[WFB] Mantic Empire Of Dust Actual Build Review

My previous contact with Mantic miniatures has been limited and sweary. After putting together a bunch of their early Ghouls (which, honestly, I wasn’t really enthusiastic about to begin with) and having a miserable time of it, I wrote them off as pound shop Citadel and sacked off a whole edition of WFB rather than have to deal with them again.

Having put together an Empire of Dust army box, two sets of Enslaved Guardians, and the Revenant Champion (in “waving a flag about” configuration), I have… not exactly and completely made my peace with Mantic, but I’ve found them no worse than others in a lot of ways.

I’ll work my way through the contents in order of assembly and have a good gripe about the bits that weren’t good. I’m a French-dictation kind of reviewer: everything starts off a 5/5 and for everything that pisses me off I deduct a point.

Skeleton Archers: These were quite fun to do once I’d worked out that specific plastic legs off the sprue needed to go with specific metal bodies (some have a locating lug for the upper body and a slightly chunker back than the skinny ones that slot right into the upper body, no lug required). While I was slightly worried about some of the lunging sideways shooting legs they look neat now they’re done. 4/5.

Skeleton Warriors: Oh no, metal accessories on plastic bodies! These always used to annoy me back in the day and I had to take a little salt break after putting the standard bearer together (still not sure he’s gonna stand up on his own, and I’m starting to think I should have used a metal body).

It took me a while to realise I was slightly short of heads (only eighteen, which means picking some fun options from the plastic sprue) and, as with the Archers, some of the bodies are fussy about which legs they fit onto. These felt like rougher casts too, as I had to shave off some metal and plastic to get them to go together; perhaps putting all the Skeleton legs on bases and then testing all the bodies for fit in turn might have been a better way to go about this, or perhaps Mantic could have stretched a point and put in some instructions?

I do like that their hands are open, and allow for the choice of spear or sword, and I also like the plethora of spears and swords on the sprue, which suits me a lot more than the grab-bag of assorted ‘hand weapons’ GW’s original Skeleton Warriors ended up with. I like my Grave Monarchs to look a bit more orderly and have matching weapons, that’s all. I’m slightly less keen on the historical-style open hands into which the swords have to slot. The plastic ones were OK, but some of the metal ones were a bit tight or crooked, and the arms are so spindly that trying to bend the fingers open exerts too much pressure on the lower arm. I cheated on a few of them and chopped the hilts off the swords, aligning them with the top of the hands. I’ll go back and fill those gaps later on, or eventually. 3/5.

Balefire Catapult: This is where the lack of instructions made me gnash my teeth a couple of times. It wasn’t hard to work out how it should fit together, based on the box image, but the angle of photography on the box images isn’t very clear as an assembly guide. Also, some of the parts on the plastic sprue are a bit… nondescript, and I was very glad that one of my crew could just have a metal body stuck on his legs and call it a day. Also, for a small model it doesn’t half have a lot of bits that overhang bases; I’ve bunged it on a Mantic unit filler that’s about 40mm by 60mm and it’s still poking off in a couple of places. At least they did ship it with a base though, and it was infinitely easier to assemble than the original metal Skull Chucker (at least all the pieces had lugs and sockets), so it’s not too bad. 4/5. 

Pharoah: He was fine. Took me a minute to sit his arms naturally but I’m used to that. My only complaint was not having a proper solid base for him – I fixed it by gluing a flat one from my stash over the socket, but I could easily have filled it with some jank off the Skeleton sprue instead. 4/5.

Cursed High Priest: Take a good look at that whisper-thin white metal staff which has no points of contact with the rest of the miniature and ask yourself how long that’ll last in a figure case. Also, the head doesn’t fit at all snugly on the body; I’m still not sure if it’s cast properly or if I should have cut something off or what. 3/5.

Revenant Champion: It’s 2018. I thought we, as a hobby, were past bullshit like this spindly little shite with his separate arms, hands on flagpole and body. That’s four points of contact, on a metal model so requiring superglue, and all of them have to be aligned perfectly for the pose to look right. One of the worst cases of Privateer Elbow I’ve ever seen, managing to come off with it in both arms. Some liquid green stuff in the one joint I couldn’t quite be arsed with and he’ll look fine, but I’m not happy about this one. I get that they wanted to make a multi part kit but I’d have thrown that idea out and gone for a nice solid two piece job – body and banner. 2/5. 

Enslaved Soldiers: Small gripe: I know Mantic probably uses generic packaging for all its regiments, and the boxes have to be big enough to fit plastic sprues, but every time someone ships me a huge cardboard box full of inflatable fillers and a tiny bag of metal bits at the bottom, I roll my eyes.

Wooden bases? OK, I can live with that, although it does low-key annoy me that not everyone’s at the same basic height. They have tiny feet which don’t sit flush with the sheer, toothless surface of the base, so I had to assemble them upside down and let gravity do a lot of the work for me.

They also have a mild case of Privateer Elbow, but at least it’s only one arm that has to line up with a hand and a shoulder, and at least the shoulders are nice chunky ball and socket jobs with some flexibility to them. Once again, I think I’ve been spoiled by GW plastic sprues where there’d be clearly labelled pairs of limbs that went together; I had to do a bit too much guessing and squinting at lugs, and coupled with their unstable relationship with bases, Teddy ended up leaving the pram a couple of times.

They look weirdly small on their bases – I think because they’re compact and sit fully within the 40mm rather than being all lanky and overhangy like the GW Ushabti. It’s a better design, but it looks slightly off and I’ll have to busy up those bases with something later on. 2/5 for assembly but 4/5 when they’re done, because they do look boss.

Overall: A resoundingly average hobby experience. I want to mess around with these kits some more and see if I can’t kitbash some Skeleton Horsemen, but it’ll depend on what the joints are like on Mantic cavalry kits (whether they have the same peg and lug arrangement as the infantry, and whether or not the heads are separate). I’d really like it if I could order more Guardian bodies and put the spare arms to use.

I’m not sure how well they’ll fare when they’re put in a case – there’s a lot of brittle joins in here – but at least an effort’s been made to keep poses within their base area for the most part, and they annoyed me much less than the Ghouls did, so either Mantic have improved their casting/cutting or I’ve mellowed over the last six years. Either way. 3/5.

 

[WFB] An Ancient Scroll Has Been Unearthed…

With the B.I.G. Bash out of the way, my next target is the imaginatively named Bringing Back Sixth Edition in Upminster: a 1500 point event for the King of Editions, the Edition of Kings!

(I’m mentally referring to the event as ‘Bringing Sixthy Back’. Let’s see if that catches on…)

I’d originally planned to roll up with the original Sylvanian Nightmare (Black Knights with the Drakenhof Banner, three Vampire Thralls with Summon Wolves, two Black Coaches, two single base Bat Swarms, chaff to fill and all the Skeleton Crossbowmen I can raise), but two things put me off. One: I don’t have enough Wolves or Crossbowmen any more. Two: I’d quite like to have some friends at the end of the event.

If I’m going to be buying a bunch of new models anyway, why not pick something a bit less… fun-hostile… and a lot more affordable? (I like Iron Wind’s Skeleton Crossbowmen and $30 for 12 isn’t bad money, but in the quantities I’ll be needing them…)

And the thing is, I’ve always wanted a Tomb Kings army. I just never quite got around to it back in the day. But B.I.G. had a Mantic ‘Totally Not Tomb Kings’ box deal and I like to pay where I play and circumstances dictated and here we are.

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Here’s some rationale and rhyme and reason.

The Crook and Flail on the Prince are a bargain. Always Strikes First and extra attacks? Give it ‘ere. He doesn’t get defensive kit because at T5 and W3 he’s already one of the beefiest Heroes around, and anything which can put the hurt on him will probably not blink at a paltry 6+ armour save.

The Staff of Ravening is a bit of a choice. I’m sticking to my guns here and leaning into more aggressive spellcasting rather than Dispel Scrolls and bunkering up: it may turn out not to be a great decision and I may resort to the traditional and boring Golden Ankhra if my Liche proves too hard to protect. As it is he’s going to chill near but not in the Tomb Guard and try to stay out of trouble.

The Skeleton Archers are what they are: they fill Core slots, give a presence in the shooting phase, and don’t give up too many Victory Points if sent to their death. I am very much looking forward to actually doing something in the shooting phase, by the way, thanks for asking.

Ushabti may not be the best choice around but I don’t care. I’ve always wanted some, Mantic’s substitute models are nice enough, and they fulfil the role that the classic line of six heavy cavalry does in most 6e armies – corralling the opponent, threatening double charges, and guiding the battle to where I want it. Because I’m going Construct-heavy I also want a Battle Standard Bearer and because the Icon Bearer profile is comparatively squishy I’ll forgo magic banners and give him an extra wound and an actual saving throw that’s worth a whole fart in a tin cup.

The Tomb Guard are there to protect my characters, by offering a Look Out Sir and a 5+ Ward from their standard, and to deny some Victory Points. VP denial armies were very common down our way in 6e: between a third and a half of the army’s total value would be concentrated in one unit which was quite hard to kill and if the enemy wanted to win big they’d have to concentrate on wiping that out, meaning that the rest of your forces had free reign. Or they could deal with the other stuff but know that a Major Victory was out of reach because they hadn’t touched the big box o’ points at the army’s heart.

Tomb Guard are pretty good for this, and certainly the best melee infantry the Kings have to offer. Toughness 4, reasonable saves (not as good as Grave Guard but they do have the Ward banner), and crucially, they come back. Being able to spring d6 models back into this unit at the drop of an Invocation could be massive, and it puts them just ahead of their Old World cousins in my estimation.

Finally, there’s the Screaming Skull Catapult. It’s a cheap Rare choice and honestly, one of these might not be the best pick I could make. I’m sure a Bone Giant would be more aggressive, or a Casket of Souls better at keeping my Liche alive. But the Skull Chucker, as I continue to know it, is dirt cheap, and it’s more of that novel ‘shooting’ stuff to play with, and… I’ve just realised it doesn’t have the Skulls of the Foe upgrade, so I might drop a couple of Tomb Guard to make room for that.

I have most of this stuff in hand now – merely need to decide if it’s worth chasing another Mantic box deal to expand the army or whether picking up the individual units will please me more. I’ve already had recommendations for Bone Giants (there’s a nice pair of sculpts from Reaper that should do the trick) and part of me’s getting thirsty for an eighth edition build-up.

Of course, Necrosphinxes and the like currently go for mad money on Fleabay, so I might have to resort to… desperate measures.

Bit excessive, maybe?

[WFB] Fantasy Fifth B.I.G. Bash

“Hello, my friends! Yes, yes, hello!

“I see from your frowns that you do not recognise me – truth be told I would not recognise myself, tied upside down to a tree in this gloomy wilderness so far from my humble home. Yet I assure you, it is I – honest Akbar! Yes, yes, that Akbar! Honest Akbar of Honest Akbar’s Discount Machineries and Magics! You have heard of me perhaps? You have heard my claim of over one thousand generals satisfied with the performance of Akbar produce?

“No doubt you are wondering how your old friend and comrade Akbar ended up in this mess, mm? Do not worry. I remember it all. Well, bits of it. The violent bits.

“It all started the day I sold the Wand of Jet. I knew the customer was not to be trusted. The foul texture of his skin – the crack and grumble of his bones – that wild, unkempt beard – I knew him for a student of the dark arts the moment I laid eyes on him. But his gold was good, you see, and Akbar, Honest Akbar… he does not discriminate.

“Yes, yes. Perhaps I should explain.

“As I say, it started the day I sold the Wand of Jet…”

Continue reading “[WFB] Fantasy Fifth B.I.G. Bash”

[WFB] Herohammer: An Experiment In Betrayal

You all know me. I’m a Vampire Counts man to the bone. I don’t entertain any of this twittering, wittering and doo-dah-de-lally about how ‘splitting the Undead was the worst decision GW ever made’. I like the Tomb Kings and I wish I’d had the money to buy into them during eighth edition when they had all those lovely kits, but that’s beside the point today.

The point is, I’m a loyalist. But…

… as I find myself putting together 3000 point lists for the purposes of chasing Mr. Ben Panting, Esq. back across the Border to whence he came, I find myself really wanting to use the fourth edition Warhammer Armies: Undead list.

OK, so I can’t cower behind Call Winds in a proper old-fashioned Undead army, and neither the Black Coach nor the Spirit Host will be making an appearance, but there are… rewards.

It’s the special characters, you see. Vlad and Isabella and Mannfred as they’re presented in the fifth edition book are good, but they’re not good enough. Their selections of powers and items are… OK, but there are essential support items and nice-to-have fun stuff that has to go onto a generic character if I want to include it.

Whereas in fourth edition, the special characters have some items set… but they also have free slots. They can be customised, integrated into the army build as a whole. They don’t need to be weighed against the flexibility of the generic options. And Isabella is still a proper Countess, i.e. a spellcaster.

Characters

Vlad von Carstein – 500
Sword of Unholy Power, Carstein Ring
(Summon Undead Horde, Wind of Death)

Isabella von Carstein – 290
Ruby Chalice, Staff of Damnation
(Dark Magic spell: to be drawn randomly)

Mannfred von Carstein – 587
Skeleton Steed
Skull Staff, Dragon Blade, Dispel Scroll
(Vanhel’s Danse Macabre, Raise the Dead, Gaze of Nagash, Hand of Dust)

Regiments

18 Skeletons – 196
Spears, shields, standard, musician

5 Skeletons – 55
Crossbows

5 Wights – 294
Skeleton Steeds, spears, shields, heavy armour, standard, musician

5 Wraiths – 375

Monsters

2 Bat Swarms – 200

Zombie Dragon – 500

2997 points

The army deploys in oblique line, with the Crossbows (never gonna move) at one end, and the rest escalating in increasing order of hastiness. Skeletons (led by Vlad and Isabella), then Wraiths, then Wights, then the Dragon, assuming he doesn’t have anything better to do like fly high and descend like the fist of ages. The Bat Swarm runs interference, racing across the line to deflect anything I don’t feel like fighting until it’s had a few doom spells shoved down it.

You could probably shit better lists than this but that’s not the point. The point is to walk my old collection back an edition and slap three special characters on the board without that nagging voice going “but generic characters support the army better” in the back of my head. I agree it’d be nice to have some Skull Chuckers. Buy me some and I’ll fit ’em in somehow. I’d like the Mantic ones please, they fit the aesthetic of this army better.

[WFB] Been Painting: Von Carsteins (Middlehammer)

Better late than never, eh?

I never owned the original Vlad and Isabella models from 1994. Back when they were current, I was more of a Necrarch man (ah, the follies of youth).

They never had rules in my beloved sixth edition (although it wouldn’t be too hard to cobble together a set: they’d be ‘special’ insofar as Isabella would have a couple of Lahmian powers and Vlad would have more magic items than were strictly proper).

By the time seventh edition rolled around and gave the Von Carstein family some decent rules (finally, you could fit all of them into 2000 points, and there was none of that OH SPECIAL CHARACTERS WHAT A BEARDMONGER talk around either), I was starting to fall out of love with WFB and the models had been superseded anyway.

So, what with one thing and another, there was no need to own them. It’s only in the last year or so that the completionist’s urge has take me and I’ve felt inclined to pick them up.

It’s been a while since I last did any painting (over a year in fact), so the first afternoon was a leisurely “try to remember how this works” affair. Here we can see the end of an hour or so’s work.

Colours were blocked out first, to get a feel for the overall composition, with the diffuseness of my old Bleached Bone and Ghostly Grey serving as early stage highlights on skin and clothes. Mannfred’s been wheeled out to serve as a palette reference: I also took the opportunity to refresh his paint job a bit, livening up his cloak lining and looking for opportunities to put some different colours on him. The goal was to have them looking a little bit better than the rest of the army; not so amazing and modern that they stand out, but good enough that they stand close inspection.

The day after, I started in on highlights.

My old leather jacket has been pressed into service for this bit – it’s worn to an off-white around the edges, and I’m mindful that pure black doesn’t really exist out there in the world, so its combination of brown-black and damage is perfect as a reference. The heavy travelling capes worn by the Von Carsteins all have a spot of edge highlighting to weather them a bit, breaking up those large areas of black and pushing them just over the quality boundary compared to the rough and ready army at large. It’s helped Mannfred’s “two thirds black” colourscheme look a bit less tosh, too.

Finally, there are the deets. The blood on Isabella’s chalice and Vlad’s sword; the gem on the Carstein Ring; everyone’s red eyes; and a bit of black lining on Mannfred’s mouth to put some detail back in.

I’m very happy with Vlad, and… mostly happy… with Isabella. There’s some sort of casting imperfection on one of her fangs, which didn’t show up until highlighting and shading really brought it out. I’m going to leave it there, partly because eighteen year old me left a lot of mould lines and so she’ll fit in nicely with eighteen year old me’s collection, but partly because I like the idea that she wasn’t the flawless beauty the Von Carstein propaganda claims she was. Anyway, check out Vlad’s sneer. That’s worth it, right?

I’ve also livened Mannfred up a bit further with a few layers of purple and grey glaze on his sword and staff, saturating them with Dark Magic (TM). The sword looks OK, but I kinda botched the staff; there are too many layers on there now to fix it without stripping the whole model, and it looks all right. If you squint. From three feet away.

Fortunately, I’m a three-feet-away kind of painter; unfortunately, I’m all about that “bases, faces and implements” approach. Get those elements looking right and the rest is easy. Mannfred’s not quite there. At least we have some new problems with his colour scheme now…

While I was picking out eyes and teeth and so on, I also took the opportunity to doll up Clarimonde and Romuald in the same style. Of course, under the harsh eye of macrophotography it becomes clear that Clari’s face needs a tidy up, but the main thing I wanted to show was the edge highlighting and the gold on what was previously undifferentiated black.

All that detail work was doing my crust so I started on the other two Banshees while I was at it. Ethereal stuff makes a nice break from detail work ’cause it’s mostly just slapping glazes together and making sure they don’t go absolutely everywhere.

I wouldn’t do the bases like this if I were painting these models on their own, knowing what I know now, but if you think I’m snapping all my brittle fourteen-year-old kitbashes apart to rebase them, think again, chummy.

The odds of my using all of these together are… well, I could do it in fifth edition, if playing a three thousand point game and not needing a level five wizard to ward off High Elven superiority. I’d be more likely to do it in seventh edition, where Mannfred the Acolyte is around to offer a cheap Loremaster and Vlad is a solid generalist Vampire Lord; he’s not the best at anything except Not Dying, but that’s honestly what I look for in a general. I wouldn’t do it in eighth, I don’t think: like fifth edition, that’s a “you need a level four wizard to handle other level four wizards” deal. Maybe if I can take Count Mannfred and Vlad, but who’d let me do that? Only a yoghurt.

I think that’s an unsung strength of the King of Editions and Edition of Kings: because caster level didn’t factor into what you actually needed to roll on the dice, you could play into a fourth level wizard with only a couple of level ones and still stand a reasonable chance in the magic phase.

[Mordheim] Interlude With A Vampire

This is a repost. The original article has bounced around two forums, three blogs and several content purges. Hopefully it will survive and thrive here.

The year is 2008, and for the three months before my MA course is due to start, I am home, playing games with my formative opponents. The local GW, locus of our lives back in the sixth form days, is running a campaign. Four weeks of Mordheim games. One big map showing our warbands’ progression into the ruined city (and governing what sort of terrain will appear when two warbands meet, although the scenarios themselves would be played by-the-book). ‘Victory’ is a tenuous sort of thing really, but for the sake of people who need to know who ‘won’ a wargames campaign, whoever’s warband came out with the highest rating at the end of the month would be lauded, applauded, and relieved of the sandwich run.

I decided to treat the campaign as a prequel of sorts. During the 2004 Storm of Chaos campaign I built a heavily kitbashed Army of Sylvania (which actually grew out of a Mordheim warband box) led by that Mordheim vampire with the swooshy cloak and later, after I lost him in a house move, by a swashbuckling undead Imperial Noble from the Warhammer Quest range. I didn’t do any conversion work at all on him – merely painted on an eyepatch after he caught the wrong end of a Dwarf rune axe in his first outing.

Since Mordheim is set some five hundred years prior to the Storm of Chaos, during the slow rise to power of the Von Carsteins, I thought this would be a good chance to see how my newly-turned Vampire started out his career and made himself noticeable to his antecedents.

Continue reading “[Mordheim] Interlude With A Vampire”

[WFB] Herohammer Battle Report – The Second Battle of Point LeStroud

Lists-n-shit are in the previous post; let’s crack along!

We made a couple of changes for the second scenario.

Firstly; angling those walls. It’s an old secret from the Warmachine days. Walls running parallel to deployment zones become things behind which forces cower. Walls running diagonally to deployment zones are interesting – they defend a flank or a front but not both, and to make the most of them demands turning off the ‘march straight forwards’ route and presenting an angle to the enemy.

Secondly: this time, I took a DARK MAGIC spell. I’d found myself wanting for Power cards last time, and poor Margharita had spent most of the game lurking in my lines, from whence she could have been casting a nasty DARK MAGIC spell.

I drew Blade Wind – not the best against such a high WS army, but I’ll take it – and otherwise stuck with the same Necromancies as before (that’s Summon Skeletons, Vanhel’s Danse Macabre and Gaze of Nagash on Walravius; Summon Undead Horde on the Master). Ben drew Banishment, Fiery Convocation and something else mildly unpleasant. (I actually forgot to ask at the end, but given how cagey he was about not having Assault of Stone, I have suspicions.)

Deployment

(Key note: several of these units are illegally deployed, according to the Tournament Battle scenario. My Wight Cavalry certainly are and I’m not sure about Ben’s Bolt Throwers either.)

(Further key note: this was before Ben double-checked his Bolt Thrower rules and discovered they’d shear through the Wight Cavalry’s 1+ saves no problem. Obviously I would never have put them there had we known, but since I’d benefitted so much from this misunderstanding in the first game, we agreed it was only fair to give the Bolt Throwers their head.)

As before, Ben finished deploying first and so got the first turn. My plan was a bit different this time – pin the Princes in the open centre and set up my Skeleton blocks behind the walls, from which defended obstacle they’d stand a chance against the White Lions. The Wights would simply swoosh around and roll up the flank, possibly Summoning some Zombies to help them out and catch fleeing Elves on the run.

High Elf Turn One

Ben also had a new plan. It was a highly aggressive GO FOR IT kind of plan in which he marched the White Lions through that gap in the walls and the Dragon Princes 8″ into my grille.

The Archers – now far more central and relevant – did a little two inch shuffle to the side to open their field of fire, and went for it, killing off a whole base of Bats while the Bolt Throwers messed up four of my Wights.

At least the Winds of Magic were a fart in a tin can.

Vampire Counts Turn One

I moved the Bats moved up to aggressively block the Dragon Princes – but not into combat with them. They’d be charging on Ben’s turn, or going around. Emmanuelle pared herself between the units, ready to wail at whoever needed the most wails, while I pressed the surviving Wight and the Master forward, desperate to close in and not eat any more Bolts than they needed to. Finally, I sent Margharita up to point blank range of the White Lions, attempting to get them before they got me.

Cometh the Magic phase, cometh the man, and fortunately I was well off for Power cards (with only one Dispel, that I could convert into Dark Magic power). First off: the Staff of Damnation, propelling the Wight Cavalry and the Master upfield and into point blank range of the Bolt Throwers. One more round, and then they’d be gone – since they were in a battery, I could break them both in one charge.

Blade Wind went off, despite Ben’s effort to Destroy it, but only killed one White Lion. (We decided they’d get their close combat save, since the spell does go after them with, you know, blades). Ben dispelled the first Summon Skeletons, but the second added three models to Margharita’s unit, and then he didn’t Scroll Vanhel’s Danse Macabre, so I propelled the Spearmen into the White Lions on the grounds that I’d rather get to fight them than not.

(We shouldn’t have fought this combat, but we did; the White Lions passed their Fear test and though I killed three of them, they nailed five Skeletons and won the combat by one.)

Here’s the bottom of turn one. Bloody hell, this one’s moving faster!

High Elves Turn Two

As predicted, Ben sent the Dragon Princes headlong into what remained of the Bat Swarm – he’d considered charging his general out and into the Skeletons, but thought better of it – while the Archers wheeled and unloaded into the Master and his last Wight. Fortunately, between the range and the 1+ save, nothing happened. Phew. Sadly, the Bolt Throwers finished off the last Wight, but were totally unable to put a wound on the Master. Toughness 6 is… higher than I remembered.

Unsurprisingly, the Dragon Princes wiped the Bat Swarm out and successfully prevented themselves from charging off like loonies. In the other combat, each side chopped four wounds off the other for a complete draw.

Then… then Ben cast Banishment with Total Power.

Fortunately, Margharita was just out of range, but one Skeleton from her unit and six from Walravius’ bunker were blown to kingdom come. Adding insult to injury, Ben dropped Fiery Convocation on Walravius and company and killed another two, which meant he’d be taking at least one S5 hit next turn, if not more.

Vampire Counts Turn Two

I really wanted to save Walravius. I really wanted to rules lawyer it so that he could charge out of his unit, away from the last Skeleton, and leave Fiery Convocation behind. Sadly, in fifth edition you can’t do that. Characters in units are still in units at the time charges are declared, therefore they must charge along with their friends. Leaving units happens in the Remaining Moves step. At least we took the time to get that right.

Anyway, instead of charging he advanced to get out of the Dragon Princes’ line of sight (blowed if he’d give them the satisfaction), while the Master charged the Repeater Bolt Throwers. Failing their fear test, the crew legged it off the board, and his failed charge put him behind the hill – probably the safest place for him!

Emmanuelle whiffed her wail on the White Lions. In combat, Margharita finally flexed her muscles and killed three White Lions, enough to win the combat – but since the Skeletons no longer outnumbered them, they got to take their Break Test, and the buggers held.

Unbelievably, Walravius survived the Fiery Convocation (which I could not Dispel without any Dispel cards) with one wound remaining. He cast Summon Skeletons twice, raising a total of nine Skeletons into the Spearmen unit, but Ben dispelled the Staff of Damnation and its attempt at getting another round of combat in.

High Elves Turn Three

The Princes wheeled to face what remained of the Vampire Counts army, while the Archers reversed two and a half inches (turn, move and turn, at a quarter of their movement for each turn) and unloaded into the Master, who laughed it off. Toughness 6, man!

In melee, Margharita killed two White Lions and the Skeletons nailed another, finally enough to break them and run them down.

Fiery Convocation finished off Walravius, unsurprisingly, and then… another Banishment. I tried to stop it, I really did, but it was my turn to roll a 1 on a 2+ Dispel attempt. Once again, Margharita was just out of range, thanks to that overrun, but the Banshee was atomised and so were three Skeleton spearmen.

Vampire Counts Turn Three

The Master turned his horse about and cantered gently toward the centre, while Margharita abandoned her unit. This was the wrong call. I got her out of there so she wouldn’t be poofed by the Dragon Princes, but the thing is – if she had been, she’d have exploded, killed a bunch of them, resurrected herself in the building, and been safe from any further charging because it’s a four turn game and I was going second. Instead, I… well, you’ll see. Anyway, the Spearmen turned to face the inevitable, and Ben saved me any further Staff of Damnation cheating by using Drain Magic straight out.

High Elf Turn Four

The Dragon Princes charged and, unsurprisingly, pulverised the Skeleton Spearmen, while the Archers totally failed to put any hurt on the Master again. The Winds of Magic were generous, and gave Ben enough to cast Fiery Convocation on Margharita. I wasn’t having that though – I dropped Rebound and this time got away with it. Sadly, the High Elf affinity for dispelling meant Ben easily shut down my spiteful Blade Wind on his Archers with a Mental Duel. On top of everything, he plonked a wound on Margharita for her trouble. Grr.

Vampire Counts Turn Four

With only two models on the table my options were a bit… limited. I charged Margharita into the Dragon Princes, challenging the High Elf General – who failed his Fear test and, as Ben pointed out, actually did him a favour, since now it was much less likely he’d kill the Vampire. Margharita did two wounds to him, which made the combat… a draw. Blech.

(We counted and recounted the combat results, and this is where we spotted the other big thing Ben had bee doing wrong all day. In fifth edition, you do not get +1 combat resolution for charging; you get to strike first and that’s your lot. I don’t think it would have made a huge difference, since generally I was charging him or he was charging units which don’t care about combat resolution, but it’s still something that came up and which I didn’t catch until it became Crucial.)

But wait! It was not over! In my final desperate scrabble to retrieve some dignity from this game, I sacrificed all my dignity in doing a whole bunch of what I now know to be inadvertent cheating.

First, I tried to cast Summon Undead Horde so I could charge something into the Archers, still under the impression that a Vanhel’s charge allowed you to fight afterwards. Nope. Destroy Spell. Dispelled and then destroyed.

Then, I tried to Blade Wind the Archers. This time, Ben remembered he had a Dispel Scroll, and used it.

Finally, I used the Staff of Damnation to fight another round of combat against the Elf General. This is cheating because you can’t use Vanhel’s Danse Macabre on a lone Vampire. She killed the Elf General, but still died to combat resolution. This is cheating because you don’t count combat resolution in bonus rounds from Vanhel’s Danse Macabre – you carry it over to the next turn. Anyway, Margharita exploded, killing five Dragon Princes but, crucially, not the Mage, and everyone passed their Panic tests for the dead general, not that they should have taken them anyway.

Things would probably have turned out more or less the same way if I’d just left her in her unit and challenged Ben’s General on his fourth turn like a sensible person, but even if I include those three Victory Points, two Vampires can’t contest any table quarters, so Ben’s still sitting on the win he deserves.

Final Score: Vampire Counts 8 – High Elves 9

Debrief

Well, Ben certainly took my remarks about needing to come and fight me to heart! This time his Archers were set up to dominate the centre ground while his Bolt Throwers, who can afford to sit on hills in the corner, were sat on a hill in the corner. My Wights took the beating they actually deserved from the Bolt Throwers, and while the two Vampires closed the distance in terms of raw killing power, I was scrambling to catch up from the start.

With one win each under our belts a deciding game is called for. Ben, being a madman, suggested 2000 points and no limits (so he’d take the Executioner’s Axe, hopefully on a footslogging general in a White Lion unit this time, hint hint, and I’d take the Forbidden Rod/Amber Amulet power-combo) – but by the time I was waiting for the train, he’d messaged me to say “how about 3000?” So that’s something to look forward to. In the meantime, here are some thoughts on Fifth Edition and my list.

Talking points: Fifth Edition

It’s not sixth!

This is the big one. Everything that we got wrong – Vanhel’s Danse fiddliness, +1 combat resolution on the charge, Bolt Throwers only being regular S4 shots when they multi-fire – was a product of thinking back from later editions and underestimating the streamlining work that went on between the Herohammer and Borehammer years. In particular, Vanhel’s Danse Macabre really needs some… sigh… ‘dojoing’ so I know exactly what it can and can’t do for next time.

Card fencing

I both enjoyed and did not enjoy the fifth edition Magic phase. The ‘card fencing’ aspect, where a key Dispel attempt can be reinforced with power cards and then the spell itself can also be reinforced, led to some fun back-n-forth over crucial Banishments or Danses. That was fun.

It was… less fun… not knowing what casting power I could count on turn for turn. Back when I played Chaos in the actual mid-Nineties it didn’t stress me so much, but I learned my Vampire Counts trade in sixth edition when my Tower of Power and Pile of Denial dice were a constant, affected only by careless Necromancer immolations. We’ll get into that more when we hit the list review.

Tournament Battle lists at 1500

Both of us had two units which really did the business, and I think at 1500 points we can expect to see similar compositions from others. Both of us took the level 3 wizard we were allowed to, and both of us had empty magic item slots in favour of getting some support units in.

List Review

I gave Ben’s a once-over last time – now it’s my turn. Having direct access to my own thoughts, I can actually go through mine almost blow by blow.

Margharita

She did… all right. Although neither of my Heart of Woe explosions were entirely legitimate, the basic principle holds up. Buried as she is among the infantry it took Ben three turns to get near her, just enough time for her to blow up and reincarnate safe and sound on turn four. It’d be nice if she hit a bit harder, and I rather miss Summon Wolves as a means of deterring Bolt Throwers and the like without putting more strain on the magic phase.

The Master

I really like the “two Vampire Counts” approach, and even when the Master ended up on his own, his high Toughness and tendency to have carved up war machine crews personally meant he could weather the storm of lesser firepower. The problem is that Counts still only have three attacks. They’re very good attacks, but only rolling three dice means they whiff a bit too easily, and they don’t have an additional hand weapon option in this edition.

I’m also in doubts about their spellcasting prowess. Three Wizards gave me good card storage capabilities but I was still often hurting for power cards, and it might be wiser to have some tech to help me get more spells off with the cards I have. Dark Magic helped with that but it’s unpredictable, and if I’m dropping one wizard then there’s no way I’m coming in without two Summons (on different casters) and ideally two Danses (again, the Staff of Damnation on a Vampire and the spell itself on a Necromancer).

Walravius

An absolute must. In order to force through a Vanhel’s Danse I generally had to cast it two or three times (including the Staff of Damnation), and to do that I needed the reliability of the Master Necromancer. Gaze of Nagash was also my most effective attack spell by a long shot. The one thing I’d say he needs is a nice cheeky Wand of Jet to help him get those first cheap-as-chips spells out. To find points for it, though, I’d have to drop a Count down to Thrall status…

Van Ian

… possibly by replacing this guy. He’s only there in case Margharita needs someone to eat a challenge, or to provide theoretical leadership in the event of her destruction, but in both cases her unit was wiped out before she died. Perhaps a footslogging Thrall and Walravius could do a good enough job of commanding the Skeleton infantry? Especially if that Thrall had something fun like that ring that stores a Battle Magic spell?

Wight Cavalry

Ben thinks a bigger unit of these is in order. I agree, but I’m unsure where the points should come from in a game of this size. Seven or so plus a Vampire Count or Wight Champion would do the business but goodness knows how I’d afford that. I do like the 1+ save on them – even accounting for the bolt thrower snafu they laughed off a lot of arrow fire and it made them tough as balls against the White Lions in the first game.

Skeleton Warriors

OK, so there are a few problems with these, only two of which I can fix.

Firstly: two units. I’m in the habit of taking a small ‘bunker’ for my Necromancers thanks to sixth edition, but it’s a luxury I can ill afford here.

Secondly: small units. It was an experiment, and it failed; I couldn’t get Summon Undead Horde off to boost them. In other editions I’ve found it’s best to buy the undead you need and raise the ones you’d like; this one, it turns out, is no different.

Thirdly: equipment. Spears and armour are suboptimal. I know it. Keep ’em cheap, stack ’em deep. BUT: I built this army to be an Army of Sylvania where spears or crossbows and light armour were the only kit options going. BUT: What You See Is What You Get. BUT: I’m not replacing them, all right?

SO: I think one deeper block of eighteen Skeletons with spears, and I avoid the all-eggs-in-one-basket problem that creates by moving my Undead general out of the infantry.

Banshee

Didn’t do much but she’s more of a deflector piece that can do damage. She can engage units like Ben’s Dragon Princes without getting into actual contact with them, and whittle down those heavily armoured highly protected dudes over time. I think I have to pick a target unit for her and stick to it like glue, though; against high-Ld targets she’s often pinging off one or two guys per turn if she’s lucky and those have to add up over time.

Bat Swarms

Gold. They’re fast, they’re Unbreakable, but they’re not Undead, and that makes all the difference in an edition where specific Undead-killing tech is so abundant. Being able to pin down units without fear of the crumble nor the Banishment nor the Banner of Undead Incineration was crucial to my tactical approach in both these games. These are definitely staying and I’m definitely keeping two Vampires so that the whole Swarm is only worth 1 VP.

Closing thoughts

First of all – big thanks to Ben for coming out, tolerating my occasional foray into complete Rimmerdom, and providing a couple of stand-up games.

Second of all – big ups to Stroud’s Atlantic Games (HI SEB!) for providing such convenient gaming space within sneezing distance of the station.

Third of all – no thanks at all to the cocksack CrossCountry conductor who pulled away from the platform at Gloucester right as I was high-tailing it towards him, and then gave me the most aggro “sucks to be you” face on the way out.

Finally – thanks to you, dear reader. These have been a long-ass couple of posts, but I hope you’ve enjoyed them despite that. There’ll doubtless be more of these to come, what with Ben and I fighting our decider and every possibility of a tournament happening next year.