Fantasy Fisticuffs #13: Crowd Control to Major Tom (AoS Hordes)

A maturing competitive scene for Age of Sigmar means that we are learning more about broad styles of approaching the game.  Is a horde army right for you?

Battletomes come and go, but as Age of Sigmar evolves from a newer, more serious attempt at a competitive set of rules, to its more battle-tested current form, it is becoming clearer that there are certain broad categories that lists fit into.  For the next few weeks, rather than exploring individual units or armies, I thought we might want to look into some of the general types, and discuss their strengths, weaknesses, and more, as well as where they currently sit in the wider meta..  

First up, let’s consider the “horde” army.

As you might imagine, a “horde” army, in the traditional sense, is about putting a huge volume of bodies on the table.  This evokes mental images of individuals being overrun by endless waves of insects from Heinlein’s classic “Starship Troopers”, GW’s own Tyranids or Ork mobs, or the forces of evil amassing outside of Helm’s Deep in The Two Towers.  In every instance we are reminded of the old Soviet doctrine which states that, “quantity is a quality all its own.”  

Horde armies are generally concerned with drowning their opponents in mediocre, but plentiful models, but how they go about doing that can differ greatly.

Pros:  I would suggest that horde armies come with two main advantages at the competitive level of play.

First, hordes do incredible things for your table-presence on every level.  Having plenty of extra bodies can utterly clog “drop-zones” ensuring that no teleport/redeploy or similar ability will allow your opponent to get units within proximity of something you hold dear (whether a unit, objective, etc.)  As most scenarios score based on volume of models within a certain range, you will also have a natural advantage if you can get your bodies on these points.

Second, large body counts marry with force multiplier units particularly well.  Many buffing spells or abilities are balanced around an expectation that an average sized unit will reap their benefits.  If you can use experience and savvy to get most of a truly large unit engaged in combat, a humble +1 to hit rolls simply does that much more for forty models than it would for ten or twenty.

Hordes ultimately also just plain take time to get through.  All games of AoS have a turn limit, but tournaments bring with them added time-limits.  Even at a briskly paced play, some opponents will need to ask themselves if they even can chew through a properly supported blob of forty to sixty models, in the game time remaining.  Making your opponent overthink or second-guess is always a good thing.

Cons:  A lot of the negatives of horde builds, ironically exist outside the game itself.  A very real consideration of running horde lists is the extra financial costs to start, and then the time/hobby cost of preparing that army for any table that requires painted models.  

Beyond that there is a very real consideration to be had regarding how quickly you tend to play.  Huge quantities of bodies simply take longer to move, longer still to move and position correctly.  Using a horde to its fullest can mean either accepting some imprecise play, or lost attacks to sloppy pile-ins, OR a further financial investment in movement trays (which can be a godsend).

Even with trays, it takes a while to move 120 Grots!

A con, at the game level, can also be the need to reserve precious CP to Inspiring Presence.  Often (but not always), hordes will take losses in large numbers which can make for horrid battle-shock tests.  Being caught without a CP or proximity to a hero can quickly remove your numbers, which were the whole point of a horde army, and without which games quickly fall apart.

Hordes Done Right:  The best hordes will tend to be those with model recursion, raw point efficiency, and good support units or abilities.  Rarely will a given army have all of these, but looking for at least a few of those is a great start.

Those less en-vogue right now, the Legions of Nagash arguably play the pure body-count game best.  There are multiple easy, often free, ways to bring back bodies in bulk, and while those bodies aren’t great, they do tend to be cheap.  For a time builds around massed Grimghast Reapers exemplified this being too good, too cheap, and too easily buffed. Even now, though, the humble, and underplayed (IMO) Zombies can be taken at huge numbers for irrelevant points, made to hit on 2’s, and highlighting how demoralizing “re-roll 1’s” from someone like Nagash, can be.

Hordes will often not do the offensive work in your army, but are also willing to grind.

Other examples of hordes done right include the humble Daemonettes for Hedonites, Ghouls of the Flesh-Eater Courts, and the mild-mannered Grot whose players often forget can be 50% recycled, and who, with hero buffs, can deal surprising amounts of mortal wounds.

A special note also goes to the non-horde, horde, that is Pink Horrors and their siblings.  This lower volume horde can become one over time, fulfilling a very similar role all while being initially deceptive at a glance.  This is clearly one to continue watching in the coming days.

Units of five open up interesting battalions and tricks, while units of fifteen lose games.

Hordes Done Wrong:  Not every unit is made better simply by taking a lot of them.  I have seen players attempt to run “hordes” of Demigryph Knights, DoK Warlocks, and many other units that are inherently good units, but which throw army composition out of balance when taking in bulk.  While I loathe to use the term, units like Warlocks are what many call a “trap”. To reach their full offensive potential they ask players to take them in an utterly unreliable, impractical unit side. Those very same points invested in Witch Aelves or Sisters of Slaughter will see greater returns, in part because you will notice they adhere to our target traits of being cheap, and buffable.

So are hordes for you?  Ultimately they are one avenue toward successful list building, but as always, finding the style that matches your tastes will do the greatest wonders for your overall competitive standings.

I am a big fan of hordes, to be sure… but next week let’s consider their counter-parts, the ultra elite armies.  Somewhere The Sons of Behemet laugh…

And remember, Frontline Gaming sells gaming products at a discount, every day in their webcart!

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About Mark Gottlieb

Writer, Game Designer, and owner of Fortunate Sun Studios, I have always tried to lead a life in some way built around paying back to gaming, and the gaming community. This hobby, and everyone in it, saved my life on more than a few occasions, and now I get to put my heart into helping it thrive for everyone!

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