Recently, the Norse army for Warhammer Fantasy produced on Warhammer Armies Project was updated for 8th edition. Since then, I have put together an army and played many games and a 5 round tournament using the new book. The army seems to play well, and has a nice balance of options to take. I think you could do many viable and quite different looking army builds. Based on the units I've chosen to try out so far, here are my thoughts on how the Norse stack up in battle.
|My assembled force of Norse, a Baersonling war hird.|
The Norse army has three special rules, Berserkergang, Counter-charge, and Shieldwall. They also have a completely unique character ability worth noting here as well, the Skald songs.
Berserkergang is my favorite of these. It lets a Norse unit get frenzy for a turn when it charges. It's not over the top powerful, and very fitting. The one thing that seems questionable about it is how to deal with overruns. It seems like when you overrun into another unit, you should get to test for berserkergang again the next turn since it is considered another charge, but it's not totally clear. But hey, this isn't the first unclear thing to crop up in Warhammer!
Shieldwall is pretty cool too, I find myself using it here and there mostly to give units that I don't need to be marching forward right away a little extra protection for ranged attacks with the plus one or two to armor save. Sadly, I have not had a chance to utilize the counter-charge ability with success yet. It's fairly rare that my opponent fails a charge against one of my units led by a king or jarl, and the few times that has happened, the D6 forward for the counter-charge hasn't been enough to make it connect. Perhaps time will prove out the potential of that one, we'll see.
I've saved the most powerful ability for last. The songs of the Skald can turn the tide of battle for the Norse. Being largely just simple humans with little more than a extra weapon skill or different weapon option to give them a boost, the well timed bonus of an unstoppable buff makes all the difference. A Skald can give his unit +1 attack, stubborn and immune to psychology, or +1 to hit and wound for a full game turn. The first two seem appropriately powered, and require some tactical thought to go with them. The plus one to hit and wound is devastating though. In most cases this gives the unit a ridiculous advantage, almost guaranteeing victory in combat except in the worst of situations. Should the army have such an ability? Probably not, but then again, it's not always a game changer.
Artifacts and Lore of Seidr
The array of artifacts available is good enough that I can see taking one or two things from it in each army. It is most focused on some epic weapons, but also has a few other trinkets. If I had to pick a least favorite, it would be the magic banner. It makes the unit cause fear and gives all friendly units within 12" immune to psychology. This is kinda cool, but unfortunately doesn't not play well with the counter-charge ability since you can never have a reaction other than hold with that. At 75 points, I can't see that banner ever making it into a list.
The one artifact I've actually tried out is Gungnir, the Swaying Spear. It is a spear that hits on a 2+ with all attacks and has the heroic killing blow ability. The spear can also be thrown like a javelin 18 inches in the shooting phase. It's 85 points which can be tough choice to take on your king, but it is worth the cost. The pure epicness this item can bring to your army is wonderful. I found myself in some battles to have the primary goal of killing the mightiest thing on the table with Gungnir to bring glory to my king. An ancient stegadon and great unclean one both fell to it's might at the recent tournament, Ordo Fanaticus' Club Challenge.
The seers of the Norse army have access to a special magic lore, the lore of the Seidr. After playing with a level four Vitki using this lore for many games, I have found it to be quite a worthy lore with only a couple things that seem off. Flight of Sylra allows you to move one of your units within 18 inches with a 10 inch or 20 inch flight move. In the hands of a good tactician, this spell can be devastating. It almost seems overpowered, but to really take your opponent by surprise, you usually need to cast the big version that casts on a 14+. Another spell, Taldur's Law of Peace, seems mostly useless. If it was clarified to include any damage done by the unit or to the unit instead of just "attacks", I could see using it to make my opponent think twice about using a certain unit for shooting or spells, but as it is now, it seems to only be intended to apply to close combat.
The units that I have had a chance to get some experience with are, giant wolves, bondsmen, marauders with great weapons, snow trolls, reavers, ulfwerenar, and valkyries. The warleaders, wizards, and skalds all seem appropriately costed and useful. I really like the monstrous beast mounts available, and took a Fenrir Wolf mount for one of the Jarls in my army. Running him with a group of Snow Trolls makes a formidable unit. It is really hard to fit in all of the heroes you want in the Norse army because you really need to take some Skalds. That eats up your hero points and makes it hard to fit in many Jarls or to take many lower level wizards.
For core troops, I really like the reavers and marauders. They are barely more points than bondsmen, and they give you options and a little more skill in combat. Bondsmen are still Norse though, so if you need to squeeze a few points out of a list and take them, they can still go berserk and get buffed by a Skald to be exceptional. In the "chaff" section, I have only tried the giant wolves, but I can see different army builds using Norse Horsemen or Slaves effectively. I liked having more wolves in my army, and the unit is almost always fast enough to get where I need it to be.
It is very difficult to choose what special units to field from the army list. This is where you can really vary your build and pick an interesting theme for your army. Almost all of the units seem worthy of being picked and each brings a cool aspect of the Norse lore to your army. The units that I would be least likely to field are the Norse Hunters and Berserkers. I've tried the Norse Hunters a few times, and they just don't have a good place in the army, tending to be ineffective. Berserkers are fun, and I think they are a great unit to have for the theme of Norse, but might not be the most reliable option. I have not gotten a chance to try out a unit of Eihnerjar yet, but I suspect they may be the strongest combat choice. They are an unbreakable leadership 10 unit that automatically regrows itself every turn, and is actually affordable points-wise. I'll surely try them out once I find some suitable models for them. Huscarls, Shield Maidens, Sons of Thor and Half Giants also seem like solid choices that I have yet to find good choices for models.
I have been impressed with what a unit of 12 Ulfwerenar can do. They are a powerhouse, and my opponents tend to underestimate what they can do. Their main downfall is the occasional time when they may be led around doing useless things because of their frenzy. This unit is fun, and again I like wolves, so this was a good fit for my army. If I did not take them though, I really like the idea of taking a nice big block of Huscarls instead. They are about as elite as the basic man sized Norse infantry get, and are stubborn to boot.
Coming to the rare section of the Norse army list, you are posed with more difficult choices. There are really useful units here to fill much needed roles in the army. The Valkyries can fly over take care of much needed business behind enemy lines, or hold up key units with their etherealness. They do seem to be rather expensive though considering how quickly they die to spells. Being able to take them in units of 1 would be very nice. Snow trolls almost seem like a steal at 40 points, especially when you've got a character running with them to keep them on task. Both the frost giant and war mammoth are choices I would like to try some time, as I think they would both prove useful and lots of fun too. The ice drake is cool, but seems a bit expensive for it's limited abilities.
The 8th edition Norse army book is full of rich awesomeness in my opinion, and I'm really impressed with it's quality. I think it succeeds at being a mid-level power army amidst the official Games Workshop armies. Perhaps eventually I will get to playing with some of the special characters provided, but at this point it's enough to have to explain lots of special rules for an army that most of my opponents are not familiar with. If you are interested in the process of selecting and assembling a Norse army, keep an eye on my army build photo album.