With the review of the basics of eighth edition complete, I decided it was high time for my Lizardmen to start making back the seventy quid I spent on them (ignoring the irony that I had a very similar army to this back in fifth edition and if I’d just NOT SOLD THEM… yes, well, we live and learn and in my defence I really wanted some Vampire Counts at the time). First thing I needed to do was actually put the big lads on bases and sort out the mis-based Saurus (ah, the happy days of yore, when we guessed at how many dudes our dudes were in combat with, and ‘ranking up’ was a thing that only Dwarfs were capable of). I’m too cheap to buy chariot bases at the list price, so instead I spent £2.50 on a packet of balsa wood and walked out with enough for my Slann, both Stegadons, and movement trays for everything in my army. The bases are holding up well – witness!
The trays are a bit more fragile and some of the wood in the middle of the pack appeared to have split during transit. Not to worry though, they’re back in one piece now.
Next, I’d need… hmm. Opposition. My old mate BlackHeart (of Grumpy Gamers – Reviews fame) was free that day and he has an Empire army (I know this because I sold it to him). He doesn’t like eighth edition at all – the Warrior Priests that used to guarantee some resilience for his army by praying for Unbreakability are now far too easy to shut down (one dispel die will do it), and he’s of the opinion that putting Empire soldiery into horde formation just makes them die faster. He agreed to play a game regardless, because he’s such a nice chap, on the condition that I’d play him at his favourite Lord of the Rings Strategy Battle Game the day after.
In accordance with the principles of Warhammer for Adults (since, ostensibly at least, we are adults…), we decided to hang the notion of ‘army lists’ and ‘worrying about balance’ and just dump our entire collections down on the board to see if they’d fit. As a result, I had lots of long lines of Skinks and Saurus, with the two Stegadons on the flanks and the Slann parked firmly in the middle, waving his rod of toadly might about, while Blackheart had his customary blocks of ‘elite’ human infantry (I use the term somewhat guardedly), led by mighty heroes of the realm. This is a roundabout way of saying ‘he had more characters than me but I had a very big lizard wizard’.
I won’t bother with a full-on report or anything because a) I can’t be bothered and b) we were far too busy trying to learn/remember how our armies worked and make sure we were playing eighth edition at least vaguely right to go messing about with photography or note-taking or anything like that. I was trying to concentrate on learning and implementing strategeries and tic-tacs too, though, so here are some thoughts thereon:
– Stegadons and templates are not friends. A chance clip with a cannonball (which resolves ‘like a template’, apparently) scythed three crew off the back of one (okay, okay, actually it killed the Stegadon too but that was a fluke) despite barely touching the thing’s base at all. This is not OMGUNFAIRBROKENRAEGQUIT time – this is just Warhammer. It is an abstraction. It is a fact of gameplay that I shall be bearing in mind in future. It makes the Engine of the Gods an extremely inviting prospect as a Ward save for my Stegadon crew would be quite nice.
– Stegadons also do not like enemies with decent armour saves. I don’t think the Ancient Stegadon is mandatory – the important thing about them is the Toughness of 6 and the three rounds of attacks on the charge (impact, then actual attacks, then Thunderstomp). Through sheer toughness and weight of attacks, the Stegadon that didn’t get blown up by cannon fire managed to grind through BlackHeart’s Knights, tying them up for the whole game before eventually driving off and running down the Grand Master. If I’d needed them kileld fast, I’d have needed an Ancient, but for tying them up and holding the flanks down, the Regadon was fine.
– the Lore of Light could have been tailor-made for Lizardmen. While I understand the attraction of Life magic, especially for those lumbering great Stegadons, there is nothing about Light that doesn’t compensate for one of the army’s weaknesses. The two buffs turn Saurus into mincing machines, the two magic missiles afford the mid-range shooting otherwise missing from the army (technically the Giant Bows count, but I never actually got to fire them), and Pha’s Protection both maximises the effect of Skink Skirmisher Skirmish Screens and helps mitigate those terrible war machines (the cannon and mortar did not have quite such a fantastic time after I’d got the Pha’s engine rolling).
All the spells are sufficiently easy to cast that the Slann didn’t have to break a sweat. I was grateful for the extra power die from Focused Rumination but I don’t think it’s necessary to get the Lore of Light ticking properly – it’s more insurance, in case of a bad Winds of Magic roll. The only downside to Light is that it leads to a very Slann-centric army – he’s the general, the battle standard bearer, and the magical buff man, and all of that requires that as much of my army as possible is within 12″ of him. If I did lose the Slann I’d struggle, and I’m not sure I’m cool with that.
– the Path of the Skirmishy Gobshite, meanwhile, is an extremely appealing one. Between the modifiers for range, skirmishing, hard cover from units in the way and Pha’s Protection, I never felt really worried by Blackheart’s shooting, war machines notwithstanding (since Pha’s was the only thing that could really stop them, other than me going off and killing them). Burying the Slann in a Skink Skirmisher unit at the back of the army proved to be worthy insurance against conventional shooting and the cannon and mortar had better things to do whittling down my Saurus (a mistake, I feel, but what the hell).
Furthermore, Cold Blooded, the Battle Standard allowing rerolls on Panic tests, and the Slann’s high Leadership stat means that the Lizardmen are very well equipped to have units fleeing through other units, so I can quite happily dodge charges I don’t want to receive without worrying too much about my counter-attack units running off in a tizzy. It could still happen, but it’s not likely.
– blowpipes may be better than javelins. I like the longer range of the javelins, and I’d rather stick with them for consistency’s sake (all my Skinks are old models armed with shortbows, including the Stegadon crew, and since the crew have to have javelins I’m treating the entire array of Skinks as being armed with them). I’m also not a fan of an effective -2 to all my hit rolls – I get that I’m hoping for sixes on the poisoned ranged shots, but I’d rather be hoping for them than relying on them to do anything at all. But I can’t deny that doubling the raw number of shots might be nice, especially on the numerous occasions when only a few Skinks were in range of a viable target.
– ranked Skinks are not really all that hot – they’re not really mobile enough to get into shooting range of anything significant and without Kroxigor hiding in them they don’t have anything resembling combat punch. All Skirmishers all the time from now on.
– even without command groups on the Saurus, my army is a Bit Good. Too good to be fun for the other guy? I don’t know. BlackHeart always plays like a gent anyway so it’s hard to tell how much of his griping was serious and how much was just good-natured ribbing, and his army was very much a seventh edition build. I don’t think things are as dire as he says they are for the Empire, but for his Empire, the way he’s been playing them for years, they’re pretty bleak.
However, here’s the crucial thing: I don’t hate the Lizardmen. I don’t feel frustrated or limited by them. They have weaknesses, but they have access to tools that overcome those weaknesses, and those tools are reliable and don’t have a colossal opportunity cost. And I don’t hate eighth edition either, although I did have to take half a year off and swap armies before I felt capable of meeting it on its own terms.
I’ll talk about the Lord of the Rings game later.