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Over a year ago, a tactica surfaced that became immediately recognized by much of the WH40K community. Known as ‘the Way of the Water Warrior’, it discusses the concept of ‘Reactive Combat’ in a 40K application. This tactic was accompanied by an explanation of an ‘Elemental’ classification system for armies. It was this facet which I wanted to translate into WHFB terms, as I believe that by training your mind to think this way, you can make better choices when constructing and using your chosen army.
First- this is the disclaimer offered by the original thread’s author, Silent Requiem
“This tactica does not claim to be the definitive [army] tactica. I cannot say it is “the best way”, and do not wish to do so. It is simply my way. Take from it what you will.
Combat and the Elements:
The armies of Warhammer Fantasy can be split largely into 3 elements. Within each element, there may be different faces, ‘isotopes’ in a chemical sense, but each army build fits within one of the three major categories first and foremost.
It should be understood that one ArmyBook does not necessarily fit into only one of the elements. However, and most often, the ArmyBook will naturally lend itself to only one or two of the three types. For example, Orks are generally an Earth army. Wood-Elves however can be Fire armies, or Wind armies, depending on how they combine their units together.
While combinations of the Elements are okay, you must realize that your army is more powerful the more it plays to one of the particular elements. A prime example of this is the Ork army. Orks are Fire or Earth armies, in that they take large numbers of warriors, and try to make assaults. You will never see an Ork ‘gunline’ army, as this does not play to their strengths as close-combat fighters. While in many cases, armylists are more subtle than that, it is still good to know the primary purpose that your army is written for, or is being built for.
Below are overviews of each of the 3 elements, as well as the 4th element of Water. Why Water is not considered a playable element in Fantasy will be described, but the section is included as an example of the differences between WH40K and WHFB.
The Three Elements:
Earth Overview: Earth armies claim victory by outlasting their opponents, and are characterized by a high resilience and staying power. This does not mean that the army is ‘unbreakable’ or ‘immune to psychology’, although these might. Rather, Earth armies typically include either high numbers of troops, or very resilient troops.
Movement: Earth armies are either Static and unmoving, or they are footslogging grinders. This is simply because there are two play styles for Earth armies. There is the gunline, which will focus more on the shooting phase, and there are the Hordes, who focus more on overwhelming numbers in combat.
Because of their nature, Earth armies are usually lumberingly slow, as they rely on the proximity of one another. Fast movers like cavalry and fliers only spread the army out, so they have no place in the ranks. This often means that Earth armies give the initiative to their enemy, and the Movement phase can be their downfall.
Shooting: Earth armies who focus on shooting are typically called ‘Gunlines’. These armies hang back and shoot it out, hoping to win by keeping the enemy out of arms reach. The disadvantage to this tactic is that there is only 1 friendly shooting phase for every 2 combat phases (remember, you fight in your own turn, and the opponent’s). This means that if a Gunline is attempting to cause the most damage to the enemy troops, he has half as many phases to do so.
Assault: Earth armies who focus on close combat are usually Horde-type armies, or resilient armies. Soldiers in these armies are often cheap and expendable, and often very weak on their own. However, Hordes benefit from Outnumbering and Ranks, and because they tend to have several units, they can overwhelm an opponent’s flanks as well.
Alternatively, they may be highly resilient, promising to weather waves of punishment before they crash into the foe.
Earth Assault armies are like erosion, like a sandstorm against the face of the Pyramids- insignificant alone, but over time they grind all that lies before them to dust.
A Dwarf Army- slow and methodical, they are either peerless gunlines, or heavily armored units who smash the enemy.
A Vampire Counts Army- also very slow, the Vampire Counts feature waves of troops who can even be resurrected to continue the battle. They have no ranged capability whatsoever and therefore they pile against the foe, swamping his army and immobilizing, before slowly grinding it down through attrition.
Fire Overview: Fire armies take the field through sheer aggression. Often, they are characterized by high model counts, large numbers of heavy cavalry, and specialized combat troops.
Moving: Fire armies tend to be very fast, although not as quick as air armies. They seek to close with the enemy before the enemy can kill too many of their specialists. Fire armies may lose here, because they are relying on their combat troops making it to the enemy lines with enough strength left to have an effect.
Shooting: Fire armies tend to avoid shooting. While an Earth army might be able to outlast foes in a shooting battle, the fire army’s use of elite warriors cuts down its model count, and its focus on close quarters weakens its overall shooting. The Fire Army tries to exploit the advantage, which for every ‘friendly’ shooting phase, there are 2 combat phases (blows are struck by both sides, on both player turns).
Assault: Fire armies are brutal in close combat, where they really shine. Their specialists typically have more attacks than normal, high strength than normal or special rules like Hatred or Frenzy, which take effect in hand to hand. Weapons that rely on getting the charge, like lances or mounted spears, are also marks of the Fire Army.
A Brettonian Knights army- Brettonian armies are quick, and benefit from charging in with their lances. They are fielded in low numbers, with a knight costing two or three times as much as the average foot soldier.
A Chaos Army- any chaos army, be they daemons or mortals, is by a nature a fire army. With rules like Frenzy, and a good save, they are close combat nightmares. While they are not inherently fast, they are not slowed by the need to shoot, and can simply charge like a rhino.
Air Overview: Air armies are light and fast, winning the battle through sheer maneuverability. Their tactics often involve higher levels of thinking, and calculated risks, which make them one of the most entertaining ‘finesse’ oriented builds.
Movement: This is where the Earth army tries to claim victory. Rather than holding still like an Earth army, or charging headlong like the Fire army, Air armies try to move around the flanks and rear of an enemy, staying close enough to be a nuisance, but far enough away to avoid retribution.
Shooting: Some Air armies use elements of shooting to make their endgame job easier. Fast cavalry are unique in their ability to fire at full effect while on the move, and skirmishers often have some type of ranged weapon available. Often these weapons are too light to be any real threat, but in the early and mid games, Air armies don’t want to become bogged down in hand to hand, and shooting weapons give them a chance to do some damage before committing to the attack.
Assault: Air armies are pure; their skirmish or fast cavalry capabilities are nearly army wide, if not indeed army-wide. They attempt to set a trap for the enemy by luring units away from the main body of the force, and then striking with several units who were pre-aligned to hit in the flank and the rear (often both at once). They may not be dangerous in combat, but the Combat Resolution gained from these kinds of assaults can be enough to send the enemy unit fleeing. As Air armies play a game of VP denial, they don’t typically commit their troops to an assault before the last turn or two. Some players even go so far as to take the second turn, and then attack on the end of turn 6, so that there is only one decisive assault, and broken enemy units have no chance to rally before calculating VP.
A Woodelf Skirmish Army- while woodelves are naturally quick and dodgy, some players field hosts of skirmishers like dryads and wardancers and fast cavalry like glade and wild riders. The army can easily dart around the flanks of any force that attempts to bring it to battle, and the packs of Dryads are excellent in combat, making the army even fiercer when it does decide to stand and fight.
Beastmen- arch rivals of the woodelves, the beastmen are uniquely able to gain a rank bonus with their skirmishers. That, combined with their ambush ability, means that not only are beastmen able to out run opponents already deployed, but they can also hide sizeable portions of their army away from the battle, until the time is right to strike.Establishing the BeatdownWater Overview: The Water army in Fantasy does not exist. It is possible to have such an army in 40K, because in 40K, most types of troop are equipped for roles as both close-order fighters, and also shooters. 40K has no real penalty for moving and shooting, so a unit can move and fire equally effectively for the whole game, making for the most tactically flexible options.
In Fantasy however, each unit has a predetermined role: either fight it out with a sword/spear/axe/halberd, or shoot with a bow/crossbow/pistol/handgun/blowpipe. Some units, like the Dark Elf warriors with Crossbows, or Ork Arrer Boyz are good at both combat and shooting, but suffer from the -1 penalty for shooting on the move, and cannot rank up for combat and still generate a sufficient number of shots. They are better as second line units, where they can shoot, and then be fed into melee if they are needed. Typically, units like this are seen as overpriced, because unlike in 40K, one ability hinders the other. In close combat, the points spend on bows are wasted, and when shooting, the points spent for a higher WS are doing you no good. 200pts of Arrer Boyz will almost always lose out to 200pts of regular Ork Boyz.
‘The Beatdown’ is a term derived from Magic the Gathering. It represents the player who is going to be ‘dominant’ or ‘aggressive’ in their plan, and the player who is going to be fighting a reactionary battle.
The Beatdown player has to play fast, and play aggressively. If the Control player can stay alive for several turns, the battle will gradually swing more and more in their favor.
There is no clear cut path to establishing who the Beatdown is. Factors such as unit selection, terrain, deployment, and even progression of the game, all have bearing on who becomes the beatdown. The best way to approach finding the Beatdown, is fairly simple if taken at face value. It’s just having an eye for it that requires the training:
1) Look at each army on the table. Does either army have a clearly defined victory condition? These conditions are usually things like “bring all guns to bear and shoot the bejeebuz out of him”, or “get into one huge close combat”. If only one army on the table has a clear-cut objective like that, then THEY are the Beatdown.
2) If BOTH armies have a clear mission, then what? Look at the missions, and see if one will preclude (this means prevent) the other. Shooting will not prevent assaults, but hand to hand fighting will absolutely put a stop to shooting. If one of the missions cancels out the other, then you have found the Beatdown.
3) What if we both have the SAME mission? If you both have the same mission, like “shooting v. shooting”, step back and look again. If both armies get what they want, which army is going to ‘do it better’? That army is the Beatdown.
Elemental Combat and Beatdowns
Fire: Fire is always the Beatdown, surprise surprise. This is because they are looking for close combat, and therefore want to make contact before shooting whittles them away, and while they’ve still got time to kill things. However, against a fire army, the faster MOVING fire army becomes the Beatdown.
This is because Fire armies pay for their speed, and more points spent on going fast, means fewer points spent on combat ability. Given that the enemy Fire army wants the same thing you do: namely “get in and kill stuff”, there’s no sense in bothering with how fast you move, so you just wasted those points.
Earth: Earth is typically the Beatdown against Air armies, since they’ve got the manpower to lock down or shoot down anything in front of them. They are hoping that they can bring enough meat shields to the fight to absorb casualties that they’ll take in hand to hand, and do enough damage to cripple the enemy before that happens.
In Earth v. Earth battles, the faster army is beatdown, for the same reason as in Fire v. Fire battles.
Air: Air armies are almost never the beatdown. They are trying to wait it out, and hold off on the killing until the last few turns. The only time that they become the beatdown is against more ‘shooty’ air armies, because their close combat will negate the shooting.
Magic and the Beatdown
In Warhammer Fantasy, there is an additional phase that is not covered by 40K. That would be the magic phase. While in many respects combat-character choices come down to the rest of the army style, Magic is in it’s own league.
There is no Earth, Wind, and Fire to magic. There is only Aggressive and Defensive magic. Both roles are represented in the army, as each mage typically contributes both Casting Dice, and Dispel dice. However, it is very much like a tug of war between the two, and the balance of the cloth in the middle determines an army’s magic effectiveness.
Just like in choosing units to fit into one of the three elements, choosing magic to fit into the categories of Aggressor/Defender is exclusive. Choosing to make your army more offensive means putting your points towards that result, and taking fewer defensive items.
Determining who the beatdown and who the control is for the magic phase is really an exercise in determining dominance. The magic phase requires both sides to participate, and for this reason, control and beatdown roles are established from the very beginning, and hold true for the rest of the game.
Influences on the Beatdown are: number of PD generated, number of DD generated, number of bound items, strength of bound items, casting value of spells, and wizard dice allotments.
Aggressive: armies who are magically aggressive generate extra powerdice. Often this is done through magic items, spells, or innate abilities. They might also feature a lot of bound items, to let mundane characters help ‘burn’ the enemy dispel pile.
Defensive: armies who are magically defensive often try to generate larger numbers of Dispel Dice. This can be difficult, as mages only generate 1 or 2 dice depending on their level. Defensive armies usually field high numbers of mages, and take items that boost their ability to create Dispel dice. They may have units carrying Magic Resistant items, to help defend themselves by adding a dice against harmful spells.
Identifying the Beatdown:
Aggressive v. Aggressive- when both armies are on the attack, the aggressor is the army with the least casting dice. This is because spending points on PowerDice means less points spent on getting extra Dispel Dice. Against an army that is already seeking to overwhelm magical defenses, taking a weak level of defense is just wasted points.
Defensive v. Defensive- This time, the army with the fewest powerdice is the beatdown. This is because the Beatdown in magic is the army who is trying to cast spells. If both armies cannot cast, then the magic phase stagnates, and becomes pointless. However, either side can get spells through; there is still interest in the phase. The army with the lowest number of dice will have to try to cast with as many as possible, in hopes of generating Irresistibles or just high numbers.
Aggressive v. Defensive- generally, the army who generates less dice power dice, or has higher casting values, or has higher level wizards is the Beatdown. This is because they need to try to put as much force behind their spells in hopes of Irresistable Force, or high numbers, to require the most out of the enemy dispel dice. If you have only a few powerdice, matching the opponent die for die is wasteful. Unfortunately, the Beatdown is also the army who lacks magical dominance. Their power is insufficient to break the other side’s Dispel capabilities with enough reliability to make a difference in the battle.
Silent Reqiuem’s original tactica was far longer, but it included batreps and some things which I feel are unnecessary for understand the Elemental method of combat. What I wanted to bring to fantasy, is the concept of understanding the beatdown, and understanding that when choosing an army, it is best to understand what element the army will be playing to, and choose your army accordingly.