Thursday, April 21, 2011

Understanding the Strategy: The Dwarves of Erebor

The Dwarves have some of the most capable attack heroes in the Lord of the Rings game and they excel at killing scores of enemy units (or at least a good portion of them). Though their heroes are amazing, the Dwarves combine this raw power with the toughness and discipline of the Dwarf ranks, whose prowess in battle and ability to withstand damage from the enemy makes them a tough foe to fight. We'll look at an example of one of these armies below (built for warbands):

The Host of Erebor: 602 points

Gimli, Son of Gloin - 90 points
2 Khazad Guards (Gimli) - 22 points
4 Dwarf Warriors with shields - 36 points
1 Dwarf Warrior with banner - 33 points
3 Dwarf Rangers with throwing axes - 30 points
2 Dwarf Rangers with two-handed weapons - 16 points

Balin, Son of Fundin with Durin's Axe - 85 points

4 Khazad Guards (Gimli) - 44 points
4 Dwarf Warriors with shields - 36 points
2 Dwarf Rangers with throwing axes - 20 points
2 Dwarf Rangers with Dwarf Longbows - 20 points

Dwarf Shield-Bearer - 60 points
10 Dwarf Warriors with Dwarf bows (with Shield-Bearer) - 90 points
2 Dwarf Rangers with two-handed weapons - 20 points

39 units, 10 Dwarf bows + 2 Dwarf Longbows + 7 throwing axes, 3 heroes

This army provides the Dwarf player with the capability of dealing devastating damage with a few simple formation blocks. We'll look at these below:

1) The Volley Team: Dwarf Shield-Bearer, 10 Dwarf Warriors with Dwarf Bows, 2 Dwarf Rangers with two-handed weapons

[Volley 1]
Volley teams are great for driving an enemy army towards the center of the board and closer to your battle lines. For a Dwarf army (whose mobility is always suffering), having a volley team is essential to gaining some control over the early game. This volley team features a solid core of 10 Dwarf Warriors who sport the highest defense available to basic infantry archers (Defense 6). Any enemy volley team that fires back at them will wound these units on a 6, which no other army can boast. In return, these Dwarves nail their targets with Strength 3 arrows at a range of 18-36" with volley fire and 18" shooting normally. After a few rounds of this, your enemies are sure to focus on these troops instead of the rest of your line. With a normal volleying archer having a 1/36 chance of hitting and wounding one of your archers, even a large volley team is not likely to take down more than one of these archers during a two-turn period. This ratio (under 3% likelihood) becomes even better if you can get them behind a small wall or some other barrier to protect them from bow fire (by adding a nice in-the-way roll, further reducing the likelihood of being wounded).

[Volley near Dwarf front line]
The volley team should remain close to your other formations, however, since these warriors are capable melee fighters as well. Their high Defense 6 will make it difficult for most armies to wound them and throwing additional fighters into the flank of the enemy is a must for any Dwarf general. Keeping your archers about 8" away from your other formations should allow them to engage in melee combat quickly and still be able to remain out of your enemy's reach if you wish to fire arrows longer. You can choose to shot spearmen supporting the forward lines or choose to charge the enemy and trap them. Your choice is likely to be dependent on how the forward line is holding.

[2 Rangers and Shield-Bearer - Oin and Gloin]
The two Dwarf Rangers with two-handed axes are present to assist in absorbing volley fire by Strength 2 bows, since they are wounded on the same chance as the archers. It is better, however, to assign these volley hits to the Shield-bearer, who is wounded on a 6/5+ by Strength 2 bows - that's two volley shots that can be more-or-less ignored each round. Be mindful to use these melee troops in close combat either against soldiers charging your archer line or rushing them into combat as the archers re-position behind the enemy lines. You also want to migrate your Shield-bearer over towards Gimli so he can call free Heroic Combats!

2) The Left Battle Line: Balin with Durin's Axe, 2 Dwarf Rangers with throwing axes, 4 Khazad Guards, 4 Dwarf Warriors with shields2 Dwarf Rangers with Dwarf Longbows

[Battle Line 1]
This formation relies on a solid core of units that can withstand the hardest barrage of enemy archery. Strength 3-4 bows (usually dangers to forward battle lines) wound the warriors on a 6, which reduces the likelihood of casualties being suffered as your units cross the field. The Rangers are less durable against Strength 3-4 bows, but are only wounded by a 6 from Strength 2 bows (which most Evil army bows are). The throwing axes (and to a lesser extent the longbows) provide a key advantage in this formation, as the shield units can keep enemy warriors from the rangers, while the rangers pick off soft targets (like spearmen, banners, and tactical heroes).

[Dwarf Warrior on edge of battle line against 2x2 Goblin shields and spears]
Besides the high Defense value of these units, each focuses on providing either strength to your battle line or anchoring it against a larger number of foes. Dwarf Warriors with shields can hold the ends of your battle line because of their ability to shield, providing 2 dice at Fight 4 - certainly capable of defeating foes with lower Fight values. Do not, however, leave these warriors to their own work because their high Defense value (wounded on 6s in close combat against all evil basic troops) are likely to be breached if the enemy provides a large amount of dice (and by "large," I mean 3-4 dice - or even two dice if there is a freak accident).

[Balin + 4 shields vs. Troll + 4 shields + 4 spears]
Balin is equipped with Durin's Axe, which not only gives him +1 to wound without using a two-handed weapon, but also allows him to reroll a dice to win the fight (the "personal banner" rule). Added to his Strength 4 rating, Balin can wound the troll he's facing on the roll of a 4+ and rolls essentially 3 dice to win the fight (same as the troll). Between the 3 dice Balin rolls and his Might points, his chances of rolling a 6 to win the fight is pretty good, ensuring that the troll will definitely want to roll a 6.

3) The Right Battle Line: Gimli, 3 Dwarf Rangers with throwing axes, 2 Dwarf Rangers with two-handed weapons, 2 Khazad Guards, 4 Dwarf Warriors with shields1 Dwarf Warrior with banner

[Support line 1]
This "formation" provides assistance to your high Defense value left battle line. This arm of the army brings eight units with Defense 7 or higher and evens the odds of these fights with 5 throwing axes to soften the front line or train on spearmen or pikemen.

[Gimli + 2 Khazad Guards + 4 Warriors prepare to charge Troll, Nazgul and 2 Goblins]
Khazad Guards have the option of using their two-handed weapons or hand weapons and provide a strong Strength 4 to the fight. This means that units that rely on the classic Defense 6 are not safe from being wounded by a single foe (especially if the two-handed weapon is used). Khazad Guards also sport the Bodyguard special rule, which allows them to stay in the battle so long as their hero is alive (a D8 hero in this army) and charge terror-causing units (Nazgul, Trolls, many named Elven heroes, etc.) with impunity.

[Gimli + 5 Rangers with various axes + 1 Warrior with banner vs. Troll + 9 shields + 9 spears]
Gimli is a beast of a unit and is one of my favorite units to field. Not only is he flexible in his attacks (choosing whether to roll more dice or wounding more easily), but he is also incredibly resilient. In this example, Gimli has as many attacks as the troll he is facing, but he is also resilient enough that the Goblins nearby would not likely do much damage against him. There have been very few games where Gimli hasn't killed his weight in units (or made his weight run away), so Gimli will be the dependable hero in this army. To support him (and the front line, we have a banner in the army, giving him the equivalent of 4 Attacks for Gimli and the ability to reroll poor dice in other fights. The Rangers attempt to even the odds by taking down spearmen supporting units in combat or punching holes in the front line before battle is joined.

Forming an Whole from the Parts:

[Pic of combined battle lines 1]
When the "Main Battle Line" formation and the "Supporting Line" formation are joined together, Gimli and Balin should be kept on different flanks of the battle lines, where they can not only engage more units, but call heroic combats with the assistance of nearby warriors. Gimli and Balin each have Fight 6, Strength 4, and Defense 8, making them hard units to break. Gimli should use his two hand weapons in most fights, allowing him to fight with 3 attacks. Unless there is a D7 or D8 foe, the special two-handed weapon (+1 to wound, no penalty to winning the fight) is not that necessary. Against armies of Goblins in particular, the two-handed weapon is rarely used. Balin brings 2 attacks at Fight 6 and Strength 4 to fight his foes (choice of using a two-handed weapon). Though not as powerful as Gimli, Balin truly is a valued asset to the team and can hold his flank well.

[Dwarf King, Oin, Gloin charge into flank of Goblins]
If the Volley Team is kept near the battle lines (as recommended above), the Dwarf King can support one of the flanks as well. With Fight 6, Strength 4, and Defense 8, the Dwarf King's only difference between Gimli and Balin is his limited Might, Fate, and lack of two-handed weapon choice. Still, the presence of three Fight 6 heroes with Strength 4 means that this Dwarf army has a hero to take on any enemy melee hero or monster it faces (and the heroes are likely to stay alive until they reach their targets too).

[Focus on Kili and Fili behind Dwarf line]
Two Dwarf Rangers have Dwarf longbows (24" range at Strength 2). With a 3+ Shoot value, these Dwarves are marksmen with slightly weaker weapons than their Warrior cousins. However, against D4 or D6 troops (Haradhrim and Uruk-Hai specifically), these archers are just as good at wounding their foes as their S3 Dwarf Warrior kin. Since these warriors are near the center of the formation, they should be shielded from enemy archery and still be capable of picking off a few enemies as the battle line steadily advances (probably at 2.5" each turn).

[Shooting line of Dwarf Rangers with throwing axes]
The rest of the Dwarf Rangers in this army have been equipped with throwing axes, which enables melee troops to benefit from their 3+ Shoot values and still strike their opponents with Strength 3 throwing axes. If you are careful in positioning your units, you should be able to hammer the front line of the enemy before they engage your Defense 7 line. Once the enemy is engaged, you can position your warriors (if the enemy charges you) to shoot at enemy spearmen and make a few of your fights more even. Remember also that Balin, Gimli, and the Dwarf King have throwing axes in their profiles, which allows you to get 13 throwing axes when the enemy gets close.

[Focus on Dwarf Rangers with two-handed axes]
The Dwarf Rangers with two-handed axes should be kept on the side of the battle line that has the Dwarf volley team. These warriors can run to assist these archers if they are charged or provide an archery screen if you need to keep your archers alive. For 11 points each, these warriors are strong skirmish units and can often win their points back if they can skirmish - especially against foes who cost between 7-9 points who have Defense 5 or less. Furthermore, these troops have the option for using a two-handed weapon in close combat to really make the odds flow to one side.

Weaknesses

[5 Dwarf Warriors with shields against 5 Uruk-Hai Warriors with shields]
Dwarves in combat have three critical weaknesses: first, most lack a higher Strength value than the average Strength 3, so some enemy units will be difficult to wound. This also means that if the enemy has heavy armor and shields, you will be wounding them on about the same scale as they will be wounding you. This is not a concern against Goblins or Uruk Scouts, but if you are fighting Easterlings or Fighting Uruk-Hai, you would do well to focus on getting more than one Dwarf in a fight in order to increase your chance of wounding them.

[3 Khazad Guards + 3 Dwarf Warriors with shields vs. 6 Goblins with shields + 6 Goblins with spears]
The second weakness is that most Dwarves lack spears - and this particular force has none. This means that the enemy could be getting as many as 2-3 attacks on your units while you only get 1 attack dice. This can be outbalanced by shielding or by having a higher Fight value and rolling a 6 every round, but seeing as this will not always be the case (and will be impossible for your Dwarf rangers, archers, and Khazad Guards), you need to be aware that your army could be vulnerable to spear-armed foes. Furthermore, shielding allows you to even the odds, but it comes at the price of not being able to kill the foes you face. Practically speaking, this means that the enemy will still be able to gang up on you again unless other warriors win and kill their opponents. Shielding can allow you to live for a while, but it will not help you win the game unless the rest of the team is wrecking the enemy.

[3 Khazad Guards + 3 Dwarf Warriors with shields vs. 6 Wood Elf blades]
The final weakness is that Dwarves are restricted to moving only 5" each turn. Though movement is generally not a problem (and once the battle wages is often unimportant), enemies with throwing weapons and cavalry are strong against armies that have Movement 5. Cavalry archers can move 5" and still be able to shoot their bows at the Dwarves, making them nearly impossible to catch (Galadhrim Knights can move 6" and still shoot, passing through woods as normal terrain as well). Armies with throwing weapons can put 5.5" between them and the Dwarves and force the Dwarves to move only 4.5" towards them because of control zone rules. This means that the Dwarves would charge and be forced to stop and the throwing weapon line would likely move again to 5.5" and the chase goes on and on until the Dwarves win priority at the right time and a heroic move is lost or the throwing weapon troops run out of space (or otherwise make an error). This can be very painful to your warriors (and especially your rangers).

General Formation Tactics

[General look at formations]
In large open spaces, it is best to keep all of your Dwarves close together. The volley team should be in contact with the two ranks of your main line to make sure that you have a Defense 8 unit to assign volley hits to (even Strength 3 bows will wound one of these heroes on a 6/4+, which statistically is an 8% chance). This means that your forward advance is only 2.5" each turn while you volley, but your opponent may not advance much faster. Note that if a scenario requires you to get to the center of the field (The High Ground or Take and Hold), the victory conditions always take precedent and get your melee fighters to the center of the map as quickly as possible!

[8 Dwarf bows and 2 Dwarf longbows shooting at 5 Uruks with shields, 2 Uruks with crossbows, 2 Uruks with pikes]
Should your volley team be broken, have that formation move away from the main line and get in shooting position as quickly as possible. Once your Dwarf bows are within 18" of the enemy and your Dwarf longbows are within 24" of the enemy, move at 2.5" each turn to make sure you put fire on your enemy. Save softer targets for different bows based on their likelihood of wounding. If facing Defense 6 targets that are protecting Defense 5 targets (Fighting Uruk-Hai armies), shoot with your longbows first to expose pikemen. If facing Defense 5 targets that are protecting Defense 4 units (many armies fit in this categories), fire with your Dwarf bows first.

[Main lines slant to make weaker units face the archers]
As the enemy nears your position, the forward line should begin to slant, forcing your opponent to turn his spearmen and other supporting units towards your archer line. This position should be taken up once you are between 18-24" from your opponent so you have time to change your position should your opponent try to outmaneuver you. In order to get the most use out of your lines, you need to let your archers have targets - each turn they don't shoot is a turn a capable unit is wasted.

The Dwarves are cheap and solid warriors, but beware of their weaknesses. If you choose to run with them, I may honestly hope that their strength will not falter and their legs will carry them into battle and through to victory.