Sunday, April 2, 2017

Playing Styles

Dave has sent in a great article about Warhammer Fantasy play styles to the Warhammer Tactic's Library and I just had to put it here as well! Thanks Dave and keep up the great work!

    Dave's Attempt at a Warhammer Article: Playing Styles
    In this article what I want to do is to try to illustrate the different approaches people have to playing warhammer. There are different ways of playing which require different attitudes towards the game, and I'd like to try to demonstrate the attitudes you need to play the different styles. With a bit of luck, this might expand the bounds of the Warhammer games we play; there is nothing like a bit of variety. Obviously, my experience is a little limited, but I think it is adequate for the points I want to make.

    Enough of the into-ramble. Straight to the point then: I can see two main ways of playing warhammer. Given that I believe I'm making this catagorization for the first time, I'll take it on myself to name them: the Challenge Game and the Conventional Style. Of course these are not the only styles, but certainly in our own group they are the most popular styles played.

    The Challenge Game:
    WHAT is the makeup of a warhammer army? There is a fair chance that it doesn't consist of serried ranks of infantry, masses of support troops, then smaller numbers of elite troops and war-machines. There is are two good reason for this; such an army will probably loose when pitted against an army consisting of elite troops and high powered characters,and such an army costs a lot of money and takes a bloody long time to paint. This has led to the rise of the Challenge Game, fought between elite forces and powerful characters. It is silly to think of this as a clash between fantasy armies representing the forces of nations or even small baronies; its not. It makes much more sense to think of games between high powered 'armies' as a Challenge between two very powerful individuals and their personal henchmen, body guards and men-at-arms. Such characters would be tactically smart and have to make the most powerful force possible with a fairly small budget (be this a monetary budget or a necromantic power budget...) Seen in this context, the Challenge Game actually makes sense. There is no doubt that a clash of titans can be very entertaining. Two units collide for the climatic combat, and you can smell the tension as both players (and spectators) know the game rests on a handfull of dice-rolls. I might also mention that a general mounted on a large monster makes a very impressive site. Of course, the game can often end in a whimper as one sides general, mage and elite unit are routed off the table by a total power card...oh well.

    Army Selection:
    So what constitutes a Challenge game? From the point of view of what's in the force, it will usually be dominated by one or two powerfull characters.
    Generals easily have 200pts of magic items; everyone has a fourth level mage (or fifth if allowed) who is often well equipped; powerful special characters are common. Usually the regiments will be drawn from the elite forces, who usually provide the best value-for-points. The characters (when not mounted on a monster) are included with the most powerful unit to make an almost unstoppable killing machine; almost unstoppable, because the one thing which can stand up to a force like this is, of course, the opponents equivalent! The rest of the army usually consists Mainly of relatively cheap, quirky models and items like Bad Moon Banner equiped goblins, Black Gem armed champions, Volley Guns or Bolt Throwers, Hearts of Woe etc. These are things with some special ability (eg ignore armour save) which can be very dangerous in the right situation (eg against Chaos knights).

    But a Challenge game is defined by more than just what's in the army. Speaking broadly, the Challenge game is characterised by an 'anything goes' attitude; if the rules allow it, go for it!! A Dark Elf General with the Sword of Teclis, a dwarf with the Crown of Sorcery - it doesn't matter if it doesn't fit with the established "feel" of the armies. If it helps you to win, do it!! Ten Repeater Bolt Throwers or five Volley Guns in a 2000 point army are quite acceptable if you have them (no guarantee that anyone will play you, of course).

    In a Challenge game, selection is the most critical aspect of strategy. That Frostblade won't do much good against a magical 1+ armour save; you need a Deathsword. But against a general with a Black Amulet, a Deathsword could kill your own general; something that does multiple wounds would be better. To generalize, there are four main ways to defeat the opponents power unit and characters: kill 'em, break 'em, scare 'em or fry 'em. You must decide what your opponent will try to do, and choose troops and items to defend agains it; equally, you must decide what defenses you opponent will have, and then either choose to use another method to fight them or else have enough power to overcome the defenses. Some examples: there's no point trying to blast an enemy general with Bright Magic if he has a Talisman of Obsidian; you can't break dwarven Slayer kings or scare frenzied Savage Orc Warlords. All said, there is actually not much you can't kill if you have a big enough sword. And some of those Citadel minatures come with VERY big swords....

    I actually don't have much to say on this topic here, but I thought I'd better include it for completeness. The only real point is that both sides will include a wizard of the highest allowable level; if you don't, you get fried (normally). There are also a lot of increasingly cheap magic item/spell cards available, but these don't seem to get used much in 2000pt games. I might also note that I don't know what effect all the new Chronicles of War cards will have on Warhammer Magic. See section on magic below for more on that.

    The Conventional Style
    NOT everyone fights a Challenge style game - nearly everone, maybe, but not everyone. Some people play games with ranks of normal infantry led by normal champions or heros, generals with under 100pts of magic items and no magical banners. And both side do the same. "What is this concept?!" you ask. Well, read on to find out about the Conventional Style.

    Army Selection:
    What makes a Conventional Style army. Well, the first thing you'll notice is it might just classify as an army. Infantry and cavalry replace griffons and dragons. Generals might have 100 pts of magic items as about the maximum, in our games we often have fourth level mages but they are not usually "armed-up", and there's lots and lots of models. Characters are there to lead and support units, but they shouldn't dominate the game; they should be (at most) similar power to the units. And thats the other thing - there might not be heaps of rag-tag troops (although in some armies like Orcs and Goblins or Skaven there might be) but even in elite armies like elves there will be several similar-power combat units. These may only be led by a champion, and certainly they would be no match for a Challenge style unit, but in a Conventional game they become useful and dangerous. This is simply because there are other units of about the same power to fight, and enough of them that it actually makes a difference to VP counts. In a Challenge game you can kill all the sundry units, but it won't matter a jot if you loose the main fight.

    Conventional style is more than a way of army selection; its a state of mind. Does that sound profound or what? But its true; you can't lay down a set of selection restrictions and house rules and then say: "Right. Follow these and you will be playing a Conventional Game". Jervis Johnson is trying to do this for the Warhammer Tournament, but it won't work. To play a conventional game, both players have to have the Conventional Style attitude. They wont take anything which upsets the game balence, even if upsets it in their own favour. The game is fought mainly with regiments, and excess (like multitudes of Repeater Bolt Throwers) are definitely out. Special characters rarely make an appearence, as these usually have special abilities which take their power beyond the Conventional Style. Did I mention Nagash? In short, the aim is to have a good fight and a good laugh, NOT to win.

    With a Conventional Style army, selection is not critical. Nearly any troops can be put to good use, even if its just decoy or harrassment. Magic item selection shouldn't matter very much; if it does you probably aren't playing true Conventional Style. Items and allies are taken to fit with the accepted feel of the army, and no-one will bring anything too powerful. Some measure of self restraint is necessary; what the rules say you can have and what you can take and keep to Conventional style are not the same, but as there are no rules to restrict you so you have to restrict yourself. For example, in my conventional games using Empire forces the Steam Tank usually stays on the shelf, one Volley Gun is all I ever want, the High Elves who come along to help me every game never borrow a Repeater Bolt Thrower and the Supreme Patriarch always stays in the box, regardless of how many Treemen my opponent might have.

    To summerize, the Conventional Style army should be largely composed of conventional troops. For example, with Empire this means spearmen, swordsmen, and archers rather than Flagellants, ogres and Outriders. I DON'T mean by this that these special and elite troops should be left out of the Conventional game; in fact they will probably be a vital component in any army. What I DO mean is that these should be treated as special and elite, instead of being the norm as they are in a Challenge game.

    Strategy and Tactics:
    Now to my favorite aspect of the Conventional Game; strategy and tactics. Unlike a Challenge Game where selection is the most important aspect, in a Conventional Game setup must be about the most important part. Your army will probably contain a variety of troop types, and so will your opponents. The trick is of course to set up your units opposite enemy units you think they can beat. For example: you don't want to place wardances against heavily armoured knights, but a treeman will do the job very well. Similarly, a unit of halberdiers might be able to break the treeman, or at least occupy him for a while, but wardances will slaughter the halberdiers. I think you get the idea.

    Beyond setup, movement and timing are critical. You have to manouver troops to get into position to charge, shoot, flank or just plain avoid other units. This is the crux of the Conventional Style strategy; the aim is not to achieve victory by having the most potent combination of magical weapons, nor to achieve victory by having troops and characters which are better value-for-points than your opponent. The aim is to manouver your troops so that they can engage the enemy on their own terms. Charge with knights, defend with spearmen; in a Challenge Style game the specialities of the different troop types are usually overshadowed by the power of the characters in the units. Time your attacks so that you can attack in the flanks the next round; in a Conventional game the panic test and +1 to combat resolution actually mean something. See if you can get that unit of light cavalry behind the enemy lines, rather than just dumping a wyvery down on the war-machines. Setup and overall plan must include provision for lines of fire for missile troops and war-machines, and the positioning of the general and battle standard should be to maximize the use of their leadership rather than to maximize the damage they can do in combat.

    One thing which I haven't mentioned yet is magic (of the wizard rather than item variety). To be honest, I haven't quite worked out how to best fit magic into the Conventional style game. But I have lots of ideas, some of which I'll share in the hope that they might spark inspiration in another player.

    Firstly, powerful wizards don't really belong in a Conventional game. A powerful wizard can be more dangerous than a powerful general, especially if a higher level that all other wizards in the game. That said, I must add that powerful wizards usually cancel each other out, and they don't eclipse everything else in the process (except lower level wizards, of course). The main effect is often simply to use up lots of points and reduce the army size! Playing with lower level wizards does help to a degree, in that you have less spell customization (and more troops to use with the saved points), yet even low level mages can domainte. The problem comes in part from the Warhammer magic rules; a Flamestorm summoned by a level one wizard is every bit as destructive as one summoned by a wizard lord. You'd be amazed how much damage a Light Mage Champion can do given a free run; I was. In fact, if you play with level restrictions but spend the same number of points on wizards, you can actually make magic more powerful. This is because you get more spell cards, and can cast more effectively; how many times have you had to throw in power cards because your level four mage has no appropriate spells?
    In a Conventional game magic should be used to assist the rest of the army; reduce numbers, stop units from moving in to attack flanks, protect from war-machines etc. Its not there to blast entire units (or armies) out of existence; this is what you do in a Chalenge game. The number of defensive spells is actually quite limited (I reckon we should make a few up), but some of the offensive spells are very deadly. Admittedly, in a Conventional game powerful offensive spells can loose some of their edge, because there isn't the concentration of points that there is in a Challenge game. Even so, a few suggestions if you find that magic has too great an effect; take out the Total Power card, take out the power three spells, play with magic level limits and mage number limits or take a few power cards out of the deck to increase the proportion of dispels.

    Magic Ethos:
    All that said, there is another way to play magic in a Conventional game. This is a concept I like but have never devised a set of rules to enable me to play. The idea is that wizards fight wizards in magical duels across the battlefield. The victor then has a free reign to attack the units in the opponents army. I don't mean by this a character-on-character challenge, like in hand-to-hand combat, although I suppose you could do it that way. Actually....another time! What I mean is that, given the Rebound card, Destroy Spell Scrolls and cards and the plethora of items which came in Chronicles of War which VERY strongly discourage casting spells at other mages, the wizards seem to have very little choice but to play defensive or else vent thier anger on enemy units. If instead the wizards concentrated on each other for a while it might leave the rest of the army able to get on with life for a bit, and perhaps have some effect on the game. There is no need to provide inducements to kill enemy wizards; the advantages of having the only or highest level wizard are pretty obvious.
    In the above scenario you have three or four wizards on either side, with levels appropriate for the size of the army. Hopefully they will have a variety of spells; Empire is the perfect example. They have to try to eliminate other wizards, while at the same time help the units in the army and try to inflict casualties on the enemy. I suspect the key points are to keep the number of power cards down below the number of useable spells, and to make wizards targetable. Then, as a player you have to compromise between slaying other mages, which will give you an advantage in the long-term, and attacking other units or defending your own. Do you have your Celestial wizard Lightning Bolt the enemy sorceress leading the spearmen or should you get your Light mage to the entrap the horsemen who are attacking your cannon? Or use the power cards to defend your general from those bloody Wardances? If you keep the winds of magic low, or increase the proportion of dispels, then this idea shouldn't really increase the influence of magic on the game. What I think it will do is introduce more decisions and more excitement than having a single level four wizard who each round will usually be restricted by range, power cards numbers, lines of sight and enemy defenses to a choice of one or two spells; a mage who can only effect one corner of the battlefield and only fight other wizards if he has a Total Power card. Perhaps I've been hanging out with Brettonial Quest Knights too long, but surely it makes more sense for wizards to be able to fight each other than forcing then to always target the most defensless units in the opposing army?

    THAT's pretty much all I have to say, and I suspect it's a lot more than you actually wanted to read. I had wanted to include ideas on other styles (a Classical Style fought with only one magic item, custom-made, per side; a Wizardry Style fought almost entirely with mages), but I haven't played these styles yet. Not to mention that there are a multitude of shades-of-grey between the Challenge and Conventional style. But there are two last points I want to make.
    Firstly, many gamers (drawn from a non-existent survey of our group, WD comments and a quick squiz at the Net) seem to think that there is a "correct" or "best" Warhammer style. Some people consider that, for example, powerful special characters should be left out of games, while other gamers use them every game and wonder how anyone can play otherwise! I don't believe there is a "correct" style; the style to play should be determined by personal preference and how you feel at the time. In short, gamers should play the style they enjoy.
    The second point I have to make is this: I have outlined two styles of Warhammer, the two I have seen played the most. The Challenge style and the Conventional style are both valid, but they are NOT COMPATIBLE; I don't believe you can have one player Challenge style and the other Conventional. This is not because the Conventional style player will usually loose (although he propbably will), but because the etho's (ethii?) of the styles and attitudes of the players will clash. One player will think the other unreasonable and the other probably consider his opponent rather inept. From my own experience, you get the most enjoyment when both people are playing the same game.