Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Fantasy Warriors Update/Primer

This last weekend saw another game of Fantasy Warriors.
No battle report this time, since it was kinda a "dry run" for our new 1200 point armies (details below), plus Desiree's brother Mark was in town and was interested in what these miniatures games were all about, so the game was also a demo of sorts.

Desiree handed over her Dwarf army into Mark's capable hands and provided tactical advice and "psy-op" type psychological warfare against yours truly. Blood really is thicker than water I guess... ;)

Mark did very well indeed, not even counting that this was his first game. His standout moment was probably when he concentrated his Dwarven crossbows against my beloved Trolls, eventually bringing them down...which was a good thing, because his initial volley had driven them into Bloodlust and they were charging across the field towards his stunty ranks! I'm not too upset about losing my Trolls like that. Crossbows are murderous; they have range and penetration, even if they lack the rapid fire of bows. If my Trolls attract most of the crossbow fire across the course of a game, thus causing the Dwarves to use up their ammo to take out the Trolls, then that means the rest of my army is spared the withering fire. If the crossbows are employed elsewhere, that leaves my Trolls fresh and ready to crack skulls. They're a bit like tanks in modern combat, I suppose. At any rate, I lost--again--but thanks in part to facing a different opponent I was able to start coming up with some real insights aimed at making my Orcs more of a lean, mean greenskin machine. Basically, the lesson learned is that Orcs need all the help they can get. Standards, champions, musicians, "the quality of quantity", the works. This was especially highlighted when my unit of 8 Orcs went up against a unit of 8 Dwarves over a bridge. Both units lost a single figure. The Dwarves held steady, the Orcs routed right off the board! Hopefully this game will mark the last time I'll regularly be rolling morale tests that have my units routing on a 1-2, or even a 1-3!

Another thing I took away from this game was an increasing respect for the FW rules. They are more subtle than they first appear. Small things, like how the orders a unit is under affect it under the stress of combat--Attack allows you to roll more dice to hit, Hold makes it more likely you'll stick around--are a mark of excellent game design.

Back to talking about adding to armies, here are the details on our "new" armies (our 1200 point armies are essentially the same as the 1000 point versions with some unit additions, so not all that new, but you get the idea).

My Orcs have added a unit of 4 Wolfriders and a mounted Battle Leader, creating a new command. I intend to use this unit to scout. The fact that they'll have to start the game on Hold is OK, because they form a handy reserve unit that way. I used them in this capacity their first time out and it almost tipped the balance back in my favor towards the end of the game. Each of my infantry units now has a champion, standard and musician and each has grown by four models. I also boosted my Wizard's Power Points so that he'll be able to summon a Fiend if he needs to, and he'll be more effective in general. Oh yeah, I replaced the technically illeagal Amazon wizard with a proper Orc. These changes put me a bit over budget, so I had to downgrade my Elite War Trolls to "stupid" War Trolls. The next time we bump up our points totals, I'll be sure to boost my Trolls back to Elite first thing.

(Here I'd like to take a moment for a mini-rant--no pun intended--and talk about why I won't be fielding my new army for at least a couple more weeks. Seems that our friends at Mirliton in Italy are taking a whole month off of work. The whole company. So orders placed before the end of August--like, say, for some Orc standards, musicians and champions--will not go out until they return from their vacation. Damn those Europeans and their commitment to "the good life"!)

The Dwarves saw far fewer changes--the Human Hero became a Battle Leader in charge of an allied command of foot knights. It was this little gem that turned back my wolfriders, despite my best efforts. Elite troops + extra-heavy armor + two-handed weapons? Not nice. Not nice at all.

I did some quick calculations and determined that if Des wanted to add standards and champions to her units, thus boosting unit sizes in the bargain (and if she added a Priest as well, which is only common sense as an antidote to my Wizard), she'll be looking at a 1500 point army right off the bat! So at some point we'll be movin' on up to 1500 point army. Oh, Elite War Trolls...I'll have you back one day!

At any rate, I thought I'd take this opportunity to post some thoughts on the other armies one can field in Fantasy Warriors, along with links with where to find properly "old school" miniatures (I've made reference in previous blogs to my preference for "true 25mm" miniatures--a full-blown rant deserves a proper blog post of its own).

Your first step is to download the Fantasy Warriors Companion. This was an expansion set put out by Grenadier shortly before they folded and has been out of print for about 12 or 13 years. This is a shame, because it contained lots of cool new rules, a FAQ, and--most crucially--recalculated army lists. The lists in the original rulebook had some balance issues and typos. The Companion corrected these. And now, thanks to our Italian friends at Mirliton, the Companion is once again available as a PDF! Huzzah indeed. Any army built for FW should be built using the army lists in the Companion. Oh, and if you don't have the Fantasy Warriors Rulebook already you should download that too. The section at the beginning of the army lists (page 47, to be precise) explains how to put together an army in FW and has "universal" costs that are the same for all armies, like Leadership, Power Points and "unit specials".

(As an aside to those of you who'd know what I'm talking about, the Companion also features some of the earliest illustration work of one Mark Gibbons, later to make a name for himself with an extended tenure at Games Workshop.)

Here are my thoughts on the various armies you can field in FW (excepting Dwarves and Orcs, which get plenty of coverage elsewhere in this post and this blog):

Right off the bat, we have an army that is in a bit of limbo. Most of the original Grenadier FW miniatures, long out-of-production, have been re-cast by Mirliton. The Amazons are not one of those armies as of this post. However, the other late, great minis manufacturer, Ral Partha--having been resurrected by Iron Wind Metals--made a line of Amazons that should scale well with Grenadier. If scale is not an issue for you, there are several other manufacturers that make Amazon-like armies. The main problem is that the Companion lists have the Amazon "cavalry" mounted on Sabre-tooth cats. You can pick up sabre-tooth cats via the Barbarian army, which also boasts tiger riders. But nevertheless, you'll have some conversion work ahead of you if you want to field sabre-tooth-cat-mounted troops in your army.

Iron-Wind Amazons

This is a fun army. Basically, you're fielding a whole legion of strapping, muscle-bound, furry loin-cloth sporting uber-menschen. These are stereotypical fantasy barbarians all the way: a strange cross between Conan, Celtic warriors of myth and cavemen. Some of the minis available are a real hoot, like the Barbarian War Rhino, with its wild, screaming crew literally hanging off the Rhino's furry hide. If you had a twisted worldview like Desiree, you'd probably say this army is extremely homo-erotic. I won't go there, but there you have it...

Homo-Eroticism Ahoy!

One of the reasons I prefer Fantasy Warriors over Warhammer is that each army list is distinct without being gimmicky. Orcs are more like something out of Lord of the Rings than Cockney Brits with green skin, for example. And Goblins are a distinct race from Orcs, with their own flavor. Perhaps the most salient feature of the Goblin army is the fact that they, of all the armies, are most affected by "bad light". Most armies that suffer from bad light just take a penalty to shooting and morale when they're caught out outside when they shouldn't be (generally day for the evil races, night for the good guys). Goblins take it one step further. They are rated as Fanatic at night and Poor by day. Talk about seasonal affective disorder. Another thing I like about the Goblins is their cavalry--giant spiders! How cool would it be to field a unit of five or six giant spiders with plucky goblin mahauts clinging to their backs? Add to this the Hobgoblins, who can add a bit of weight to your lines, and you've got a pretty darn versatile army. Oh yeah, then there's the matter of a little thing called the Goblin War Giant. Ahem.

They only come out at night...

Trolls, Ogres & Mercenaries
These are "army lists" that aren't. You can't field an army made up entirely of Trolls or Ogres, as much as you may want to. If you really want to, take up Warhammer and be prepared to pay $50 for a single boxed regiment. At any rate, most armies can field units of Trolls and Ogres, and as an enthusiastic employer of Trolls I can tell you that it's well worth the investment. These monstrosities really add punch to your lines (almost literally in the case of the Ogre "Linebreaker" unit--is that a great name or what?) and look great on the table. The Companion introduced the concept of Mercenaries. Basically a blanket term, you can buy any unit from any army as a "mercenary" unit. Yes, that means I could field Dwarves in my Orc army if I wanted to. They'd be mercenary dwarves, of course, and that means they wouldn't be entirely reliable...still, it's an idea... What's worse (or better, depending on how you look at it) is that you can choose to put your mercenaries on "half pay" or, worse, "quarter pay", allowing you to purchase the units for less points but drastically affecting their already suspect loyalty. Specific "mercenary only" units are also available in the form of Horse Archers, Half-Orcs, Dragons and Giants. I'm seriously thinking of picking up a unit of Half-Orcs when we bump up to 1500 points, since I already have a pack of minis that would work for this purpose. Incidentally, Grenadier did release Horse Archer minis but they have yet to be re-released by Mirliton. Lastly, you may notice the link for the Giant went to Reaper Miniatures, one of the contemporary "30mm+" manufacturers. This is one of the pleasures of using "true 25s"--anytime you require a large creature (like a troll, or a giant or a demonic fiend), go ahead and buy one of the larger minis of today. The miniature, already cast to look large next to his 30mm cousins, will tower over your true 25s! As detailed in a previous post, I used the "Bull Orc" minis from Reaper for my Trolls and you'd never guess they were anything but!

Wood Elves & High Elves
There is a long-standing tradition in fantasy to divide Elves into two castes. One side epitomizes the benefits of the Elves otherworldliness and immortatility--they are masters of everything they study, but they are also haughty and few in number. In Lord of the Rings these were the Elves of Rivendell and Lothlorien; in FW (and Warhammer...and D&D...) they are called the High Elves. The other side of the Elvish coin emphasizes their connection to nature. LotR has these sorts of Elves hailing from Mirkwood (like Elvish super-hunk Legolas); FW (and Warhammer...and D&D...) calls them Wood Elves. Here we have a "good guy" version of the split between Orcs and Goblins--two closely related races that nonetheless each get their own army list, distinct in flavor as well as strengths and weaknesses. Wood Elves are rated as Tribal, High Elves are Disciplined. Nevertheless, both armies are counted as Veteran, with optional upgrades to Elite. Both armies boast excellent archers and cavalry. It is the special units that the differences really shine. Wood Elves can field Giant Eagle Riders, druids, shapechangers and tree spirits. High Elves, to be honest, kinda get the shaft--they can't match the Wood Elves for specials. They can, however, upgrade any of their missile-armed troops to Marksmen, deadly snipers able to pick off heros and leaders. Further complicating matters for the would-be High Elf general is the fact that Grenadier's High Elf minis have yet to be reissued. Fortunately Ral-Partha comes to the rescue again. I guess the idea is that if you want to field an army of the absolute best in pure infantry and cavalry, go with High Elves. If you want lots of crazy magic and shit, go with the Wood Elves.

Cream of the Crop

Magic & Crazy Shit

Last but not least we have the forces of humanity, or "Men" as the Army List is properly called. I really like the look of the Grenadier minis for this list, and the content of the list is pretty solid as well. Basically we have an army based on late medieval technology. Knights are wearing full plate-mail, archers wield longbows alongside other units with primitive handguns. There's a definite "fairy tale" feel to this army, with wizards in pointy hats and whatnot. Clearly, like any human army worth its salt, there's great variety. Juggernaut units of heavily armored knights lead the vanguard, while peasant infantry holds the line with pitchforks and sharpened spades. The whole army exudes an aura of civilization that puts them in wonderful contrast to that other human army, the barbarians. What an interesting matchup that would make! And I think it's high time someone come up with some houserules to allow the inclusion of "half men" (aka. Hobbits) in the Human army, eh? Damn right!

Are we so vain?

Also, check out Thunderbolt Mountain's exquisite 25mm Arthurian line to supplement the Grenadier selection!

OK, so the humans weren't quite last...but to be fair, the Undead were not originally included in the FW rulebook. An addition of the Companion, this is the first choice for all you Harryhausen fans out there. Who wouldn't want to field a legion of skele-bones, marching forward in eerie silence. Of course, if you play against an opponent who has seen Army of Darkness one too many times, you'll never hear the end of it. I haven't read over the rules for fielding an undead army, but to be sure it's an army like no other! The special rules in the Companion take up about a quarter of the book. On a practical note, we're once again faced with a lack of "official" Grenadier re-casts. And once again, Iron Wind comes to our aid.

You'll have to scroll down a bit.

UPDATE! On November 1, 2006, Mirliton began re-releasing the Fantasy Warriors line of Undead.

Now where's that Undead War Mammoth...?

So there you have it. A more or less complete evaluation of armies in Fantasy Warriors. On a final note in regards to gaps in Mirliton's line of re-casts, here's a case where eBay can be your friend. Even in the case of minis that are available via Mirliton, you can still find the originals on eBay. That's how I got my wolf riders, still in their original box no less! Shop around, it's part of the fun of army construction. Although I do miss the days when I could just walk into my (not so) friendly local game store and pick up a few blister packs off the shelf. Waiting for shipping sucks (see above).

That's all for now!
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