out. 

As always, this article is open for discussion. Have you anything to add to my incoherent ramblings? What did you think of Haines' article?



  1. great post, mark my words, you are going give up family life and end up drifting from tournament to tournament.

  2. Orlygg, I agree with Jason! You are treading down the Dark Side! Beware! Beware! Who cares if something is not "cost-effective", if it is a cool mini and it fits the story, use it, love it, and enjoy what it brings to the game! Besides wonderful Third is too open-ended to really be a game where uber-lists are anything more than exercises in wackiness. Play a couple games of 7th or 8th with a particularly beardy opponent and you will have the whole "cost-effectiveness" flushed out of your system. I am now off to burn my copy of WD101.

    1. Perhaps you should just rip out the two offending pages! Ha ha! Don't worry, I won't be signing up for any tournaments any time soon!

  3. Back in the day playing 1st - 3rd editions I sometimes used to approach games with the main intention of winning, and sometimes fielding particular characters or troop types was the main priority. So what I fielded depended on what my "intention" was. Your troll example is a good one - yes they suffer from stupidity but that brings a great added element of fun to the game and there were some smashing models around at the time which I wanted to field. So basically it came down to whatever mood I was in approaching a particular battle. The main message is that so long as you and your opponent are having fun it doesnt really matter which approach you take. I think "fun" rather than "winning" is going to dictate my troop choice at Oldhammer Weekend :-)

  4. "High level heroes are also a consideration. Equipping them with a magic weapon that flies enables them to choose what they fight...

    Sounds a bit too much like the later-edition practise of loading up a flying vampire or what-have-you and chewing up half a 2K point army with it.

  5. Any decision taken without talking it through with your opponent is a mistake, I promise! Trust Uncle Warlord! Both players need to be on the same page from start to finish on all things, but especially on what type of game you are playing! When discussing what to play and when to play you must also discuss how to play. Anything else just isn't Oldhammer. I was accused of using 'tactics' recently, justifiably as it turned out, but it was unavoidable because one can't simply unlearn something. I should have better introduced my preferred style of play somehow however, that's on me. Ultimately, if you find yourself tucked away in a dark corner tailoring your army to be a streamlined, efficient killing machine in the hope of ambushing some hapless patsy, you have officially failed as an opponent. If, however, you have established that this is not to be a game for the lily-livered or faint-hearted and your opponent agrees... let the Vampires fly!

    1. I think that tactics have a place in Oldhammer but they should be in keeping with the nature of your forces. Orks should be sneaky and cowardly, Khorne fanatical about close combat, Dwarfs stalwart and elves arrogant. As generals, we should take on board some of the virtues of WFRP and create character through force composition and application.

    2. I absolutely agree, as long as you and your opponent know the score. It's disappointing being all High Elfy and expecting your opponent to be all Orcy if you haven't discussed it. I never used tactical fleeing in Warhammer as I thought it dishonourable and breaks the immersion but I couldn't impose that rule on my opponent halfway through a game if they wanted to upskirts with their Black Orcs. Also, I would recommend the 'role play' doesn't become a trap for the GM and players. I tried to run a big narrative-led game a while back, as half of the people signed up had Elven armies and the other half had evil armies I lumped all the Elves together (Dark/High/Wood) and wrote out their enmity. Some people subsequently refused to take part because 'Elves don't do that'. The whole game got cancelled because of GW's IP, I was a bit astonished but apparently people hold different convictions to my own. Crazy people. On the whole though, as everyone playing Warhammer knows the character of the races it shouldn't be hard to fall back on that as a default position.

  6. I love tournaments, and I've tried tactics, but when your vampire and his undead servants square off against your opponents general and his loyal but exhausted hearthguard on a blasted hilltop, do you:

    A: Send in a hitty block of troops to attack the hearthguard's flank in the hope to beat the general through combat resolution and force him to break and run.


    B: have your vampire step up and tear the heart out of the enemy general in front of his terrified soldiers before sending in the ghouls. Of course, let one escape...

    Both utterly valid, but my answer to this is why I don't win tournaments. As has been said, it depends on the kind of game you want to play, but for me, it's all about the narrative. Don't get my wrong, I'm pretty competitive, but with WHFB 8th edition, things like congo lining, corner clipping and so on leave me cold. I don't disapprove as such, but it's not my bag.

  7. I wouldn't read too much intent into the article - Pete wasn't working for GW at the time the article was published, though he had written Golden Heroes a bit earlier (he did actually come to work for the company later on, writing several codexes and army books between around 2000 and 2005). More relevant is the fact that he was a very big name on the ancients circuit at that time, having won the worlds twice, so that's more where he's coming from.