Vampire Counts are an army of contradictions. Their Lords are the most versatile in the game and among the deadliest fighters, but they’re also (mostly) brittle linchpin pieces on whom the rest of the army depends to an unrivalled degree. Their troops are all deficient in some key aspect (even ‘elite’ Undead have decidedly average Weapon Skill) but can sometimes win a combat and break a line without landing a single hit. The army depends on magic, but can only muster above-average casting potential: you will not fight the eighteen-dice Power pool here. Where other armies treat the Psychology rules as a risk to be managed, for the Vampire Counts they’re chief among our weapons.
After sixty or so games with the army I have arrived at this as a basic approach to my games.
Opening gambits will involve the raising of new units and the aggressive positioning of disposable assets to threaten things like artillery and archers, and bog down the most significant threats in my opponent’s army by drawing them off at a bizarre angle and taking them out of the game for a few turns. The rest of my army advances with Ethereal units taking point, as these block lines of sight and marching opportunities to the best effect.
In the middle turns I switch over to more aggressive spellcasting to support a strong push on the flanks, where one or more units of Black Knights are committed to breaking through whatever my opponents have got going on out there, cleaning up units that have been pinned or misdirected by my first wave. At this stage magic is used to tip combats in my favour or to start whittling down the strongest parts of the enemy centre.
Often, the Black Knights will break through but suffer some casualties and be left far from my General, taking a turn or two to get back into place. This is fine, as the last turns of the game are characterised by a decisive strike. My General and attendant infantry commit to combat, supported by flank and rear charges from the returning Knights.
In all cases I am looking not to cause mind-slamming casualties but to win combats by just enough that auto-breaking from Fear can do the rest. I don’t rely on Terror but I keep it in mind for when I need to cause a little chaos and break the table up a bit: sometimes it comes through and causes a chain of game-turning psychology tests.
I have also tried, and rejected, the Victory Point denial approach. This is the original “deathstar” army, hanging around a single huge unit in which the bulk of available killing power and Victory Points are concentrated. The idea is to create a unit which will make or break the game. If the enemy can’t destroy it, the best they can hope for is a draw: if the enemy try to destroy it they’ll fail and give the game away.
A full size block of Grave Guard, accompanied by a Vampire Lord and a Battle Standard Bearer, festooned with Banners of Doom (Ward save) and Obsidian Talismans (Magic Resistance), can lock down well over 1000 VPs when the bonuses for killing Generals and capturing Battle Standards are accounted for. The rest of the army is chaff: delivery systems and supporting elements that interfere with the enemy’s efforts to take on the big brick. The problem is that the army also struggles to win big: so much of its killing power is trapped in a slow unit that enemies can flat out avoid.