Yes yes yes I know I said ‘every three days’ but I couldn’t stop myself. Besides, Thursday was late, so Sunday can be early. *sage nod*
Okay, first things first: they look pretty damn cool, yes. The Shell Case has a short video released by GW in which the new models are waved about, and apart from a couple of familiar ‘how the hell am I supposed to get this into base to base contact with ranked enemies’ form-over-function situations which have been par for the course with this miniature range since the last book they’ll do very nicely.
I won’t let myself get excited until I have the book in my hot sweaty little hands, though, ’cause the Vampire Counts present something of a challenge to developers.
They have certain innate limitations derived from How The Undead Work In Warhammer, to whit:
- WS and I stats behind the curve on everything that isn’t a Vampire. They don’t fight well.
- Limited mobility without a Vampire nearby. The poor Ld of the Vampire Heroes mean they can’t resist pursuit opportunities too well and have trouble executing reforms. Adding Wight Kings to compensate for that reduces the points free for Vampires. They don’t move well.
- Dependence on magic (the most unreliable phase of the game) to counteract these weaknesses. They need to cast well.
- Crumbling if the Vampire General dies. The Vampire General is also one of the mobile, hard-hitting, spell-slinging key pieces that make them not shite, therefore making him a single point of failure (I’ve won games after losing my Vampire General, but only when I’ve either already inflicted overwhelming damage before losing him, or through luck/favourable terrain setups).
Furthermore, they have additional limitations placed on them by How The Vampire Counts Background Says They Work.
- No conventional shooting, which means mid-range threat projection is displaced onto the spellcasters, who already have ‘casting support spells’ and ‘not dying’ on their plates.
- Not as good at magic as High Elves, Daemons, Dark Elves, Lizardmen… in other words, they’re dependent on one thing to make them go, and they’re not even the best there is at doing it.
The previous book is very much a seventh edition book, and the errata process was not kind to it, in three significant ways.
- All ‘True Core’ (i.e. Core choices that count toward your 25% minimum spend) are M4 melee only infantry with all the usual undead drawbacks.
- Being able to spam single die spells is not as impressive when there’s a one in three chance that doing so will stall out your strategically and tactically vital wizard for a turn, and your little wizards are very easy for big wizards to dispel (Necromancers don’t like casting against level 4 wizards, no they don’t).
- Fear is not the tense throw-in-resources-if-I-win-just-one-round-that’s-enough game that it used to be; now it’s both easier to resist (Army Standard re-rolls, no chance to auto-break) and less helpful (enemy needs fours or fives to hit if they fail their test, rather than flat rate sixes, a double sting given that they’ll still be striking first unless there are some unreliable buffs up).** Given that the Vampire Counts were built to play that ‘just one round won and I’ll have ’em!’ game, that’s frustrating.
So, they really really really need a new book, if only because there is lingering baggage from seventh edition that’s holding the army back. I’m just not sure how much of the baggage is actually going to be addressed, given that so much of it is dictated by the game’s background rather than little incidental questions like ‘does this army have enough meaningful strategic choices and tactical options available to it to make it fun for the intelligent player in anything other than a “shove it over the board and hope for the best” kind of way?’
I’m also… damn, there’s no way of saying this without it sounding like fanboy hate… I don’t have masses of confidence in Phil Kelly when it comes to ‘evil’ books. See, Mr. Kelly seems to like bad guys as barbarian hordes. No tech, no resilience, no redundancy, no mid-range – waves of guys, ploughing across the field, bringing their knives to a gunfight and hoping vests can stop bullets. The best Vampire Counts list ever written was Mat Ward’s Army of Sylvania list; Mr. Ward understood that a breadth of Core choices that fulfilled different purposes was good, that being able to restore wounds to those units or summon new ones whatever they were was also good, that having a meaningful presence in all phases of the game turn was vital to making an army interesting and rewarding and, all right, competitively viable.
The focus of the new release seems to be on shiny new toys rather than addressing the fundamental issues of fitting the existing Vampire Counts into eighth edition Warhammer, and giving them a sense of strategic vitality and tactical nuance that rewards the intelligent player without punishing people who just want to line their toy soldiers up and charge. It looks like a patch where a redesign is needed.
Mind you, as usual, I want GW to prove me wrong, ’cause I do love me some undead. Not all of the issues even need to be resolved; some of them, like the ‘Vampire or Wight’ choice are good design, forcing you to choose between mobility or control. The single-point-of-failure thing is part of how the army works and managing the risk-vs-reward aspect of the Vampire General is genuinely fun – but an army with a single point of failure that’s full of other things that make Stelek angry is doomed, because armies with too many weaknesses are not fun. Here’s one more list, just to show you what I want from the new book. Any three of these things would do, but less than two and I feel the army will still have too many fundamental issues to stand up.
- A meaningful presence in movement, magic, shooting and combat phases. Doesn’t have to be brilliant, I’d settle for Skeleton Crossbowmen again (long range, good S, offset by low mobility and lousy BS).
- Either greater insurance against the unreliable and dangerous eighth edition magic phase, or less dependence on it. At the very least, something that influences the number of dice available in every turn, and something that mitigates Miscasts on the General. Continued access to Big Red Rulebook Lores is also essential in this department as Necromancy can’t address everything that needs addressing in six spells.
- Genuine strategic and thematic options, derived from True Core choices that aren’t M4 melee-only blocks. Skirmishing Ghouls, Skeleton Crossbowmen and Dire Wolves that count toward the 25%, guys, that’s all it’ll take.
- An understanding that autobreaking from Fear is gone, and that Vampire Counts can’t rely on Psychology as a win condition now that it’s less effective and easier to resist.
- Oh, and while we’re on the subject, no Bloodlines as a rules mechanic. They were prescriptive brain-shackles for people who can’t make representative choices. I like the current book’s approach to that; Bloodlines in the background, genuine options in the rules. Nothing says you can’t do a Lahmian but nothing says all Lahmians are the same. That’s awesome. More of that please.
And yet… despite everything… I am a little bit excited.
* – I understand why Dire Wolves and Bat Swarms didn’t count in seventh edition – it was a bit too easy to spend 150 points on filling your Core slots with fifteen disposable Wolves and then move on to the Black Knight Fun Buses – but surely with the ‘slots’ system gone we could have had that limitation lifted? There are more incentives now to take things that aren’t Dire Wolves, for one, and for two, I’d love to do an army of, say, undead knights and their hunting hounds, or werewolves that happen to use the VC rules. I still don’t quite understand why Corpse Carts don’t count; that’s a lot of potential buffing being thrown out but the key word is potential – they’re low-Power Bound spells or abilities that require semi-careful positioning to accomplish.
** – again, I understand why; the auto-break if outnumbered thing from sixth and seventh editions was very very frustrating to people who didn’t play Vampire Counts armies and I’m glad that it’s changed. My point is that the Vampire Counts need to be changed in order to account for the new way in which Fear works, because they were built with the old Fear mechanics as a fundamental principle. At the moment, they’re a house built on church foundations – they don’t fit and they could fall over at any second.