It has always seemed to me that the dwarfs are an easy race to play in Warhammer Fantasy Battles (WFB). The dwarves have a number of advantages which make them particularly good when your opponent is unknown. Yet despite this it seems many players have troubles with the dwarfs and find them to be very frustrating.
In order to understand the strategy of dwarves it is important to notice the strengths and weaknesses of the army. Most people playing the dwarves fall in love with the war machines, runes, and missile troops but the real strength of the dwarves are their rock hard infantry. For their cost the basic dwarf trooper is the best deal in WFB. Leadership 9, toughness 4, and weapon skill 4 for 7 points is a deal. Point for point they should be able to deal with any other infantry and pass most random leadership tests. They also have an excellent assortment of elite troops with Ironbreakers, Hammerers, Longbeards, and Slayers. Dwarves biggest problems are the lack of fast moving troops and the -1 to flee/pursuit rolls. The tactical problem with the dwarves is often how to get your opponent into combat without being flanked or overpowered elsewhere. Besides excellent hand to hand troops the dwarves have one of the best arrays of missile throwers in the game.
Dwarves can often beat players on the strength of the opponent's weakness. Too often an opponent will allow the dwarves to sit back and fire at will. When units close on the dwarf's well placed lines they have been severely weakened or are unsupported. This piece meal approach leads to an easy slaughter. While shooting is good it is tough to wipe a unit out with it and the dwarves do not shoot as well as the elves or empire. This strategy can also be beaten by a few kills and table quarters. This defense is also very vulnerable to being flanked or charged by a big unit of cavalry. To avoid this it is important to advance. The dwarves should reach the center of the board, at least, by the end of the game.
Shooting is important to the dwarf army. The role of missile weapons should not be to win the game, but to set up the victory. Shooting is a great way to weaken units. As combat is about combat results battles can often be determined beforehand by shooting rank bonuses out of the opponent units. Missile troops placed on the flank make excellent flank guards. Even though the center of your line may advance, crossbowmen and thunderers can often force break tests on the opponent's small but fast flankers. They can also advance to get the important flank on an enemy unit or to protect the flank. Even if opponents destroy these troops they seldom have time to turn around and punish the dwarven center if it has advanced and the points scored for the missle troops are not too great for the advanced warriors to make up elsewhere.
In order to use the good dwarven infantry to their fullest potential it is crucial to have well built units. A quick check of the combat resolution table indicates this means large units, four ranks deep, with a banner, and a musician. These units start out with a plus 4 and may even get a bonus one for being larger. These are free wounds! Many players feel these troops are lost as they do not swing in combat but if they already score a combat bonus they do not need to swing. As a result the combat troops of an army should be in units of 16 minimum and probably larger. It is not uncommon for troops to be 25 or more models. With the command this is commonly only 200 to 250 points and worth every point.
While banners and musicians are good, characters and champions may not be. With the dwarves slow movement and low initiative they will usually swing last. This means the opponent can swing at the champion in a unit before they can swing back and probably kill them. As they can take 2 swings at the champion (or more) the chance of survival is not great. Heros are great fun to play but they only have toughness of 4 and 2 wounds. This makes them vulnerable to any enemy units with strength 5 as in two rounds they will be dead. I usually figure any character has to be useful before combat as they only will get one swing back. As such the good characters are runesmiths and battle standard bearers.
Equiping troops is also a tricky matter for dwarves. In the perfect world, every dwarf would have heavy armor, shield and great weapon for 11 points. But when creating an army we are restricted by a point total. To maximize troops totals it is important to understand what each troops roll will be. In many cases large blocks of troops are good by themselves. Sometimes you will need troops to hold up the enemy and their wound giving potential is irreleveant. Other times you will want units to kill easily so they should have great weapons. As a general rule I like to make sure every other unit has great weapons and the other have heavy armor and shield. The ideal situation here is for your opponent to get held up on the heavy armor units and then to be flanked by the great weapon troops. Either way these troops come out to nine points each and there should be at least 75 of them in a 2000 point battle.
Troops should generally be set up in a line with some space between them. The spaces allow for greater mobility as the unit can not turn unless there is space. Further these spaces allow for warmachines to fire through these gaps. Judiciously moving the units will move these gaps so the units never impede war machines. These spaces also spread out the units so they cover a larger front and make flanking harder for the opponent. The opponent can not even exploit these spaces if they are under two inches because units must stop if they move within one inch of an opponent unit unless the moving unit is charging. So not even skirmishers can sneak between these gaps.
With the units choosen and depolyed the question of tactics arise. Dwarfs standard strategy is to take a charge with one unit, stand fast and then charge the flank on their next turn. Sometimes the dwarves can not hold the opponent's charge up for a turn. This is often the case with cavalry. Thus one dwarf unit may have to flee allowing a nother unit to charge the cavalry while others move into position to flank on the next turn. As dwarves can march in the presence of the enemy they have greater manoeuverability in close than most opponents so moving into flank position should only take a turn. Always remember that flanking wins combats so try to arrange for flank attacks whenever possible.
The problem with the standard strategy is that requires move combat units than the opponent. This either may not be the case or may be impossible due to terrain. In these cases the dwarves have to create combat advantages other ways. Combat advantages can be created with shooting by determining which opponent unit will have to fight which dwarf unit. Using the missile troops and warmachines a block of opponents troops can be shot to pieces leaving them without rank bonuses or giving the dwarves size. Dwarven heros can also be moved into position so they will get to swing on opponent troops and the extra wounds gained should allow the dwarves to have size and a kill advantage. Finally the dwarves can create opponent weaknesses using Rangers, gyrocopters, or miners. These troops have either special deployment or flying movement. They can get out and restrict the opponents movement threaten flanks, or stagger the opponents front. Either way the opponent is vulnerable to dwarven shooting for longer or pin and flank tactics.
Despite the usefulness of the dwarf clansmen there are still problems which they can not handle. These are usually big single items like chariots, monsters, or fliers. In all these cases the dwarves have to use warmachines to solve the problems. Most dwarf players start out with a favorite warmachine as stick to it but over time your ability to guess ranges and handle problems will change so it is important to keep experimenting. In my opinion the best machine is the cannon becase it can violate rules. The dwarves lack magic and speed so can not pick out individual models very well and even witht he best guesses flame cannons and stone throwers miss too often. The cannon can solve most of these problems as it can hit multiple things and fire through units to hit the hidden goodies behind. They destroy chariots, kill skirmishers, pick out independent characters, and can even grapeshot at close range. Problems like skaven ratling guns can be targeted by aiming at models in front of or behind the real target and guessing appropiately. Finally they can kill characters off the back of monsters and fliers when they get to that aweful behind the line situation. If there is nothing else to do warmachines can always fire at rank and file to get better combat resolution.
The final warning is avoid the trap of the runes. Dwarves need to stop magic and with 4 dispel dice they do a fine job but some armies can get 12 or more casting dice and then four is just insufficient. This is the most common trap for runes as they seem like a good way to fix the problem but often these are lost points so beware. The problem is more accute with weapons and armor. As dwarves are slow your opponents will usually get to picks when and where to fight. As these points are only good when fighting it is important to get these characters into combat. Now this may be hard to do before turn 4. If that is the case you have wasted these points for half the game. I know runes are cool but the problem is they are also over priced except for those you use all the time.
With these in mind go out and try out your dwarf army. Experiement with different ideas and try to keep a good battle line advancing but remember to never be afraid to flee.