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Liking it large

Greetings fellow bunker dwellers! ‘Tis I, Jeff, with a slightly different offering for you all. Today, I want to talk to you about how size matters to me. See for me, I always prefer as big as I can cram in.

Huh? No, I’m talking about hordes in Warhammer. What else would I be... oh.

Seriously though, I love large units in Warhammer, always have. Even in the dark days of the early nineties when a warhammer unit could be five Chaos Warriors and a “block” of fifteen Orcs looked sizeable I was never happy. These piddly small units never looked like regiments to me. They were five blokes out for a fight with a flag. The spectacle just wasn’t there. I remember, actually, the first time I saw Andy Chamber’s ancient Skaven army, all the bases done as cavern flooring rather than green sawdust, all the units dense blocks of ratmen. That, that right there, that was an army thought 10 year old me. Fast forward 24 years and I still think this. I still consider a unit of 15 to be mere skirmishers and 24-30 to be my natural size of unit. I even do it with “elite” armies (I.E. high points cost, high skill and thus low numbers). My Dwarfs are full of decent, crunchy block units and I’m thinking of adding a horde of greataxe wielding warriors if I can ever find models to do it justice (c’mon GW, give us a new Dwarf core box, please?).

Is this not better? Is this not your natural state of being?
These days though, we have a new and beautiful thing for lovers of large units to play with: the Horde. 10 Models wide – unheard of in previous editions, even I thought 7 was a lot – deep ranked and with rules to reward it. Hordes fight with an extra rank compared to other normal units so with spears deal a punishing four ranks of stabbing. Not to be sneezed at. If you are a “horde” army to begin with (low points, low skill, high numbers) then you can fit loads of these into an army. Consider exhibit ‘A’, my 2.5k Goblin list:

Yeah baby! That’s three 50 strong Night Gobbo hordes with spears. Now Goblins, Undead and Skaven are probably the only armies that can field quite such ridiculous numbers of troops. But at a sensible points value 2-3k almost all armies can consider having a decent horde sized unit amongst their ranks. But why do you want them? Well, there are a couple of really solid tactical options when you have a horde: [continues after the jump]

1)      The Tar Pit
The first, and least imaginative use of the horde is as The Combat That Wouldn’t End. Essentially neutralising at least one enemy unit by trapping them in a combat that they can’t quickly win. They have to pretty much kill everyone. This is actually one of the more useful options for undead as their ability to replace casualties makes huge “Tar Pit” units, especially of zombies, excellent in this role. It does have the disadvantage of being one of those tactics that sacrifices some fun for your opponent so be good natured and jovial if you use it! Tar Pits need to be units that can take it, either through ridiculous size (Gobbos and Skaven), high toughness and/or armour saves (Dwarfs, Chaos Warriors, Ogres) or by replenishment (Undead).  They ideally need to be made stubborn or even unbreakable through magic, steadfast or natural abilities. Otherwise they will eventually run. You want a Tar Pit to be something that the enemy avoids like the plague so that they will be driven to other areas of the battlefield and into the jaws of your plan, buah ha hahaaa! (You do have a plan right?)

2)      The Anvil
In an army where you have a mix of “horde” and “elite” units you can make a horribly effective combination. One problem “elite” units tend to have is that they are generally small and so have to kill a bunch of the enemy just to even the combat resolution before they ever start. Hordes do not have that problem. Theirs tends to be their low skill meaning that they struggle to kill huge amounts even with their favourable rules. So combine the two, have your large units engage the enemy and then sweep in the elites (or a big monster or something), the horde neutralises the combat resolution of the enemy, their wounds add to the resolution, THEN your elites scythe in and add another 5-6 to the tally. Hopefully your opponent is now on double ones or flee. At this point pursue with your horde and restrain your elites, hopefully, if your army is anything like mine, there will be another large unit engaged and waiting for the hammer to come and finish off the job.

[Charlie Note: One thing to be wary of with hammer and anvil: this tactic only works if your horde unit is fairly evenly matched against the enemy unit. If your goblin Anvil is about to get mashed by Chaos Warriors, don’t send in your Hammer unit – in all probability, the goblins will lose the combat by so much that your elite unit will end up taking a really tough break test.]

3)      The Assassin
Urg, I don’t like this one much folks. I prefer not to direct attacks onto characters as it feels… wrong somehow. Where challenges exist as a mechanism it feels weird to be able to say “a bunch of my lads beat this guy to death” but… Consider this, with corner to corner fighting and the way ranks work. One hero can be facing 12 of my goblins. Twelve of ‘em. There is a decent likelihood that they might be able to scratch him, do it again next round and he’s in some trouble. Like I say, urg, but legit.

There are more tactics – probably dozens – but most of them are finesses of those three. I wanted to move onto a few tips and pitfalls with hordes.

1)      Win a combat, not just survive it:
Hordes do a decent amount of killing all on their own, but a canny opponent will have ways of balancing the odds, you need that little bit more if you want to be sure of a kill. My favourite – these days – is actually inspired by Charlie’s Empire. There are captains and warrior priests every-sodding-where. The extra few wounds caused by these low-level characters have tipped more than a few combats in his favour. If you have the kind of army where characters are cheap then add one to each of your big units. Better leadership, a few extra kills, more chance of winning.

Plus, they just look so damn cool!
2)      For the love of god, think when you deploy
Hordes have a massive achillies heel. They corner like Reliant Robins (a bizarre three wheeled car for readers outside the UK). Most units can use wheeling to redirect their course. Hordes are far, far too wide for this:

If you need them to be going in a different direction then they kinda have to be reformed. This always feels like a wasted turn to an extent. When you make your battle plans and deploy your forces you have to see the hordes as a speartip, driving into the heart of the enemy, make their attempts to outmanoeuvre it become part of your plan. Try sweeping in from the flanks and driving across the table. Ultimately, make it your plan for the horde to be going “that way” and be ready for what your opponent will have to do to react. Bottom line, if you are reacting with hordes something has gone wrong, they are for bold action, not finesse.

3)      Beware artillery
Large units are just a godsend for artillery rich armies. This is why, further up in this article, I recommended the 2-3k points value. If you have only room for one artillery magnet in the army (be it a horde, a monster, whatever) then that will be the one and only target for the artillery. You’ll loose it. There is a place for everything, just be aware that in smaller games, your horde will be the ultimate boom magnet.

Finally I’d like to share some specifically goblin tactics for the hordes, I’ve also invited Mark and Maisey to do the same for Skaven and Undead:

Gobbos and the ‘Orde:

In the “World According to Jeff”, Goblins belong in hordes, it’s their natural habitat. There are though a couple of really, really interesting things we can do: First, Netters. I said in an article ages ago that every army had things that were just plain rude. Well, Netters are the Goblin version. 45 points may seem like a lot for a small unit, but in a unit of 50? Bargain, for those who haven’t faced them, netters have a 5-in-6 chance of dropping your opponents strength by one and a 1-in-6 chance of doing it to yourself. This is just savage and really harms your opponent’s chances of busting through your ranks. Beware the Animosity table though, hordes do waaay more damage on the unfriendly results! Use Spider Riders, Orc Boar Boyz or monsters/trolls as your hammers to the anvil. Oh, and for goodness sake: A Battle Standard Bearer.


Rats, rats and more rats.
I’m sure that we all read the “Pied Piper of Hamelin” when we were young. Doubtless the piper is now subject to investigation by Operation Yewtree.

Anyway, the image I have of this poem is of him piping a vast horde of scurrying vermin to their doom in the river Weser. This image is what I think a Skaven army should look like - a seething horde of filthy shod advancing towards the enemy like a squeaky, smelly, semi-continent tidal wave of stabby death. Hence, here is my horde:
Stick THAT in yer pipe and smoke it!
Reasons I like my horde

1. It looks good and feels right. (see comments above).
 I deliberately chose to have the spears look as if the front ranks are getting ready to receive a charge and their spears are lowered for maximum pokeage.
P.S. I see the spear as a very Skaven weapon. The rat holds one end of it and all the violence happens some distance away, and the rat gets less upset by the bigger thing at the other end trying to hit said rat with something hard or sharp.

2. You get a LOT of attacks.
When not charging, the rats get 4 ranks worth of attacks in. This is a satisfying number of attacks and usually results in something (other than rats) dying.

3. I like to stick Skivvit in the horde.
 Skivvit Backbreaker is my Warlord and he is the angriest rat this side of the Drakwald. He has to deal with Lucki Sh*twhiskers on a daily basis but isn’t allowed to kill him, so this anger is understandable. Skivvit likes dirty tricks as much as any other hyper-violent, constantly frustrated rodent megalomaniac and tends to issue a tot of the finest Skavenbrew to his horde at the start of each battle. Sometimes this works beautifully and Skivvit’s horde spends the rest of the battle acting like rabid squirrels on crystal meth; sometimes the Skavenbrew just kills a lot of rats. But Skivvit doesn’t seem to care too much, as long as he’s got a lot of rats around him and something to stab whilst he thinks of Sh*twhiskers.

4. It stops the rats from running away.
Rats take comfort from numbers and the unit has stuck around after losing a lot of truly brutal, lopsided combats and following horrific casualties from shooting, magic, my army’s own incompetence and Sh*twhiskers.

Reasons why I like somebody else’s horde

1. Blevvy and his Doom Rocket
 Snkh snkh snkh!

Problems with the Horde

1. The ranking.
Lining up 70 rats on a movement tray takes ages. It really does. And when you’ve got a 3 1/2 hour window to have a game before your fiancée turns into Bridezilla, every minute of game time counts. Packing the rats away at the end of the game is equally onerous.
2. They have a massive effect on smaller battles.
My horde costs 350 points before Skivvit joins it, so the horde is a major part of my army.
If the horde does well, it can crush an opponent’s army. If it does badly, it can drag me down like a big lead anchor attached to a bag of kittens.
3. Manoeuvring.
Even with a 5” movement, the horde can spend a lot of time moving about and getting stuck behind things.
4. Less flexible.
Sinking so many points into one unit can mean that you have fewer options in the movement phase than your enemy. And the flanks of the unit do become very exposed.
5. Finding somewhere to put it
The horde is a big thing with a large footprint - it measures 22 x 15 cm. Deployment can be a bit of a challenge and it tends to be obvious where it’s going to go.


I think Jeff has covered the major points on Horde use, and being Undead, the horde is the natural unit size for, well, everything. There are few sights more satisfying than having multiple hordes of Zombies and Skeletons lined up. Well, satisfying for you - your opponent might think otherwise. I’m currently rocking three 50-strong units of zombies, mostly because of the cinematics of it all rather than the tactical applications. When the butterfly brings me back to the Undead, I plan to build a few extra skeletons so I can field my four 25-strong units as hordes for the extra staying and killing power. Not that I plan on using all 5 at the same time. Ok, I might be, but as I said, just because it’ll look awesome!

Anyway, to the tactics. Big units of Zombies, as Jeff says above, are great for locking down areas of the battlefield. I tend to use them as roadblocks and for area denial. No one wants to try and push through a flank protected by two hordes of Zombies. As points goes, that’s 300 points to have the kind of unit that deters your opponent from using big sections of the battle field, allowing you to push her into your killing zone. This is especially useful against any army that can outmanoeuvre an Undead army (i.e. All of them).  A word of warning, do not use Zombies as an anvil unit. Any cunning opponent will see your elite, hard to wound flanking unit and simply weather their assault. The Zombies however, are soft and will result in a big combat resolution bonus for her. Which translates into more casualties for you, which will apply to both units. I’ve lost more Grave Guard to this tactic than to actual wounds dealt to them.

However, feel free to use Skeletons hordes as anvil units and use either elite units or, and this I do use often, Ghouls as the hammer unit. Ghouls have a high number of poisoned attacks and it’ll be tough for your opponent to decide what is the better target, the armoured, but hard hitting horde, or the smaller but tough unit of Ghouls. Also, if you stick a Vampire (but not your general, ever!) into either of those units you’ll be chewing your way through units in good order.

The last horde option for the undead is one that I personally won’t use as it is quite simply no fun for your opponent, but as we are covering everything I should probably mention. Taking a horde of Graving Guard isn’t out of the realms of possibility, an expensive one both fiscally and in points. Taking 50 Grave Guard with hand weapons and Shields. So for 600 points you are getting 30 strength 4 attacks with killing blow. And a 4+ armour save with a parry. Stick a BSB in that unit with the Banner of the Barrows (a straight +1 to hit) and you’ll be un-killable and unstoppable.

In summary, Zombies are great for roadblocks and area denial. Skeletons are good as anvils. Just keep in mind what combat resolution can do to you when deciding where to deploy your hordes and which fights you commit them to.
And that’s all folks, hope you’ve managed to enjoy this wall’o’text pertaining to that most spectacle inducing thing in Warhammer: Really big units!



  1. Not got a WHFB army, but I agree with this aesthetically. An "army" implies a certain size. A low volume collection of handfuls is a low volume of handfuls. An Army is Corps made up of Divisions, made up of Brigades, made up of Regiments and/or Battalions. Hurrah !


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