[WFB] The Deadwood Covenant: After Action Review

I mentioned in the last post that I wasn’t sure, at first, whether I’d had a good time at Resurrection, to the extent that my good lady wife asked a yes/no question and got a two minute “errrrr” of an answer.

This is nothing to do with Alex, who pulled out all the stops and put on a very good show, wrote up a bespoke scenario pack to make sure it wasn’t three rounds of kill ’em all Borehammer on the Saturday and actually hosted a twenty player narrative campaign event with a map and themed tables and considered scenarios and everything on the Sunday.

Neither is it anything to do with Hammy, who hosts a fine venue at Battlefield Hobbies. The main room was a bit too crowded and loud for my taste and comfort, but the side room where I spent most of the day was fine, and it can’t be forgotten that I’m an outlier in terms of personal space and background noise and so on. Bit of a bugger to get to if you don’t drive, but again, that’s not the venue’s fault is it?

It’s certainly nothing to do with my opponents, either. No, the trouble resides squarely between me and my toys. I have a lot of trouble getting the Wood Elves to work.

Overview: the Fundamental Problems

Before I do a unit by unit review I think it’s worth looking at some recurring problems I’ve had with the Wood Elves on a slightly higher plane. The three biggest ones so far are magic, leadership and combination of force.

Magic has been an issue because I’ve run into magic heavy forces and have had to prepare for them with the idosyncracy of my “only one Scroll” principle in hand. To be fair, it’s only been the Skaven and the Tzeentch Chaos where I’ve felt totally overwhelmed going in and they do that to everyone. The problem in most of the games has arrived later, when one of my wizards has thrown her life away and the other has run like hell off the board.

I can address this by stroppily refusing to play games below 3000 points (an option which has often tempted me, to be fair) or separating out my characters’ roles a little more clearly so that the main provider of Dispel dice isn’t also the front line challenge hunter. She’s dead now, in the story, so I have the perfect opportunity to work on this.

Leadership has been an issue because I’ve played more games with Vampire Counts than anything else, by a factor of about ten, and my most successful side armies were Slaanesh Chaos and Tomb Kings. I am simply not very good at avoiding taking Terror or Panic tests, or coping with the Fear factor when it’s something being used by someone else, on me.

I imagine that this will come around with practice, if I can be arsed practicing and don’t just switch back to Tomb Kings with a sigh of relief as my considerable weight hits the crutch again. The point is that at the moment, some of my games are falling apart because of crucial Leadership tests.

(There’s an issue sitting behind these last two, as well, kind of linking them both. Because I’ve been taking a Branchwraith as my general in narrative games, and a Spellweaver in the competition capacity, in order to keep my magical defences solid, I generally haven’t had access to the best Leadership values going at any points value. Ld 8 in a 2000 point army is particularly rubbish. I’m all in favour of the narrative approach, but I don’t subscribe to the Stormwind Fallacy and I am going to get a better story if I don’t get my twiglets kicked in all the time.)

Combination of force, on the other hand, is more of a usage issue. On a good day, I can line up the Glade Guard and angle them correctly so that two or even three units can cover a field of fire and concentrate their sharp pointy bits into the enemy’s soft woundable bits. What I struggle with is getting the combat troops to back each other up properly, break ranks and score flanks or provide the raw kills necessary to turn a combat around. I never seem to get two of my units onto one of theirs. This sucks, because it’s the Forest Spirits that really made me want to do this army and they need to gang up to get shit done.

Various people have patted me on the head and said “it’s a learning curve mate” or “you just need X” (where X is normally some variant on Wild Riders, Warhawk Riders, Glade Riders or anything else that moves faster than five inches per turn) but that’s list tinkering and I think there’s a more fundamental issue at work here. All of these M5 units could play nicely together but they end up spaced too far apart, because I’m having to weigh their positioning against setting up good fields of fire for the Glade Guard. The melee units end up blocked in or lined up into bad matchups because they’ve had to go down where there’s space. It might be worth leading with them in the setup and then putting the archer lines down behind to clean up.

I’m not saying I won’t be painting five Wild Riders quick sharp, but this is something to think about on a level above and beyond “what’s in the list.”

Full Teardown: piece by piece review

I’m shamelessly ripping off the Woffboot lads’ format for this. Go ye and read Woffboot if you’re into eighth edition WFB or contemporary 40K or you just like to see a bunch of gamers making their own fun.

Lords

The Druid

The good bits are the two Dispel dice, the Leadership 9, and the Lore of Life, which is definitely reaching out and touching people. If I’m on a table without a wood or not playing a Pitched Battle I’d argue he’s essential.

The less good bits are the Rhymer’s Harp and the Eternal Guard bunker. Moving through terrain came in moderately handy against Max, but I don’t really need another unit that can do that, and having my General and my Battle Standard tied down in one unit means they can do things like fail a terror test all together and cost me the game, as they did against Paul. I started bunkering him in with them because he kept dying when I left him on his own, but I only lost Bloddeuwydd to Panic tests all the way through the weekend so maybe the games with Ben were more of a fluke. Or Ben just hates me having fun and wants to kill my wizzos.

Either way: he level 4 can stay, but his kit needs a coat of looking at.

Verdict: I’m Necessary Evil

Prince Hywel

I love this guy. Granted, I threw him away in the game with Joe because I was in a bad mood, but he still did a lot of work with the Hail of Doom across both games and he can absolutely mix it up with any chaff that gets into my army (as he did in the game against Brendan). The only downside is he eats my Lord slot without passing Leadership 10 onto the army or doing anything to help magically; that’s quite a high opportunity cost.

In narrative terms, it might be both wise and appropriate to have him shake off the curse of Deadwood and rejoin the kinbands so he can hand out Leadership 10. There’s nothing stopping me taking the Bow of Loren and the Hail of Doom on a Lord…

Verdict: 100% Reason To Remember The Name

Heroes

Gilfaethwy ap Hywel

I had to try it. The Alter Noble / Bow of Loren / Briarsheath combo is just very evocative. It’s Legolas gone feral. It’s… not bad, but it’s not brilliant either, it doesn’t add enough to the army to be worth the Hero slot in a 2000 point game and certainly not in a 1500. As much as I want to field the whole family together, he’s benched outside of scenario play.

Verdict: You’re Good, Boy, But You’re Not Good Enough

Gwydion ap Hywel

I dropped a Great Eagle to give this stupid boy a decent save and then he doesn’t need to take one all the way through the event. Anyway, the reroll remains extremely handy with only a Leadership 9 general and it’s absolutely vital if I only have a Leadership 8 one. The thing is, taking the Battle Standard renders him ineligible for anything else I need (no Kindred upgrade, no Hail of Doom, he does nothing to help in the Magic phase), so I feel he needs the Eternal Guard along so his Leadership is good for something and stacks up with their Stubborn.

Verdict: Don’t Drink, Don’t Smoke? What Do You Do?

Bloddeuwydd ap Hywel

Being saddled with the Lore of Athel Loren really holds our girl back. As a defensive wizzo who chucks out some novelty Tree Singing she’s good enough. The one thing I’d lose is the Deepwood Sphere; I really want to drop its tricksy trapsy secondary effect but nobody ever voluntarily moves into a wood against a Wood Elf army and if someone’s in her wood she’s probably about to run away from them. Calingor’s Stave is probably a better bet but I can’t guarantee woods in away games, and I don’t face enough 4-dice casting to justify the Divination Orb. I think I’d rather have a second Branchwraith, but I do want to play around with her some more and I have a good story beat in mind.

Verdict: Unfinished Business

The Maven

I love the character, but a single Branchwraith can’t cover the “Dispel dice generator” and “aggressive interference” roles. She can lock down a Hero or even an unprepared Lord indefinitely but her unit invariably gets slaughtered and takes her down with them, at which point I’m also out two Dispel dice and the whole house of cards starts crumbling.

Now that she’s dead I’m farming out her responsibilities to her successors; the new Maven will probably have a more castery build and I’ll put together a second Branchwraith for going out there and mixing it up.

Verdict: Gone Girl

Core

Kinbands of the Black Briar

The Glade Guard are great. Possibly my best unit, in terms of damage output per point expended. I need to stop deforming my whole battle line around them but they’re doing good work. In particular, the unit of 10 deployed 5 by 2 with the War Banner surprised Joseph and might have come in very handy against Brendan if I’d been a bit more aggressive with them.

I got those in by dropping the Scouts and I have no regrets about dropping the Scouts. While they are perversely hard to hit with shooting, so are any skirmishers. They lose the solid short ranged Glade Guard bow effect and frankly on most battlefields there isn’t that great a place to Scout them, so they end up paying 25 points to be slightly less good at shooting things and drop last (giving me fewer drops during the early stages when I’m being out-deployed).

Verdict: Some things in life are priceless: for everything else, there’s Glade Guard

Cildraeth Eiddew, Cildraeth Celyn

I love Dryads. I absolutely love them. You would never guess this from the way I treat them in battle. They work far better as disposable 96 point disruptors about which something must be done than they do as any kind of effective combat unit in their own right, and I don’t think I feel too bad about bailing the Branchwraith out of them and letting them sort themselves out. Frankly I could go for another unit of these just so I could be sure I had some where they needed to be.

Verdict: You and I, we were born to die

Special

Kinband of the Pale Rose

Their sheer weight of attacks means they can’t be underestimated against soft targets, the problem is getting them into a soft target to begin with. I like them enough to keep them around but they aren’t tough enough to work as a death star and treating them as a bunker for an expensive magic user who happens to be my General and a Battle Standard Bearer who they need to be around in order to do their thing is a little bit much. I think they and Gwydion need to spend more time together, but also to figure out what they’re doing with themselves in terms of the army as a whole. Also, I need to finish painting them properly.

Verdict: Boy, Decide. Boy, Decide…

Brawdolieath Pren Mawr

Not only do these 40mm fartarounds either die first in every game or see off something a third of their cost and spend the rest of the game doing nothing, they take up so much space in the battle-line that they’re putting everyone else off. I think they have a role but probably not in my army the way I’m currently playing it. Despite their extremely tidy paint job and overall very fine aesthetic they are finally on the way out. I’ve also given them a name I can’t consistently pronounce, spell or even remember, so fuck ’em.

Verdict: If Looks Could Kill… you lot would still be in the army list.

Rare

Uchelwydd

God, he’s good. Someone (hi Matty) keeps asking me why I take a Treeman and I have to ask “why don’t you?” This big log has held up against everything I’ve thrown him into – nothing has ever actually managed to wound him unto death, although once he’s in combat with any ranked unit he tends to break and run sooner or later. Stubborn on 8s is good but it’s not Unbreakable and I need to stop expecting it to be. He’s more dangerous when he’s roaming around causing terror and doing Strangleroots to things than he is in a scrap unsupported, and until I figure out my mutual support problem that’s the best use for him.

Verdict: My boy – look how they massacred my boy…

Where Do We Go From Here?

Well, I already have five Wild Riders waiting to be added to the team, and I’ve also picked up another Sylvaneth “start collecting” box this weekend. That gives me a second Branchwraith, so I can let their potential breathe a bit instead of jamming it all into one character; it also gives me a second Treeman. I’m sure I’ll get some stick from this on the Facebook groups but a) most of you already go off about Wood Elves on principle so I might as well earn it and b) I wanted to play the Drycha army, that’s where I came in to all this.

I plan on building a very bread and butter army: Glade Guard and Dryads, a couple of Branchwraiths, a couple of Treemen, an actual cavalry unit, and… I need to find a strong central character that isn’t an Alter Highborn to hold it all together. I have a couple of ideas on that front.

I’m hoping this will be a more compact army that doesn’t have the mutual support or leadership issues I’ve experienced so far, and that a passive role for a Branchwraith will keep my defensive magic game up for longer.

This would be an ideal build for Monstrous Mayhem, all things considered, maybe with a Lore of Beasts Spellweaver at the heart to tie it all together, but sadly I’m not going to make it. The recent bouts of hobby enthusiasm have meant I spent the same £50 four times in three weeks and that has to be made up from somewhere. I shall have to sit this one out, lick my wounds, get a couple of local (thus cheap) practice games in when Firestorm’s new gaming hall opens and come out swinging for Resurrection part II in November.

3 thoughts on “[WFB] The Deadwood Covenant: After Action Review

  1. While I don’t want to be yet another well-meaning but problematic “iT’s JuSt LeArNiNg CuRvE” type, on the other hand… you are dealing with an army that’s one of the more distant ones from how Vampire Counts play, and I would imagine that would cause culture shock in just about anyone.

    I am sure if the tables were turned and it were me just starting out with a Vampire Counts army after years upon years of playing almost exclusively with various flavours of Small Compact Elite Force(tm), and in particular shooting-heavy ranked unit-light Wood Elves, suddenly going from (waves antimatter laser fork) all of that to one of the premier ‘throw expendable hordes at a problem until it goes away’ armies of Warhammer would probably… well I suppose I might win a few games with them, but it would likely be in the most inefficient and roundabout ways possible.

    Likewise, I was going to be another one of those “yOu JuSt NeEd X” types but… you’ve actually already got all of the Xs I was going to recommend. The great irony is that right now you’ve actually got most if not all of the ingredients for a winning Wood Elf army, it seems to now be just a matter of getting the recipe right.
    At the risk of giving yet more useless advice you’ve already heard a million times, one of the key tricks for employing a Wood Elf army is using a system of anvil units – Eternal Guard, Tree-kin and Treemen/Treemen Ancients (a good option to consider with that second Treeman model – you think Treemen are good now, wait until you’ve tried a Treeman with a bound spell that can take Spites!) – as fulcrums around which the rest of the army, the Glade Guard* and skirmishing units, pinion around.

    So you set up say three of these fulcrums – one in the centre, one on each flank – and then the rest of the army just sort of shifts and bends around and just slightly behind them. Then, when it’s time to press the attack, the opponent has two choices: either charge the fulcrums, at which point your dead killy combat skirmishers counter-charge decisively, or don’t, at which point your fulcrums and skirmishers charge and now the very killy skirmishers suddenly have a nice solid ranked unit or hard-to-kill monster backing them up.

    *(speaking of these guys, Glade Guard should always, ALWAYS be on the move. Never keep them still under any circumstances. You might be tempted to park them on a hill so that they can shoot in two ranks. This is a trap, and will likely see them made irrelevant even if they do survive. Again this is probably elementary stuff, but I bring it up because it’s a mistake I’ve made myself before to my own peril. I have always had more success keeping Glade Guard mobile than with treating them like a normal shooting unit. Or at least I would, if mine ever managed roll anything higher than a 3 with their shooting grumblegrumblemuttermutter…)

    Similarly, it’s also worth remembering that Skirmishers can always ‘march’ regardless of circumstances, so those M5 models can actually move 10″ in any direction. Again, this is probably basic stuff you already know, but it might come in handy with concentrating them in combat and it’s the kind of rule mechanic that’s likely to be forgotten in the heat of things so it’s worth repeating.

    In summary, it might be a bit premature to write the Tree-Kin off just yet, and they’re at their best when working as a fulcrum for killy skirmishers – like those Dryads – to pivot around. The Eternal Guard are the same, their many attacks are nice (and often make mine the MVPs of a game because they can never seem to roll anything lower than a 3 when fighting with them), but ultimately they’re just gravy; their REAL value is in giving rank support to your very killy skirmishers (in my case this is usually Wardancers, but Dryads work just as well here).

    I will now leave you to solicit advice that you probably have not hat parroted at you a million times, but keep at it!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for your advice, and thank you again for moving it over here where I’ll be able to find it in a fortnight’s time.

      It’s good to know that I have the right kit and that I’m just not using it quite right! As we’ve discussed elsewhere, the problem seems to be that I’m treating the Glade Guard as far more integral to the tactical plan than they are: they really want to go down last and clean up by shooting at already broken enemies instead of first for an alpha strike that ain’t all that (certainly not to the extent that the whole army should deploy to facilitate it).

      I have enough to try them out as three 5×2 mini-blocks or two 8×2 lines, either of which should be easier to tuck into a more cohesive order of battle than the strung out lines I’ve been going for to date. I shall miss throwing out ten shots every turn but if the rest of my army gets to do anything but die in pieces I’ll consider the trade worthwhile.

      Like

      1. Quite right about the Glade Guard.

        The trick to remember is that despite what the GW fiction might have you believe, Wood Elf shooting is a force multiplier rather than a force in its own right. Wood Elves can’t really shoot whole armies off the table in the same way that Dwarfs, Skaven or the Empire can, and trying to do so is often an exercise in frustration.

        Instead, Wood Elf shooting is there to tip the odds in your favour when you need it most. A panic test over here, a rank bonus stripped off over there, a hole opened up in the opposing battle line your fast-moving elements can exploit. Wood Elf armies win by forcing the other side to react to them and fight on their terms, and shooting is a means to that end.

        This is where the strength of multiple 5×2 mini-blocks come in. Each one might only put out 5 shots a turn, but when you use their manoeuvrability to bring 3 of them to bear on That One Major Threat Unit You Really Need Gone Right Now, suddenly you’re dropping 15 shots on the big threat, which should be enough to take off a rank to make things easier when your combat units charge them next turn, even if it doesn’t cause them to Panic.

        8×2 blocks are similar, but more flexible in that they have enough mass to work a little more independently and form makeshift line units in a pinch. They pay for it by costing more points though – it’s a trade-off over a few biggish capable units or more small ones.

        Above all, the Wood Elves are a Manoeuvre army first before anything else. Where Tzeentch Chaos armies win in the magic phase, or artillery-heavy Empire and Dwarf armies win in the shooting phase, the Wood Elves win in the movement phase, and their tool-kit is geared towards dominating the movement phase first and foremost.

        Liked by 1 person

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