Lately some of my friends have accused me of making a 180 degree turn in my view on greenskin archers. Supposedly I hated them before and now I love them. I would probably not go that far, but after having used models with bows in both my mounted army last autumn and in my 'Ard Boyz themed list now, my appreciation for them has grown to the point where I felt that it was time to update this article.
- Low cost per model
- Low damage potential
- Decent in combat
- Large footprint
- Fast cavalry and missile weapons
- Size Matters
- The main purpose isn't actually to shoot things
- Close support units
- Keeping fragile characters bound to units
- What units are worth shooting at?
- Checking range
To start with, it is probably best to quickly sum up which units in the greenskin army can take bows (orcish units) or short bows (gobbo units):
- Orc Arrer Boyz (standard)
- Savage Orcs (optional)
- Goblins (optional)
- Goblin Wolf Riders (optional)
- Forest Goblin Spider Riders (optional)
- Night Goblins (optional)
- Goblin Wolf Chariots (standard)
With the exception of (for some reason) Savage Orcs, greenskins pay 1 point per model (or the equivalent) for a bent stick, a length of string and some sharpened twigs. This is lower than for just about any other army out there and is one of the foremost reason to take greenskin archers (with the exception of Savage Orcs with bows). An Orc or Goblin can get a bow or short bow for the same price as a shield and for a small unit that is not primarily combat-oriented the two are more or less equally good. A shield is obviously better if the unit gets into combat and sometimes also if the unit is shot at (though a lot of shooting will ignore all armour a greenskin with a shield can take anyway), while a bow gives the unit a little more flexibility.
With the new army book, greenskin archers are also closer to their purely combat-equipped counterparts in price, which also helps in making them less silly than before - paying a point to swap a gobbo's shield for a short bow is stupid, while doing the same for free is slightly less so.
The damage a unit of missile troops can do depend on four factors: range, Ballistic Skill, Strength and whatever special rules the unit has, such as move-or-fire, armour piercing, poison, thrown weapon, etc. Greenskins come out badly because they are not above average in any category and actually have a special rule that makes them worse at shooting (Animosity). For a unit to be good at dealing out damage, it should be above average in at least one category and preferably have some special rule to make them more attractive.
Animosity is the first and greatest problem with greenskin archers, and one that tends to be overlooked. With Quell Animosity no longer working at a distance, there is next to no way of stopping your greenskin archers from squabbling one turn out of each game. Furthermore, while the close combat equipped greenskins appreciate the increased chance of moving forward, for the archers this only means that they fire less accurately for one of the remaining five turns. Thus a unit of greenskin archers will on average only fire effectively for four and a half turns out of every six. For this reason, taking greenskin archery units with the intention to do some effective firing will often leave you disappointed.
Range is often something that people take for granted when comparing missile units. Often you see people just assuming that having a worse range means you have a lower chance of hitting (though that is certainly true), but what they are forgetting that units that start the game out of range must move forward, sacrificing turns where they might otherwise have shot. This is especially a problem for gobbos, who will have to spend two turns moving forward to even get into range unless the enemy comes towards them. As greenskin units suffer from Animosity and take up a lot of space, this only makes the situation worse.
As if not being able to fire very often and not with all models in the unit was not bad enough, the ballistic skill of greenskin archers coupled with the short range which means you are in long range depressingly often often leads to a low chance of hitting anything at all. Half a dozen shots hitting on 5+ is quite common and not exactly good if you set out with the intention of killing people.
Finally, the the Strength 3 bow or short bow might not be as bad as it could be (at least one other missile weapon has worse Strength), it fails to make for any of the greenskin archers' other shortcomings. Considering that Orc and Goblin missile units do not fire very often, will often not be able to fire with all models and will not get many hits, having those few hits being only Strength 3 is rather sad.
The two types of greenskins have to different reasons for being decent in combat - the Orcs are decent in combat because they get choppas, Toughness 4 and light armour (or warpaint) and Goblins are decent in combat because they come in units twice as large and might therefore get a decent rank bonus and a shot at outnumbering.
Before you make plans for close combat archer units, it must be said that they are less effective at this than purely combat units. With nearly all units, a greenskin with a bow or short bow costs the same as the same greenskin with a shield, and the shield bearer is obviously better equipped to fight. The crucial thing to be aware of here is that he is not a lot better equipped to fight. A Night Goblin with a hand weapon and shield doesn't fight much better than one that has swapped his shield for a short bow, and if he is tasked with performing a flank charge together with a couple of dozen mates the difference is marginal as you are probably winning the combat by heaps anyway.
Another great disadvantage, and one that players often do not realise that they are burdened with. This takes different forms for the two types of greenskin units - Orc units take up too much space because they come on 25 mm wide bases while Goblins take up too much space because they come in units of at least 20. This is made worse by all the other greenskin units being quite large as well. Effectively this means that you have two options. Firstly a unit can deploy very wide, in which case you leave a glaring weak spot in your battle line and all the other units have to clump together even more than normal. Secondly you can deploy in several ranks, in which case you are paying for a whole lot of bows you will never get to fire.
Granted, if you deploy on a hill then two ranks can fire, but you might not get a hill in your deployment zone, if you get a hill it is generally better to deploy the artillery there instead and the poor range of greenskin bows means that units that don't move forward will often not have range to anything.
Fast cavalry units equipped with missile weapons have two unique benefits. Firstly they can shoot even after marching with no greater penalty than if they were just moving normally and secondly they can fire all round and not just in their 90 degree front arc. This makes short bows interesting on small units of fast cavalry (in larger units, models in the rear ranks cannot shoot) and for a mere five points you can give an entire unit of Wolf Riders short bows. This is quite cost-effective, since the entire unit should be able to fire most of the time and thanks to their speed they will often be at short range. That is not to say that you get a cavalry unit whose main purpose is to shoot things (you need to use Dark Riders or either of the Empire fast cavalry units to get this) and it should instead be thought of as a little extra perk you get nearly for free.
This rule is good to have for support units, since it means that the enemy cannot pick on relatively more fragile targets, hoping to sow Panic in other units nearby as the archers turn tail and flee. Size Matters is described in more detail elsewhere and so I will merely mention it here.
This section can be quickly summed up as follows: Keep the units efficient - keep them cheap. With greenskins the saying "everything counts in large numbers" is usually true, and especially so with archers, where each individual model is not terribly good.
As they are not very good at actually shooting things, I prefer to keep my archery units cheap. For 64 to 76 pts, you can get three different types which I all like. These are a unit of 20 Night Goblin archers, 10 Orc Arrer Boyz and 5 Goblin Wolf Riders with spears and short bows. All units have musicians but no other upgrades, though occasionally I will give the Night Goblins a Fanatic (I try not to be too predictable in this as I believe this greatly increases the value of these spinning loonies). For the same cost as the Goblin Wolf Riders you can get Spider Riders with short bows, but I do not rate these as highly, as their lower Movement rate means that they will be at short range less often than Wolf Riders.
Other greenskin archery units are more expensive. A unit of common Goblins with short bows with a musician start at 84 points, since these gobbos also come with light armour. On the most extreme end of the cost scale, a unit of ten Savage Orcs with bows and a musician cost as much as 105 points. These units have other advantages of their own, but on the whole I tend to go with cheaper models (which is a good principle for greenskins in general).
Additionally, for 63 points you get a Wolf Chariot with four Goblins who come with short bows as default. This is all well and good, but this takes up a Special choice and in this edition I tend to prefer the much more robust Boar Chariot, with a crew that is not afraid of elves.
As should be obvious from the above, I prefer to keep my archery units cheap, which is to say that they get no additional models with only a few exceptions. As the units do not shoot well in any case, they get deployed 5 wide unless there is a very good reason not to do so, for example to block a charge by an enemy unit by forming up exceptionally wide. Occasionally it would have been convenient to have one or two extra models in the unit, to preserve the rank bonus for longer, but more often this does not matter and spending the points on dedicated combat units seem more efficient.
Most greenskin archery unit can get equipment upgrades: common Goblins and Savage Orcs can get shields, Wolf Riders can get spears and/or shields and Night Goblins can get nets. Personally I buy spears for my Wolf Riders because they are so cheap and that's about it. As I see it, archers are support units and the one thing a support unit does not want to do is to make itself too expensive, which leaves less points for the units it will support and make for a greater loss should something nasty happen to it. I know that some people like to have large units of common Goblins with shields and short bows, which gives them a 4+ save in close combat, as well as some short bow shots, but to me this has never really seemed very effective.
With Wolf Riders, players should be aware that giving these units shields stop them being fast cavalry and means that they can only shoot in their front 90 degree arc. As you are then losing on of the great benefits of mounted missile units, I would strongly urge you to either take short bows or shields on your units.
Musicians in archery units cost from four to six points and is essentially always worth it, because the unit might easily find itself fleeing and the +1 to the rally test is very nice. Musicians also work as a tie-breaker in close combat, and as greenskin archers are often better in combat than they are at shooting things, this will also occasionally come in handy. Standards are very risky for units that might be called upon to stand and divert a nasty enemy unit and are so often best left at home. Similarly, a Boss makes the unit a bit better in combat (a Savage Boss with a bow is the best archer champion in the game), but for what you are likely to get out of him, he is fairly expensive.
Every now and then, people will suggest placing a Goblin Battle Standard Bearer with the Spider Banner in a unit of gobbos with short bows to give them poisoned arrows. For the cost of this, I cannot believe it to be effective. Had the Spider Banner cost something like 35 points and been available to Goblins without a BSB, then I might have considered it, but still I would probably have preferred it in a large unit of gobbo infantry with a few combat characters in.
Others suggest placing Shamans in archer units, presumably because these units are less likely to get into combat. My experience with this is that the units are too vulnerable to squabbling and Panic for this to be a good idea; with my all-Goblin army I would occasionally place a Shaman with the Mad Cap Mushrooms in a unit of Night Goblin archers with three Fanatics, but too often the low Leadership of this unit would cause it to flee the table, taking my expensive Shaman with them. For more useful archers, leave the characters out.
A friend of mine persists in claiming that because Orc Arrer Boyz are cheap and almost decent in close combat, units of fourty(!) Arrer Boyz with full command was a good unit. I would claim the exact opposite - the usefulness of greenskin archers are inversely proportional to the size of the unit they come in.
It took some time before I realised this, but when I did, it greatly increased my appreciation of greenskins with bows. Their attributes combine to make it so that instead of being a primarily missile unit, they should instead be treated as a close support unit that happens to be able to shoot a bit. I first realised this when I started playing with an all-mounted greenskin army, which obviously contained no war machines and very few shamans (more on this below). With my 'Ard Boyz themed list, the appreciation of the extra flexibility I got from having a bit of archery around was increased. I started to field a couple of units of 10 Arrer Boyz in most of my lists, as a way of compensating for the lack of Goblin infantry. Sure, they would often not kill much (I often say that the same unit, equipped with shields, would probably kill as many models with missile fire), but I found that these cheap units had a lot of uses and I became quite fond of them.
If on the other hand you want to shoot things dead, be aware that greenskin artillery don't suffer from any of the disadvantages greenskin archers suffer from. They don't take Animosity tests, take up very little space, have good range and either don't roll to hit using BS or have so good range that they hit more often than the archers and have good Strength, in addition to ignoring enemy armour saves. In fact, artillery is very good against the things greenskins normally struggle with - tough cavalry, very tough infantry and big monsters. True, artillery is decidedly worse in combat than archers, but it is also quite cheap and have a role to perform in the army. A couple of hundred points (I belive a good rule of thumb is half your Special and Rare slots) spent on artillery is miles better than the same amount of points spent on archers when it comes to producing enemy casualties.
An infantry-based mixed greenskin horde depends a lot of the use of gobbos to support Orc blocks, which works very well thanks to the Size Matters rule. When I started fielding my 'Ard Boyz themed list - where the only gobbos were war machine crews and then only if they were properly whipped by proper Orc Bullies - this wasn't an option, but I still had a need for some cheap units to support my Boyz in combat. The solution I found was to use small ten-Orc units of either Arrer Boyz or Boyz with two choppas. These units would get musicians but no other options. Of these two, I found that I likes the Arrer Boyz best, as they were ten points cheaper and their bows would occasionally kill something (their record to date has been four Marauder Horsemen in a single shooting phase). These units would get in the way of nasty units that wanted to charge me or move around my flank, perform flank charges against units that failed to break through my main infantry blocks and occasionally get tasked with beating up some fragile units on their own. When I get back to using a mixed army, I am sure I will continue this trend with Night Goblin archers.
The important thing to remember when using this tactic is that when you are in doubt of whether to stand still and shoot at full effect, moving forward at normal speed and shooting at reduced effect and marching forward and not shootinh, it is nearly always best to march and not shoot. Some of the time you don't have much of a choice, whether due to the Animosity result or due to the proximity of enemy units, but a good rule of thumb is that moving is better than shooting. Shooting things should be reserved as something to do because it is no point in moving further or, in the case of fast cavalry units, because you can shoot even when marching. This is perfectly okay and you should remember that as opposed to, say, Empire Handgunners, you pay very little for the bow compared to the user.
This edition, characters on their own can be targeted regardless of their proximity to friendly units, which makes them more of a target, provided you have something to shoot or zap them with. My cavalry army had very little of this. After some games where my opponent would let normally fragile wizards walk around in relative safety outside of units I felt a need for a good way of dealing with them. Being single characters, they could even avoid charges from my fast cavalry units easily enough and still get good lines of sight to cast their spells. So I started giving my Wolf Riders short bows. These do not normally pose much of a threat to enemy units, but to a model with only Toughness 3 and no armour save it could be dangerous and my opponents would more often place his characters in units, where they were much easier for my units to deal with and where their line of sight was reduced.
Remember that you need to be quite lucky to do more than one or two wounds in damage to enemy units unless you are very lucky, which reduces the selection of enemy units it is worth shooting at. Spending time shooting at Skaven Slaves, for example, are mostly just a waste of time. Usually, worthwhile targets are as follows:
- Units where you can easily remove a point of rank bonus - Some people field units where just a single model drops its rank bonus by a point, for example a unit of 20 infantry deployed 5 wide. In these cases, causing a single casualty can make the job of your infantry units much easier.
- Cavalry units without too much armour - The tend to come in small units, so every dead model reduces its effectiveness. Additionally, cavalry units (apart from knights) will often cost quite a few points and are not particularly more difficult to kill than infantry models. Beware of engaging in shoot-outs with other cavalry models equipped with missile weapons, as your unit is likely to come off badly.
- Units where you can easily cause a Panic test - There are few units where a volley of arrows shot by Orcs or Goblins can cause a Panic test and as such this category mainly consists of units that have already been shot up, for example a unit where a war machine caused some damage but not quite enough, or a unit that has been depleted in previous turns.
- Fragile characters - As mentioned above, a single Wizard or other fragile character can be worth lobbing some arrows at, either in the hope of killing them or at least make them go and hide.
- Large targets and units on hills: - For some strange reason, units can fire with all ranks when shooting at models with the Large target special rule or at units that are on a hill (in comparison, units that themselves are on a hill can only fire in two ranks at units below). This doesn't actually make any sense and that is probably why so few people are aware of this, but because of this, greenskins have a couple of extra types of targets that are a bit worthwhile. Not that you should have too much hope of killing Dragons or Giants with gobbo archers, but if they are wounded you can make things a bit less comfortable for them.
Short bows on Goblin Wolf Riders and Wolf Chariots have a purpose they don't have on infantry - checking if you are within charge range. Okay, so it is not completely accurate, but if you are within bow range of something you are also within charge range. Added to that is the fact that both these units can shoot no matter how far they move and giving them short bows is either very cheap or included in the price. Not amazingly good, though useful in some cases.
Other related articles
- Orc Units and Characters
- Goblin Units and Characters
- Uses for Goblin Infantry
- Greenskin Artillery
- Goblin Fast Cavalry
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