Monday, March 26, 2012

Preferred Enemies: Skaven Slaves

The purpose of this edition of Preferred Enemies is to focus on the core unit in the Skaven army, the Skaven Slaves.  The Skaven Slaves are an extremely versatile unit; they are able to be chafe, harassers, bunkers, anvils and blockers.  Before we go into how to defeat the Skaven Slaves unit, we will discuss how they are used in the current game and the options available to them.  The unit is absolutely cheap, each model only being 2 points each which means for the cost of a single Wood Elf Glade Guard you can buy 6 Slaves.  The minimum unit size is 20 and for ½ a point each you may add spears, shields or even slings.  A fully kitted out Skaven Slave with spear, shield and sling will run you 3 ½ points.  No one will spend that many points on a single slave mind you but that’s an option.  

Skaven Slave Stat line:
M5 WS2 BS2 S3 T3 I4 A1 LD2

Skaven Slaves are able to take advantage of Strength in Numbers so their LD2 can be boosted to LD5 with 3 ranks, higher with a character or if the General is nearby they may take advantage of the LD10 bubble.  Skaven Slaves also have the Expendable and Cornered Rats rules.  Expendable means that the unit the Slaves are engaged in Close Combat with may be fired upon by other Skaven units.  Hits are randomized during the exchange (Skaven hold Slaves in even less regard then their fellow rats – oddly enough).  The other rule is Cornered Rats, when a unit of Slaves breaks in combat they do not flee but rather do 3d3 hits plus 1 hit for every rank in the unit against all units within a certain distance then the Slaves are removed from the game.

Skaven Slaves Uses:
Chafe: Units of 20 sent forth to serve as redirectors and roadblocks to prevent key units from reaching the core of the army.
Harassers: Units of 20-40 sent forward scurrying armed with Slings and sometimes a character much like a Warlock Engineer (sometimes with a Brass Orb or Doom Rocket).  These units tend to serve as cheap replacements for Gutter Runners but their main use is to harass units that are either ranged, war machines or serving as a bunker for a wizard.
Bunkers: Units of 20-40 serving as ablative wounds for a wizard or warlock engineer. Common tactic is to throw a Plague Priest into the unit and get in range to cast.
Anvils: Units of 40-100 (if serving as an anvil usually 60) fielded 5x12 providing the unit steadfast with a character nearby or in the unit and serving to absorb as much punishment as possible while the other harder hitting units in the Skaven army (doomwheels, abominations, stormvermin, plaguemonks, etc..) slam into the side of the now entrenched unit with the Slaves.  This is generally the use seen in most armies these days – it’s effective and cheap cause 80 slaves armed with shields (so they can get a parry save) will only cost you 200 points.
Blockers:  Several units of 20 (usually 3-4) lined up directly in front of the War machines or an area where the Skaven general wishes to delay their opponent to reach.  Commonly they are used to protect War machines and send into combat and shot up by the war machines they were protecting.

The Wood Elf army has a severely difficult time with Skaven not because they have so many hard hitting units but because they outnumber most Wood Elf armies 6 to 1.  It is extremely difficult for a Wood Elf general to deal with the sheer number of Slaves that many generals field just due to the amount of firepower required to deal with a single unit. 

Common Methods to Deal with Skaven Slaves as Wood Elves:
1. The Skaven Slaves are only Toughness 3 so they are normally wounded on 4’s at long range and only on 3’s at short range.  When there are several units of Skaven Slaves to deal with you need to make the decision if you are going to attempt to cause a chain reaction panic test or just annihilate a singular unit.  Due to the LD10 of a General with a +3 rank bonus and a BSB nearby, it gets rather difficult to pull off the panic test when they are in range.  Summary: Focus Fire with Ranged Attacks til Dead.
2.  The Skaven Slaves while numerous do not hold up very well against a full onslaught of heavy monstrous infantry and infantry.  Appropriate flank charges with Dryads and Treekin have an excellent chance to break the unit.  The primary issue is to break the Steadfast since most large close combat Slave units will have 10 ranks and it is rare to have a unit in the Wood Elf army (sans Eternal Guard) to have more than 2 ranks.  I have found that Treemen, Treekin and Dryads provide an excellent amount of blender action to shred an entire unit of 40+ slaves provided the General has been taken out by the other units in the army. (This will be detailed in a later option).
3. Most Skaven are Strength 3 and therefore very susceptible to spells like the Lore of Life spell “Dweller’s Below”.  This spell in particular has the chance to remove half if not more of the unit.  Amber Spear is another good spell to use but that would be better suited to nuking a war machine or Doomwheel.  The Transformation of Kadon into a Black Mountain Chimera (or whatever it is with the 4d6 attacks) is another definite viable option in this instance, especially if you can flank or rear charge with it.
4.  Rather than focus on the huge unit of Skaven Slaves, concentrate firepower on the unit with the General and attempt to neutralize him.  If it is a Grey Seer on a Bell then attempt to shoot him off.  If the general happens to be mounted on a Rat Ogre or hidden in a unit of 40+ rats, cast spells and shoot at the unit as much as possible till the General has been slain.  Reducing the LD from 10 to a max of 7 is a huge boost against units like Skaven Slaves since they begin to lose their tar pit functionality.
5.  Fear and Terror still have a use against Skaven Slaves, if they are out of range of their General and lack a character, the most they will have for LD is going to be 5.  This makes them easy fodder for Terror charges and failing Fear tests in close combat and needing 5’s to hit.  

Things to Avoid:
1. allowing the Skaven General to use his Slaves to redirect your Monstrous Infantry units where they can be flank charged or shot with a Warp Lightning Cannon/Plague Catapult/Warp Fire Thrower/etc…in the flank.  The Skaven Slaves are very adept at providing an annoying tar pit that won’t break due to Steadfast and sets the opposing player’s beefy unit up for flank charges from units like Rat Ogres or war machines.  General rule – when Skaven are lined up in front of you at an angle – don’t charge and attempt to move back and allow your ranged units to do their job.  
2.  Try to avoid allowing the Skaven Slaves to serve as a bunker for a Plague Priest, Grey Seer or Warlock Engineer.  These three casters have the ability to not only debuff a unit but delete one in a single turn.  Items like Doom Rockets and Brass Orbs hidden in a Skaven Slave unit can wreck the Wood Elf army since they are magic weapons and disallow the Forest Spirit Ward Save (stupid god damn rule I swear to God…ok rant off...).  General Rule – bunkers = kill as fast as humanly possible.  Magic is one of the key strengths of the Skaven army; don’t allow them to capitalize on it.
3.  Allowing Skaven Slaves to blockade the heart of the army.  Skaven generals like to field 3 units of 50 slaves for 300 points and organize them 5x10.  When the opposing general moves within range then the Skaven general will reform the 3 units into 10x5 and block off an entire section of the board while the Skaven wizards and war machines rain death from afar and in safety.  The best way to avoid this is to focus all close combat units on to one of the huge blocks and open up a flank to bypass the other two units and enter the Skaven backfield.  

I have found that as a Wood Elf General it is imperative that I perform the following functions as soon as possible when dealing with Skaven in order to combat the onslaught of Slaves.  
1. Assassinate the General as quickly as possible – breaking the Leadership of the army is imperative to dealing with the Slave bunkers.
2.  Knowing when to not charge even when there are Slaves 1” away.  Sometimes it is in your best interests to allow them to charge, disallowing the redirection and spending resources to remove the annoying unit may not be the most favorable option but it will help prolong the life of your key close combat units.
3.  Only charge in the flank or rear.  – I try my best to never allow a unit of slaves to every have their face in base to base contact with my units.  I need to maximize the amount of carnage my elite units can dish out in order to hopefully counteract Steadfast.  Fighting near a forest or in a forest is generally preferred.
4.  Kill all bunkers – Pretty sure this is self-explanatory but … charge/shoot/spell units with wizards in them to death.

While these tactics can and are used against other units in the Skaven army (and honestly in general game play against most armies) there are key tactics that Wood Elf generals will need to use due to the options available to them in the current Wood Elf army book.  There are a few really good resources out there to see how Skaven players play (resources I use to read up on tactics that my local Meta may not use), few such resources are in my blog roll such as: Rhellion’s Tabletop and Warpstoned. I also read the Under Empire forum.  I recommend checking out those blogs and that forum.

That is it for this edition of Preferred Enemy, I’ll try to release one every week or two.