- Warhammer Wood Elf Strategy Part 1: Basic Army Selection
- Warhammer Wood Elf Strategy Part 2: Heroes and Lords
- Warhammer Wood Elf Strategy Part 3: Tactics
Welcome to Part 3 of this series on the Wood Elf army in Warhammer Fantasy. In Part 1, we covered the troops of the Wood Elf army, and in Part 2, we covered the selection of Heroes and Lords. In this part, we’ll be looking at the actual tactics you use in a game, to get the most out of the Wood Elves.
Don’t Play Fair
- General Concepts
- Movement and Charging
- Surround a Losing Combat
- Specific Tactics
- Unit-Specific Tactics
- Final Comments
This is the most important rule.
Wood Elves cannot win a fair fight. They simple can’t. Don’t try.
They have the best manoeuvrability in the game, and lots of special rules to exploit. They have the ability to choose their fights: do not get into a combat where you do not have the advantage. Catching Wood Elves should be like catching the breeze.
Your aim is not to run forwards and have your biggest unit clash with their biggest unit, with various characters doing dramatic deeds. Your aim is to wipe the enemy out at all costs, using any methods available to you.
Wood Elves are very dependant on terrain. They need it for cover, and Forests are the focus of several items and spells. If you have any control over the terrain deployment, you should try to maximize the amount of terrain, and place it in useful locations. If you are using the Moonstone of the Hidden Ways, you really want a Forest in the enemy deployment zone. Other than that, you need to try to position terrain in places that your Scouts and Waywatchers can deploy, and to provide cover for soft units like Wardancers and Wild Riders as the move up the board.
Hills are less useful in 8th Edition, so if we get a Hill it’ll be pretty useless, and if the enemy gets one the biggest effect is we’ll be able to predict their deployment more easily. Buildings are surprisingly handy for us because they can give Glade Guard and similar units considerable more staying power.
Know your Obscure Rules
There are lots of little rules that Wood Elves can and should use to their advantage. Particular examples include:
- Technicalities of charging, fleeing from a charge, redirecting a charge, and how chargers must line up with their target
- Champions can refuse challenges
- Skirmishers in a Forest are Stubborn, and other units are never Steadfast in a Forest
- Skirmisher and Fast Cavalry rules in general
- Always round up
- Units can move backwards and sideways at half their Movement. Because you always round up, your 5” Movement units can move sideways and backwards 3”.
- Supporting attacks and Spears can only be used when fighting to the front, so on the Flank and Rear, only one rank fights
Multiple Small Units (MSU)
Wood Elves will often have lots of small units rather than big ones. Whilst some people like fielding big blocks of Glade Guard and Eternal Guard, most units, like Dryads, Glade Riders, and Wardancers, perform best when they are in relatively small units.
Since Skirmishers don’t ever get any sort of rank bonus, there isn’t much reason to make the units too big, and you hurt your manoeuvrability and are more likely to draw attention to yourself and get shot. Also, many Wood Elf units are still very effective in small numbers: a unit of just 5 Wardancers can cause massive casualties, and once you hit about 7 you start to run out of space for the front rank, and the other ranks don’t get their full attacks. Small units also mean you can sacrifice them without worrying about the points too much. Finally, having multiple small units is rather annoying for your enemy, because there aren’t obvious targets to go for.
Using Multiple Small Units is harder than in previous editions due to larger blocks of enemy troops and changed Victory Points rules. Units need to work together to be effective, performing joint charges and focusing shooting.
Movement and Charging
In 8th Edition, you can pre-measure as much as we like, so do so. Work out where you want your unit to be, what you want them to charge, and how far the enemy can move. Think of how likely the enemy is to be able to charge you, and check the ranges of their shooting units and some War Machines (especially Hellblaster Volley Guns and Organ Guns).
You want to try and get your shooters into positions where they can fire, preferably unobstructed, and you want to get vulnerable units either out of sight of enemy shooting or at least behind cover. Treemen should try to hide from cannons until you can take them out.
Running Circles Around People
If an enemy approaches your Wardancers or another Skirmishing unit, then Skirmishers are so manoeuvrable that you can simply run around the side of the unit and out of their charge arc. You set them up for a Flank or Rear charge, and then enemy must either accept that or turn to face. If they turn to face, you can simply run around the side again, charge, or go elsewhere, but the fact remains is they have wasted a turn, and you’ve probably annoyed your opponent a lot, which is great. It may seem silly, but it works really well.
Here’s an illustration of how this works:
Hit the Flanks and Rear
Apart from the nice Combat Resolution bonus it gives, hitting the Flank and Rear means you don’t have to face Supporting Attacks or Champions. Since Wood Elves have the manoeuvrability to do so, try to charge the Flank and the Rear if possible.
This is related to the “Don’t Play Fair” thing. In order to take out more powerful enemy units, you need to charge with multiple units and wipe them out as fast as possible. Overkill is a good idea. A unit of Wardancers or Wild Riders that do not wipe out or break their enemy in the first round of combat is in trouble.
Wood Elves are NOT a shooty army
Get this out of your head straight away. The Glade Guard are good, yes, and Waywatchers can hurt, but they lack War Machines, Crossbows, Handguns, and offensive magic. A High Elf army will out-shoot you because they have armour, Bolt Throwers, and superior Magic (the big advantage they have over High Elves is our Forest Spirits).
Just because they aren’t a shooty army doesn’t mean Glade Guard aren’t useful. The trick is to focus your shooting on key targets. Heavy Cavalry, Chariots, and other high Toughness / good Save units are generally a waste of time to shoot: they just act as a magnet for your arrows and thus protect other, more vulnerable units. Waywatchers obviously can shoot Heavy Cavalry due to Lethal Shot.
Prime targets for Glade Guard are those units which are dangerous in close combat, but weak enough defensively to take serious casualties from shooting. A perfect example is High Elf Swordmasters: they will cleave through almost any of Wood Elf units in Close Combat, but only have T3 and a 5+ Save. They should be wiped out by shooting before they get a chance to engage.
Some targets are an all or nothing deal, such as War Machines. Either you wipe them out, or your entire shooting is useless. You should only shoot at these targets if you have no other way of dealing with them, because otherwise they are just soaking your shooting up and protecting other units.
Surround a Losing Combat
A lot of times when you are losing a combat, there won’t be much left afterwards. Your troops tend to be pretty good at dealing a lot of damage. Perhaps there’s just a pesky Chaos Lord or Dark Elf Assassin who, despite having his whole unit wiped out, decided to single-handedly kill half a dozen Wardancers. Well, there is a solution: most Lone Characters can’t take a face full of S4 arrows.
Just be a bit careful with the positioning of your Glade Guard. You don’t want the enemy to either pursue into them, or be able to reform after combat and charge. Try to stay just at the edge of short range, or slightly further away and move closer when you shoot.
Manipulation of Opponent’s Dispel Dice
This is just a general comment on magic use, but basically you want to make your opponent waste Dispel Dice on spells which seem important but are actually not critical, and then you hit them with something big. Direct Damage spells are often great for this because they feel very dangerous, but are often less important than Augmentation spells.
There’s also the flip side: if you really want to cast Tree Singing (from either a Spellsinger or a Treeman) to move a Forest, then you should do it first. People tend to think moving Forests is pretty useless, and will save their Dispel Dice for later, but if you cast Tree Singing last then they may have a couple of Dice left over, and will gladly throw them at the spell. The same applies for other seemingly innocent spells.
If using the Lore of Life, exploit Throne of Vines
The Throne of Vines gives Life casters the amazing ability to resist Miscasts on a 2+, as well as other bonuses. This means you can pretty safely throw 6 Power Dice at a big spell like Regrowth or The Dwellers Below, and if you get an Irresistible/Miscast then that’s actually good: they can’t Dispel, and you’ll probably be fine. Note that the save can and will fail: as I mentioned in a previous post, the first time I used Throne of Vines, I cast The Dwellers Below, got Irresistible/Miscast, and the resulting sequence of bad rolls sucked my Spellweaver into the Realm of Chaos. On the bright side, the target Silver Helms were basically all wiped out.
Cover your Weaknesses
One of the main uses of Magic for Wood Elves is to accomplish what we can’t with our units. For example, the Beast spell The Amber Spear is extremely effective against Heavy Cavalry and can be effective against a Steam Tank, whilst the Life spell The Dwellers Below can seriously hurt Hordes and also cause serious problems for many other units.
Give Unfair Advantages
The other main use is to make your foes cry, “Cheese!” by enhancing your units to ridiculous levels. The Lore of Beasts has some amazing spells for buffing characters, and the Life spell Flesh to Stone is great: T8 Dryads can take on just about anything. Casting Regrowth on Treekin extremely effective and has the potential to reduce your opponent to tears. The Lore of Athel Loren is a bit less useful, but The Call of the Hunt is still very good.
Of the Opponent, not In-Game
The Wood Elf game is one of deception, distraction, and annoyance. You want to trick your opponent into making mistakes. You also want to draw their attention away from your more important units, and get them to focus on less valuable ones.
A classic example is using Scouts. You want to deploy them in a location that is annoying. You want to force Leadership tests for Marching. You always want to shoot, because despite them doing little it almost always annoys people. You want to get behind their units, and generally follow them around and avoid being charged.
Any time shots are fired at Scouts, Waywatchers, or Dryads, you win, because they’re hard to kill (Scouts/Waywatchers are hard to hit, and Dryads have T4 and a 5+ Ward as well). Every shot fired at them is one less at more important units like Glade Guard, Wild Riders, Eternal Guard, Waywatchers, Warhawks, Eagles, or Characters.
Any time an enemy unit turns to face a unit annoying it: you win. As mentioned in the Movement section above, Skirmishers can easily dance around enemy units, annoy them, and attract lots of attention: often far more than they deserve.
Okay, also In-Game
Getting the enemy to fail Psychology tests is extremely unreliable, especially in these days of Battle Standard Bearers working on Panic tests, and a few armies are simply Immune to Psychology across the board. Even Wood Elves are pretty resistant, since all our Forest Spirits plus Wardancers are Immune to Psychology.
Generally, Panic tests are a bit of a side note. Your aim is to wipe things out, and the Panic tests are an added bonus. You giggle if they fail, but really, do not rely on them.
An interesting aside is that a Panic test from massive casualties (such as from shooting or Magic) makes the unit flee directly away from the source, but if you wipe out a unit or a fleeing unit passes through a unit, and a Panic test is failed, then the unit flees from the nearest enemy. If you have an Eagle in strange places, you can manipulate the direction of fleeing units. Note also that fleeing units must always flee a charge, so you can use this too to manipulate the movement of fleeing units.
Hammer and Anvil
A standard popular tactic both for Wood Elves and in Warhammer as a whole, the Hammer and Anvil involves taking a charge with a tough unit (the Anvil), and then counter-charging with other units (the Hammers). The Hammer and Anvil is an easy way for us to set up multiple charges, and generally cause problems for hard-hitting enemy units.
The Anvils must be tough enough to survive the charge. The standard Anvils are Treemen, Treekin, and Eternal Guard, although Dryads can do in a pinch. Treemen and Eternal Guard are Stubborn, which helps, and Eternal Guard also have the bonus of possibly cancelling the enemy’s Steadfast. A Battle Standard Bearer should be used to make sure the Anvil doesn’t Break.
The Hammers must deal lots of damage. Wardancers, Dryads, and Wild Riders are the main ones, although other units and Characters (a Dragon!) can work too.
Here is an illustration of the Hammer and Anvil tactic:
The Pincer is similar, in some ways, to the Hammer and Anvil, but without an Anvil. The basic idea is to draw the enemy towards you and then hit them in the flanks. Some sort of bait is handy for this: Glade Guard are perfect because many opponents often think they are more dangerous than their are, plus they can shoot stuff that’s approaching to reinforce this.
A Pincer movement is extremely effective and is an excellent use of our manoeuvrability. Our Skirmishers and cavalry can easily get into flanking positions, and our Flyers can easily charge the rear. A Pincer looks basically like this:
The idea of Feigned Flight is you purposely stick a unit where it can be charged, and then flee from the charge. The idea is this will put the charging unit in an inconvenient location or facing in a poor direction. Since a failed charge doesn’t move very far, it can also be used to slow down fast troops. If an enemy unit is Frenzied, it’s even easier to bait them into charging you, because if you’re within their maximum charge range (M+12”), then they have to charge unless they pass a Leadership test.
A Feigned Flight is performed most easily with Fast Cavalry, so, Glade Riders. Fast Cavalry are also allowed to Move and Shoot after reforming from a Feigned Flight, but unlike previous editions they no longer automatically Rally, so bring a Musician. Scouts can also work (mainly because if they don’t escape, they’re pretty expendable). Note that Forest Spirits and Wardancers, being Immune to Psychology, cannot declare Flee! as their Charge Reaction.
Under previous rules, the best use of a Feigned Flight was to get an enemy unit trapped in a Forest, because it was really hard to get out. Whilst terrain no longer slows units, it can still be useful to do this, either because you can then cast Tree Singing and similar spells to hurt the unit, and Cavalry and Chariots will have to take Dangerous Terrain Tests.
You’ll also find that due to the new rules for redirecting chargers, it’s harder to draw enemy units away from stuff they really want to charge. Basically, you’ll need to do it far enough away from their desired charge target that they are not within maximum charge range (which is very long, M+12), and can’t redirect towards them.
Used as a deployment strategy, the Refused Flank is where you basically ignore half of the board and thus concentrate your units in one area. You want to deploy something manoeuvrable to that flank to give the appearance that you are deploying evenly. A Refused Flank will basically look something like something like this:
The Glade Riders and Eagle on the right would be deployed early, thus drawing the opponent to place units on the right-hand side. They are both very fast, and in the first turn of the game they can move up to behind the building in the centre. Thus, the four enemy units on the right hand side have nothing to attack, and need to move a long way to be able to do anything.
Other Known Military Tactics
The previous four tactics have been used by real-world forces for thousands of years. Naturally, there are other tactics as well, but some don’t translate quite so well into Warhammer, in part due to the turn-based nature of it. For example, forming a flying wedge to break a battle-line does kind of work, but while you destroy one unit the others have a whole turn to reform, counter-charge, and generally cause problems. There are also other strategies, particularly defensive ones, that are simply not very useful for Wood Elves, although other armies (particularly Dwarves) can use them very well.
An example of the perfect manoeuvre we want to pull off is seen in the Battle of Cannae, a battle between Hannibal and the Romans in 216 BC. Basically, the Carthaginians had the centre of their line fall back, pulling the Romans into a position where they were flanked on both sides, and then they were charged in the rear by Carthaginian cavalry. The Roman army was completely surrounded and pretty much wiped out. We actually have a greater ability to perform this kind of manoeuvre than any other Warhammer army due to our manoeuvrability.
I’ve mentioned this a few times previously, and I’m not going to go into too much detail because it’s a very specific tactic. A Sethayla army is one that focuses on massively manuoverable units like Glade Riders, Warhawk Riders, and Waywatchers, and generally fills people with arrows which avoiding all but the most essential combats. Playing Sethayla defines your entire army.
If you are interested, a good guide for Sethayla can be found here, although it has not been updated for 8th Edition so there are a few bits that aren’t entirely correct.
There is one quirk about Wardancers that is worth discussing in detail: their aptly named War Dances. As we all know, Wardancers have four different dances that they can choose:
- +1 Attack
- Killing Blow
- 4+ Ward Save
- Always Strikes First, but –1 A
The +1 A dance is the best choice against large numbers of lightly armoured enemies. Supporting Attacks by Wardancers in the second rank are not affected: they still only get 1.
The Killling Blow dance is best if you are facing heavily armoured foes, like Heavy Cavalry, or you are facing Characters that are vulnerable to Killing Blow. Supporting Attacks are affected.
The 4+ Ward Save dance is best used when the enemy will strike first, due to either the rather uncommon case of higher Initiative, or Always Strikes First. Otherwise, it’s usually best to go for an offensive dance and just try and wipe the enemy out.
The Always Strikes First dance should never be used, because the loss of Attacks means you simply won’t do enough damage. If the enemy is striking first, use the 4+ Ward Save dance.
However, this comes down to a final decision: when do we use +1 Attack, and when do we use Killing Blow? Well, fortunately for you, I’ve already done the maths.
The table below shows the summary of the results. Having S4 from charging means you should shift diagonally as shown: for example, if you are facing T3 3+ Save enemies and have charged, you should use the T2 4+ Save result. Since Supporting Attacks don’t get +1 A, there is a slight shift towards Killing Blow which isn’t factored in. The results for the Noble are skewed a bit, but basically due to her higher Strength and more Attacks you should use Killing Blow if you get an “either” result, but other than that the regular Wardancers’ attacks will be the deciding factor. Finally, if you’re facing something that isn’t vulnerable to Killing Blow such as Monsters, then you should obviously not choose that dance.
A final note is that Killing Blow is statistically lousy. As an example, if you have 10 Wardancers in 5×2 with a champion (16 attacks) and are hitting on 3s, then you still have a 15.2% chance of getting absolutely no Killing Blows, and you’ve only got a 25.9% chance of getting 3 or more Killing Blows. Basically, do not expect to wipe out entire units of Knights. If you have a champion + adjacent Wardancers + support (10 attacks) all attacking a single character, you have a 58.1% chance of at least one Killing Blow (assuming 4+ to Hit), which is a bit happier, but better if you tell your opponent in advance, “My calculations show that this series of attacks has about a 60% chance of killing your Lord”, just to scare them. On the down side, if the character has a Ward Save then that obviously increases their chance of survival.
With Waywatchers, I will do another quick analysis of Killing Blow. Waywatchers have a bit of an advantage over Wardancers because they will generally be hitting on a 2+, and will usually have multiple turns to perform their shooting. Whilst you can use Waywatchers on Heavy Cavalry, with similarly so-so results to the Wardancers, they are great at hunting characters.
Consider a lone Character, stupid enough to stand by himself, but clever enough to gain Look Out Sir! for proximity to a friendly unit. Even with the Look Out Sir!, if we assume we are hitting on 2+, then the chances of 6 Waywatchers performing a Killing Blow is 35.1%, which isn’t too bad, if it’s an expensive Character like a Wizard.
There’s been a bit of shenanigans about how Killing Blow works against people mounted on things like Monsters. By the original 8th Edition Rules, they would gain the Monster troop type and thus be immune to Killing Blow, however the FAQ is cancelled this and specified that if the model would be vulnerable to Killing Blow on foot, then it will work regardless of what it’s mounted on. Thus… you can try to take potshots at a dragon rider with your Waywatchers, and hope for a Killing Blow on him.
No amount of tactical knowledge can replace experience and the ability to think and re-plan on the fly. No plan survives contact with the enemy, so you must be able to adapt. Wood Elves are a difficult army to play, and it is expected that you will lose battles, and you will hopefully learn not to make the same mistakes twice. Alternatively, if you lose, just blame the 8th Edition Skirmisher formation and storm out the door.
For Wood Elf players not familiar with it, I would recommend visiting Asrai.org, which is the primary Wood Elf community forum on the internet.
This is (probably) the last part in this series on Wood Elf Strategy, and I hope it’s useful to people: I’ve certainly had a lot of fun writing it. Keep on playing, have fun, and maybe one day we’ll meet on the Warhammer battlefield.