Wednesday, December 8, 2010

WFB: Thoughts on High Elves

Ah, High Elves. Few races are as iconic for Warhammer Fantasy as the High Elves, and few armies prompt such revulsion amongst opponents. The cries of "blatantly overpowered" to "girls in dresses" are commonly applied to the Asur.

However, I am a fan of Elves in general, and the High Elves are no exception. Of all of Games Workshop's products, it was the High Elves who first caught my eye when I was 8. Their armybook was the first GW product I ever owned, and although I have focused my hobbying efforts on other projects, more notably the Wood Elves and Dark Elves, the High Elves have always been a good side-project.

Now, I plan to put them in the spotlight, using the campaign to really develop my playstyle for them from the ground up. Here are a few notables about the High Elf list:

1) Always Strikes First. Better known as ASF or Speed of Asuryan, this rule allows the High Elves to strike before their opponents while also ignoring great weapon penalties (a very useful rule, exclusive to High Elves.) Even better, ASF allows High Elves to re-roll to hit against opponents with equal or lower Initiative, giving them an even stronger version of Hatred. This is great, because my rolls tend to be incredibly poor, so gaining this reliability is perfect.

2) Ain't nothing but Elves. High Elves are fragile. Really fragile. In addition, they're very "vanilla" compared to Wood Elves and Dark Elves, meaning that they can't rely on Forest Spirits, Hydras, the Cauldron of Blood, or other ways to work more durability and toughness into their lists. For the most part, it's all Elves, all the time, without the mobility of Wood Elves or versatility of Dark Elves. High Elves need some help to gain an edge, because they're just as fragile as all Elves are but cost even more points since they have to pay for Always Strikes First. To gain an edge, this brings me to my next point...

3) Offsetting fragility. To keep my squishy T3, 5+ armor save forces alive, magic is key. In fact, I view High Elf magic as fulfilling the same role as the warmachines of other races, both the destructive variety (cannons, stone throwers, bolt throwers) as well as the unit-buffing variety (Cauldron of Blood, Engine of the Gods, War Shrine). I think 8th edition High Elves really need magic to make the opponent manageable in combat, keep High Elven troops alive, thin out horde enemies, and provide the decisive advantage necessary to win.

4) Offsetting bad Core. High Elf Core is largely regarded as poor. When compared to the cheap point value of the Dark Elf Spearmen, the feared missile power of Glade Guard and crossbowmen, or the excellent combat prowess of the Dryad, High Elf Core seems pretty poor by comparison. However, the value of ASF should not be underestimated, since it provides a much-needed advantage that the other races cannot access. By capitalizing on my idea of magic supremacy, you can turn Core High Elf bowshots and spear pokes into workable offensive solution by including some good hexes/augments in the right place. By hexing the opponent or augmenting your own Core, you can transform 25% of your army from Dead Weight into lethal, precise killing machines. When Archers are wounding a Hydra on a 3+, or Spearmen are hitting Chosen with 28 Strength 8 Attacks that re-roll to hit, you'll see how decisive a single spell can be in the course of the game.

With that in mind, I intend to run something like the following:

Mage (Level 2) with Seerstaff (knows Enfeebling Foe, Okkam's Mindrazor from Lore of Shadow)
-With only a Level 2, I opted to take the Seerstaff so I can have precise control over the spells I want, and be sure I'm taking two spells that are of the greatest help to my Core units. Even Chaos Warriors will be messily devoured by spearmen, or gun down en masse by Archers, if their Toughness is reduced to 1 or 2. I can even take down a much-feared Stegadon using Swordmasters if that Stegadon's only Toughness 4. Okkam's Mindrazor is clutch too... Turns any unit in this list, even the archers, into Strength 8+ combat monsters.

Archers (20) with full command, Banner of Discipline
-The general goes in these guys, and the entire army will benefit from his Leadership 9.

Spearmen (28) with full command.
-These guys should be Steadfast versus almost anything in this campaign, and able to do nearly anything I ask of them since they can attack in 4 ranks. Tag their opponent with Enfeebling Foe, or give them Okkam's Mindrazor, and this unit becomes incredibly nasty.

Swordmasters (14) with Champion with Ruby Ring
-These guys seem like they would be a lot of fun in smaller point games, where there's less shooting and magic to zap them. I gave the champ the Ruby Ring so that I have something to use power dice on when noone's in combat for Okkam's Mindrazor. So I can toss out Fireball and Enfeebling Foe in the early turns, then switch to Enfeebling Foe/Mindrazor once combat starts. Tossing out a few extra S4 hits is always useful in those early turns, and it will be useful for sniping scouts, weapon teams, monsters, that sort of thing.

Great Eagle.

Total: 999 points.


  1. Interesting list, you went with 1 unit of archers and 1 unit of spearmen instead of a huge unit of seaguard or 2 slightly smaller units. Also, just 1 great eagle? Hmmmm I think the points might be better spent in core, but that's just me. Of course, he makes great magic/cannon fodder and at only 50 points it's better than them blowing through walls of elves. It will be interesting to see this list in action. Also, Swordmasters are by far my favorite Special choice for High Elves.

  2. The 50% Core requirement for the campaign is a bit tricky, since I would normally use archers almost exclusively to fill out 25% Core and then focus on getting unit variety for the bulk of my remaining points. Since I have to hit that 50%, I decided to build a list that was focused around supporting that Core as much as possible, primarily in the Lore and spell selection.

    I've experimented quite a bit with Lothern Seaguard, and while I like their versatility in many respects, I found that against some opponents they're simply giving up too many points for the benefits they confer. So while their versatility with spear/bow might seem great in a use-one-list-to-take-all-comers environment (which is what I'm accustomed to) I found that they simply get destroyed mercilessly by template weapons. As one big unit too, they become vulnerable to spells like Final Transmutation, Dwellers Below or Infernal Gateway. At this point value, a big unit of Lothern Seaguard is literally half my army, so watching it go poof with one big spell is intimidating. Splitting the Core up a bit will help to alleviate that phenomenon, to some extend.

    The archers, on the other hand, are great. A bit cheaper, but their main advantage is that 30 inch range. Suddenly, some of the nastiest shooting armies in Warhammer are finding themselves outranged in many situations. Dwarf and Empire players who load up on handguns instead of crossbows will be unable to respond to the archers, and Dark Elves will have to weather a couple nasty turns of shooting to get within range for repeater crossbows. Having the 30 inch range changes the entire dynamic of fighting these opponents, especially if their primary focus is shooting instead of combat.

    There's a lot of criticism against archers, but I find that players really underestimate their combat ability (especially with the new ASF rerolls.) High Elf players are quick to compare them to Glade Guard or repeater crossbowmen, and wonder why they are paying so much for a sub-par ranged choice. However, ASF-rerolls means that you can't just casually hunt down High Elf archers using whatever fast cavalry or skirmishing unit is close at hand. Instead, you have to devote a pretty considerable fighting unit to take them out, since those archers can easily fight off most opposition. By fielding them in a unit of 20, they can even have the full benefits of ranks, Steadfast, etc. and be treated like a fairly respectable combat unit.

  3. The spearmen can fulfill the role of killing or dying based on who I'm fighting. If need be, they can last for quite a while as a Steadfast unit. Similarly, they can easily take on the Core choices of most opposing armies and win. With a bit of support, and with magic buffs, they're quite capable of killing anything in the game (hence Okkam's Mindrazor, giving them 28 Strength 8 ASF re-roll to hit attacks.)

    The other reason I opt for spearmen these days over Seaguard is simply because it's nice having a unit with quite a few ranks without having to pay too many points for it. The fewer rounds that High Elves have to spend chewing through Steadfast, the better, so being able to go after an opponent with a nice hefty ranked-up unit Spear unit can really make fights decisive (a goal which I always like for my Elves.)

    As for the lone Great Eagle, I always include at least one whenever possible in any High or Wood Elf list I make. Two are great, but I wanted to have something in the list with a bit of mobility, as well as improving the number of deployment drops and my overall unit count. I find that it really pays to have small, quick units in 8th edition, not just for the normal role of warmachine hunting, but also to make combats decisive by running down broken enemies. If I beat an opponent with the Swordmasters, and break them and pursue, then there's a decent chance the fleeing enemy will escape. If I charge the Eagle into that fight also, the Eagle can pursue with his quicker movement while the Swordmasters reform to deal with a new threat or also pursue. This gives me some pretty sharp control over the overall battle plan, because nothing sucks as much as seeing an enemy unit break, get away, rally, then come back and kick your ass. Since the rest of the army is footsloggers, and I can't take anything as versatile as a chariot or heavy cav due to the Special slot limitations, the Eagle will fill that role for now.

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