2000 points | Pitched Battle | Wood Elves vs. Skaven
And so it came to pass that the People’s Prince had an unexpected two weeks off work and of course he messaged me asking when my days off were and, long and the short of it, no bones etcetera, we ended up at Bristol Independent Gaming once again for another tournament battle.
I knew Ben was in with a good chance this time because a) I was exhausted, my insomnia got me coming and going this weekend and b) he was bringing Skaven. They outshoot my archers, they have M5 or better across the board so we’re playing charge range chicken with the Eternal Guard, and Warp Lightning is basically “roll two dice and remove that many Dryads” if it goes off.
I was rocking almost the same Wood Elf list as last time: just a few minor adjustments around the edges.
The Druid Spellweaver Level 4 wizard Rhymer’s Harp Dispel Scroll The Maven Branchwraith Level 1 wizard Annoyance of Netlings Cluster of Radiants Gwydion ap Hywel Noble Battle Standard Light armour Kinbands of the Black Briar 10 Glade Guard 10 Glade Guard 5 Scouts 5 Scouts Cildraeth Eiddew 8 Dryads Cildraeth Celyn 8 Dryads Kinband of High Tiernmas 20 Eternal Guard Champion, musician, standard bearer Brawdolieath Pren Mawr 3 Tree Kin Uchelwydd Treeman Great Eagle
This game saw some dead wood trimmed from the Tree-Kin (down to three) in favour of the solitary Eagle (to see if it’s better than nothing in the department of interdictory nonsense) and some new kit for the Spellweaver.
Last time, his Leadership bubble wasn’t anywhere relevant, he wasn’t safe from marauding fast cavalry and my Eternal Guard didn’t get to make many saving throws. Putting him in the Eternal Guard and issuing him with the Rhymer’s Harp in theory addresses all these issues. It does create a Victory Point sink, and not a very tough one either, about which I am a wee bit worried, but that’s why we play test games.
I also opted to roll with the Lore of Life rather than the Lore of Athel Loren; the Classichammer boys are absolutely convinced it’s a better default and I wanted to see what all the noise was about.
Ben’s army, which I’m transcribing from memory, looked… like this.
Grey Seer Eye of the Horned Rat, Warpstone Amulet, Warpstone Charm, 3 Warpstone Tokens Warlock Engineer Casting kit, Storm Daemon, Dispel Scroll Warlock Engineer Casting kit, 3 Warpstone Tokens Chieftain Battle Standard (War Banner), heavy armour 25 Clanrats Champion, musician, standard bearer; Ratling Gun 25 Clanrats Champion, musician, standard bearer; Ratling Gun 30 Skavenslaves Musician 3 Rat Swarms 5 Gutter Runners Tunnelling kit, additional hand weapons, throwing stars 30 Stormvermin Champion, musician, standard bearer (Banner of the Swarm); Ratling Gun 3 Rat Ogres and attendant Packmasters 5 Jezzails
Here’s a live replay of my thought process when Ben walked me through all this:
Oh good it’s the photocopy special. That’s a LOT of Warp tokens, I don’t think I’ve ever known a Skaven player pay for more, why does he need so MANY? Three Ratling Guns? Good grief. Rat Ogres are about the only weak link. At least I can set up like this:
Incidentally, the spell selection looked like this:
The Druid: Mistress of the Marsh, the Howler Wind, Master of the Wood, the Rain Lord.
The Maven: Tree Singing.
Grey Seer: Skitterleap, Pestilent Breath, Vermintide, Plague.
Alessio I Generally Respect You But We Need To Talk About These: Warp Lightning and Warp Lightning.
So, magically speaking I was overwhelmed but had some of the tools I would need to stay in the game. Howler Wind could keep the Ratling Guns under control, Rain Lord could shut the Jezzails down and Mistress of the Marsh maybe keep some of those flanking units back until I could strike a blow on the flank where I wanted to fight.
I didn’t so much refuse a flank as deny it outright. But, looking at this photo, I can spot a number of things I did wrong.
If I was going to play aggressively, why were my Glade Guard hugging the hill?
If I had the Rhymer’s Harp, why were my Eternal Guard in the open?
If I had to keep the Tunnel Team under control, why didn’t I leave some Scouts behind my lines?
What the hell are the Tree Kin doing?
I can answer that last one at least. The Tree Kin were there because I didn’t trust the unit of three to do anything up front, so they were on counter-charge duty in case anything broke through. I keep doing this: expecting Skaven players to move their melee units forward and engage at all instead of backing up and chain casting the best magic missile in the game* until they win. I have played against Skaven more often than anything else and my brain still sees all those little swords and thinks “not a ranged army.”
* – OK, Neferata’s unique missile is technically better, but since Neferata only has an obscure off-book profile that came out on the old GW website and requires your opponent to not only consent to using it but believe it’s genuine in the first place, I think the Warlocks still have the technical lead.
The point is, I screwed myself with bad deployment here. If I was setting this up again, the Tree Kin would take point (they’re basically disposable at this stage), the Eternal Guard would be moving through the woods, and they’d be flanked by the Glade Guard who’d be running and gunning from turn two on down. I’d keep the Dryads and Scouts behind to chase off Tunnel teams and interdict the nonsense coming around on the other flank.
Don’t rush your deployment, kids.
Skaven Turn 1
Round and round goes the bloody great wheel! Ben shoved everything forward, the open flank somewhat faster than the other, and made ready to open fire. An array of low end Warp Lightning killed four Scouts and four Dryads – I held on to far too many Dispel Dice in this turn, expecting more spice from the Grey Seer, but Vermintide’s random range and Plague’s short one meant a somewhat limited opening salvo.
Wood Elves Turn 1
I don’t know what I’m doing either. Still sticking to my half baked plan of “Tree Kin as tactical reserve” for some reason, I think? The battered remnants of the Celyn Dryads camped on the Tunnel Team’s marker, everyone advanced into the woods (or into the fire corridor between the woods, why am I doing this?), and I opened fire.
Master of the Wood took out the Ratling Gun formerly attached to the Stormvermin unit (hooray!) and once I’d explained what Howler Wind did that one got Ben’s Dispel Scroll to the face. The Treeman’s Strangleroots attack did eight wounds to the Rat Swarm, the Scouts landed two more, and twenty shots from the Glade Guard accounted for ten out of range (shame, calumny etc) and two dead Stormvermin.
Skaven Turn 2
The Rat Swarm charged my Scouts (who did two wounds with their Stand and Shoot), but everything else either continued doing the bloody great wheel around that central building or opted for “the bum shuffle”, a dynamic manoeuvre (spelled right on the second attempt for once) which saw them block up and stay at arm’s length for the shenanigans to begin.
The first Warp Lightning was only a d6 hits job killed four Eternal Guard; I dispelled a 2d6 Warp Lightning on the Maven’s Dryad unit and dispelled Vermintide; Plague on the Eternal Guard got my Dispel Scroll; Storm Daemon killed three more Eternal Guard. Meanwhile, the Ratling Gun behind the building (the only one that could shoot) jammed and the Scouts saw off the wounded Rat Swarm in combat.
Wood Elves Turn 2
I think this is the turn when I started to bottle it. I know the Eternal Guard don’t do well if they get charged, so I didn’t want to advance them into charge range of the Stormvermin. Instead, I shoved the Treeman up to try and terror bomb, pulled the Maven off course to try and protect the flank (exposing her to at least one cast of Dryads-B-Gone for some reason) and had my Great Eagle charge the Slave unit in an attempt to assassinate a Warlock Engineer and get one and a half Warp Lightnings off the table.
I cast Master of the Wood on the Stormvermin, killing two (thanks to Ben for showing double ones on his Dispel roll) and then Mistress of the Marsh, thinking they were going to move at all. My Glade Guard accounted for one Stormvermin and one Clanrat (fire was not focused at all, doubling down on the issue of my poor deployment). Uchelwydd’s Strangleroots killed that jammed Ratling gun that was staring down at him, which was a nice plus.
Sadly, my Eagle (I’m not giving them names, I refuse to get attached to them) only landed one wound on the Warlock and promptly fled from combat, although it didn’t leave the board. This was a bit of a gamble, but threes on two dice twice wasn’t that unreasonable an ask and it would have made a bit of an impact…
Skaven Turn 3
Most of the Skaven continued to perform the bum shuffle (a few tiny inches, under the influence of Mistress of the Marsh), except for the Rat Ogres, who passed their fear test to charge Uchelwydd, and the Warlock with Storm Daemon, who abandoned his unit to take up a safer spot within the 3″ Nope Zone between them and the Stormvermin.
A big boy Warp Lightning killed four of the Eiddew Dryads; Plague on the Eternal Guard killed four, then an Irresistible Warp Lightning killed another two, and even though the Grey Seer managed to miscast Vermintide and wound himself chewing a Warpstone token, it was enough to panic the Eternal Guard.
The last Ratling Gun killed four Dryads and put a wound on the Maven, leaving her all by herself staring down two ranked units, a Warp Lighting caster and a weapon team that could Stand and Shoot. Not brilliant.
At least Uchelwydd absolutely whomped a Rat Ogre, although they refused to run away.
Wood Elves Turn 3
The Eternal Guard and Great Eagle both rallied, which made the game worth carrying on with (if I hadn’t been casting spells I don’t think I would have stood a chance at this stage), while the Maven displayed some uncharacteristic cowardice and went to hide in the woods well away from any further firepower.
Tree-Singing moved the Maven’s wood closer to that Jezzail team, and Master of the Wood went off but only dealt a single hit – between that and the Glade Guard (half of whom were out of range AGAIN) I only removed a single team, and now they were right there next to Uchelwydd and in a position to unlimber and open fire. At least he squashed another Rat Ogre for one wound in return. They still didn’t break.
Skaven Turn 4
I seem to have skipped taking a photo this turn, but it’s not that different from my next one. Ben’s Magic phase ended prematurely as his Grey Seer miscast his Plague attempt (delightful). I recommended the Jezzails take a pot shot at Uchwelwydd, on the grounds that he was a Large Target in short range fighting a unit he was probably going to wipe this turn; sadly it turned out as badly as it possibly could as Ben managed to kill his own Rat Ogre and do nothing to the big fella.
Wood Elves Turn 4
Uchelwydd charged the Jezzails (you would, wouldn’t you?) but the Tree-Kin fell short of their charge on the Stormvermin (I was hoping I could land a couple of hits on the Seer and finish him off, see? Piece trading a Level 4 wizard and the army general would have been worth it!).
Ben Dispelled my Tree-Singing cast, but couldn’t stop Master of the Wood (it might even have been Irresistible, I genuinely don’t remember) from whomping that free-roaming Warlock Engineer. I now understand the appeal of the Lore of Life; because they’re not magic missiles, those damage spells can land anywhere you damn well need them to as long as the target’s not engaged.
Wood Elf shooting continued to be unspectacular, accounting for one Slave and two Clanrats. In combat, Uchelwydd did three wounds to none and ran the Jezzail teams down. At last, something like success!
Skaven Turn 5
The Stormvermin actually failed a Fear test at this point, not successfully charging the Tree-Kin. I dispelled Plague on the Eternal Guard but showed a double 1 on my roll to stop Warp Lightning, which absolutely wiped them out but left my Spellweaver and Battle Standard Bearer unscathed. And then… then the Grey Seer Skitterleaped himself into the Clanrats out on my flank.
Oh, and Ben’s tunnel team FINALLY put in an appearance; they pelted the Druid with throwing stars, but he wasn’t having any of it and saved the single wound that made it through.
Wood Elves Turn 5
It was time to do something, anything, just try and inflict some harm in combat. The Tree-Kin and Great Eagle charged Ben’s Stormvermin (at last) while the Scouts and Celyn Dryads charged the Slaves in a chaff-off to the death.
I backed the Druid into the trees because, frankly, it was the least unsafe place for him; I had to shove Gwydion forward to keep him within re-roll range of all the units that were now in combat.
My magic phase was a non-starter (a fizzle on my Master of the Wood cast into the Gutter Runners) and shooting twenty arrows only killed three Clanrats, so: on to the worst of things.
The Slaves, who’d failed their fear test, couldn’t hit jack in combat, but I managed to lose because neither Scouts nor Dryads had a musician! At least I passed both Break tests with the rerolls. In the other combat the Tree-Kin only managed to kill two damn Stormvermin but held on tight, although the Eagle flew for the hills.
Skaven Turn 6
As one might have foreseen, the Gutter Runner Tunnel Team charged the Druid; meanwhile, the Grey Seer did another Skitterleap, this time landing at one end of the Glade Guard line. (Ben wasn’t going to do this, because it was “beardy”. I pointed out this was a tournament prep game between the two most hated armies in sixth edition and if there was ever a time to go full beard, it was now.) Chain casts of Pestilent Breath and Vermintide broke one unit of Glade Guard and had them off the table, but the other passed their Panic test and made ready to potentially close the gap back into Minor Defeat territory. Just to really wind me up, a big boy Warp Lightning killed Gwydion where he stood.
This would prove to be significant, as my Tree-Kin lost their round of combat with the Stormvermin and legged it. The Skaven couldn’t catch them, but that was neither here nor there.
Wood Elves Turn 6
The Tree-Kin didn’t rally (although the Eagle did), the Glade Guard didn’t kill the Grey Seer, and Uchelwydd’s last charge didn’t successfully terror-bomb or break the Clanrats. Even the Warpstone Amulet didn’t come through for me.
… looking back over this, I realise we’ve miscalculated (hasty maths at the end of a game is the worst part of what I still call “VP100”). I think I owe Ben at least half the points for the Maven, and I think he owes me the points for a Rat Swarm, but I don’t think it makes a damn bit of difference to the Solid Victory the Skaven achieved. And frankly, if we look at the table, it doesn’t look even that good – I was genuinely surprised this one wasn’t a Massacre.
So. I’ve already commented on a few things I did wrong – bad deployment, trying to play cagey instead of accepting that Skaven are a keep-away army disguised as a melee swarm, and losing my bottle with the Dryad unit who ended up being fed to Skaven firepower for no payoff. There are a couple more layers to peel away here, though.
First is the matchup itself. Skaven are simply immune to a lot of my tricks – the Maven can’t lock anyone in a challenge because of “Lead from the Back” letting them bounce their key characters away from her, and the most dangerous firepower in their army is a spell so it doesn’t care about skirmishing, soft cover, range or the Howler Wind. The things I have to kill – weapon teams, Warlock Engineers and Swarms – aren’t worth many Victory Points, and by the time I’ve eliminated those key threats I generally don’t have the weight of attacks to actually score points. I often find, as I did here, that I’m not playing to win against Skaven; I’m playing to minimise the loss. And that’s the second layer.
I don’t want to admit it but Skaven tilt me. They test the limits of Warhammer in a lot of ways (power dice overload, shooting/casting into combat and cheap static combat resolution), they are best played in a style that actively frustrates me (keep-away back-shuffle shooting gallery with a good countercharge range), you have to try to build a weak Skaven list (i.e. leaving Warlocks and weapon teams at home), and some of the things that would help are things I won’t do because they’re bad for the game in other contexts (scroll caddies being the big one).
HOWEVER: let’s not end on a negative. Not all the lessons I took from this game were scolds.
The Treeman racked up most of the actual points I scored here. I think if Ben had wanted to focus him down that would have been very possible, but left to his own devices he was able to clear the chaff and whack the weeds and generally do the business. It would have been nice to force through some terror checks, but the fact that Ben was taking them at all meant the big twig was in the right places throughout.
The Druid also did pretty well for himself. I’ll grant that it wasn’t the fairest test as my poor placement and indecisive movement of the Eternal Guard meant they didn’t do anything, but they got to take Ward Saves and passed some of them, and his Leadership did make a difference when the first round of tests fell. As for the Lore of Life? I can see the value in it, and I’ll be sticking with it for the tournament.
I do think that Call of the Hunt would have been useful here, as a gap closer to get some proper fighting units into the Skaven lines early on, but a) fishing for a particular spell only works if you commit a level 4 wizard to it and b) there’s another way to close that gap that doesn’t involve magic. I have bitten the bullet and bought some Wild Riders. They won’t be done in time for Resurrection in July (I am a reluctant painter with other hobbies and I have five weekends to do two characters, twenty Eternal Guard and an Eagle, plus finish the Treeman – I know my limits and will not be pushing them) but they will be tested and trialled in time for Resurrection in November.