In WFB, aside from mass formations of powerful warriors, battling monsters and devastating magic, you also may have shooting and artillery at your disposal. This oft neglected phase of the game can deliver bountiful rewards to many generals.
It's Tuesday and that means another article from me, Adam B from TheDiceAbide.com. When you play WFB, it is often easy to forget about shooting, especially when you have large monsters and troop formations to occupy your attention. Aside from artillery, you have many rank and file troops with various missile weapons, but it is easy to overlook them as their results may not seem terribly impressive to the untrained eye. Today, I'm going to talk about how to make the most of your armory of missile weapons and talk about how they can compliment your army.
First, lets talk about some of the more common small arms fire: bows, crossbows, handguns, and thrown. There are also things like pistols, short bows, repeater handguns, etc, but most of those are just going to be a variation of what's above.
First up, lets talk bows. They have a respectable range of 24" (18" for short and 30" for long), but have a modest S3 and no additional penalty to saves. The biggest advantage they have over the other ranged weapons is that they have the capability of moving and firing, and are often the cheapest weapon to choose from. Being able to move and fire actually lends to a lot of versatility. If a unit moves out of the front arc of crossbows and handguns, the unit wont be able to shoot as they re-position themselves, while, with the assistance of a musician, archer units can execute a swift reform and still shoot (note that you can't do a normal reform and still shoot), though at a -1 to-hit penalty, which in the end is better than not shooting at all in my opinion.
Crossbows are probably the most effective of the three in my opinion. A normal crossbow is going to be S4, which grants -1 armor, and will have an impressive 30" range. They are usually the same point cost of a handgun type unit (at least for Empire), though do not have the Armor Piercing rule. With their 30" range, they are able to start firing on turn 1, or can be set up deeper in your deployment zone, and still be able to shoot a considerable distance across the field. They can't move and shoot, so make sure they're set up in a position that they will be effective as long as possible without moving for maximum effect.
When you know that you're going against a heavily armored foe, it is hard to ignore the Handgun. It has the same strength of a crossbow, but is reducing armor by a further point. That makes a huge difference for things like Empire and Chaos knights, who have a 1+ save, since when that is reduced to a 3+, you are going to effectively kill twice as many as a crossbow would. In addition, when facing heavily armored infantry, such as Chaos Warriors and Dwarfs, you'll want all the armor penetration you can get. Just like the crossbows however, it's very important to be sure that you put them in a location that they will have a large field of fire, because they wont want to move.
Last we have thrown weapons. Unfortunately they have a very short range and typically weak strength, but they can be used on the move and can always be used to stand and shoot. I don't rely on them killing targets from across the field, but when used on fast cavalry or scouts, they can be a constant source of annoyance. Generally, I reserve these for killing charge redirectors, or just being annoying.
Most people are familiar with artillery in WFB, probably because it's big, scary and down right killy. There are many kinds of artillery, and most armies have a few options that are different than the others. Generally speaking, we can break them down into categories like cannons (Great Cannon, Dwarf Cannon, Ironblaster, Warp Lightning Cannon, etc.), stone throwers (rock lobbers, trebuchet, Hellcannons, and so on), Bolt Throwers (and repeaters), and last we will say multi-shot (repeater bolt throwers, volley guns, and other anti-infantry weapons).
First up, lets talk cannons. These are the doom of monsters and other tough targets, boasting typically a very high strength and causing D6 wounds to everything in a line where the cannon does it's bounce. They are pretty good against mult-wound units, like ogres and trolls, but the downside is that against these targets, if they fail to kill one model, it doesn't hit the one behind it, much like a bolt thrower. Even though against monstrous targets, they need to kill to penetrate ranks, that is not the case for non-monstrous models, so when you are firing them, there is no reason not to fire right into that block of chaos warriors and hope to kill a few. Generally though, because this weapon is so potent against monsters, you will probably want to prioritize your targets well.
Stone throwers are an interesting bunch. They've been both nerfed and buffed from the previous edition. Now that there are no more partial hits, a stone thrower can potentially hit 21 models on 20mm bases, or 9-10 on 25mm, and it gets crazy when you start talking about the big pie plates (I'm looking at you, mortar). It no longer ignores armor as it once did, but the model under the center of the hole is going to take a very strong hit, causing D3 or D6 wounds, depending on the weapon. Since it is a blast, it is obviously most effective against large formations of troops. In addition to hitting a lot of targets with a direct hit, you're also increasing the odds that a scatter will still hit a target or ten. If you are feeling lucky (or desperate), you can try to hit a monster with the template, and hope for a direct hit. This is challenging against models on 50mm bases, but not so bad against those newfangled 100x150mm bases.
Bolt throwers are basically poor man's cannons. They roll to hit with your BS, which means no chance of a misfire, but often means poor odds of hitting, and their strength gets weaker for every rank that it pierces. All of that said, these are often times exceedingly cheap and you can usually get 2-3 of them for the cost of a cannon. Even though they do D3 wounds, they're not that good against monstrous infantry, but still decent against big monsters. Usually, I deploy these deep on the flanks where they can try and shoot units from the sides (a good place for cannons too).
Last we're going to talk about multi-shot anti-infantry weapons, like the Organ Gun and Repeater Bolt Throwers. Depending on the range and terrain of the board, your placement of this unit will vary greatly. Often times, I treat these just as I would a unit of Handgunners or similar troops, though their compact size and often devastating firepower means that they can be used for handy things like flank denial, or shooting apart charge redirectors before they get into position. The Empire Volleygun is probably the most intimidating weapon in this category, and for good reason, with it's potential to deal 30 shots (or explode spectacularly trying).
What does this all mean?!
When you are designing your list, you need to be aware of your weaknesses and try to compensate for them. Armies like Ogres and Dark Elves can be very vulnerable to charge redirectors, as their charge is often very important, so to prevent being redirected, a unit of missile troops is a quite handy addition to the list. They don't need to cut down swathes of enemy troops (though that's not bad either) to be effective, but instead, you use them to support the combat blocks.
When it comes down to wiping out entire units with shooting, it is unlikely that you will accomplish this with small arms fire, unless you are taking a ton of it. Instead though, focus them on small units that can be crippled by killing only a small number, this includes things like fast cavalry, chaos knights, mournfangs, harpies and lone monster redirectors (great eagles, razorgors, sabretusks, etc.). In addition to offing the occasional Great Eagle or fast cavalry unit, ranged attacks can help whittle down units before they get to you. If your opponent is running a very deep, and thus steadfast unit, shearing off 5-10 models will cut into their rank count and could potentially mean that they might not be as courageous as your opponent once thought. Similarly, sometimes people take a big horde of hard hitting troops, maybe only 30 strong (executioners, flagellants, and so on). If the unit is just barely a horde, each model that you kill with shooting will cut into their attacks, meaning lower combat resolution for when they get in a fight, so even killing 5-6 models could actually have a profound effect on a combat.
In general, it all comes down to prioritization, and I do this a couple ways. First of all, what is fast in their army? Necropolis Knights are going to be a much bigger problem for me to deal with, and much faster than a Warsphinx, so I will spend a turn or two shooting at them first, hopefully crippling them before focusing my attention on the Warsphinx, which is going to take 6's to wound from most conventional weaponry anyhow. After thinking about the fast, immediate threats, you have to think about what is going to take the most firepower to kill. If you're facing my ogres for example, I have Mournfangs and a Stonehorn, both of which are a pain to kill, but the Mournfangs move faster and have swiftstride, so after you kill a few of them (hopefully in one turn), you can switch attention to the much more resilient Stonehorn. If that monster gets to your lines unchecked, it's not going to be pleasant, so it's important that you plan on giving yourself enough time to shoot it before it gets to you, this might mean that you start shooting it on turn 2 if possible. After dealing with the fast and tough targets, you need to worry about combat, since you are probably about to be duking it out. Units that are hordes are probably your next priority, though small, hard hitting units might be a bit scarier to deal with, ultimately, this is for you to decide.
So how do you handle all these things at once? Variety my friend. Empire and Dwarfs are the kings of variety in the shooting phase, though other armies usually have a few choices. If you play Skaven, using Warp Lightning Cannons or Doom Wheels can handle monsters and tough targets, while your warp fire throwers unload into infantry (and mostrous infantry) and your Jezzails are working against the heavily armored targets. If you're an Ogre general like me, an Ironblaster or two goes a long way, as does the occasional unit of Leadbelchers. Last, armies like Lizardmen, who aren't really a range dominating force can use their harassing fire to shave off ranks of enemy blocks, cripple small units or kill redirectors. Pretty much, at the end of the day, unless you're playing VC, you should have a couple options for a shooting unit or two to add to your army.
Variety is the spice of life, and it's one of the important parts of Warhammer Fantasy. If you're just focusing on taking a massive block of Khorne Chosen, with no support (Hellcannons especially), then you can expect to get led around the board by charge redirection. If you add in some Marauder Horsemen with throwing axes and a Hellcannon, then you're much more capable of handling the speed bumps that your opponent throws in your path. In the end, having the capability to take out even just a couple small annoying units could make a surprising difference in a game of WFB. See you next week!