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March 15, 2013

WHFB Review: Daemons of Chaos

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Oh how the mighty have fallen..


In this review, I'm going to dissect the army book down into three key sections.  We're going to talk about the Overall Design, Internal Balance and External Balance.  I'm not going to beat around the bush here, just get down to the nitty gritty.  This is going to be one serious review, prepare yourself.

Overall Design

The entire design philosophy of Daemons have changed since the last book.  Just like the 40K rendition, it looks like GW is going back to its roots to be more chaotic and random.  At first glance, the random elements looks quite manageable.  Unfortunately, once you go deeper into the practical game mechanics, you'll find a lot of inconsistencies and poor design choices.  The one thing that really stands out is the "3" and the "11" on the Reign of Chaos chart that's rolled in the magic phase.  You're looking at some really frustrating game mechanics right here.  No one wants to lose his Bloodthirster before he even gets to do anything, and likewise, no one wants to lose their Lv.4 Wizard due to Daemonic Possession.  Fortunately, Daemonic Possession is a lot easier to avoid than it is in 40K.  Punished by the Gods is a little harder to avoid simply because there's less spammable champions in Fantasy.

Throughout the Reign of Chaos table, you'll see a lot of inconsistencies in both damage and frequency.  The one thing that stood out to me was how harsh the Slaanesh and Khorne punishments were in comparison to Tzeentch and Nurgle.  These trigger if you roll a "6" on conflicting god units (Khorne hates Slaanesh units for exmaple), and on enemy units.  Khorne throws out a stonethrower shot S3(9) with D6 wounds while Tzeentch only scatters D6 but hits for S4 flaming under a small template.  Some say that the damage of these are equally as devastating, but the chances for a direct hit roll are exactly the same.  That's when Khorne takes a significant lead as a S9 D6 wounds hit can wreck anything from an enemy Ironblaster to your own Greater Daemon.  Since Khorne is on the "9" on the chart and Tzeentch is the "5", the chances of these occurring are the same.  Slaanesh, however, sits comfortably at the "8" and Nurgle on the "6".  Strictly talking average here, these happen the most outside the otherwise harmless "7".  What doesn't sit comfortably with me is that Slaanesh requires a 3D6 leadership or take that many wounds with no armor save.  Compare this to Nurgle which is a mere D6+3 S3 hits with no armor saves and you can clearly see which is better.  The pain is truly felt on lower leadership armies as entire units of heavy cav disappear and your own units poof.  This is significantly worse for the Daemon player due to their limitations on leadership.  I'll talk about that later.

Even though some have said the effects of these are relatively the same as their 40K equivalents, I strongly disagree.  Centering a template attack on a unit in fantasy as opposed to a single model in 40K is completely different.  A S4 round template or a Stonethrower hit is a serious thing to consider as the effects of such attacks can equate to half a unit lost.  These are player-paid points, models and work that's being thrown out the window from otherwise random effects.  To make matters even worse, this happens whenever you roll for the Winds of Magic.  Most of the seriously detrimental effects hover around the lower end of the 2D6 chart, so not are you plagued with a pitiful magic turn, you're also penalized with possible army-wide Instability tests, -1 to all your units' ward saves, or killing yourself because you're Punished by the Gods.  These effects all weigh in tremendously to the outcome of the battle much more than it is in 40K.

Moving on to the Daemonic Gifts, I can't say I'm too pleased.  Everyone knows that 40K and Fantasy are completely different animals, and I would certainly hope the designers know as well.  Unfortunately, the need for daemon players to take anything other than magic weapons is out of the question.  Why does every army book out there have access to the full range of BRB items and not Daemons?  You know how in every 8th Ed. book they provided each army with "special" magic items, maybe 8-10 of them and allowed them to fill in the holes with BRB items?  Well, not Daemons.  You don't have access to magical armors, talismans, enchanted items, nor arcane items.  That's right, Daemons of Chaos don't even have access to dispel scrolls.  Don't even get me started that this was done because of game balance:  That a Bloodthirster with Armor of Destiny (heavy armor with 4+ ward) or a 2+ armor would be too much to handle.  Really?  Because you know, magic, cannons and other godly characters don't exist in this game.  You're paying 500+ points for a Greater Daemon, who is also your general, and most of the time your primary spellcaster.  Why shouldn't you be able to protect them from your opponent?  Pray you roll that 2+ armor on the Greater Gift table because that's the last time you'll ever see it.

Lastly, you have the General and the BSB and how the different god affiliations have changed the Daemons book.  So you already know that Daemonic characters from one god can't join units of another god.  Now check this:  Daemons receive no benefit from the Inspiring Presence or Hold Your Ground! special rules unless they're of the same god allegiance.  Want a Lord of Change to lead your army?  That's fine, but you're rolling for average Ld.7 on your Plaguebearers with no BSB bonus.  In fact, just don't get into combat with anything you don't on decisively beating, because who knows?  Maybe you'll roll an 2 and everything is awesome, or you'll lose combat, roll an 12 and the entire unit is destroyed.  I can see the need to keep units of the same allegiance, but you're literally pushing for ineffective, mono-god play and most importantly, limiting player options.  No one wants to roll with Ld.7 average army-wide with Instability.

I can see where Mat Ward was going with this, but I think the execution was just poor and unrefined.  Maybe he ran out of time?  Or put on a choke leash by GW?  Or maybe he just didn't care since this would be round 2 for him anyway and he was over it.  Whatever the reason, it looks like a mistranslation of the 40K version that was hastily pushed by shareholders and adopted into the WHFB environment.  Would it be too much to ask for the ability to take Arcane and Magic Armors as gifts?  Or a decent leadership system?  At least a dispel scroll somewhere man.

Internal Balance

Oh man, where do I start?  Let's start with pricing.  For one, everything has gone up in price.  If it didn't, it got worse.  Most of the time, you'll see both more expensive and worse.

Whenever I do balance, I like to approach it with a scalpel, finely-tuning my fixes piece by piece before settling on a delicate compromise.  What happened here was a facelift done with a sledgehammer.  All the Heralds in the army are paper thin now because of the complete lack of armor options.  Nurgle is obviously the most superior choice stats-wise because he's WS5/S5/T5 and has -1 to hit in close combat.  Everyone else is pretty much naked.  To make matters worse, the Locus abilities are just not consistent with the pricing.  Now that you actually have to buy the bonuses to your squad, one could expect better prices right? Wrong.  On top of already expensive Heralds, the prices for most of the Locus are way too expensive.  The Hatred upgrade for the Herald of Khorne is almost as expensive as he is.  Essentially, you're looking at least double the cost for all Heralds just so they can behave as normal in the last book.  Why pay that when you can just buy 13 or so more Bloodletters?  Oh, and check the pricing for Slaanshi Heralds:  Locus of Grace gives your entire the ability to auto-pass characteristic tests for the price of a meltabomb, while the locus that gives ASF costs 10x that.  I haven't seen cost-benefit analysis this bad in a long time, especially when you factor in the Daemonettes primary kill targets.

Needless to say, the biggest disappointment was the Heralds.  Not only can you take none of what made them awesome last book, but they're now ruthlessly more expensive, with significantly less protection.  With Heralds being this bad, players like myself will see the core units as a "tax" more so than the mainstay force.  So that means the rest of the units must be good right?  No.  Bloodcrushers are mediocre, Flamers got more expensive and worse at shooting, Fiends are no longer 1+, and Slaaneshi chariots are still trash.  The semi-underused units from last book such as Seekers, Beasts of Nurgle and Screamers got better though.  Some got cheaper, some saw different stat changes, and some have been redesigned all together (Beasts).  I can't help but wonder if this is one big joke or not.  Cheaper heralds with beneficial abilities, forming the backbone of your army with loads and loads of core units would drastically increase sales.  But yet, these models are the least of their concern both balance wise and money wise.  Huh?

I'll tell you what I'm damn sure about though, and that's GW's really looking to push sales for the Skull Cannon.  Is there a reason such a thing exists for 135 points?  It really puts something like the Ironblaster to shame, and most of the WHFB community would agree with me in saying such a statement is outrageous.  I mean, the Ironblaster is already considered largely underpriced, and you're saying that GW released something cheaper AND better in the form of the Skull Cannon?  Yes, absolutely.  Folks, for a laughable 15 points more than an Empire Cannon, you can get a Daemon of Khorne chariot that has T5 with 3+/5++, moves 7", fires a flaming, magical cannon, has the combat stats that makes even combat units weep, and has S6 Impact hits that regains wounds.  You don't like the ugly model?  I guess you need to pick one up anyway because it's so damn good you'd be crazy not to take one.  Conveniently, the Soul Grinder and Burning Chariot are both pretty decent, so maybe you should pick up some of those as well.

Lastly, I'll briefly mention the magic phase.  As most of you know, the Daemons of Chaos have the same exact spells as Warriors of Chaos.  I guess they consider this consistent because now it's just "chaos magic". Sure, the Demons get different bonuses for getting their spells cast, but nothing bothers me more than the fact  that Tzeentch didn't any of his Lords of Change anything outside Metal and Tzeentch.  Nurgle is now matched with Death and Slaanesh with Shadow, but why is the god of magic himself as limiting?  It kills me a little inside, really.  Consistency is fine and dandy, but not at the expense of key lore.  In fact, just get rid of Warpflame because that rule is backwards stupid.  There's just no reason for it.

External Balance

Judging from the rest of the 8th Ed. books, I wouldn't say Daemons are unplayable.  They're definitely a "tame" book, probably worse than Tomb Kings.  The reason why this is so is because the new Daemons are so limited to begin with, both in overall design, magic items and units, but now they're forced to deal with random elements as well.

Due to their redesign, they are no longer the same army that you saw dominate in 7th in any stretch of the imagination.  This is good in the sense that they were way too powerful before, but bad (and much worse) in a sense that they retained nothing of their previous book.  Despite the over the top power level of 7th Ed. Daemons, it was one of the best designed and internally balanced books that I have ever seen.  Now, I've been in the hobby for 12 some years now, and I can outright say that that particular book is my favorite of all time.  The fluff was great, the writing was fantastic, the internal balance design was made from your heart's desire:  You could literally freestyle and take whatever you want and be happy.  It pleased Tzeentch players, Slaanesh, Khorne, Nurgle, and mixed god fans.  It even pleased players who saw a different build every time they were across the table from them, and internet forums everywhere talking about which build was the most powerful, or how they got their asses handed to them by a different list every time.  Player options were limitless and that is key in the longevity of any army book.

Now?  A book built upon the utter ruin of the previous rendition, with little to no compassion to the previous writer.  Oh wait a minute, Mat Ward wrote this one as well, and this is where I think there might be a conspiracy.  There is no way Mat can fail this hard at writing books given his track record.  His internal balance is normally superb, a little on the powerful side, but rock solid.  Could this be the first time the world sees what happens when upper management/sales takes a GW designer by the reigns and says do this or else?

There is nothing in this book that reminds me of the old book, and this includes all the player options.  I literally cannot justify taking any of the Heralds except maybe the Slaanesh one.  Nurgle is definitely a safer bet 99/100.  You know what?  This is exactly the problem.  There's so many no-brainer options and WTFWHYs that not only limits the player options, but also sabotages their involvement, planning and love of the hobby.  You will see mostly the same lists from a competitive point of view, and if you don't , you're probably just playing for fun anyways because you love the lore behind it (which personally, I liked the last book's more).

I see this as the most literal, collective failure in an army book that GW has put out in 12 years.  Something that makes Cruddace's 5th Ed. Tyranids look like a work of genius and earned Gav Thrope's CSM a spot in the Louvre.

1/5 Overall Design
2/5 Internal Balance
2/5 External Balance

No army, nevermind army, no player should ever have to suffer through this for the next X years.  Really.
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