9th Age 1.2: Dread Elf Review

Introduction

With the release of the rules 1.2 all the army books got a redesign as well. The Dread Elves were one of the few factions which got more than a little points twisting as the army book was deemed in great need of a re-design.

In this review I will go over the changes in the book, with a small evaluation, whether this is a buff or a nerf. After that I’ll take a look at the major rules changes and how this affects the game overall and the Dread Elves in detail. Last my own comment regarding the design of the changes comes in, commonly referred to as „the fun part“.

Part 1 – The Changes

Army Organisation

The Dread Elves more or less got the categories which could be foreseen. Core and Characters remain on the default setting. „Raiders“ at a 25% limit define how many Repeater Crossbows the army can field and limits the Dark Raiders in the core, no matter if they are packing Crossbows or not. „Destroyers“ contains the ranged shooting with more strength and comes in at a low 15%. Again this is something we already saw in 1.1 where Hunting Chariots and Dread Reapers all got moved to rare to limit their numbers. With this cap we can field either two Hunting Chariots, three Reapers or one chariot and two Reapers. Menagerie clocks in at 30% which is quite much. The big mounts (Manticore and Dragon), the Divine Altar, the Hydra and the Kraken count towards this limit.

Magic Items

As the changes are already completely detailed on the Change Log (page 21) of our army book. I will only write a short evaluation of the changes to Items and army entries here:

  • Headsman’s Axe – [Nerf] Heroes can no longer hold it and one of the few Assassin builds in the game is gone. It got slightly cheaper for Lords.
  • Beastmaster’s Lash – [Nerf] Is now so close to Hero’s Sword (which is cheaper) it might as well be not there. The design is obviously in transition, so it will be changed in the future. In the meantime it’s more expensive than the Hero’s Sword and is useless.
  • Dagger of Moraec – [Doesn’t matter] The new rules effect goes away from the casting value route and onto the „makes spells better“ path. Unfortunately the Dread Elves don’t have access to paths were this would bring any benefit. As the item was useless before, it’s not a nerf, just swapping one unusable item for another.
  • Banner of Gar Daecos – [Buff] Got cheaper.

Army List

Again all changes are completely described in the changelog:

  • Dread Prince – [Buff] Infantry got cheaper. [Nerf] but all mounts got significantly more expensive (Elven Horse even doubled in price).
  • Captain – [Undecided] got a little more expensive, but also gained a wound. Mounts got more expensive.
  • Cult Priest – [Nerf] More expensive, mounts more costly and weapon options as well.
  • Oracle – [Nerf] Huge price increase. There are some new combinations, which are attractive and LD 9 is nice. But the „normal“ L2 Oracle now costs 250 instead of 200. All mounts also got more expensive.
  • Assassin – [Nerf] Lost some special rules and can now count towards an additional cap in the army. Also lost the option to take the Headsmen’s Axe, which is huge drawback for this guy.
  • Elven Horse – [Even] Now always includes 5+ which is good
  • Pegasus – [Nerf] Now always includes barding which is bad
  • Manticore – [Nerf] I like the Multiple Wounds more than Mount’s Protection (6+)
  • Dread Legionnaires – [Buff] Lost the Heavy Armour option which was suboptimal, therefore forcing everybody to play with the better option. I detailed that in [this post][http://www.the-ninth-age.com/index.php?thread/16790-dread-legionnaires-comparison-of-light-and-heavy-armour/]
  • Repeater Auxiliaries – [Buff] Slightly cheaper. Also the new rules benefit this unit, as it doesn’t need to take a standard anymore, making it effectivley 40 points cheaper.
  • Dark Raiders – [Nerf] Count towards Raiders, even if they don’t have crossbows
  • Raven Cloaks – [Nerf] Got more expensive, but gained Light Armour. That however does nothing good for them. The lost Poison option in close combat is not a deal breaker, as Great Weapons are their best weapon option anyway, which does not need Poison as much.
  • Tower Guard – [Buff] Finally they got the WS6 they deserve. Got more expensive 10-19, but cheaper at 21-30.
  • Raptor Chariot – [Buff] Slightly cheaper. Doesn’t change anything for me, but cheaper is cheaper.
  • Executioners – [Buff] Got cheaper, which is a huge buff, but that buff is partly negated by Heroes having three wounds. Their MW rule got 50% worse with that. As they are still worse in mowing down enemies than Tower Guard, their niche got a little bit smaller again.
  • Dancers of Yema – [Buff] Much cheaper for additional models.
  • Medusa – [Buff] Slightly cheaper. See Raptor Chariot.
  • Dark Acolytes – [Nerf] Moved to special, but lost really strong spells and instead got significantly weaker ones. If taking a champion I would advise on buying Yema option as well.
  • Hunting Chariot – [Even] Lost option of Giant Bow which was suboptimal anyway.
  • Dread Reaper – [Nerf] Bolt Throwers got better due to the changed penetration rule, but this also cuts directly into the Multishot option of the Elvish Bolt Throwers, which now isn’t worth much anymore. Additionally the price is really high now.
  • Divine Altar – [Nerf] This was foreseeable, the old Altar was vastly overpowered. The new one is still good, but very far from the old one.
  • Kraken – [Buff] Finally the LD8 patch we all have been waiting for. The price increase hurts, but I can live with that. I expect this to be the first step into the right direction.
  • Hydra – [Buff] see Kraken.

Part 2 – The Rule Changes

I am not going to adress all rules changes here, but focus on the major changes the rulebook brought and how they affect the Dread Elves.

Army Restrictions

As said before. We lost the option to make all cavalry and are slightly limited regarding destroyers. Otherwise list building has not been hindered much. Our crowded Rare Section is gone, Dark Acolytes are even in special.

Counterthrust

I honestly cannot foresee if this deployment is good or bad for us. If you play aggressively with the Altar being only 18“ away from the opponent, might mean some easy charges turn 1 with Hunting Chariots or Acolytes.

Magic Phase

This is a huge hit for the Elves overall. Witch Fire is most deadly for Elves, as they have low toughness and only moderate armour. Since every miscast triggers a Witch Fire this means: No matter which miscast, you will lose valuable troops. There is a huge difference in impact (e.g. compared to T4 Orcs or Warriors) and value of lost troops (e.g. compared to Clan Rats or Empire Light Infantry). Elves suffer the most and this results will always happen, usually with a lot of hits. Additionally Magic got hit very hard with the Nerf Bat, meaning that we cannot deal that much damage anymore as before. We lost access to some paths, but every army did and I don’t think anybody can foresee all the implications already. One however is clearly visible: Armies that do not rely on magic spells (bound spells without wizards, no reliance on magic) received a huge indirect buff through this.

Albeit the fact, that magic got a lot weaker, the casters were not discounted and especially the Oracles are still very expensive. A Shaman (S4, T4, W4, A3) costs only 10 points more, a Wizard (EoS) is 40 points cheaper. The main feature of Oracles: They have LD9 and can replace the Dread Lord in a minimal character army list (Oracle General + BSB).

Command Group

Quite some relevant changes. The new scoring/standard bearer rules allow MSU lists to act more effectively. Musician changes may hinder the Dark Raiders a little bit, as they might get march blocked more often than before. Auto-Fast-Reform is (very) slightly bad for us, as the good Elven morale usually let us do that and prevent the occasional shooting from an opponent. The changes to victory points help the MSU approach very much. Definitely a boost for Dread Elves here.

War Machine Profile

Hard to say how this will affect us. It certainly means, that Dread Reapers are less susceptible to poisoned shooting, but easier to overcome with damage spells or normal shooting. On the other side, magic is now much better able to wipe out enemy war machines.

Artillery Weapons

Bolt Throwers got better. But that also diminished the value of repeating shots quite a bit. Aside from clearing one rank chaff, the normal shot nearly closed the gap to the multishot in many situations.

Catapults rule changes go down as a minor buff for us in my book. Catapults can not hit as many models as before and now units with larger bases suffer the same amount of hits as our smaller models. Also modifiers from Skirmishers or Hard Target are applied as well (I know, maybe we even get a good skirmisher unit at some time).

I didn’t play versus enough Flame Throwers to give an estmate here. The rules for Cannons should not change very much for us.

Magical Items

Overall the change in magical items is quite a big nerf to the Elves overall. As their elven combat heroes all have S4/T3 they rely on armour, wards and magical weapons a lot. If you already have S5/T5 you don’t need that Ogre Sword and a 3+ armour save might still be enough. The major changes here are not in the weapons category, but on armour, enchanted and arcane items. Mithril Mail got severly more expensive, as did the Dragonscale Helm. The Hardened Shield got a hefty -3I attached.

Still more important may be the changes on Crown of Scorn, Æther Icon and Dispel Scroll. This means for only 80 points any enemy without a wizard may have good magical defense. If that army has access to bound spells, it might not need a wizard. On the other side, the dispel scroll for armies bearing magic got very expensive and other Arcane Items also vanished.

Part 3 – Author’s comment

Are the drastic changes a good thing?

Definitely yes. The reasoning of the Rules Team regarding the rules changes to War Machines (no more templates), doubled points and army structure is sound. The changes follow a clear principle each on its own. The same is true to a lesser degree to the paths of magic.

The rule changes to War Machines change some strange stuff from the past (why are 25×25 models less affected for example) and remove clunky handling of templates (I have custom made grid templates just for that reason, and even with those we often had to roll that 4+ die). The rules effect should be not too much, you can still hit a buttload of models. Flame Throwers also seems reasonable, as is the penetrate rule.

Reading balancing discussions in the forums it also became apparent, that there is not enough wiggle room for balancing models `<10` points. By doubling the points, you don’t have to change anything in the game balance and immediately get twice the possibilities. I would actually have considered just multiplying by ten. It would give ten times the possibility to change stuff (minor reason) and the change would have been lower in terms of familiarity, because the players‘ minds could just cross out the last digit for old values. But doubling works as well.

Army structure has been detailed in the 9th Scroll and I fully agree. The changes in the past, which often resulted in stuffing any- and everything into rare were always a bit off and created countless „but rare stuff should be better“ threads in the forums. I saw a lot of threads that demanded a buff to Raven Cloaks just because they got moved to rare. Now you might answer, that moving to rare is just to avoid spam, but that clearly did not reach the minds of all players. In 1.2 every army has the tools to balance their spam choices without much change in other areas.

Some players also commented that the change is „too much“. I cannot get behind this at all. To call it reasoning would be insulting to the term „reasoning“ in the most cases. Change is what drives 9th Age. It started very close to WHFB in games terms. A game that was so horribly unbalanced, that nearly everybody needed to introduce their own comp, to get at least the most abusive builds under control. It had armies like Beast Men and Tomb Kings, which were so incredibly underpowered, that losses very basically unavoidable. Starting from this, 9th Age moved blazingly fast and managed to produce a game, that is better balanced than WHFB ever was. If you don’t want change, go ahead play WHFB 8th and enjoy triple Pegmaster, double Warlocks, Death Magic-Six-Dicing-Purple-Sun games. If you don’t want change, but also a balanced game, you are a hypocrite in my eyes.

Magic: Idea good, execution bad

The only problem and also bad reasoning on the Rules Team side is on the part of magic. Now there are quite some changes, I try to summarize them as this:

  1. Remove spell categories (like Vortex)
  2. Do not fit all paths into the same schema
  3. Make Paths spell selection more distinct
  4. Reduce number of spells, make them more unique
  5. Reduce the overall power level of magic in the game

Let me give you my comments on each of those areas:

1. I think this is a very good idea. Many special things can be condensed into other effects, which are very similar. Reducing the amount of the rules in the game is a very hard but also worthy effort. The goal is a complex game not a complicated one.

2. I see the thinking behind it, as it also allows more tools for balancing things. However it also increases „complicatedness“. For example now you always have to take care, whether the path has an attribute or not. For me this is a sideway move, the ups and downs cancelling each other.

3. I was very excited by the 9th scroll text indicating, that paths will be more specialised and move away from the two of this, two of that rule. Sadly, the team fell short of really doing this. A lot of paths stayed just at what paths have been doing in the past: Some damage, some augments, some hexes (Alchemy, Divination, Evocation, Cosmology). Even Druidism and Shamanism both retained at least one damage spell. I would have liked more boldness, and for example make Witchcraft Hexes only (nearly there, just two Augments…). So the design seemed to be more bold than the execution. Still the execution is a great step forward and the paths now have more clear strengths and weaknesses than before. Together with the sharp decline of accessibility the paths can now contribute to the distinctiveness of the armies. However balancing the paths will be more important than ever. In the past an overpowered Path of Fire was okay, because nearly everybody could take it. If Thaumaturgy proves over powered this problem is much bigger now.

4. This worked out okay, but I am still disappointed. Why? There are quite a lot spells, which have exactly the same effect. Awaken the Beast and Perception of Strength: Both +1 Strength. Unity in Divergence and Enveloping Embers: Both S3 hit for all models. Deceptive Glamour and Scrying: Both Distracting and Hard Target. What is the point in reducing the number of spells, when you still have so many doubles?

5. This is my main problem with the magic changes. While I understand and support the previous steps and maybe critisize the execution, I cannot accept the reasoning nor understand the goal of that change. Magic should be a crucial part of the game, I think we can all agree on that one. The magic phase already is limited very much by the totally random nature of spell selection (imagine you need to roll you gear for your unit before the game) and the totally random nature of magic flux (imagine you’d need to roll before movement how many moves you are allowed to make), and the hit and miss between choosing enough dice to cast a spell (not reaching casting value often means phase is over) and having too many and risking miscast (also ending the magic phase). This randomness basically put a hard cap on how many points to spend on magic. Unlike other phases where you could invest a lot of points and then get a huge advantage in that phase (possible for movement, by investing in chaff, shooting by investing in shooty units and close combat by investing in slower but better combat units) this was never possible with magic. As the randomness was so swingy, the dispel scroll became necessary to remove the possibility of losing the game, just because your enemy got lucky magic dice rolls.

Instead of tackling those very bad mechanics, which trouble players since day one of 9th age, the team decided that spells may not win games, greatly improved the magic defense of „no wizard armies“ and simultaneously made all spells weaker or more costly. While simultaneously making miscasts more dramatic. A great mistake in my opinion.

My list of design goals would have been:

  • Make spells less potent individually, allowing players to cast more spells per phase, but for overall the same effect as in 1.1
  • Create a magic system that does not rely on the dispel scroll as a fail save
  • Make the whole phase much less random (no winds of magic, no random spell selection)
  • Do not create scenarios where something is hit or miss (achieve casting value: 100%, miss 0%, in between: nothing)
  • Create a system, where a Wizard Master has a significant but balanced advantage over Wizard Adepts (e.g. small boost to every spell, can carry more arcane items, etc.)
  • Create a magic system, that allows the same amount of domination if someone invests their points there as it is true for the other phases
  • Creating an army with no wizards can be benefical, but should be risky, and certainly not a common valid strategy

Balancing Changes in Dread Elves

Finally the conclusion! My Dread Elf nature made me put this at the end and let you wait for it extra long. To understand the changes in 1.2 one must look further than BRB, Paths of Magic and Army Book and also look at the other armies. One thing that is apparent: 1.2 was Nerfhammer time again. Something I approve of. Most armies got significant nerfs to their book, low caps on strong options or individual nerfs to their most often played units. In light of this, I view the treatment of Dread Elves on two main topics:

1. Despite it being a huge nerf round, our units have overall not been nerfed, some even acquired some point reductions or better rules. This is in comparison a significant buff.

2. The Divine Altar has been brought down from the easily best entry in the book. In my opinion the old design was not only bad as it promoted deathstars in a non-deathstar-army, it was also completely overpowered. The new Altar has a better design for the blessings, but suffers from a bad execution. The blessings are well divided into defense, cc-offense and movement. The problem is the effect of the blessings which is not strong enough. Sadly, the other rules of the Divine Altar overshadow this, as War Platform and strong features in close combat will make the Altar a mainstay. Many players wanted War Platform for different reasons. For an army that is supposed to be MSU/MMU this is completely wrong. Not only does the War Platform rules once again promote massive single units, it also is worthless outside of an unit, as it can only march when within a unit, and therefore loses too much ground each turn, when running alone. The old design, much better suited a MSU army style, where the chariot provided additional close combat independent from another unit and with great range. So my verdict is:

  • The altar needed a change: Check
  • It needed blessings to support MSU style: Check
  • The blessings should relevant or be the main feature: Fail
  • The rules should not guide towards deathstar: Fail

Taking a deep look in my crystal ball: The War Platform rule will continue to cause big trouble in the playstyle of Dread Elves. The Altar will be played often, but many times the blessings will make little difference and instead the huge combat capability and the additional ranks will turn the tide. Ultimately I expect the War Platform to be removed again, to the great dismay of many Dread Elves players, who will not only critisize the lost War Platform, but also the back and forth.

3. The magic rule change is a nerf to the Elves in general and all magic reliant armies as a whole. Witch Fire as mandatory miscast result hits us very hard. I expect less magic and much less Oracles overall. I expect Acolyte Champions to make up a large portion of our casting.

4. Sadly, the Rules Team seems to be undivided or very inconsequent on whether the Dread Elves should be the MSU army. I didn’t like the last point adjustments of 0.99 which introduced the discount on the initial ten models and the huge increase for additional models. The reason was, that the DE army completely lacked the rules, items, and support to make such a playstyle valid. Additionally the units good at minimum level didn’t receive the price structure. Although I did not like the changes, I had trust in the Rules Team, that they would focus and strengthen that aspect in the army througout the time, especially as the Divine Altar redesign was publicly anounced and specific MSU friendly designs were asked for. I could get behind the idea, that DE should excel at this playstyle, meaning that other things would get taken away or weakened (like losing War Platform on altar, increased cost for further models and so on) in trade of lowered initial costs. Then came the Standard Bearer change, which I also think is good for MSU as our units can score without banners and multiple banners stack. What happened now? The cost structure of our elites got turned back, making larger units cheaper and smaller ones more expensive. Why? Why? Why? Why? And then the Altar with War Platform. The Rules Team (or Balance Board?) sends very mixed signals here, which I consider a supreme mistake. They are toying with the armies identity and primary playstyle here (guys, I said primary, not only, calm down if you don’t like MSU/MMU)!

My stance remains: If you want to define the primary playstyle, you need to support this theme in every element of the army. You need to have core units that support it, as well as elite units. The max efficiency of the army should be reachable with that theme, and nobody else should do this quite as good. If that playstyle contains inherent weaknesses, the army needs to have some tools to eliviate (not annihilate) that weakness. It also needs to have magic items and special abilities for this. My prime example is Beast Herds, which I think do have a great design on making them the best cc-ambush army. They have Hunting Call on their Beast Lord to make them the best ambushers, directly negating a weakness (units might not appear) of the playstyle, which would demolish a tactic relying on many ambushers otherwise. They also have Dark Rain and Pillager Icon, as Magic Items dealing with the weaknesses of close combat armies against Gunlines and the lack of march movements of chariots. You don’t have to know if these items are perfectly balanced. Their design fits and the point values can be adjusted in the end. What I am missing for the Dread Elves is a similar design that permeates the Dread Elf rulebook. I am aware, that the re-design for the Dread Elves is only happening now, after 1.2 has been released. The problem for me: The latest point adjustments show a great difference between a coherent design that dictates points values. Instead it seems, costs are increased and decreased on a purely statistical or individual level without looking at the bigger picture. Maybe these adjustments were correct from individual units, from an overall look on the army book, these were certainly adjustments in the wrong direction and for the longer term I would much rather have liked the Dancers of Yema to stay at 180/28ppm instead of 200/22ppm even so I am aware, that the later is much stronger overall. I hope this change is not an indicator for things to come, but more of a Balance Board short fix, until the proper redesign of the Dread Elves army book.

Verdict

1.2 is awesome, I am very happy with the general direction, despite the flaws (which sometimes are just my opinion) I still see. Even better is the improved communication from the 9th Age Rules Team to the community. As an involved member on the boards, I finally get a hint of the feeling to be really included and valued. Further improvement on this part is definitely welcome and I also think mandatory to keep the players involved.

Dread Elves made a side step, while most others were nerfed, but lost their #1 unit. Overall I expect Dread Elves to be slightly stronger than before.

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