Saturday, January 14, 2012

8th Ed. Vampire Counts Army Book Review

Possibly the worst cover art I've ever seen.

To start things off, I'd like to say that I'm very happy with the new Vampire Counts book.  It's a solid army book with lots of different options and has tons of versatility.  One of the things I enjoy the most when reading new army books is judging its internal balance:  The book must be interesting enough that there's multiple viable builds possible.  What can I say?  Phil Kelly wrote the book and the man is capable of delivering awesome material.

Now, the moment you've all been waiting for... the book review.  To start things off, let's talk about the spcial rules and work our way down to special characters, lords and heroes...etc.

The Vampire special rules come off pretty strong:  For one, Vampires gain something called Hunger which allows those with the Vampric rule to gain a wound back on a "6" provided they kill something.  This happens at the end of every combat phase.  The Undead army itself can't march unless within 12" of the army general or has the Vampire rule, so VC certainly move a bit faster than Tomb Kings.  Another thing that might sadden the TK players is that once the VC general dies, instead of crumbling into the ground turn after turn, after the first turn of crumbling, another wizard with the Vampire Lore can seize control of the army and stop crumbling all together.  Pretty cool huh?

Vlad makes an appearance in the book and he's better than he was last time.  He still has the Carstein Ring which gives him a 4+ Ward and the 2+ "We'll Be Back", but he comes back with Heavy Armor and is a Lv.3 wizard.  If he and Isabella is in the same unit, both of them gain ASF and can really maul things in combat. He comes with Aura of Dark Majesty, Beguile and Supernatural Horror, and he carries the Bloodrinker.  Don't worry, the Blood Drinker has been nerfed quite a bit and now it grants Vlad +1S and a wound back on 4+ since it procs off of Hunger.  Isabella deserves a little mention because she's almost double the price but comes with normal Vampire stats so she doesn't suck in combat.  She also has Beguile.  Just like Vlad, if any of this duo dies in combat, the other one gains Hatred and Frenzy for the rest of the game.

Both Mannfreds are still in the game and they didn't really change much.  I personally think Mannfred's Lord form is too expensive to take, but that's because I'm comparing him to the other caster lord, Heinrich Kemmler.  Even though some people think Loremaster Vamps and Ethereal or Flying Lv.4 is good, I still think he's overpriced (even if he has +1 to dispel!).  The reason why is because you can take a Lv.4 Master Necromancer for a lot cheaper and you can take Vamp or Death lore.  For the amount these guys cost, I think they're an essential buy in terms of magic potentinal because the Vampires will see more frontline action.

Vampire Lords are in the game and some say for the worse.  That's because they're more expensive, comes with 1 more attack but is only a Lv.1 Wizard at the start.  You can buy him up to 4, but he can become super expensive after all the levels.  I'd like to mention that all Vampires can now take mundane weapons, armor, shields and barded horses.  This gives them good protection without effecting their 100 points in Vampric Powers and 100 points if Magic items.  Believe me, there will be so many builds of different Vampire Lords that'll make everyone happy, even if Bloodlines are no longer in the game.  I'll get to the different magic items and vamp powers later.

Another lord-level character is the Ghoul King.  He has a lower WS of 6, but has I8, 5+ Regen, Poisoned attacks and Infinite Hatred (Hatred in every round of combat).  He's also a Lv.1 wizard and costs slightly more than a Vampire Lord and cannot carry magical armors.  However, this doesn't stop him from taking other things that can make him dangerous, as well as Vampric Powers.  Imagine this for a sec:  Ghoul King, Red Fury, Bloodshed Sword (+3 attacks), Potion of Strength.  8 attacks at S8, re-roll to hit WS6 and each wound becomes another attack.  Have fun with that one.

Krell makes an appearance, and I'm not too impressed.  He still comes with his Black Axe of Krell, the S6 ASL Great Weapon that inflicts D3 wounds.  The magical armor that he wears saves on 4+ and nullifies magic weapons ONLY if he saves with it.  That's pretty balls.  On top of that, Krell is relatively expensive for what he can do and he must always issue and accept challenges.  The good thing with him is that if you take Kemmler in the same unit, Krell gains Heroic Killing Blow on all his attacks during the challenge.

Moving on, we still see Konrad von Carstein in the game and he got a tad bit more expensive for another attack.  Yay for that, nay for the fact he lost Infinite Hatred.  He still has great stats, inflicts Multiple Wounds(2) on his attacks and Red Fury.  Still worth the points I think.  Necromancers are also in the book and they're great buys for a cheap Lv.1 or Lv.2 Wizard.  One Master Necro or normal Necro can take Master of the Dead for some points and gain the ability to raise Skeletons past their starting size.

Vampires are obviously in the game and they can be BSBs while carrying Vampric Powers, but I think the real winners of the hero-class goes to Wight Kings.  They are still T5 with 3 wounds, come with Heavy Armor, Shield and the ability to take barded steeds, lances and what not.  The great thing is that they're dirt cheap and are incredibly cost-effective with Killing Blow, durability and armor saves.  Just great and great.

Last but not least, we have the Cairn Wraiths and Banshees in the hero slot.  They haven't changed since they put them in a few months back and their uses are still the same.  Good, cheap, terror-causing guys that can kill things in combat and are Ethereal road blockers.

Phew, now that's done, let's move onto the other units in the book:

Starting with the core choices, I'll first note that Dire Wolves are back in the core slot.  They are 5-20 and gain Slavering Charge, which gives them +1S on the turn they charge.  Pretty cool to have an old rule back and I'm glad Phil Kelly decided to give VC some mobile core.  The true argument here is if they'll be better to take over the "improved" Zombies, Skeleton Warriors or Ghouls.  Let's look for a second.

Zombies are still ASL and WS1, which makes them awful in combat, but they are now S3 T3.  This makes them one of the best tarpit units in the game once you factor in their points.  However, for just 2 points more, you have a Skeleton Warrior unit which can take Full Command, has Light Armor/Shield and can upgrade to Spears.  On top of this, they can take a 25pt Magic Banner and call the unit complete.  How does this look compared to the Ghoul which is double the price of the Skeleton?  I'd say if I had to choose, Skeletons are my go-to unit in terms of raw balance.  Zombies die in the droves and kill absolutely nothing.  Skellies have armor saves, can take Parry saves and have Full Command.  Champions are incredibly important when challenging uber lords and keeping your necros out of combat, and that's something Zombies cannot offer (even though they can join the unit).  On top of this, Ghouls at the same stats but more expensive makes Skeletons more appealing.  Honestly, I don't think VC need punchy core units, that's what the Special and Rare choices are for.

So going off that, let's look at one of the most hated units in all of Warhammer:  The dreaded Grave Guard.  They're 1 point more than a Ghoul and come with excellent, excellent stats for the price.  S4, T4, built-in Killing Blow (although they lose magical weapons), Heavy Armor and Shield.  If this isn't amazing, I don't know what is.  With Drakenhoff Banner gone (Thank the Lord!), I think the ideal configuration is a big block of Grave Guard with HW/Shield.  The defensive buff is just too great to justify spending points on Great Weapons and no protection.  Not to mention the fact that you can protect your casters while still maintaining high kill ratios with your battle spells.  I'll get more on the spells later, but I still think Grave Guard are some of the best specials in the game.

The Corpse Cart has been moved to the Specials section and they gained a litle extra.  Just a little bit more expensive, but they gain +1W and Vigour Mortis.  VM states that when you cast an augment spell on the CC itself, all units within 6" gain the ASF rule.  On top of this, Zombies lose their ASL rule and gain the ASF rule specifically so they can strike first!  I think that's pretty cool.  They can still take Balefire and Unholy Lodestone and have Regen so what's not to like.

Black Knights are back and better than ever I think.  They went down a lot in points because you can choose to buy lances and barding for their steeds.  If you want them to run cheap, they can do that and still sport a good armor save while maintaining Killing Blow.  Blood Knights are also in the game with pretty much the same features except for +1I and cheaper.  Martial Honour is still in the unit so I don't see myself ever taking the unit champion upgrade, ever.  In addition, Blood Knights now can take their own fabled Flag of Blood Keep as a unit upgrade rather than take up space in the magic items section.

One of the biggest winners of the special section is the Spirit Host.  It's a lot cheaper and can be taken in units of 1.  This gives you great little speed bunps etherealing across the battlefield and that's always good.  I don't know if they're in the same category as Sabretusks, but they're definitely pretty good at what they cost.  Bat Swarms are also pretty good because any unit in BtB with one has the ASL rule (yes, any unit).  Going back to Ethereal, let's touch upon everyone's most talked about unit:  The Hexwraiths.  Unlike the rest of the internets, I'm telling you right now:  These guys are not as overpowered as what people say.  Sure, they are Ehtereal Fast Cav that can move through a target and force them to take S5 Magical, Flaming Attacks with No Armor saves, but they're pretty expensive for the damage they put out.  Not to mention they don't have Vampric and thus cannot march if not in range of the General.  This suddenly rates their Fast Cav status a little lower and makes people rethink their viability.  Also consider the fact that they die to a soft breeze of a magic missile and will cost a lot if your opponent takes them in numbers.  Personally, I think they're overrated.

Next, we look at Vargheists and Crypt Horrors.  I'll start with Vargheists first because I think they're the first flying Monstrous Infantry units in the game.  What's not to like about a bunch of flying, Frenzy S5, 3 attacks base, T4 dudes with 3W?  The Crypt Horrors are also pretty badass with T5, 5+ Regen and 3 Poisoned Attacks.  Factor in the fact that the Mortis Engine can turn that Regen into a 4+ and you've got yourself one heck of a durable unit.  In a VC army, anything that's not in full armor but contains this much durability is something to be respected.

The Black Coach is still in the game and it's slightly cheaper than it was last book.  That's great because these things can still cause a lot of trouble for anyone fighting against it.  Too bad they can't siphon your opponent's PD anymore.  Cairn Wraiths are still in the game with the same price under Rare (different from the hero versions) and so are Terrorgheists.

I guess I'll take this time to go over the Mortis Engine and Coven Throne.  The Mortis Engine is a rare that you can take that hands out Regen on your own units (it also has Regen itself).  Each turn, you roll a 2D6 and add the current turn number. That's the range of the Mortis Engine's Aura.  All enemy units take D6 hits equal to the strength of the current turn and friendly units gain +1 to their Regen save up to 4+.  If you roll a double, you take a wound with no saves of any kind.  You can also upgrade the Mortis Engine so that all wizards within 12" gain +2 to casting for Lore of the Vampires.  However, if you miscast, you roll the miscast result twice and your opponent picks which one to apply.

The Coven Throne is a mount that you can buy for your Lord.  It comes with some hot vampire chicks that swing with ASF and comes with a 4+ Ward.  The biggest thing to note with the Coven Throne is that it forces units in contact with it to do a Mind War.  You roll D6 + Ld. and your opponent does the same.  However the amount of points you beat him by, you apply to a chart that reads as the following: 0 does nothing, 1-2 is -1 WS and BS, 3-5 is re-roll all successful hits and 6+, the unit attacks itself.  Yes, the unit directs all the attacks it can put out onto itself.  To make matters worse for them, the Coven Throne comes with a Bound Spell 3 called Scrying Pool that if successfully casts, makes everything on the Coven Throne re-roll hit and wounds for the remainder of the turn.  Personally, as Blood Dragon, I would rather take a Zombie Dragon since it's cheaper than the last book, has +1T and +1W (but is now WS4), and still has Cloud of Flies and Pestilient Breath.

Alright, let's talk about the Lore of the Vampires, the vampiric powers and the items now:

The main attribute of the lore is called Curse of Undeath, and it heals the wizard or any friendly model within 12" for 1 wound.  That's a pretty good attribute if you ask me.

Invocation is the signature spell and it effects all units within 6/12/18" on the same, scaling casting levels.  Each time Invocation goes off, the unit is healed D6 + the wizard level of the person casting it.  Vampires, Ethreal or large models only ever get healed for 1 wound.

Vanhels is the next spell and it grants 8" movement if not engaged and re-roll hits to a unit.  It can be boosted to all units within 12" with the same effect.  Hellish Vigour is the next spell and it grants the unit re-roll wounds.  This can be boosted to effect all units within 12" with the same effect.  Next in the list is Gaze of Nagash and it wasn't really changed at all.  2D6 S4 missiles and can be boosted to go 48".  Raise Dead is still in the and it can be used to spawn Zombies or Skeletons (boosted) at 2D6+3 models.  Curse of Years is back and works exactly the same way as 7th and the big spell Winds of Undeath is decent.

Winds of Undeath is a magical vortex that when you cast it, you nominate a direction and roll the artillery dice x 3.  It moves that many inches and each unit beneath takes a D6 S3 hit (or S4 if boosted) for each rank of models in the unit w/ no armor save.  If you misfire, you center it on your unit and do the same thing. Good, but nothing in terms of Mindrazor, Dwellers or Purple Sun (and a good thing at that!).

As for Vampire Powers, here's what I see:

Master of the Black Arts - Expensive.  Re-roll one of the dice when determining Winds of Magic.  This can turn your otherwise crappy roll of 6 and 1 into 5 and 6.  A lot more dice to break open opponent defenses.

Curse of the Revenant - +1W is nothing to write home about with this price tag.

Red Fury - Great ability, allows you to build combat monsters capable of tearing through entire formations at a time.  I like to build my Vampire Lord with the Ogre Blade and just have him go to town with S7.  With 5A, each wound you put out generates another attack.  Too bad this freshly generated attacks cannot proc the next set.

Flying Horror - You fly.  Deal with it.

Quick Blood - The Vampire gains ASF and this is fantastic.  I7 Vampire Lords and I6 Vampires put out a decent amount of re-rolls with ASF.  Must take on any Vampire involved in close combat, and goes great with Red Fury because it's better than Infinite Hatred vs. equal or lower I targets.

Aura of Dark Majesty - Great price, great effect.  The -1 Ld. modifier might not seem like much now, but just you wait..

Dark Acolyte - +D3 to casting total for IoN.

Forbidden Lore - Loses Loremaster and you can take any lore from the BRB except for Life.  Still not bad.

Supernatural Horror - Terror.  Because Fear isn't good enough apparently.

Fear Incarnate - Absolutely amazing for the price.  Your opponents re-roll successful Fear tests.  If the BSB is nearby, the re-rolls cancel and your left with 1 fear test.  Combine this with Aura of Dark Majesty and things get ridiculous.  But wait, there's more....

Beguile - Cheap, -3 Leadership to model in BtB or you re-roll hits.

Master Strike - Trade all attacks for 1 with HKB.  Trash.  It should of been like the TK book where you nominate one attack to be HKB.

Dreadknight - +2WS, must always issue and accept challenges.  Trash, you're already WS7 and if you take this on your general, you're just waiting to get KB'd or killed by a better fighter.  This is also counter-intuitive with Red Fury and other combat heavy abilities.  I guess I would only take this on a Vamp Lord w/ Glittering Scales on a Zombie Dragon and I'm out to troll things.  WS9 with -2 to hit makes anything under WS5 hit you on 7s and lord-class people on 6s.

Summon Creatures of the Night - Cheap, can increase Dire Wolves, Bat Swarms and Fell Bats past their staring size.  No one will ever take this because of the price of Fell Bats.

Now that that's done, let's get to the Magic Items:

Skabscratch - Expensive.  Gives Frenzy, Devastating Charge, Flaming Attacks and have the Death Shriek rules.  If you can't kill a model by the time the game is over, you auto die.

Nightshroud - Necros can wear this too.  Can be combined with mundane armor because this is magical, so you can take this on a Vamp Lord on a Zombie Dragon.  +1 to AS, enemy models in BtB lose S bonus from things (e.g. Great Weapons), and ASL.

Banner of Barrows - +1 to hit for Wight models in close combat.  Same as last time, same price even.  But this can get better with a few tweaks.

Screaming Banner - Enemy Fear tests in combat with the unit rolls 3D6 (extra die) and discard the lowest.  OK, surprise is over.  Let's sum it up:  Aura of Dark Majesty gives -1 Ld., Fear Incarnate stops the BSB re-roll or forces him to re-roll successful Fear tests, Screaming Banner forces Fear tests on 3D6 discard the lowest.  WS1 unit vs. a Grave Guard unit with Banner of Barrows anyone?  Hit on 2s again while they hit on 5s?  Imagine the same combo on a unit of Blood Knights too.  This, ladies and gentlemen, is the new Fear-bomb combo.

Black Periphat - Saves 2 dice in PD or DD so you can use them as PD or DD next turn.

Staff of Damnation - Bound 4, augment, all friendly units within 6" gains Extra Attacks.  Pretty boss.

Cursed Book - Sac D3 PD for a random spell that goes off automatically on a D6 chart (non-boosted):  Mystifying Miasma, Enfeebling, Withering, Soulblight, Doom and Darkness, Curse of the Midnight Wind.

Book of Arkhan - Cheaper and has a Bound 3 Vanhels.  Does not burn out.

Rod of Flaming Death - Bound 3 Fire Cage from the Fire Lore essentially.

Well guys, I think that's pretty much it.  This is the entire book pretty much and I'm very happy with what I see.  Gone are the days of GGstars with Drakenhoff.  There's a lot of stuff in here that can spark a lot of interesting builds:  Blood Dragon builds with Fear-bombing Blood Knights and/or Grave Guard, Striogi builds with Terrorgheists, Mortis Engine, Ghoul King, Ghouls and Crypt Horrors, the list goes on.  I'm just happy that VC players everywhere can look across the table with a straight face instead of the same flavorless list.  I mean, look at the options man.. so many things to choose form.

I can't wait to see VC evolve as an army.

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