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College of Battle: Empire Tactics

13739 Views 6 Replies 1 Participant Last post by  CaptainSarathai
Hey guys, welcome to the Quick Start Guide for the Empire. I started one of these up for the Warriors of Chaos, and High Elves, and thought that maybe we could use a similar thread here.

This thread isn't meant to serve as a catch-bin for all of your questions. If you're left with questions after reading this, you might want to pop over to the "Starting Empire?" thread
>>> Starting Empire? Post Questions Here
Otherwise, what you're going to see below are the kinds of opinions that you'll get from veteran players if you ask about these units or choices in a thread.

The Golden Rule

Let's start with the "Golden Rule," because it's the simplest part of this - nothing that anyone says about building a Warhammer army is 'law'. This guide was edited to reflect the types of feedback that you would typically see in an army list thread, or the kinds of discussions that we've had in various "how to beat," and "what to take" threads. Furthermore, these are choices for competitive armies; these are the optimized choices, for lists that you might consider taking to a tournament. If you're just playing "fluffy" games, or playing against newer players, you might not need to bring an army packed to the gills with all the best bits. But...

The Golden Rule of Empire
Empire itself is not a particularly amazing army. There, I said it.
In the guides for High Elves and Warriors of Chaos, I posted the "Golden Rule" and left it at that. However, those armies are generally considered "top tier" or even [dare I say?] 'Cheesy', 'OP' or 'Broken'. They Empire, on the other hand, is considered more of a mid-tier army. They are not 'best' at any single phase (nope, not even shooting) and are a 'Jack of All Trades' army by all accounts. Therefore, playing Empire is challenge, and half the game is rising to meet that challenge. Always remember:

1) Patience is key. It takes everyone a while to learn the game of Warhammer. It takes a while longer to understand the game - make tactical decisions, know when to sacrifice a unit, how to properly pick your targets, etc. Until you learn these things, playing Empire can be brutal. Expect to come up against opponents with special rules that simply break entire rules (Elves never strike last with Greatweapons, for instance). Empire doesn't get those rules, and their units don't many powerful special rules of their own. Even the rules that they do have, like 'Hold the Line', are tinted with the fact that they only apply when you are losing combat. Stick with it, and be tough. Because...

2) Your army will make you a better general. Playing a low-to-mid tier army forces you to learn the game, and that makes you a better general. Playing a top-tier army can give a false sense of accomplishment, because it's easy to just spam "da best" unit, or to just push your army across the table and win games. This is especially true of Warriors of Chaos -one of the most popular armies in the game- who can usually win simply by getting each of their units into combat with something. Not for Empire. Empire wins games by understanding the game beyond just what units in your army are "da bestest". You learn the opponent's army, you learn your own army, and you use that advantage to play the tightest game that you can.

3) Bragging Rights. You get them with Empire. Nobody can "steal your victory" with Empire - they can't claim that you won because your army was "OP" or because a certain unit is just broken. Nobody expects Empire to win games, they're the underdogs most of the time. Becoming truly successful with Empire is something that few people ever manage - not because they can't, but just because they lack the patience. By the time you start wiping out opposing armies with your Empire, you'll have taken your knocks, earned your stripes, and you're entitled to be proud and boast a little.

Now on to the tactics themselves!

Lords and Heroes
Magic and Magic Items

Color Coding:
I'm going to try and color code each choice. It looks nice, it's more professional, and it makes them stand out while making the information quicker to digest (you don't have to read Captain's essays anymore, just look at the colors!). It's a bit tough with Empire, because just about everything falls along a very similar power-band. Nothing stands out as being amazing, remember?
Here's how the colors will work:

Gold - These are the best units or "signature units" in our army. Some of these are even "must haves" like a Battle Standard Bearer, because they are vital to the way our army plays. Units/Characters who are colored gold stand out head-and-shoulders above not only other choices within their section, but within the book as a whole.
Green - green is for 'Go'. These are the units that you will probably take most often, and will receive the least negative criticism for taking. Often, they're best option in their respective section or role.
Purple - Purple is for the more "middle of the road" choices. A lot of the Empire book falls into this category, as a lot of their units are very "average" at what they do. In other guides, Purple meant that a unit has a very specific role to fill - in this guide, Purple is the average, and Green is for units which stand a bit above and beyond that average.
Red - never. Not even once. These are the choices that will get you shouted at through the interwebs. Like gold, there will be very few Red units, because most of the Empire book is pretty balanced overall. There are some choices out there, however, that are just so terrible that you are shooting yourself in the foot by taking them.

Sometimes a unit might have one color, but there will be a certain build for that unit which has a better color. A good example are Imperial Knights Inner Circle with Great Weapons
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Lords and Heroes

Intro to Lords and Heroes​
Empire characters exist to support the army, and are among the best characters in the game for that role. Unlike other armies who gain support from their characters, Empire does not use their characters simply to add kills to a combat. Empire characters generally can't be counted on to add tons of kills to a combat, or to handle challenges particularly well. Instead, the special rules like "Hold the Line" are where our characters shine.

Empire characters also have the advantage of being cheap. Indeed, it is sometimes better to just focus on having multiple characters, rather than over-investing on gear for a single character. A good example of this is the Empire Captain - sure, you can give him 50pts of equipment, but you could also just buy a second Captain for a few points more.

In spite of all this however, no Empire army will thrive by "maxing out" it's characters. If you spend all of your points on characters, they will be left with nothing to support! Therefore, despite the new 50% cap for Lords/Heroes, it's better to stick to the classic 25% caps for each. Often times, you won't even get close to 25% for your Lords, and will usually just barely scratch it with your Heroes.


General of the Empire - This guy doesn't do anything that you couldn't accomplish with a mere Captain, because his biggest (only) advantage is that he offers "Hold the Line!" to your units. Ld9 is helpful, yes, but HTL actually diminishes the need for massive Leadership bubbles, and, the Arch Lector offers the same massive Leadership with even more usefulness.
If you're thinking that you're going to kit this guy out to handle combat, think again. His stats are almost literally no better than the typical Chaos champion - that's right, not Lord or Hero, but a mere Champion. Not good odds when there are things like Vampires, Chaos Lords, and filthy Bretonians running around on the table.

Battle Wizard Lord - Being entirely honest here, this guy is Gold. Not because he's an amazing Wizard, because he's not. He is literally just average - no boosts to casting or dispelling, no special magic lore, nothing. Nope, he's important because you need that +4 to Dispel attempts. Also, this guy gives you access to a +4 on casting Lore of Shadows, which is massively helpful for Empire. Remember - our characters are all about supporting the army, and a Wizard is the essential support character.

Arch Lector On a War Altar[/COLOR] - The Arch Lector alone will never be a bad choice. He comes with Ld9, and if he's on foot, he'll likely be sidled up next to a Captain BSB providing HTL, so at least you're not wasting a rule. However, it's on the War Altar that he becomes truly solid, and why/how most people like to take him. First, the entire model has a Wardsave, and secondly, he's a good alternative to piling Priests into two separate units. Lastly, in a "Light Coven" army, the Altar brings a Bound version of Banishment, which is amazing.

Grand Master - Sadly, he's just not worth it. He suffers from the same problem as the Empire General, in that he's just not deadly enough in combat to truly warrant fielding him. It's true that he can be equipped to mulch "basic" enemy troops, he's still toast if he comes up against an enemy character. The problem really lies with the fact that he must be your General. His only real advantage comes with being attached to a Cavalry army, which makes it tempting to ride him away from your lines and lose the advantage of his 'Inspiring Presence' amongst your infantry. Moreover, having your general as a dedicated combat killing-machine means that he'll inevitably end up meeting with one of those enemies characters designed to destroy him, and then you're out a few hundred Victory Points.


Captain of the Empire BSB - Right out of the gates, a BSB should be a mandatory choice in every army that isn't Undead/Daemon. Seriously, you need to take one of these. Do not give him a magic banner however. You need to protect him, and that means a Wardsave - usually the Armor of Destiny, so that you can keep the Talisman of Preservation free for your L4 Wizard.
Beyond that, Captains are just great. Their cheap enough to simply toss into any regiment where you might need HTL. As I've said, I usually keep their gear to a minimum. The 4+ Ward items are usually tied up by the BSB and your General, so the only things left are 5+ items for a high cost. You can get a 6+ Parry Save just by taking a shield, and combined with Full Plate for a 3+ save, that's not a bad offer. Keep them cheap, keep them disposable, and sprinkle them around the army for a solid front line.

Battle Wizard Lore of Metal or Lore of Light - Having an extra Wizard around to carry a Scroll isn't necessarily a bad idea, but like I said - our Wizards don't really add much to the army aside from the boost to Dispelling that we get from the L4. However, there are two strategies which really stand out for an Empire army in the magic phase. Firstly, Lore of Metal is a solid lore for the army, just for the Sig spell, as it gives us a way to deal with heavy armor. Since you only really need the signature spell however, there's no point in wasting 75% of a L4s spell allowance on the rest of the lore. This makes L1s perfect for the job, and even lets you spam the signature spell several times during a phase, freeing up your L4 to carry Lore of Shadow. Lore of Light Wizards are important if you are going for a Light Coven, which I will explain more in the Magic Section.

Warrior Priest - like the Empire Captains, these are excellent support characters to sprinkle around your army. Hatred is a powerful bonus to any of our melee units, and it spread along to Detachments as well, via the psychology rules. Like Captains, it's best to keep these guys cheap and cheerful, so that it's less of a big deal when your enemy inevitably targets them to negate their unit-wide bonus. Having several of these guys also gives us extra Channeling attempts, and the ability to spam even more easily-cast bound spells, to help draw out enemy dispel dice and boost our regiments up even further.

Master Engineer - if you have a Gunline with lots of artillery, this guy might be useful. Otherwise, he's probably closer to a Red for most lists. Pigeon Bombs are a fun little addition and can make this guy worthwhile, but generally he's not worth it just as a delivery system for the birds. You'd be better off buying a Mortar in that case.

Witch Hunter - even more than the Grandmaster, I wish this guy were awesome. The fluff and the model are just so cool, but he's unfortunately not good enough to really be that helpful. The only truly useful way to field this model is to take 2-3, each with a brace of pistols, and hide them in a unit of Archers. The Archers give them ablative wounds, and you can declare the enemy L4 Wizard as their Quarry and unload a volley of shots into him. As you can see, this tactic is very situational, and costly - you're so much better off just fielding a bunch of Captains and Warrior Priests. If you really want to snipe out enemy characters, just give your Captains and Outrider Champs Hochland Long Rifles and call it a day.
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Core Units

Intro to Core
In most armies, Core is a "tax" that must be taken. The units which fill in the Core choices are often just duplicates of another regiment in either Special or Rare which can accomplish the same task, but do it 'better'. Many armies will create a "Death-Star" by packing all of their important characters into a single large, special or rare regiment. However, much of this is not true of the Empire. The Core section of the Empire book boasts some of our best options, and there are not units elsewhere who can fulfill the role equally as well, especially when you start adding in Priests and Captains to these units. Moreover, there are no solid "chaff" options in the Empire Core section, meaning that we must dedicate our Special slots to fighting the chaff war.
All of this together means that in many cases, Empire armies will over-spend on Core, going above and beyond the minimum 25% that is required of them. This is okay, simply because in many respects, our Core section contains some of the best units in our book, and no matter what, it will always form the backbone of our army. We don't have any other regiments in the book which can form a huge, stalwart block to anchor the center our army, so that job falls onto the shoulders of our Core regiments.

Halberdiers - Halberdiers give us a solid block of inexpensive S4 attacks. In fact, some of the most inexpensive S4 attacks in the game. Combined with a Captain and a Priest, Halberdiers are excellent for ripping apart enemy core units and fighting long, grinding battles against the enemy. So why only Purple? Well, because...

Empire Swordsmen - Swordsmen have an extra point of WS, and the fact that they can use their shields in combat means that they have an extra point of Armor over Halberds as well, and can Parry for a 6+ Ward even when their armor would fail. They are our best option for pinning enemy regiments in place. With 'Hold the Line', this can make a block of Swordsmen very hard to shift. This gives the Empire player two options: if we think it's possible to win the combat, we can send in a regiment of Knights or something else "hard hitting" to break the combat away from our Swordsmen. If we don't think that we can win, our Swordsmen are the best unit in the army to by relied on to hold the enemy regiment up for as long as possible, maybe even for the rest of the game.

Spearmen - No parry save like the Swordsmen, and only S3 unlike the Halberdiers, makes the Spearman a bad choice. Fighting in an extra rank is no different than having an extra attack on your front rank, which we get from Free Company, right up until you lose that supporting rank. Spears are often considered the worst Core choice for our army.

Crossbowmen - A 30" range lets these guys getting into shooting-matches with enemy longbows, and outshoot every other weapon in the game. The fact that they do this at S4, and at such a low cost, makes them even better. Empire shooting is used to soften up enemy targets before the Knights charge in, or before the enemy can charge our Infantry. Crossbows are excellent for this, and their long range often means that they'll get an extra round of shooting over their Handgunner friends.

Handgunners - Very nearly a green unit, to be fair. However, they are trading 6" of range for Armor Piercing. On paper, it's not a bad trade, it even adds a few tenths of a wound onto their average volley of shooting. The problem is that their 24" range means that they'll have to advance into bowfire, and particularly, within range of things like Goblin Bowmen and Dark Elf Repeater Crossbowmen - both of whom will outshoot our Handgunners by a fair margin. Move-and-Fire means that we even lose a turn of shooting when we move into that range. Handgunners can pile on quite a bit of damage, but they're left down by the short range of their weapons.
You should never give a ranged regiment a Marksman, the +1BS is not worth it - this is true of XBowmen and Archers as well, but it is particularly tempting for Handgunners. The +2 shots that you gain from giving that Marksman a Repeater Handgun is two points more costly than simply adding two Handgunners to the regiment, and no more accurate. Likewise, the Hochland Long Rifle is generally worthless on anything with less than BS5, because of the severe penalties to Hit for firing at range and attempting to Snipe an enemy character.

Archers - Just take Repeater Crossbowmen. The only advantage that Archers have is being able to Move and Fire. However, the fact that they're Skirmishers means that fielding them in large enough regiments for their S3 bows to be threatening, takes up a lot of space on the table. I wish that they had given Skirmishers the "Feigned Flight" rule that Fast Cavalry have, as it would make Archers with Archer detachments actually very good.

Free Company Militia - Unless you want to get a bunch of S3 attacks into the army for some reason, there's just no reason to take these. No banner, no detachment rules... they're rather useless. Even as a Detachment, you'd be better off taking Halberdiers for the higher strength.

Knightly Orders Inner Circle, with Great Weapons- simply awesome, and integral to the main strategy of an Empire army. The primary tactic with Empire is to weaken the enemy with shooting and magic, and then charge in to finish them off with Cavalry. Units which cannot be destroyed by the Cavalry (either Knights or Demigryphs) are locked into combat against your Infantry (Swordsmen, Halberds). If the Knights have time, they can charge in and finish off whatever might be fighting against the Infantry blocks.
There is an inherent trade-off between Knightly Orders and Demigryph Knights. First, Knightly Orders can be fielded in Core, and don't compete for space with Pistoliers or Outriders. Secondly, Knights don't lose effectiveness when fielded in Ranks, and are cheap enough to make large, ranked units feasible. Bringing ranks into the fight means that Knights can Disrupt enemy formations, and more importantly, break Steadfast. Demigryph Knights do hit harder on the charge however - unless you field your knights with a Warrior Priest, for Hatred (Demis benefit less from this, as the mounts are unaffected).
For large units of Knights, it's also worth considering upgrading them to Inner Circle and giving the Great Weapons, which creates our best option for a high-strength "grinder" unit. Unable to be Stomped, and with a save twice as good as Greatswordsmen, and with an extra point of Strength to boot, they stand head-and-shoulders above their kin for the role. Demis are capped off at a maximum efficient unit size of 4, as they do not benefit from additional ranks. If you need/want a larger unit than 4 Demis to grind the enemy, IC GW Knights are your only alternative.

Notes on the Detachment System​
The Detachment system is considered a powerful tool of the Empire army, but in reality, it's often less useful than it seems. In order to make the most of the Detachment system, you must field excessively large Parent units. A popular method for this, is to field 50 Halberdiers, backed up by smaller units of 25 Swordsmen as Detachments, and then attaching a Stubborn character to the Halberds, making the entire group (likely, your entire Core requirement) Stubborn. Stubborn and Hold the Line combined, mean that your units will usually have to be wiped out entirely.
The problem is that while 25 Stubborn, HTL Swordsmen will have to be wiped out, it won't take particularly long to do it. Most often, you will see 2 large units as the main "line regiments" in the army. 30-ish Swordsmen, or 40-50 Halberdiers are the norm. Because this means that your Detachments will be smaller, you might not see Melee detachments at all. Fielding 15 Halberdiers to "support charge" your Swordsmen, is really just giving your opponent a 15-strong stepping stone to charge and get behind your lines.
Missile detachments have quite another problem altogether, and that is that our most useful missile troops cannot Move-and-Fire, which means that if we want to maintain the 3" coherency required for rules like 'Supporting Fire', then our Parent regiments either cannot move, or our Detachments cannot shoot. This is actually less of problem than you might think, because as long as we can out-shoot and out-magic our opponents, we can force them to come to us, and the Empire tactic is to shoot the enemy for as long as possible, and then charge with knights, rather than our infantry.

Because of this emphasis on missile-armed detachments, some people believe that all missile regiments should be attached to an eligible melee unit. This is not a bad idea in practice, but it should be noted that you are sacrificing deployment drops in order to do this. Being able to out-deploy your opponent is a large advantage in Warhammer, and Empire have no reason why they should not have more drops than most other armies. Reducing 6 deployment drops into just 2 drops (2 parents, 4 detachments) is something that players really should consider first. Is the one round of Stand and Shoot that you can expect in a game, really worth missing out on the 1-2 drops that you'd get by fielding those regiments on their own?

Rough Effectiveness of Units as Detachments
Swordsmen size 20+
Spearmen (literally never)
Free Company
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Special Units

Intro to Special
Virtually all of our Gold choices are in Special, which is true of most armies in the game. As most of these units are support or "hammer" type units however, Empire does not necessarily rely on it's Special, which is fine, as we pointed out earlier that it's not uncommon for Empire to over-spend on Core. Except for one unit and the artillery, our Special units are usually just clones of a unit in Core and fulfill the same role. Where the Special units do the role better, they are often green or even gold. If they perform worse, then they're red, as a result of the "Core tax".

Greatswords - Nothing like starting off a section with a red unit! Greatswords have one thing going for them: Stubborn. The fact that you can toss in detachments alongside these guys and have a large section of your army be Stubborn is pretty nifty. The trouble, is that there are a few problems with doing this:
First - the Detachments count as Special, not Core. If you could plop a single Special unit into the middle of the army and give your Core Stubborn, these guys would be worth it. Unfortunately though, you're still taking a lot of points somewhere in Core.
Second - the size of a Detachment is based on the numeric count of the models in the regiment, not it's points cost. To get a large enough Parent unit to field Detachments big enough to really benefit from being Stubborn, you'd need to spend a ton of points, and would probably max out your Special altogether.
Third - Helm of Command on an Arch Lector exists, and can be slotted into any regiment, and will similarly effect Detachments. Plus Hatred, because why the hell not?
It also doesn't help that these guys are ASL with half the save and less Strength as a regiment of IC GW Knights (we just discussed this) and they count as Special.

Demigryph Knights - not that's more like it! Demigryph Knights are considered by many to be the best unit available to the Empire. I mentioned in the Knight section that this might actually be debatable, as Demigryphs are not a particularly versatile regiment - they should not be equipped with Cavalry Halberds, and they should not be fielded in ranks. The reasoning for this is that the Demis are doing most of the heavy lifting for this regiment, so it's better to have a 1+ save rather than a 2+ save with S4 on the riders. When fielded in ranks, you lose the Stomp and all of the attacks from the Demis in the back ranks, and again - they're doing most of the work. It's better to have two units of 3 Demis, rather than a single unit of 6. Going more than 4 wide makes the unit unwieldy, too wide to fit through terrain and very easy for your enemy to charge with multiple regiments of their own.
That restricts them to pretty much just being very expensive "charge missiles". Don't get me wrong, they're still Gold for this exact reason, because getting hit with 9S5 attacks, another 3S6 attacks, and then 3 auto-hit S5 Stomps, is just brutal. Point-for-point they'll put out more damage than an equivalently size regiment of Knights, and that's their job. However, people see this regiment, and see these stats, and think that they can take on the world. They can't. If Demigryphs can't break the enemy on the charge or shortly after, then you've charged too early or charged the wrong target. They're only T4, and that means that they're easily brought down through attrition, even with their 1+ armor save.

Reiksguard Knights - These guys have a bad reputation, because Knights don't need to be Stubborn - especialy if they're equipped with Lances. If it doesn't break on the charge, you're better off Fleeing and coming around for another pass. For 2pts less, you get Inner Circle Knights in Core. So why aren't these guys red? Well, because you only get one unit of Inner Circle Knights. That extra point of Strength is certainly nice, don't get me wrong. The problem is that you should really only consider fielding these guys if you have Knights in your Core, are over your maximum Core allowance, and have extra points in your army to upgrade those Knights to Reiksguard. Do you have any idea how rare that is? Basically, if you want several units of Knights, you're better off fielding Knightly Orders. If you want a regiment of S4 Knights, upgrade one of those units to Inner Circle. If you want several regiments of "strong" Knights, and have points in your Special... why aren't you fielding Demigryphs?

Huntsmen - well, this is awkward. These guys are 1pt cheaper than Archers, gain Scout, and are Special. Here's the deal. If you want Archers, take Huntsmen instead. The Scout rule gives them some nice utility, and even if you don't use them as Scouts, they're cheaper than Archers. However, there are much, much better options for killing Warmachines. We're just about to get to them...

Pistoliers - this is how Empire wins the Chaff war. Granted, the Chaff war is not as important to us, because we're a largely defensive army and we should have plenty of shooting for getting chaff out the charge-lanes in front of our Cavalry. However, being able to tie up enemy regiments is extremely important. There is actually a way to field an Empire army that does not use Infantry at all, but still plays the way an Empire army should (soften up the enemy, then charge) and it all focuses around the proper use of Pistoliers.

Pistoliers are too expensive to use for the suicidal Redirection game that most chaff will play, but given a Musician and they're perfect for Feigned-Flight shenanigans. The trick is to move your Pistoliers in front of an enemy regiment, at a sharp angle and as close as possible. The enemy is then forced to either hold still for a turn (in which case you shoot them with Pistoliers and whatever else has range) or else charge the Pistoliers. You declare a Flee reaction, and run away. If the enemy pursues you, he is Pursuing at the sharp angle of the Pistoliers - meaning that he is moving away from the juicy targets at the center of your army. The enemy can choose to Redirect, so it's important that you use this tactic a good distance away from your own lines, so that he is likely to fail the long charge towards you. Using your Musician, the Pistoliers are likely to Rally, and you can move them back in to repeat this tactic.

Outriders - Aside from not counting as Core, Outriders are better than Handgunners, and possibly even Crossbows, in every possible way. Firing their Repeater Handguns they are just as accurate as Handgunners or Crossbowmen, and are cheaper on a Points-per-Shot ratio. Most players suggest giving the unit Barding, which makes them vastly more survivable than either regiment as well - this helps to offset the short range of a handgun, as we pointed out in the Core section. Alternately, you can keep them as Fast Cavalry and use their Vanguard Move to put them within range of enemy Warmachines. 30 shots from a large unit of Outriders is usually enough to destroy Cannons, RBTs, and other artillery on the first turn.
Large units are the name of the game here, as you want to avoid being Panicked by enemy Magic or Shooting, and are limited to only three copies of the same regiment in Special. Typically, I aim to have blocks of 10, although at times I have divided my 20 Outiders into three smaller regiments, so that I could avoid wasting shots.
It's also worth pointing out that while the Hochland Long Rifle itself is not a particularly good weapon in any case, it is best used on Outrider Champions, as they are cheaper and accurate enough to actually score hits with the weapon.

Great Cannons - This is what keeps people from fielding Monsters, Chariots, running their characters solo, putting characters into units that don't allow Look Out Sir rolls... Cannons basically terrify everyone. Are they overpriced? Yeah, actually. Are they worthless when people don't field any of that stuff above? Yeah, pretty much. The point is, if you don't have one, you'll eventually kick yourself for it. If you do have one, then you are still dictating how the opponent plays the game.
(Don't tell anyone, but I don't use them in my army)

Mortars - they're solid Gold when they land smack in the middle of a unit of Goblins. They're Red if you miss, or if you hit anything with T4 and/or an armor save. I split the difference and will tell you that if you want to kill Goblins, our Swordsmen are actually pretty darn good at it.

Flagellants - See also: Greatswords, but with less armor, less Strength, 1pt more expensive, Frenzy, and all they gain is Unbreakable. It's a whole lotta "meh", to be honest.
I've seen people use them as "Speedbump" units, similarly to how you would use chaff. The point is to field about 5-10 of them, put them at an angle in front of an enemy unit, and either force them to overrun off into the distance or else hold still for at least a turn, because they either reform to face your lines after wiping the Flaggies out, or because there's 1 annoying Flaggy who refuses to Die or Flee. This is just about the only use for these guys.
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Rare Units

Intro to Rare
Rare is typically the least utilized section in our book, as the units here are generally just... odd. They are either highly situational, or else only work in certain lists, and by the time you finish fielding all of the Gold choices available elsewhere in the book, there's not much space left for units like these.

Helblaster Volley Gun - Point-for-point, about as good as a block of Hangunners, thanks to S5 and getting lots of shots. The advantage for this model really comes from the fact that it can swivel in place before firing. This makes it ideal for defending your artillery-train and dealing with anything that might get behind your Handgunners or Crossbowmen.
Otherwise I'd say just stick with your Core shooting options, as they count for Core minimums and won't explode if you get unlucky.

Helstorm Rocket Batter - It's a big mortar. Sure if hits harder, but it's less accurate too. They can be lots of fun, but generally people will avoid them. There are better uses for your Rare points, and better uses for your points altogether.

Steam Tank - I'm putting this as gold because it's iconic. It's one of those things that whenever you say "Empire", people almost immediately reply with the STank, and they fear it, similarly to Cannons. It really is a good unit though, and worth taking. The Steam Cannon is about as effective as a cannon as you'll need most of the time. In combat, these things are horrific - they inflict massive Impact Hits, and can use Grind to take out tons of enemies at once. Not to mention they're Unbreakable, so unless the enemy has a way to kill a T6 mode with 10W quickly, you can probably hold them up all day.

Celestial Hurricanum - +1 to Hit for everyone within 6" means that a lot of the time, your Swordsmen are hitting on a 2+, which is nice. +1 Power Dice is nice as well. The bound spell is a bit lacking however, as it's too random to plan on the effect, and it scatters. Overall, this thing is an expensive way to get a couple of nice buffs into the army, but nothing that makes you sit back and say "wow".

Luminark of Hysh - This is what you want in a "support wagon". The 6+ Wardsave actually makes Halberds a bit more feasible. The real bonus however, is that in addition to this, you also gain an automatic Dispel Dice to the pool just for having at least one of these on the table, and it's Bound Spell is practically a flaming cannon. This makes it awesome for dealing with stuff like Trolls, and really awesome for killing Daemon Princes and other big nasties from the Daemon/Undead armies.
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Special Characters, and Unit Recap

Special Characters
In 8th edition, Special Characters tend to be overpriced versions of generic characters in the same army. Another problem is that many of them are carrying absolutely bare-minimal defenses. Therefore, I will be comparing these characters, to the generic versions within the same slot, and assuming that you have the option of taking 50/100pts of any of the Magic Items (for example, I always assume that you can take a Talisman of Preservation or Armor of Destiny, even though you can only include 1 per army).

Karl Franz - if you have the points, he's actually worth every one of them just for the 18" Inspiring Presence and Ld10. He comes bog-stock with a 4+ Wardsave, and MR2, so his saves are as good (or better) than your Lord would get. Better still, either of his Magic Weapons are quite solid, and I really prefer Ghal Maraz.
Although tempting, don't put him onto a Mount, as both options are overpriced, especially the Imperial Dragon. You also want to keep him in the middle of your lines, where that Inspiring Presence and Ld10 is going to make a real difference.

Kurt Helborg - He's a Grand Master of the Reiksguard. Seeing a point here? The Solland Runefang would be worth it, if he had a Wardsave to keep him alive long enough to use it. Franz costs just 20pts more, has better Leadership, better Inspiring Presence range, stock with a Runefang, and has an actual Wardsave. He's superior in every way.

Balthasar Gelt - No Wardsave inside combat, and no real Wardsave against Magic. Seriously - just a 5+ Ward would be enough to turn this guy solid Gold (pun definitely intended)

Volkmar the Grimon War Altar - 90pts more than an Archlector for a +1 to Cast his Prayers and +2S while on the WAltar. Not really worth it, to be honest, but it's not so upsetting that you shouldn't take him. The +1 isn't bad.

Marius Leitdorf - Runefang, no wardsave... Paired Weapons on Horseback don't even grant the +1Attack, and he's crazy. For 7pts less, you can get an Empire General with everything but the Crazy.

Ludwig Schwarzhelm - Like Helborg, he makes the "rookie mistake" of having a decent magic weapon, but no defenses. His 18" Hold your Ground rule (not Hold the Line) is nice, but not worth it if he dies in his first round of combat. The Emperor's Bodyguard rule might be nice, if it were used after rolling armor and wards. Otherwise, it's actually more likely that Helborg will "suicide" before the Emperor would have actually been wounded once.

Luthor Huss - would be Green if he could be fielded on foot. Otherwise, for +90pts you're getting a built in Wardsave and what amounts to the Van Horsman's Speculum. Plus he can make his unit Stubborn. Really, the only reason not to take him, is if you don't have the points to upgrade your normal Warrior Priest to this guy - which is completely understandable, and why he's only purple.

Markus Wulfhart - Cannons are 20pts cheaper, practically always hit, and always wound on a 2+, with Multiple Wounds (D6). Explain to me why I want to take this guy?

Unit Recap

Karl Franz
Kurt Helborg
Balthasar Gelt
Volkmar the Grim on War Altar
Marius Leitdorf
General of the Empire
Battle Wizard Lord
Arch Lector on War Altar
Grand Master

Ludwig Schwarzhelm
Luthor Huss
Markus Wulfhart
Captain of the Empire Battle Standard Bearer
Battle Wizard Lore of Metal or Lore of Light
Warrior Priest
Master Engineer
Witch Hunter

Free Company Militia

Knightly Orders Inner Circle and/or Great Weapons

Demigryph Knights
Reiksguard Knights

Great Cannon


Helblaster Volley Gun
Helstorm Rocket Battery
Steam Tank
Celestial Hurricanum
Luminark of Hysh
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Magic Items and Lores of Magic

Heirlooms of the Empire

Runefang - only for the price that it costs to get it on models who don't already have it (Karl Franz's Runefang is excellent). The fact that all hits wound automatically and ignore armor, is not much different than all hits wounding on a 2+ and having a -4 penalty to armor, which you get from the Giant Blade, for 25pts less.

Mace of Helsturm - oddly, this weapon is best for Arch Lectors and Wizards. Basically, you aren't sacrificing as many attacks to make the Special attack. Putting this item onto a Hero is rather pointless though, as ASL and no WardSave (on a 2W model) don't go together very well - you'll probably be dead before you swing.

Armor of Meteoric Iron - you can get all of this from a 20pt combination of common magic items, plus your basic gear (Full Plate, Enchanted Shield, Talisman of Protection). Unless you've used up not only that combination, but also the Armor of Wardsaves (from 4+ to 6+) and the Talismans of Wardsaves (4+ and 5+) and possibly even the Seed of Rebirth (6+ Regen), this item is worthlessly overpriced.

Helm of the Skaven Slayer - Swapping Fear for Hatred when fighting Skaven is not worth it. The +1 Armor isn't bad though, as this will stack with Plate and a Shield, for a 2+ on foot. Only useful if you've already used up the cheaper Common helmets though.

White Cloak of Ulric - The 5+ isn't bad. The 2+ against Fire is potentially awesome, and the -1 to Hit is equally cool (pun, yes). The fact that it's a Talisman means that this isn't limited to just combat characters, which is also nice. Good item all around. There is no equivalent to this from the Common items (not legally, anyways).

Van Horstman's Speculum - I don't think that word means what you think it means...
Anyways, the mad gynecologist Van Horstman has given us a wonderful item, despite the dubious name. Similar to the Mace of Helsturm, this is ideal for characters who don't lose much in the swap - both guaranteeing a level of overconfidence in your enemy, and an even more mismatched fight for them. Put this on a character who is likely to see combat - either your general (if he's a Wizard or Lector) or onto a support character within his regiment (like a Captain or Priest). Fun times will be had by all. I've seen this thing demolish so many brutal Vampires and Chaos Lords, it's almost not funny. Almost.

Ring of Volans - one use only is really a let down. Basically, I always plan on just taking the signature spell, unless I get super lucky. This means that your best bets for this item are probably going to come from Lore of Fire (for Fireball), Beasts (Wildform), Metal (Searing Doom), Light (Burning Gaze), and Life (Earth Blood). heavens is okay for the instant -1, and Death could be useful on an Empire General or Arch Lector. Shadow is actually kind of useless here, especially since you should already have a L4 Shadow Wizard in the mix.

Griffon Banner - double the ranks (doesn't count for Steadfast though) but you can't Pursue. That's not the worst of it though. Nope, this banner is 10pts too expensive to be carried by anyone but your BSB, and you should always give your BSB a defensive item, not a flag.

Steel Standard - No penalty for Barding, and reroll 1's to Charge/Flee/Pursue. It's good, but I don't think it's quite worthy of the points cost you pay for it. In fact, you can get a flat +1M from the Banner of Swiftness, for less than half the cost. That alone would make up for your Barding penalty, and break just about average on the Rerolls.

Lores of Magic​
Intro to Magic in an Empire Army
There are two ways to approach magic in an Empire army - either grab a "support" lore full of Augments and Hexes, or which otherwise shores up some kind of gaps in the armies capabilities - or grab a "Light Coven" just because you can. Empire typically already has plenty of capability for fighting at range, so throwing a lore with lots of Magic Missiles or similar abilities is really somewhat pointless unless it also fills in the "support" role.
Keep in mind that the magic phase is incredibly random - counting on getting a particular spell, let alone getting enough dice to cast it, can be risky. Basing your entire strategy around the magic phase is ill-advised in general, unless you have way to generate lots of dice. However, the magic phase shouldn't be overlooked, because you need a L4 anyways (for your own defense) and because sometimes you 'break bad' and get a really good phase - in which case Magic is one of the most powerful phases of the game and can (and will) win or lose games for you.
Because no lore is totally useless, I will point out "the best spell" from that Lore, which might pull up the overall average of the Lore. The kind of spells where, if you got lucky and rolled it up, might make a Lore worth using. Of course you should remember, you're counting on randomly generating that spell.

Lore of Fire (Flaming Sword of Ruin) - generally, Lore of Fire is going to give us lots of magic missiles and ranged damage spells. We already have lots of ranged damage in our army. While building a "flame coven" is certainly possible with a glut of L1 Wizards, and horrendous amounts of damage can be achieved simply by throwing an ever-amping series of Fireballs at the enemy, you could achieve similar (and more reliable) effects by investing those points into artillery or missile regiments.

Lore of Beasts (Savage Beast of Horos and Wyssan's Wild Form) - actually not a bad lore for the Empire. There are some nice hexes in here (Curse of Anraheir) and good Augments as well (the sig spell, Wildform, is one of the best). Furthermore, the higher-than-usual number of characters that we have in our army makes spells like Pann's Impenetrable Pelt and especially Savage Beast of Horos utterly terrifying prospects for our opponents. The Amber Spear is a good "almost cannon" spell, and Khadon can be lots of fun. The only truly bad spell here is Flock of Doom, and the only downside to the Lore on whole, is the fact that many other lores have better unit-wide buffs.

Lore of Metal (Searing Doom) - this falls into the category of a lore that "patches weaknesses in our army". Empire has a very hard time dealing with Heavy Armor. A Cannon might snipe down a single Chaos Knight out of the 6 charging towards us, but Metal will take that entire unit and put it in the ground. This Lore is perfect for low level, secondary Wizards. The spells overall aren't great, not exactly L4 material (Enchanted Blades, and Glittering Robes are the only other "worth it" spells), but being able to take multiple wizards who each have the ability to throw a spell that will just demolish armor, is quite powerful. Consider - almost every army has an ideal target for this, ranging from Black Orcs all the way up to Knights of any stripe. Even a 4+ save is going to kill off 50% of whatever it hits.

Lore of Light (Banishment/Light Covens) - this lore is an exception to the idea that Magic Missiles aren't particularly useful. The reasoning is simple - there are lots of decent spells here to snag, all of which will help Empire immensly. The only one that you probably don't want, is Light of Battle, and perhaps Net of Amyntok. The real bonus here is that Banishment is keyed off of all friendly Light Wizards - that means that you can have a "coven" of several nearby Lvl1 Light Wizards, relying on throwing the cheap-as-chips Burning Gaze (a fireball, essentially) and then blast someone with 2D6 S7 hits (just for having a L4 and two nearby L1s, for example). Moreover, successful Wardsaves against this spell are forced to be rerolled, and all spells from the lore stack an extra D6 hits on Daemons and Undead (two popular armies).
It's not necessarily the best way to use your magic phase, but it combines a selection of decent Buffs, with a very powerful direct-damage attack, and a cheap and potent damage spell from the Signature list. Personally, I prefer to use L2 Wizards to power the coven, so that I can roll for their spells first. If any of them get Banishment, I swap it out for the Signature, trying to leave the best spells for my L4 (to get his +4 to casting them). Once I have all of the "crap spells" taken care of, I roll the L4 (who is forced to get the spells I want him to) and then my Coven is complete. This is the only Lore which I feel truly benefits from having enough Wizards to know it in it's entirety (thereby being able to cherry-pick spells onto your L4), and that makes it a very reliable Lore.

Lore of Life Dweller's Below - Dwellers is one of the few spells known to be able to take down a nearly limitless number of models, without any saves allowed. You can kill Elf characters with considerable ease using this spell, as it's keyed off of their abysmal Strength. Otherwise, the lore has a lot in common with Lore of Beasts, with a focus on a few mediocre damage spells, and some easy to cast defensive buffs. Do not be fooled by Regrowth, however. It is only really useful on Empire Cavalry models, where it regens half as many models as normal (they count as 2) and cannot be used to recover wounds on Characters. Our line regiments are simply too cheap to really benefit from bringing back even 6 models. Similarly, Throne of Vines isn't particularly great, when you realize that you're burning your own dice to cast it, and then the enemy can just dispel everything that follows after it, then dispel the RiP spell in their own casting phase - forcing you into a constant loop of just tossing out your own Power Dice to keep the spell active.
The Lore Attribute is good though, allowing you to use your spells to keep your Characters at fighting strength. On the whole, I wouldn't consider this lore a high priority though. The Attribute helps characters, but Beasts by comparison, makes them into monsters (sometimes literally). The mere chance of getting/casting Dwellers is the only thing keeping this Lore in rotation, really.

Heavens (Harmonic Convergence) - Ironically, this lore is a favorite against Empire. It's not particularly good for us though - the debuffs exist in better form on the next page, and the rest are very expensive Damage spells. Again, these aren't particularly great for Empire. The only spell worth a look is Harmonic Convergence, and even that's only really useful when cast onto Knights or Demigryphs (rerolling 1's on a 1+ save is awesome, and rerolling 1's to Wound when you wound on a 2+ is also nice). On the whole however, the lore isn't really worth it.

Lore of Shadow (Practically all of it) - this is quite possibly the best lore for Empire. I could pick through this lore spell by spell. Miasma is good for being able to knock WS down to a point where anything in our army should be hitting on 3's with an average roll. It can knock Ballistic Skill down to a point where we cannot be outshot, and reducing Movement is the equivalent of saying "cannot March" to most units (meaning they spend an extra turn under our guns). Enfeebling and Withering both help us tremendously, making S3 something to be feared and making S4 even better, while also mitigating our basic T3 by debuffing enemy strength. It is possible to use these spells in combination so that we are wounding Chaos Warriors on a 3+ and being wounded on 4/5+ with no modifications to our armor. Getting Okkam's onto one of our units is evil in the extreme. This spell, combined with the effects of the Withering, can actually elevate Spears and Free Company to purple or even green quality, thanks to being able to spam tons of attacks. Pit and Pendulum aren't particularly great, and Steed is mediocre as well. The Lore Attribute does have advantages though in an army with so many characters. We can use this to get our valuable Wizard out of trouble, swap the BSB into fights that need his +1CR, and even have lots of fun with the Speculum.

Lore of Death (Doom and Darkness) - Death is primarily a Character-sniping lore, and we don't really have the Leadership to pull the Sig-Spell stunt. Doom and Darkness is just about the only thing that really shines here, as we lack the positioning capabilities to throw a good Purple Sun phase, and our own poor Initiative often makes it just as dangerous to us as it is to the enemy. If we want to pick on characters, we can just direct cannonballs through them and have roughly the same effect, since so many of these spells allow some kind of save. Doom is good for helping us to inflict Panic checks in the shooting phase, and overcome Steadfast with our cavalry, but that's really it for this lore.
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