Friday, January 14, 2011

With Malice Aforethought - Choosing Dark Elves

I checked in on the website for AdeptiCon earlier tonight and saw that it kicks off only 77 days from now. Allowing for travel time that leaves me with right around ten weeks to prepare for the events in which I'm registered to participate. The first morning of the con I'm playing in the 1000 point, four round Warhammer Fantasy: It's How You Use It tournament for which I plan on assembling and painting a new Dark Elf army. This is one of the events I'm most looking forward to and has sparked a renewed enthusiasm for the game that I haven't felt in quite a long time. Therefore tonight I want to begin the chronicle of my experiences with this army by discussing how I came to choose the Dark Elves and what it is about collecting them that appeals to me.

Some of you may remember when 8th edition was released last summer that I was very excited about returning to the fantasy game after an absence from it of several years. I'd drifted away from the game and, despite several attempt at getting involved again with various armies, ended up sitting on the sidelines through the entire duration of the previous edition of WHFB. With the game set to undergo what promised to be a thorough overhaul, the launch of 8th edition seemed like an ideal time to start playing again. At that point I wanted to collect a Bretonnian army but struggled with the army book and decided it was just not a good fit for me. Thus ended my brief allegiance to Bretonnia and with it my hopes for a triumphant return to Warhammer Fantasy, at least for the time being.

Feeling somewhat stung by this I didn't think much more about WHFB until preregistration for AdeptiCon 2011 began last October. Described as being particularly suitable for new players, the 1000 point Warhammer tournament seemed perfect for me and as a half-day event would still leave plenty of time for hobby seminars. Wunderbar! As I had hoped it would, signing up to play in this little tournament has given me the motivation I needed to revisit my choice in army and have another go at adding WHFB back to my hobby rotation.

Before finally choosing to play Dark Elves, I had narrowed the finalists down to either them, Orcs and Goblins, a skink-themed Lizardmen army, or my old standby, the Dwarfs. I read through the background sections for each army book and dutifully ogled all the pretty miniatures, but unlike when I selected the Bretonnians, this time to help decide which army to collect I set about making list after list for each of the contenders. I wanted to be sure that whichever army I chose would be one that offers a wide variety of styles of play, a quality that I felt was lacking from my experience working with the Bretonnian army book. Although my short term goal is to have 1000 points ready in time for AdeptiCon, ideally what I'm looking for is an army to which I can commit for the long haul.

Orcs & Goblins were eliminated because I expect to be pressed as it is getting the initial 1000 point army painted in time and thus picking a horde type of army seemed like an obvious bad call for me. Plus it's possible there will be a new O&G book coming out soon and this introduces more uncertainty than I'm presently willing to accept given the circumstances. Next I considered Dwarfs because building an updated army to replace my old collection of beards wearing armor has been on my hobby to-do list for a scandalously long time. Also my familiarity with Dwarfs seemed like it could simplify some of the learning process I will face with 8th edition and would allow me to start off already within a comfort zone of sorts. I decided against them however largely due to this familiarity. I feel like I'm starting WHFB fresh all over again and want to try out new approaches to the game than what I've done before. Therefore going right back to one of my primary armies from the past ceased to interest me once I thought about this and I moved on.

That means it came down to Dark Elves vs. the Lizardmen. The latter of the two offers so much of what I'm looking for in an army that it was a very close decision choosing between them. The strongest lure I felt for the Lizardmen came from what I consider to be one of the greatest Games Workshop kits of all time, the mighty Stegadon! This beautiful chunk of plastic is by itself ample reason to start a Lizardmen army and was likely the main cause of my prolonged indecision. Eventually I decided the skink-based army that I wanted to play, focused on skirmishing light troops backed by Salamanders, Terradon Riders and a Stegadon, would not be a good choice for me as an army with which to learn the game. It seems like it would be too tricksy for me to handle while still coming to grips with the basic mechanics and fundamental strategies of the game. Also I do not know if I would want to expand the army beyond its core emphasis on skinks so I thought it best to save this one for a later, more frivolous project.

And so that left the Dark Elves as the victors of my army search. Although it may seem as if this was just through surviving the process of elimination, there was in fact a lot going in their favor from the beginning and only increased their lead the more I thought about it. For starters I think their range of miniatures is, with just a few exceptions, one of the nicest available. Over the past few years I've purchased a modest selection of Dark Elf models just because they looked neat and seemed like they'd be fun to paint, chief among them the much ballyhooed and likewise bemoaned War Hydra. That's not to say the other army choices I considered do not also have their own awesome models. But unlike the others, I have essentially no prior experience painting Dark Elf miniatures which adds to the whole newness vibe that I'm grooving on. I've painted my share of Dwarfs, Orcs, Goblins, and even Lizardmen in the past, but I have previously painted at most perhaps only a half dozen or so Dark Elf models.

A fire breathing, regenerating, terror causing monster with Thunderstomp... YES PLEASE!

Cool miniatures alone are not enough to sway me however because Games Workshop has us spoiled for choice on that account. Therefore I believe the time I spent working on army lists at a range of point levels was particularly helpful. I quickly came to appreciate the variety of units available to Dark Elf armies and am confident I could add to my collection for a long time to come before exhausting my interest in them. I think it's an impressive mix of heroes and units, including: both cheap and elite infantry, skirmishers, missile troops, fast cavalry, heavy cavalry and chariots, competent magic users, a quality warmachine, and perhaps best of all, a big ugly monster worthy of being the centerpiece for my army. That's pretty much everything I could want and more.

Lastly, I noticed something unusual about the Dark Elves. Although I've at least dabbled in close to every army available at some point or other, it appears as though I've managed to avoid almost entirely the Dark Elves. Not only have I painted just a meager few of their miniatures, but I also have read and absorbed precious little of their fluff and background material prior to this undertaking. Other than the fluff contained in previous versions of their army book I cannot recall having read anything else concerning Dark Elves and their place in the world of Warhammer. As much as I liked the miniatures and their style, the concept for mean elves obsessed with revenge had virtually no appeal for me.

Something clicked though as I was reading through their current army book a couple of months ago when I started this army evaluation process. This time around I was totally hooked by the story of the Druchii and found their history and social dynamics fascinating. It was therefore something of a special bonus when I realized that I have the Malus Darkblade and Malekith novels available to read as I work on my Dark Elf raiders. I don't know if I've ever had the pleasure of reading a Black Library book while at the same time working on the main army featured in the novel. That makes this sort of a unique treat for me and sealed my choice in favor of the Dark Elves once I realized how well this had worked out.

Having gone through all of this and really having taken my time with my decision, I feel confident that the Dark Elves are indeed the right choice for me. I like the painting and collecting opportunities, there seems to be a strong variety of units and army styles with which I can experiment, and the fluff offers for me a new and previously unexplored perspective on the Warhammer world with more than 1800 pages of fiction to read related to my choice of army. Like I suggested before, it's all I had hoped for and more.

So that's the story of how I came to be a Dark Elf player, I do apologize for letting this turn into such a lengthy saga. In my defense however this did cover the past three months of Warhammer Fantasy contemplation in which I've indulged. Now that I'm caught up to the present with my account, I doubt there will be further reason to write at such length anytime soon. I ended up not having much time to begin work on the army this past week so I'm looking forward to diving in this weekend. In the coming days I will discuss things like potential themes for my collection, developing army lists, assembly and painting notes, and so on. For now though I feel exhausted and am quite ready to stop writing.

Therefore goodnight and happy gaming!


  1. Excellent choice sir! You only need a few units of dark elf soldiers to unleash tremendous damage.

    I know one player who just has crossbow men, artillery, calvary and a hydra and he with, he is able to beat any opponent.

    First, he softens the enemy up with crossbow fire then he outflanks them with the cavalry.

    The hydra is just a decoy.

  2. Ah, a decoy... brilliant! That does sound like a very cunning strategy, thank you for sharing such insights into Dark Elf warfare with me. I can already sense that if I'm going to be successful with this army, then I'm going to need to be much more clever than I had been with my old Dwarfs. I really am happy that you like my choice in army, I shall try not to let you down. :) Thank you for being a such a positive source of inspiration and good cheer, it's always fun to hear from you. Thanks, Bartender, I hope you have a fantastic weekend!

  3. That was a good read, and with the four armies, a good reflection of the process. I'm intrigued enough by your comments on internal dynamics to want to review what I know and how I feel about the dark elves. It'll be an interesting ten weeks to be along for the ride!

  4. I started up DE myself, but assembling the hydras made me change my mind. Love the figures, and captain squidface and the cold ones will make appearances elsewhere, but those hydras cemented my hatred of large GW metal models.

  5. @ Porky - Thank you, I'm glad you enjoyed reading through all of that. I started to worry that it was too long of a read but then I thought of you and took courage from your example. ;)

    I had never understood how Dark Elf culture would sustain itself with all of the murder, treachery and intrigue for which it is known. Delving further into their culture, I see now that there is much in place to ensure the Druchii way is not ultimately self-terminating. It feels a lot more believable and real this time as I look more closely into Dark Elf society and I can now grasp how they've managed to keep the war against their cousins going for 5000 years despite the penchant for undermining each other.

    Hopefully the coming months will be a fun and rewarding time, I'm grateful to be able to share my experiences with such kind people. Thank you very much, Porky!!

    @ sonsoftaurus - Haha! Every time I look at the Hydra I get the feeling that it's going to be a nightmare to both assemble and then to keep from falling apart as well. I haven't checked out the pieces yet but what you report pretty much confirms what I've been worried about. If the Hydra got the better of you, I'm afraid of what it is going to do to me. Oh boy, this will be fun for sure! Thanks for the info, sonsoftaurus, it's better for me to at least go into this forewarned!

  6. Assassins and Cold One Knights and as for the magic user on a Cold One add her to the knights. Cold ones I will now call Deep ones.... And if there is one on the list blood banner for the knights.

  7. nice blog, just subbed to it. i actually played empire when i was a little kid.

    Make sure to follow mine at

  8. @ Derina - Deep One Knights... hmm, I like that a lot. Nice! The knights are some of my favorite miniatures for this army and I really like the assassins too for the amount of options they have available. I'm psyched about this army, although that's probably obvious at this point. :) Thanks, Derina!

    @ watchman - It's never too late to start playing again with toy soldiers, but I do admit to being biased. ;) I checked out you blog and although I don't know much at all about watches I found your enthusiasm for the subject quite enjoyable. I look forward to learning more about watches from you and wish you lots of success with The Watch Fanatic. Thank you, watchman!

  9. Cool! I can't wait to see the army start taking shape!! My friend also collects this army, and the models are so georgeous, that I have always had an itch to start them, but never have. I really look forward to your progress, and hope that you make that deadline with time to spare! When do you expect to have a test mini done for color scheme etc.
    Cheers, Bard

  10. ditto as I want to know how you want the sorceress done. Will be going to Exeter on the 2nd of Feb and do you want the one on foot as well as I might send it to The lady who played the XO in babylon 5. that prog has Lovecraft bits in too.

  11. This was an excellent read. I love reading how other choose their army's. It sounds like you really did your research and should have a army that will keep you interested for sometime to come. Thank you for sharing your story.

  12. @ Black Bard - Right on! Thank you for the encouragement, I appreciate it very much. I suspect I'll need to be more efficient with my painting time than normal but I look forward to the challenge. I'm currently thinking about doing as much assembly as I can and then prime minis as the weather permits, with the goal of having everything ready to paint by mid-February. I'd like to have my color scheme worked out by then so... test mini by end of January? That seems about right but I usually am bad at estimating these things so we'll see how it goes. Thanks again, Black Bard!

    @ Derina - This is a real bonus for me so please do whatever you wish, I am just so grateful for your generosity. :) Based on my hasty calculations I will try to have a test mini painted by the end of the month. Thanks so much, Derina!

    @ Meatball - I'm very glad you enjoyed this, thank you! I love finding out more about what attracts gamers to their choice in army and the types of factors that influence them. If that type of insight about others interests me then I figured it could be worthwhile writing out an account of my own. I'm very excited about this new direction for my hobby and am grateful I could share it with you. Thank you, Meatball, it's great hearing from you!

  13. hey mate, big warhammer fan over here!

    I use dark elves as well, but hell I'll be honest back when I started I just went for the guys which looked the coolest to me. choosing my army was a matter of minutes hehe.

    following you now!
    my blog, if you feel like giving it a click

  14. Nice to meet you, Wesh! There's definitely nothing wrong with choosing an army just because the miniatures are awesome. My problem is that there are so many that I really like the look of that it was too tough for me to choose based on coolness alone. I could just be indecisive though... :)

    Thanks for checking out my blog and following it. Your blog looks really interesting and kind of informational, too. Thank you, Wesh!

  15. I enjoyed reading through the arduous process of elimination you went through choosing your new army. I think the amount of thought you've invested in it will make it all the more rewarding once it's finished. I look forward to seeing some progress on the miniatures!

  16. Thanks, Daemonetteboobs! I'm really glad you enjoyed reading about how I finally made up my mind which army to collect, hopefully getting through all of that wasn't in itself too arduous. I felt like I had to put more thought and consideration into this choice than I normally do as I want to avoid any more false starts and wasted effort. I think you're right that being careful initially will make this a much more enjoyable and satisfying project. I'm already having a lot of fun and I've barely started so that's a good sign at least. Thank you very much, Daemonetteboobs!