Nikephoros here. You wanted it, you got it: by popular request we have a comparison between two of the Warhammer Fantasy 8th Edition whipping boys going toe to toe in the pillow fight of the year. Do the heavily armored knights have what it takes, or do the Athel Loren All Stars crush them under the weight of their tree branches? Let’s see.
Brettonia’s goal in every match up is to win the game through a devastating charge, or series of charges, by their Core units of Knights of the Realm. Brettonian knights are unique in 8th Edition in that they are heavy cavalry that fight in deep ranks. This allows them to (somewhat) take down ranked infantry and win combats with combat resolution. Empire’s knights can only dream of that advantage. Simply put, the Wood Elves do not have a unit, especially in Core, that can handle a charge from a unit of KotR. If the Brettonians can make their charges land they can manhandle the toughness 3 Elves with their Strength 5 lances. In return, the Strength 3 Elves will have trouble killing the Knights; even a heavy weight of Strength 3 attacks will have difficulty killing barded warhorses.
The second of the major advantage the Brettonians have are Trebuchets. These warmachines are pretty amazing. Strength 5 stones can kill Elf and Treekin alike. The Dryads rely on their toughness to defend them, and Eternal Guard need big units to give them the weight of attacks needed to win. Trebs trump both of these plans pretty well. Most competitive Brettonian forces bring two Trebs depending on the points value of the game, and they should inflict heavy losses on the key Wood Elf units. But they need to be defended, because Wood Elves have fast units, scouts, and etc. that can silence a poorly defended Treb.
Pegasus Knights are insanely expensive, but insanely powerful. Most fast skirmisher type units aren’t heavily armored and aren’t hard hitting. These guys are both. They are frightening to Wood Elves, because they trump the WE skirmisher units and can threaten charges all over the field. Whether to use them defensively or offensively requires a good general, but their ability to do either is a major advantage over the Wood Elves
Brettonian characters also present several challenges to Wood Elves. Generally, Wood Elves bring some big, tough monsters (or turn their wizards into big tough monsters) to give them close combat punch. Brettonian fighty characters often have Epic Killing Blow. Having your Treeman one-shotted by a dude on a horse is highly demoralizing, and the ability to do so is huge in the favor of the Brettonians.
Wood Elf Advantages
The Wood Elves primary advantage over the Brettonians is magic. The Lore of Beasts that Spellweavers bring have amazing synergy with the rest of the army. The buffs of this Lore gives their WE units what they take to stand up to the Brettonians in close combat. An Eternal Guard unit with Wyssan’s Wildform can survive a knight charge, and then kill them over the next subsequent turns. The Beasts buffs allow the normally low strength, but high Attacks, Wood Elf units to inflict heavier casualties. Casting Curse of Anraheir on a Knight unit will drastically reduce the number of casualties they can inflict in combat. By using these spells critically, a Wood Elf general can mitigate the brute force of the knights and inflict serious harm back at them.
The character buffs like Savage Beast can also make the Knights think twice about charging in, by turning a cheap Hero into a knight-slayer. With +3 attacks, and +3 Strength, a cheap hero with the Sword of Swift Slaying will mow Knights down. 6 attacks with re-rolls to hit, at Strength 7? What unit of Knights want to charge into that? None, because he will single handed kill 4 Knights before they get to attack. Knights are expensive, and they can’t be thrown away willy-nilly. A cheap Wood Elf noble on a great eagle, buffed by Savage Beast who charges into the easily exposed flanks of the Knights and crush them.
Transformation of Kadon is more of an anti-magic spell than offensive. Successfully casting it means that the Brettonians will have to spend their entire magic phase dispelling it, which will neuter their offensive magic that turn. And if they don’t dispel it…
Glade Guard are another strength for the Wood Elves. More and more Brettonian generals are picking up on the virtues of lot’s of peasant bowmen in their armies, and GG completely outclass them. Longer range, better accuracy, and higher strength shots. The implication is that the Peasant Bowmen will not be able to perform their normal battlefield role easily at all, and will be wasted points. Depending on the commitment, invalidating a large swath of Bowmen for a small investment of Glade Guard is very night. Additionally, they can put out rather withering firepower. Granted, Strength 3, sometimes 4, is not going to hurt Knights too badly as I mentioned above, but the game plan has to be to have your combat units survive the charge. A big part of surviving the charge is inflicting as many casualties as possible outside of combat. If you can use your fast cavalry to cause failed charges by the knights for one or more turns while you pepper them with your GG shots, the handful of kills you inflict might be sufficient to give your Eternal Guard the edge they need in the inevitable close combat, or allow your Savage Beasted Noble to wipe the unit when he charges.
Your last major advantage is a Treeman. While the Epic Killing Blow is something to worry about, if you use the Treeman as a countercharge unit you are in business. If the Treeman gets into a situation where he is charging in after the first round of combat, or into the knight’s flanks he will be unkillable outside of the Epic Killing Blow. Strength 3 or 4 doesn’t scare toughness 6 with 6 wounds. Additionally, the Treeman is Stubborn. With a nearby BSB he will be able to tarpit a unit of knights until he either kills them, or the rest of your army jumps into help out. The key is keeping him set back in a way where the Brettonian general either has to try to get off a long charge against him (where they will possibly fail) and thus opening their flank to a charge from the Eternal Guard. Or they have to charge the EG and get flanked by the Treeman who they will never kill. Not an easy choice to make.
So who generally wins this pillow fight? To win the Wood Elves need a couple of good magic phases in their favor AND good generalship. The WE general needs to be skilled enough at maneuver and deployment to arrange it so that the Brets can only charge the units he wants them to charge, and then he needs his magic phase to go well in order to win the resulting combat. For the Wood Elves to pull it out they need both luck AND skill.
Alternatively, since the Brettonians have the more powerful units, they don’t need hot dice in the magic phase to even the odds. What they do need, however, is to ensure that their charges hit home when and where they want them to. As the Wood Elf general is going to actively oppose this, it will be easier said than done. But again we come back to the fact that the individual Brettonian units are more dangerous than the Wood Elves; a big mistake by the Brettonian general is painful. A big mistake by the Wood Elf general is game-breaking. This being the case, I would give the slight edge to the Brettonians in this match up assuming two players of equal skill and experience with their armies. That said, it isn’t such a blow out that the Wood Elves have no chance. One good magic phase can easily swing the game back in Athel Loren’s favor.
Comments, questions, polemic, vitriol?