9th Age: Dread Elves vs. Highborn Elves

Introduction

Completing my frenzy streak on playing three matches in six days, I finally got to play versus my favourite opponent SH and my favourite enemy the cowardly Highborn Elves. We played at my place and used the version of 9th Age 0.9.1 and played 2000 points each. For terrain we used the 8th Edition Warhammer rules, meaning D6+4 pieces, alternate placing.

The Bleak Legion01-de

  • Cult High Priestess, Cult of Blood, Whip of Subversion, Blood Armour, Ring of Darkness
  • Dark Master, Battle Standard Bearer, Fleet Commander, Dragonscale Helm, Kingslayer, Lucky Charm, Heavy Armour, Shield
  • Sorceress, Path of Black Magic, Level 2, Dispel Scroll
  • Sorceress, Path of Black Magic, Level 2, Tome of Arcane Lore, Charm of Cursed Iron
  • 5x Shadow Riders, Repeater Crossbows, Shields
  • 10x Dark Repeaters, Musician
  • 30x Elven Warriors, Spears, Full Command
  • 6x Dread Knights, Champion
  • Dread Reaper, Repeating Shot
  • Dread Reaper, Repeating Shot
  • Dread Reaper, Repeating Shot
  • Hunting Chariot, Harpoon Thrower
  • 20x Tower Guard, Full Command, Banner of Murder

Highborn Elves02-he

  • High Prince, Dragon Ancient, Giant Blade, Holy Icon
  • High Captain, Battle Standard Bearer, High Warden of the Flame, Banner of Dragon’s Embrace, Heavy Armour, Shield
  • Mage, Level 1, Path of White Magic, Dispel Scroll
  • 10x Elven Archers, Full Command
  • 26x Coastal Guard, Heavy Armour, Full Command, Icon of Prosaic Days
  • Horse Chariot
  • Horse Chariot
  • Horse Chariot
  • Coast Guard Reaper, Repeating Shot
  • Coast Guard Reaper, Repeating Shot
  • Coast Guard Reaper
  • 5x Shadow Watchers
  • Fire Phoenix

Terrain, Magic and Army Setup

We rolled eight terrain pieces and were quite lazy with the setup, with neither one of use trying to block sight of hills to much. Some rare occurrence, that we both had a lot of shooting and weren’t relying too much on cover. 03-schlachtfeld

I was lucky to get the choice of sides, as I could grab the one with one more forest.

Again we forgot to roll for spells before deployment. SH got the Cataclysm, which he thought was too ambitious and opted for the Luminous Bolts instead. I rolled 2 and 3 for the first Sorceress and decided to trade the Bladestorm away for Moraec’s Fury. The other Sorceress had 3, 6, 6 giving me the free choice. I opted for Moraec’s Fury, Freezing Gale and Bolt of Darkness. In hindsight I should probably have taken the Bladestorm.

During deployment I placed my units in cover of the forests first and then placed the foreseeable Dread Reapers second. Again my opponent deployed fast to get +3 on beginning, which considerably helped my deployment decisions. A crucial advantage were the two chariots and one Reaper on the far flank, which I could vacate by moving my Shadow Riders away from that side.04-aufstellung1 05-aufstellung2

I rolled a ‚3‘, so SH would begin.

Turn 1 – Highborn Elves

Movement: The Fire Phoenix immediately exploited an error in the facing of my Dread Knights and used that to move forward on the outermost flank. I was less than happy about my mistake, as the Dread Knights were placed there to deny that exact movement. The Ancient Dragon moved forward in the centre, confident in his high toughness to discourage any shooting. Behind him one Chariot also advanced, as did the ones on the far flank. The Archers stood still, while the Coastal Guard just barely moved in range of the Dark Repeaters.

Magic: 6+3, both channel. Great version of Luminous Bolts fail to reach the casting value (1+1+1+2+6).

Shooting:

  • Shadow Watchers on Shadow Riders: No wounds (Ø 1,0).
  • Coast Guard Reaper on Shadow Riders: No wounds (Ø 1,7).
  • Coast Guard Reaper (single shot) on Shadow Riders: No wounds.
  • Again I made a huge mistake here, I think it was correct to use my Vanguard move to confront the Watchers, but I could have easily moved behind the building denying the multishot from the Reaper. I was very lucky to avoid a casualty here.
  • Coast Guard Reaper on Dark Repeaters: One wound (Ø 1,3).
  • Horse Chariot on Dark Repeaters: No wounds (Ø 0,1).
  • Elven Archers on Dark Repeaters: Four wounds (Ø 1,5).

Close Combat: None.

Turn 1 – Dread Elves

Movement: Shadow Riders charge the Shadow Watchers. Stand & Shoot does not kill anything and the riders easily connect.

The Black Guard and Dread Knights both move backwards. The Elven Warriors do a light circle and face towards the Dragon, mainly bringing the Sorceress in range for her spells. The Hunting Chariot and the Dark Repeaters do not move.

Magic: 5+2, I channel. Freezing Gale (large version) rolls high (6+4+4+4) on the Coastal Guard. The hits do not do any damage, but the spells decreases their BS by three. The Lore Attribute fails to inflict a wound. Moraec’s Fury (5+3+3) is dispelled with four dice. For the second Moraec’s Fury I fail to reach the casting value with only one die left (still used to think of my casters as always Level 4. Another count of the „mistake tab“, which accumulates entries faster than I am comfortable with).

Shooting:

  • Dark Repeaters on Ancient Dragon: No wounds (Ø 0,7).
  • Dark Reaper on Phoenix: No wounds (Ø 0,9).
  • Dark Reaper on Phoenix: No wounds (Ø 0,9).
  • Hunting Chariot on Phoenix: One wound (Ø 1,0).
  • Dark Reaper on Horse Chariot: One wound (Ø 1,5).

Close Combat: The Shadow Riders inflict three wounds, while receiving one. The Watchers flee from the table, I should have overrun to be able to avoid being shot at, but instead stood and reformed. Another big blunder.

Turn 2 – Highborn Elves

Movement: The Fire Phoenix charges the Dread Reaper and connects on needing only a seven. The Ancient Dragon charges the Dark Repeaters, which flee four inches. The Dragon redirects into the Black Guard. Needing a nine or ten, he still makes it, but suffers a wound from dangerous terrain.

The Coastal Guard and all chariots make haste to follow their flying units.

Magic: 6+3, Highborn channel. Large Luminous Bolts (6+5+4+1+1) are dispelled (5+4+4+3+2).

Shooting:

  • Coast Guard Reaper on Shadow Riders: Two wounds (Ø 1,7).
  • Horse Chariots all hit or wound nothing.
  • Coast Guard Reaper (single shot): Four wounds on Elven Warriors (2% probability).
  • Shadow Riders fail their panic test and flee from the battlefield.

Close Combat:

The Reaper crew inflict one wound, which is saved be the ward save. The Fire Phoenix easily kills the crew and overruns from the battlefield.

The Champion of the Tower Guard accepts the High Princes challenge. They inflict the maximum overkill of plus three and win combat by one. The Tower Guard tests on steadfast and remains in the fight.06-he21 07-he22

Turn 2 – Dread Elves

Movement: The Dread Knights charge into the flank of the Ancient Dragon, passing their dangerours terrain tests. The Dark Repeaters rally and the Elven Warriors move a little bit closer to the dragon, but well out of a comfortable charge range of the Coastal Guard.

Magic: 6+3, no channels. The first Moraec’s Fury on the Tower Guard rolls high, but is dispelled with the Dispel Scroll. The second one rolls low and is dispelled with one more die. The small version of Crippling Agony is successful, but the Lore Attribute fails to wound again.

Shooting:

  • Combined shooting of two Dread Reapers and the Hunting Chariot kills the Horse Chariot. Again I made a mistake, by shooting with the Dread Reapers first. The Hunting Chariots Harpoon may have killed the Horse Chariot alone.

Close Combat: The High Prince once again issues a challenge, which I decline this time. The Cult High Priestess cannot fight for the round. In the close combat round the Dread Elves inflict three wounds on the Dragon (Ø 2,6). On the other side the High Prince and Ancient Dragon, using his breath and stomping killed 14 Tower Guards (Ø 12,1). The Tower Guard was steadfast and remained, but we made a huge mistake by testing the Dread Knights on the same roll. Additionally none of us though about the possibility of the High Prince attacking the Cult High Priestess.08-de21 09-de22

Turn 3 – Highborn Elves

Movement: The Fire Phoenix returns to the table, but this time I had my Hunting Chariot placed perfectly, so he couldn’t overfly. The Horse Chariots advanced further. The Coastal Guard was reluctant to charge into the front of the Dread Knights, as the Mage would have been in base contact. So they shuffled around and placed themselves in the Dread Knight’s flank, while the Mage switched to the Archers.

Magic: 3+3, no channels. He casts the large bolts with a miscast, but I use the dispel scroll.

Shooting: Combined shooting of Dread Reapers and Horse Chariots creates four wounds on the Elven Warriors, who profit from really bad rolls, somewhat negated by the inability of the Charm of Cursed Iron to generate even one successful ward save.

Close Combat: The Dread Knight champions steps forward and issues a challenge, which the High Prince accepts. My champion is slaughtered but I win the fight. Within range of the Dragon Banner the High Prince easily remains in combat.10-he31 11-he32

Turn 3 – Dread Elves

Movement: The Dread Elves pile up on the Dragon, as the Elven Warriors charge as well, connecting on the necessary six. The Dark Repeaters perform a swift reform and face the Fire Phoenix. The Hunting Chariot turns on the spot, neglecting a better position for more accuracy in the shooting phase.

Magic: 3+2, Highborn channel. Bad luck on this very crucial phase, where I would have needed a Fury to get through badly. I rolled 5+5+1 on the first attempt, which is dispelled on 5+1+3+2. Then I fail to reach the casting value by one (4+2).

Shooting:

  • Hunting Chariot on Fire Phoenix: Harpoon fails to wound… one wound by crossbows (Ø 1,3).
  • Then I forget my Dark Repeaters and try to use single shot to get the Fire Phoenix anyway, which falls short because of a successful ward save. Next mistake, because the Dark Repeaters then generate two wounds on the Phoenix leaving him at only one wound, which would have been very likely with multishots.

Close Combat: Again the High Prince challenges my heroes, but they decline. He removes the Dark Master from the combat (still oblivious to the possibility to kill the CHP easily). The High Prince inflicts two wounds on the Cult High Priestess (Ø 2,2). The Priestess fails to inflict the crucial one Whip wound on the Ancient Dragon (Ø 0,7). However the remaining troops slay the dragon inflicting the remaining three wounds.

After the fight I make like four horrible mistakes in one, by doing a terrible job on the reforms. Not only did I not face the Horse Chariot which can charge my Elven Warriors. I also made the Dread Knights face the Coastal Guard in a way, that it can overrun into the Tower Guard, which faces the Phoenix, but without any hope of catching him, when he does the foreseeable action and charges the Dark Repeaters.12-de31 13-de32

Turn 4 – Highborn Elves

Movement: The Fire Phoenix charges the Dark Repeaters. Stand & Shoot fails to inflict a wound. The Horse Chariot charges the Elven Warriors and reaches them, taking one wound due to terrain. The Coastal Guard successfully charges the Dread Knights.

Magic: 6+6, no channels. He casts the large version of the bolts, again dispelled, since his roll wasn’t very high.

Shooting: Initially he forgot his shooting and movement of the second chariot completely, we were clearly fatiued. His potential targets were are in good cover and he failed to inflict anything but one wound on the Hunting Chariot.

Close Combat: The Chariot made five impact hits and killed many Elven Warriors, but they stand their break test and reform. The Dread Knights kill one Coastal Guard, while the guard kills one knight. Because of two Standards, attack and three ranks, the Knights have to test on three and fail to do so. They flee of the table with a double six. The Coastal Guard overruns into the flank of the Tower Guard. The Phoenix saves the single inflicted wound and utterly destroys the Dark Repeaters, then proceeds to overrun into the Dread Reaper.14-he4

Turn 4 – Dread Elves

Movement: The Hunting Chariot charges the flank of the Coastal Guard.

Magic: A high magic phase. With my Sorceress only having one spell, I do a deceptive Dread Elves maneuver, anouncing that I should not use more than three dice on my augment spell (on the Elven Warriors). I roll high (6+5+4) and my opponent let it slip through. Nefarious Dread Elves for the win 😉 the Lore Attribute kills one Archer.

Shooting: The Dread Reaper single shoots on the Chariot, but fails to hit.

Close Combat: The Phoenix only manages one wound. Giving me one turn of respite from his attacks. The buffed Elven Warriors easily destroy the Horse Chariot. This time I carefully reform to allow a charge on the Coastal Guard, while maximizing the distance to the Archers, in case they try a desperate charge.

The Cult High Priestess moves towards the action (again I fear we played it wrong, may be this is not allowed). The Chariot only does two impact hits, but Priestess kills four and Dark Master another two. On the other side, the Coastal Guard fails to do any damage. The Tower Guard reforms.15-de4

Turn 5 – Highborn Elves

Movement: The Horse Chariot finally charges the Dread Reaper.

Magic: The bolts are once again dispelled (or he failed to achieve the casting value).

Shooting: The Reapers target the Elven Warriors and maybe scored somehits.

Close Combat: The Fire Phoenix wipes out the Dread Reaper and reforms. The Coastal Guard kills all remaining Tower Guard, but loses every Guard except ten. The High Captain challenges my Cult High Priestess and dies due to two wounds, as he fails both ward saves. The Coastal Guard runs and gets away from the chariot.16-he5

Remaining turns

In the remainder of the match the Dread Elf characters flee into the Elven Warrior bunker. The Sorceress casts a Bolt of Darkness on the Phoenix and kills it. The Highborn Reapers try to kill the Hunting Chariot but fail to do so. The Dread Elves try to catch the last chariot but also fail to do so.

In the end the match took us hours past midnight and we were both very fatigued. I think this is the reason for us missing so many rules. Here are the highlights I noticed after thinking about the match:

  • Cult High Priestess lost Frenzy in the second round of combat, but I kept on adding her extra attack.
  • The High Prince/Ancient Dragon can (and should) attack the character refusing the challenge.
  • The High Captain may not use Hand Weapon and Shield in close combat, because he was wielding a Halberd.
  • The Elven Warriors were not steadfast, because they were in a forest and would most likely have fled the Chariot after being charged in the flank.
  • The Dread Knights would most certainly have fled after the second round of combat, as they do not get the stubborn from the Tower Guard.
  • SH did not really read the Coastal Guard rules and forgot they had Quick to Fire and Fight in Extra Ranks.

As most of those oversights benefit me, the game feels like a draw. A well deserved result for an engaging and really tough battle.

Conclusion

Rule Set

I like the matchup between Highborn and Dread much better, than High vs. Dark. The unnecessary race and matchup specific rules are thankfully gone and the game does not revolve the „who has ASF“ anymore, which completely demoted every unit with great weapons.

Having praised the 9th Age rules until now, I must say, that I dislike the challenge rules more and more. I don’t really see the necessity of that „gimmick“ which seems to be solely there as a fluff rule. Additionally it creates ackward situations. A mighty hero on a monster is stuck because a lowly champion challenges him and for whatever reason  the mighty dragon does not stomp the unit into the ground. On the other way around: How are players supposed to be able to bring down a mighty dragon? Whenever you don’t have a uber-mighty hero you need all your combined forces, but with a simple challenge the Dragon player can always eliminate the strongest hero from the fight (or take all heroes off one by one), making the setup even more favoured for him.

Challenge rules can either be dropped, or if deemed necessary, should be changed for lone characters on monsters (maybe for a challenge, the rider needs to „leave“ the mount and actually face his opponent, while monster and remaining units still fight on).

Otherwise we were delighted by the boost to weapons like hand weapon plus shield and spears. We even thought, that spears should have lethal strike on five and six to further buff them.

Units & Balancing

  • The Ancient Dragon seemed surprisingly fair, but this may come from the fact, that his intended target the Altar of Blood didn’t show up. Without the craziness that are challenges I would see ridden monsters as cool right now.
  • In 8th Edition I never fielded the Black Guard even once. Basically they were stuck between Witch Elves and Executioners. In comparison I like the Tower Guard much more, even if they didn’t fight the intended target in this matchup. Sadly, the Hatred upgrade is laughable conditional and much too expensive and prohibitive. I would remove it completely if you are satisfied with the Tower Guards power level.
  • I like the Heavy Armour option for the Elven Warriors, especially that I felt it is also viable to leave it out (like I did). That is a sweet sport for an upgrade, if both options are equally tempting.

As Highborn Elves and Dread Elves are so easily comparable even minor inconsistencies are easy to spot. Here is my list:

  • Comparing the Fire Phoenix to the Hydra and Kraken, I want to weep. Then I see the Phoenix is cheaper than my monsters. Adding insult to injury…
  • Comparing the Coastal Guard to the Corsairs, I want the people who designed the Coastal Guard to make the Corsairs equally cool. In my mind the Coastal Guard is perfect „Jack of all Trades“ unit, something the Corsairs should be in Dread Elves.
  • I understand why the Dread Elf Heroes lost the Sea Dragon Cloak and assumed, that it was a general decision to remove the access to 1+ armour for elven heroes. Clearly the assumption is wrong, as the Lion Fur got buffed to provide exactly that for Highborn Heroes. I would like to understand the design decision behind that change. This is also true for other things:
    • Why does the High Captain get a cheaper standard shield than the Dark Master?
    • Why is the Giant Eagle so much better than the Pegasus and additionally cheaper for the High Prince?
    • Why is the High Prince 10 points cheaper than the Lord of Darkness?
    • Why do Highborn Elves have two mundane armour options (Dragonforged Armout and Lion Fur) while the Dread Elves have none?
    • Why is the Halberd for the High Prince more expensive than for Lord of Darkness?
    • Why do Highborn Elves have the option for Barded Steeds, but Dread Elves not?
    • Why are the base sizes of comparable mounts not the same? (Giant Eagle larger than Pegasus, Manticora larger than Griffon)

 

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