Review: Vampire Counts
You’ll be back. When the hunger knows no reason! And then you’ll need to feed, and you’ll need me to show you how. – Myriam Blaylock (The Hunger, 1983)
Could anything be as stagnant and static as undeath? Years giving way to decades and then centuries, and on and on with no end in sight. Yet, the newest edition of the Vampire Counts army book from Games Workshop disproves the old adage: You can’t teach an old dog new tricks. Clearly you can, provided that said dog is dead!
Vampire Counts is the latest in the new wave of Warhammer Fantasy Battle 8th Edition army books and features the same sensibilities found in the previous army books of this iteration. The book is a beautiful full-color, hardbound tome, featuring lavish artwork and excellent miniature photography. The presentation and layout of this book is top-notch, making it a joy to read.
The book is broken up into four main sections: The Living Dead, Undying Hordes, Summoning the Horde, and Vampire Counts Army List.
The Living Dead
Listen to them. Children of the night. What music they make. – Dracula (Dracula, 1931)
The first chapter gives a general description of the history of vampires in the Old World. This begins with their origin story involving the land of Nehekhara and Nagash, and follows through the rise of the Von Carsteins and their wars on humanity. Most of the background materials found here are familiar retellings of iconic Warhammer stories. They are pleasantly written, but will be known to veteran Warhammer gamers leaving little in the way of surprise or suspense.
There is a detailed and nicely illustrated map of Sylvania (the land once ruled by the Von Carsteins). Important areas get a few paragraphs of descriptive text. The chapter ends with a timeline of important events in the Vampire Counts history, a GW army book staple.
Well, now, let me put it this way. If all the corpses buried around here were to stand up all at once, we’d have one hell of a population problem. – Grandpa (The Lost Boys, 1987)
This largest chapter of the book details the units available to a Vampire Counts general and features the army wides special rules and individual unit descriptions and special rules.
The army wide special rules will be variations on familiar themes to VC generals from previous editions. Unsurprisingly, units in this army are Undead. This coneys some positives like being Unbreakable and causing Fear, but they are also Unstable, can only march move in 12” of a general (unless they are Vampiric), and must hold if charged. In a similar vein if the army General is slain the army begins to crumble. Though they are now less vulnerable to this because another character with the Lore of Vampires can take over. Battle standards once again help mitigate wounds caused by Unstable, Vampiric units can act more autonomously, and you can use spells to resurrect fallen warriors (the book includes a really nice sidebar explicitly explaining how this works).
Many of the units will also be familiar to Vampire Counts veterans, but some have been tweaked to increase their effectiveness or thematic charm. I was very excited by the Lords and Heroes sections because you don’t need to take a Vampire as your general. I know the book is called Vampire Counts and vampires are a huge area of focus, but when I think about a shambling horde of the undead, I’ve always imagined it commanded by a frail husk of a wizard, barely standing with the aid of a crooked staff. Well, you can do that now! The best part is that it seems the Necromancer general (at least in theory) can be a viable army build thanks to his potent spell casting and Master of the Dead upgrade.
When it comes to characters this book has a fantastic variety. The Strigoi make their welcome return as a fully detailed option. I do have one minor complaint here. A Strigoi Ghoul King comes in at 260 points bare. This means if you want to create a ghoul themed army at 1,000 points you will have to take a regular vampire and try to slap together some appropriate powers and magic items. It is a minor quibble, but for someone who loves building theme armies (me) it’s pretty irritating.
The Core, Special, and Rare units are almost all well designed and selected. You really are spoiled for choice in almost every category, especially the practically bursting Special Units section. Most of the units function similarly to how they functioned in previous editions of the game. New additions such as the Crypt Horrors are welcome and bring some much needed variety to the army list. I found the idea of undead Monstrous Infantry appealing, and the miniatures for both these, and the Vargheists look fantastic. Hexwraiths are another new addition. These mounted wraiths combine some of the strengths of the Cairn Wraith with the mobility of a mounted unit.
Speaking of wraiths, the Cairn Wraiths and Tomb Banshees underwent some interesting changes, especially the ability to field them as a Rare Unit (with one Banshee as an upgrade), or as individuals chosen as Heroes. Like I was saying before, variety reigns supreme here.
Like most current Warhammer armies, Vampire Counts has a few powerful and large centerpiece models. Creatures like the Terrorgheist and Zombie Dragon are mobile and deadly large monsters. Both can also be character mounts and are available as wonderful plastic kits. The Coven Throne and Mortis Engine also make fine centerpieces though they fill different roles. The Coven Throne is a mount for your Vampire which brings a multitude of attacks, and the powerful Battle of Wills ability. This ability mimics the vampires legendary seductive powers and can even force a unit to attack itself. The Mortis Engine carries a reliquary that creates a aura that damages enemy units, while boosting the undead.
Almost as important as what kinds of units are available in an army, are what units are not. VC have always had a diminished role in the shooting phase, and that trend continues here. VC lack any dedicated range combat units or artillery pieces, but this is more of a flavorful defect than anything else, and their powerful spell casting and potent melee capabilities more than mitigate this failing.
This chapter closes with the Lore of Vampires spell list, Vampiric Powers, and a list of magic items. The Lore of Vampires is a potent spell list with many useful and powerful abilities. All casters receive Invocation of Nehek, a spell which allows players to resurrect fallen warriors to replenish depleted units. The Curse of Undeath is the Lore Attribute, and when activated (by successfully casting a spell from the lore) the wizard or a friendly model within 12” recovers a single wound (great for keeping important characters or monsters alive… err unalive… whatever?!?!).
Vampiric Powers allow players to better customize their vampire to their liking. More powerful vampires may spend more points on these abilities, and there is a nice selection of characterful options. The magic item list also has some intriguing undead themed selections, but following their new design philosophy, is sparse, containing a paltry nine items.
Summoning the Horde & Vampire Counts Army List
The dark gift is different for each of us. But one thing is true for us all, we grow stronger as we go along. -Lestat (Interview with the Vampire, 1994)
Summoning the Horde is your standard selection of GW miniature photographs. That is not a put-down, as GW is arguably one of the best when it comes to miniature photography. However, it follows the conventions of all their painted miniature chapters and is thus more interesting to view than to read about.
The Army List is well laid out and easy to use. Each entry includes a list of stats, options, and point values. There is a page providing an explanation of how to use the army list that will be very helpful to brand new players.
+ Beautiful hardcover army book
+ Well laid out with an excellent table of contents
+ Tons of variety in characters and units
+ Many all new units
+ Successfully builds on previous iterations of the VC army book, refining popular mechanics and adding new ones
- High priced, even for a hardcover
- Stories, though well written, are rehashed from previous editions
- No index (though the solid table of contents mitigates this somewhat)
Vampire Counts continues a new tradition of army book excellence for the current edition of Warhammer. Vampire Counts players will enjoy the excellent variety of character and unit options. Army book collectors will appreciate adding this beautiful tome to their collection. However, in spite of its beauty and content, I feel that $41.25 may be too expensive for a 96 page gaming book. It is a beautiful book for a characterful army full of variety, and it is mandatory if you plan to run Vampire Counts army, but I can’t help but think it could be more fairly priced.