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Guest Commentary: Da Orcboy Pays Up

Rating the 40K Army Lists: Eldar (Eleventh of 11 articles)  by Ken Lacy

Editor's Note: As a public service to his fellow gamers, Ken is analyzing each Warhammer 40K army on a number of factors and rating them (in a manner similar to Consumer Reports). Visit this page to read what criteria Ken uses. 

The Eldar are, in three words, “Elves in Space.” The remnants of a once mighty civilization – and GW’s attempt to directly port their Fantasy wargaming system into a Science-Fiction setting – they are known primarily for their speed and striking power.  In 3rd edition, there were once many more distinctions made between Craftworlds, but as of this writing the Eldar come in just two basic flavors: regular (= Craftworld) and Dark.  There are also two variant lists (although one, the Citadel Journal Harlequin list, is opponent-permission only, takes a little digging to find on-line at the GW website, and is likely to be replaced with a more current version in the near future).


(Note: ratings current as of July 2007)

Model-related Categories
The Eldar lists are somewhat similar in terms of modeling characteristics.  They all call for a fair amount of investment in pricier (=metal) miniatures, although the Dark Eldar can get away with nearly all plastics, resulting in merely “Average” Affordability.  Craftworld Eldar are well-supported and easily available, but the Dark Eldar and Wych Cult are available only on-line through special-order (“Worst” Availability), and an all-Harlequin list will also require some special ordering of bits, as well as customization of units that aren’t officially manufactured (“Average” Availability).

Most Eldar lists are also quite surprisingly bulky, given how slender Eldar models are.  Their transports have plenty of wing-dings and doodads, the individual models have all sorts of projecting decorative bits going every which way, and they frequently are quite fragile (given how slender they are, not surprising).  This makes Craftworld Eldar, Wych Cult, Dark Eldar armies relatively hard to store and transport safely and compactly (ranging from “Poor” to “Worst” for Portability).  Dark Eldar Raider in particular is one of the most notorious offenders, and possibly the most ungainly and least easily transported single model in the 40K miniature line.

By contrast, an all-Harlequin army, although complete with plenty of doodads and customized units, is relatively small and pretty neatly packs up into a carrying case.

All those gee-gaws and fine details also make Eldar armies somewhat of a challenge to paint, although this is mitigated by the clean lines and armor plates of Craftworld and Dark Eldar units (“Average” Paintability).  On the other end of the scale, however, are the extremely challenging schemes of the multicolored Harlequin, both in terms of individual models and in terms of army coherence (“Worst”).  Of course, if you’re getting into a Harlequin army, you probably already know about this painting challenge, and it may even be the reason you’re choosing to paint them.

Eldar lists with lots of model kits and detailed vehicles tend to be harder to assemble.  Dark Eldar Raiders and Ravagers in particular are tricky to assemble, Dark Eldar Warriors are quite fiddly, and along with units like the multi-piece metal Talos kits give Dark Eldar a very “Poor” rating here.  

Similarly, Craftworld Eldar Falcons and Wave Serpents typically require a lot of finagling to assemble, and the Craftworld multi-pose plastic infantry get very finicky very quickly.  However, their newer Warwalker and Wraithlord plastic kits are a huge improvement over the earlier pewter multi-piece sets.  In all, an “Average” rating for Assembly.

Wyches and Harlequin are pretty easy to ‘assemble’ when it comes to infantry models, as they’re mostly single-piece metals: slot and go.  That said, effective Wych and Harlequin lists usually call for transports, which take some effort to put together, thus they rate ‘only’ as “Good” here.

Finally – customizability.  Surprisingly, despite their long history, the Craftworld Eldar have fairly limited customization options.  Their archive is reasonable, but with the exception of newer plastics, it consists of mostly single-piece metals and vehicle (and walker) bits.  What’s more, the Aspects in particular all have distinctive looks and aren’t easily raided for bits.  Customizing Eldar thus requires a fair bit of work, even with all the resources available (“Average” rating).

Dark Eldar have virtually no archive depth, but do have a lot of plastics (as well as the Fantasy Dark Elf line) to draw from, giving them some limited easy customizability (rating “Poor” overall).  Wyches and Harlequin, though, relying as they do on a small line of single-piece pewter miniatures, will be extremely difficult to customize without a lot of scratch-work and kit-bashing (“Worst” rating).


2nd Edition-era Dire Avenger and Guardians

Game-related Categories
The two Eldar lists with codices (Craftworld and Dark) are loaded with options – either tons of units (Craftworld Eldar) or a ton of customizability via wargear and options (Dark Eldar), and rate well in terms of Design Versatility.  The variant lists are a fair bit more restricted, with Harlequin in particular having almost no variability to speak of at all, despite their extensive armory of bizarre and unusual wargear.

This design versatility is reflected in the lists’ effective variety – Dark Eldar rate well here, capable of fielding a fair variety of effective tactical designs.  What rates them “Good” in particular, though, is the webway portal wargear item, which gives Dark Eldar lists a strategic option that can radically change their play style.

Craftworld Eldar, composed of many highly specialized units, and lacking a webway portal wargear option, are tactically speaking relatively versatile, but among 40K armies are basically “Average”.  Wyches and Harlequin are just one-trick lists, with only a few viable variant designs.  If not for their ability to take webway portals, Wyches would rate as badly (“Worst”) as Harlequin in this regard.

With their solid Leadership scores (8 or better) and 4+ skill ratings amongst their core (=Troops) units, all Eldar lists are at least “Average” in terms of unit reliability – you can rely on those Dark Eldar Warriors, Wyches, and/or Dire Avengers to actually DO what you ask them to do.  Harlequin of the Citadel Journal variant list, with their higher skill ratings, rate “Good” in this regard.

However, nearly all Eldar lists are quite fragile, with Toughness 3 and poor (or no) armor to speak of.  Craftworld Eldar have access to Aspect Warriors with good armor saves, and thus are at least “Average” in this case, but unit durability is the Achilles’ Heel of the Eldar lists.  Citadel Journal Harlequin suffer doubly in this regard, being easily killed and also possessing very small numbers; they are a very unforgiving army to play as a result, suffering badly as a result of any losses they take (“Worst” durability).

Finally, in terms of army-specific rules, all the Eldar lists come with dozens of unique “bells and whistles” abilities.  These all make Eldar somewhat daunting to use for newer players, but really become a strength in the hands of a cannier veteran, one who can take advantage of interesting rules combos, and the potential for an opponent to be unfamiliar with the full capabilities of an Eldar unit.

The Citadel Journal Harlequin army list in particular comes with a huge selection of options, character customizations, wargear, weapons, and the like, which can essentially result in an army list comprised of several dozen virtually unique, and widely variant, models.  The effective use of all these ‘exceptional’ abilities is really what separates a winning Harlequin list from an easily beaten one.


Dark Eldar battle the Blood Angels at Counter Offensive 3 in Rockville, Maryland

Primary Aptitudes
One thing about Eldar is that they are fast, faster, and even faster than that.  By comparison to their cousins, in fact, the Craftworld Eldar are relatively sedate.  Dark Eldar, Wych Cult, and Harlequin have nearly unmatched speed on the tabletop, a result of their open-topped Fast Skimmer transports and Fleet-of-Foot ability (“Excellent” Movement).  Craftworld Eldar, although not quite so speedy, are still capable of getting around the table in a hurry (“Good” Movement).

Craftworld and Dark Eldar lists are also capable of some withering firepower, able to shred most opponents at a good distance (“Good” Shooting).  Combined with their maneuverability, this makes these lists relatively formidable opponents, capable of standing off and destroying another army where and how they choose.  Wyches and Harlequin, however, are much more limited in terms of their Dakka, having to rely far more heavily on their close-combat ability instead.

And, excepting the Dark Eldar (whose Warriors are effectively ablative wounds for their more terrifying close-combat Independent Characters), the Eldar lists are very solid in a melee, all capable of dishing out a good deal of damage against a wide variety of foes (“Good”, except for Dark Eldar who rate “Average” in Assaults).


Eldar Shining Spears bear down on Dark Eldar Warriors as a webway portal (that orange marker) opens

Overall Analysis
Eldar armies are attractive for their strengths among their Primary Aptitudes – Mobility, Shooting, and Assault ability.  They are also appealing to many players for their stylish and graceful (or at least aerodynamic and agile) models.  All in all, they live up to their reputation and stereotype as Elves in Space.

For all that, Eldar lists are competitive, but not always very forgiving, armies.  Basic Craftworld Eldar are a reasonable choice for a new or casual player, and come with enough options and tricks to remain a solid list even in the hands of a veteran player.  But the other choices (Dark Eldar, Wych Cult, Harlequin) are poor-to-awful choices for newer and casual players, even discounting their poor availability rating.

Wyches and Harlequin in particular are hard to collect and paint, and very difficult to master, providing a major tactical challenge, and numerous heartbreaking losses in the bargain.  On the other hand, Dark Eldar, played well, can be a competitive list, but learning how to use them well, whilst struggling to collect, assemble, and transport them, will make them a difficult and tricky choice for anyone other than a dedicated and veteran player.

Editor's Note: Thank you, Ken, for being such a good sport and paying off your debt. I know I've learned a heap, and enjoyed this series, and I hope Jungle visitors have, too. 
 
 

Related Pages

Posted August 2007. Used with permission.
 

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