Orcish Elite Infantry
This article deals with what in orcish terms are elite infantry units - Black Orcs and the two types of Big 'Uns moving around on foot. These units have in common that they were quite nice in 6th edition and now got more expensive while basic Orc Boyz did not.
At the very start of 7th edition I tried to make these units work like they used to in 6th edition, with not much success. So with the mixed greenskin list I ran for the first few months I dropped these units and did a lot better without them. After that, for the next year I used two different types of themed lists (a goblin list and a mounted list) where using elite orc infantry would be out of place. For the third theme, however, I chose an 'Ard Boyz theme, where I used both regular Orc Big 'Uns and Black Orcs quite a bit. While I am still not happy with their cost and would have liked to see it reduced by one or two points per model, at least I did considerably better with them.
- Might makes right! Fight, fight, fight!
- Let someone else provide the rank bonus
- How to stomp people when they won't stand still
- Protection from missile fire
Note that not all attributes apply to all types of orcish elite infantry. Savage Orc Big 'Uns, for example, notably have no option for a magic standard and the only way to get one for them is to have a Battle Standard Bearer join them.
All three types of elite Orc infantry fight better than regular Orc Boyz as they all have WS 4 and Strength 4. But how much better? A normal Savage Orc with an extra choppa has three WS3 S4 attacks in the first round of combat, which is almost always better than one WS4 S5 attack from a normal Big 'Un. And the Savage Orc only costs 1 point more than the Big 'Un, with a better save and immunity to psychology tests as well. Or just take common Orc Big 'Uns compared to bog standard Orc Boyz. For 180 pts the Boyz gets you 25 models with shields and full command. The same amount of points gets you 15 Big 'Uns with the same equipment and options. Now, the Boyz have a one point higher rank bonus than the Big 'Uns, not to mention that the Boyz with Unit Strength 25 will often get the outnumbering bonus while the Big 'Uns will rarely not. Thus the Big 'Uns will often start off with a static combat result bonus 2 points less than the Boyz do. Will their increased combat ability make up for this? In the setup just described, it will generally not do this and even in good cases the Big 'Uns will just do one more casualty than the Boyz. This means that in the vast majority of the cases, going with bog standard Boyz will be a better choice as their larger numbers is worth more than the extra damage the Big 'Uns can do.
So you definitely need to do more with the elite infantry to get the most out of them. Thankfully, there are bright spots!
Firstly, the Big 'Uns in our example did not choose a magic standard. For just 25 pts you get the ubiquitous War Banner, which is worth a point of rank bonus at the cost of a little more than two Big 'Uns. That "free rank" is much cheaper than buying for an actual rank of Big 'Uns and is even cheaper than a rank of normal Boyz. A steal! Secondly, the Big 'Uns just mentioned were not optimised to make good use of their fighting ability. They fought with just one choppa, lined up five wide and paid for a Boss, which meant that they paid 60 points (4 pts each for 15 models) too boost just four attacks (the four normal guys in the front rank) by one point of WS and one point of Strength. If instead they kicked out two guys, demoted the Boss to a rank and file trooper, got an extra choppa each and bought the War Banner, they'd do a lot better for only a handful of extra points (196). They can do more than twice as much damage as before and probably have the same static CR bonus, which means that they should do better in combat than the regular Boyz. They also have the same protection from missile fire as the Boyz and can opt to use choppas and shields in combat instead of double choppas if they get charged by something where that would be more effective.
It should also be mentioned that sometimes, dead enemies are better than static CR, even when they have the same effect on your combat score. Some enemies are not affected by combat scores or only affected a little. These include units that are Unbreakable and who must be killed to the last man as winning combats in itself doesn't affect them, and Undead and Stubborn troops, where getting rid of them is a lot quicker if you can kill them instead of just winning combat by static CR. There are of course also the opposite, with units that are very hard or impossible to damage for conventional units and having a high static CR is the only thing that works. Prime examples are Ethereal units and very tough combat characters.
Essentially all the problems orcish elite infantry have are due to their high points cost. They all got more expensive in this edition and in my opinion the cost increase was too high. The cost tends to lead to one of two things:
- Instead of a standard block of lesser Orcs, you get a considerably smaller block of elite Orcs for the same cost, or
- Instead of a standard block of lesser Orcs, you get the same sized block of elite Orcs for a considerably higher cost
The first option gives you a unit that is more vulnerable to missile fire as it will have about half the number of Orcs as the unit of lesser greenies, while the second option gives you fewer points to buy other units with. I personally tend to take the first option, as that means that I still have the same amount of points to buy support units who can help reduce the problems of having a small unit of elite fighters, and if I face an army with little in the way of firepower, being more vulnerable to shooting is not much of a problem.
Thus as with my other lads, I prefer units that don't cost more than 300 pts, and preferably not more than 250 pts. Anything more than that quickly stops being cost-effective.
The reliability of Black Orcs are often held out as a selling point and in my opinion it is a good one. Not having to worry about Animosity (while getting a guaranteed extra move when the Waaagh! is called) or Panic caused by lesser greenies is very nice, not to mention that they have Leadership 8 for the purpose of any other Leadership test. Meanwhile, Savage Big 'Uns get the same immunities as normal Savage Orcs, which is quite handy. Normal Big 'Uns get no such thing, however, and having to take Animosity tests and make psychology tests on Leadership 7 can be a pain sometimes. On the bright side they do cost three points less than Savage Big 'Uns and are Core.
Both Savage and normal Big 'Uns can be made somewhat more reliable by including a Black Orc in the unit, but I have always felt that inflicting D6 S5 hits on a unit of models costing a dozen points each isn't actually better than squabbling in the first place. Instead my preferred approach is to save Black Orcs for units of much cheaper greenies and instead make an effort to make the odd squabble less disastrous for my Big 'Uns. This can be done by using support units to prevent enemy units from charging their flanks or rear. Getting charged in the front is fortunately often not that dangerous for orcish units and again you can use support units, such as goblin fast cavalry units, to block the charges or lines of fire of enemy units.
This ability should not be underestimated and, in my opinion, always taken. Annoyingly, Savage Orc Big 'Uns can't get magic standards in this edition, which is probably due to how good it is with two ranks fighting (spears) with three attacks per model (frenzy + Banner of Butchery). The other two types of elites can get magic standards, though (just one unit of Black Orcs, though). I would not normally take the Spirit-totem on a unit standard bearer, as it requires a unit that is far too big for my liking to be effective. In campaigns, though, I have sometimes ended up doing this because my character choices have been more limited than normal and I wanted some kind of magic defense other than crossing my fingers and hoping for a miscast. The three 25-point magic standards are all useful, though.
Big 'Uns of both types are limited to one unit of each per army, while Black Orcs take up Special choices. The limit on Black Orcs can be annoying as Special choices come at a premium in greenskin armies, while the 0 - 1 limit on Big 'Uns is less bothersome. You might want multiple small units of Savage Big 'Uns, but normal Savage Orcs are quite good by themselves. It is possible to get around the limitation on common Orc Big 'Uns by taking Gorbad, but I can't say I have ever felt much need for more than one unit of these anyway.
As the attributes listed above are split about evenly between positive and negative ones, some quite specific advice about how to select these units are probably needed. While Orc Boyz are useful both as little units of 10 and big units of 30, the same cannot be said about the elite units and it is more important to play on their strengths as their disadvantages are more difficult to compensate for than with less elite greenskins.
So which type of elite infantry is the best? I will give you a very quick summary.
Orc Big 'Uns - The cheapest option. For 12 points you get a Big 'Un with two choppas, shield and light armour, which is decently flexible. He's only two points less than a Black Orc with shield which is a rather bad deal cost-wise, but he's Core and can have a magic standard and that makes up for a lot of it. Their leadership is horrible and they have no particular immunities, so you really want a competent general (preferably some kind of Orc Warboss) nearby.
Savage Orc Big 'Uns - The best fighters of the lot, though they tend to be very expensive (14 pts with an extra choppa) and can't get much of a save. As they can't get a magic standard while the regular Savage Orcs are so nice, these fail to impress me as they only provide more killing power compared to regular 'uns. The lack of magic standards is particularly annoying as in the two latest army books (Vampire Counts and Daemons), anything more skilled than a Zombie can get a magic standard if they want to.
Black Orcs - With shields these guys are very flexible and get a very nice 4+ armour save against shooting or magic. Leadership 8 and being higher on the pecking order with regards to Size Matter is also nice, not to mention that they don't take Animosity tests. And the new plastic models are very nice as well. If I have a Special choice to spare, I would take Black Orcs over any other elite infantry unit.
I always like to keep my units of elite infantry small, which means that a greater part of the unit is doing what it does best (fighting) and fewer of these expensive guys hang around in rear ranks where they don't really do anything that much cheaper greenskins can't do. Thus I prefer units that are 6 wide and two to three ranks deep. I have found 13 to be a good number as, although the unit looks a bit odd with just a single model in the third rank) it requires four models to cause a Panic test, the unit keeps its rank bonus a little while longer and it's not too expensive. 17 is the next step up as at that level your opponent needs to cause 5 wounds for a Panic test and you have a +2 rank bonus. Going for 18 means that you keep your rank (marginally) longer and it looks a bit nicer. So 13 or 18 are the unit sizes I choose most often.
As mentioned, the units get deployed six wide to get a decent number of fighting models. You could go even wider, but then it really starts to get difficult to manoeuvre them and against ranked units on 20 mm bases the seventh model will not be able to fight anyway. On the other hand, going less than 5 wide means you get less out of their boosted stats, though when I see that I am about to get into combat with a unit narrower than 100 mm (four Orcs) I will often reduce the frontage to five models, as the sixth Orc won't be able to fight and by reducing my frontage I get to keep my rank bonus for longer.
As I said above, two choppas should be the default weapon for any elite Orc, as the extra attack and boosted Strength in the first round of combat is generally better than any other option. Spears on Savage Big 'Uns could be interesting if you could reliably get the unit charged by weak foes, something I have my doubts. With my Orc Big 'Uns I tried to go with spears, shields and the Banner of Butchery, reckoning that if the unit was not charged, they could launch a charge themselves where they'd fight with their choppas and use the Banner of Butchery in the first round, to give each Orc two attacks at Strength 5 while still keeping their 4+ armour save. The plan worked reasonably enough, but I found that I would almost never use the spears, so they were kind of pointless.
Shields are always a viable option for elite infantry, even if all you want to get out of them is a bit more protection from missile fire. Compared to the cost of the Orc, shields are very cheap and with small units it is something you can easily afford.
Savage Big 'Uns can actually get bows, though that is more of a freak accident than any sort of useful option.
One defining feature of all orcish elite infantry (and the elite cavalry too, for that matter) is that the Bosses are decidedly unimpressive while being very expensive. This is because the Bosses get very little in the way of stat increases compared to the rank and file troops - a Boss in a unit of Orc Boyz get +1 WS, S and A while a Boss in a unit of Big 'Uns get only +1 A for the same cost. Black Orc Bosses are really absurd, for five points more than in 6th edition you get a Boss with one point of Strength less than before. Thus Bosses for these elite units are generally something I skip unless spare points are very plentiful.
Standard bearers and musicians, however, make a lot of sense for all units. They cost the same as a Boss and are considerably more useful. One unit of each type of elite Orcs, apart from Savage Big 'Uns can carry a magic standard, an option that should be considered more or less compulsory. The three 25-point banners are all useful, the 50 point Spirit-totem is much more interesting on a Battle Standard Bearer since you can then stick him in a unit of much cheaper greenies and get the same effect. Thus the choice is between the Waaagh! Banner, Banner of Butchery and the good old War Banner. All of these are interesting and my experience is that whichever one I choose, when I get onto the battlefield I wish I had chosen a different one. If I take the Banner of Butchery my to hit rolls are miserable and the War Banner would have been better, when I take the War Banner I miss the Waaagh! Banner to get my ladz into combat and when I take the Waaagh! Banner getting into combat is no problem and either of the other two would have been better. It's not easy being green!
If you ask me, it is pretty pointless to take a unit of elite infantry and have them lead by a fighter character. To me, the whole point in taking elite units is that they don't need characters to lead them - they can handle themselves while the character goes and leads some lesser greenskins that are more in need of assistance. I know that some players like to have nasty characters leading nasty units to make a kind of "super unit", but I think that makes for only one important unit my opponent has to deal with, while leaving all my other units weaker and more vulnerable. Thus I like to spread my nastiness around more.
That is not to say that my fighter characters will never join an elite infantry unit; I tend to give them boars so that they can move around my battle line to where they will be most useful, but that is not part of my basic battle plan.
When using greenskin elites, I tend to find that my battle plan must be built more around them. For obvious reasons, expensive models have a greater potential to do either very well or very badly (the chance of doing badly being greater due to the orcish elites being overpriced) and thus they require more care than cheaper ones. You will probably not be overly worried if your opponent fires a volley of Empire Handgunners at 6-point Orc Boyz, but when he's shooting at 14-point Black Orcs that die nearly as easy, you should be more worried. Similarly, Orc Boyz fight mostly by weight of numbers and so it is less important what they get into combat with than when you are dealing with elite Orcs that win on doing damage and require suitably squishy targets.
Obviously, you want your expensive elite fighters to get something out of their boosted stats, which means finding something to fight and stomping all over them. Ideally, this is a unit of not-too-competent warriors, as even elite Orcs are not all that elite if you compare them to elites of armies such as Dwarfs, Chaos or the various Elf armies. These elites are better handled by softening them up with your artillery and then grinding them down with a big block of lesser greenies lead by a competent fighter character. The elite Orcs do much better beating up infantry units you find in armies like the Empire, Skaven and the various Undead. With units such as these, fielding Orc Boyz (or Goblins) against them means that you get a pushing match with neither side winning by very much.
The thing about orcish elites is that they don't do well in protracted combats, sort of like cavalry units or Ogres (my other Fantasy army). You want to hit combat, do a lot of damage and move on quickly. If the combat drags on you tend to lose Strength, you generally strike last and since you often have a small unit you start losing rank bonus. Because you occasionally need to hang around for a while against people who are a bit too tough for you to damage, I like to give my elite fighters shields so that I can choose to go with choppas and shields if I need to. Surprisingly useful against things like Varghulfs and small knight units.
It's rather obvious, isn't it? Because your unit can't afford a good rank bonus while these other guys you can also have in your army can, the cheap guys can be your anvil and the elite guys can be your anvil. Because you only count the rank bonus of the unit with the highest, throwing in another big block doesn't do a whole lot - if the first unit has a +3 rank bonus and the second unit also has a +3 rank bonus, the sum is 3. Meanwhile, there is no limit to how many wounds that can count towards your CR - if your first unit did 3 wounds in damage and the second unit also did 3 wounds in damage, the sum is 6.
As a digression here, I'd like to mention something that some people bring up about Ogres - they want Ogres to get a rank bonus for ranks that are only 3 models wide. The thing about that is that this isn't cost effective no matter how you look at it - the Ogres have so good combat stats and so high cost per model that it would not pay off to place them in a second rank where they can't fight. Even if Ogres could get a rank bonus for ranks two models wide it would still probably not pay off.
It is similar with elite Orcs; the cheapest point of rank bonus is going to cost you 45 points and that is just stripped-down Orc Big 'Uns. More likely, a point of rank bonus costs you something like 65 points. That is just ridiculous (though still cheaper than a two-Ogre rank bonus, were that possible...). Meanwhile, Goblins give you a point of rank bonus for 15 points (or 20 if you want to indulge your gobbos with fancy gear).
Elite infantry are slow and it can be difficult to get them where they are needed, which is one of the main reasons why people often prefer faster and more manoeuvrable units, or cheaper and more plentiful units. These units are much more difficult to avoid than the slower elites and an army consisting largely of elite infantry blocks is very easy to outmanoeuvre.
There are basically two different ways of getting your elite infantry into combat, most clearly illustrated by two quite different armies, namely Dwarfs and Chaos Mortals. Dwarfs traditionally make sure they can outshoot their opponents, which tends to mean that it is very difficult for the opponent to win if he does not advance to try and take out the firepower units of the Dwarfs. The Dwarf elite infantry (all Dwarf infantry is more or less elite) then makes an effort to intercept these units. The Chaos Mortal army, on the other hand, doesn't have much in the way of firepower (it's mainly magic), though what they do have is a lot of cheap and/or fast units that can bait and funnel enemy units into going where he wants them to.
Orcs & Goblins, like the Empire, can play a mix of these two approaches. You can pound enemy units with cheap war machine fire to give them an incentive to move towards you, and you can use gobbo units to get in the way and make enemy units go where you want them to. Good deployment is essential with slow units and is one of the main reasons elite infantry units fail. There is little point in taking a lot of firepower to make enemy units come to you, if they can move up and take out your war machines before your elite infantry can intercept them. I have won more battles against Dwarfs because my deployment was better than theirs than for any other reason. If you think the main action will be in the centre of the table, you should need a very good reason before you deploy your elite infantry on either flank.
Elite Orcs are very vulnerable to missile fire, which is somewhat hard to understand for a lot of people. They see that these units have saves as good, or better, than lesser greenies and don't think about the fact that the models cost twice as much as basic Orcs (or four times as much as basic Goblins). So you have these guys who are much more expensive and only marginally (if at all) more difficult to kill. So with each volley of handgun or crossbow fire against your Big 'Uns or Black Orcs, you lose points faster than if the gits on the other side of the table were shooting at Orc Boyz or whatever. You do not want your expensive ladz shot or zapped.
There are basically four different things you can do about this.
- Place the unit somewhere it will be hidden from view of firing units. This can be behind terrain, out of the fire arc of enemy units or in places where enemy units will block the lines of fire of their own buddies.
- Place your own units to block the line of fire. Cheap, fast units such as Wolf Riders or Spider Riders are good for this and will not cause Panic in Orc units either. If the unit that needs protection is Savage or Black Orcs, you can also use common Orc units as screens, because Savage Orcs don't take psychology tests while frenzied and Black Orcs don't care about what happens to lesser Orcs anyway. This can be a bit difficult as the only fast Orc units are Boar Boyz and they are too expensive to be used as screens, but things like Arrer Boyz can be used if they get a move on. Note that this tactic of screening only works if the firing unit and the screen are on the same level - a unit of Wolf Riders will not block the line of fire of a Helstorm Battery on a hill, for example.
- Thirdly and possibly most obvious: Kill the firing units or bog them down in combat. The fast units available to a greenskin can usually handle firepower units (unlike, say, Chaos Warhounds or Fell Bats who are rubbish in combat) and even if they might not be able to take them out right away they might hold them up for a turn or so and prevent them from shooting for a critical turn.
- And finally, you can distract the firing unit with a more immediate or more impressive target. If something looks dangerous or is right under their nose, people will often fire at that rather than at a more important unit. I have on occasion shoved Goblin Wolf Riders up towards Dwarf Thunderers and had my opponent target them instead of my good stuff, even though those Wolf Riders would just get splatted if they thought of charging the Dwarf unit and there's no need to finish them off at range.
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