Ah, theme forces… for a magpie mind like mine, they’re a gift from above. I can dabble in every faction if I choose, curtailing my freewheeling purchasing habits by limiting myself to a theme force that catches my eye. I can make lists that sing their fluff song – why yes, these models you see on the table before you are part of Kreoss’ forces from the Invasion of Sul! What’s that? Why, yes, his is Garryth’s cadre of Mage Hunters that he took into Khador when the Retribution first made themselves known en masse to the Prikaz Chancellery (did I get that right? Khador’s not my specialty). Given how frequently I get the urge to bounce between factions, being able to play with a theme force just hits me on all the right levels.
Today, of course, we post the next (and last public) chapter of the G’dossier on Xerxis, Fury of Halaak. A diatribe on Xerxis and his Warbeast options, and on general listbuilding the Gdaybloke way will be sent exclusively to Mr Dextersmith, because he earned it, dammit. If you wanted to see it, maybe you should have played in a charity tournament and chosen my clueless mental meanderings as your prize
Xerxis’ theme is called Footsteps Of Giants. That’s your first clue as to where the theme force is leaning. Note that you should always check the book and/or War Room when looking at theme discussions online; I’m summarizing, exact wording for the theme is available on the noted resources.
So, what do you get to play with?
Warbeasts: Tiberion, Non-Character Warbeasts
Every single non-character warbeast – okay, that’s kind of standard – and Tiberion’s a given, since he’s Xerxis’ pet Titan. You’ve got full access to every animus in the Skorne arsenal, every gribbly except for Molik Karn and Despoiler.
Units: Paingiver Beast Handlers, Skorne Cavalry Units, Skorne Tyrant Units
This is a little bit of a challenge for some. Beast Handlers, yep, they’re ubiquitous, but you’re otherwise limited (at the time of writing) to the Tyrant Commander & Standard, whose abilities are largely useful for other infantry units, and the Praetorian Ferox, who don’t seem to get a lot of love nowadays. This should, of course, be another indicator that your model count will be low.
Solos: Skorne Tyrant Solos
Tyrant Rhadeim and Tyrant Zaadesh. Both are solid in themselves, Rhadeim can help those Praetorian Ferox out a little and Zaadesh can help lighten Xerxis’ Fury load by steering a few gribblies himself.
Battle Engines: Siege Animantarax
For so long, one of the most unloved models in the entire game… Has the last errata given him the oomph he needs? I’ll be curious to know what Hysteresis has discovered, assuming he’s found time to field his dual battle turtles against the UK meta…
- Requirements: You only get the listed models. Deal with it.
- Benefits: Reduce the cost of huge-based models in this army by 1.
Based on this tier you know right out of the gate you’re being encouraged to bring Mammoths, Desert Hydra, and Siege Animantaraxes. A key feature of any theme force for me is finding where you save points; this is it. On the one hand, it means you’ll actually have models on the board large enough to screen Xerxis himself, should you desire to. On the other hand, that’s a significant amount of pre-deployed models to consider. Your flexibility is going to be somewhat limited… but remember as well, you’ve got Mobility. Your Mammoth is functionally SPD6, your Desert Hydra SPD7, so running around on the first turn can surprise an opponent, terrain willing.
- Requirements: The army includes two or more Tyrant models/units.
- Benefits: For each tyrant model/unit, you can redeploy one model/unit after both players have deployed.
There aren’t a lot of Tyrant models you can use, but your choices are solid. As lamented as the Ferox are, Rhadeim’s a solid little hunter and you’ve got the option to put Ignite on him as well. He’s speedy and a solid flanker. Skirt him around your opponent’s line, or hold him in reserve with the other Ferox to jump around in front of your huge based models as needed. On the other side, we have Tyrant Zaadesh. Given how the nature of the theme restrictions limits what you can bring with you, you’re going to be dumping a reasonable amount of points into Warbeast, and Xerxis himself can only drain so much Fury. Zaadesh can neatly handle some of the load for you, kiting with some Scarabs or Reptile Hounds backing him up as targets for Protective Battlegroup and enablers for Tag Team.
- Requirements: Your army includes Tiberion
- Benefits: You gain +1 to your starting roll
My biggest concern about Xerxis – aside from wondering how much nail polish his cerops goes through – is that he’s a freaking big target. Sure he’s got solid armour and can transfer a few hits, but he’s still a big-ass target for spell slingers and snipers. Why the heck wouldn’t you bring an ARM21 Shield Guard model that also adds Bump to Xerxis’ Animus arsenal, making it that much harder for melee threats to score a second hit?
- Requirements: The army includes one or more Animantaraxes
- Benefits: Siege Animantaraxes start the game with three rage tokens
And now the controversial one. Well, maybe less controversial since the last errata. Think on it like this: Your Animantarax now costs you a point less (tier 1 benefit) so it’s only 8pts for 22 wound boxes, and you can boost the Double Reiver’s attacks – either the attack or damage roll – before you even get close enough to the enemy for them to help you to generate more rage tokens. Suddenly your Animantarax’s ability to actually hit with a modicum of accuracy or, frankly, a very decent P+S isn’t dependent on your opponent being nice enough to attack a few times first without killing the Animantarax to load it up, you have your rage tokens out of the gate. I’d be very curious to hear from some of the proud owners of dual Animantaraxes out there, to see just how much more effective their battle turtles have become with this theme force.
Footsteps of Giants has the hallmarks of what I like to see in a theme force. It gives you options for point reduction, it makes a model better, it tweaks deployment. It’s fairly restrictive – what’s the point of a theme force that just lets you play everything you would normally play? – and it encourages you to look at some of those models that have been chilling in the corner of your display cabinet, and ponder whether you can make them dance under a new paradigm.
Sadly, dear Losties, this marks the end of the public portions of the G’dossier. Mr Dextersmith will receive two more chapters – one with my thoughts on Xerxis and his Warbeast options, and one on how I, in all of my Skornish ignorance, would build a list for the Fury of Halaak – but these are his alone, as part of the prize package he won. I hope you’ve enjoyed the G’dossier, it’s been an interesting experiment and one I may revisit again at some point.