Monday, 8 August 2016

Order: Sylvaneth - Spells, Wargear & Battalions (Warhammer Age of Sigmar Battletome Review, 1st Edition)


So, here we are, onto the final part of our rules analysis. For the prior section on the units, you can find all information here. This time delving into the army formations, spells and equipment, this is to be a look at how the force as a whole will stand out once amassed for war. If anything, it's actually more important here than any other Battletome as the Sylvaneth's fragility surrounding their frontline troops and high cost elites means using anything to their advantage to stave off stronger overwhelming numbers is key to victory. Again, there's a Craftworld Eldar comparison to be made, but you're probably sick of that by this point.

So, without further ado, let's finish off this book once and for all -


Magic Spells



1. Titled Deepwood Spell Lore, this is relatively similar to fantasy in concept. You basically have a single discipline unique to the Sylvaneth themselves, focusing upon their unique abilities or units, with a mix of offensive spells, buffs and a few fun options. 

2. The first of these Throne of Vines, falls into an innate buff to the caster themselves, at least in the long run. While you need a casting value of five to pull it off, it does add +D3 to any casting/unbinding actions so long as the model stays still. The fact you're immobile is going to be the big make or break point for many, given how many Sylvaneth spellcasters are either relatively fragile or tend to inflict the most damage up close and personal. However, there are a few innate situations where this is useful. The Dryad spam ability for starters is one which works best with the Branchwraith holding back inside a Wyldwood and working at long range. Some of Alarielle's own healing buffs are excellently augmented with this as well, so it's useful at times but extremely situational.

3. Regrowth, meanwhile, is a healing spell with an "18 inch range which instantly fixes D3 wounds, or D6 if the target is also a Sylvaneth. This has a casting value of five as well, but it's extremely useful if you're lacking Alarielle or need an extremely quick buff to a fragile frontline fighter. Hell, it doesn't even scale with unit sizes, so you can suddenly have a Treelord on its last legs immediately be fixed up to near perfection, causing all kinds of headaches for a foe. Despite its short range, nine tenths of Sylvaneth armies are probably going to want this spell to help win the day. Yeah, it's not very original, but it's a practical and reliable choice.

4. Next up is Verdant Blessing, which is good but unfortunately falls back onto a gimmick the Sylvaneth seem to be relying upon far too much for their force. With a casting value of six, you can set up a Wyldwood within 18" of the caster. This can be ahead, behind or just about anywhere, and you can use it to sprout up multiple forests at a time. On the one hand, yeah, this is actually pretty useful given how many big army units have teleportation or buffs between these woods, and how they serve as an excellent roadblock to foes. On the other though, it seems like a step too far, focusing this army squarely upon an (admittedly useful and unique) gimmick rather than more evenly distributing the focus between units. Still, as before, if it works then it works.

5. The Dwellers Below is the killy choice on this list, and it's the one players who use spellcasters for crowd control will absolutely love. While it has a casting value of seven and a range of 10", you're given the ability to roll a D6 for every model in an enemy unit. On the roll of a full six, they instantly gain a Mortal Wound. So, if you can keep an enemy squad tied up fighting a blockade of Dryads or more robust units, you can have a spellcaster hanging in the background spamming this ability. This does admittedly seem a little questionable thanks to its fun and frustration factor. 

On the one hand, it's a Mortal Wound for every successful six on the unit. On the other, it's a Mortal wound for every successful six on the unit, meaning it can cut through whole swathes of heavy infantry on a good roll or two. This means you have a very powerful ability hinging almost purely on RNG, potentially turning a character into a walking Death Star unit. It honestly seems as if it could have been better thought out or structured rather than going for the simplest approach, but at least it has a redeeming short range.

6. The Reaping fits into a similar category as The Dwellers Below, but with a much broader, more openly distributed, focus. Also, it's honestly not nearly as good by comparison. Rather than being channeled into a single unit, it hits anything within 3" for D3 Mortal Wounds, and has a casting value of six. So, what you're left with is an ability which isn't based nearly so much upon luck, but it can only work at point blank range. Unless you're willing to suicide rush a spellcaster into the absolute thick of combat, get her between three units and start loosing this, it's honestly not very good. Hell, even if you can get her into the right place and keep her alive, it will only work against small, tough, squads which the likes of the Stormcast Eternals favour. Against horde armies, this thing won't make a dent. Honestly, you'd either need to be mad or have an exceptionally good plan to take this one.

7. Finally, we have Treesong which is another Wyldwood related ability. Rather than summoning them, you can punt one about the board at any range, moving them up to 2D6". This is useful for a shifting tide of battle more than anything else, as it allows you to move these into more opportune positions and keep pace with an army trying to re-form its battle lines. Hell, it could even be used to try and box in chunk of an opposing army if you're smart about it. Plus, if you need to quickly teleport a damaged unit out of the fight, it means they can get there all the faster or find cover right at their backs in an instant. 

That said, what makes its use questionable is a casting value of seven. which is hard to pull off at the best of times, and it's reliant upon your foe moving into an area with these things close by. Probably the best use early on with an army would be to speed up friendly units more than anything else. Given their slow speed, Spite-Revenants and Kurnoth Hunters can have a hard time meeting the enemy, but put them into a Wyldwood and get off a couple of good rolls with this spell, and you could have them right into the enemy deployment zone. So, class this one under useful but temperamental and requiring careful planning.

All in all, this was alright. It has a few fun choices to be sure, but it seems as if the developers might have rushed through this part of the book. It's something of a shame as well, as with a bit more planning this could have massively stood out as a major high-point for the entire Battletome. Instead, it's just a serviceable part of the book.


Magical Artefacts & Arcane Treasures


So, with the spells done, we're onto the more specialist items. These are divided between those useful to spellcasters and those which are more appropriate in the hands of general heroes, with various abilities ranging from giving them a more stabby sword or just that bit more added durability. Unlike most games, these can be given to damn near anyone in an Age of Sigmar army though, which changes things just a little.

So, let's start with the more general weapons and equipment, the Magical Artefacts. These can be given to a single hero from this army initially, and another one for every battalion after that. Unfortunately for those after the munchkin approach to things though, you can only give one to each hero, so there are some limitations here.

1. Daith's Reaper is the first choice on here, and it's reasonably okay. It's solid but admittedly somewhat uninspired, offering only a single extra bonus to wound rolls. Roll a six and you get a -4 Rend to your attacks. For most heroes this won't be all that great really, as you'll either want to keep them out or away from the fight, or they'll lack the sheer volume of attacks to seriously pull this off. The Spirit of Durthu is probably the best one to add this onto, but in all honesty there are better choices to take on here.

2. The Oaken Armour is another one, which is unfortunately generic as hell and really quite unremarkable in just about every sense. You gain a +1 to any armour save roll to the hero holding it, and not much else. Useful with some of the lower tier heroes, but it's so bland and quite frankly unhelpful that you might as well just skip it entirely.

3. Briarshieth is another poor one, although it's admittedly a step up from the prior choice. In this case you gain bonus suitability by forcing more hit penalties upon those trying to attack your hero, so against a force with a low close combat stat, it can be quite helpful. At the same time though, it's difficult to pin down just which one would work out best here. The Treelords have such a high durability to shrug off most attacks, and the likes of the Branchwraiths you'd be insane to let anywhere near combat. It could possibly be helpful against certain forces but for the most part it's still just not very good at all.

4. Well, we're four items in and we've finally reached our first halfway decent choice of the list. Seed of Rebirth is basically a very brief Phoneix Down which can be dropped right onto the hero at the moment they fall. So, hit zero wounds and you instantly get back up with D3 new wounds again. Yeah, it's a bit of a cheap trick, but it's at least one which can be paired up with a few good heroes that need it or used to stack up with some abilities. After all, pair this up with a Treelord Ancient with Regrowth and they'll be right as rain in a couple of turns. It's certainly worth looking into, and it's one of the first few which reads as if there was genuine effort put into its creation.

5. Wraithstone. Not bad, but it's one you'll probably only find yourself giving to Spite-Revenants before anyone else. Basically you just target any enemy unit within 10" during the Battleshock phase and remove a single point from the Bravery stat of those units. On its down its really not that great at all, so if you had any hopes of giving this to a big unit and force people to run from them, you're all out of luck i'm afraid.

6. Glamourweave is the final one, and it unfortunately doesn't change much here. It's just a single 6+ bonus save you can make after failing the model's initial save, turning it into a glorified version of Feel No Pain. You can certainly give it to a couple of bigger units to help them tank foes or draw attention to themselves, but for the most part it's simply something which is tacked on and will do little to change the flow of battle.

Really, this is unfortunate as the list is extremely phoned in and offers little to truly help it stand out. Everything here save for the Seeds of Rebirth is either extremely generic or just not very helpful in the slightest, and if it was the intention for the developers to try and play things safe, it's backfired on them here horribly. This could have been written for just about any army from any Battletome, and to give them such a boring and outright dull option is pretty damn insulting in all honesty; especially after seeing all the fun things the first three armies got as well.

Arcane Treasures follows on from the above, and as it's devoted to the spellcasting heroes it does seem as if the developers were putting most of their time and effort into these options. While they're certainly nothing to write home about, there is at least a few signs of life here rather than having the devs asleep at the wheel. Well, for the most part.

1. Acorn of the Ages unfortunately doesn't start off things too well, as it's just a one shot ability to throw up a Wyldwood within 5" of the user. Again, it has the same uses of the others, from the screwing up enemy angle of attack to enemy targets to extra cover and teleportation. The problem is, we have a metric ton of spells surrounding this sort of thing already, most of which can pull off the same sort of thing.

2. The Warsong Stave is a decent choice if admittedly being a little simplistic here, and the spellcaster gains the Treesong ability alongside everything else. It's a minor thing for sure, but it's a solid option for those who want to use an admittedly quite helpful spell far more often. 

3. Welcome to the Moonstone of the Hidden Ways AKA the get out of melee free card. This is a single use piece of equipment which can be used to leap across the board as and when necessary, so long as they stay 4" away from enemy unit when both teleporting out and in from a fight. On the one hand, this is limited as you can only give it to a few non-named characters, but on the other it can be extremely helpful for ambushing vulnerable enemy forces or catching someone in a flanking maneuver. Hell, give it to the Spirit of Durthu and scare the hell out of a player after he emerges right next to a group of archers and that's a serious headache you've given them. Were this a multiple use item it would be broken, but just for a one-way teleport it's decent for what it is.

4. Ranu's Lamentiri is up next and it is, really, good but relatively low key in its presence. It's largely just a permanent +1 to all casting rolls, or +2 if you're picking something from the Deepwood Spell Lore table. This makes it helpful for Regrowth and very useful when using the likes of Treesong, and it makes spellcasters just that bit more reliable when in battle. Yeah, it's another one which isn't all that flashy or engaging, but at least here it's one where any effort to change it would be akin to trying to fix what isn't broken.

5. Hagbane Spite is the latest one here, and probably the most useful or useless one depending upon the army you're facing. It can only be used once per game, but it allows you to target an enemy spellcaster after they have hurled a bolt of lightning/Chaos fireball/buffed units/damn-near-anything-magical and immediately inflict D3 Mortal Wounds. This seems quite cheap in all honesty, as it basically just instantly kills a weaker annoying wizard without any serious challenge, or at least maims them should you need a quick finishing kill. Against some of the bigger, much more spell heavy, forces it could be a viable choice, but if someone rolls in focusing upon everything else it's really just a waste of space.

6. The Silverwood Circlet is up next, and it's another useful but largely unremarkable bonus option on here. It adds a +6" to the range of all spells, so while it actually makes The Reaping somewhat useful in the right place, and limits the hindrance caused by Throne of Vines, it doesn't stand out all that much. It's a nice thing to have with the right army but it's hardly all that essential.

Overall it's certainly not a bad selection, and certainly far better than the prior list, but it does help to give a bit more character to this force. Plus, if it means people are taking more spellcasters into the games, the thing which makes Age of Sigmar infinitely more interesting, then that's certainly a win.


Normal & Wargrove Battalions


This is the final choice to really explore here, and it basically follows on from the old Formation ideas which are so dominant in Warhammer 40,000 at the moment. Akin to what you'll find with many of the bigger choices, each is a combination of various smaller Battalion forces beefed up into a bigger super force. Each Wargrove is supposed to reflect a different part of the Sylvaneth nation, taking aspects from their various groves in a manner akin to Curse of the Wulfen and its Great Companies. So, that's a mark in favour of diversity at least, but it does have a few problems beyond that.

On a personal note, this seems somewhat self defeating in all honesty, as while it would be perfect for a more skirmished based version of Warhammer Fantasy, it undermines the core idea behind Age of Sigmar. It's built for bigger, broad scale armies over all else, and with the game supposedly focusing upon smaller warbands or quick gameplay, it's hard not to wonder if Games Workshop has completely understood what they were working on. Still, it's a part of the Battletome so it's best we take a proper look at it. Plus, there's that old issue of rewarding players for sticking to lists Games Workshop itself has made up, giving them special rules to encourage this, and robbing people of real creativity.


Normal Battalions:

Forest Spirit Wargrove

There's little which is really remarkable here, as it avoids the usual crutch of bonus special rules or whatnot. Instead it's just a building block for the bigger, badder Wargroves later on. All you need to make this one up is a Treelord Ancient, two Treelords, three units of Dryads and a Branchwraith. By Age of Sigmar's standards this is fairly generic, with a lot of basic infantry choices backed up by a single spellcaster and a couple of big heavy hitters.

Alarielle's Heartwood Guard

More of the same. Really, this is all we get here - A Branchwraith, three Treelords and/or Treelord Ancients, and three units of Dryads. So, it's pretty much the exact same force as the above choice, but with the option for a couple more ancients and the Branchwraith taking centre stage. Honestly, it's something you can take a look into to help build a bigger formation, but that's about it.

Outcasts

This one is pretty lazily made, as all you need is a trio of Spite-Revenant units and that's that. Really, bunch a group of the same unit together and you get instant special rules, exemplifying the biggest problem with this kind of formation. It doesn't help that the special rules themselves instantly makes a simple group like this all the more effective against a foe. During the Hero Phase of your turn, target a unit within 8" of two Spite-Revenant groups, and you can instantly inflict 2D6 Mortal Wounds, minus their Bravery. Factor in how these guys instantly reduce the Bravery of anyone close by, and you can expect them to carve their way through enemy squads in moments.

Free Spirits

Barely better than the past choice, this is a simple grouping of a single Spirit of Durthu and three units of Kurnoth Hunters, nothing more. Because of this, you instantly get a bonus to move about the board - overcoming the key shortcoming of each unit here - and a couple of extra fun features which have been rather poorly worded. During the Hero Phase, you can select a single enemy unit or piece of scenery, and then have all units from this Battalion move flat out without running, ending their turn closer to their target than when it started. It seriously needs something of a re-write, as it allows the Battalion as a whole to leapfrog towards the enemy, but it's rather open to dubious interpretation at the best of times.

Forest Folk

Again, this is an extremely simple combo of a single Branchwraith and three units of Dryads backed with yet more special rules. Because why encourage originality when you can just give people tons of bonuses for the simplest of combinations, eh? Anyway, this is a single one-shot ability which allows you to instantly teleport the entire force over to a Wyldwood. So, yeah, expect some horrific flanking maneuvers with thirty Dryads jumping enemy forces from the sides.

Household

Yet another extremely basic combo of just a Treelord, a Branchwych and a unit of Tree-Revenants with little else to really add to it. Admittedly, the special rules for this one are oddly self-defeating, so it's hard not to wonder if this was switched out from a few other units at the last second. For example, despite everything here save for the Treelord being rather fragile, being a part of the Household means they cannot fall back from melee under any circumstances. What's more, they can +1 to their Bravery stat in combat, reducing possible damage from other factors. As a result, what you're left with is a massive unit intended to act like an anvil against enemy charges, but will probably shatter under a couple of decent charges. "Mediocre" doesn't describe it.

Lords of the Clan

Well, you all probably knew it was coming, so here's the Treelord spam list. Your choices here consist of a Treelord Ancient serving as a hero, three other Treelord Ancients which serve as lackeys, and between one two three remaining Treelords to act as fodder for them. The special rules here are intended only to briefly augment their abilities, allowing the leader to heighten the damage output of those in the Battalion for a short time. It's basically an encouragement for people to field Treezilla lists which, while fun, aren't all that engaging on the whole.

Yeah, there's nothing much worth truly examining or actually commenting further upon with any of these. They're woefully generic and don't help the sense that this whole concept is extremely out of place with this kind of book.


Wargrove Battalions:

Sylvaneth Wargrove

This is the big one, and it's not so much a single Wargrove as an entire bloody legion of tree-folk. What you need to make this consists of a single Lords of the Clan, three Households, three Forest Folks, a Free Spirits and a Outcasts battatlion, and a crap load of cases to bring them to the game. This is a lot of models on the whole, and it's surprising then that the actual rules themselves are really not all that great: You get to place down two Wyldwoods at the start of the game rather than just a single forest. Really, that's it, and for all your cash and money it's something you can quickly even out just with a single spell. Given how massive and downright unwieldy this list is, you'd do better to just skip it and move onto something else.

Winterleaf Wargrove

This is an odd one as it only requires a single Forest Folk Battalion and an extra unit of Dryads. The special rules behind this one are basically made to give you exploding sixes while your Dryads are in melee. Any role to hit which ends on a six in combat allows you to instantly roll a second attack atop of that one. This means the mob can basically massively increase its output at a moment's notice, and you can annihilate anything in your way. What saves this somewhat is that it doesn't follow the Blood Angels approach of giving this to the biggest, strongest and hardest hitting units in the army, instead just offering your usual arrow fodder a bit more damage in battle. 

The Wargrove does also gain a few more useful bonuses atop of this, the kind of special rules which aren't too bad on the whole. For starters, the battalion can use the Ophidian Archways in a manner akin to Wyldwoods, teleporting about as needed. They can also re-rolls ones on dice when it comes to melee hits against Chaos aligned units, and interestingly you can even add a unit from outside the army itself. Oh, they still need to be aligned to Order, but it means you can add a few Dragon Princes or Stormcast Eternals to the list. Overall, it's irritatingly cheap but not the most offensive thing ever written.

Ironbark Wargrove

This one takes the prior idea of integrating the units from other armies and takes things a step further. While the core of this Battalion is built from a Household choice and a second unit of Tree-Revenants, you're given the opportunity to include any two Duardin units you feel like having. So, this naturally grants the force some much needed durability in the face of heavy cavalry charges or similar assaults. Adding to this durability approach to things, you halve casualties taken thanks to Battleshock tests and the Tree-Revenants gain the ability to re-roll ones while wounding foes. There is also a Battalion specific artefact atop of this - because that's what we need, more stuff given to these damn things - and this allows your hero to strike with +1 To Wound in melee. It's a bit gimmicky, but it's probably one of the better options on this list if you want to expand beyond Sylvaneth units.

Dreadwood Wargrove

Welcome to Spite-Revenant spam, with even more Spite-Revenants than the last time! As you might have guessed, you build this one by starting with a single Outcasts option, but then double down on that with four to six units of them rather than the usual three. It's a horde choice for sure, and it seems someone really wanted to shill these guys, as right off of the bat they gain an identical special rule akin to the Drycha bonus but without the range limitation. This would make them tough enough on their own, but they then gain one of three special rules, selected on a D3 roll at the start of the game. This means they can either:
A. Re-deploy a unit from the Battalion within 6" of the opponent, allowing for a quick suicide charge. Not advised really.
B. Enemy range is reduced to 12" for the opening turn, giving you a bit of breathing room and limiting the effectiveness of cavalry.
C. Immediately move three of your units forwards as if this were a standard movement phase (albeit without running.)

This is very useful for allowing you to get a first strike in or quickly emerge close to an enemy force, but the first option here is definitely counter-intuitive. Not much else to say really, it's just a massed spam version of this list with special rules to hit them harder.

Heartwood Wargrove

So, here's another one, with the Free Spirits Battalion backed by four to six units of Kurnoth Hunters as opposed to the usual three. This is a list in frustration for anyone facing them down, as it allows a player to continually recycle Dryads, Tree-Revenants or Spite-Revenants bogging down a foe in an endless tide of wood. All units besides the Hunters also gain +1 to Bravery and the option to teleport re-spawning units into Wyldwoods. This is downright ridiculous and utterly insane really, and with enough time you can just turn a game into an exercise in frustration. Hell, in an objective based game all you need to do is keep rushing enemy units and bogging them down, and your foe will eventually just forfeit the match in order to finish the dam game.

Gnarlroot Wargrove

If the last one was insane, this is the kind of one which should be locked up in Arkham Asylum. Really, it's easy to make, relatively unoriginal and requires little tactical planning or skill, but you can wipe the floor with most forces you bump into without much issue. In this case, all you have and need is a Household Battalion but with an Ancient Treelord in place of the generic one, and an Order Wizard of any origin. So, this means you can suddenly have a Celestial Hurricanum on his lonesome in the middle of your entire list. Such a bonus on its own would be filthy enough, but then you have the extras such as the fact that Treelord Ancients, Branchwyches and Branchwraiths  can cast and unbind two spells per turn. Yes, of any spell, so you can be perpetually healing people, throwing out instant death spells and summoning Wyldwoods wherever you feel like it. By the time the enemy forces get within melee range, the enemy is going to be left with little more than a couple of horribly battered warriors.

Oh, and if you think that this would be overly expensive or possibly have some downside, you'd be wrong. Each and every spellcaster on the Battalion, Sylvaneth or otherwise, gains the ability to instantly resurrect one Kurnoth Hunter or Spite-Revenant/Treekin, or D3 Dryads or Tree-Revenants. Combine this buff with liberal use of Ranu's Lamentiri and even more so Throne of Vines, and you might as well instantly call the damn game a win.

And people still wonder just why I hate these damn things sometimes.

Oakenbrow Wargrove

As the Treelord spam option on steroids, this one works off of having a Lords of the Clan Battalion to start with but two to six Treelords backing them up rather than the usual three. Okay, yes, it's bigger but then come the special rules which turn this thing into a sledgehammer of doom. Thanks purely to being a part of this battatlion, every single last Treelord on this list instantly gains an extra wound as a result, and resurrect a unit of Dryads/Revenants once per game. Oh, and just to top it off, if you somehow felt you didn't have enough Bravery in your units, they gain a Command bonus which buffs them up further. So, don't expect anyone to flee. Ever.

This is the sort of battalion you bring out when you adamantly want no one to die. Sure, you still roll on the damage table and you are effected by that of course, but the sheer wall of iron wood means you're going to probably still be left standing long after the first wave of enemies are dead.

Harvestboon Wargrove

Finally we have the buffed up Forest Folk Battalion but with twice the number of Branchwraiths as usual. As a result of this, it's akin to a cheaper, smaller version of the Gnarlroot list above, with a similar emphasis upon magical skills. Each of them now gains a +1 to cast/unbind magic rolls, but you also gain an additional 3" to their spell ranges and a second Deepwood Lore spell atop of anything you have already taken. This means that you're going to be laying down some solid covering fire as your forces advance - even without casting multiple spells per turn - and the melee warriors even have a few bonuses of their own. They're minor ones admittedly, but an additional 1" charge rolls is a serious help in the right situation. Let's face it, all of us have been stuck in at least that one moment where a massed charge has been slightly out from what we'd estimated.

Overall, it's a bit gimmicky and the idea of giving bonuses purely for using these sorts of things is still frustrating, but at least the bonuses aren't too game-breaking here.


Overall Verdict:



It's difficult to pin down the quality of a Battletome like this given how the game is still gradually developing and, overall, the metagame is still finding its footing. As such, the core rules themselves are difficult to fully comment upon, but there are definitely positives to be found here. The overall army formation and how each unit compliments another is a solid choice on the whole, and despite being a bit limited there is at least a good skeleton to build up to a much bigger force. While a few units have also proven to be walking blocks of cheddar, we have seen worse and hopefully future editions will tone down on those qualities.

The negative aspect which stands out above all else here really is the elements which have either been held over from Fantasy or influenced by Warhammer 40,000's worst trends. The Battalion system stands out above all else in this regard, as it doesn't add all that much to what's supposed to be a fun skirmish game, and once again detracts from a lot of the creative freedom we're supposed to have. Yes, you can build your own army, but if you're going to miss out on special rules which turn wizards into spell slinging maniacs or instantly grants you more wounds to your big units, why should you.

As a final verdict, Order: Sylvaneth is okay. It doesn't rise up to completely make this game worth playing, but at the same time it's hardly terrible. At the end of the day, that already puts it far above some of the things we have covered on this blog over the years.

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