8th edition has changed things more wildly than I think most of us expected. Changes like not needing to measure ranges has seen the demise (literally) of the ridden monster for anyone who doesn't want their lord smashed off the back of his pulped dragon. Steadfast has meant units are now a good chunk bigger than before (way to sell those minis, gw) but I like this rule all the same. Infantry is king, followed by queen magic and prince artillery.
I happen to think 8th ed is the best edition of fantasy in a long time. We need a few army books under our belts to see if this bears out, but orcs and goblins looks to be a good start. What does all this mean for the forces of the undead? Here's my two cents, as the vampire general puts his feet up, takes a sip from a mug of hot blood (for blood see tea), and ruminates over 8th.
Zombies - the old men of warhammer
Zombies are, without a doubt, totally rubbish at fighting. Totally. Rubbish. Think of a ninety year old man armed with a wet hankie. Who has a cold, and who has lost the hankie. That rubbish. With WS1, S2 and T2, the zombie couldn't win an argument. Which is also no surprise, as his LD is 2. Here's the stats:
M WS BS S T W I A LD
4 1 0 2 2 1 1 1 2
Shambling Horde. A unit fleeing from zombies takes d6 S2 hits for every rank of 5 zombies.
The Newly Dead: No characters can join the unit, Invocation of Nehek raises D6+4 zombies.
Impressive, no? No. So, seeing as our pathetic bag of skin isn't a combat monster in the same way Darth Vader wasn't big on sand people, what the hell use is he? The answer is, it depends. Let's have a look.
Perfect you say. A horde of zombies, what could be better. You can take, say, 60 zombies for 240pts. Add a musician and standard. That's 252pts. It's not THAT cheap, considering how pants these guys are. The psychological value of 60 zombies is significant, for sure. Player will not want to tie up elite units fighting these pussbags for the game. But they are not as big an obstacle as once they were. Steadfast might be great for the living, but it means nowt to zombies, who happily crumble despite outnumbering the opponent if they lose combat. And they will lose combat.
In 7th ed, zombies were the ultimate tarpit. Who cares that they never got a hit in, 30 zombies could tie up a unit for the whole game. Now, with step-up, supporting attacks and steadfast, not so much. Say our 60 zombies charge 25 greatswords with full command, no magic banner. That's 280pts, only 28pts more than the 60 zombies. The greatswords strike last, so our undead pals hit first. WS1 v WS4 means 5+ to hit. If the front rank of the greatswords is 5 wide, 21 zombies can attack. We're looking at 7 hits on average. So to wound. S2 v T3. That's 2 or 3 hits. Let's round up to 3. The greatswords have a 4+ save, so again, being generous, we're talking 2 casualties. Not great from 21 attack, but as we said, zombies ain't paid to kill stuff. Now it's the greatswords turn to avenge Hans and Helmut. They need to check for fear, but with LD8, they have a good chance of passing. Assuming they have 11 attacks at WS4, that's 3+ to hit. That's 8 hits, rounding up. S5 with greatweapons against T2, that's 2+, that's 7 wounds. 7 dead zombies. The greatswords CR is 11. The zombies is 7. They beat the zombies by 4, so 4 more crumble. That's 49 zombies left. That'll keep the greatswords busy. Now would be the time to hit them with a flank charge. Against single attack elites, zombies not bad. Try that against say, ogres. A unit of 6 bulls (260pts) can dish out 19 attack, plus stomp, plus bull charge if they get the charge in. You could lose your 60 zombies in 2-3 turns.
You can bolster the zombies with magic. Invocation of Nehek and Vanhels will help matters. These are power dice that might be better spent elsewhere though. The Helm of Commandment can help. All the zombies will do is tie up units, they won't beat the opposition. With the changes to fear, even if they do, the enemy may not run. Ultimately, zombie hordes are a points and power dice sink.
Raising the Dead - distraction and redirection
If zombies have a role in 8th, this is it. Using raise dead to attack war machines and distract dangerous units is very useful, but remember, even 5 zombies cost you 50 victory points if they are destroyed. The Sceptre de Noirot is useful here. Redirection is where it can really pay off. Getting those frenzied or elite units off your back for a turn can mean the difference between winning and losing. Again, this all costs precious, precious power dice, but at the right moment our zombie pals can save the day by taking one for the team.
adding units of zombies to increase your deployment units is useful, but costs 80pts per unit, so not something I'm a fan of.
So, it seems zombies uses are limited, but they are not totally defunct. Most vampire counts players will plump for more ghouls, and I have to say, despite my love of the humble zombie, even though they do have access to musicians and standards, I'd be in agreement.