21 Mar 2015

End Times: Archaon - Rules Review Part II

These are the End Times.....but they also herald the beginning of something special. There has been much controversy over this release and while I refuse to comment on the ending of the background book at this time, you can be sure that I will cover that and share my personal opinion of the matter in my next article. For now, I hope you enjoy this early look at the rules found in End Times: Archaon, including some powerful new profiles for existing and debut characters as well as a multitude of formations, an all-new army list and even one jaw-dropping change to army construction.

Archaon Everchosen - The Lord of the End Times has arrived, and boy is he a monster (not literally, mind) on the field of battle. Chaos players have been demanding that Archaon be given a profile fitting of his role as the Herald of the Apocalypse and Games Workshop has most certainly answered, though players hoping for a character that can stand up to Malekith the Eternity King or even Karl Franz Ascendant in a one-on-one clash shouldn't be too disappointed. Having done the numbers, Karl Franz kills Archaon in roughly four or five rounds of combat, while Archaon takes closer to six or seven to slay his nemesis. It's a very tight affair but one that serves to highlight how insanely tanky Archaon, especially as even the insanely strong Malekith takes roughly four rounds to do Archaon in while conversely the Everchosen needs five rounds to destroy the Eternity King. Still, given how tight those two combats are and that Archaon is easily the most durable of the trio while also doubling as a very powerful wizard - something Karl Franz fails to provide - that can hide in units, I think it is safe to say Archaon's End Times profile is worthy of his title. Unfortunately, one must keep in mind that he will still struggle to deal with high Toughness monsters such as Warsphinxes given his mediocre Strength value unless you can buff his melee attacks or debuff the enemy, something Archaon himself is capable of through magic. Ultimately though, the Everchosen will slaughter most enemy characters with impunity and do so contemptuously; warriors such as Neferata, Vampire "Blender" Lords, Saurus Old Bloods, Tyrion, Hellebron and many more stand no chance against the Everchosen and will struggle even to hurt him. That's what happens when he has a whopping 9 base attacks (or 8 plus Frenzy) due to the Mark of Khorne and his combined profile with Dorghar, each of which are resolved at Weapon Skill 9, Initiative 7, Strength 5 and ignoring armour saves to top it off. Add in a Strength 5 Stomp due to being a Monstrous Cavalry model and the ultimately ill-advised ability to unleash U'zuhl and you have one heck of a beat-stick that will eat entire units of cavalry and monstrous cavalry in mere moments.

On that note, unleashing U'zuhl isn't nearly as advisable as it used to be because Archaon now only gains a mere 3 Attacks and still hits either himself or nearby friendly models on to-hit rolls of a 1; just stick with the 9 base he already has and make do with those unless you feel you absolutely must have the bonus attacks. Of course, the main selling point of the new Archaon is the fact that he is virtually impossible to kill outside of getting very lucky with Heroic Killing Blow, and being Weapon Skill 9 with a -1 to-hit penalty due to the Mark of Nurgle certainly helps there. A high Initiative 7 denies Always Strikes First re-rolls to most enemies, with Weapon Skill 4 and lower units hitting Archaon on 6s and anything else hitting him on 5s. He is then Toughness 5 with a +1 armour save and an awesome 3+ ward save, featuring an awesome 7 Wounds and an immunity to Killing Blow. This is fantastic even when put next to someone like Karl Franz Ascendant as Archaon loses out on 2 Wounds to gain an extra +2 point to his armour save and a +1 bonus to his ward save while having a -1 to-hit aura, and that's before you consider that Archaon can hide in one of multiple Chaos Monstrous Cavalry units and thus isn't exposed to war machines. The other neat trait that many fail to remember when pairing Archaon up against heavy-hitters such as Karl Franz is that his Armour of Morkar prevents enemies from automatically wounding him or wounding him on a 2+, instead being forced to wound him on - at best - a 3+. What really strikes me about Archaon is that he isn't just a beat-stick like many other characters introduced in the End Times such as Imrik, but rather he provides some impressive support abilities that are perfect for Chaos armies of all kinds (including Skaven!). He has a 24" Leadership Inspiring Presence bubble which is absolutely insane for any army, he allows all friendly units within 12" to re-roll failed Break tests meaning he acts as a Battle Standard Bearer for units in combat, and he is also crucially a Level 4 Wizard that can choose from one of five different spell lores. He freely upgrades a single unit of unmarked Chaos Knights to have Hatred and Unbreakable, while any "neutral" rolls on the Reign of Chaos and Eye of the Gods charts default to the Khorne results. He re-rolls results on the Eye of the Gods chart if they are unfavourable to his controlling player, he causes Terror and ignores Dangerous Terrain because of his Strider special rule. To top it all off, is flat Unbreakable and thus can be used to tarpit enemy death-stars with his insane survivability and inability to flee.

Given that he is a Level 4 Wizard that can take any number of extremely useful spell lores and allows friendly units to re-roll failed Break tests while doubling as one of the supreme beat-sticks around, Archaon is designed to be your all-in-one character choice and fittingly the ultimate leader of a Chaos army. This is essentially what Archaon has always been, save that his End Times profile has made him a Level 4 Wizard rather than a Level 2 Wizard which allows him to be competitive in the Magic Phase, so the question then becomes; is he worth it? As I have noted above, Archaon can stand toe to toe against Malekith the Eternity King and Karl Franz Ascendant with extremely tight losses going against him, but he nonetheless has the potential to get slightly lucky and beat those two power-houses. Considering that Archaon is a superior leader of his army given the fact that he uniquely acts as a secondary Battle Standard Bearer while also being a Level 4 Wizard that can choose between five lores as opposed to having none or being restricted to one, it's hard not to be impressed. He's also undoubtedly the toughest overall character in the game right now with no real weakness - lots of war machines can eventually focus Karl Franz down, while the Lore of Metal or dual Banishment will destroy Malekith - seeing as he can actually hide in units unlike most of the other "demigod" characters, and with Skullcrushers sitting around it's not like he is restricted to joining bad units either.

Now, compared to his Warriors of Chaos incarnation, Archaon has increased in cost by roughly 300 points once Dorghar's price is factored in. He has gained an extra 6" on his Inspiring Presence range, a proper combined profile and thus an extra three Attacks with the Slayer of Kings and an extra three Wounds, an additional two Wizard Levels, some minor bonuses to his Chosen of the Gods rule, a buff to his Swords of Chaos rule and the Unbreakable special rule. Some are of the opinion that Archaon is over-priced given the additions but I look at it from the perspective that his Wounds value and Attacks values have almost doubled, making so much more killy and tanky as a result, though the real reason he is worth it is that you no longer have to worry about taking a Level 4 elsewhere for another 270-350 points. The only thing that held Archaon back previously was his insanely high cost coupled with the fact that he was a mere Level 2 Wizard, meaning Chaos players were either forced to make do with a Level 2 for spellcasting and spell defence in an edition where having a Level 4 is absolutely vital, or wait until the End Times rules came out and overspend on the insanely expensive Lord choice Wizard options available to Chaos armies. While this issue has been somewhat alleviated by the inclusion of Grey Seers and Greater Bray Shamans into Archaon's host, it nonetheless serves as a more subtle and crucial buff to the Everchosen that makes all of the other upgrades and the points increase worthwhile as a result. I think he's good for his points and offers Khorne Chaos armies in particular the perfect leader - Frenzied warriors can only flee in combat where Archaon's re-roll on Break Tests makes itself apparent - seeing as he is a Wizard Lord (like a Greater Bray Shaman) that can join units dedicated to the Blood God. In such an army, you only need Archaon in your Lord and Hero slots to get your mandatory beat-stick, Level 4 Wizard and "Battle Standard Bearer"; I think that's great value on a character that can give Karl Franz Ascendant a run for his money and is nearly impossible to kill!


The Blood Hunt - A Khorne-themed formation with a minimum points cost of 2365 points, the gimmick of this is that D3 Bloodletter units get to Vanguard and the entire Battlescroll gets to re-roll failed charges and has Hatred of all enemies. Considering that Bloodletters are poor units at best and absolutely must be in sizes of twenty-four or more to soak up wounds given how fragile they are, and how vulnerable all three Bloodthirsters are to war machines, this formation is absolutely reliant on positioning and mobility to make up for its terrible durability. If your opponent has even a single Scouting unit, the Vanguard buff for your Bloodletters will be wasted completely, while re-rolling failed charge distances won't matter much when even standard Empire lists with dual Banishment and two or three Great Cannons will still kill half of the formation before it gets to declare a charge. I applaud the Battlescroll for attempting to fix Bloodletters by giving them a much needed pre-game move potential, but the fact that it is only D3 units rather than guaranteed for the trio is rather irritating. The problem is that the Insensate Rage and Wrath of Khorne Bloodthirsters are undeniably the easy targets here, and while having three terrifying flying monsters does give the list some good threat overload potential, none of them are really that durable and just far too vulnerable to Banishments and war machines.

The Army of Blight - If you read my review of Isabella the Accursed, you can probably guess how I'm going to rate this particular formation. Suffice it to say, you are forced into taking a 400+ point Vampire character that lacks the Daemonic special rule and thus cannot join any of the Daemon units in a Battlescroll otherwise composed entirely of Daemons. If Blogger had a facepalm emoticon, I would be using it right now. Other than that, the special rules for the Battlescroll are actually really powerful with all enemy units on the battlefield being at -1 to-hit with their shooting attacks and suffering a -1 penalty to their Leadership values while reducing the enemy General's Inspiring Presence range by 6". If you play any of the non Elven, Daemonic and Undead armies, you probably have a very good idea of how important psychology and Leadership really are and thus this Battlescroll can be used to devastating effect with other friendly Chaos units such as Hellcannons or Death Wizards. As for the units themselves aside from Isabella, having to take three units of Plaguebearers isn't too bad given how fantastic they are as an anvil, while Plague Drones are great and Nurglings are decent enough. Players are often divided on the Great Unclean One but personally I'm a fan of him, though in this formation he's definitely the odd duck out and will be easy cannon bait. The nice thing here is that the minimum cost of the formation is a much more reasonable 1520 points, allowing you take loads of other handy units alongside the group while bulking out the Plaguebearers as necessary. Even despite the inclusion of some very sub-optimal choices like Isabella, Daemons of Nurgle are still insanely good for their points and the special rules offered by the Battlescroll are simply ridiculous.

The Host of Death - Hoo-boy, this formation is going to set you back a pretty penny in both money and points with the latter value being a crazily high total of 2455, though this group is undeniably powerful. The small number of units in the Battlescroll is no issue unlike with other armies due to both Nagash and Arkhan being able to use the Lore of Undeath to its fullest, while none of the models in the formation are bad or poor like, say, Bloodletters or Isabella the Accursed. Arkhan is of questionable value but the fact that he gains a whopping +3 bonus to cast all of his spells - usually casting at +7 - while Nagash is alive is insane, even if Nagash will probably still be your primary spellcaster. In that sense, you'll find this formation to be utterly ludicrous in End Times Magic but struggles to really justify the high points investment on wizards otherwise. The army is mostly mobile and the one unit that isn't - the Grave Guard - can be easily "moved" in the Magic Phase with up to four different spells being able to move them around available to Nagash alone. While bumping these units up is probably a good idea with those points, if you want to sit in at 2500 points then relying on Nagash and Arkhan to summon isn't a terrible idea, though it does somewhat waste the other buff the formation applies; all Grave Guard and Black Knights in the formation crumble by two less than usual and are Weapon Skill 5. I think it's a decent Battlescroll but I only really recommend it if you are using the End Times Magic rules as otherwise you will have two high level Wizards that each need to consume all your power dice to be worthwhile.

The Host of Fire - Of the various Elven formations found in End Times: Archaon, this seems to be the best at first glance. A pair of lords on Flamespyre Phoenixes with one being the super impressive Caradryan and a selection of all the best infantry units in the Elf books - the lack of Witch Elves and Black Guard hurts though - makes for a darned strong formation, especially with a minimum entry cost of 1685 points. It's hard to go wrong with Elves and this list certainly gets most of the better foot units from the books, making it a power-house albeit slow combat list given that it uses the Eternity King rules. Bumping the units up to 21-28 and giving the Anointed some necessary defensive upgrades will raise the total cost of the Battlescroll up to the 2500 mark quite easily, and while the list is missing a Level 4, a Battle Standard Bearer and a Dispel Scroll, the buffs it provides to its constituents are pretty darned impressive. Giving Devastating Charge and Flaming Attacks to the entire army allows them to butcher Trolls and other Regenerating units like few others while gaining some free extra attacks on the charge, while each Flamespyre Phoenix' Wake of Fire attacks are resolved at Strength 5. This does leave the army (Caradryan and the Anointed if he takes a Magic Weapon aside) dangerously vulnerable to being tied up against units that have special saves against Flaming Attacks, but it at least allows you to utterly decimate the "Throgg-star" netlist with impunity. The Wake of Fire buff is also delicious as it lets the pair of Phoenixes demolish Steadfast infantry blocks that might otherwise tie up the precious Elf elite units. All in all, this formation is decent enough but I and throwing the Banner of the World Dragon in on the White Lions will make it quite scary all around.

The Throng of Metal - A minimum entry cost of 1505 points and the addition of a Level 5 Wizard to a generally very decent Dwarf roster make for one heck of a good formation, especially with the insane unique special rules. The Runelord is an iffy inclusion but at least he gives you a Spelleating Rune, while Thunderers aren't quite the match of Quarrelers generally but are still decent enough - especially with Balthasar's Crucible helping to ease their lack of range. The rest of the formations' units are pretty fantastic even before considering the massive buffs actual spells can give them as well as the unique Battlescroll special rules, so generally it's no surprise this has been the most talked about formation from the book. It is a gun-line army led by a Level 5 Wizard on the very versatile (and amazingly useful for Dwarfs) Lore of Metal that has some great chaff itself with the pair of Gyrocopters as well as ample room for expansion, though definitely the stars of the show are the Grungi's Blessing and Prepared Volley rules for the Battlescroll. The former gives all Dwarfs in the formation a +1 bonus to their armour saves (what!?) and the Armour Piercing special rule (what!?) so long as Balthasar Gelt survives, meaning even your basic Thunderers will have 3+ armour saves when shields are taken, while Ironbreakers will have a jaw-dropping 2+ armour save. Yikes! If that wasn't enough, at the start of your first turn you get to roll a D6 for each ranged unit in the formation that can shoot; on the roll of a 5+, it gets to shoot twice at the same or separate targets (what!?). While this would have been perfectly suited to Quarrelers and leaves the Thunderers and Irondrakes both in a bit of bother unless you go second, it is nonetheless a potentially devastating and even game-changing rule. Overall, it's pretty obvious why this Battlescroll has been the most talked about in reviews of the book given that it is easily one of the best, if not the strongest of all of them.

The Beast-Waaagh! - With a minimum points cost of 1598 and utterly lacking a Wizard or any war machines, the combination of Orcs and Ogres definitely isn't as good as we all hoped it would be, even if it's probably fair enough that their pairing was restricted to a formation. It is undoubtedly a combat-centric list with the entire army being base Strength and Toughness 4 or higher and thus getting huge buffs from Grimgor's Locus of Ghur bound spell. Being able to affect even Ogres with a Waaagh! and letting all affected units re-roll their charge distance is awesome, as is having Ironguts and Leadbelchers fighting alongside Black Orcs and Big 'Uns. That none of the units in the formation are subject to Animosity might seem like a minor boost to some, but as someone with considerable experience both with and against Orcs and Goblins, it is something I'm sure many players will be jumping for joy over. Unfortunately, the sheer number of units means bumping them up becomes considerably expensive very quickly if you don't want them to drop to shooting or combat seeing as none of them are particularly durable. The lack of a proper Wizard or Battle Standard Bearer makes those two necessary additional inclusions, while realistically the Giant, Boar Boyz and regular Boyz - even as Big 'Uns - just aren't that good despite Grimgor's assistance. The thing to keep in mind is that as the formation does list both Ogre Kingdoms and Orcs and Goblins as its' Races, this means you can still do the full unrestricted mixture of the two armies; you just have to include the Beast-Waaagh! formation as a rough 1600 point "tax" (that will probably end up being 2000 by the time the units are bumped up to acceptable levels). For that reason alone and because this army can be so crazy with a mixture of Rock Lobbas, Doom Divers and Ironblasters supporting it at the standard 2500 point level, I do rate it less because of what it actually brings to the table and more for the fact that it acts as a stepping stone to something better.

The Host of Shadow - Any army that features a model as over-powered as Malekith the Eternity King or has anything to do with Elves is sure to be at least decent, and the Host of Shadow unsurprisingly does pretty well for itself. A mixture of Black Guard, Phoenix Guard and Darkshards is always nice, while Wildwood Rangers and Black Ark Corsairs are good to mediocre with the Elf Spearmen being the only really "poor" choice. The Hydra is an oddity in an army with a flying character and a majority being infantry, and one thing you will definitely notice is that the Host of Shadow simply cannot deal with enemy armour aside from Malekith. However, what you really want this list for are the two unique special rules; the first inflicts a to-hit penalty on all ranged attacks directed at Malekith or friendly units within 12" of him as well as making the whole army ignore dangerous terrain tests, which is very nice indeed. The second is the more hilarious one though and combines perfectly with Malekith's Incarnate of Shadow special rule, allowing him to cast Steed of Shadows on units rather than just characters while increasing the spells' range and being capable of casting it more than once per phase. Basically, the reason the list is almost entirely comprised of infantry is that Malekith once again says "get stuffed!" to movement and can just teleport your entire army around to where they need to be and get into combats super-fast. Even if you aren't a fan of many of the units in the formation, Malekith himself and the ability to teleport even decent Elf units in a Host of the Eternity King list is insane, though the minimum 1890 point cost of the Battlescroll and the necessity of adding numbers to each unit does leave it relatively "bare" in 2500 point and lower games.

The Host of Life - Despite the similar inclusion of a ridiculously over-powered model in Alarielle the Incarnate of Life and an overall superior unit selection I feel, the unique special rules present in this formation really aren't up to par with what I expect from most. Alarielle lists are built around stacking up around her for the 12" bubble of Regeneration so applying it to all units on the battlefield isn't much of a buff in practice, especially as aside from one or two units most of the army wants to stick pretty close together anyway. Mind you, the Regeneration aura is still as broken as ever on Elves and it helps out the various monsters in the list immensely, though one must remember that Durthu and the Treemen Ancient will still fall over the second a flaming cannonball hits them. The unit choices are decent enough and themed while giving some good ranged and decent melee support and providing you the option to run Alarielle with a non-formation unit of, say, Black Guard, but considering the minimum points cost of the Battlescroll is 2530 points and you absolutely must upgrade and bump up pretty much all of the units present aside from perhaps the Wild Riders, you will quickly realize that this list becomes almost untenable except for in larger "fun" games.

The Host of Light - Being the most expensive Battlescroll points-wise with a base cost of 2719, it's probably fair to expect the Host of Light to be the most powerful of the formations in End Times: Archaon. While I think the unit composition is insane and mixes the durability of Empire cavalry with the sheer damage output and mobility of Elven cavalry very well, the actual unique special rules themselves are probably the worst of all the formations. Gaining +D3 combat resolution on the turn a unit charges rather than the usual +1 is decent enough but doesn't solve the issue of cavalry units being unable to break Steadfast reliably, while the Vengeance of Hysh provides all units in the formation Hatred of both Daemons and Undead. These buffs are so minor and narrow to not really be worth mentioning, though given the points cost of the formation and its leader it should come as no surprise that I would personally reserve the Host of Light for larger, themed games. In that scenario, however, it will be brutal; Tyrion gives everyone near him a 5+ ward save against shooting and spells which is absolutely bonkers on an entire army of cavalry featuring Demigryph Knights, while he and Imrik act as unit-killers capable of munching through entire armies by themselves (in Tyrion's case, only if the opponent is using Daemons or Undead). I'm a fan of the mix and personally plan to use the force in 4000 point "fun" games against friends, but I've no illusion about its competitive place; the army ends up around the 3000+ point mark if you make the units at least respectable in terms of unit size, while having to add in both a Level 4 Wizard and a Battle Standard Bearer is irritating.

The Grand Legion of the Everchosen 

It's finally happened everyone! Chaos players and Skaven players can now shake their grubby hands together and stand tall in the face of descending oblivion on the battlefield, giving opponents the scare of their life when Hell Pit Abominations, Chimeras and unkillable Sorcerer Lords occupy a board edge. Heck, Chaos players can now field four cannons - two Skull Cannons and two Warp Lightning Cannons - for the superlative price of 450 points, killing all enemy monsters and eating units as either chariots (the former) or with blast templates (the latter). All "doom and gloom" aside, this obviously marks the end of an era with confined army lists built around making the most of a restricted unit selection to win games; now, Chaos players have a jaw-dropping four different army books - plus a whole roster of new exclusive End Times units - to choose from! While I'm personally "for" the mixed armies - except the Host of the Eternity King (because of the free buffs) - as I love having more diverse lists pop up in both the competitive and friendly gaming scenes, even I have to admit that the Grand Legion of the Everchosen takes diversity just a bit too far and throws the idea of balanced unit composition out the window. Innumerable Slave blocks were not designed to be acting as foils for Skullcrushers and Throgg-led Trolls, while being able to use non-Skaven spell lores to support Skaven units leads to some mind-boggling combos. The Withering stacked with Wither is a ready-made answer to any and all death-stars with not even the Banner of the World Dragon being any defence against it, while using Doomwheels to intentionally affect Dragon Ogres and Kholek can lead to some downright hilarious results. I'm not sure if it will overtake the Host of the Eternity King as the most broken combined list in Warhammer Fantasy but it will damn well put up a good fight for that title either way.

Fantasy "Unbound"

The reaction to this has been almost universally negative as one would expect given the reception similar rules in Warhammer 40,000 received, though I'm generally not that irritated by their introduction into Fantasy as others are. The designers' note in the rules indicates to players that they most certainly are not forced into playing "Unbound" and it isn't difficult to simply ask your opponent before a match whether they want to play that kind of game or not. Those worrying about facing ten Steam Tanks or an entire army of Dwarf artillery should rest easy; tournaments will likely never allow these rules through and neither should friendly games be tainted by their presence unless both players are willing to use such lists in a fun encounter. If someone is adamant in their will to use such a list, simply inform them that you don't want to face that army or just tailor to counter it as clearly such a player is looking to win by any means necessary! However, for those players that do see the potential of Unbound to create the ultimate themed armies - a host of Phoenix Guard led by Caradryan and his Anointed brethren or a Knightly Order like the Griffon Legion composed entirely of Demigryph Knights and so on - the Unbound rules are a welcome expansion to the main rule-set of Warhammer Fantasy designed to give players more options in their games. Unlike the 50% Lords and Heroes percentages, you are not forced to use these rules in your standard games and, heck, if you play friendly matches then your playing group can always just work out house-rules that work to everyone's liking anyway! Ultimately, while these rules can most certainly be abused in ways that Warhammer Fantasy was never designed to allow, it really isn't as scary in practice as everyone thinks given that you aren't forced into using them and tournaments will likely never allow them anyway. They can be put to good use to give players more freedom when creating their army lists and getting into factions that they might otherwise have ignored entirely, so I applaud Games Workshop for taking a bold albeit controversial step as I am sure many others would agree the entire End Times series classifies as.

Thank you all for reading this penultimate article covering the End Times series! Archaon presents arguably the most colossal rules shift that has ever occurred for Warhammer Fantasy, offering players the oft dreaded ability to take anything and everything in their competitive and non-competitive games. However, it also gives players some awesome new formations and characters to play around with before the heavily rumoured new edition hits in the next year, even if most are more catered to "fluffy" and fun games more than anything else (which is fine!). The Grand Legion of the Everchosen is as insane as we all thought it would be and gives Chaos players more freedom to design their army than any other faction could provide. I'm generally quite happy with this release and I do recommend it to players invested in the End Times, whether for the new models and rules or for the story. 


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  2. Where did you come up with the total points of 2500 for the Host of Fire? Above you said that 'Bumping the units up to 21-28 and giving the Anointed some necessary defensive upgrades will raise the total cost of the Battlescroll up to the 2500 mark quite easily'

    I tried doing that and i was so over... did you not do a full command or something?