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Tactica: Empire Infantry-Based Lists

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Holy Hand Grenade:
Tactica:  Empire Infantry-Based Lists

The purpose of this Tactica is to collect ideas, theories, personal experiences, and “tricks of the trade” on how Empire Generals field infantry-based lists.

I think any discussion on this topic has to start with Jorgen A's Tactica contribution he made back in Jan.  It gives the historical backgrounds of infantry, cavalry, ranged, and most important for us, combined arms warfare and his thoughts and applications to Warhammer.  Worth the read.

Also, Calisson's detailed analysis on How to Balance an Empire Army is pure gold. 

If you have seen an old post on this-  or written one yourself- put a link in here!

Holy Hand Grenade:
I think any discussion on this topic has to start with Jorgen A's Tactica contribution he made back in Jan.  It gives the historical backgrounds of infantry, cavalry, ranged, and most important for us, combined arms warfare and his thoughts and applications to Warhammer.  Worth the read.

Also, Calisson's detailed analysis on How to Balance an Empire Army is pure gold.  Calission-  maybe you can move/repost your ideas here?

If you have seen an old post on this-  or written one yourself- put a link in here!

I am currently writing a post to build off what Jorgen and Calisson started about balance and list building thoughts...will have out to you shortly.

Holy Hand Grenade:
The Principle of Balance & Infantry-Based Armies

***Note-  I am going to use the terms I shared in my thread The Tao of the Empire-  such as Tao, shih and node.  To understand what I am talking about, it would help if you took the time to read it.

Calisson laid the foundation of this discussion in his thread How to Balance an Empire Army.  He went into painstaking detail on every asset available to an Empire General and offered all the different possibilities that could be combined to create an army.  It is a treasure chest.

I am not going to duplicate his effort here.  I am going to offer few maxims that I use to create powerful, effective Empire lists.  I am going to call them premises below because you may or may not agree with them.


The purpose of this post is to talk about balance.  Extreme lists can sometimes be fun to play, but to win consistently with Empire, a General needs to build a list with a strong foundation and include elements that support this foundation.  Foundation first, then support. 

The foundation is your “center of gravity” from which your army draws its strength and power from.  If you foundation falls, your army falls.  It is your primary source of shih-  all rest of your forces add their shih to this foundation to lead to victory.

The first premise I want to put forward:  I think that Empire with the new 8th Edition army book has two primary foundations-  one is cavalry and the other is infantry. 

          --A third is artillery.  However, I only listed cavalry and infantry because I personally do not think that artillery
          is a dependable foundation anymore.  Gunlines are certainly doable, but they are more expensive points-
          wise to field than before and are less fun for your opponent to play against.  Who really wants to face a
          gunline?  Our new army books pushes us in the direction of infantry and cavalry-  and instead of resisting it,
          we should embrace it (until 9th Edition comes along…but let’s focus on the present).

          --You could argue that another foundation could be an infantry/cavalry mix.  While this is possible, I would
          submit to you that one or the other probably costs more points and carries more weight/punch in the list. 
          Therefore, for simplicity’s sake, I think covering infantry-based lists and cavalry-based lists will cover all the
          necessary ground…

I am only going cover the infantry-based army in this post because it is probably the most common… and one a new Empire player could easily adopt and have success with.  I encourage someone else to create a thread on the cavalry-based army!   

The Infantry Foundation:

So let’s talk about the foundation-  our human infantry.  Jorgen A gives an awesome historical overview of infantry and ties it in to Empire and combined arms.  Read it now if you want to get some of that background.  It ties in really well to this post! 

We obviously need some infantry blocks but how many and what type?  I do not plan to debate spears versus swords, hordes versus busses, lots of detachments versus none, and so on.  I think you could use anything in the book and be successful with it.  I primarily want to look at balance.  So let’s start with a macro view-  how many troops do we need?  What is the right balance?

I don’t think point cost is the best way to look at how much infantry you should put on the line.  I personally think wounds is a much better metric.  You need somewhere between 75-150 wounds of human flesh.  You can get away with 75 if you are leaning towards quality over quantity…but you will need at least 100 if you are going for quantity over quality.

This will probably be somewhere between 25 to 35 percent of your total army points.  Some go more than this-  but I think your troops will suffer from a lack of support.  We are not a horde army per se, just like we aren’t an elite army.  We are a combined-arms army.  Which leads me to my second premise:  the most effective Empire army to field with our new 8th Edition army book is a combined arms one. 

The 25-35% infantry and 65-75% support ratio accurately reflects modern-day armies.  For every Grunt, there are at least 3 personnel “behind” them supporting them with admin, intel, logistics, medical support, etc.  Despite having served in the military for 22 years, it still baffles my mind on how much support is actually required to sustain 1 company of troops in the field…let alone a battalion or regiment.  The same holds true for Empire.  Just putting a bunch of troops out on the field will likely spell defeat.  Support is a necessary component of a combined arms approach.

So, in our case, support qualifies as magic, artillery, missile weapons, light and heavy cav, buff wagons, characters and chaff/diverters.  The immediate question that comes to mind is what kind of support to bring and in what mix?  The possibilities are endless, really.  However, my third premise in building a balanced Empire list is this:  every single point that is spent on support should be included with the express intent of supporting the foundation-  in this case, our infantry. 

Including a bunch of “toys” and “cool stuff” is not going to net you a bunch of victories.  Each addition needs to have a purpose and reason for being included.  The shih of each unit needs to be built upon the infantry foundation to create the overall Tao you are trying to create. 

I am not going to advocate one support option over another.  Going heavier on magic is viable, as is including lots of ranged support.  The key thing to remember is that our support options are nice-  but they are not always reliable.  The Winds of Magic are fickle and artillery pieces misfire all the time.  Missile weapons are not accurate and enemy units are not always in range.  Characters can be killed fairly easily.  Cavalry is probably the most reliable support unit- but even it can be hampered by Dangerous Terrain, enemy diverters, and the likelihood of roaming outside your General’s Leadership bubble and the safety of the BSB’s re-rolls (if your General and BSB are in the cavalry…then I really think you are running a cavalry-based list.)


So with my first 3 premises in mind, let’s dive into a more detailed discussion on composition.  I really like Jorgen A’s methodology of trying to include 3 to 5 components into a list.  He advocates for exactly 3 components and gives historical examples on why.  I agree with him.

However, I am going to differ with him slightly in my methodology by looking at components as different hammers and anvils included in a list-  and not by unit type like he does.  (His components are infantry, cavalry, missile, artillery, monsters, and magic.)

The reason why:  I see the primary attribute of a component is something that fills up space on the ground and can hold terrain.  These hammer and anvil components (or components that are both a hammer and an anvil like the Steam Tank) are either a unit or units that work together to perform a function on the battlefield and can hold terrain.

Using this framework, magic is not a component-  magic users do not hold terrain and are usually hiding in another unit/component.  Same thing with buff wagons-  they do fill up space but are not used to hold terrain and are usually hiding behind the lines.  Several artillery pieces could form a component-  something common in many Empire armies.  Troops armed with missile weapons could be a component, but more often than not they are supporting another component, like infantry or artillery, and are not a component themselves.  Cavalry can be a component if taken as 8-15 models (heavy cavalry in the 4-6 range).  I think a Steam Tank can be a component too-  due to its durability, lasting power, and potential to grind down enemy troops. 

You need to build several components or cohesive fighting units into your list.  In lower point battles, you might only be able to get up to two, but in the 2000-2500 range, three components should be the norm.  At 3000 and higher, you can obviously build in more.  Points are limited-  so I think that a few, more powerful components are better than more, less powerful ones. 

Examples-  a Halberd horde and its detachments could be used as a hammer.  Cavalry blocks also make great hammers.  Popular anvils are Spear busses, but an anvil could be a smaller Halberd block meant to be a speedbump, not a force for destruction.

The case I am trying to make here is that you need to build pockets/bundles of capability or shih.  How many hammer versus anvils really depends on your playstyle and how you envision your forces flowing together and creating synergy. 

If I had to lean one way, it would be towards more hammers than anvils.  You have to field some kind of capability that can force node on the enemy…defense is only good for allowing the right moment to bring on the heat and deliver the offense.  Even in modern combat, you only go on the defensive if you need to in order to build momentum for the next strike or if you are applying economy of force in one area while you concentrate your combat power in another.

Calisson gives excellent analysis of different types of army “flavors” in his Balanced Army thread in 5.2:  The Recipes for an Army.  If you are looking for ideas on what kind of components you want to use and what kind of shih is your style, it is a worthy read.  You could use any of his suggested “flavors-” but if you using my first 3 premises for an infantry-based army, than infantry is obviously one of the flavors you need to choose.   

All of this leads to my fourth premise:  you can get the most out of your army by forming components.

To help visualize what I mean by components, I offer the following graphs as examples.  My most recent list has 3 components-  a half-Griffon Formation based on a Greatsword horde, a large cavalry block of 15 Inner Circle Knights, and a Steam Tank.  Using a “relationship” graph like I previewed in The Tao of the Empire thread, here is what the bundles of shih look like:

Before we start talking about what kinds of support to put in your list for these components, I have a few graphs on how I envision they could be used on the battlefield.  (I will likely post more detailed examples in the Tactica for maneuvering, but I want to include a few graphs here so you can envision the components in action.)

You could move forward as far as you can go with all 3 components.  In the example below, the cavalry on the left (with a longer range of influence) would move farther forward and push on the left flank.

One of the things I like to do is stagger the line-  especially against an opponent with more units than me.  In the first example, the center unit holds back a bit, allowing the two flank components to move forward to create more of a V than a straight battle line.  This puts a nice kill zone in the middle of the components.

Another solid move is to push forward with the center component and hold back a little bit on the flanks.  This inverted V works well if your opponent has lots of fast flanking forces and you want to keep your extreme flanks back to avoid being encircled.  It still creates a nice kill zone-  the two back components can move up as needed to support the center.

I like the staggered line approach.  It also lends itself to my last premise, which I will cover later.

The next graph is an example of how a battle line would look with an artillery nest in the rear as the third component.  Usually this means you don’t push the battle line up too far to avoid easy access to your rear areas-  and to give your artillery support more time to blast the enemy before the lines are engaged.

So to summarize before we move on-  think about the forces you like to use, and imagine creating the base of your army into several components that will work together to hold terrain, pin the enemy, or destroy him.  In the case of an infantry-based army, at least 1 of the components is going to be infantry, but it could be more.

Holy Hand Grenade:
Supporting the Foundation:

Now we are going to look at what kind of support you need to build into your list to backup the components you have created. 

Again, Calisson’s thread is a great resource to tap into.  He outlines what units/characters/Lores can be used for what purpose…and how well they do it.  Reading his Comprehensive toolbox is especially pertinent.  No matter what components you use-  you need to think about adding in support that will assist against all the various threats you are going to face on the battlefield:

--If you can’t handle a massive horde, you are going to have problems. 
--If you can’t handle a few monsters, you are going to get eaten. 
--If you can’t handle a bunch of enemy wizards, you are going to get fried/vortexed/out-buffed or sucked to your doom. 
--If you don’t have an answer for Ethereal creatures, you are going to get tarpitted. 

You will probably not be great at handling every threat…but you at least need to think about how you are going to mitigate them-  otherwise you WILL face the wrong opponent some day.

I am not going to duplicate Calisson’s contribution on the subject of support-  but I do want to take a “macro” view on the subject and offer some suggestions.   

Magic Support:

Magic support is necessary.  Even if you don’t go magic heavy and devote a lot of points to it-  having a Lvl 4 Wizard and one dispel scroll are almost “must-haves” for magic defense alone.  Magic-heavy armies will eat you alive if you take less.  The Elector’s Forum is full of opinions on the merits of different Lores so I am not going to cover it now-  except to say that whatever you pick has to jive with my third premise-  that all support must be taken to benefit the foundation and components you have chosen.     

AL/WPs are obvious choices due to their prayers that directly affect infantry combat power.  Other buffing/debuffing Lores are also solid choices.  Nukers and ranged magic could also be taken-  especially if you go light in other ranged categories.  Your troops can soak up some wounds, but they are only human after all and can’t handle multiple nasty monsters or elite units without them being whittled down or destroyed before reaching your lines. 

Ranged Support:

If you don’t have any ranged magic attacks, then including some kind of missile or artillery support is necessary.  Even if you do, I think having other ranged options is important because of the fickle nature of magic.  Helblasters (especially with an Engineer) have become an excellent choice.  Cannons are still a nasty addition to any army.  The thing to keep in mind with ranged support is to remember that it is still only support.  It will not usually win you the battle any more, but it is a critical component of the combined arms approach.   

If you take Warmachines then you have to plan on how to defend them and deploy them.  You don’t HAVE to defend them if you only want to get a couple of cannon shots off before the two battle lines meet, but they add another static dimension to your army that you need to account for.  Regardless, a little bit of defense can go a long way in keeping those assets on the table and keep them up and firing.

An opponent appropriately equipped and determined to kill Warmachine nests will likely take them out-  but that is okay.  If you use the components you have built and use them effectively, you are applying your combat power against his juicy targets and stand a good chance of coming out on top.

Character Support:

In an infantry-based army, I think that characters primarily serve defensive support purposes, not offensive ones (except maybe for some magic users).  They provide much needed leadership, Hold the Line and Hold your Ground and buffing support. 
I give them defensive gear and cheap magic items that build the shih of the units they join.  Remember-  every point spent should support the overall effect you are trying to achieve-  either in a unit, a component, or in the infantry-based army as a whole.

Diverter/Chaff Support:

The last support units I am going to discuss are diverters.  Our new detachment rules give us easy access to cheap dispensable options-  whether it is 5-man Free Company,  Spearmen, or Archer detachments.  More expensive mobile options are available too-  such as 5 vanilla Knights or Pistoliers.  Regardless of what you pick, I can’t stress enough the importance of spending points on units devoted to the purpose of diverting, march-blocking and messing with the shih of your opponent and his plans.  If you don’t take them, your opponent is going to be able to dictate the flow of the battle and line up the charges and battles he wants to conduct, when he wants to conduct them.

Besides just being outmatched in a specific one versus one battle, the primary killer and remover of units in Warhammer is when it gets charged by multiple enemy units, especially when this happens in the flank or rear.  Only really badass units (or Stubborn ones) can stand up to this for long-  and our options for these types of units is small indeed.  Obviously, avoiding these situations is important.  Horde armies achieve this by sheer numbers and mass, while MSU-style armies achieve it by lots of units and speed. 

I think Empires best way of achieving it is by mixing hammers, anvils and diverters in such a way to avoid/divert the combats you want to hold off on, while applying decisive combat power at specific places at specific points in time to achieve node.  This is one aspect of the “combined arms” approach.

My various Griffon Formations are how I attempt to achieve it…but they are certainly not the only way.  Using hammers, anvils, and diverters properly take practice, but when a Warhammer player creates an army he is comfortable with and masters its shih to achieve multiple node, his level of play is significantly increased.

Working Towards a Combined Arms Approach:

I am not going to go into too much detail on the combined arms approach here (I plan to contribute a thread or two under the Combined Arms Tactica) but I think one concept is important to point out now-  Empire’s combined arms approach works best when we can manage/dictate the flow of the game by keeping combat to one main battle per turn.  This is one of the reasons I think diverters are so important-  they provide the extra time and space needed to attempt to accomplish this.

Horde armies want multiple combats.  Their Generals use the principle of mass to overwhelm the opponent with more troops and wounds than can be killed.  Some MSU armies desire multiple combats hoping to overwhelm by combo-charges against several different targets, while other MSU armies that rely on magic or specific units have to be more patient because they can only afford so many of their key support units.  Regardless, Empire Generals are best served in preserving their combat power by keeping the combats limited to what they can handle.

My last premise:  the best scenario for an Empire player is one key combat per turn.  Usually this means one component of yours is engaged, while the others are holding off or are used in as economy of force.  Hopefully this combat is one where the Empire has achieved combat superiority, either by numbers or multiple charges.  Magic support-  whether prayers or buffs can be tossed their way and disrupt/nuke spells can be cast on enemy units that threaten to join the combat.  This is combined arms in action!  Hammers are used to hammer, anvils are used to anvil, diverters are diverting, and support magic is being poured in-  all to achieve node.  This perfect scenario is not always achievable, but I think it should be strived for.

I looked through my Battle Reports to find an example of using components during a battle and how I managed to isolate one key engagement on my turn.  The best one I could find was the graph below.  I had multiple units in combat, but the one that really mattered to me was my Greatsword horde versus a Ghoul horde.  I used all my detachments to tie up units on the flanks of the Greatsword combat and had defense in depth on my far left flank to worry about his Black Knights. 

The two components in reserve turned out to be key-  as his Black Knights were able to kill one of my components (my Knights) and push deep into my backfield.  The Tank, (another component) was positioned to pick up the slack.

Review of Premises:

So in summary, my 5 premises in building an effective balanced list are:

1.   Empire has two primary foundations:  cavalry or infantry.  This is your “center of gravity” and the source of most of your shih.

2.   Empire’s most effective approach is a combined arms one (Empire’s Tao).

3.   Every point spent on support sustains the foundation (infantry in this case) to achieve a combined arms approach.

4.   Forming components is the best way to maximize the shih of your army and achieve combined arms.

5.   Empire can achieve the most out of its combined arms by having one component involved in combat at a time.

A Checklist for Building a Balanced List using my Premises:

1.   Come up with a rough figure of total wounds of infantry you want to put on the table.  Decide if you are going to lean towards quality or quantity.
2.   Start with a few unit types, sizes, detachments.  Sketch out how it would look on the battlefield.
3.   Think about how many components you want to form and what do you have so far.  What else fits your style to flush out all the components you need?
4.   Start thinking about formations.  What is going to work together?  How are you going to usually deploy what you have so far?
5.   Add in support to make the components you have so far fully combat capable.  (For instance, Engineers with Helblasters, WPs in infantry blocks, etc).
6.   Make sure you are going to meet Core requirements.  Add to meet Core.  If you are already running out of points, go back and look at your components again and adjust to more Core-friendly choices.
7.   Go back and make sure everything included so far fits the 5 premises.
8.   Now the hard part begins-  fill up the rest of your points with the support that is still lacking or things you want to include.
9.   Double-check-  how is Leadership?   The BSB?  Places for your magic users to go?
10.   Attack your list thinking about every possible threat.  Do you have magic defense?  Diverters?  Some speed?  Can you handle a Deathstar?  MSU?  Can you take out Monsters?  Handle Monstrous Cav or Infantry?  Deal with flying or Ethereal?
11.   Readjust as necessary and make final tweaks.
12.   Use the army and whoop some ass.  Go back through this checklist as necessary to fine tune your army. 

Concluding Thoughts:

In this balancing thread, I purposely steered clear of telling you exactly what type of units to take, how many to take of them, and how to use them.  The Elector’s Forum and Parade Ground is full of that type of advice.  I am trying to take you a step above those conversations and talk about building a balanced army from the ground up with forces that matter to you and fit your playstyle-  essentially your Empire Tao. 

I tried to give practical advice and offered my Empire listbuilding maxims on things to think about in building a balanced, combined arms list and what forms or shih you should consider when building upon an infantry foundation.

I consider this post my central philosophy in how to use Empire.  The Griffon Formation thread and The Tao of the Empire thread were really primers for these thoughts.  The 5 premises are really the reason Empire is my favorite army…I love the combined arms approach and watching my humans, who are usually outnumbered or outclassed, dismantle other “uber” armies is an awesome sight.

My methodology and framework certainly aren’t the only way, but it is a way founded in military theory- that has been tested in fire and blood and has produced victory more often than naught! 

Hope you found it useful.

That is incredibly well done.  Absolutely first rate.  I can't wait to see your next segments.  This is precisely what drew me to Warhammer (and to fielding an Empire army).


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