Knowing your Enemy
The first piece of advice I have for newer players is knowing your enemy. There is nothing more important than this piece right here. You look across the table and you see a bunch of units you don't know, you already know this game is going to head into disaster. Very few players have the ability to asset threat, damage and power on the fly so its best you go into battles prepared. Key units like the Skaven Doomwheel, the Bloodthirster or the horde unit of Khorne Marauders with Great Weapons, all of these are important pieces on the battlefield. The best thing to do in these situations is to point across the table and ask. If the player you're playing with is a gentleman, and it's a friendly game, I hope he can tell you what each unit does. In a tournament setting, forget about it. Fantasy already takes a day and a half to set up, so it's best you do your research ahead of time.
Think of it like this: Every game of fantasy (the actual) game is a test of skill and generalship. Any good general takes the time to learn about his enemy and so should you. That's why I buy every army book GW prints. Not only is it superb shitter material, but it's also valuable information on what kind of ridiculous combos, units or special characters that might show up on the battlefield.
Understanding Your Army
I almost think that knowing your enemy and understanding your army works hand in hand. If you think about it, you spend all this time making up your army list and for what? Each army list is designed to accomplish a certain thing on the battlefield. Playing for fun is one thing, but you're also playing so your troops are victorious on the battlefield. This is why army design is crucial and how you can make the best out of your army composition.
Keep in mind that this is not advice on how to min-max your army, it's about making your army work for you. As a general of any given army, you must find a medium where you're comfortable with the units you've taken, and you understand fully how they work. The best way to do this is by assigning battlefield roles. Take Sword Masters for example, what do they do best? They generate CR by ripping up lowly troops in combat but they die as fast as a swift breeze. What's the job of Spearmen? Or Skavenslaves? To hold the line and await reinforcements, using their superior numbers and ranks to tie the enemy down.
To be a successful general, you must know your units like the back of your hand. Understand each unit's functionality and purpose, but most importantly, understand why you put them in your army in the first place.
I've seen many games where games are lost on deployment alone. Don't worry; hopefully these next lines of text will give you a better understanding of why deployment is so important. Picture for a second that your opponent puts down a unit of heavily armored Chaos Knights after you put your White Lions down far away from them. If those White Lions were your only defense against heavy armor, then I'd say you're in a world of shit once those Knights come crashing on your flank.
That's why you see players taking units whose sole purpose is to give them an edge in deployment. Some might be good enough to be used as re-directors or warmachine hunters too. These units are also known as chaff. Chaff is important because it allows you put these units down anywhere you want for the most part. They pretty much always go in the same place or have outrageous movement speed that they can relocate and not be troublesome for the movement of your army. Eagles can be used as chaff, Sabretusks and Fellbats for example, all can act as chaff for your army.
The key to deployment is matching your opponent's units pound for pound, literally. You don't want to put down a unit that doesn't have a snowball's chance in hell against another unit he put down right off the top. Your unit must have support, or is capable of holding the line against whatever he puts down or your side is just going to fold. The best example is the Knights scenario I presented above. You want to be able to match your opponent in deployment, or be superior to him in deployment. I call these "drops". If your army has greater or equal to the number of drops he has (total # of units he can put down during deployment), you're in a good place. This minimizes on the chance your army will be out-deployed. The person with more chaff will have more chaff that he can put down, forcing you to put down your last unit of White Lions so he can purposely drop a power unit on your flank. Unless your army is designed to fight uphill battles, you should never let this happen.
If you know you're going to be out-deployed, you should analyze which units on his side you don't want in your flanks and deploy your answers last. This is where knowing your enemy comes into place.
To be successful on the battlefield and during deployment, you must first analyze threat. You must understand which units on the other side of the table can cause you most harm. This is huge. Keep in mind that army scale does not equate to the harm they can cause in combat. The best example of this is a giant unit of Skaveslaves vs. a small unit of Sword Masters. The craziest thing to assume is that the unit of Skavenslaves is going to do a lot of damage on the battlefield. Sure, there's a whole bunch of them, but their fighting prowess equates to dried fish where your Sword Masters preform like a hot knife through butter.
One of the things that 8th Ed. has going for it is big creatures. If it's a big monster on the other side of the table, this is probably worrisome. If a unit is carrying Great Weapons, it's probably going to do a lot of damage. If a unit is carrying Great Weapons and is in horde formation, it's probably something you should deploy smartly against because that thing is going to fuck your shit up if you play dumb. The most pronounced threats on the battlefield are normally the ones your opponent has heroes and lords going into it. It's either going to be a caster bunker, or a frontline unit that'll do solid bits of damage.
Remember what I said about battlefield roles? Your opponent does the same thing with his army. He knows what his frontline units are, which ones do the most damage and which ones are designed to hold the line. You know his primary sources of damage and these are the ones that should be generating the highest amount of threat in your mind. You might run into scenarios where certain units don't want to be in combat at all. These are often caster bunkers or vulnerable Magelords who would hate to have an Eagle pick out his eyes. Knowing the weak points of his army can prove to be a great advantage to you during deployment and when you're playing the game. Again, understanding how the opposing army works helps greatly here.
Understanding Favorable Scenarios
Hesitation can lose you a game, but so can your ability to underestimate your troops.
Here are some examples:
- A scary dragon on the battlefield is not so scary when you shoot him with a billion arrows.
- Knights actually do quite poorly against White Lions.
- A small unit of Sword Masters into the side of Skavenslaves really fucks up their shit.
- A Spearmen unit, given enough ranks can hold a charge from most non-GW equivalents units in the game.
A lot of this might seem like common sense, but you'd be surprised how many times players second guess themselves on the battlefield. Know your army, know what each unit is designed to do (which is surprisingly easy for High Elves because everyone's so specialized), and know which scenarios go in your favor on the battlefield when paired up against any given opponent. This normally takes a lot of experience (normally horrible ones at that), for a player to figure out, but most players understand the gist of it.
At the end of the day, you should always apply a unit's actual battlefield role to do battle. You should always be thinking: The only reason I'm bringing X unit is to fight against Y units. In a game of rock-paper-scissors and random surprise Mindrazors; it still works in your favor when you know what counters what.
This is definitely more in the lines of advanced players, but after so many battles, players start seeing the same numbers. A unit of 7x2 Sword Masters hits a unit of Skavenslaves. Aside from a ton of rats dying horribly, how many Sword Masters did you lose and how much CR did you generate? What about Spears? Even if you didn't charge but was instead charged by a unit of Empire Halberdiers, how many Spearmen died and how much CR did you generate via kills, ranks and standard? What about that beefy lord-class character sitting in a relatively weaker unit? I bet he can do some serious work. I'm not saying go out there and mathhammer the life out of everything in the game, but you should have an idea how your units will preform on the battlefield.
The battlefield is a pretty unpredictable place, especially when shit like magic is involved. However, successful players have a good idea of what to expect when they throw their units into combat. For the most part, players only throw their units into combat they can win. This is why predicting combat outcomes are so important. A unit of Spearmen charging a horde unit of Marauders w/ Great Weapons in the front might not be the best choice alone, but what if you plan your magic phase to get Withering off on the unit? What if you decide to combo charge with your Spears and Sword Masters on the flank so you can use your magic elsewhere? The combat res generated from the combined charge "should" win you combat.
You see how predicting combat drastically changes the way you play the game? By assessing the battlefield and seeing the game on a larger level, you are able to make plays ahead of time. The key to being a successful general is being able to see multiple instances of this at once and analyzing which ones generate the highest amount of success with the lowest number of risk. Your ability to capitalize on this is what will take you from good, to great.
Lesser of Two Evils
Sometimes, sacrifices have to be made in order for victory for be secured. Sometimes, you just have to choose. Imagine yourself in a scenario where no matter what you do, something bad is going to happen to your army. This might be a loss of a flank, a loss of a key unit or letting a horrible spell go through. If your opponent plays it right, there should be scenarios where all of these happen at the same time. Take note here for a second about what I just said. A well-played game of Warhammer is when you make your opponent sweat over the choices he has to make. No matter what choice he makes, something bad should happen to his army. That's when you know you've made a good play.
If you have to choose, always go with the play that'll guarantee you the greatest chance of victory in subsequent rounds. This is a lot harder than it looks because you have to first let that flank fall, or that unit be destroyed so you can strike back in a manner most decisive. This is why predicting combat and understanding favorable scenarios is important. In a situation like this, always put yourself in the opponent's shoes. Think from his perspective and predict what he would do after he successfully pulled off a big play. Predict what he does and counter it to the best of your advantage. Think to yourself: If he wins big on combat there and I flee, will he pursue or will he reform? If he persues, do I have anything that can hit him in the flank or catch him in a bad spot? If he reforms, do I have anything that can strike decisively and win combat on that unit next turn?
Don't get yourself caught up in the moment. Understand that the 300 odd points of Spearmen you just fed your opponent can equate to you combo-charging his General's bunker and send it into the oblivion, then it's well worth it. If sacrifice has to be made, it has to make its points back and more. If not, then the sacrifice is not worth it.
The first thing to understand is that a small advantage is still an advantage. This is how you should analyze the winds of magic. A successful magic phase is all about analyzing which spells your opponent can afford to let go and which spells he can't. With an Lv.4 Wizard, you have access to a good amount of viable spells. The spells your opponent can let go are often the spells you want to take advantage of. That's when why you draw a big winds round, you cast moderately but still vital spells that plink at his dispel dice. These should be all moderately dangerous to the outcome of the fight in question (which will be his main focus).
Use smaller castings of hexes and augments, because a slight advantage (what he sees, and analyzes as less important), is still an advantage (huge for High Elves). A clever mage will be able to feint the significance of a fight and get off multiple spells a turn. If your opponent lets it all go because he's anticipating Mindrazor, that's his problem because now his unit is now -WS, -T and you ASF with a better combat result. Mindrazor isn't even needed at this point. If he throws dice trying to dispel your other hexes, that's less dice he has available when you actually do through down the MR. This goes hand in hand with what I said about anticipating combat results. How badly your troops need your magic will save a lot of unneeded dice.
Redirecting focus: Say you have a unit engaged in combat and you anticipate a victory, or at least a draw result. You concentrate magic on another area of the battlefield that your opponent isn't focused on. This breaks his concentration and draws a big cloud of WTF? over his head. This happens when you see something crucial your opponent doesn't, as often times or not, players get tunnel-visioned in the combat they're in but don't grasp the wider vision of the battlefield. Hexing incoming Knights on your turn with -WS or -S will make much more of a difference than watching Sword Masters narrowly win combat vs. a flanking unit of Clanrats.
Baiting and Feinting
Fleeing from a battlefield is not always a sign of cowardice. It can also be used to bait an opponent out of position or force him into a position he doesn't want to be in. The best example of this could be a unit of Spears fleeing from a charge of Bretonnian Knights. God knows you don't to take that charge in the face so you opt to flee with your Spearmen. He now has two choices: Take a Ld. test to charge something else, or roll for the Spears. Say that you have a unit of White Lions or Sword Masters next to the Spears. Does he really want to re-direct into the Lions or SM? Or does he want to risk the charge and risk exposing his flank to the Lions?
You see what you just did here? A simple flee can put your opponent in a rock and a hard place (especially if the charge is long). Both scenarios equally suck for him so he might opt to charge at all. This is also good for you because it gives you the chance to charge his Knights next turn! And if he doesn't opt to charge, your Spears will still be there to assist in the main battle. Warhammer can be a game of cat and mouse, so it's best to know all the options available to you before you commit. If you plan on charging something, know all the possible reactions your opponent can take before investing. You don't want to be in the same shoes as the above player.
Eagles are an Elves' Best Friend
I've said it once and I'll say it again: Eagles are my MVP. First off, they are probably one of the most annoying pieces of chaff ever. They're great in the deployment phase when you can just put one down and stare into your opponent's soul. They're great ingame because they can fly boldly into your opponent's charge lanes and take one from the team; forcing them to charge them and re-position. Eagles buy you time, buy you movement and allow you to re-position your army while the Eagle re-positions your opponents. They allow you to chase down enemy chaff or flankers, help pressure warmachines and provide you with flank and rear charge CR should they survive mid-game. They act primarily as re-directors (a Frenzied unit's worst nightmare) and are the true workhorse of most High Elf armies. You can find more uses of them in my guide here.
Counter-charges and Flanking
Sometimes, the good ol' hammer and anvil is something even the experienced players forget. The concept of a counter-charge is simple: Unit #1 is a unit that can take hits - in the case of High Elves, a giant block of Spears with Steadfast CR up the ass. This is known as the anvil. Unit #2 is a unit that hits hard as fuck but dies to a soft breeze. Sword Masters are an popular choice for an hammer. Your opponent charges your Spearmen because it's the only viable target and you hold knowing that your Sword Masters (who are conveniently placed on your flank), will have a flank charge next round. Magic is invested in keeping the Spearmen alive and steadfast while the Sword Masters charge their flank next turn. Heads start rolling and combat heavily swings your way, winning you the day.
Flanking is also quite simple: Place something that has good threat range on the far sides of your army and use them as CR generators. I normally like using Dragon Princes for this type of role. Put 5 of these guys down on a wide-flank and they can be used to reliably add CR to any combat mid-field. Flanking can also be used to bypass some of your opponents' attention to hit warmachines and other units chilling in their backfield. Lastly, flanking is also good for having additional CR in combat. An Eagle charging from the far flank gives you 2 CR for just having the balls to be there. It's pretty much free CR.
Winning combat, now what?
So now that you've won combat, you have to think about what to do next. Unfortunately, most players think about this step immediately after the combat resolves. I want you to take a step back and think about what can happen even before you charge. If you charge now, and win a victory over your opponent, can you overrun into an important caster bunker in back? Does your opponent have anything that can crush your overrun if you choose to do so? Is your unit stretched too far and out of range of your BSB? Is he out of his BSB? If you push the advantage, will your advantage be negated if he engages the rest of your army while your best unit is out of position? Winning combat is important for sure, but what happens after is even more important. You must be in a favorable situation to benefit from it: The result of a successful charge should net you more success in the subsequent turns than harm.
Keep in mind that you don't have to keep going after you wiped out a unit. Check to see if the unit has been mauled enough that the only way he can rally is if he rolls double 1s. Sometimes the position you're in begs you to combat reform and stay still. If you commit anymore, you might go from crushing victory to outright defeat. Never lose sight of the bigger picture and don't over extend yourself. Unless you're Stubborn, or have a unit that's incapable of losing combined charges in the next round of combat, it's best to wait for the rest of your army. You want to be in magic support range, you want to be in BSB range and you want to be in support charge range of other units. Don't forget this.
Another thing to keep in mind is Line of Sight. If your unit can surge forward enough after winning combat that'll take him out of LoS (and thus enemy charges), this is a great advantage. It allows you to drive deep in the enemy lines and force him to turn around or suffer a rear charge from you in the subsequent turns. This also allows your main force to advance and catch him in a vice. Surely this is a good thing as even the most lackwit of generals know that enemy forces running in their backfield is bad.
Lost combat, now what?
So your beautiful charge turned into a crushing defeat, what now? Obviously, this means your unit will be running back to your lines like a whipped dog. Don't worry, you can now look into the future and analyze why you lost combat and how you can regain the momentum in the next phase of the game. Maybe something completely unpredictable happened in the magic phase that killed your opportunities in combat? This is the single biggest factor in how combats can sway. This is also something I want you to remember: Magic can greatly skew the outcome of any combat you're invested in. Think about this before you charge, and understand what magic lores he has that can shift momentum in his favor. In order for you to succeed in combat, you must dispel the magic he will use to turn combat in his favor. This is not negotiable.
After losing combat, you need to analyze several things:
- Did he Overrun? If so, are you in a position where you can take advantage of his over-extension?
- Did he Combat Reform? If so, are you able to counter-attack next turn?
- What made you lose combat? Was it some beefy character or was it magic that turned the tides?
- How do you not lose combat again? Neutralize the beefy character (or avoid him completely) and dispel the magic that sways combat his way.
- Is your fleeing unit useless? Treat the game as if you're 1 down, but don't forget about the fleeing unit. Even if he's below 25%, you can still test for double 1s.
When ahead, stay ahead
The philosophy behind this concept is simple: Don't do anything stupid that'll throw away your lead. What happens most of the time when players start winning is they start playing careless. This is a sure way to lose your lead and put you behind in a game where you're almost guaranteed to win. A great example of this would be killing your opponent's Dragon Lord and 1-2 Hydras with your Warmachines first turn before they even get to do anything and still managing to lose the game. I don't know how this happens, but players get lost in the ecstasy of great plays (or luck) and think now that the main threats are gone that the game is in their hands. This is the wrong way to approach a lead.
The more appropriate way to take advantage of a lead is to think: How do I get further ahead? You want to be in a position where your next step is to eliminate any and all possible ways the opponent can swing the game around. You put yourself in his position and you think to yourself: I just lost my Dragon Lord and my Hydras, so what can I do now to walk away from the table like a man? Once you think about the situation from your opponent's mindset, you counter it and deny him of it. With no victory options in sight, your opponent will have no choice but to fold. That's just how the cookie crumbles.
Now that the game is won (or lost), you can look back and see what you can do to improve. Human beings are meant to improve; we're a race of learners and adapters. No matter how badly you just massacred your opponent or how crushing your defeat, there's always something to take away from the game. The most important part here is that you must learn from your game to improve. If you won the game, think about the scenarios you could have done better. If you lost the game, think about why you lost and which units caused the most problems. Think about all the topics that were covered above. There must be something you could have done better in the never-ending list of becoming a better general.
It's important that you discuss the game with your opponent. Talk about how the battle could have gone differently if you did this, or that. How his game could have changed if he did this, or that. Not only does this give you a better perspective on the game (and your opponent's army), but also the player you're playing against. Share your thoughts with your opponent and let him share his with yours. Criticism and advice should be taken with an open mind. It helps broaden your perspective on other general's opinions and makes you a better-rounded player overall.