Last Modified 11/30/09
Warhammer Ancient Battles
Tactics and Tournaments
Al Revere's large
and well presented Dacian horde about to crumble up into dust,
in front of my tiny borrowed army of Romans, sadly due entirely to some initial bad luck with the Warband rules.
Paul (Beastlord on the WABlist) is interested in WAB, so he asked a common question of newcomers that have played WFB and wish to try out WAB. This is a question that I've answered many times, I thought it would be a good addition to the commentaries on WAB over the years, especially in light of new interest that may occur with WAB 2.0.
"Since I'm new to this system, is there any army that "dominates" the
others usually at WAB tourneys? There are three armies that do so a LOT
in WHFB, I was looking for a more even playing field. As in, tired of "Herohammer"!"
Hmm.... each supplement usually has an army list that can be a 'top tier' army. Some armies in WAB are handicapped by being one dimensional, others have difficulty getting their combined elements to work in symmetry. There are some armies that are have historical limitations, and generally as the time frame advances the power of armies increase- mostly because there are layered on special rules and tactical advantages as history progresses. So a Sumerian army will have a tough time against an EIR army, but that doesn't mean a good player with Sumerians can't inflict a humiliating defeat on a poor Roman player- that certainly can be done, but is challenging.
Generally the points system balance is closer in-period than out, that's why WAB supplements focus on time periods more than single armies. An EIR army is slightly better than a Republican Roman army, but that's a very balanced match-up.
Generally in tournaments I have observed:
Greek armies fair well with good players and poorly with average to poor players.
Pike armies fair better than average with good players and do better with novices and poor players. This often a problem with the lack of opponent's understanding how to deal with the pike armies, and the dangerous combination of cavalry wedges and elite light troops.
Roman Republican armies are tough in good players hands, and do well with average players. Novices tend to have trouble with the Republican Romans.
Carthaginian armies are very balanced, but difficult to get all the parts to work in coordination. Some Carthaginian armies are very tough to beat because they eschew cavalry.
Chariot Wars armies are generally handicapped against later armies. Assyrians and Mycenaeans can hold their own with later lists.
Barbarian armies are difficult to win with consistently in tournaments, there are too many things that can go wrong and mess a player up... but winning with barbarians is very satisfying as they often wipe out the enemy when they win (or get wiped out).
Persian armies are mixed. The shootist Early Achaemenids are like attacking the ant hill in "Paths of Glory".... just about anybody can get shot to pieces by them. The Later Achaemenids can be tough is the player gets the balance between infantry and hard hitting cavalry mix right, and can bring it to bear.
Indian armies are a mixed bag, the all to common tactic of being a one-dimensional shootist army makes them tough to crack
The Fall of the West "Warlord" army is one of the tournament busters in WAB since it is basically take anything good in the book, (why have lists?? A long time pet-peeve :), but balanced by the regular lists kind of suck.
Shieldwall has many armies grouped around powerful characters. Often power players gravitate to the Wonky Islands Vikings, generally a sniffy army. Normans are tough but small armies. In WAB 1.0 small elite armies can be overwhelmed by numbers and attrition. In WAB 2.0, I expect a change and Normans, Crusaders, and elite Romans will be more powerful.
The Byzantine lists favors the Sassanians over the rest of the world, so they can be abused, but generally in period they work ok...
The El Cid has mostly balanced lists, unless the very optional special characters are taken there is little OTT there. The Arthurian book is similar but the characters and special items take this a bit beyond historical gaming, it's not my cup of tea but a great campaign book.
Overall WAB tournament play is handicapped by usually too small tables and short game length (6 or less turns)- 8x4 tables for 2000 pts generally helps a player with cavalry, often times small tables at tournaments negate cavalry.
Frontal armies such as phalanx/shieldwall/and pikes are enhanced by small tables and over abundant terrain.
Missile armies can be tough if large hills are arrayed in depth, especially if the army has Parthian shot and feigned flight cavalry to slow down an approach.
That's about all I can say in a few minutes, other than there really isn't any army that cannot be beaten by the correct approach. However there are some difficult matches, like even a top tier army like Normans will have trouble with pikes.
A well painted Greek army played by a novice
has a difficult time
against my evil veteran Alexandrian army.
As in, tired of "Herohammer"!"
(Jeff drones on about Samurai in WAB)
--------> The Samurai list is probably the worst "herohammer" list still in WAB. That is by whimsical design based on movies and not historical guidance, which is clearly stated in the army list notes.
It works against other Samurai in competition but there all sorts of abuses possible- even with the restructured points costs. The worst issue is that one could have an army of one giant unit of ninja, not really practical, but fits into "griefer" schemes of players that think like WFB.
Beyond that a good player with Samurai has probably chosen the least difficult army to lose with. Their are ways to defeat the WAB Samurai but it takes game savvy, and if the Samurai army has all the goofs in it, it will be difficult for any novice player to handle it. Even worse a balanced samurai army in the right hands is very deadly. Generally you no longer see them in tournaments as much because the change to light infantry and the increases in points make them very brittle if they run up against shooty armies like Indians or Persians. I've even seen an Egyptian army beat Samurai because they got lots of bowfire hits and whittled them down to nothing.
At Historicon the Samurai are less prevalent because they are placed in the "open" division, and good players with Sassanids or Byzantines, or even Vikings can chew them up a bit. Samurai do not like shieldwalls, or phalanxes, or elephants.
Samurai characters are the worst "herohammer" abusers, IMO. Players with Samurai will definitely try to get their characters into hand to hand with normal generals and knock them off, so that's a place that players should be wary.
My opinion, worth nothing by the way, is Samurai should part of Medieval era WAB, and should fit better with those lists. The historical Samurai lists were supposed to be published in the Divine Wind supplement, but that apparently is a do over given the circumstances of the author.
Outsiders who often complain about what they see in WAB games generalized that it is herohammer after watching the Samurai or getting stuck playing against them in an initial game, that's sad because the Samurai list is really the worst example. The rest of WAB shouldn't be judged by it, but still it does give a flavorful in-period type movie game.
Don Effinger and Vince Salvato beat up my borrowed Romans as they cross over a stream against their archers and elephants.
"I enjoy Samurai although the only lists are in AoA. Fun army to play and sometimes I win some and sometimes I lose some but in the end I had fun. At 2000 points I have a problem but at 2500 points I can add a cavalry unit or another shooting block of Samurai."
The WAB 1.5 rulebook has the revised Samurai army list.
Allen Curtis points out that general trends can be gleaned from:
Tournament rankings in the US for ten years at the HMGS East cons:
Mike Bruck's WAB crime statistics:
|Christian Spanish||El Cid||14||11||4||29||48%|
|African Invaders||El Cid||13||23||8||44||30%|
*This data seems to be odd as there are no other Arthur lists in the sample.
** This is incomplete data, Jeff thinks the Samurai are a 66% army in tournaments, there must be more Samurai games played than this at HMGS East events.
This is not data collected with Rocket Science precision, but it can identify trends. Some of these armies have lower sample sizes than others, that can skew the results. The general results seem to indicate that most WAB armies win between 40-60% of the time, some are lower on the scale and some are above the 60% range. Often at the HMGS East events historical matches are common, so Greeks suffer by being to forced to play against Macedonians.
Here is some savvy WAB army list guidance's from the WABlist that may be of interest:
Greeks by Mike Bruck:
RE: [WABlist] Re: Greeks
I don't know how they are played "over there" but I, like
a couple of ideas of the problem over here.
1) Greek players are just poor gamers...nah...can't be :-)
..... There seems to be some evidence of this in at least my case.
2) The Greek players I know are mostly arm chair historians rather
than pure gamers and won't build very cheesy armies. For example, I
have resisted, except for one time (and the Greeks easily won), to
build an Army with Spartan and Theban contingents (unhistorical). But
placing Spartans on one flank and Thebans on the other would be a
powerful combination. I can't even bring myself to put Spartans on
both flanks (except in a Spartan army) and instead always place them
on the right. Most other Greek players I know, like Mike, behave in
similar ways. By the way, this also means that I have seldom seen
columnar Greeks mentioned in a previous post.
..... I too have a bad habit of putting my Spartans on the right, but one
must be flexible when the enemy won't deploy across from them.
3) Oracles suck. Most players facing Greek army complain bitterly
about them until the Greek player rolls a 4 and then suddenly shut up
when they realize the game is in the bag. True rolling a 12 usually
wins the game but 7 Oracles means that in a game consisting of 8 or
more combats...the Greeks will soon find themselves out of points
just when the game is getting tough. Many games are decided by this
roll before the game begin. I like the "color" that oracles adds to
the game but abhor the importance.
..... I like the oracle game. It is true that a low oracle roll or
indiscriminate use of them will leave you empty when they are needed most.
But we are as always, "at the whim of the gods!"
All in all, I still love the Greeks. I have sworn to continue to use
them in competition exclusively and historically, until they win a
tourney. Fortunately I am already 40 and will probably die soon and be
released from my pledge :-)
..... How can anyone be an ancient gamer and not love hoplites! Most of us
old-Greeks adhere to the old ways. A battle, face to face, phalanx to
phalanx to decide this issue at hand. No knew fangled pikes or wedges or big
hairy elephant things. Just my citizens against his citizens. Actually, at
Fall-In, my Spartans, counting my warm-up game, won 3 and lost 1. A pretty
good showing for me. And Mike R. using Greeks without any uber-Spartans was
playing for the tourney championship. Table size is a big factor for hoplite
armies, IMHO. That big table Jeff Jonatus likes for his wedges, I fear for
my phalanxes. Use of the GW table mats, which are 6 x 4, I think, are a
definite advantage for hoplites. I hope Don keeps Joe bringing them to the
This brings up another issue I never thought about when compiling the
tourney stats. (The HMGS East) pair "same" armies if possible for the first
game. EIR and Greeks always seem to find a like-foe. So the w - l record for
the more "popular" armies will reflect, in most cases, a win and loss to
start with. I guess I need Tony (Edwards) or another math wizard to verify the
validity of these statistics. ????
A compilation of Game notes:
WAB_Famous_Battles (files in WABlist forum)