Monday, May 30, 2011

Tomb King Army Book Review (part 3 -- first game with the new book)

I finally had a chance to play a couple of games with the new book, so I thought I would update some of my initial thoughts.  I worked up a list that contains mainly the newer units, so I would have an idea of how they worked.  This certainly isn't a powerful list, so keep that in mind as you look over it.  Here's what I ended up playing:

Tomb Prince (Armor of Silvered Steel, GW)
Liche High Priest (Level 4)

50 skeletons (mus, standard)
50 skeletons (champ, mus, standard)
18 skeletal archers (musician)
5 horse archers

3 sepulchral stalkers
3 sepulchral stalkers
3 necropolis knights
warsphinx (fiery breath)
warsphinx (fiery breath)

casket of souls
screaming skull catapult
screaming skull catapult

I'm really hoping that a construct heavy list like this can work because I think it would look awesome on the table.  Of course, there are about $250 (US) in new models there that I don't have, so I had to go to proxy mode:

That's right; I used paper cut out Tomb Kings. That guy actually worked pretty well.  My opponent and I joked about just buying a fancy printer instead of more models. 

Anyway, I got three games in with that list: one against Bretonnians and two against vampire counts.  The Bretonnian list had the standard issue double trebuchets, 6 medium blocks of knights, 3 units of ten archers, some pegasi, a lord with heroic killing blow, the invulnerable BSB, and a lvl 4 damsel.  The VC list featured the grave guard horde with regen banner, 2 units of ghouls and 1 unit of skeltons for core, a block of ten blood knights(!), a vampire with said bloodknights (along with the weapon that brings those pesky knights back), a sidekick caster vamp, and the BSB.
I felt good about my chances because neither of those lists are built for staying back, so I knew the TK's lack of movement wouldn't be a huge deal.  For the most part this was true; however, the Bretonnians were certainly able to pick their combats much to my dismay.  Partially because of this, I ended up being routed by the Bretonnians.  However, I fared better against the VC, routing them in the first game (of course both of my opponents casters were sucked into the warp by miscasts) and losing the second game with VC by 166 points (so close to a draw).

Despite my 1-2 record, I found the army very enjoyable to play, especially because of all the entombed elements in my list. Having those three units popping up where needed added a dynamic element to the game that is often lacking (too many games end up with a scrum at the center of the table). Overall, the games cemented my belief that TK are competitive but solidly mid-tier.  I'm still worried about playing against heavy shooting lists, but we'll have to see how that goes when I actually get a game in against the dwarves.  Here are my revised thoughts about some of the individual units:

Magic:  I found myself very dependent on magic.  Unfortunately, even with the hierotitan and the casket, I found that my opponent was very able to stop the key spells each round.  The killing blow spell attracted the most attention, and I wasn't able to get it off in any of the three games.  However, neither of these armies cared much about me advancing, so I was able to get the march spell off when I needed it. I'll also note that I lost my hierophant against the Bretonnians.  The TK's high leadership made crumbling more of an annoyance than a game breaking occurance (although the catapults are toast).

Skeletons: My units of fifty with shields were rock hard while they had their prince. Unfortunately, the armor of silvered steel broke down pretty quickly against the high strength attacks I was facing in these lists.  When the prince died, the skeletons broke down pretty quickly.  50 seemed to be a pretty good number to me, and I'll probably continue to play at that size.  I'll also note that archers and smiting go well together; I found myself wanting more archers on the table for sure.  I may drop back to one block of shield skeletons and use the other unit to buy more archers.

Stalkers: I questioned taking these guys in my last post; however, I found them very useful in all three games.  They really hurt warmachines and high armor targets, and their misfire didn't hurt them too much.  They even helped out in several combats by coming in from the rear.  They were probably the all-stars of the list truth be told, and I'll be placing them in every list (at least for a while).

Knights: They are very powerful and have a good save, and they really force people to think when they come up behind them.  They do have trouble in wars of attrition, but I feel they are a very solid unit.

Warsphinx: The Brettonians had no trouble with these things.  The low armor and the fact that anything can wound them with a 6 means they are more vulnerable than one might think (heroic killing blow also is painful).  Still, they dominated the VC core, cutting through a units of ghouls with ease.  I really want to like these things, but they are just too easy to take down.  A block of tomb guard would probably been a more effective choice.

Horse Archers:  I still love them.  They got into a trebuchet in turn 2, which is excellent for us.  Against VC, they were able to redirect the dreaded bloodknights in one game (I was able to vanguard right up in front of them and turn them away), and they kept a unit of ghouls busy for two rounds in the other.  I think they serve a very valuable purpose for us.

Hierotitan:  I'm torn about this guy.  I made good use of both of his spells, and he helped the sphinxes out in combat.  However, I did find it a little difficult to keep him in range of my hierophant (who was bunkered behind my lines) and the extra casting value isn't as useful in a single mage list as it would be in a list with multiple casters.  I may just take a regular colossus next time.

Casket:  I still feel this is our automatic choice.  The extra dice are invaluable, and the spell is great against both small annoying units as well as heavily armed units.

All in all, I enjoyed playing my army, and I never felt outclassed as I sometimes did with the seventh edition list.  I'll be fiddling with my list in my continued attempt to make a viable construct-heavy army (and maybe I'll pick up a boxed set or two of the new models -- I'm itching to paint some Necropolis Knights).

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Tomb King Army Book Review (part 2 -- units) and a Tomb King Chariot

Hopefully, I’m going to get my first game with the new Tomb Kings book next weekend.  I’m looking forward to it.  I’ve been studying the units and reading lots of lots of internet posts trying to figure out what the way forward is for TK in 8th edition.  However, one thing that I am sure of is that I will be using a unit of chariots.  The idea of masses of chariots is what attracted me to TKs in the first place, and I ran 12 in some of my 7th edition lists.  For some reason, I like the aesthetic of the chariot.  I run them in my High Elf list quite a bit, but TK is almost unique in the ability to field units of chariots.  

However, because TK were always my secondary army,  I never  actually finished painting a chariot, so I really wanted to get a unit painted up before next my first game with the new book.  Here is the finished product:

I'm pretty happy with it.  However, it did take more time than expected; I'm not really looking forward to painting 5 (or 11!) more.  Here it is from a couple of other angles:

In looking at the new book, one thing that strikes me is the variety of unit choices and army builds we have available now.  We can do heavy chariot, heavy construct, elite infantry, horde infantry, gunline, monster mash, and probably others.  Indeed, I think the new Orc book also offers a lot of choice.  This seems to be a design choice for the new edition books, and I’m hoping that the designers will be able to keep this trend going with their upcoming releases.  That said, I don’t think I’ve worked out how to set up a TK army yet.   

 As I look through the book, here’s what strikes me as effective:

Tomb Kings: sharing their WS with their unit seems really good. WS 6 Tomb Guard?  Slap a halberd in their hands and hit them with Biorona’s timewarp, and you’ve basically turned them into immune to psych swordmasters with fear and killing blow.  In addition, I really think the Mask is a metagame changing item as well (TK may become the skaven’s worst nightmare), but we’ll have to see how eliminating the general’s ld bubble and the BSBs rerolls works in practice.  However, as I think about making a list, I don’t think TKs will have a place unless it is for the Mask.  Unless your going for some item combo, Tomb Princes are probably a more cost effective way to buff a unit’s WS. 

Tomb Princes:  again, sharing their WS with their unit is great.  I’m thinking of slapping a King with the Mask into the Tomb Guard and a prince in the armor of silvered steel in with some shield skeletons to form two solidish anvils.

High Priests/Priests:  A lot of people are lamenting our loss of healing; however, I actually think I’ll be healing more in the current edition than I did last edition. Under the old book, I had to spam incantations in order to get the charges, the extra catapult shots, and the extra combat attacks.  It seemed like I never had any casts left to actually heal anything (and I tended to play a king heavy army).  Getting a heal with every buff, means that I’ll actually get to raise something now.  I also like having access to light; however, I just wish we had some mechanism that would allow us to pick our spells. I think running a level 4 with Nehekhara Lore and a level 2 with light will be a powerful combo.  However, because getting the key spells out of light will be so difficult, I can see myself going with a single level 4.

Skeletons:  Shield skeletons have gotten dirt cheap.  They are still terrible and will crumble away quickly; however, a unit of fifty or sixty skeletons should be able to tarpit a problematic unit, especially if they are WS 5 with the prince.

Light Horseman:  I’ve seen many claims that they are too expensive.  However, I can see scout + vanguard causing the enemy problems.  With EtBS units not being able to charge until turn 3 now, this unit might be our best chance at getting at war machines early.  I'm kind of regretting the fact that I traded all my horsemen away now.

Chariots:  I’ve already revealed my bias in favor of chariots, and the move to d6 impact hits makes these so much better.  They also got cheaper.  They are also core now regardless of general.  I think chariots will probably find a place in most lists. Indeed, the fact that they heal easier than constructs might actually make them the hammer of choice.  Take 6 for the added impact power, lose a couple as you move up, heal the unit back, get into combat and lose a couple, heal the unit back.  They are also fast.  I'm really looking forward to using my chariots.

Necropolis Knights:  I love the model, snake surfers and all.  I love how much damage they can do.  I also think that being able to bring such a hard hitting unit up behind enemy lines can cause a lot of headaches for opposing general.  I’d like  a unit of 4, but I guess since I’d have to buy two boxes to get them, I’ll end up sticking with 3.

Casket of Souls:  In my opinion, this is a no brainer choice. It adds to our magic phase, is hard to kill, and has a nice bound spell.  Again, this seems to be the closest thing we have to an automatic choice.

Tomb Guard: I've already raved about these guys.  Getting a couple of buffs on this unit is the thing that dreams are made of.  I’ll be taking a unit of 30 with halberds with the mandatory healing banner.  On down the road, I’ll experiment with spending all the core points on chariots so that I can take two units of these guys instead of only one.

All of this sounds good; however, there are a few things in the book I’m not crazy about:

Not being able to march:  This is going to hurt. Badly.  I think gunline armies will destroy us.  Even if we gear up to shoot, we are not going to outshoot dwarves or empire.  We only move 4 and depend on magic to march.  If our enemies hold their dice to stop the march spell, it will take us until turn 4 to get into charge range of the enemy line with our skeleton blocks, and there’s no way that we can make them move forward, even with 2 catapults, a casket, and a bunch of archers.  My gut tells me that this rule right here ensures that TK will not be a top tournament army.

Sepulchral Stalkers:  I might need to play with these a bit before completely writing them off; however, they seem a bit overcosted.  They won’t do much in combat.  Their gaze attack does make them a good bet for earlier war machine removal; however, they have a chance of killing themselves with it.  That said, there are some units that they can punish, and I imagine that lizardmen and dwarf armies will dread the sight of these guys.  I might try a unit on down the road, but for now, I’ll be leaving them at home.

Ushabti:  They got a little cheaper, so that’s good.  However, the twin nerfs of making them harder to heal and giving them str. 4 and great weapons (so always strike last) instead of str. 6 (and striking on initiative) means that they probably didn’t get cheap enough. Overall, I’m left feeling that the Necropolis Knights do what they do a little more effectively and will probably claim the spot in my lists that Ushabti used to fill.

Scorpions:  Speaking of an older unit that finds itself with a new unit taking over its role, I think the scorpion loses out to the sepulchral stalkers in the war machine hunter sweepstakes.  I have three of these babies painted up, but I can't ever see taking more than one.  It's almost as if they planned to weaken one of the more popular 7th edition choices.  Nah, it couldn't be.

Sphinxes:  T8 is good.  They can do a lot of damage (especially the war sphinx). However, war machines and poison attacks are going to eat these guys up.  I think taking 2 might ensure that one gets into combat (and could be really nasty against some armies).  However, taking 2 war sphinxes is pretty expensive.  I’ll have to playtest a bit to see if I can find a place for them, but they probably won’t be in my first list.

Entombed beneath the Sand:  This is one of our most flavorful rules; however, taking away the ability to charge on the turn the units arrive hurts, especially for war machine hunting.  Even if you get the units out in turn 2, you're still not getting to charge until turn 3 (assuming you don't scatter too far away), and I'm sure said war machines will take some defensive shots in the interim.  Not having to place the marker at the beginning of the game helps offset the loss as does a more forgiving misfire chart, but I'm still disappointed in this.

Overall, I think the book is a great improvement but won’t be displacing any of the top builds.  I’d say the same thing about the Orc book by the way.  Frankly, the fact that both of the new army books have some variety, good internal balance (even the units I said I don’t like really aren’t that bad), and good external balance (solid mid tier stuff) is a good sign.  If they can keep this up, 8th edition might be remembered as the beginning of the golden age of army balance.

Hopefully, I’ll have a game in by the next time I post, and I’ll have a better idea how some of this works.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Tomb King Army Book Review (part 1 -- fluff) and a Warrior of the Golden Host of Mahrak

Although I’m sure everyone is more interested in discussing the units, I’m going to start my review of the Tomb Kings book by going through the background material.  I’ve heard it said that the fluff is that stuff you have to flip through to get to the rules.  I’ve also heard it said that the fluff is the reason the army books cost 42 dollars instead of 30.  However, I actually find a lot of value in the background material.  Indeed, I think the books with well written background help painters and modelers find unique approaches for their armies.
For example, there is a bit on page 17 of the new book discussing “Legions of Legends.”  This little paragraph of fluff introduces several painting/modeling ideas that could really make a TK army pop.  For example, I could see picking up some Lizardmen bits to adorn the warriors of Raestra’s Crocodile Squadron and ending up with a really well themed army (which is helpful in racking up painting points at tournaments if you aren't a great painter).

The one that most interested me, however, was the Golden Host of Mahrak.  Essentially, these guys walk through molten gold in order to decorate their bones.  A golden host of skeletons sounded pretty cool, so I decided to paint one up to see if it would be a viable scheme for my skeletons (I have quite a bit of my army painted, but I don’t have a single skeleton).  What do you think (I'll apologize in advance for the picture quality. I lost the charger to my good camera and had to use a backup for this one):

I kind of like it, but I’m not sure I’d want to have to keep explaining why my skeletons are painted gold. I might just keep it as a unit champion or something.  Still, this shows the importance of a good background section.  The old Tomb King book was excellent, definitely one of the best background books of last edition.   One of the best parts of the old book was the border of the fluff section that detailed all of the kings of the seven dynasties with little blurbs about each written in a pop-ancient Egyptian style.  The book also had some great fiction pieces, many of which were written by Graham McNeill (one of my favorite Black Library authors).  For example, “Tales from the Oasis” details a Arabian desert guide telling some Northern treasure hunters about the area.  He details several kings including Tutankhanut, the prince who has gathered some living followers into his armies.  I noticed that a lot of wishlists for the new book included some desert riders so that people could build Tuts army (come to think of it, Ol’ Tut had a gold body too – he was from Numas though.  I wonder why they didn’t make that connection with the Golden Host of Mahrak). Finally, I always liked the first person journal of the faux-Indiana Jones and the faux-Lara Crofts ill-fated attempt to loot a Tomb King pyramid.  All in all, the old book had some interesting details and a good sense of humor. Indeed, I’ll hang on to the old book just because of its great background.

So, how does the new book compare to its forerunner in terms of fluff?  Overall, I’d have to say fairly well.  I miss the longer narrative pieces.  The new book relegates all fiction pieces to sidebars, and even then, I don’t know that I’d really call any of the sidebars fiction.  The lack of fiction is no surprise; the newer books don’t have near as much of this as the older ones.  Like I said above, the fiction pieces were often gold mines  of details for modeling, so I miss them if no one else does.  However, the book makes up for the lack of fiction with abundant sidebars (containing things such as the legions of legends), a good overview of some of the different areas of Nehekhara (the first person didn’t really individualize any of the cities), and a description of some famous battles (which give a glimpse at some alternate kings).  Scattered about these sections are some great stories.  My favorite is about a group of Brettonians who plunder a pyramid and think they have found the body of a lost Brettonian hero.  They take the body back, set it up in a reliquary, and start parading it around battlefields.  Unfortunately, it  is actually a sleeping Tomb King; mayhem ensues when he wakes up.  Going through these sections has yielded several ideas for theming the army which is what I think is the most important function of the fluff material (compare to the current High Elf book which really doesn't give any concrete ideas except for theming by province).

The actual history section was much more detailed than the last book, and they really fleshed out the background, especially about the Mortuary Cult.  One of the things I was most curious to see was what they would do with the Black Library’s Nagash trilogy, especially the first one which is set in ancient Nehekhara. I know a lot of people hate the book; I actually thought it was a decent read.  However, some of the details were a bit out of place with the old TK fluff (Ushabti as humans?).  It looks to me like they kept some of the ideas from the novel (the sphinxes, details about the Black pyramid), but largely wrote the story to adhere more closely to the original background material (I won’t spoil the novel, but this is a different Arkhan than novel one; Ushabti are statues).  Overall, I thought the history section was a bit dry and encyclopedic, but it’s history.  What are you going to do?

All in all, I was pleased with the background sections.  They gave me an idea for making my army unique, even if I don’t follow through with it, and that’s exactly what a hobby book should be aiming to do.  I do feel that the new book lacks the dark humor that permeates the old book.  However, I’d argue that the dark humor is being excised from pretty much all the new stuff, which I think is a shame.

Wow, that was a long post again.  Be on the lookout for my next post in which I’ll review some of the new units.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Tomb Kings Army Book Review (intro) and a Casket of Souls

I know I promised a look at some historical figures; however, I have postponed that for two reasons.  First, 15mm models are annoying to paint, so I have washed my hands of them for a short time.  Second, the new Tomb Kings army book is out!

Obviously this book has been a long time coming, and with the old book being one of the weaker WHFB armies, Tomb Kings players have been anticipating this release for a long time.  By now, everyone has seen the models, and while I think they are a mixed bag, there is no doubt that this release represents a pretty significant reimagination of the army.  Where once I lamented the fact that we were too VC like; the new TK book seems to sever all ties between the two armies.  I'm really excited to get them on the tapletop.

Overall, I think TKs are my favorite WHFB army.  While I think a handful of armies have a better aesthetic (including my High Elves), I really like the background and flavor of the Tomb Kings, and I'm hopeful that the new book preserves that.  What I plan to do here is work my way through the book and share my reactions and thoughts as I attempt to get them ready for the next tournament (personal things got in the way of my attempt to give the 7th ed book one last go at the May tournament, so I don't have a tournament report).  I'll tell you what I think of the book, review some lists, and then tell you how they performed on the table.  My TK army also is lagging a good bit behind the High Elves in appearance, so I'll also show you my progress as I get the army ready of the table top.

Speaking of painting and modeling, the new book inspired me to finish a model that has been in permanent work in progress mode:  my casket of souls.  This was another salvage job, and unfortunately, the model was missing the two  birds that are supposed to decorate the lid of the casket. The model seems to be Indiana Jones inspired, so I wanted to pay homage to Raiders of the Lost Ark (I'm not the first to think of this, I am sure).  I had put this together a while back, but I never finished painting it.  I finally got back to it this weekend, and here's what I ended up with:

I really need to redo the flying skulls.  My skill in creating them got better with each one that I made.  The first one is really rough (even has a big ol' thump print in it).  The third one (the one that goes over the priests head) looks pretty nice.  I need to tear the first two back down and try to make them look as nice as the third.  Making them was pretty easy.  I took a paper clip and bent it into the shape that I wanted.  I then wrapped some green stuff around and smoothed that out.  A little paint, and it was ready to go.  Here it is from a couple of other angles:

When I go back to redo the model, I'm going to make a couple of changes.  First, I'm going to use a hobby drill to make some holes to insert the ends of the paper clips rather than just green stuffing them to the side of the casket. Secondly, I would like to base it.  My vision is to find some sort of ancient temple terrain piece that it could sit on.  I'm thinking it should be circular and have a few steps up to it, maybe with some pillars around it.  Unfortunately, I haven't found anything that will work.  For now though, I think the model is good enough for the table top.  I would like to find the birds that are supposed to go on the top.  If anyone has some casket birds lying around the house or knows where I can find some ancient temple terrain., let me know!

I've gone a bit long here.  My plan was to begin the review in this post by reviewing the new background section of the book, but I am already in TLDNR territory.   I'll save that until the next post.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

BB Game 4 and a Bone Giant

A couple of posts ago I wrote, "I'd hate to spend a bunch of time working on  a Bone Giant that was useless with the next book," so of course, I ultimately decided that I should spend my time this week working on a Tomb Kings Bone Giant.  This model was a definite salvage job.  I got him as part of a trade I made in which I sent a bunch of excess High Elves off for someone's broken down Tomb Kings.  As part of said trade, I got a whole lot more value, but some of the models were broken, missing pieces, or poorly painted (sometimes all three at once).  This bone giant was in the box, and during my initial refurbishment phase, I just tossed him in the bits box.

For my kids, the bits box is a source of wonder and excitement, and they come running when they see me get it down.  The broken down giant skeleton in particular captured their interests, and they kept bothering me to paint it.  After some prodding, I finally did it, and here are the results:

Being a salvage job, I didn't have a base for him, so I'll have to work on that later.  I've been thinking out putting my Tomb Kings on resin bases, so he might serve as the prototype for that project.  I had fun painting the model except for the legs.  No matter what I did, those leg wrappings came out looking like 1980s era leg warmers.  I tried white, bubonic brown, and ultimately red, but it didn't matter.  He was just destined to look like he's channeling his inner Olivia Newton John.  Now that he's finished, all that's left to do is keep my fingers crossed that the new book makes him more useful.  With less than one week to go until the new book comes out, I'm getting excited to see how the army is going to play.  Here are a few more shots of Olivia the Bone Giant:

Anyway, my fourth game at the Bash was against the player who ultimately won best painted.  He had used a lot of unit fillers, which I am not sold on.  However, his army told the story of an Orc invasion of a Dwarvish mine and each unit featured a little diorama of Dwarfs and Goblins locked in mortal combat.  It was a very cool idea.  His army also featured the Arachnarok Spider, giving me my first opportunity to play against the new big monster.

Indeed, by this point at the tournament I was 1-2, so winning any generalship awards was out of the question.  It was time to have fun, and fun for me in this game meant killing that spider.  So after deployment, I took my hardest unit,  the phoenix guard, and chased it down.  Phoenix Guard are not meant for monster killing; however, they are very hard to kill.  I wanted to see what the spider could do against them.  Ultimately, it did quite well.  It tosses out lots of attacks and is very resilient.  It won two consecutive rounds of combat by itself against a block of infantry, which is pretty good for a monster.  However, leadership is its Achilles heel.  The first time it lost, it fled (his general had gotten pulled away from it).

Ultimately, it escaped from the Phoenix Guard and preserved its points.  Somehow though, the rest of my army defeated the rest of his, and I came out with a win.  It was a fun game, and I really enjoyed playing the new Orc and Goblin book.  The old book seemed to have too many game slowing rules; however, the new book seems to maintain the quirkiness of the army while streamlining some of the effects.

Hopefully, the next post you see here will represent a bit of a change of pace.  There is a tournament this weekend at Sci-fi Genre in Raleigh (very fun and well run tourneys -- I highly recommend them), so I'll have results from that.  However, as I mentioned earlier, I'm starting to get into historical games a bit, and I will probably get some games in next week.  This means that instead of painting more bones I will be working on painting up some of the most fearsome enemies of RomeI should be able to post some test models soon!