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I think dire wolfs are very good in fighting, they just arn't used correctly all the time. All the light cav that I have seen wear armor, where DW's do not yet people still play them like they would light cav from other armies.
What seems to work for me is to line them up single file behind my DK's (remember free reform takes care of this, and if you flank charge all they have to do is turn 90 degree's). Dark Knights protect vs. arrows with their 2+ armor save, 4 toughness and block line of sight to my wolves. When my DK's charge I wither use my wolves to flank charge (giving another 2 unit str per wolf, plus a panic/fear test for being charged in the flank while fighting) or send them up behind to wreak havok on the units behind the unit my DK's charged such as single charicters or war machines.
So to rephrase, use your dire wolves to support your knights (or whatever unit, just have to go slower with others) and keep your dire wolves from being the front units until the rest of your units are engadged or able to block LOS until safe for your wolves slip behind opponents army. Most players seem to only use 5 dire wolves so they need the support until their weakness is past. Just remember the dire wolves do not HAVE to go all 9 inches. So far I have played two games where this has worked (keeping my DK's on my flank and dire wolves still farther out by a couple inches).
So tell me what you think, any flaws in my logic or any other advantages I did not list? Ways to make this work better?
I agree Dire Wolves are great at what they do. I think people expect them to do more than they should be expected to do however. Play them smart and they are a steal for their points!
I've learned to shield them, too. Sometimes I use one unit to shield another, but they do die so quickly to missile/magic fire. They are soft, soft, soft targets and need to be sheltered until they can do their slavering charge thing.
Another way of getting them into battle unscathed is sending them very wide on one or both flanks, they get an initial 18 inch march for being near the general then can swing in on turn two. Normally they are so far removed that the enemy ignores them. This tactic does mean you need to play quite a long game (five turns say) and on a big board.
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