In this post, we’ll go through Army Archetypes and Unit Roles. We are also going to cover tempo.
Army lists normally have an overall theme or strategy, which we call the list archetype. At a glance, you can understand how a list will try to work. This doesn’t mean it always does that, but it is mainly its win condition. Here is a quick rundown of the terms:
- Alpha Strike: Aims to win on the first turn
- Counter strike – Trading: Counter to an Alpha Strike
- Pin/ Alpha blocking: Trap your opponent in their deployment
- Castle: Screens valuable units
- Damage Check wound sink/armor save: Makes it nearly impossible to kill everything
- Control: Reduce enemy units efficiency
- Meme/skew: Sh*tposters
These are the primary roles units usually take up in the army and game, but of course, they can pivot, and your best damage dealer can become a screening unit if it means you get the points to win the game. A unit normally tells you what it wants to do with its rules. An example is a fatemaster for Tzeentch that gives a +1 to wound aura out. Sure, you can run him up the board and fight the enemy, but his output is very low compared to giving 10 tzangoor +1 to wound!
Units normally tell you what role they are thanks to their rules. Here is a quick rundown of the terms:
- Support: Increases the efficiency of friendly units
- Damage Dealer: Does damage
- Anvil: Resists a lot of damage
- Screen: Blocks important units or areas from damage
- Points grabber: Just gets victory points
So units have primary roles. That’s why you included them in your list, and the whole army plays a certain way, and that’s its archetype! The final piece of this puzzle is then the tempo it all plays, but we will cover that at the end. This should be the best way to think of armies and really helps simplify list building and thinking through an army.
Right, let’s break down the unit roles first in more detail. I’ll be using the cast of the classic film, The Lord of the Rings, to help explain it better.
Very much like Samwise Gamgee, a support character’s job is to increase the effective efficiency of a unit in an army or a fellowship. A support unit either makes other units do more damage, survive more damage, move across the board easier or get the blasted ring to Mordor cause Frodo is weak ass b*&$h.
Wizards are always support units as they can cast Mystic Shield. Which, combined with the All-out Defense command ability, gives a unit a very reliable +2 to its save. Seeing as units are assigned a points value based on things like survivability, you can create some very problematic combos with this simple spell.
Other support units provide direct buffs, like the Warchanter giving +1 damage to a unit, or a Chaos Sorcerer Lord giving a unit a 6+ ward.
Some support units are priests and, in the same manner as a wizard, will make units stronger in some way.
A support unit’s primary role and the reason you take them in your army is to make units stronger, more survivable or for some utility case like a teleport or better rally chance.
There’s always a cost attached to these, obviously, so having too many support pieces and nothing to support is an issue. Also, just having one support piece can sometimes be an issue too. It really is case by case as to what units are viable or efficient in this role.
We should also talk about economies of scale and redundancy. Redundancy is easy. It’s what corporations do to pay larger dividends to shareholders instead of actually building a stronger business or workforce. But it also just means taking one or two extra of the same support piece in case you lose one early when it is pivotal to the army.
Economy of scale is just when your support action has increased efficiency when you take more and more of the unit that’s being supported. An example is Blood Stalkers and Morathi. They come in units of 5 and have a great shooting attack. Morathi lets them shoot in the hero phase. It costs 1 Command point. However, if I take 15 Blood Stalkers, the cost is the same, but you are getting a higher return as 15 are shooting instead of 5.
Support in this way is normally a buff ability on the largest unit or units that can benefit from it. Example Support Units are Lord Relictor thanks to his teleport ability, Warchanter thanks to adding +1 to the damage of a unit, and Necromancer thanks to having a spell that allows you to pile in and attack twice.
The damage dealer role, sometimes known as hammers, is like Gimli of unit roles – self-explanatory. Their main function is to deal damage. However, they can also be bullies or aggressive blocking units due to their damage dealing capabilities.
For example, let’s take a unit of 4 Fulminators. They have a movement of 10″ and can charge 2D6. This means they can threaten the enemy at a distance of 22″, which is the sum of their move and charge.
Now let’s consider a unit of Theridons. They are a pretty good hammer unit but are quite fragile, like a glass cannon. Although they have +1 to charge, their movement is only 6″, which means their threat range is lower than that of the Fulminators. This means that a Slaves to Darkness player with Theridons can’t aggressively block the board as effectively as other units that are faster.
Basically, movement with damage dealers is like a game of chicken and cowboy quick draw rolled into one. You want your damage dealers to hit theirs first, and if you are faster and/or can fly, you will force your opponent to use screens and trade units to avoid their damage dealers getting hit by yours.
What if you don’t take any damage dealers and only choose really tough, survivable units? There are a couple of list archetypes for that, mainly Control and Damage Check lists.
If you take too many damage dealers, you are susceptible to falling prey to control lists, and if you don’t take enough, you fall prey to damage check armies.
Damage dealers fall on a spectrum between two subclasses: glass cannons and brawlers.
Glass cannons are as the name suggests. They do lots of damage but are fragile and will be removed quickly. Brawlers are different in that they can take a lot of damage and deal a lot of damage. However, this is still a bit reductive, as some cannons aren’t very cannon-y, and some brawlers don’t do much damage, turning them into anvils.
So the chart for units looks more like this:
However the delivery method for that damage as i discussed in the first masterclass video about shooting being better than fighting is about effective range which is movement. Delivering the damage is normally even more important than the damage it can do itself. So then you do a chart that looks like this:
Adding this all together we have this new chart for assessing damage dealing units in the future. I will always prioritize these 3 stats in this order:
- Effective Range – Because they have to get there
- Survivability, especially from ranged threats – as they have to live to do damage
- Damage output
Let’s look at what happens when we prioritise raw damage:
While 6 Bolt Boyz have a higher damage value compared to the enlightened, they lack effective range and survivability. So, even though they deal more damage, they aren’t as good.
Examples of damage dealers include Chaos Chosen, thanks to their great damage profile and ability to attack twice in one activation once per battle, Bolt Boyz due to their ability to do mortal wounds on 5+, and Fulminators for the frankly stupid amount of damage they do on the charge.
At the opposite end of the spectrum are units that are Anvils or damage takers. They are very much like Boromir – you gotta take the physical damage to protect the valuable hobbits, or maybe they are like Faramir taking emotional damage from his dad, or maybe they are like that helmet in that scene where Viggo Mortensen kicked it (did you know he broke his foot doing that?).
These are units that are survivable thanks to defensive stats being high, normally a good armor and ward save like Phoenix Guard, or multiple debuffs like minuses to hit and wound like Plague Bearers.
There is also a type of anvil that is based off wounds and how many you can put on the board to make your opponent unable to clear them all off the board! Pink Horrors are the best example of this, but it might now be Moonclan Grots as they can rally on a 4+ each hero phase. That level of healing and returning wounds make it impossible to kill everything.
We have 2 subclasses, or again a scale of extremes: Armor tanking and Wound tanking. Pretty self-explanatory, but armor tanks use high armor and ward saves vs wounds, which is just loads and loads and loads of chaps AND MAYBE THEY RALLY ON A 4+.
Example Anvils are Chaos Warriors, who have great armor, mortal wound protection, and access to a 5+ rally; Moonclan Grots, who can have massive units and are -1 to hit and can rally every hero phase on a 4+; and Nighthaunt units, who have unrenednable saves and access to a 5+ ward save and access to returning models.
A screen is usually a very cheap unit, often a battleline unit, that just stands in front of your army to stop your opponent’s big damage dealers from hitting the main parts of your army. The unit’s role depends on what you’re facing, and it can change from screening the front of your army to zoning out the board from deep strikes.
Here is an example of two units screening the front of an army and those same two units at the side of the army, so deep-striking units that normally have to set up 9” away. This gives you board control through zoning.
Screening units can also be used to trade. Pop them on an objective so your opponents’ damage dealers hit them, and then your damage dealers hit their damage dealers first.
I guess they are bait. Like Nate Trentanelli. Tasty, tasty bait.
The last point is that in Age of Sigmar, units cannot be within 3″ of each other unless they are in combat. Board control and zoning are more important in this game compared to 40k. Additionally, aggressive screens can be created, serving as pinning units and forming the core of a defensive blocking army. By surrounding the opponent’s deployment area, the entire board can be screened. These screening units can also deal damage and score points by holding objectives. Any subpar unit can be used as an example of a screen.
The primary role of a points grabber is similar to Frodo’s mission to destroy the ring in the pit – in both cases, the ultimate goal is to score points. However, points grabber units are often criticized for being like the “why didn’t they just take the eagles to Mordor” people – technically correct, but disliked for it.
Some units are specifically designed to do battle tactics or hold objectives effectively, such as Ironjawz Brutes who prevent one wound models from counting towards objectives. Others can achieve certain battle tactics unopposed through deep striking or specific army actions that don’t require engagement with the opponent. These units score points and then remain on the board, which can be confusing for opponents as it messes with their target priority.
Units with pregame moves, such as the ability to deep strike or teleport, are also good at claiming objectives. Examples of such units include Untamed Beasts (with their pregame move ability), Tree Revenants (with their teleportation ability), and Khinerai (with their deepstrike and shoot ability).
In summary, the point of the game is to score points, and units that can effectively grab and hold objectives, whether through pregame moves or specific army actions, are important to consider when forming a strategy.
Archetypes Are Easier
This is the preferred playstyle of the army. While I considered adding example lists, I decided against it as they may become outdated with a major points update. Instead, I invite you to leave a comment indicating which armies you play and what archetype they fit into. This will not only be helpful for others but will also be greatly appreciated.
- Include units that have high potential damage output.
- Units should have a large effective range, either through speed or long-range weapons.
- Aim to strike the enemy army in the first turn to limit their ability to retaliate.
- Effective against fragile armies.
- Dominant early game and can force mistakes from the opponent.
- May leave your own army overextended and vulnerable to counter-attacks.
- Risk of not dealing enough damage to achieve your objective.
Example armies that fit this archetype are Ironjawz with lots of Goregruntas, Gloomspite Gitz with a big block of Hoppers, and pregame move Pusgoyles and Blightlords lists (although this archetype is not seen as much anymore).
Overall, this archetype focuses on dealing massive damage in the early game and limiting the opponent’s ability to respond. However, it also comes with the risk of overextending your own army and not dealing enough damage to achieve your objective.
Counter Strike – Trading
- Include units with ranged attacks or threats to make opponents close the gap.
- Have high-damage units to counterattack with.
- Include cheap screens or trading units.
- Can play relatively safe in the early game while waiting for the opponent to engage.
- Can score well by forcing opponents to overcommit.
- Risk of not being able to counterattack effectively and losing efficiency.
- Requires a high level of skill expression.
Example armies that fit this archetype include Nighthaunt, which can tank damage well and has the Retreat and Charge ability, making them difficult to pin down. Slaves to Darkness can survive a lot of damage and hit back hard, while Ogors can drive opponents away from their guns with a big Stonehorn acting as a guard dog.
Overall, this archetype focuses on forcing opponents to close the gap and then hitting back hard with high-damage units. It requires a lot of skill to execute effectively but can be highly rewarding when done correctly.
Pin/ Alpha Blocking
- Very mobile army with defensive elements to trap opponents.
- Scores well in the early game.
- Good against slow armies.
- Effective against slow armies.
- Puts pressure on opponents by scoring early.
- Sometimes opponents don’t have an answer.
- Can be countered and the list may not work in other ways.
- Loses tempo in the late game as units are counterattacked.
Examples of armies that fit this archetype include Slaves to Darkness with a block of Chaos Knights, Nighthaunt with Hexwraiths to screen opponents back, and Host Duplicitous Tzeentch armies with Pink Horrors.
Overall, this archetype focuses on mobility and defensive elements to trap opponents and score early in the game. It is effective against slower armies, but can be countered and loses tempo in the late game.
Strong defensive build
Is trying to protect high value units
Series of overlapping buffet and synergies
Want you to engage it on its terms
Good into mixed armies that can’t crack the castle
Can get pinned into its own deployment
Struggles to score points early game
Example armies are Lumineth with sentinels, daughters of khaine with blood stalkers and tzeentch, spell casting to ramp up the summoning engine and dealing damage at 18”
Damage Check wound sink/Armor save
- Strong defensive build
- Is trying to protect high value units
- Series of overlapping buffs and synergies
- Wants you to engage it on its terms
- Good into mixed armies that can’t crack the castle
- Can get pinned into its own deployment
- Struggles to score points early game
Example armies are:
- Lumineth with Sentinels
- Daughters of Khaine with Blood Stalkers
- Tzeentch, spell casting to ramp up the summoning engine and dealing damage at 18″
- Reduces enemy efficiency with debuffs
- Manages the board and the enemy army to stop it doing what it wants to do
- Massively reduce enemy efficiency and synergy
- Very tough to play against as a new player
- Requires a large amount of system mastery
- High skill expression needed
Example: Belakor and Archaon in an army, knowing the priority order and shutting down enemy key pieces.
Skew lists are when a list over-specializes in one area, but an Ironjawz army isn’t a skew list because it’s all fighting units. Confusing, right? The term denotes when someone has pushed a book or a theme too far, and its weaknesses are very pronounced, but strengths are in its skew. However, oddly, sometimes it’s a skew list but not a meme (lots of Pink Horrors or loads of Ungor Raiders), and sometimes it’s just a meme but not a skew list (11 Steam Tanks or a lot of Cockatrices).
I think the difference between these two ideas of a list archetype is that one man’s rubbish is another man’s gold. The effectiveness of the lists is what makes serious people say things like “hmm yes, this is very good,” and meme lists are just dismissed as dumb and silly. Until they win something.
I’m not sure if it’s an archetype, and hopefully, they all fit into the above categories, but it’s definitely a type of list concept.
If you have other examples of list archetypes, I’d really appreciate it if you dropped them in the comments. I read them all as I’m hoping to grow and learn and love to listen to what others say.
Before we wrap up, I’d like to talk about one more thing I’m not sure about yet, and that’s army tempo.
Also, I have a Patreon! Please join it so I can make content like this! I super appreciate all my existing Patreons and can’t thank them enough for making it so I can create this incredibly niche yet hopefully helpful content.
The pace of armies in a game can vary, with some playing fast and others playing slow. This isn’t just about the movement value of the units, but also about the flow of the game, which is known as tempo. Normally, the unit composition at the start of the game gives one player an advantage, creating an army’s tempo.
Battleplans and missions can also have a tempo, which affects the speed of the game. For example, if objectives slowly turn on, the tempo of the game slows down as there is a rush to get the singular objective at the start. Conversely, if objectives disappear so there are less, the tempo starts slow and speeds up as there are many objectives to hold.
High tempo armies engage early with lots of resources, while low tempo armies engage with limited resources, setting up for later engagements. This affects the speed at which resources need to be committed to the fight and how many resources are needed.
The tempo of an army, the tempo of the opposing army, and the tempo of the mission all combine to create interesting gameplay. To analyze this, it would be necessary to go through every army archetype against every other army archetype in every mission.
Players often say they were too aggressive or not aggressive enough, referring to high and low tempo play styles, respectively. Some armies can maintain tempo thanks to summoning, rallies, or healing, while others cannot. Understanding your army’s tempo and how other armies play is important for success in the game. While complex and intuitive, it’s an important aspect of gameplay that shouldn’t be overlooked.
Hope you enjoyed this post. Please do support the show if you can. Let me know if this has helped you as that’s what I want, and have a great day.