Strangely after all this time the 9th Age is around now, I never faced the undead hordes led by the Vampire Covenant before. This was about to change on 2016-08-24 as EM and I battled it out, for the first time in this combination.
The game size was 2500 points with the standard set of rules and no deviations. We played at my place and I still haven’t got around to pretty up my gaming table, so the terrain will look crappy once more.
- Dread Prince – General, Manticore, Heavy Armour, Dragonscale Helm, Ogre Sword, Talisman of Supreme Shielding
- Captain – Battle Standard Bearer, Raptor, Hardened Shield, Sword of Strength, Dusk Stone
- Oracle – Path of Fire, Level 2, Dispel Scroll
- Oracle – Path of Fire, Level 2, Tome of Arcane Lore
- 14x Blades of Nabh – Full Command
- 12x Repeater Auxiliaries – Musician, Standard Bearer
- 5x Dark Raiders – Repeater Crossbows, Shields
- 7x Dark Raiders – Repeater Crossbows, Shields
- 5x Harpies
- 6x Dread Knights – Full Command
- 23x Tower Guard – Full Command, Banner of Blood
- Divine Altar – Altar of Yema
- Hunting Chariot – Harpoon Launcher
- Hunting Chariot – Harpoon Launcher
This time I brought the Manticor again. It has been some time, since I moved away from the Killer Prince setup. Versus the Undead the time seemed right as I expected a heavy commando bunker from my opponent and planned to play around it. I also fielded all the other options available to me, that I favoured in my Dread Elves review: The Hunting Chariots were supposed to help me with the strong multi wound modesl from the Vampire Army. The Tower Guard should provide the necessary ranks and hold the ground when necessary, especially with the help from the Divine Altar. The Dread Knights with BSB would be my second hammer to hit my opponent where it hurts the most. Repeaters acted once more as Oracle Bunker and chaff removal. For re-directing my opponent I brought two units of Dark Raiders and as a late additione squeezed in one unit of Harpies. Blades of Nabh were supposed to protect a flank or fight through some lower stuff.
- Vampire Count – Brotherhood of the Dragon, Eternal Duelist, Wizard Level 1, Path of Necromancy, Ogre Sword, Armour of Destiny, Hardened Shield
- Necromancer Lord – Wizard Level 3, Path of Necromancy, Talisman of Supreme Shielding, Eye of Setesh
- Necromancer – Wizard Level 1, Path of Necromancy, Dispel Scroll
- Barrow King – Battle Standard Bearer, Hero’s Sword
- 30x Skeletons – Champion, Musician
- 40x Ghouls – Full Command
- 5x Dire Wolves
- 5x Dire Wolves
- 7x Ghasts
- 4x Vampire Spawn – Skirmish
- 3x Vampire Knights – Blood Ties, Full Command, Black Standard of Zagvozd
- 5x Wraiths – Ghost Steeds
- Dark Coach
EM played his Ghoul formation with Vampire and Barrow king in there and a Skeleton bunker to protect the Necromancers. Other than that and the chaff in form of the Dire Wolves, there were no small models on the table. All the other stuff was really well protected from normal shooting (Ward Saves, Regeneration and Skirmishers) and quite deadly in close combat. On the downside they lacked ranks, this combined with my Manticor and Dread Knights meant, that it would be a challenge for both of us to charge the enemy but not get charged oneself.
We rolled pretty unimpressive for terrain. It often stuck where it was placed and since we didn’t have any war machines hills were also not very important. Deployment was classic and secondary objective was „Hold the Ground“. So far, so unimpressive.
Spells brought three Invocation of the Undead for EM. The Necromancer Lord also got Mockery of Life and Curse of the Dead. The rolls were a little bit unfortunate, but I didn’t understand, why he traded away all spells that could do something „on their own“. As it was, he was stuck we resurrection and close combat buffs. Nothing for before close combat really.
For me the rolls were almost perfect: The first Oracle with the Tome rolled 1, 1, 3 and got the coveted double. I chose to get the Flaming Swords to also have a close combat buff and traded Firebolts for Fireball. The Cascading Fire I kept to be able to force my opponent to use power dice to remove the effect. The second Oracle rolled 2 and 4 and chose Burning Ramparts (my choice versus the Ghouls) and Fireball.
EM won the roll and decided for the left side. I nominated him to deploy first. After we switched some vanguard units (I put Raiders and Harpies on the top, while he setup Dire Wolves on the flanks) he set his Ghouls dead in the centre. I grabbed that opportunity to put all my fighting units on the lower flank.
Afterwards he finished to setup his units:
In hindsight, this may have been the deciding mistake in the game. His ghouls are now on the flank of the lower part of the table. Too far away to get into close combat quickly. His lower flank is also not strong enough to push me nor does he have an anchor to just run forward and provoke charges.
With +5 I secured beginning first.
Movement: With my main battle line I form a little crescent. The Repeaters dictate the speed by moving the Oracles barely into 24“ range for the nearest targets. The Blades of Nabh move full forward, trying to squeeze past the flank.
Magic: 6+5, Dread Elves channel. Magic starts with a boom. Medium Fireball on the Wraiths (6+5+4+2) goes through, but only kills three Wraiths. The Raging Fire kills one Wolf. Another medium Fireball (6+6+2+2) is also let through. The Fireball easily deals seven wounds. Raging Fire destroys two more Wolves. Sorcerous Backlash deals one wound to the other Oracles and removes all my remaining Power Dice. He saves one die with the Eye of Setesh.
- Upper Dark Raiders on Dire Wolves: Two wounds.
- Centre Dark Raiders on Dire Wolves: Two wounds.
- Hunting Chariot on Ghasts: Wounds, but regenerated.
- Hunting Chariot on Vampire Knights: No hits.
- Repeater Auxiliaries on Dire Wolves: Seven hits, no wounds…
Close Combat: None.
Movement: The remaining Dire Wolf tries to charge the Harpies (11+) but fails.
The rest of the army slowly advances and stays out of easy charge range.
Magic: 6+3, no channels. Invocation on Skeletons (4+3) raises six. Invocation on Wolves (2+1) fails. Invocation on Wolves (2+2) is dispelled (6+4+2). Curse of the Dead on Vampire Spawn (6+4+2) is not dispelled (3+2+2).
Close Combat: None.
Movement: Dark Raiders charge the remaining Wolf on the top flank. Other stuff re-shuffles and moves slightly backwards to increase the necessary charge rolls to 11+ again. The Blades barely missed the opportunity to sneak past the Black Coach. The Oracles recognized, that there is not ranged threat and leave the Repeaters. Positioning themselves once again for crucial Fireball and Raging Fire ranges. The Harpies arrive in the centre to re-direct when necessary. The larger group of Dark Raiders moves into the flank of the Ghouls and out of line of sight of the Skeletons.
Magic: 6+2, Vampires channel. Small Fireball (6+2) on Ghasts plus Raging Fire fail to do any wound. Flaming Swords on Repeater Auxiliaries (4+3+2) is not dispelled (2+2+1). Raging Fire deals no wounds. Medium Fireball (4+4+1) on Vampire Spawn (6+6+5+4) is dispelled.
- Dark Raiders on Ghouls: Two wounds.
- Repeater Auxiliaries on Ghasts: Two wounds.
- Hunting Chariots: Both nothing on Ghasts.
Really bad decision from me there. I could have easily wiped out the remaining Wolves. It was quite clear, that I wouldn’t be able to outshoot his invocations on the Ghasts.
Close Combat: Dark Raiders kill the last Wolf and reform.
Vampire Covenant – Turn 2
Movement: No charges. His troops basically mimic the stuff from Turn 1: The troops advance carefully, setting up charges for the next turn. I think EM might have forgotten to move his Ghouls.
Magic: 5+3, no channels. Invocation as Aura (3+1) dispelled (5+2+1). Invocation as Aura (4+4) is successful and heals two ghouls and the Ghasts. Invocation on Wolves (6+5) also successful, brings the Wolves to starting size. Mockery of Life on Skeletons (6+4) is also successful.
Close Combat: None.
Movement: Now the door is open, the Blades of Nabh slip past the Line of Sight of the Black Coach. The rest slowly backs away from the Undead once more, while the Dark Raiders continue to circle around the enemy.
Magic: 3+2, no channels. Great Fireball on Vampire Spawn (6+5+3+1+1) is dispelled via Dispel Scroll.
- Dark Raiders on Skeletons: One wound.
- Dark Raiders on Vampire Spawn: One wound.
- Hunting Chariots on Black Coach: Two wounds.
- Repeater Auxiliaries on Dire Wolves: Three Wounds.
Close Combat: None.
Movement: EM gets twitchy and tries several long distance charges: Ghouls on Hunting Chariot (11+) fail and move six inches. Ghasts on Tower Guard (11+) fail and move three inches. Vampire Knights on Tower Guard (9+) succeed. Black Coach on Repeaters (11+) fails and moves six inches. Vampire Spawn on Hunting Chariot (12+), fails and is blocked by Ghasts. Skeletons move up as do the Dire Wolves.
Magic: 4+3, Dread Elves channel. Invocation Aura (2+2) is dispelled (4+1). Invocation Aura (4+3) is dispelled (6+5+1). Invocation on Vampire Spawn (6+6) goes through. Sorcerous Backlash deals one wound to the small Necromancer.
Close Combat: The Tower Guard attacks first and deals three wounds. The two remaining knights also deal three wounds. The Tower Guard wins the fight by one, causing the Standard Bearer to crumble.
Movement: Time to take advantage of those failed charges. The Manticor and the Dread Knights charge the Black Coach. The Hunting Chariot charges the Dire Wolves. The Harpies fly directly before the Ghouls in an angle to direct the overrun away from the action. Blades of Nabh move around the flank, while the shooting units stay behind. As does the altar.
Magic: 4+3, no channels. Small Fireball on Vampire Spawn (2+1) fails. Big Fireball on Vampire Spawn (3+2+2+1+1) also fails.
Shooting: No wounds.
- The Dread Prince and the Captain both manage zero wounds, but the Dread Knights destroy the Black Coach quite easily. Manticor overruns but not far enough to reach the Ghasts. Dread Knights reform.
- Hunting Chariot kills the two Dire Wolves via impact hits and reforms.
- The Tower Guard dispatches the Vampire Knight champion.
Movement: Vampire Spawn charge the Manticor. Ghasts charge the Tower Guard but fail. Ghouls charge the Harpies.
Magic: 6+5, Dread Elves channel. Invocation on Skeletons (5+1) raises five Skeletons. Curse of the Dead on Vampire Spawn (6+5+3+3) dispelled via Dispel Scroll. Mockery of Life on Vampire Spawn (6+5+1) is dispelled with all seven dispel dice. Invocation on Skeletons raises another five Skeletons.
Shooting: No wounds.
- Ghouls and Vampire Count kill the Harpies and reform.
- Dread Prince and Manticor do seven wounds on the Vampire Spawn. The Spawn fails to do even a single wound and crumbles nearly completely.
Movement: Tower Guard, Altar of Yema and Dread Knights all charge the Ghasts. The Tower Guard fails, the rest connects. The Hunting Chariot charges the flank of the Vampire Spawn. The other Hunting Chariot circles around the Ghouls.
Magic: 3+2, no channel. Flaming Swords on Dread Knights (4+4+4+2+1) is not dispelled (6+4+3) by one! Raging Fire kills two Ghouls.
Shooting: Not rolled anymore.
- Hunting Chariot deals three impact wouns to the Vampire Spawn
- Dread Knights and Altar do nine wounds in total. Ghasts do one on the Altar. Raptors do another four wounds. The remaining Ghasts crumble to dust completely.
At this point my opponent surrenders the game.
Deciding Moments, Mistakes, etc.
I already talked about it during the deployment phase, but I think major parts of the game may have been decided before Turn 1. The Ghouls were the only rank and file unit that I wouldn’t want to charge with anything straight on (maybe with a combined charge). Even in that case, the Vampire Count alone could kill a lot of stuff. All the other units were strong, but were severly lacking in the „can take a charge“ situation. As the Vampires did have no ranged threat, he had to come to me, which made setting up charges nearly impossible, which brings me to point two.
Chaff! Once again I had the upper hand here. The Harpies delayed his 700+ points of Ghouls and Characters for one crucial turn, while EM was missing chaff to either save his units after his failed charges or setup situations, where he could advance safely behind the chaff. It would also have been easy to use the Vampire Spawn to deflect the Dark Raiders or roll up the flank as then I would have had to use considerable forces to prevent them from flank charging me.
The main point during the game were of course the risky charge on turn 3. I could see, that EM did the right thing on turns 1 and 2: Advancing carefully and relying on his ability of triple invocation to heal any wounds my shooting could be doing. But it was clear, that Fire Magic would be able to clear his chaff and he didn’t bring enough to wipe that off. I think the right play would have been to use Vampire Spawn for one flank and the Knights across my Blades of Nabh.
On my side I already mentioned the unfocused and erratic shooting. I should have instead focused on one target at a time. Since half dead units would be raised again anyway. Apart from that my plan worked very well.
Reading the Vampire Coventant army book made me very jealous. The book seems to have tremendous internal balance. I thougt about a dozen valid options, Nosferatu with casting buff wagon, Zombie horde with Cadaver Wagon. Strigoi Vanguard Ghouls with Hatred and so on. Barrow Guard seem good as well as the options my opponent took. What I did underestimate even after reading the book was the ability to regrow units and shrug of shooting: The Black Standard, the Coach, the Ghasts Regeneration, all combined with good toughness and the armour of the Knights. These are some tough nuts to crack.
Other than that balance is really hard to evaluate. All close combats were so horribly one-sided a win for the Vampires would have been enourmous, except maybe for the Vampire Spawn versus the Manticore. Still the Spawn have only their Toughness and the Manticore has multiple wounds and attacks before them.
On the Dread Elves I played only what I view as the strongest options: Tower Guard with Banner of Blood, Dread Knights, Manticore, double Path of Fire, Hunting Chariots, Dark Raiders and Harpies. The Auxiliaries once again managed to kill almost nothing via shooting and were basically a standard bearing bunker, which I didn’t need. The Blades I could easily field, as the Undead have close to no shooting and not very many armoured units. From those options the strongest two by far were on first position the Path of Fire. Not really a Dread Elf specialty. So sad, that Path of Black Magic is so weak in comparison. Second the Dread Knights, who are just brutally good on the charge and gain massivly better by any buff you place on them (e.g. the Flaming Swords, which is nearly perfect for them).
Of the things I didn’t take, the Dread Reapers are most likely the ones in most other lists. I opted against them, as I like two Hunting Chariots much better than three Dread Reapers. Against armies like Vampires that rely on Toughness and Ward Saves, the multishot is not really that good. I have to admit, I am finally at a point, where I would say the Dread Reaper got so expensive, that it’s far away from an auto-include. The one thing I deliberated was to switch my BSB+Dread Knights setup for an BSB+Dark Acolytes setup, which would have been nearly the same points. In the end the higher grinding power and resilience of the Dread Knights led me to the Knights.