I never used to make a point of reviewing new army books, however I did it for the new Dwarf book and that post is now one of the most-read on the blog. Wood Elves are another of my armies that has been waiting for an update for an extremely long time, so I might as well repeat the process.
A word of warning: I've noticed that plenty of other people have been offering reviews of the new book (unlike the Dwarf book, where nobody seemed to want to look at it). I have not read any of these other reviews, as I'm not really looking for the opinions of others on something that I can assess for myself. So if you've been looking at other reviews, you may find me covering similar ground. Or my take on things could be completely different – I can't really say.
How things were
First, a few words on how things stood before this new book arrived. The previous Wood Elf book was almost 10 years old, having arrived toward the end of 6th edition. Given that we're relatively close to the end of 8th edition now, this was a very long lifespan for the old book. People have been waiting a long time for its replacement to arrive, and there will doubtless be a level of disappointment after so much anticipation. This may particularly be the case given that the old book was competitive enough when it first arrived, but it had fallen well behind the curve a long time ago. You have people sick of an old and relatively under-powered (or at least mono-faceted) list, expecting their time in the sun. Given that the old days of power creep (where each new book is pretty much guaranteed to be the most powerful) seem to be behind us, so there was never any guarantee that the new book would give Wood Elf players the power to strike fear into all who oppose them.
In the previous book, Wood Elves had clear strengths and weaknesses. The internal balance wasn't great, and it meant that players stretching to compete against newer armies were finding few options. Glade Guard were a core unit who were potent archers with strength 4 longbows at short range, and the whole army could move and shoot without penalty. So your basic building block was archers that could be fielded en masse, and who had the ability to move into position or back off as they shot. There was no armour to speak of (all the cavalry was light-weight and fast), and your only ranked infantry option was Eternal Guard, who at strength 3 were little threat to many things.
What resilience and staying power the army had came from Forest Spirits. Dryads were capable against smaller units but couldn't break through a proper steadfast opponent. Treekin were tough, relatively powerful at strength 5, and offered the only other ranked unit you would ever really see (though at 65 points per model, you never really saw more than a single unit of 8). Treemen were the stand-out with a decent armour save, high strength and toughness, and stubborn.
Only lord-level Spellweavers could access Lores of Magic other than the Lore of Athel Loren, and even then they only had the choice of Beasts and Life. So the magical support for the army was limited, though vitally important. Many players relied on a level 4 Life mage to hold their lines together and give them another ranged weapon in the Dwellers Below. Besides this spell and Amber Spear from the Lore of Beasts, the army was entirely reliant on its bows to bring down the enemy. With no artillery options, anything that couldn't be felled by strength 4 bows was likely to make it into combat.
How things have changed
As you might expect when the book is replacing something so long in the tooth, the updated list is significantly different. A new release always means new models, but there rules have had a complete revamp. I'll give a bit of a run-down in case you don't know anything about the changes yet.
The Elf units in the army all share a rule called Forest Stalker. This gives them Forest Strider, and rules that are the equivalent to the racial traits of the High Elves and Dark Elves (Martial Prowess and Murderous Prowess respectively) when at least half the unit is in a forest. This means they will shoot and fight in an extra rank, and can re-roll 1s to wound in close combat. All the Elves in the army now have Always Strikes First, to bring them in line with the other Elven races. What they do not have is the ability to move and shoot without penalty – this is gone, although it can effectively be replaced using special arrows as discussed below.
Forest Spirits now have a proper 6+ ward save, and they have retained Magical Attacks and Immune to Psychology. So their ward save is weaker, but they will always get it.
Most spellcasters in the army (and there are now plenty of them) get +1 to cast when they're in a forest.
Wood Elf spears are Armour Piercing. Apparently they are sharper than those made by High Elves and Dark Elves. My theory for this is that all Elf spears are made equal, but High and Dark Elf spears are blunted from constantly stabbing High and Dark Elves. I'm not sure that this explanation is covered in the Wood Elf book, but I'm sure it makes sense...
Wood Elf longbows (or Asrai Longbows, as they are rightly called) are also Armour Piercing, however they are no longer Strength 4 at short range for Glade Guard. Many units in the army also have the choice of upgrading their arrows, however the arrow rules then replace the Armour Piercing of the bow itself (although most include it anyway). Whole units can buy these arrows, but they pay per model (anything up to 5 points) and the cost will stack up:
- Arcane Bodkins (-3 to armour saves)
- Hagbane Tips (Armour Piercing, Poisoned Attacks)
- Moonfire Shot and Starfire Shafts (Armour Piercing, Flaming, +1 to wound against Forces of Order and Destruction respectively)
- Swiftshiver Shards (Armour Piercing, Multiple shots 2)
- Trueflight Arrows (Armour Piercing, no to-hit penalties)
This all means you can customise the purpose of your unit somewhat, but your fancy custom Elves will cost you.
Wood Elves still bring a free forest with them before deployment, and it is placed anywhere in their half of the table. The player may also choose the flavour of the forest from the Mysterious Terrain chart, meaning we may well see a lot of Venom Thickets springing up across the battlefields of the Old World.
So those are effectively the army-wide rule changes. Now assume that almost every unit has also changed in some way or another, and you will start to see how different this book is. Where things haven't really changed, I will ignore them. I'll just try to highlight the differences.
Spellweavers and Spellsingers can now use any of the Lores of Battle Magic, with the Spellweaver also having access to High and Dark Magic (albeit with Wood Elf-specific lore attributes). This obviously adds an enormous level of flexibility in terms of what Wood Elf players can try to do with their magic. The playing up of the sinister side of the Wood Elves seems strange to a lot of people, and it's not something I really go for either. But whatever, they've been trying to make the race more insular and grumpy for a long time now.
The Kindred rules for characters are gone, although you can now buy a couple of specialist heroes as separate choices. The Shadowdancer is basically just a Wardancer hero with 2 hand weapons, but he can become a level 1 Shadow wizard should you so choose, and can spend only 25 points on magic items, thus limiting his options. There is nothing stating he has to join Wardancers, however. The Waystalker is a Waywatcher hero with only a single Attack on his profile, but he is a Sniper and can also try to make use of 25 points of magic items.
In a rather cruel blow, just about all Forest Spirits have lost a point of Strength. Dryads are Strength 3, Treekin are Strength 4 and Treemen are Strength 5. Dryads gain Hatred as some form of consolation, but they are also now a ranked unit, which feels strange (despite the fact that they were a ranked unit back in 5th edition). Unless you're going to hit them with a Strength-boosting spell, Dryads are more of a holding unit than an offensive one. But one that will lose its steadfast if it's standing in a forest. Go figure...
Treekin are basically unchanged apart from the loss of Strength, and they are 20 points cheaper per model to compensate for this. At the cheaper price it will be much easier to field a solid block of them, so they will probably be a more popular choice than Dryads.
Regular Treemen are now WS and BS 6 and Ld 9, however they have lost a Wound as well
as their Strength. The
old Tree Whack attack returns, however it's a bit different from days
gone by. The Treeman makes a single attack and if it hits, the target
must take an initiative test or suffer D6 wounds with no armour save.
Treemen are also 60 points cheaper than they used to be, but you have
to pay 20 points for the new Strangleroots (which fire D6+1 Strength
5 shots, but you now have to roll to hit, hence the Treeman's BS).
|Ancients may not fight well, but Durthu is back and|
he is pretty ferocious...
Treeman Ancients are still tough, but are terrible fighters. Apparently they get old and bored, and stop paying attention. They're WS and BS 4, and only have 3 Attacks. They do have 6 Wounds and Ld 10, so they're hard to get rid of. But unless they're Thunderstomping Toughness 3 infantry, they're not going to do much damage. On the up-side, Treeman Ancients are wizards now, using the Lore of Life. A Level 4 Ancient will set you back 360 points and can't get any magic items, but good luck making an Elven Spellweaver anywhere near as resilient.
Branchwraiths have a similar stat line to the previous book, although they are now Ld 9 and are automatically Level 1 Life wizards. This is funny, because they are only 10 points more expensive than they used to be. And they even start to look half-decent when you compare their Strength of 4 to the suddenly less-formidable Dryads around them. Poor feeble Dryads...
Glade Riders are significantly cheaper than before, despite being more capable in combat than they used to be with their Armour Piercing spears and ASF. However, they now have to Ambush, which feels like a major blow to their versatility. I guess it will stop them being shot off the table in the first turn, but it would have been nice to have the choice.
Eternal Guard have an unchanged stat line from the previous book, however their weapons are now regular (sharp) spears. They can get shields, making them one of the most iron-clad units in the army (with a mighty 5+ armour save). They are a proper core choice now, and their Stubborn is unconditional (previously there had to be a character in the unit for them to protect). All in all, they are a far superior unit to Dryads, and are the same price until you buy them shields. The Dryads have an extra Attack and point of Toughness and cause Fear, but the Eternal Guard gain ASF, Stubborn, Armour Piercing and Fight in Extra Ranks, a point of WS, and the benefits of the Forest Stalker rules.
Wardancers have lost their Magic Resistance and the extra Strength on the charge from their Wardancer Weapons, but they are cheaper, come with ASF and their dances have been tweaked a bit. They can now choose to cancel enemy rank bonus, gain a 3+ ward save, gain +1 Attack, or gain Armour Piercing and Killing Blow. All in all, they have come out ahead.
Scouts are a separate special choice now, and when compared with Glade Guard they effectively lose their core status and pay 1 point for the addition of the Scout and Skirmishers special rules. So whether they are worth it will depend upon whether a player buys archers in order to fill up minimum core, or really wants bows in the army.
|Wildwood Rangers. Can't say as I have any models on hand to represent these yet...|
Wildwood Rangers are a completely new unit. Wood Elves with great weapons? Clearly outrageous, and obviously a printing error. Well, maybe not. But it is a surprise to see it. They have the same elite profile as Eternal Guard, with WS 5 and Ld 9. They're not Stubborn, but they are Immune to Psychology. And they get an extra Attack fighting anything that causes Fear or Terror. They're the kind of guys who find horror movies invigorating, I guess. The great weapons will lose the unit any potential re-rolls to hit that they might have had, but in an army that is a bit thin for high-Strength attacks, they will doubtless have a place in many armies.
Warhawk Riders still don't understand the benefits of armour, but they're better than before thanks to their status of Monstrous Cavalry. 3 Wounds and Toughness 4 ensures they take a bit of killing, even if they do insist on riding into battle in the buff. The Warhawks gain Armour Piercing to match the pointy spears and tricksy bows of their riders, and the birds also gain Killing Blow on the charge, because apparently they understand how to swoop on prey better than Great Eagles. Being Flying Cavalry, they can also Vanguard, so they'll be pretty quick to get behind enemy lines (or into them). Warhawk Riders are worth a look now, and they have the distinction of being just about the only Monstrous Cavalry that don't understand what all the fuss is about with Searing Doom.
Wild Riders have an identity issue. They used to be Forest Spirits, but presumably they heard the rumours about Forest Spirits becoming all sickly and weak in the new book, so they jumped ship. Apparently this change unhinged them somewhat, because they're now lunatics with Frenzy and Devastating Charge, giving them a total of 3 Attacks at WS5, S5 with Armour Piercing and ASF on the charge. Even their steeds are Strength 4. In Wood Elf terms, they hit like a runaway freight train. Which is admittedly how they might behave with that Frenzy steering them around. But seriously, these guys lost the plot so badly that they can even get shields, giving them a mighty 4+ armour save. So they might not be Forest Spirits, but they're clearly not real Wood Elves either. For all of that, they are surely a must-have unit for their sheer punch on the charge. Their armour penetration is now the best in the army, outstripping even that of the Treemen.
Sisters of the Thorn are a special unit and read like an admission of guilt in regard to Dark Elf
Warlocks. It's like the writers came back and said, “OK, so we
might have gotten a little carried away with that Dark Elf unit. Here
we present the exact same unit, with nearly everything about it hit
with a big Nerf stick.” Where Doomfire Warlocks are a potent combat
unit (Strength 4 and 2 Attacks), Sisters of the Thorn are a
short-range, javelin-throwing missile unit (BS5, S3 and 1 Attack,
although their steeds are S4). They (and their javelins) have
Poisoned Attacks, but they just don't deal enough hurt to scare
anyone with that. They're a light-weight harassment unit, and are
collectively a Level 2 wizard with spells to fit the mould – Curse
of Anraheir (admittedly a decent spell from the Lore of Beasts) and
Shield of Thorns (an underwhelming spell from the Lore of Life). Like
the Warlocks, the Sisters of the Thorn have a 4+ ward save, however
unlike Warlocks, they don't have the combat profile to make them
really want to make use of that save in close combat. Nor do they get
the ward save against miscasts. Unlike Warlocks. As I say, the unit
feels like an apology for what we found in the Dark Elf book. Some
players might like the idea of Sisters of the Thorn, but they don't
look effective enough to really justify a place in a seriously
competitive list. They're borderline at best.
|Sisters of the Thorn|
Finally we have Waywatchers. They now cost 20 points and can choose from 2 firing modes. They can rapid fire 2 shots each, or they can go for power, in which case their shots ignore armour saves. This could make them a significant inclusion in many Wood Elf armies, although the question then becomes whether you could get the job done with cheaper Glade Guard or Scouts using Arcane Bodkins (you save 2 or 3 points per model, but lose a BS and only apply a -3 save modifier).
Since I seem to have gone through most of the book, I might as well briefly mention the magic items of note. There are 10 in the book, but these are the ones that stand out.
The Spirit Sword costs 85 points, ignores armour saves and if one or more wounds are taken, the wielder and victim both roll 2D6 and add their Leadership values. If the wielder loses, nothing happens. If the victim loses, they take an extra wound for each point they lost by, with no armour saves. Given a Glade Lord is Ld 10 and the variation possible in a 2D6 roll, this might be worth it for a crack to remove something significant. Although he does have to land a wound at Strength 4 first.
Acorns of the Ages cost 100 points, but allow the player to place an additional D3 forests in his or her table half before deployment. This would allow you to carpet the centre of the field with forests, which could be significant given the number of advantages the Wood Elves can get whilst fighting in them. Of course it means you just fielded a naked Lord-level character. So will people think it's worth it?
The Hail of Doom Arrow now uses the Multiple Shots (3D6) rule, but it's Armour Piercing, so worth it. The Moonstone of the Hidden Ways is also still there, and can be used more than once.
So, what to make of all that? It's indicative of just how extensive the changes are that it's taken me so much writing to get to this point. Are Wood Elves any better off with the new book?
I am finding it hard to decide, really. The new book certainly offers more viable choices than the previous one, however players are still going to be forced into a certain style of play. The new army is seriously lacking in combat punch. Armour will pose a real problem if you can't bring your targets down with Arcane Bodkins and Waywatchers. Treemen are no longer the all-purpose can-openers they were before, and Treekin are far more defensive than attacking with their Strength of 4. Wild Riders have serious punch, but are fragile and will do little in subsequent rounds of combat if they don't break the enemy on the charge. They are also frenzied, so can be manipulated.
A lot of this book comes down to magic. No other race has access to 10 different Lores of Magic, and it feels as though some of the changes in this book were made with more than a cursory thought given to the sort of potential that can offer. What happens if the player takes Shadow and starts dropping enemy Toughness with The Withering, or hits the Dryads with Midrazor? With easy access to Beasts magic, do we need to worry about how each unit would look with Wyssan's Wildform on them? I'd like to think that it wasn't as simple as this, but I do find myself looking at some of the units (mainly the Forest Spirits) and consider what spells are required to really get them pulling their weight. Without magical assistance, they're all highly defensive with good Toughness and poor Strength.
Magic will also be relied upon to bolster the fire-power of the archers. A handful of Waywatchers ignoring armour is great, but there's nothing like boosted Searing Doom to put a hole in an advancing unit of Demigryphs or Skullcrushers. No doubt players will arrive with a good number of Glade Guard toting magic arrows of various types, but that alone may not do the job.
Whilst magic can indeed be used to fulfil a number of roles, the army can't possibly rely upon it to cover all the bases. If the player is left thinking that way, the list is flawed. For me this list feels very defensive, with the only real exceptions being the Wild Riders, Warhawk Riders and the Wildwood Rangers. It's possible that you could form an aggressive style of play around such units, but they lack resilience and at face value the list feels like it's meant to sit back and shoot, and then try to fend the survivors off with Forest Spirits (who might be tough enough to survive, even if they won't threaten in return). I'd have preferred a book with a less pre-defined play style to it, but it's possible that different approaches will prove viable with a bit of experimentation.
I'm glad the wait is finally over and the new book is here. And I'm glad that there are more choices, including with the magic. But are Wood Elves set to be a new world power? I don't think so.