OK, rant time…
Like many, and maybe even most gamers I spend some degree of time listening to podcasts, and reading people’s opinions on blogs or forums. Since 8th edition of WHFB came out, people have been going back and forth regarding the new system, what is good, and often what is BAD! One of the most common targets for criticism of the new edition of Warhammer Fantasy Battle 8th ed is the new magic system. Those of you who play this game will be well aware of people’s concerns regarding the game changing potential of spells like “Dwellers From Below”, “Infernal Gateway”, “The dreaded 13th”, and “Occam’s Mind Razor”. For those of you who aren’t, there is a feeling out there that some armies in WHFB can cast these spells, with little or no defense from the target player, “deleting” a unit from the board. The argument seems to be that it doesn’t matter how clever a tactician you are, if your opponent has a lucky magic phase, it is all over. I really don’t buy this.
I have played several dozen games of 8th edition WHFB, and I have to say that occurrences of magic totally dominating the game are not actually all that common. Magic has become more powerful in the game, but really isn’t the hobby destroying, no tactics bully that more reactionary people online have been making it out to be. I think that people see a particular scenario being described… “There I was with my 40-man infantry block, and this guy 6 diced, I.F., Dwellered it, taking out half of my troops, BSB, and General! Where is the skill in that?!?” and then assume that does, or will happen in most games.
Here is my take on this sort of thing. To leverage a spell such as Dwellers, and to get such dramatic result requires a great deal of point, and dice resources, and at that point is a gamble whether it will work or not. When it doesn’t work it is a big waste of time, and more importantly, when it does work, there is a disproportionate response to what just happened. Getting a unit mauled by a spell sucks. So does getting a unit mauled by a hellblaster volley gun… I don’t hear people complaining about those (AND, more importantly I didn’t in 7th ed either)*. I can run a Sorcerer of Tzeentch and throw Gateways around (and have been able to since 7th ed), but I have never managed to roll the infamous 11, or 12 for strength which would destroy the whole unit. I have managed to kill my sorcerer with miscasts, or misplacement trying to do exactly that, however. In Flames of War, one of our local players is fond of the Stuart-rush, getting behind enemy lines to cause havoc with his speedy, light tanks. Occasionally that tactic doesn’t pan out, and a 5 tank platoon is delivered on a silver platter to the VP pile. This isn’t a Warhammer 8th edition thing. Most popular miniature games have a similar dynamic where you have an opportunity to throw a lot of resources at a situation and hopefully get big returns from it. If those returns don’t pan out, then what?
Admittedly, if a player invests in a mobile level 4 wizard, that can throw a lot of dice at big spells, and potentially mitigate miscasts to some degree, they can attempt to do their thing every turn of a game. In my experience, playing against lizard players, the Slann didn’t toss Dwellers every turn, because he wanted to cast other, less dramatic, but more utilitarian spells occasionally. I have never had a game where my opponent or myself threw out one gateway a turn, which would be the most effective way of getting the magic roll of evil. A player could throw those spells every turn, but at what cost? It is just as possible that a 400+ point wizard may just have spent the entire game killing a hand full of infantry. I can’t tell you the amount of times I have fired off 10 str 3 (or similar) gateway shots at units.
I am coming around to the view that magic like this is simply another part of the general dynamic of the game. If there is a large block of Khorne Warriors cruising towards your line, you really will need to whittle it down some with magic or shooting, or maneuver to avoid it, because its very unlikely that you will be able to beat it otherwise.
*Except me, I would pitch a fit everytime John fired that broken pile of cheating at one of my poor Chaos Warrior units! What did they ever do to him, I ask you?!?