A Newbie’s Guide to WHFB Basics
Because of the positive response to my previous article about Warhammer Fantasy, I’ve decided to do another, further chronicling the lessons I’ve learned from delving into the game.
This article will focus on some helpful hints for the new Fantasy player and how to avoid some common pitfalls. I’ll also go over some basic strategies and a list that can be helpful in judging the strength of your army. Hopefully this will prove useful to new players and provide a nice base to build some more in depth strategies on.
Keep It Simple
Fantasy is a daunting game at first for many new players. Units of all shapes and sizes running around the board, terrain killing and strengthening both armies, magic tipping the scales every turn, the list goes on. It’s enough to make a new general lose focus on the little things and unfortunately that is often where victory is decided. Here are a few hints to keep your eyes on the prize.
Take a Step Back
Before starting your turn, take a step back and look over the field. Momentum swings quickly in Fantasy and you will often be playing damage control while trying to keep the pressure on your opponent. Look at the situation each of your units is in and how the battle is progressing. Now you can start to formulate plans for your units with the big picture clearly laid out for you.
We All Need a Little Support
Make sure your units have the proper support and tools to get their jobs done. Missile units need an open line of sight or a weak infantry unit may need backup to lend combat support. It’s important you know what your models need to be successful and work to give it to them.
Use Your Terrain
Terrain is a double edged sword in Fantasy, especially the “Mysterious” variety, so place terrain where it will have the most positive effect for you. If your army stays back and shoots, place cover in your deployment zone or if you push towards the enemy, place it in the middle to screen your assault. Certain structures have positive or negative effects, these can be used to lure or keep an opponent away from part of the battlefield. Consider how terrain will affect both armies before placing it to get the most out of it.
Have a Plan
Seems simple but many new players start the game without a clear plan, which only snowballs once the game begins and things start to go wrong. It’s important to have a rough idea of what your army wants to do, even if it’s as simple as running a unit of heavy cavalry down an enemies flank. A basic plan gives you something to fall back on when the game starts to get away from you.
Fantasy is a random game and the rules almost assure things will get out of hand sometimes. Warmachines will destroy themselves, charges will fail, Wizards will Miscast, etc. It’s important to mentally recover from these setbacks and pick up the pieces. Make the best of a bad situation where possible, perhaps a failed charge lets you move another unit in a position to flank if your opponent charges you. If the situation isn’t salvageable, look to other units to get the job done if it’s a necessity. The worst thing you can do is panic and make further mistakes.
Look Before You Leap
We all make mistakes and often these mistakes lead to losses. Being a good general is about policing your own mistakes before turning an eye to your opponent and exploiting his. Avoiding pitfalls is one of the few things you can control in Warhammer, here’s how to avoid the common ones.
Fantasy allows you to measure most everything at anytime, this is an invaluable tool. Before declaring anything, measure to see if you’re in range or if you think you can pull off the necessary distance. Check to see if missile troops require a march or regular move to get into position or if moving a unit puts them in probable charge range. Knowing distances can help you plan for future turns and prevent you from wasting them.
Know What You’re Getting Yourself Into
If you aren’t sure what something does, ask. Before charging a unit, ask what they can do, what their stats are and what special rules they may have. Know what your opponents spells do so you can dispel the right ones. Know what his movement is, what his shooting can do, everything. Information is a controllable element of the game and there’s no excuse not to have it. Knowledge of an opponent’s army will let you make better tactical decisions and avoid the dreaded “I wish I could take THAT Back” moments.
No Model Left Behind
Never forget to use any of your models. Before going to the next phase of a turn, make sure you used everything you needed to. Did you move everything, did you cast all your spells, and were all the close combats resolved? The responsibility is yours to remember your unit’s rules and to use them; often forgetting something simple like a march move can shred your battle plan.
Warhammer is a bloody game and many of your models will die over the course of a game, so the trick is knowing what you can and cannot lose. Take steps to keep your most valuable units alive while losing the expendable ones. Know what threatens your needed units the most and have a plan to remove those threats, or give them more attractive targets. Sometimes the best support is taking one for the team.
Greater than the Sum of the Parts
Every good army is a selection of models that support one another; even an army that relies on a super unit to win needs support of some kind. The problem most new generals run into is using these parts together. It’s tempting to run powerful units into the enemy army and hope they’ll cut through single handedly, or rely on shooting/Magic to crush every unit that comes towards you. In reality, these plans rarely work. Elite units need help whittling the enemy down before they attack, shooting units need ways to slow or stop enemy movement. Make sure you keep the big picture in mind and don’t get fixated on one unit or one phase of the game.
Start From the Ground Up
Even the most complex strategies and maneuvers are grounded in the basics. Learning and practicing the simple stuff will allow you to see how a tactic could be tweaked or change to better suit your needs and will help you develop an eye out for when opportunity comes knocking. Here are a few very easy tactics that even the most experienced veterans employ.
Bait and Switch
The Bait and Switch is the act of making an opponent charge one unit only to come up empty and in range of your own units. How you force this on an opponent is situational and can be anything from making not charging look like a poor idea to ensuring the unit will be out of the game for a few turns if they don’t take the bait.
Your bait unit is ideally something you can afford to lose. When a charge is declared against it, you Flee, resulting in a failed charge for the enemy which pulls them out of position. You than have a more powerful unit ready to charge in your turn, granting you an advantageous combat or forcing the enemy to Flee in turn.
This is easier for horde style armies to employ as they often have many throw away units but few powerful units. If the bait never rallies or is run down, the loss is insignificant compared to the tactical gain. The ideal bait unit is cheap and fast, able to out-distance chargers and then get back into the fight. Fast Cavalry are particularly well suited for a bait role being fast, cheap and able to move after rallying to pester an opponent again.
Hammer and Anvil
Hammer and Avil refers to holding a unit in place with one unit, the Anvil, before striking with another, the Hammer. This is commonly done to prevent Flee reactions, set up Flank or Rear charges or get slower moving units into combat but can be broader, such as holding a unit in place and shooting them as Skaven can do.
The ideal Anvil will be any unit likely to hold the enemy up. Luckily the new rules for Steadfast make this easier than ever before, granting Stubborn to any unit with more ranks than the enemy. Other possibilities are Unbreakable units or just any unit unlikely to flee after one or two rounds of combat. While the enemy is unable to move, you maneuver a second unit to charge into the flank or rear, giving you a large bonus to Combat Resolution and increasing your odds of winning the combat.
This is best employed by armies that have extremely powerful units that an opponent is likely to avoid at all costs, or a mix of powerful and throwaway units.
Keep Away refers to keeping an extremely powerful unit away from your army where it can do serious damage. There are two ways to do this; one is to tarpit the unit with a unit unlikely to break, as with the Hammer and Anvil strategy. The other is to lead it on a chase, either keeping it out of the game or buying you time to whittle it down.
The tarpit version requires a unit capable of holding a powerful unit up for several turns. It’s not necessary to beat the enemy; you’re just trying to keep them out of the game in any meaningful way. Try to angle the tarpitters so if the enemy overruns they’ll be in a bad position, requiring further time to get to your army.
Leading a unit on a chase is harder but more rewarding, saving you from tossing points away while possibly earning some. This can be done in many ways, from Fleeing charges to enticing an opponent to follow one of your units around but moving to buy extra time. When leading a unit around, try to slow them down, or drag them through terrain that will hurt them. It’s also good to have shooting or Magic to damage them or further slow them down.
Checking It Twice
No matter the army, there are a few things every roster needs to shore up basic weaknesses. The quantity these are taken in are up to personal taste but everything should be at least basically represented.
- Stop the Winds
Magic can cripple armies if allowed free reign, so it’s important to be able to counter at least some spells. Items that grant extra dispel dice, remove power dice from an opponent, increase the likelihood of Miscasts or outright counter spells are all excellent defense when added to the basic dice granted by the Winds of Magic.
- Reduce Their Numbers
Charging into full strength enemy units often isn’t advantageous. Even a few casualties can remove a rank bonus which can be the difference between winning and losing a combat. Whether it’s through Magic or Shooting, find a way to remove enemy models before close combat.
- Shatter the Glass Cannons
Warmachines and Missile Troops can be just as devastating as Magic but don’t rely on power dice to get the job done. They’re also resilient to shooting, using the high toughness of the machine to protect the squishy crew, being far away or in cover. Having something to stop these units from weakening your army is imperative, either through close combat, or your own Magic/shooting.
- Deathstar Stoppers
Some armies run deathstars, units that will never lose a straight up fight and can roll over a whole army. Whether it’s by using throw away units to keep a deathstar out of the game, or having the ability to weaken and destroy it, you need the resources to keep these one unit armies from beating you.
- I Must Break You
Being able to break an enemy unit is the easiest way to capture banners and victory points for whole units. Shooting and Magic are hard pressed to destroy entire units alone, so sometimes you need to get your hands dirty. Have units that can break the enemy based on your needs, depending on how badly you’re capable of weakening them before combat.
So those are the basics I’ve used as I get more and more experience with Warhammer Fantasy. Hopefully this can give other new players room to create their own tactics and ideas while preventing those moments where you know you just beat yourself. Happy gaming guys, feel free to reply with your own basic dos and don’ts, I’d love to hear them.