Dark Elves – First Thoughts on 8th Edition

I’m a long-time Dark Elf player, and been waiting excitedly for this new book. Every time a new army book comes out, I see the new monsters, monstrous infantry and monstrous cavalry, and wonder what this will mean for the Dark Elves when they come. So now I have the book, here is what I have noticed.

Background

I regret that I read the book backwards – the last thing that I looked at was the background. As I have three previous editions of the book, I’ve noticed that each book has a distinct style. The 4th edition book was heavy with background, but dry, like a textbook. It presented the facts plainly without emotion. The 6th edition book (there was no new book in 5th edition) was almost the opposite – few facts, little history and lots of ‘first-hand’ accounts from the point of view of the Dark Elves. 7th edition brought a happy medium – it was a more detailed background than 6th, but gave some of the flavour of the Dark Elf outlook. 8th continues this style, but changes the perspective slightly. The Dark Elves of old were bent on revenge, but 8th makes it more clear that they are not alone in madness among elves. Also, unlike the previous books, the history of the Dark Elves does not start with Malekith and the Sundering, but with the beginning of the High Elf civilisation and Aenarion. They share the same beginnings, and have the same first king. The history of Bel Shanaar is told entirely from the point of view of Malekith and the province of Nagarythe, and that is where the history diverges and the race appears to split.

Models

New models! So many new models… Unfortunately, not all are available yet. I like the new Warriors, I thought the little domino mask style helmets on the old ones were a little strange. Even the ancient 4th edition (single pose, one piece, sword above head) warriors had better helmets. The only models not changed are the Cold One Knights, Reaper Bolt Throwers and the Corsairs.

The new chariots are unusual, they seem a little bit too close to the ground.

I don’t like the new Hydra. The old Hydra, while being metal and attached so delicately to the base, looked more dangerous than this one. The heads are large, full of teeth, and not like the dumb snake heads of the new Hydra, and the pose is running, charging, not sitting and watching. I also don’t like the claws coming out of the Hydra’s belly – it doesn’t make sense to me. On the other hand, I do like the Kharibdyss model – the pose looks more suitable to a sea monster, unused to land. The maw in it’s belly where the Hydra’s odd claws are looks more like an unnatural sea monster.

I’ve got the same ambivalence about the Witch Elves – the Witch Elves themselves are awesome models, absolutely amazing. The Sisters of Slaughter, I’m really not so keen on. They also look too much like the Witch Elves, with just a head and weapon swap. I’d love to get some new Witch Elves to use as either unit, since they are distinct from the dozens of old Witch Elves that I have, but the price – £35 for 10 models – is absolutely ridiculous. None of those for me.

I really like the Doomfire Warlocks and the Bloodwrack Shrine – I’d like to get both, but I think I will try to magnetise parts of the shrine in order to get the Medusa off as an option. The new Executioners look good too.

I’m a little disappointed that there isn’t any monstrous infantry or monstrous cavalry – I’m pretty jealous of all the other new armies that have got those. There’s enough monsters that I don’t get to field because one of my most frequent opponents was an Empire player that I don’t really want any more.

Rules

Since 6th edition, all elves are Toughness 3. Even the mighty heroes. It’s an awful curse. What I notice in this edition however is that they become a little more survivable – the Cauldron of Blood can join units now and gives a ward save, Doomfire Warlocks get a ward save (except against Slaaneshi units), Sisters of Slaughter get a ward save in close combat… even the Sea Dragon Cloaks, which have had the same rules since 4th edition, have been modified to be a straight 5+ save (rather than 6+/5+ conditional one).

In 7th edition, all Dark Elves got a Hatred of everyone. This has been replaced with two rules – Always Strikes First and Murderous Prowess. In the 8th edition rules, I think these two are much better. Since Dark Elves have high Initiative, they were usually going first anyway – with Always Strikes First, this allows them to get a re-roll against people with lower Initiative. That replaces the re-roll from Hatred, which only applies in the first round (but does apply all the time). Murderous Prowess just boosts that with an extra chance to wound when you fail.

Magic

The new magic is amazing! I’ve noticed some amazing combinations, although they might rely a little bit on getting lots of dice in the magic phase.

Power of Darkness – my big problem with the Dark Elf infantry is that in the main, it is pretty low Strength. This spell is a very easy way of boosting Strength with the additional benefit of regaining power dice. Having a Witch Elf horde with 50 poisoned attacks at Strength 3 is OK, but having them at Strength 4 (with the murderous prowess re-roll too) is really cool.

Shroud of Despair – this spell is the subtle edge of the Dark Elves magic. Cutting units off from their high Leadership and re-roll abilities, with increasing penalties for failure… if it’s possible to force a whole ton of Leadership tests in a single turn (see strengthened Witch Elf horde above), a chain reaction of fleeing units could ensue. One breaks, the next one must test at -1, the next one at –2… The Bloodwrack Shrine also reduces enemy Leadership by one, and the Kharibdyss forces units in base contact to re-roll successful Fear checks so their non-General, un-re-rollable Fear check has two chances to fail each turn and give the Shroud of Despair penalty to all the nearby units… Delicious!

Word of Pain / Arnizipal’s Black Horror – these two spells appear made for each other, the only problem is that you need a powerful Magic phase to pull it off. Reducing a Chaos Knight unit’s Strength by D3, then hitting them with a Black Horror, seems like a perfect combination. Of course, if the Word of Pain only reduces them by 1, there’s almost no point casting the Black Horror.

Doombolt – where Shroud of Despair is the Dark Elves subtlety, Doombolt is the Dark Elves destructive streak. As a signature spell it can be chosen multiple times, and when boosted it looks really nasty. Just a big, raw display of force. BANG. Then again, I’ll probably roll four 1s when determining how many hits that is… with the Word of Pain, it makes it that much better against high Toughness targets (at Strength 5 it won’t take much to reduce them to wounding on 2s) so it looks like a reliable alternative to the Black Horror if their Strength is still a bit too high.

Conclusion

So what am I going to do? Well, I’ve got a whole ton of models to paint. I think I’ll make it my goal to clear my painting table in 2014, and maybe even make a start on Jen’s Vampire Counts. Until then I can’t really justify new toys. I want to try the Cauldron with my Witch Elf horde to make them more survivable, and try out the Dark Magic to buff them up. It’ll be cool if I can try out some of the combos above but I doubt it’ll work as well as I described. I don’t have a Kharibdyss or a Bloodwrack Shrine (though both are on my list for as soon as the painting table is cleared…)

Other than that I don’t think my army list has changed too much. I will probably add more bolt throwers now that they’re cheaper, and not Rare choices. I’m going to have to arrange a game at Vanguard Wargaming if I can’t get a game in with friends soon.