The Army of Sylvania represents a bizarre extension of the Von Carstein theme force from the regular army book, this time into an army designed to fight on Mannfred’s home turf against the oncoming horde of Vardek Crom. It also represents a good faith attempt to make a Necromancer-free variant of the faction actually work on the tabletop. In subsequent editions, the Vampires would just be made into proper Wizards, but here, the developer responsible decided to… experiment. It worked rather well, if you happen to like the Von Carsteins and think they were a bit overshadowed by the other Bloodlines.
For convenience’s sake I reproduce the rules below, spirit of fair use: if GW wants me to take them down, all they have to do is make them available through legitimate channels and I’ll be more than happy to oblige.
So far, so good. You can see how it works: the Grave Markers are easy to dispel but they keep the units topped up if they fight nearby; Dire Wolves play a more significant role now that they can be raised with Invocations from the General; the new powers introduce a defence against enemy magic to compensate for losing Dispel dice from the lack of Necromancers. Multiple Black Coaches (at a discount!) enable paired charges, hopefully evening out the irregular odds of good impact hits. Multiple Bat Swarms march block with aplomb. And then there are the new units, which is where things get silly.
Sylvanian Militia are the quiet stars of the army, adding inaccurate but effective long-ranged shooting. Crossbows are brilliant, especially on a slow and fragile model like a Skeleton, and especially when you can spring new units of them out of the ground on cue. These are the one occasion on which I say it’s worth raising new Skeleton units over Zombies, because the more crossbow bolts you can get in the air the better.
Sylvanian Levy are Zombies, but better. A 5+ save and S4 (give them halberds) makes for a nice meaty Core block and they don’t die as easily, meaning they might be worth spending points on for a change. Spread out over the whole unit, that two point difference between them and the Militia adds up to an extra rank and that’s really what you need on your Core infantry.
Drakenhof Guard change the role of Grave Guard toward what they’d become in later editions. Adding a great weapon and a point of armour makes them much more adept at causing casualties in long engagements, meaning the sword and board option is no longer the most tempting. They do very well with either the Banner of the Barrows or Drakenhof Banner, with the other unit going on your Templars and the choice of which goes where basically coming down to how you feel about Summons. I used to take three lots of Summon Wolves on my footslogging Vampires, and consequently needed the Drakenhof Banner on my Guard. I think I still stand by that choice, as the Templars really need to hit on their charge and can’t afford a round of rubber lancing, benefiting more from the Banner of the Barrows.
There are at least two ways to play this army. The first is as a fairly conventional infantry-heavy Vampire Counts army with more resilient Dire Wolf units, less emphasis on Necromancers, and the option of shooting if you feel like it. The other is the Sylvanian Nightmare.
The Sylvanian Nightmare emphasises speed and attacks from multiple angles. To begin: take the Drakenhof Banner, on a unit of Black Knights, fronted by two or three Vampire Thralls who all have Summon Wolves and great weapons. This creates… not a Death Star, but a kind of Super Star Destroyer: a very powerful unit which doesn’t actually contain your linchpin General.
The Summoned units are topped up by a free-roaming Vampire Lord or Count with the Wolf Lord power, often on a Winged Nightmare, who can also raise yet more units of the furry blighters or create new Skeleton Crossbowmen to back up the ones being raised by Grave Markers.
The rest of the army comprises Bat Swarms, another unit of Dire Wolves (these ones Scout) and two Black Coaches. It’s very fast, and comes at the enemy from a lot of directions, and it’s horribly aggressive, but it’s not invincible.
The Army of Sylvania can do very little about enemy magic that doesn’t target its own units, as it doesn’t have the capacity for Dispel Scrolls (the Vampire Lords have better things to spend their magic item allowance on). Furthermore, any opponent who can stack bonuses to Dispel rolls can shut the Grave Markers down very easily: Dwarfs can take two Runes that allow them to just put a die next to each marker for the duration and Dispel them on anything but a one. The army also struggles in the abyss between Border Patrol and 2000 points, for the same reason: an average army with two Wizards can just stop the Grave Markers without blinking. Finally, big battlefields are an issue: on an 8′ x 4′ table, it’s all too easy to stay away from the single unit of Black Knights and far more likely that the Grave Markers will end up somewhere useless.
Even so, I bloody love it.