Orcs & Goblins vs Empire of Sonnstahl
Hell, it’s about time!…
… for my first miniature wargame in approximately a decade. I’d checked out a multitude of rulesets, bought and painted lots of models, got a load of gaming aids, made lots of scenery, pestered the system I wanted to try out for rules clarifications (& eventually got them), and now, finally I was ready to play. My opponent to play against was an old friend – Rob, who I’d used to play wargames against back when we were teenagers. But he also hadn’t played a wargame in a very long time so we were in a similar position as well as fun reunion too.
As you can see, I’d decided to play The Ninth Age Quickstarter edition as an introduction back to wargaming. It was also a nice way I could paint up two small forces to use as a kind of ‘demo’ game – it had also been really inspiring me to collect and paint some of my existing models and get some new ones. It was also very strange to be painting something other than Orcs or Goblins for the first time in at least 20 years!
I also chose the Quickstarter rules as a potential way to introduce friends who’ve never played any miniature wargames like this at all before. So I wanted to see what it was like. It also had the added bonus that (hopefully) I am able to give some ‘playtest’ experience for T9A project itself. I’d already flushed out a few things that will hopefully make the Quickstarter rules more solid when they do finally complete them. As a fan-run entity I am quite keen to try and assist them where I can. For example I’ve also been helping to update some of their miniature library for Orcs and Goblins.
Anyway, first thing for the game was to set up the terrain. There aren’t any definitive rules for this in the QS which is probably fine for simple intro games, but in order to get something neutral and unique, I asked my partner to set up the terrain for us! She did a really great job of this I felt. We nudged a couple of things to make sure all units had potential “paths” they could move through – because in the QS rules there is no way for a unit to reform it’s formation to adapt to the terrain, so I did feel that was worth “balancing” for.
RULES NOTE: We decided that the ‘Impassable Terrain’ buildings DID block all line-of-sight even from the hills, which seemed to be how the QS rules are written, but it could be clearer, especially when there are intervening models too. More about this in Battle Report 2 as well.
As, oddly, both armies we were playing with at first were owned and painted by me, and neither of us minded who we played, I actually rolled a die to decide who I would play as. I rolled Orcs & Goblins – so staying with my usual Greenskins it was! Rob would play as the Empire of Sonnstahl. We also rolled for table side and first turn & deployment, and I was on the south side of the board, and had to deploy & move first.
Upon considering my options I immediately thought that having to both deploy AND move first is a huge disadvantage for OnG in this matchup. With virtually no shooting and far weaker ‘missile’ magic potential, it seemed that if I just moved forward onto the objective, the Empire list could potentially easily sit there, soften up the whole Orc & Goblin army, and then move into the objective in the latter two turns – or even the very last turn, should they wish to. To make matters worse, two of the Orc and Goblin units could essentially be totally ‘zoned out’ by both the Empire handgunners and the Empire wizard – as a single decent round of fire, or a single decent spell roll from either of them could decimate either my Goblin Wolf Riders or my Goblin Witchdoctor. So to attempt to counter this I did two things: 1. The Goblin Witchdoctor deployed in the unit of Goblin Spearmen, and 2. the Goblin Wolfriders were deployed really far back out of range of anything and also behind the covering buildings. They were positioned carefully so they could wheel to either side of the building immediately in front of them, depending on how the Empire force deployed.
Finally both the Orc unit and the Goblin unit were staggered a fair way back from the objective. My plan was to hang back out of range of the Empire firepower for as long as possible, but then move in and grab the objective. The ‘ace card’ I did have strategically was the Orc Eadbasher unit. I realised from reading their stats that they were far more powerful in melee combat – at least head on – than any other unit on the battlefield. If the Empire decided to push forward to take the objective before I did, I felt they would be able to charge and see off anyone they had to! The Orc Chief general hung just outside of the Orc unit. To be honest, I wasn’t quite sure what to do with him other than providing leadership for the rest of the army.
Onto the Empire deployment:
I can’t say completely what plans Rob had in mind. But I must admit I was slightly confused by the EoS deployment. I thought he would position his handgunners to try to “counter” my Wolfriders and keep them away from the main battlefield entirely. But instead they were positioned to the other side away from them, but able to get good lines of sight from the hill in front of them. The Empire heavy knights were similarly stuck out to their right flank among the hills where they wouldn’t be able to get good lines of sight to threaten much with their larger potential charge range – as you can’t charge at a unit you can’t see. The Empire Marshal general was outside of the Halberdiers on their left flank, and the Empire wizard similarly deployed by himself alongside the handgunners. As there isn’t really any shooting, and only very low magic missile threat in the OnG list, this did make sense to me.
Okay, onto the actual battle!
Orcs & Goblins Turn 1
Seeing the Empire deployment, and sticking with my “hang back” plan, only the Goblin Wolfriders could move forward and remain safe from the Empire ranged weaponry, so they were the only unit I moved. Having calculated their wheel arc before deployment, they were able to clear the building in front of them and get behind the other smaller building too shielding any line of sight to them somewhat too.
Empire Turn 1
No photo for this one, but the whole Empire army advanced forwards from their previous setup positions. The Knights & Wizard hiding between the two hills, and the Handgunners moving on top of the hill. The Halberdiers and General moving through the woods in front of them.
Magic and shooting was pretty irrelevant on the first turn for both sides, as nothing was in range anyway.
Orcs & Goblins Turn 2
On my second turn the movement was reversed. The Goblins and Orcs moved slowly forward but keeping as much out of range of the gunners and the Wizard as they could, and the Wolfriders held position. I couldn’t really avoid the handgunners on the hill, but I could make sure I was covered by the woods. With only long range fire vs these big units in cover, they should not do too much anyway I figured. A far bigger threat was the Empire wizard as one good ‘Scorching Salvo’ spell from him could do a lot of damage, as it hits every single unit within 18″ of him, in cover or line of sight or not. I couldn’t really avoid this entirely but if I hung back more I would make sure he’d have to move into my line of sight to hit multiple units with this spell at once.
In the Magic phase I realised if I had moved my Goblin Witchdoctor within the unit to the other side, he would have been just in range to attempt his Fireball spell vs the Handgunners. But Rob was insistent on no takebacks like this whatsoever! I thought that was a bit mean for a ‘practice’ game, but fair enough I agreed with him, but I did point out this would apply to him later too if he made any mistakes. But this meant again, Magic was almost irrelevant. The Witchdoctor was just in range of the Empire Knights however, and was able to successfully cast ‘The Evil Eye’ on them, reducing their movement.
For shooting, the Wolfriders all loosed their bows at the Empire Halberdiers, and did absolutely nothing, as expected, despite remaining stationary. (One of them actually caused a potential wound if I recall correctly, but Rob of course rolled a ‘6’ for his armour save).
Empire Turn 2
The Halberdiers advanced further getting almost within range of the central objective. Hindered by “the Evil Eye” the Knights only shuffled forward a little & chose to remain hidden behind the hill on the Orc left flank, whilst the Wizard ran forward to get just within 18″ of the main Orc unit. However the Empire magic phase was completely unsuccessful, as the OnG side managed to dispel every attempt at casting.
The Handgunners fired, long range into the Goblin unit covered by the forest – and finally we had our first miniature wargaming casualty in a decade – one of the Goblins was killed!
Orcs and Goblins Turn 3
It was on this turn I fully realised the flaw in my plan. As the winner of the game was only determined by how many units were within range of the central objective at the end of the battle, and the Empire were guaranteed to get the advantageous last turn, if I didn’t press the issue and take some risks, from their current position the Empire would be able to move all 3 of their units towards the objective, and I’d be unable to win no matter what.
So, whilst I’d avoided taking too much ranged damage successfully, I had no option but to throw any caution to the wind at this point. The Orcs marched right up as far as they could towards the objective, able to get well within scoring range and only very partially in the wood so they would not suffer “broken ranks” if they were engaged.
The Goblin infantry also marched up alongside them to protect their flank – also bringing most of the Empire force within range of the Witchdoctor’s spells.
It was with the Wolfriders that I made the boldest manoeuvre however, marching them right up and wheeling to face the Halberdiers flank and staying out of charge threat of both them, and the Empire Marshall. The trouble with the Goblin Wolfriders is that they are virtually no threat whatsoever to any of the Empire units on a frontal charge, however, in the flank, they could potentially be scary, especially if they were flanking an enemy combined with a frontal combat. So I moved them to this position to threaten a kind of “pincer” between them and the Orc Eadbashers. I knew even a slightly lucky round of handgun fire would see them wiped out or running off the board easily from this spot – however as mentioned above, I literally HAD to take this risk or almost guarantee a loss in the last turn anyway.
In my Magic phase I wanted to lower the odds of harm coming to my Wolf Riders, and I managed to cast both a Fireball and an Evil Eye, I put more dice into the Fireball as I thought it was the more important spell, but in retrospect maybe it wasn’t, and it meant the Empire were able to dispel my Evil Eye that was targeting their Marshal. The Fireball did at least kill two Handgunners, reducing their firepower a little bit.
Empire Turn 3
The reason why I had tried to Evil Eye on the Marshal was clear to Rob, and he took advantage of the fact his Marshal still had full movement to get completely in the way of the Goblin Wolfriders. Because of his small base and their weak attack power, they weren’t that much of a threat to him even – but his goal was to get in their way to prevent them charging any other Empire units or even moving onto the objective at all. I’d been expecting this move – hence why I’d tried the Evil Eye, but there was nothing I could do about it, but in retrospect I could’ve forced that spell through rather than the Fireball – of course then the handgunners might have just panicked the Wolfriders off the board anyway, so hindsight is a bit 20:20 here.
Rob also surprised me by declaring the first charge of the game! His Halberdiers tried to charge the Orc Eadbashers. It was quite a long range charge, but they made it in. I was pretty sure the undamaged Eadbashers should be able to easily beat them in combat anyway, even with the +1 combat resolution bonus they would get for charging.
The Knights finally wheeled forward onto the hill to give them a line of sight to make a potential charge on the final turn, and the Wizard moved back onto the hill to stay out of their charge arc.
RULES QUESTION: Rob actually considered his Wizard joining the unit of Handgunners, but then we weren’t sure, since he would ‘replace’ a gunner in the unit, would they then get 1 less shot in the Shooting phase? As this isn’t covered clearly in the draft QS rules, I fell back to the WFB default of “4+ you can take the shot” if he did it. Instead he decided not to bother with it.
The Orcs were again successful in dispelling the attempted Scorching Salvo spell from the Wizard, and allowed his ‘Corruption of Tin’ spell to be cast, as it wasn’t having any significant effect anyway, as all the Empire units had enough armour penetration weapons to get through the minimal Orc armour.
Whilst I was getting pretty lucky with my dispel rolls all game, I actually thought Rob was making a mistake here bothering with Corruption of Tin at all, and instead not focusing all his magic dice onto the true threat to me – the Scorching Salvo, risking a miscast yes, but also making it as hard as possible for me to stop it. I actually also think if Rob had wanted to use Corruption of Tin, he should have been targeting my Chief – as that spell, plus other spells and handgun fire could quite easily get some wounds on him or even kill him.
The handgunners fired into the Goblin infantry and killed 3 more of then – but not enough to cause a panic test.
In the Melee phase, both sides rolled really badly and very few wounds were inflicted at all. The Orc Eadbashers narrowly won the combat however, but both units still had full ranks and so with the Halberdiers additional rank, they were Steadfast. Also being within the 12″ leadership range of their General they only had to pass a Discipline 9 check, which they did.
RULES MISTAKE!: I’d remembered one major difference in T9A than old editions of WFB that we were used to, that models on the front 2 ranks of units could fight & shoot now, rather than just 1… which was correct. However I had completely forgotten there were different rules in melee combat for ‘Supporting Attacks’ – and so the 2nd rank of Orc Eadbashers should’ve only had 1 attack each. In retrospect I was a bit shocked by how good in melee combat the Eadbashers should have been – however I would’ve taken average rolls on 18 dice rather than the terrible rolls on 24 dice that I got! But still, apologies to Rob for this mistake that I didn’t even realise until the next day!
Orc and Goblin Turn 4
Well it was the last turn so it was time to do what I could. With nothing better to do than to take a chance at some lucky melee rolls, the Wolfriders charged the Marshall right in front of them. As he was only about an 2 inches away from them, there was no need to even roll.
RULES COMMENTARY: I think that units aligning to single characters is a very silly part of T9A rules, allowing them to be extremely powerful as ‘chaffing’ units even within the Quickstarter ruleset. It’s arguably ‘necessary’ in the limited QS lists to give some tactical flexibility. But overall I am extremely un-fond of the ‘Herohammer’ style of play that is still quite strong in T9A compared to my tastes; where powerful heroes are able to stymie or even defeat whole units like this. It would be better if the unit could push the individual around potentially, and/or at least some kind of ‘surrounding’ rule so they could get way more attacks than the tiny footprint of heroes allows – as as it stands, smaller base size is a pure advantage in T9A. I have seen similar suggestions even in just the last year of browsing the T9A forum, so at least I know I’m not alone in this preference.
The Orcs were locked in melee combat already, but because of their larger frontage, there was no way that the Orc Chief could join them. I also wished I could possibly join the Goblin infantry – but this wasn’t allowed in the QS rules. So instead he marched forward and got in the best position he could to attempt to ‘chaff’ the Empire Knights in a similar manner to the Empire Marshall on the Wolf Riders. It was far riskier in this case of course, as the Empire Knights would have a good chance to wound and even rout him if they charged, but with a bit of luck he could hold his ground at least, and this way could protect the flank of the Goblin infantry, which I HAD to push forward as far as possible to get within range of the objective to have any chance at winning the game, as this was my last turn. I knew this setup the potential for the Knights to get a flank charge into the Goblins too – but this would at least take them into the wood.
RULES QUESTION: Can a panic test be caused by Hindering Terrain damage? If so, how does that work?
In the Magic phase, the Goblin Witchdoctor attempted to cast the Evil Eye once again – this time on the Empire Handgunners which would have meant they would have to March to get into range of the Objective (and then be unable to shoot on the last turn) however it was dispelled. The Fireball was successfully cast however, and it killed 2 more Handgunners.
In Melee combat the Wolfriders predictably did nothing to the Empire Marshall, as they could only get 2 attacks on him, whilst the Marshall killed one of them, causing the combat to be a draw that turn, with their bonus for charging in.
The Orc Eadbashers faired better however, this time both sides rolling much more average dice rolls, meaning way more on both sides being killed and both units being reduced to only 2 ranks. The Orcs won the combat by a significant margin, and the Empire Halberdiers failed their break test despite being within range of their General still (Note: this combat in particular would’ve been much closer had we used the correct number of attacks by the Eadbashers, although it was still very much in their favour to win). This rout however left me with a bit of a dilemma about pursuing or not. Because if I chased after the Halberdiers but rolled too highly, they could actually move too far away from the objective, which was unlikely, but possible. However it was also possible that the Halberdiers would make a low roll, stay within range of the objective, and then were very likely to rally, thanks to the Marshal’s high discipline. In this situation, I would automatically lose the game, being unable to get my Wolf Riders onto the objective at all… I actually talked this out with Rob too, and we both concluded the best thing I could do was just pursue anyway, which I did. The Halberdiers promptly rolled really highly, and the Eadbashers low – which meant the Eadbashers could not catch them, but their high flee distance also took the Halberdiers out of the game in so far as the objective was concerned. It did however open up the Eadbashers to a potential flank charge by the Knights or the Handgunners though, so I thought I had maybe lost the game at this point, but I knew it would come down to some dice rolls at least. On further reflection I realised I had some chance at a draw still.
Empire Turn 4
Rob calculated his options to try to win in his final turn. The pursuit distance of the Orc Eadbashers had kept them almost right on top of the objective, but at the same time they were almost perfectly aligned for the Knights to be able to charge past the attempted blocking by the Orc Chieftain now. Similarly the Handgunners could charge the Orcs… however with some bad dice rolls either of these combats could potentially go badly for the humans.
Charging the Orc Chief was also a totally unnecessarily risky option at this point on the last turn, as it could mean a loss for the Empire if the Knights didn’t rout him and therefore didn’t get into the objective range on a pursuit move (which I am not even sure was possible anyway, depending on the angle the Chief was aligned at).
So despite me slightly ribbing Rob for “playing for the draw” he decided to instead simply move both of his units into Objective range and put his faith in the Empire magic and missile power to cause some panic tests on my units, rather than going into melee.
The Wizard put as many dice as he could into casting Scorching Salvo, but once again the Orcs & Goblins dispelled it. So not once had this powerful spell been successfully cast all game long. This kind of ruined Rob’s last turn plan right away – as it would’ve hit both the relevant Orcs and Goblin infantry units. He did successfully cast Corruption of Tin on one die onto the Orc Eadbashers, but it wasn’t really relevant again. To make matters worse, as they had moved too, the Handgunners didn’t manage to land many shots on the Orcs right in front of them, only killing one and not even getting close to causing a panic test.
In the melee phase the Empire got the consolation of the Marshall once again killing one of two Wolfriders, whilst they did no wounds to him, and the Wolfriders broke from combat, and were destroyed by the pursuit from the Empire General, although this was irrelevant to the victory condition for the battle.
Just for the heck of it, we rolled out the combat had Rob chosen to flank charge the Orc Eadbashers with his Knights, and it would have resulted in the Orcs breaking and the Empire probably winning (although we didn’t roll out restraining pursuit Discipline tests or distances etc).
Battle Result: DRAW
Conclusions and thoughts:
I would be interesting to hear what more experienced T9A players thought about this battle. What do you think we did right or wrong and how you would’ve played it? What do you think about my rules questions and notes? The one thing I am pretty sure I did badly was not using the Orc Chieftain more aggressively. He could definitely be threatened by combined spells & missile fire – but not really that badly, whereas he could’ve potentially been a bigger threat to the Handgunners and Wizard if he’d rushed forward into the woods. I’m still not 100% used to woods not affecting infantry movement however I must admit. I was really scared to lose his Discipline 8 though, but I think I was playing it too safe with him.
What I liked?
It was fun to be miniature wargaming again after so many years, and with an old friend to boot. I was also very happy with my models and terrain and how they looked! Although using movement trays and wheeling mechanics and removing individual models as casualties can be a little bit painstaking and annoying at times (not to mention the risk to damaging models), it’s still vastly preferable to me to having to move every model individually, and it also gives a nice look to the battlefield as you can visually see units being weakened. For a simple Quickstarter game, I felt there was a reasonable amount of depth to the possible tactics in the game, even though with such small armies, it was always had a lot of potential to swing on one or two dice rolls, it felt like by both playing it pretty safe, this didn’t really happen. The game also played pretty fast. Even though we were moving at an extremely relaxed pace, constantly stopping to read or explain the rules, take photos, chat, consider tactics, and make and drink large numbers of cups of tea and a few snacks etc, we got the whole thing done in 4-5 hours. Obviously it could be played much quicker if we were more familiar with the rules or were making any attempt at all trying to play faster. The Magic rules were also surprisingly interesting, whilst it was a little bit of a “mini game within the game” feeling, it did lead to quite a number of interesting decisions discussed above.
What I didn’t like?
The relatively lacking tactical options in the OnG list is probably my number one gripe. Whilst I appreciate the nice small (& probably) balanced QS armies for buying and painting and playing quickly, the OnG list seems like an incredibly inflexible “all their eggs in one basket” list, with the incredibly powerful Orc Eadbasher unit (which can potentially be made even stronger if the Chief joins them), and two very weak Goblin units – especially the Wolfriders. The character bases having to match the unit bases also hamstrings them even further – as each character only has one unit they can potentially join. I would’ve loved to have had the option for the Orc Chief to join the Goblin infantry and vice versa for the Witchdoctor. And as I lamented earlier in the Deployment section above, it maybe just a matchup thing, but their Wolfrider unit and Witchdoctor are so vulnerable, the Empire list can completely zone them and reduce the OnG’s limited options even further. Having to deploy first AND move first further exacerbated this.
The Wolfriders feel pretty useless, being easily chaffed (and probably beaten) by either of the Empire characters alone – and frontal charging vs any unit should also see them lose any combat without a lot of luck. So the only way they can do anything much at all is with a flank or rear charge, which feels down to terrain or an opponent making a mistake more than anything. Conversely vs the Empire at least, the Eadbashers seem almost overpowered, probably needing the Empire to combo-charge them to win a combat too. But the Empire do have the potential at least to try to weaken the unit significantly before they engage, which isn’t feasible for the OnG at all. I might be missing some things here, but I am not sure in such small lists this creates an especially interesting dynamic, especially for the OnG, but I’m not sure of a simple solution if you want to keep such a small unit of Wolfriders in the QS list who ideally would be a pure chaff & distraction unit, but they can’t effectively play that role when they are also essential to the victory condition. In retrospect I feel I might have been better off keeping them back behind both infantry units and only moving them into score at the end – but then a single Scorching Salvo or good round of shooting could still wreck them.
But on the basis of this game, I was maybe worrying about Scorching Salvo way too much – but on the other hand I minimised it’s chances to do damage and got some good luck with dispel rolls and Rob getting weaker Flux cards at the wrong times. The Corruption of Tin spell conversely seems almost useless in this matchup for the Empire, since the OnG armour is pretty irrelevant – so again, like with the OnG units, it would be nice to see more balance between the spell options, which the OnG had a much better time of it I feel, with two ‘okay but not that powerful’ spells rather than one amazing one and one rubbish one. I also feel like OnG need at least SOME option of dealing with high armour – as they have absolutely none. The only way they threaten the Empire Knights in anyway at all is with static combat resolution, a flank charge or maybe they’d get luck with sheer number of attacks were the Eadbashers to engage them.
I also wasn’t keen on the deployment and first turn rules either. Again it maybe a matchup thing, but I can’t really see any advantage that OnG can gain from deploying first and moving first. So the whole battle could easily just swing on that setup roll I feel.
BUT I’m just a newbie to T9A QS anyway so I can’t be too harsh. The Quickstarter is still effective for what it sets out to achieve I feel, but with more rules tidy up and maybe a few more tweaks to the rules and lists, it could be even better. I also might be missing a lot of tactical options with the OnG. I’ll hopefully have the time to watch some more of Piteglio’s Veil of Ages youtube channel and see what other players did with OnG and EoS, and in particular how this matchup went for other players. I’ve watched a few of his videos before, but as I didn’t actually fully understand the QS rules or lists yet, and was painting at the time, I wasn’t really taking it all in – on purpose – as I didn’t want it to affect how I played my first game, and for similar reasons I’d not watched any of the battle reports for OnG or EoS to this point either.
I’ll leave you with a bonus “photoshoot” picture of these two armies against each other – taken in proper lighting for photography, unlike my battle report photos!
More good photos of these armies can be found in this flickr album 🙂