So as everyone knows, I play Skaven. I have so many plastic rats in my basement that it's a common hangout for my cats who take some sort of sick pleasure in batting around plastic imitations of what ordinarily they would consider food. I've played Skaven off and on for over 14 years now and I've only ever skipped a single Skaven book in that time frame and that was the previous incarnation which took out my beloved Doomwheel. Since I plan on appearing at the Warhammer Fantasy Championships at Adepticon next year, I decided this would be a great time to discuss the tactics of my favorite army.
Every army in Warhammer Fantasy offers a pretty unique experience since very few of the armies play exactly alike. When first looking at investing in Fantasy it is usually a good idea to look inward and try and decide what *you*, as the player, want in an army. Skaven armies come in many varieties but all of them share a few general themes; Hordes of models, dangerous yet unreliable technology, and mediocre troops. So if any of those things are on your list of things to avoid, then Skaven most definitely aren't for you.
To better aid the newcomer, the savant, or the curious people out there, I will endeavor to address the the general strengths and weaknesses of the Skaven army below
- Numbers: More than any other army in Warhammer Fantasy, Skaven embody the idea of a horde army. If a Skaven army doesn't outnumber their foe by a significant ratio then the Skaven player will fight an uphill battle to win the advantage.
- This strength directly offsets the weaknesses of being weak (Low Strength) and soft (low toughness and little to no armor). Skaven may not put elite troops onthe board but they do put mediocrity on the table in gross quantities.
- This advantage also allows the Skaven to circumvent their primary weakness of unreliable leadership: most of the time. Thanks to the Strength in Numbers rule the more Skaven in a unit the more reliable their leadership. Also, most Skaven units are cheap enough to start with 5 or 6 ranks and thus maintain steadfast for an inordinate amount of time.
- Magic: Skaven magic consists of two spell lores which offer drastically different spells, but all of which are useful to some extent on the tabletop.
- Plague spells offer many nasty surprises for heavily armored or low toughness units and can increase the combat effectiveness of any unit pretty good.
- Ruin spells offer less damaging spells usually but are still generally useful with board-wide effects that hinder shooting, a unit buff, and a teleportation spell for characters.
- Then of course Skaven possess the Dreaded 13th Spell that, while really fairly hard to cast without getting a miscast, proves devastating when it does see action.
- Technology: Skaven are masters of infusing technology and magic. All these technological devices offer up some strange and unique rules that make skaven an incredibly adaptable army that can severely hurt any unit type whether they are another horde army, a hard-as-nails Chaos army, or a lightning fast army.
- Mobility: Skaven are not the masters of mobility, but they possess a respectable move characteristic that is higher than average, a number of units with unique placement rules, and one of the best character movement spells in the game.
- All Skaven possess a movment characteristic of at least 5 meaning they stand a slightly better than average chance of getting the charge. Also, that one extra point of movement means they are slightly more mobile for maneuvering (wheeling, backing up, etc).
- Skaven possess a few units that can either tunnel or enter from various board edges (reliably, amazing enough). This means that they can effectively hunt war machines without any of the traditional war machine hunting units like ranged units, fast cavalry, scouts, etc.
- Skitterleap is hands-down the best character movement spell in the game. As long as they are infantry and within 12" of the caster (or the caster himself) they can be moved anywhere on the battlefield. This works both as an escape mechanism for Generals and Battle Standard Bearers (BSB), or as a delivery device for warlock engineers with nasty toys, assassins, etc.
- Morality: Skaven have no qualms about the expendability of their troops. Unique amongst most other armies, Skaven can fire into lesser units (Slaves) when they are locked in combat. They even possess a unit that can fire into combat regardless of the unit locked in combat (but risk hitting their own models).
- Leadership: Of all the non-undead armies in Warhammer Fantasy, Skaven possess the lowest average leadership. The average rat has a measly leadership of 5 meaning that if a canny opponent can negate strength in numbers then Steadfast is only of limited use. Also, any spells or effects that use the unmodified leadership stat can wreck havoc on a Skaven army. Finally, Skaven have to be far more mindful of the effects of psychology then most other armies.
- Look for items that will let a unit cause fear or terror, give stubborn, etc to mitigate this. As noted above under strengths, the more Skaven on the board the less likely leadership problems will occur.
- Randomness: Skaven can't have all the cool toys without some drawbacks right? Well, the drawback of that magic-infused technology is randomness. All of the technological devices have their own misfire charts that could cause them to turn and fire on friendly units, explode in a fireball that causes damage to nearby units, or even causes the unit to rampage and charge into a nearby unit. Finally, several of the strongest units in the Skaven arsenal are hampered by random rules, namely the Hellpit Abomination and the Doomwheel who both have random movement and have to roll either artillery dice for attacks or on a special chart.
- Weak: Skaven aren't good at combat. They suffer from mediocrity in spades. Sure, they are slightly quicker with a higher move statistic and initiative. Even the most elite skaven really don't compare to the combat effectiveness of more elite units like Chaos Warriors, Swordmasters, or Dwarf Longbeards. Don't plan on standard Skaven winning combats without using tricks, devious maneuvering, or magic.
- Soft: Just like Skaven aren't masters of combat, they are pretty easy to kill as well. Unlike other low toughness armies that usually have some elite units with good armor saves, Skaven just do not have that anywhere. The best armor save a Skaven can hope for is 4+ versus shooting (not including characters obviously). So keep this in mind before charging into that block of frenzied infantry.
- Clan Pestilens are an exception to this weakness. They have a higher than average tougness which helps remove them from a significant amount of harm, but they typically wear no armor as an offset. Personally, Toughness trumps armor. so clan pestilens units are always useful and considered survivable.
- Lack of Diversity: Skaven may have numbers but a the army suffers from a lack of diversity. Skaven consist of primarily ranked infantry with a couple toys backing them up in the form of either war machines, monsters, or monstrous infantry. They possess no cavalry at all and only a single choice for monstrous infantry, warbeasts, and swarms. They have a few skirmishers but only one that is useful in all games. As for ranged versus melee Skaven will usually lean towards melee but the ranged support will be made of toys that can backfire (hence the popularity of the Storm Banner).
- Maneuverability: While Skaven prove reasonably mobile and quick, they often possess so many warm bodies that they can easily hamper the maneuverability of the army as a whole. Trying to place several large blocks of infantry and still maintaining fire lanes for war machines, charge lanes, and wheeling room can be extremely difficult at times.
Skaven tactics come in many forms but a few common threads can be seen woven amongst the more popular and effective armies seen on the tabletops.
- Hammer and Anvil: This is the traditional army for most Warhammer Fantasy armies. It consists of several anvil units intended to lock an enemy in place and then a few hammer units to crash into the flanks of the units held in place. Usually slaves and clanrats are used as anvils while rat ogres, plague monks, and stormvermin are the primary hammer units. HPA and Doomwheel should be considered secondary hammer units since they do not disrupt ranks. Generally both can hold their own in combat if they charge a flank/rear of a unit and the HPA can survive a frontal charge with some decent dice rolls.
- Magic Hammer: This can come in two forms. Either a Grey Seer is taken on a Screaming Bell or several cheap warlock engineers are taken with possibly a plague priest thrown in for good measure.
- The Grey Seer on the Bell ensures that the army has a large leadership bubble and also that the Grey Seer has LoS to just about anywhere. He uses his magic to wither down opponents while his big block of stupid pushing the bell holds the enemy in place.
- The multiple mini-casters take a much more simplistic approach. You take 4-5 level 1 Warlocks, roll for spells, and if any of them roll something useful for the particular game you are playing you keep it, otherwise default them all to Warp Lightning. Hello 4-5d6 of S5 lightning bolts per magic phase. The catch tho this is that it is very easy to counter given the prevalence of level 4 casters out there. Still, this is very effective since with 4-5 casters the Skaven army is likely to channel more dice.
- Sneaky Tricks: Skaven have more sneaky tricks than any other army. Most of these sneaky tricks are found in the technology side with things like doomrockets but all the technology melds very well with the magic, the units, etc. It's a cohesive armybook. Have an engineer with a doomrocket? Skitterleap him into the flanks of the enemy so he's looking down the entire line and let loose. He can't miss! Doomrocket not enough? Repeat with Brass Orb/Death Orb, etc. Trick your opponent into charging your slaves? Guess what? You can fire into combat to help them out without fear of reprisal (they are just slaves afterall). Opponent finally kill off your hellpit abomination with a hoop and holler? Roll your d6 and cackle madly as it stands back up!
- Monster Flanks: Due to my predilection of using multiple Doomwheels in an army, I tend to run what I call "Monster Flanks". Now I am by no means stating that I created this idea. I just chose to give it a goofy name and highlight it on my blog. The basic idea here is to form a central core of the army with the ranked infantry located in the interior and the monsters holding the flanks. Insulating units are needed if Doomwheels are on the flanks as nothing sucks more than zzzaping Rat Ogres, Stormvermin, or Plague Monks. I usually use slaves as opposed to rats since slaves don't cause panic. The monsters advance at their own pace and try and outflank any other flankers before sweeping into the backfield and handling war machines or flanking the enemy units. Slaves are used to tarpit units in the interior force while any other traditional hammer units are used in a suitable fashion.
|A Skaven general's ultimate opponent.|
Now that I've gone over the general introduction to Skaven, I'll take the next few weeks to address the different tactics used by Skaven. We'll discuss the typical ranked units, the redirectors, the monsters, as well as discuss magic and general rules.