Once upon a time, on an island far, far away the elves lived a lovely, peaceful, fairytale existence... but then chaos entered the world. Almost destroying the entire world in its madness it was only the might of Aenarion The Defender (the first Phoenix King) and his friend the archmage Caledor Dragontamer that saved the elves from destruction.
Aenarion was mighty beyond all other elves and was a good and noble king, but he and his bloodline were cursed by Khaine, god of murder (from a bargain for power). After his death the Phoenix Thrown was expected to go to his son, Malekith, the greatest general, explorer and expansionist of the elven race, but the council feared the curse of his bloodline and gave the crown to Bel-Shanaar. This led to a schism that formed the basis of the split between High Elves and Dark elves and the start of the elven civil war (called the Sundering).
Fearing their dark brethren the High Elves recalled their colonies from the new lands (The Old World- the lands eventually controlled by the Bretoninans and the Empire), but many of these elves no longer say Ulthuan as home, and chose to stay in their colony homes.
Fighting an ever greater number of enemies these colonials were pushed towards the forests for shelter, and one such group found themselves on the edges of the much feared Athel Loren: an enormous forest from which no elf had ever returned. The forest opposed the entry of the elves, fighting them at every turn but an invasion of dwarves soon found the elves and the forest forced into an alliance of convenience. So were born the Wood Elves.
Wood Elves are isolationist in the extreme and will not suffer any to enter their forest except in extreme circumstances. While kin to high Elves they see their island brothers as decadent and snooty, and will only ally with them under extreme duress. Closer links are held with the men of Bretonnia, but these alliances of convenience are entirely by choice of the Wood Elves and somewhat strained by the death of any messenger or questing knight that tries to enter the Athel Loren.
The racial enemies of the Wood Elves are the dwarves who live in mountain fast-hoods above the forest and who look to raid the forest for materials and to avenge age old grudges and the dark Beastmen who bring their chaotic taint into the forests and destroy their soul, along with the native creatures.
If Wood Elves were a baby the CPS would have moved in to halt their neglect at the hands of GW. However, the models that they do have are almost universally awesome, although they have a much lower proportion of plastic models then other armies, meaning they can be a very expensive army to collect.
For core the glade guard and dryads are fantastic models, easily collected in large numbers by buying the battalion. Eternal Guard are another common choice for core, although being entirely metal makes them incredibly expensive to collect in the required numbers.
Special/Rare options are universally expensive, but due to an outdated ruleset many of them are simply not competitive anymore. Most successful WE armies revolve around large numbers of core, with relatively few of the expensive elites.
There are 2 sides to a WE army: elves and tree spirits. Running fluffy armies based around 1 of these 2 factions used to be give you fairly nice armies but with the various rules changes since the writing of the WE army book this is sadly no longer true: a mono-tree list lacks the ability to break large infantry blocks while a mono-elf list lacks for effective, cheap combat units and 'hammer' units.
Generally there are 2 types of WE army currently seen: the ranged army that relies on large numbers of glade guard backed up by small units of dryads and eagles or the hammer and anvil army of a large block of core eternal guard with a lv4 lore of life spellweaver (the anvil) backed up by a unit of treekin (the hammer).
Highborn- normally tooled to be archers highborns lack the survivability to be in the front lines of combat for long, but don't let that fool you, with access to the common magic items highborns can be lethal at whatever their chosen role is.
Spellweaver - with access to the lores of life and beasts it is the weavers that are the magical powerhouses of any WE army.
Treeman Ancient - huge walking trees, what's not to like. They have Ld9 which, as the general, will extend to all models within 18" they can also take sprites, setting them apart from their treeman kin. The most regular build sees them take An Annoyance of Netlings, making them all but undefeatable in a challenge.
Noble - cheaper then a highborn with lots of options. With the option of the cheapest BSB of any army in fantasy there is simply no reason not to upgrade a noble with one.
Spellsinger - sadly stuck with the terrible lore of Athel Loren singers are really crying out for a new WE army book. Some of their spells can be fantastic, but most of the lore is very task-specific. These guys will mostly only be seen as magical defence for armies unable to fit a spellweaver.
Branchwraith - A nice cheap hero, but not vastly better then a standard dryad. The biggest advantage of the branchwraith is its ability to take sprites, with the ever popular Annoyance of Netlings and Cluster of Radiants being fairly standard equipment. Able to upgrade to a mage the huge points cost and sole access to Athel Loren make this a pretty poor option.
Glade Guard/Scouts - Glade Guard are the best ranged units in the game; able to move and shoot effectively, kill enemies over very long ranges but with S4 at closer ranges to utterly smash opponents that get close. They are one of the best units in the game and a joy to use.
The same can't be said of scouts: more expensive then standard glade guard and sacrificing their S4 shooting means that scouts are pretty rubbish.
Glade Riders - Superb distraction units and excellent war machine hunters they suffer from lack of armour and very low offensive capability.
Dryads - excellent stats are undone by being skirmishers. Used in small units of 10-12 dryads are superb at harrying the enemy and slowing their advance. Get them into woods and they change from being good, to being utterly amasing: woods give skirmishers steadfast while removing it from ranked up units, meaning that dryads can then very easily tarpit very strong units while they can break weaker infantry units.
Eternal Guard - only usually seen as core choices in an army lead by a highborn as a large unit 50+ strong with a 5++ ward save (magic item) and a spellweaver with lore of life buffing their defences. Eternal Guard are an all or nothing choice: build your whole army around them or drop them, there is no real centre ground.
Wardancers - An excellent unit that has aged very badly, especially with the release of 8th edition. These guys can no longer operate in the heart of the battle like they used to, instead being relegated to flankers, fighting off other small units or harrying the flanks of larger units. Utterly stunning models make these a painters dream.
Warhawk Riders - highly fragile and low damage output means they only really shine at distraction and war machine hunting. A useful unit to have on the table, but not one that'll win you the game.
Wild Riders - while they are the strongest light cavalry in the game they are certainly not heavy cavalry... which is unfortunate as they is the role they find themselves in. Useful flankers but low survivability robs them of much of their effectiveness.
Treekin - the best offensive units in the book. While expensive treekin are undeniably excellent at destroying the enemy. if you are looking for something to smash through enemy units this is pretty much your onyl choice.
Waywatchers- lack of heavy cavalry and mounted characters in 8th has robbed waywatchers of most of their effectiveness, but they are a good psychological tool for forcing opponents to hide characters away from them and make good warmachine hunters (in combat). A decent unit, but not spectacular.
Treemen - A mighty monster with good saves... a strong addition at any army, just watch out for dwarven flaming cannonballs.
Great Eagles - the hidden gems of elven armies. Eagles cannot be rated highly enough: they are excellent war machine hunters, superb at killing enemy flanking units, cheap enough to sacrifice when slowing the enemy advance is needed and can always be thrown into the flank/rear of an ongoing combat to help with combat res. Take as many eagles as you can, you'll not regret it.
Your army will have considerably fewer models in it than a number of other armies, but the amount of metal models means it still wont be cheap. A fantastic way to save money on wild riders is to convert glade riders, either making them centaurs or just adding armour and spears. Treekin and treemen can be sculpted or built out of sprue, or even made from garden sticks! It is possible to make plastic Eternal Guard from the Glade Guard and High Elf spearmen.
Most importantly, consider your army before you buy it, all Wood Elf players should consider buying the Battalion box as it is fantastic deal for what you get from it.
A difficult army to learn and play well, Wood Elves rely on good tactics and mobility rather then the brute force seen in other armies. Outdated rules can see them lacking power from time to time but they have the versatility to get round this.
A poor wood elf player will be beaten time and time again, while a good wood elf player will have most opponents scratching their heads wondering just how they can be beaten. NOT
and army I would recommend for a beginner but a hugely rewarding army for anyone looking for a challenge or wanting a change from the standard infantry vs infantry battles seen from most other armies.
Where to go from here
For more help and advice specifically related to the Wood Elves, you can visit www.asrai.org