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Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Hail Ulthuan! Final Analysis

The redoubtable Scadgrad completes his review of the new High Elf army book.

Part I
Part II
Part III

Cometh Tyrion, bound with laurel boughs,
To re-salute his country with his tears,
Tears of true joy for his return to Ulthuan.

At first glance there are only a few changes to the High Elf lore. Curse of Arrow Attraction, Fury of Khaine, Flames of the Phoenix, and Vaul’s Unmaking are all simply copy and paste jobs from incredibly good support spells to this author and are certainly upgrades over the two spells dropped from the list. Both of these spells are strong support spells and are made even better by the fact that they are not Remains in Play spells. With a relatively low casting cost, they’re only the previous lists. The two new spells, Shield of Saphery and Courage of Aenarion seem like drawback is that neither one is the type of spell that will get priority (in both casting and dispelling) on any given turn. Drain Magic gets a substantial change and is now a default 7+ to cast and should be much more powerful in actual play since its effect is global. In essence, every successful casting of the spell effectively means that enemy wizards will need an extra dice, or nearly so, for each spell they cast. The downside being that the few spells that do go off will be significantly more difficult to dispel. In addition to the +1 to dispel spells that High Elf casters are given (which apparently can stack with a certain magic item for +2 to dispel), this would suggest that a pair of level 2 High Elf wizards, equipped with the right equipment, could make things very, very difficult for even the most absurd magical armies (Tomb Kings excepted of course). Couple this with the fact that High Elves can still choose from among any of the 8 lores or High Magic (the Dragon Mage can only fling Fire lore spells) and you can see that the High Elf army can have a very potent magic phase, both in attack, support, and defense.

So there you have it, what I hope is the definitive review of the new High Elf army book. I think GW has done a fine job and if you’re a Warhammer junky, you’ll certainly want to pick this one up. I suppose the burning question is, what sorts of armies will result from the new book? Are the two dominant High Elf armies, the Seer Counsel and the Pony army both a thing of the past? Will the Speed of Asuryan ruin the game?

Grand Tournament goers will very likely see a decided increase in the number of High Elf armies at the tables. That’s not saying a whole lot at the moment since, at least here in the States, they’re currently as rare as hen’s teeth. I don’t think there is any doubt that the High Elf will enjoy a honeymoon period up until the next released army, rumored to be Vampire Counts. So look for an increase in the number of High Elf armies early in the season, and a possible fall off as the new wears off. I believe the army has genuine potential, but I doubt it will fair well against the SOC Daemon Legion lists, Anvil Dwarves, Bretts, and Woodies that seem to dominate the current playing field.

The one thing that the new High Elf army does have and that is tremendous aesthetic appeal, so it’s a strong possibility that it could remain popular with players even in the face of lukewarm GT battle results. In that sense, we may see something like the large number of Ogre Kingdom armies that continue to pop up in Indy GTs. Most Ogre players happily admit that their army doesn’t necessarily match up all that well with the top table lists, but the models are among the best in the game, and it’s a very entertaining list to play with and against. I expect that many of the new High Elf models and the old casts of the elite infantry will be viewed in a similar light. I think initially, you will see a lot of these infantry-based armies, supported by a Dragon rider of some sort, and a credible magical threat. I do think that the special characters are so good, that they will become reasonably common at GTs that allow their inclusion.

I’m not utterly convinced that the two archetypes that High Elf players gravitated to in 6th are necessarily defunct. They may have taken a hit, but the elements are still there to do a similar version. The pony army for instance, you won’t be able to build the Rob Lane version from back in the early days of 6th, or more accurately, you wouldn’t want to.
The Seer Counsel might have to be renamed The Teclis army since it will do just about the same thing.
Instead of 3 units of ranked Silver Helm units crashing in with a character and a pair of Tyranoc Chariots, you would likely build the army around 2-3 chariots and 3, 6-wide units of Dragon Princes. Add Caradryan on his Kitty Kart, and a few other characters and you sould have a decent pony army. The Seer Counsel might have to be renamed The Teclis army since it will do just about the same thing. Teclis essentially comes equipped with the Seerstaff (he knows all the spells of any given lore), give a level 2 guy the actual Seerstaff, and give a 2nd level 2 wizard the Silver Wand and the Ring of Fury. Add the Banner of Sorcery and you’ve got something similar to the old Seer Counsel, except that you’ve effectively got the Book of Hoeth as well. That ought to win you some friends.

Speed of Asuryan still seems to be a polarizing rule among many players, but it’s just so much sound and fury until we’re all able to get a few games in with and against the army. My own thought is that it will be an interesting tactical element, but nothing game-breaking. With the increased presence of shooting elements in the game thanks to the changes wrought by 7th edition, many of those fearsome High Elf elites will be shot to pieces before they can get those first swings at you. If it does prove to be as deadly as many make it out to be, well High Elf players suffered for the longest time laboring under the weight of such silliness as Intrigue at Court (oops, I said it) and Pure of Heart. I suppose even High Elf players deserve a day in the sun, at least that is until the Dark Elf book is released.

Tony Mullins
The Tao of Bear

Monday, November 12, 2007

Hail Ulthuan part III

The redoubtable Scadgrad continues his review of the new High Elf army book. Read Part I of this article HERE.

Part II can be found here

Cometh Tyrion, bound with laurel boughs,
To re-salute his country with his tears,
Tears of true joy for his return to Ulthuan.

One of the complaints that seemed to be a point of contention for the High Elf detractors of 6th
l years of road testing at the GT level proved that this was little more than a tempest in a teapot. The previous list was altogether flawed with one of the few bright spots being the quality of the High Elf magic assortment. The current selection is still good, in fact, there are only minor changes from 6th ed, and the common magic items are still available to the High Elf player at a discount (High Elf hater feel free to continue your rant…). An item-by-item breakdown would very likely bore most readers to death, so I’ll try to hit the most important additions, omissions and changes.

High Elf fans of the shooty heroes and lords on Great Eagles will be elated to find that the two bows make it over from 6th ed. In fact, most of the 6th ed. weapons are present with very little changes. Two noteworthy additions are the brutal Star Lance and the White Sword, and odd item that’s basically a great weapon with Killing Blow. Now granted, there’s nothing wrong with having magical attacks, a situation brought on by the seemingly ubiquitous dryad, and great weapons are prohibitively expensive so this may prove to be a worthwhile item. There seems to be little doubt about the Star Lance and its potential. Finally High Elf players can get in on the chariot-popping bandwagon, though you’ll need a Lord mounted on your choice of mounts to bring the pain.

Many of your old favorites return in this section with a few items that have been tweaked in one direction or other. The Helm of Fortune is here copied directly over from the 6th ed. book. A couple of items that caught my eye (the new improved Golden Shield and a new item, Temakador’s Gauntlets) both look promising enough to find their way into many lists. The former item functions just like the Chaos Armor of Damnation while the former lends a 5+ Ward Save. Both items also give you a base armor save of 6+ which is a bonus and effectively lowers the cost of each items, and gives the possibility of a 1+ save for a character equipped with the gauntlets. Fans of bizarre items will be thrilled to find that the Armor of Stars is ported over without change. Hmmm…

No change to any of these items at all. All seven were ported over without change.

This section also saw very little in the way of change with virtually all seven banners surviving the upgrade with little in the way of changes. Essentially, the Banner of Arcane Protection got a slight nerf, apparently for reasons of clarity, with the benefit being that it is a good sight cheaper. As is the case in many other categories, High Elf players are a bit spoiled for choices here with at least 5 of these being extremely useful to go along with the discounted War Banner. Break out the flags lads.

arcane items
Ah, now here we have a category of items that saw broad, sweeping changes. Many of these seem to be a result of heavy-handed design work intended to kill, or at least hamper the Seer Counsel army type. Suffice to say, the Seer Counsel will have to bring on Teclis as the army general, but it’s not exactly like that’s a bad thing is it?

There are a total of twelve arcane items to choose from, a full page in fact, providing a dizzying number of choices for their High Elf wizards. By extension, this suggests to me that the designers intend for you to include a wizard or two (three if you’re feeling really squirrelly) and you can tweak them to better effect. One item in particular is a Seer-item which replaces the honor of the same name. The Ring of Corin takes a horrible hit, becoming an arcane item as well as a “what were they thinking” one-use item (other than dispel scrolls, tokens, ‘shrooms, and the lizardman banner, these are generally ignored by players). I would wager that it will probably only be used in Surprise Hammer games, and maybe not even then. The Book of Hoeth is still here, but the bad news is that most players bent on fielding the Book will simply spend a few more points and take Teclis who apparently wrote the original. It might be me, but this page almost seems a yawner to my old eyes. At the end of the day, I think the best items are the Seer item, the common Dispel Scroll, and the common Staff of Sorcery which stacks with the High Elf ability for a total of +2 to dispel. A new item which looks fun in a defensive magic approach is the Trickster’s Pendant which gives you a new defense of sorts vs. armies (other than Tomb Kings) looking to nuke you via magic.

enchanted items
Once again we have an entire page of items for you to choose from. In fact there are twelve enchanted items; four more than the previous book. The dread Ring of Fury is still here though at a substantial increase in points (10pts more than before). It won’t burn out on you now, and even though it’s a very pricey item, I suspect it will still find its way into most aggressive magic lists. Many of the items are ported over from the older book, but there are quite a few new items that should be popular. I suspect that many of the 25 point or less items will be popular choices for the elite champions. For instance, you might give one champion the “+1 to the go first roll” item, or the “all our attacks are magical” item, or perhaps the “Lizardman LD for one turn” item. This is a far more intriguing selection than the arcane items and many of these items will have a pronounced effect on tabletop performance of the High Elf elites.

Up next, the new High Elf lore and closing thoughts…

Tony Mullins
The Tao of Bear

Hail, Ulthuan part II

The redoubtable Scadgrad continues his review of the new High Elf army book. Read Part I of this article HERE.

Cometh Tyrion, bound with laurel boughs,
To re-salute his country with his tears,
Tears of true joy for his return to Ulthuan.

The new character section once again features a good number of special characters as both Lord and Hero choices. The designers are walking a tight rope with these guys since, at first blush, they
appear to be very, very good. The whole concept of Special Characters is a bit of a sticky wicket for the community it seems. Many of us hold that games are more fluffy when they involve Special Characters, while others contend that they are poorly play-tested and cheesy. To each his own, but in 7th edition, one doesn’t need the approval of an opponent to use these characters and so I would expect to see them included in many lists. High Elven characters continue to be saddled with absurdly low toughness (another of the unforgivable sins of Mr. Thornton though Gav has a hand in this as well) for no sound reason other than, “well, in D&D they’re not as tough” or similar short-sighted reasoning. Overall you pay a lot of points for these the most fragile of characters in the Warhammer World (all elves for that matter), though you do get some good offensive options and SoA to help keep your characters alive.

special characters
You’ll find most of the old favorites here, Tyrion and Teclis return, both are point-for-point powerhouses compared to their earlier 6th edition incarnations. Teclis at a mere 115 or so points more than the cost of a fully-kitted Level 4 Archmage is almost too obvious for those looking to field an Archmage. For those who would rather just run over the enemy, Tyrion appears to be a similar comparison to a fully-kitted Prince (a bit more than 100 points higher in cost that is), and he is clearly in the running for Baddest Elf on the Planet honors. Also included are Eltharion the Grim in his “I’m not blind anymore” phase and he’s very reasonably priced whether you include his griffon Stormwing or not. If nothing else, he’ll put the Fear of God in your Goblin

Both Khoril and Caradryan allow a player to add a character with direct ties to one of the elite infantry units. Very Cool.
opponents and there is the promise of many fluffy battles between ol’ Eltharion and Grom in the next couple of years (advantage Eltharion). Those players spoiling for a Hoeth army will be torn between Eltharion or Teclis as their General I’d wager. A 4th Special Character option is available as a Lord choice and that is Alith Anar. This character is a shooty, stealthy General who may appeal to those wanting to build an army that focuses on the enmity between the High Elves and their Dark Elf cousins, or one that features several Shadow Warrior choices.

There are also two hero-level characters included as choices. Both Khoril and Caradryan allow a player to add a character with direct ties to one of the elite infantry units. Very Cool. They are both exceptional and will likely find their way into any list that features their respective units in any number (White Lions and Phoenix Guard respectively). Khoril even has the option of jumping on a Lion Chariot if you wish. He’s able to purchase one as an upgrade for even a few points less than a special choice, a fine option when you consider he’s the only High Elf character who can do so.

generic characters
You’ve essentially the same choices here that you had in 6th with the exception that the honors are a thing of the past. In many ways, that’s unfortunate because you could use those to build some pretty nifty characters in the past. The current cast is slightly more expensive (criminally so in one particular instance) than the previous army book, one presumes this is in an effort to balance SoA. Great Weapons also come in at a heady price and the option for Ithilmar barding is no longer around. High Elf characters have a staggering array of potential mounts including three different types of dragons, a griffon, great eagle, elven steed, and a Tyranoc chariot. As a new Hero choice, you can field a Dragon Mage of Caledor. He’s expensive, and like all dragons he takes up one of your hero slots, but he gives you a comparable piece to the Dark Elf Manticore Rider. The biggest complaint I see in this section is the criminal rise in cost of the basic High Elf hero. An increase of more than 20% for a toughness 3 character seems wrong to me. The lowly level 1 mage also comes in at a heady 100 points and that’s without a single piece of kit. Overall, I’m left with the sense that the designers ramped up the Special Characters and unleashed their “nerfing wrath” upon the basic Joes. I’m sure there was a concentrated effort to put an end to the Seer Counsel and the Annuli Patrol Pony armies, but as so often the case with GW re-designs, the pendulum may have swing too far.

Tony Mullins
The Tao of Bear

Magic Items, and the new High Elf lore to follow…

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Hail, Ulthuan, victorious in thy mourning weeds!

The redoubtable Scadgrad takes a look at the new High Elf army book in this article.

Cometh Tyrion, bound with laurel boughs,
To re-salute his country with his tears,
Tears of true joy for his return to Ulthuan.

Finally, long-suffering High Elf players can put aside their grievances and get back to playing games again with those “serried white-robed legions” that were so common back in the days of 5th ed. And if the designers have anything to say about it, and this author thinks they stated it quite clearly, you will be fielding a few ranks of the new High Elf infantry and probably a dragon, maybe two, in most of your new High Elf lists. Certainly it’s a bit premature to pen a detailed High Elf tactica, but a preliminary review of the new army book might prove enlightening.

The new book itself comes in at a weighty 104 pages–a full 24 pages more than its 6th ed. Predecessor–and it seems to be one of the beefier army books. Flipping casually through the pages I’m struck by the new art work (for the most part, there are a few retreads) which is once again very nicely executed and the considerable amounts of fluff. The layout itself is clean and well organized though I do regret the absence of a master army rule page where one can easily turn to find a particular rule. Maybe I’m lazy, but when I play an army, I like to commit that page number to memory, or even mark it, so that you can easily reference it during play. Sure the book has something like that. I mean, there is a page that explains the “we hate Dark Elves” and the First Strike ability, but that’s it. All the other abilities are found in the full text entry for individual units. I’m not crazy about that, but maybe I’m alone in this criticism.

Much fuss has been made concerning the new Speed of Asuryan and it’s true that it will give the High Elf player a certain advantage in maneuvering, allowing that player to be a bit sloppy with many of his units since the charge for his infantry isn’t all that important. In practice, it makes heroes on foot with Great Weapons considerably better (they’re priced accordingly by the way) as it does most of the High Elf missile troops. At the end of the day though, we’re only talking about toughness 3 elves here, many of whom run around the battlefield in little more than upscale bath
robes, so I’m not expecting many armies will be hesitant in getting to grips with the poncy lads. Light shock troops like fast cav and the like maybe, but chaos knights and other elites will hardly notice the difference. Of course, Swordmasters are a different story, but you’ll just have to solve that problem via shooting, magic, or autohits. The second army-wide rule deals with the hated Druchii, the Dark Elves. In a nutshell, High Elf go into Chaos Undivided mode when going at against their hated cousins. Not bad I guess, but I’d rather have Hatred, advantage Dark Elves, which they’ll need in the face of the aforementioned SoA. High Elf players are united in their joy over the removal of the Rule That Shall Not Be Named. Suffice to say, the High Elf general can now go to war confident that a coup will not occur in the officers tent the evening before the battle. Speed of Asuryan may prove to be Mr. Troke’s Folly (the author), but I think that in time that it will be viewed simply as a challenging tactical consideration that must be taken into account when facing the sons of Ulthuan.

With the High Elf book, the design team decided that the High Elf would be an elite army in every
sense. As a result, the High Elf player has fewer compulsory core choices to make than other armies, and the list itself only has 3 core choices: archers, spearmen, and Lothern Sea Guard. Gone from the core choices are the medium cavalry Silver Helms making it very difficult to create effective versions of the popular pony armies of earlier editions.

core choices
Archers became a bit less expensive in the new book and will probably become a popular unit for those not wanting to pay essentially 40% more or so for the new Lothern Sea Guard. A unit of 12 or 13 with a flag and musician will likely see play on occasion in my own lists just to give you some quality shooting. High Elf spears get a substantial decrease in cost and enjoy a solid boost from SoA against those opponents that might be concerned with all of those Str 3 attacks. The greatly maligned Lothern Sea Guard of 6th ed have been completely revamped. They’re no longer an elite 0–1 choice (a move that is consistent with the other High Elf elites) while their effective cost has dropped considerably. This unit may be one of the most flexible units in the game now thanks to the SoA rule and only the fact that they’re armed with bows rather than long bows could be seen as a negative. They’re still pricey for an infantry unit to this writer’s eyes, but a unit of 20 gives one a multi-use unit that can make life very hard on the enemy. As a bonus, the new High Elf book retains the First Among Equals rule so expect to see one of the 4 possible banners on one of the core units (more on these later).

special choices
Special in every sense of the word, or at least that’s how I would describe many of these units. This section of the army has been completely revamped and High Elf players will enjoy their extra special choices (6 specials for a 2000pt army), a change to the list that will encourage several new army types. The major change here is that the elite High Elf troop types are all specials and are no longer restricted to the poorly conceived 0–1 foolishness of the previous book (more of Mr. Thornton’s mischief). Some will complain about the move of the Silverhelms to the special selections, but it would be a bit more tolerable if they actually were an elite unit. In the new book, their cost is the same, though they pay a few points more for command, but they’re no longer core, and may not field a magic banner. Furthermore, they’re the only ranked unit in the special selection that are not allowed to equip their unit champ with a magical item. Note to GW, if you were trying to sabotage sails of Silver Helm boxes, I would speculate that you will succeed beyond your wildest expectations.

Overall though, the special choices are dizzying and High Elf players will no doubt feel quite giddy at the prospects of trotting out a few of those old elite infantry units and actually seeing them contribute in a meaningful way in the battle. Of the special units only the Tyranoc Chariot is a copy and paste job from the earlier book though it is no longer a 2-for-1 choice (very disappointing to still see the High Elf saddled with a non-scythed chariot) and most of the other choices get a considerable upgrade. Two units of note are the Sword Masters and Dragon Princes. Both of these units receive a 2nd attack for the basic trooper (making the champion of these units practically a Hero in his own right). Along with the advantage of SoA, the units increase in cost (3pts for Sword Masters and 4pts for Dragon Princes). Sword Masters, along with the other elite ranked infantry, may now be fielded as small as 5 models, surely an interesting tactical possibility for the High Elf player.

Clearly Mr. Troke and his Merry Band of Gentleman want you to send these guys into melee with enemy support and war machines at your earliest convenience.
Shadow Warriors and Ellyrian Reavers should both see increased usage as they will both benefit from the new SoA rules (nothing like following up a stand and shoot with a first strike). Though the High Elf scouts are a single point more expensive, they now have their own special sort of Hatred to go along with SoA and sport a WS of 5. Clearly Mr. Troke and his Merry Band of Gentleman want you to send these guys into melee with enemy support and war machines at your earliest convenience. Meanwhile, the Ellyrian Reavers–which were already a very fine unit–receive a reduction in points to the point where a single unit with musician and both spear and bow seems almost too good to leave out.

Phoenix Guard are a completely different animal now. In practice, you’ll save a couple of point on your command so they’re effectively a bit cheaper. The biggest change is the staggering 4+ Ward Save which should have High Elf fans turning back flips. This has always been one of the finest looking units in the game, but now they’ve got staying power to accompany those WS5 halberd hits. Clearly GW wants to sell a few more of these all-metal units and I’ll be one of the first to pony up. I’ve always held to the firm belief that there is a disconnect in the current functionality of elite infantry. At somewhere in the neighborhood of 13 points or so, a ranked unit becomes a very tempting target, even a point sink on some level, and it becomes painfully obvious that these units typically produce little more than modest results on the tabletop.

As is the case with the gorgeous Phoenix Guard models, I think it’s a fine thing that we’ll start seeing more of these units on the table top since White Lions make for a stunning unit.
It always seems that there are plenty of other choices available that would have yielded “same or better” performance for less cost and risk. Chaos Warriors in their current incarnation are the perfect example of this dilemma. With the Dwarf army book, the design team has made a good attempt at remedying this situation, though I don’t think we’re quite there yet. To sum up, I think that 15 points is still a lot to pay for ranked infantry, but Phoenix Guard, at least on paper, look very intriguing.

White Lions have been moved into the special slot and like the other elites they’re no longer 0­–1, a fact sure to warm the hearts of Wood Elf players everywhere. Another improvement is that you no longer need a character in the unit; they’re always Stubborn. Astute readers will note that the White Lions are a bit more expensive now (2pts more in fact), but the upgraded to heavy armor and SoA is surely worth the cost. As is the case with the gorgeous Phoenix Guard models, I think it’s a fine thing that we’ll start seeing more of these units on the table top since White Lions make for a stunning unit. I don’t know about you, but I can think of one painter who would relish the thought of tackling an entire Chrase-themed army.

Last and certainly not least is the new Lion Chariot, a piece that gives the High Elf army a counterpart to the popular Dark Elf Cold One Chariot. There’s a lot to like in comparison, but particularly the fact that the lions aren’t Stupid. The Killer Kitty Kat Kart hits pretty darn hard and in a sense, it’s reasonable to compare it to a slightly lighter Nurgle Chaos Warrior chariot. It’s also reasonably priced giving the new list both a tight new model, as well as a piece that the enemy will really be concerned with. I wouldn’t be surprised to see one or two of these units become a pretty common element in most 2250 point lists. The only drawback that I can see is that you can’t mount a character other than Khoril on it.

rare choices
Players will notice very little change with these choices. Both Great Eagles and RBTs get updated with no change other than the removal of the 2-for-1 selection from previous versions of the list. Not to worry though. The High Elf player is allowed 4 Rare choices at 2000 points so when you feel compelled to trot out the 4 RBTs there’s certainly nothing (other than common courtesy) to prevent you doing so.

Tony Mullins
The Tao of Bear

Characters, Magic Items, and the new High Elf lore to follow…