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HE Tactics: Cavalry Attack

Hi all,

There has been a lot of bashing about HE all cav armies, and i decided to post this tactica written by George Photopoulos from the Direwolf egroups. This was written by him about 1.5 years ago. I have found this article an interesting read and thru my own experience is spot-on on the strengths and weakness of such an army. Unfortunatly he has lost his analysis on the Rare section of the army list but the Character, Core and Special aspects are complete. I hope it can enlighten you as well as give you new ideas for other ways of playing HE, and Kudos to George for his analysis.

Good Hunting!

HE Tactics: Cavalry Attack.

HE is currently one of the hardest armies to play. Their high point cost means that every single model in a high elf army is invaluable to the battle plan, and their frailty means that no matter what you do, you are bound to lose quite a few of your models during the battle. Furthermore, you will usually (i.e. except when playing against other elves) start the game outnumbered, a situation attrition can only make worse. The key therefore is to even the odds as soon as possible. The traditional way to do this has always been with your ranged offensive (spells and shooting). The reduction of the effectiveness of HE shooting, coupled with the extremely high cost of HE mages (and the relatively cheap magic defences available to most armies) have made this a much less attractive method.

A tactic that is constantly gaining in popularity under the v6 rules, and one preferred by top HE players, is to use heavy cavalry (SH, DP) supported by chariots and “fast manoeuvre elements” (heroes on flying monsters, fast cavalry) to deliver combined charges to enemy units and take them out of the game. The very high mobility of elf units means that depending on your opponents’ disposition (i.e. whether they advance or hang back), such charges can be set up in one or two turns, and delivered on the HE player’s second or third turn. From then on, victory or defeat depends on remaining on the move, which in turn depends on breaking/destroying the enemy unit(s) in a single combat round.

In order to successfully execute the above plan, the HE army has to fulfil the following requirements:

a) It must be more manoeuvrable than the opponent.

This may seem like a no-brainer with the high M of elves, but one must also factor the numerical odds. An outnumbered army can easily get surrounded, and the difference in M negated due to the presence of enemy units all around. Therefore, an elven task force attacking the enemy must have sufficient numbers to retain local superiority. The key word is local. Your enemy may have 200 models on the table against your 60, but if your 8 Silver Helms, one chariot and 5 Elf Reavers can all charge his 30-strong unit, and none of his other units are close enough to interfere, the HE have local superiority.

Attaining local superiority starts with your deployment. Usually it is difficult to do so during deployment, as elves normally have fewer units than their opponent. The elf cavalry army however, usually has many small (5-8 model) units, and so can manage this better than other elf armies. The key is to study your opponent’s deployment and decide where your main thrust will be. Then you have to calculate how many turns it will take you to get there, and position your units so that they can threaten your chosen area during the crucial turn. Furthermore, a RBT placed all alone in a flank will (except if your opponent has flying monsters/units) tie up more than its point value of troops, as its shooting is enough to panic small ranked/skirmisher/fast cavalry units, regular ranked units are usually worth more than 100 pts, and if your opponent decides to ignore and advance down the centre or along the other flank, you can shoot single bolts against his units’ flanks, which can be devastating to Knights and other expensive, heavily armoured troops.

The need for local superiority should guide all your movement decisions during the game. You should always manoeuvre your units so that they are positioned in mutually supported positions and facing a smaller number of enemy units. If you manage that, you should be able to create a breach in the enemy line that can be exploited for the rest of the battle.

b) It must negate the +4 bonus of fully ranked enemy units (+4 for ranks, +1 for outnumber).

The most obvious solution to this is a flank/rear charge from a US5+ unit, which negates ranks + outnumber (flank charge) or negates flanks + outnumber and also gives you a +1 bonus (rear charge). A less obvious way is to frontal charge the enemy units with two or three elements which can cause enough wounds between them to win the combat with a large enough margin. This only works against certain enemies, but when it does work it has the extra advantage of being unexpected. Generally, when the odds are good you can break an enemy unit head on, you should take the risk, since the alternative cautious approach will inevitably lead to the elves’ doom. If for example your 8 Silver Helms and two chariots are facing three Skaven units, you should charge one of the enemy units with all three, and hope to break it in one turn and then pursue it thereby getting out of the other two units’ charge arc. It is true that if this fails, you’ll probably get flank charged by two of his units and destroyed, but the same will happen if you hang back or if you charge with your units piecemeal.

c) It must take into consideration the enemy’s ranged attack.

The frailty of HE means that should your army be subject to a strong ranged attack as it is advancing towards the enemy, only tatters will remain to engage the enemy force. Therefore you must either protect your army (deployment, use of terrain as you are manoeuvring, Shadow Magic to move your force faster across the board) or defend it (shooting/magic protection in the form of mages and magic items). A common suggestion is to protect valuable troops with skirmisher screens, but HE Shadow Warriors are too expensive both points-wise and as opportunity cost (they are a Special choice like your Reavers, Dragon Princes and Chariots), so they aren’t at all suitable for this role. If you are contemplating loading up on Archers and RBTs and going for counter battery fire, don’t. Your archers pay points for their high WS and I, which are completely useless when shooting, so you’ll end up paying more points than your opponent and getting less effective shooting than he does.

d) You must seize the initiative and retain it at all times.

The “seize the initiative” part has already been covered in paragraph a)(aggressive manoeuvring to create favourable conditions in one particular area on the battlefield), so let’s move on to the “retain it”
part. You must always, always maintain your aggressive mentality, and continue setting up charges and charging your opponent. There’s no such thing as consolidation when playing HE. Your troops are either in HtH as chargers, in which case your opponent has to suffer S4 (spears). S5 (lances) and S6 (characters with lances) attacks as well as the vicious kicks of your Elven Steeds before he is able to strike back, or they are T3 sitting ducks, vulnerable to anything stronger than a light breeze. This is a big adjustment from the days when HE were a defensive army, with RBTs, glittering ranks of Spearmen and Archers awaiting the enemy onslaught. It’s a new version now, and a new HE army.

The HE cavalry army is like a rapier. Wielded with skill and used to thrust, it can deliver a deadly blow to the enemy’s vulnerable spot. Try to hack or bludgeon with it though, and you’ll end up with a broken blade.

Part B of my HE cavalry tactics article:

Let’s examine the units that can be used to successfully execute the plan outlined in the first part of this article. The units you use will generally be of two types: “fast” units, and “strike” units. “Fast” units are the ones racing around (or over) the enemy to attack from the flanks and rear, negate rank bonus, and generally turn your opponents carefully arranged battleline to shambles, while “strike” units are the ones you’ll use to attack the enemy frontally (supported by “fast” units attacking from the sides/rear or
other “strike” units also attacking the same target frontally) and create a “breach” for your units to exploit.

1. Characters

1.1 Lords

1.1.1 Elf Prince

The Elf Prince is overpriced compared to the HE commander (who is already overpriced compared to other races’ heroes), especially since his biggest advantage (Ld10) might not come into play due to Intrigue at Court. The only redeeming factors are his ability to load up on magical items and especially his ability to ride terror-causing flying monsters. The best items available are personal protection items, which he doesn’t really need unless mounted on a Large Target. When you put him in a unit, the items you need are unit protection items, which aren’t worth more than 50 pts anyway, so unless he brings his pet Dragon or Griffon, the Prince should probably stay at home. When you do bring him and his big nasty along though, remember that he has the punch of a “strike” unit, coupled with the movement of a “fast” unit, and that he can break an enemy unit on his own when charging from the flank or rear. Against low Ld hordes you can also use a Dragon to land behind the enemy lines and terrorise some units, and panic some more with your breath weapon. The best way to use terror is to fly over the enemy and land immediately behind an enemy unit. If they fail their test at the start of their turn, they will flee away from the cause of the terror i.e. towards your advancing cavalry. Declaring a charge on those fleeing units with your cavalry will usually allow you to catch and destroy them.

1.1.2 Archmage

Most people who play a cavalry army don’t field one, due to the high point cost. While I agree he is overpriced, I usually field one as my sole mage (Lvl 3), with Seer and 3 Dispel Scrolls (a few times, when I know I’ll be facing a very magic-heavy army, I just take 5 Dispel Scrolls). 320 pts for a glorified scroll caddy might seem absurd, but in my experience he works quite well, for a number of reasons.

First, Leadership: taking an Archmage and a couple of Commanders means you don’t have to worry about Intrigue at Court, as all your characters are Ld 9.

Second, magic defence: he is the equivalent of two Lvl 1-2 mages in Dispel Dice and can take more Dispel Scrolls than two Lvl 1-2 Mages

Third, magic offence: with Seer you can choose the spells you’ll have for the battle, and with Lvl 3 you’ll get 50% of the spells, so you will be pretty sure to have spells that can really make a difference. You might not get many spells off during the game, but my strategy is to cast two spells per turn: one very cheap one with one die and a really good one with four dice. Four dice gives you a fair chance of IF, and with an average result of 14, he has to use at least four of his own Dispel Dice (or a Scroll) to dispel. Assuming you did not miscast, your opponents’ odds of not rolling a double 1 and automatically failing his dispel are probably further reduced (you have already rolled four dice, and scored 0-1 1s, average is 0.66, so the occurrence of 1 is either 0.66 below average or 0.33 above average).

Fourth, surprise/threat factor: If your opponents know they might end up with a comet, conflagration of doom, or flames of the phoenix hitting them, they will spend some points on magic defence (the minimum being about 100 pts for a mage and one scroll). If they know you will only be fielding a Lvl 1-2 mage they might take their chances with a no-magic army. In the first case, spending 320 pts compared to your opponents’ 100 gives you a 220 pt deficit in points but you can completely shut down his magic phase, and cause some damage in yours (he has 3 dispel dice and one scroll, and you have 5 power dice/turn). Were you to field just a Lvl 1-2 Mage with 2 Dispel Scrolls against nothing, you’d pay 135-170 points, you wouldn’t worry about his magic (except the odd item), but he would be able to defend somewhat against your magic offence (he has 2 dispel dice and you have 3-4 power dice turn). A Lvl 2 HE Mage against a no-magic army would get as many (or almost as many) spells off as a Lvl 3 Archmage vs. 1 defensive enemy mage, but the spells themselves wouldn’t be as good (you wouldn’t get to choose them, and they’d be lower value spells), and the point deficit difference is only 50 points (220 vs. 170). 50 points to add an extra dimension to your army is a good buy in my opinion.

1.2 Heroes

1.2.1 Commander

A Commander is the most flexible character in the HE army. Your choices about his equipment and mount will determine the role he will fulfil on the battlefield. The “Flying Commander”

Mounted on an Eagle, your commander becomes a combination “fast” and “strike” element. You can use him to fly behind enemy lines and attack a unit from the rear, preferably together with a “fast” unit attacking from the flank. With the “fast” unit negating the enemy’s ranks (flank charge) and banner (+1 Flank bonus), your Commander and his Eagle have to cause 2 Wounds to win combat by 3 (+2 Rear Charge, -1 Outnumber, +2 Wounds), giving you a good chance of breaking the enemy unit. He can also attack war machine crews, lone mages (assuming your opponent is careless enough to leave them exposed in this way) etc. Giving him an enchanted spell-casting item like the ring of Corin also might be a good idea, as his superior mobility allows you to position him very close to your target. The “Unit Booster”

A regular Commander mounted on a barded Elven Steed, with lance, armour of your choosing, and maybe a unit protection item. Riding together with one of your “strike” units to provide extra punch, or riding together with your Reaver units (remember, his steed has ithilmar barding), when you try to negate the ranks of a really tough unit. (it is no use flank charging a unit -Chosen Chaos Warriors for example- that can cause three or four casualties to your Reavers in order to negate ranks, but if your Commander rides with them, his three S6 attacks will probably allow you to reduce the enemies fighting back, and hence the wounds suffered by your Reavers, thereby making this charge a risky but viable option). “Ben Hur”

Putting your commander on a chariot gives you a juicy combination of impact hits and US5. Unfortunately, your chariot’s inability to march means that you cannot send it around the enemy’s flanks, but there are two very good uses for a hero-ridden chariot.

First, when before the enemy’s battleline and facing his units, you can use your chariot to charge the flank of a unit adjacent to the one it is facing, assuming the gap between the enemy units is large enough to let the chariot through (it usually is). Combined with a heavy cav charge to the front, this should break the enemy unit easily, creating a hole in the midst of the enemy battleline.

Second, when you have created a breach somewhere (through combined charges, terror, magic or whatever), your opponent is bound to turn some of his units to and face the “fast” elements posing a threat to their flanks/rear, or to move units laterally to plug the hole in his line. Then, in a role-reversal, your US5 chariot previously at your opponents’ front is now in his flanks/rear and can charge his unit to negate ranks and either break the unit on its own, or allow a unit of Reavers to charge from the front without having to worry about that +3 Rank Bonus. BSB

A Commander can be upgraded to BSB. In a cavalry army, with the offensive tactics it is required to use to survive, the main functions a BSB normally performs (steadying the line by providing Break Test Re-Rolls) is not very useful. You’re in deep trouble if you have to take Break tests with a HE cavalry army. What the BSB can do is provide a more expensive, much more frail, harder hitting alternative for a Champion and Std. Bearer, especially if you want to include magic banners in more than one SH unit. This is usually not worth the points in my opinion, but it might work for some people. An expensive, risky option that can allow you to break enemy units head-on with your SH is a BSB with Battle Banner, especially if you have a Second Sign of Amul caster in your army. It’s just that you never know if this guy will prove devastating to your opponents’ army or your own (he is worth many VP, especially if he ends up the general, and he can easily be killed). The “Oddball”

Sometimes, when you are facing an opponent with particular quirks in his army selection/use you might want to consider more unusual Commander configurations, such as giving one a magic bow and sending him to hunt (alone or with a Reaver unit) that 400 pt fully loaded solitary Lvl 4 Mage your opponent has a habit of fielding. Experimenting with different configurations and tactics is one of the joys of Warhammer so my advice is to go by trial and error (oh, and please let me know the results).

1.2.2 Mage

High Elf Mages are quite expensive so in a 2000 pt game you’d have to spend about 700-800 pts for a strong magic offence, which would leave you with too few models in a cavalry army. It is vital to remember therefore that should you decide to field a mage, his role will be defensive. A Lvl 1-2 Mage might turn out to be a liability for your army due to Intrigue at Court, so he might prove a risk. As mentioned before, an Archmage is usually preferable as your sole Lord. When fielding a Prince on a terror-causing monster however, you absolutely need at least one more dispel die to defend against spells cast against the 400+ pt model (and there usually will be quite a few of them). This can be provided by the Prince himself (by making him a Lvl1 Spell caster), or a Lvl1 Mage with a couple of Dispel Scrolls. In my opinion, there is not a single “right” choice when deciding whether or not to field a Mage, and what to equip him with. As with any defensive measure, the key is to anticipate your opponents’ plans, and be prepared accordingly.

2.1 Silver Helm Knights

The Silver Helms will be the mainstay of every HE cavalry army. You will have at least three units of them in a 2000 pt battle (to fulfil the minimum Core requirements). Due to a last-minute change in the HE book (ithilmar barding for SH was removed), barding is not an option and so the movement of Silver Helms’ Elven Steeds is always 8, so the only reason not to buy extra armour is to save some points. Assuming you have 4 units of 8 SH, not buying heavy armour and shields for them would save 32*4=128 pts, which will buy 6 more SH, with some points to spare (maybe a command model for the 6-strong unit).. Keeping in mind that the plan is to break the enemy in the first combat turn, armour doesn’t matter so much (if you are doing well, not many enemies should get to strike back) in HtH. So, the decision to take more armour or more units hinges on the enemy’s ranged attack capability (magic and shooting). When you know your units will be under heavy fire as they advance across the table, that extra armour might make a difference.

8 SH with full command cannot break a fully ranked enemy unit when charging it frontally so don’t try it. You might pull it off if the SH unit includes a melee HE character, but only against certain opponents, and only with a modicum of luck, so unless you are a gambler, don’t try that either. Be patient and set up your charge together with a chariot or a Reaver unit attacking from the side.

You can significantly enhance their ability by taking the Banner of Ellyrion (creating a unit with the punch of a “strike” unit and the movement abilities of a “fast” unit). Taking the Lion Standard and including a Pure of Heart character in a unit will give you a unit that has a very high chance of getting across the table no matter what (your opponent has to kill them to the last elf with shooting/magic or cast a movement impeding spell on them to prevent them). As mentioned above, a melee commander (or Prince) will also greatly boost their effectiveness.

SH Summary:

What they are good at: Advancing across the table quickly, working together with chariots, causing wounds when charging.

What they are not good at: Breaking enemies by charging them frontally on their own, fighting multi-turn combats.

Ways to improve them: Banner of Ellyrion (movement), melee Commander (combat punch), Pure of Heart+Lion Std (Psych Immunity).

3.1 Ellyrian Reavers

One thing to keep in mind when using Ellyrian Reavers in a HE Cavalry army, is that they can be used in two ways. They can operate independently from the rest of your army (in order to achieve a specific goal, such as neutralizing a Hellblaster protecting a flank) or they can be used to support your strike units (mainly by charging the enemy from a flank and thus denying rank bonus). In the first case, you might consider giving them bows, especially if you send them hunting Ratling Guns (you cannot charge RGs as they get to stand and shoot, but you can stay more than 15″ away, shoot a volley, and then move within short range for your bows and shoot another). Always keep in mind that independent Ellyrian Reaver units are there either to hunt weak and exposed enemies (warmachine crews, wizards, skirmishers etc) or to lure away/deny marches to powerful enemies. Usually independent Ellyrian Reaver units will operate on the flanks or behind enemy lines.

When you are using Ellyrian Reavers as support for your strike units, bows aren’t useful, so don’t buy them. You should also remember that what is most important is that they retain a US of at least 5 in order to be able to remove rank bonus. Units of 6 models seem to accomplish that quite well, as they can afford to lose half their number and still perform their assigned task. The best position for support units is between two strike units, so that they can threaten two enemy targets and keep your opponent on his toes. If you only plan to use your support units there however, you might want to examine whether you really need the +1M and free reform(s) of the Ellyrian Reavers, or whether a small SH unit can do the job just as well and you can save a Special slot. If, on the other hand, you believe that you’ll have to do a lot of fancy manoeuvring to threaten your enemies’ flanks, the Ellyrian Reavers are an absolute must.

Command models should be limited to a musician. You might want to buy a standard for an independent unit, but if you really need that +1 to CR to break your target, then it shouldn’t have been your target in the first place. Never buy a Harbinger. 14 points for +1BS must be one of the worst buys in the whole game (an O&G opponent for example has to spend 13 points for a Champion with +1 WS, +1S, +1A).

Ellyrian Reavers are very useful, but they are a bit overpriced. Furthermore, they take up Special Choices, thereby limiting the number of Chariots and Dragon Princes units you can field (DP are 0-1 anyway), so always make sure you really need all the Ellyrian Reaver units you are planning to field.

Ellyrian Reaver Summary

What they are good at:

Running around the battlefield, hunting weak units, being hunted by strong units and supporting your strike units

What they are not good at:

Fighting enemy combat regiments, absorbing enemy ranged attacks.

Ways to improve them:

Bows (when needed), Reaver Bow character (for hunter-killer missions)

3.2 Dragon Princes of Caledor

Ah, the Dragon Princes. I must admit they have always been my favourite HE unit (even when they were 43 points each). The 6th version Dragon Princes are quite useful, and you should seriously consider including them in any HE Cavalry army as your elite strike unit. They are Ld 9, faster than the rest of your strike units because of the ithilmar barding, and better suited to deal with WS4 enemy troops. They can take a magic banner, and their champion can take a magic item of up to 25 points. They also have fire resistance because of their Dragon Armour.

Their speed, high AS and high Leadership mean that they can withstand enemy fire better than any of your other troops. When you reinforce this trait with the Standard of Balance (or Lion Std and Pure of Heart character), you can create a unit that your opponent has to kill to the last model to prevent it from reaching his lines. Bearing in mind that the Lion Std and Pure of Heart combination can be used in a SH unit, you could easily have two of those units. The Std. of Balance also makes DP extremely effective against enemy troops with Hatred or Frenzy and protects them from Fear and Terror.

Another function they can perform is to neutralize or reduce the effects of Intrigue at Court by giving their Drakemaster the Blessed Tome. If you field solely Ld 9 characters (an Archmage plus Commanders), putting the General in your DP unit will make him Ld 10, so you are guaranteed a Ld 10 general (they can of course also turn your useless Ld 8 General into a Ld 9 General which is the same as most enemies have – in that case remember not to use the General when testing for the DP themselves, as they are Ld 10). You can also put your general away from the DP, and lend his Ld to your other units and use the DP as a mini-general (in that case they will be Ld 10 themselves and other units within 6″ will be either Ld9 or 10 depending on whether they include a character or not).

The Banner of Sorcery is a good choice if your plans rely on the magic phase (they really shouldn’t with a HE cavalry army) and the Banner of Arcane Protection provides excellent magic defence plus added punch against Demons or Undead. The banner of Ellyrion is unsuitable for the DP both for fluff reasons and because you usually want the DP to be part of a strike force, not operating on their own.

The only case when you will have a DP unit operating independently is if you decide to use them as a battering ram to create a breach in the enemy lines. Reinforcing them with a melee character, or with a BSB with the Battle Banner and raising their number to 12 will give you a unit that can frontally break fully ranked enemy units and create an opening for the rest of your army to exploit, but such a unit would be hideously expensive, and therefore this tactic is very risky.

Dragon Princes Summary:

What they are good at:

Providing leadership for your army, coping with Frenzied/ affected by Hatred/ Fear-causing enemies, getting across the battlefield.

What they are not good at:

Multi-turn combats

Ways to improve them:

Characters (Fighters, Leaders, CR-Boosters), Magic Banners, Blessed Tome.

3.3 Tiranoc Chariots

The Tiranoc chariot has a really important advantage: it is a single model. You can use its combat capabilities ((D6 S5 hits, 2WS4 S4 attacks and 2 WS3 S3 attacks) to the full even when only touching a corner of an enemy model’s base, and therefore you can use your chariot to support your strike units charging enemy units frontally. So, you must always remember that your chariot is only supposed to charge ranked enemy units together with cavalry unit(s). Furthermore, unlike the rest of your units the chariot does not lose any of it’s combat ability when it suffers wounds.

The most important disadvantage of the chariot is its inability to march, which makes setting up a combined chariot-cavalry charge a challenge. When facing a stationary enemy army (such as Dwarfs or shooting-heavy Empire or Skaven), you are frequently forced to decide between risking your cavalry in
unsupported charges, or exposing them to a round of heavy fire as you wait for your chariots to catch up with them. A solution is to deploy chariots forward of your cavalry and hope to start second. In a pitched battle, if you deploy your chariot 2″ behind your deployment zone limit (i.e. at least 26″ away from the enemy) and your cavalry 7″ from the limit (i.e. 31″ away from the enemy), you can avoid most of the enemies’ shooting (range for missile weapons being either 24″ or 30″), and then move your troops forward and probably be within charge range on turn 2. Of course, enemy warmachines and/or 26″+ range missile weapons can still destroy your chariot(s), but it is better to lose an 85-pt chariot than to lose a cavalry unit because of Panic. Also, with T4, a 4+ save and 4 wounds, your chariot can withstand some punishment, especially from low strength weapons, so don’t be afraid to risk it.

It’s inability to get into a flanking position quickly combined with US4 makes the chariot absolutely useless as a flanker so don’t try any fancy manoeuvring with them. Just make sure there’s enough room for them to charge the enemy together with your strike units. Once in a while, you might also pull off a two-chariot frontal charge and break the enemy, but I wouldn’t depend on it too much.

When using chariots in a HE cavalry army, don’t forget the crew has bows. It’s highly unlikely you’ll manage to get anything out of them, but they’re there and they are paid for, so why not use them? Also, for some mystical reason, when your two puny S3 shots actually manage to kill/Panic something,
that something is usually quite important for your opponent’s plans.

The extra steed for the chariot (extra WS3 S3 attack) should only be purchased if you are finished with your army selection, and you find out you have 7 points to spare. If you have 14, buy a SH Std. Bearer or Champion instead.

Tiranoc Chariot Summary:

What they are good at:

Supporting the charges of your cavalry units

What they are not good at:

Keeping up with cavalry, breaking enemy units by themselves, flank charging the enemy.

Ways to improve them:

None (for characters on chariots see the Charioteer entry in the Characters section).


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