I think many players undervalue infantry.
This could be because on the whole, infantry stats are rather underwhelming compared to heavy hitters. You wouldn’t expect a bloke with a pointy stick to really stand up against an ogre, or a giant, or bloke with a bigger pointy stick riding a horse (or bigger), so it seems like rather unfair expectations there.
Infantry units reliably do small amounts of damage. They can take serious punishment. They are as cheap as a northerner. They can deny large areas of the board. Plonk them on an objective and watch your opponent weigh up ignoring them and losing the objective, or attack them and get bogged down for several turns.
Go in with the right expectations and I think you’ll be surprised at how effective infantry can be.
The good and the bad
I mentioned the main benefits of using infantry above:
- Reliable damage dealing (albeit small)
- Tanking damage like a boss
- Cheap (points wise)
- Area denial
- Holding objectives
For the sake of balance, here’s what they are not good at:
- Routing units in a single hit
- Attacking ranged units
- Being easy to paint
If you’ve read articles by me or Dan King, you’ll know about the concept of battlegroups. Simply put, they are groups of units that you deploy together and fight together in the game with their strengths complementing each other. A cavalry battlegroup for example might include 2 regiments of heavy cavalry, a troop of fast cavalry for chaff and a mounted hero for Inspiring coverage. All of the elements help each other and the group by itself is a formidable challenge.
You absolutely have to build your infantry units in battlegroups. Infantry needs support and it needs protection.
For me the ideal starting point is a horde of infantry with artefacts or two handed weapons for additional damage dealing, two regiments of infantry sat on either side of the horde to protect it from being flank charged, and a hero or army standard bearer stood behind for Inspiring coverage.
For my Abyssal Dwarfs, this starting point consists of:
- Horde of Blacksouls with Brew of Strength
- 2 x Regiments of Immortal Guard with 2 handed weapons
- Slavedriver with Lute of Insatiable Darkness
Similarly my Abyssals often run with:
- Horde of Lower Abyssals with 2 handed weapons and Brew of Strength
- 2 Regiments of Lower Abyssals with 2 handed weapons
- Harbinger with Lute of Insatiable Darkness
No matter what army you play, you can build a very effective battlegroup formation with these four units. The first time I met this battlegroup was a Dwarf horde of Shieldbreakers with +1 to hit, 2 regiments of Ironguard and an army standard in the back.
This group is quite formidable to take on. Attack either regiment and get charged by the Horde. Attack the Horde and get flank charged by the regiments. Meanwhile the rest of the army prepares to hit the flanks of anything bogged down in combat with the infantry.
This formation can quite happily stomp up the battlefield and sit on objectives. They create a nice big zone of “Do not approach unless you’re really wanting to get bogged down in a protracted scrap.” If your opponent chooses to engage your infantry group then they have to really commit to it and you have the opportunity to charge their flank with your faster units while they’re doing so. If your opponent takes out the rest of your army first, they may take significant damage and find that the previously middling amounts of damage from your infantry are enough to seriously threaten routing their units.
This formation will almost always be charged first. Don’t get upset about it. Hide in terrain, hide behind obstacles. Hinder their charge as much as possible and just prepare your units for a counter charge.
What this formation is truly vulnerable to is shooting. You must have some other way in your army of shutting down shooting. Trying to walk up the board while taking a lot of fire from shooting hordes will only result in a dead infantry battlegroup. You must have a flying combat individual or something fast enough to engage shooting hordes and just stop them from shooting your infantry to bits.
Expanding the basic group
This is only the very basic battlegroup. You should seek to expand this as soon as you have the points to do so. The basic group is nice and all, but for it to really effectively deny large areas of the board to the enemy, it needs to be backed up with heavy hitters.
In my 2000 point Abyssal Dwarf list, I expand it to the following:
- Horde of Blacksouls with Brew of Strength and mutated throwing mastiffs
- 2 x Regiments of Immortal Guard with 2 handed weapons and mutated throwing mastiffs
- Horde of Slave Orcs (usually with a ranged artefact, depending on points)
- 2 x Dragonfire Weapons teams
- Slavedriver with Lute of Insatiable Darkness
Elsewhere in the list, I have gargoyles that can quickly relocate to act as chaff if needs be and either Ba’Su’Su the Vile or a Halfbreed Champion for taking on and shutting down shooting hordes.
This group now has two formidable hordes, either set up side by side or with the Orcs on an outer flank, and some serious ranged threat. With the throwing dogs in front and breath attack weapons teams fitting in the gaps between units, it’s a lot of potential firepower at anything approaching within 16” (move 4” plus 12” range). It’s even more important for my opponent to throw everything they’ve got at this group to try and take it out.
My Abyssals list currently has:
- Horde of Lower Abyssals with 2 handers and Brew of Strength
- Regiment of Lower Abyssals with 2 handers
- Regiment of Fleshings with 2 handers
- Efreet with Piercing(1)
- Harbinger with Lute of Insatiable Darkness
Like my Abyssal Dwarf group, this now has some serious firepower threat. From turns 2-3 I can start flinging fireballs from Chroneas and the Efreet (40 piercing(1) shots hitting on 4+!) at targets in front of my Lower Abyssals/Fleshlings. All the time that my opponent spends attacking this battlegroup, they’re getting 40 fireballs with Piercing(1) to the face. All the time that they spend ignoring this battlegroup, they’re still getting 40 fireballs to the face!
Both of my lists turned towards short range ranged attacks for their extra nastiness obviously, but you can also have some heavy hitters screened in this battlegroup. For example:
Here the formation has been backed up with some Large Infantry heavy hitters. If the enemy breaks through the frontline, they’ll probably have taken some damage on the way in and then they’re facing down a couple of hordes of angry ogres (or similar). Not a great position to be in.
I’ve used something very similar in the past with my Undead with Wights taking the place of the Large Infantry. Now those were a very nasty set of can openers!
By placing them behind the mainline, but spacing your units out slightly, it means that if the enemy charges and then bounces off your infantry units, you will be able to declare multicharges with the large infantry units in combination with your front line infantry.
The remaining large infantry unit in this example is waiting in support in case the front horde breaks in the next turn. It can then rush into the gap and the enemy is still facing down 50 shades of hurt from the large infantry.
The remaining infantry regiment is now free to either position itself to protect the flanks of the large infantry, wind up for a charge against another target or even go after an objective in relative safety.
This is a very specific situation of course. The enemy could pile into one (or both) of the flanking regiments, perhaps charge the horde with a unit of chaff to stop it from flanking one of the charging units. However these are more resources that they’re ploughing into taking out your group – resources that aren’t attacking your heavy hitters elsewhere.
Any number of different things can occur but the point to remember is that you don’t have to charge the basic infantry regiments (or even horde in some circumstances) back in. If there’s an option to shuffle the infantry to the side and get the LI charging instead then that’s probably the better option! You have not only successfully gotten the first charge off with your LI, but you’ve also got a unit ready to go capture objectives.
Here’s an in-game example where my infantry line was able to hold off against an Ogre charge, and are now committing to their counter-charges. The infantry held off the charge, allowing various support units including an Abyssal Dwarf Dragon and a horde of Slave Orcs to flank. Between the various counter-charges and flanks/rears from supporting units, I was able to break this very elite group of Large Infantry with relative ease (though I felt bad since the army was one of the best painted ones I’ve ever had the pleasure of playing).
I’ve been using infantry heavy armies for a long time and do consistently well in games and at events. In fact my worst showing in the past 6 months at an event was when I moved away from the infantry and towards faster, more elite units!
Don’t go in expecting your infantry to smack the enemy into a fine red mist. Expect them to hold the line and grind down your opponent. Don’t expect them to operate by themselves. Give them support, using cheaper units to protect their flanks and back them up with a threat of some sort like ranged attacks, monsters or large infantry if the enemy does try to break through. Don’t run them headlong across the board into a gunline. Instead sit them on game winning objectives, send your fast units after their shooting units and force your opponent to come to you.