Friday, June 29, 2012

Spell-caster Evaluation: Saruman the Colorful

On the same day that Radagast the Brown arrived, he was joined by a powerful Evil wizard from Utah (or at least, he was mailed to me from there): Saruman the Colorful. Unlike the Good version of Saruman, this wicked wizard is a tad bit more expensive and more tactical.
Saruman the Colorful: Quick Review of Rules
Saruman has the wizard's standard Fight 5, Strength 4, Defense 5, Attacks 1, Wounds 3, Courage 7, 3 Might, 6 Will, and 3 Fate. Saruman receives a free Will point each turn and a two-handed weapon with his staff of power. Defense 5 is a tolerable defense against Strength 2 bows, but you can count on any enemy bows that can hit this wizard will choose to land there instead of your Uruk-Hai (who are wounded on the same to wound roll value).
Saruman has two important special rules: Voice of Curunir and The Palantir of Orthanc. The Voice of Curunir special rule gives Saruman a 12" Stand Fast! radius, perfect for ensuring that your Uruk-Hai stay to the bitter end. If you can keep Saruman alive until the bitter end, the value of the units that are not lost (especially when your Captains run away as frequently as mine do) when your army is broken. The Palantir of Orthanc special rule allows Saruman to automatically win priority for the Evil army before any dice are rolled. This is perfect for ensuring that you charge pesky Elves (or force them to use their Might to call heroic actions), counter-charge enemy cavalry, and tie down enemy killer-heroes with a single unit.
Saruman has four spells in his playbook, most of which he can cast very easily. Like other wizards, he can cast Terrifying Aura (causes "terror" if he has at least 1 Will left in his store) on a 2+ and Transfix on a 2+. He is one of a few wizards to be able to cast Compel on a 3+, which means that moving enemy heroes out of combats and away from your men is not hard (or making them fight worse fights than before in a weaker fighting strength).
Finally, Saruman can cast Sorcerous Blast on a 5+. This spell knocks units over and deals hits to them (Strength 5 to the target and Strength 3 to those who were hit by the flying body). This is a precision spell and great for two reasons: first, Uruk-Hai are great killers and if the unit is lying on the ground when attacked, the chances that the target dies are pretty good (without pike or spear support). Second, this is great for sending a hero with little to no Will points far from the battlelines, send him sprawling on his back, and forcing him to spend half of his next turn's movement standing up and getting his bearings. In those two turns, your units should be crashing through his lines and capitalizing on his loss.
Saruman the Colorful: Strengths in Use

Saruman the Colorful is a tactical hero who provides a benefit to your units in almost every phase of the game. To illustrate this, we'll look at each phase and see what benefits Saruman gives and assume he is working with the following army (600 points):
Saruman the Colorful - 170 points
*Vrasku - 60 points
Uruk-Hai Captain with shield - 55 points
18 Uruk-Hai Warriors with shields - 180 points
10 Uruk-Hai Warriors with pikes - 100 points
3 Uruk-Hai Warriors with crossbows - 33 points

598 points, 34 units, 4 crossbows*, 3 heroes

Once again, this army follows the rules for warbands identified in the new army books, though I would gladly trade the Uruk Captain for a few more warriors just to raise the numbers of the army. Still, this army provides a high Defense force to protect the White Wizard while he casts his magic.

Move Phase: Your Move

Saruman's key benefit to units during the Move phase occurs once during the game: when he chooses to use his palantir. Choosing when to use this special item takes some tact and should be made based on the threat that the enemy provides. Against a skirmish army (throwing weapons or bowmen who are preparing to move with ease through difficult terrain), using the palantir before a charge is a key goal. This should only be done if you can reach the enemy and preferably if there are no heroes in that formation. If there are, call a Heroic Move with Saruman to challenge your foe.
Against a non-skirmish army battle line, using the palantir before the great charge is less important unless there are cavalry in it. If there are no cavalry units or skirmishers, use the palantir after the battle is waging, ensuring that you get to charge vulnerable units (and tie down heroes). This maximizes the use of your Uruk's Strength 4 and superior fighting skills.
Move Phase: Casting Magic
Saruman's magic is very offensive. During your first turn, you should use your free Will point to cast Terrifying Aura on Saruman to ensure that weak-willed units have a difficult time ganging up on the wizard. with this in mind, your focus should be on utilizing offensive magic against the heroes and warriors of your enemy.
Using Transfix is simple enough: roll one dice, don't get a 1 on it, and watch your foe try to resist it (if he can) or risk being clobbered by your Uruks in the front ranks. Your opponent only needs to face the strength of the Uruks in a single fight with a hero he likes and he will be sure to avoid receiving a beating from them again. The best targets for making this a quick mission is to target captains of the enemy (0-1 Will). With a single Will point (or none at all in the case of a Dwarf Shield-bearer), they can only stop your magical onslaught once at maximum (barring a nearby wizard casting Strengthen Will on them). In the turn that the magical spell is not resisted, let your Uruks (2+ dice) rend the hero and break him hard - and I mean HARD!
Compel is cast on a 3+ and this is a remarkable feat for a wizard. For one point more than Transfix (probably still cast on a single dice), you gain all of the neutralizing benefits of Transfix but add the ability to make a unit move half of its movement even if it has moved already. You can't make him charge someone and you can't make him walk off a cliff, but your target is yours to move as you wish. This can be used to draw a hero out of a front line to be consequently charged by your units OR move a banner-bearer beyond the range of his companions, making him useless. This spell has lots of potential and is great for keeping heroes out of the action or even forcing them backwards away from the fight and prevent them from rending your ranks or scoring many points.
Sorcerous Blast is the most dangerous spell that Saruman has and will make him a definite target by any wise foe. Sorcerous Blast is cast on a 5+ and should use 2-3 dice, depending on how desperately you need it to work. I recommend only using 2 in most cases, unless the guy you're blasting away has Will points. Generally speaking, you want to avoid targeting someone with Will points unless you're trying to send the hero far away from the front lines (see the discussion above). If you want to get the biggest benefit from the spell for your Uruk-Hai, you should shoot a target who is at the end of a battle line and make sure that you blast him directly away from you down his battle line. Anyone who is not killed by the blast will be on the ground, waiting for your Uruk-Hai to beat him up while he's down. This maximizes the potential of the Uruks and provides a broader application of the Transfix principle identified above.
Fight Phase: Heavy Support
Saruman's profile is good enough to make him a competent fighter, but not great enough to make him a great warrior. With a single attack, he won't do too much killing, but his two-handed weapon rule from his staff and Fight 5 means that he provides some valuable support to an Uruk-Hai attack line. I would not recommend, however, that he fight on his own unless he's charging someone he transfixed, since Saruman won't be able to be wounded, regardless of who wins the fight. Besides that, not much gained from Saruman in the Fight phase that wasn't gained in the Magic phase.
Saruman the Colorful: Weaknesses in Use

Saruman is a powerful and capable wizard and provides offensive strength that few wizards can contend with (and other combat heroes should rightly fear). He, like all wizards, is far from invisible and we shall now view some of the concerns for protecting this wizard.

Move Phase: Charge!
Charging Saruman while he has Terrifying Aura is difficult for most units. Since many Good units have good courage values (failing courage tests 17-28% of the time) or the Bodyguard special rule, charging units that cause terror with these sorts of units is not hard. Once engaged in combat, Saruman can't cast spells (and if this happens before he is able to get his spells off, you've bought your heroes a great opportunity to go smashing through Uruk-Hai or leveling the wizard in close combat).
But besides charging Saruman, a clever spell-caster can drain Saruman's magic capabilities by casting spells that threaten his spell-casting capabilities. If Saruman is charged by a unit or two and is subsequently targeted by an Immobilize spell, the commander of Evil would be well-advised to attempt resisting the spell unless he can get those units off of Saruman. With only 6 Will points in his store, this entitles Saruman to a few turns of resisting magical attacks (or attempting to resist them) while being able to cast his own magical attacks. By charging him first, the greatest asset of this wizard (casting magic) is lost. It would be a good idea to have a thick line of Uruk-Hai between Saruman and his foes, and be aware of heroes sweeping around the edge of your line with a Heroic Combat or on their battle steeds...these guys can spell real trouble for you.
Shoot Phase: Arrows!
One of the most straight-forward ways to deal with a wizard (especially since this one doesn't have the Blinding Light spell) is to shoot him. A Defense 5 wizard like Saruman is just as resilient as any other units in this army against Strength 2 bows, but remains dangerously vulnerable against Strength 3 bows. Being wounded on a 5+ by a S3 bow is a danger to the largest investment of your army (and if those bows come in volley teams, you had better have a plan for keeping Saruman alive). To ensure that volley fire doesn't kill your wizard, a small group of Uruk-Hai with shields should guard him and should receive all assigned hits for volley fire to ensure that the wizard doesn't die. When the enemy is shooting directly at Saruman, your best bet is to just avoid archer lines entirely.
Fight Phase: Go-Go-Go!
As was discussed earlier, Saruman is vulnerable in a fight. With a single Attack and a handful of supporting Uruk-Hai, Saruman can be overwhelmed by sheer numbers or by a lone hero who is capable of evading the magical spells of his foe. In order to avoid this, it would be a good idea to have a good bodyguard of Uruk-Hai to even the odds and keep the number of warriors fighting Saruman low (sound like familiar you've heard it earlier in this post?). Against one or two foes, Saruman can do alright...get more than 3 attacking dice against him, and Saruman's in a tight pinch.
These are a few thoughts on Saruman the Colorful, who I have really enjoyed using (though he has yet to win me a game). On the whole, Saruman should be fielded in a 600 point army to allow him to field a few Uruk Captains for additional killing power, since it's hard for him to carry the team with Sorcerous Blast only.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Understanding the Game: Sample Armies With Spell-Caster Focus

In an earlier post, I made a few lengthly observations about spell-casters in this game. To demonstrate how you can utilize these different types of heroes, I've included two of my armies as a reference (and would love to see your lists and some commentary if you have them), following all of the rules for warbands:

Forces of Good: 499 points

Galadriel, Lady of Lothlorien - 130 points
Celeborn with Elven blade, shield, and heavy armor - 150 points
5 Wood Elf Warriors with Elven blades and throwing daggers - 50 points
11 Wood Elf Warriors with Wood Elf spears - 88 points
3 Galadhrim Warriors with Elf bows - 30 points
3 Galadhrim Warriors with Elf bows and Elven blades - 33 points
2 Wood Elf Warriors with Elf bows - 18 points

26 units, 8 Elf bows, 2 heroes

This army has two expensive heroes, but Wood Elves benefit from being relatively cheap (7-10 points each) and this gives us a cushion for adding units to the army. Unlike most armies that I try to field, this force does not sport a volley team, but the two heroes in the army provide you the ability to move quickly into engagement with the enemy (or at least get within direct fire range). Galadriel's Blinding Light will protect the unarmored Wood Elf Warriors from enemy archery at close range and her aggressive spells will ensure that powerful enemy units are not able to deal their full damage against your units. In addition to the 13 ranged weapons in this list, the army includes Celeborn - the least used Elf hero I own. With 3 Attacks at Fight 6 and 3 Wounds with Defense 7, you have a very capable combat hero who can also immobilize a key unit or two that he charges.

The Denizens of Moria: 500 points

Durburz, Goblin King of Moria - 60 points
Goblin shaman - 45 points
Goblin Captain with shield - 40 points (leaping-off-a-rock guy)
1 Cave Troll - 80 points
1 Bat Swarm - 35 points
12 Goblin Warriors with shields - 60 points
12 Goblin Warriors with spears - 60 points
10 Goblin Warriors with Orc bows - 50 points
Ally: Ringwraith with 1M/8W/1F - 70 points

40 units, 10 Orc bows, 4 heroes

This army benefits from having two very cheap heroes who provide limited spell-casting abilities. Neither the shaman nor the Ringwraith have a large store of Will points, but each provides a key benefit to the army. Since heroes that thrive on killing pose the greatest threat to this army, the single cheap Ringwraith is helpful for slowing down this hero (or allowing him to be flattened into a pancake by the Troll's hammer). The shaman ensures not only that the core of your Goblins stay together, but also attempts to keep the size of the army large while the fight progresses. You could replace the Bat Swarm in this army to make your Ringwraith stronger (or choose the Witch King for your force to deal with spell-casters with staffs of power), but the Bat Swarm in this army serves not only to make your units stronger, but also distracts the enemy from shooting at/using magic against more valuable units (like your Troll).

As I mentioned in the previous post on spell-casters, we're going to be setting up a game with the two armies listed above and specifically highlight how the spell-casters worked in the scenario, so be on the look-out for that.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Understanding the Game: Using and Fighting Spell-Casters, Part 3

This post will wrap up our discussion on using and fighting spell-casters - specifically, those units who have a spell or two up their sleeve, but fill other rolls in an army. We will begin with the combat mages who are excellent warriors and potent spell-casters.

Using Spell-Casters: Combat Mages (Elrond & Celeborn)
Combat mages are rare in the game and by-and-large are only wielded by the Elves. These heroes combine limited spell-casting abilities with a strong warrior profile and are typified by the heroes Elrond and Celeborn. Both of these heroes have the standard Elven combat skills of Fight 6, Attacks 3, Wounds 3, Strength 4, and Defense 7 (if Celeborn is given a shield and heavy armor). Each also has a small selection of valuable spells that they can cast.
Elrond has the devastating Nature's Wrath spell. Since only one unit within 6" of Elrond can resist the spell, this can be unleashed most effectively when near a region without a hero (no Will = no chance to resist a spell...tough bunnies for you). Since the spell knocks all of the nearby enemies to the ground, this can provide you with the opportunity to not only double your wounding dice against your enemies, but also eliminate their ability to wound you this round (which is great if your enemy is an Uruk army or another force that focuses on bringing brute strength against your men). If these units haven't moved, though, you'll face a few getting up and staggering towards your lines, so be wary.
While Elrond's aggressive spell is valuable for assisting a squad of warriors, Celeborn's aggressive spell is more precise. He has the ability to cast Immobilize on a 3+, which means that he will likely be using this spell against enemy heroes (or monsters or cavalry or another strategic unit) that he fights. He also has the ability to cast Aura of Command, which allows your units within 6" of him to pass any courage tests they are required to take, but this spell should not be cast if you are fighting with an army of Elves (you really shouldn't need it). Instead, save your Will points to immobilize targets. 
Fighting Spell-Casters: Combat Mages
Fighting combat mages with melee units can be difficult, as these wizards are specialists in melee combat. For the Elven heroes highlighted above in particular (though the Dark Lord Sauron also qualifies on this list), your basic troops will be at a huge disadvantage if they try to dog-pile on these heroes. This strategy can work, of course, like it does against other melee heroes, but this often takes time and can be very costly in a close game.
Shooting these heroes can be hard too, especially if they take as much armor as their entry allows them (Defense 7 for Celeborn, Defense 8 for Elrond). Even the best missiles are not likely to cause much damage against these heroes, so we need a better option.
Here again, I recommend using a wizard or spell-caster of sorts. Like other melee specialist heroes, these combat mages have their Will store capped at 3 Will. Unless Gandalf casts Strengthen Will on one of these heroes (and boy, that's an expensive chunk of your army spent on two units), those Will points are not going to grow. Cast two spells at a critical moment, and these heroes may not be able to even cast spells. Nazgul are particularly good in this case, because their inherently large Will store will discourage hte use of their aggressive spells while posing a threat against the army itself.
Using Spell-Casters: Auxiliary Mages (Shaman)
The final category of spell-casters are the "auxiliary" heroes. These characters cast a spell that benefit a group of nearby troops. The Cast Blinding Light and Aura of Command spells discussed above fall into this category. Another common spell though is the Fury spell cast by Shamans in evil armies. Since most evil armies (especially those with Orcs and Goblins) have low Courage values, the most important element to any army is the ability to keep soldiers in the field once the going gets tough. The Fury spell not only allows all units of the same race as the shaman pass any courage tests, but the spell also gives the same warriors a 6+ Fate save whenever they suffer a wound. This isn't going to (or supposed to) save a lot of your units, but it will save a few. This is, in the end, what really matters, since it keeps a larger army alive a bit longer.
Fighting Spell-Casters: Auxiliary Mages
Fighting these heroes is easy, if you can reach them. Since these units are generally not combat-heavy units (exception for Celeborn as mentioned above), melee units in large numbers can easily beat these heroes. For shamans in particular, since they are no more than enraged standard units, it is not very difficult to defeat them in combat with elite troops and sometimes with normal troops (Goblin Shamans have Fight 2 and Defense 4).
By the same token, these units could be shot at from a distance (Blinding Light excepted) relatively easily, but you will probably need to cut through two ranks of units before you can see the skulking support hero. Gaining a high vantage point is essential for killing the hero this way, or getting around the flank of the enemy. Occasionally, a combat hero will attempt to cut his way through your ranks. For this reason, it may help to have warriors with bows behind your lines to shoot the hero once the lines open up (if he has Defense 5-9, however, wounding him with bows may be difficult).
You can use a dedicated spell-caster to deal with these heroes if you want to, but the most effective way to utilize a spell-caster is to allow your other units to clobber the mage. How? Command/Compel. By drawing out a hero around a flank (or towards one of your flanking forces/combat heroes who is running through the ranks), you can defeat these heroes easily and send them into the ground. In the case of the Fury-casting shamans, a simple defeat will extinguish the spell.
These past few posts show some of the means to use and fight spell-casters, but my greatest hope is that more armies will welcome these elite units into their forces during games on the table top. I'm going to go over in a later post how you can mix these different types of heroes and then see if we can get a scenario going with these sample armies for a fun game.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Understanding the Game: Using and Fighting Spell-casters, Part 2

This post is a continuation on a discussion about spell-casters and how to deal with them. If you missed the post on Nazgul, you can find it here. Today, though, we're going to talk about using and beating spell-casters with unlimited Will favorite kind of lore-master!

Using Spell-Casters: Unlimited Casters

Only a few spell-casters have an unlimited number of Will that they can spend during the game. This can be because of a staff of power that they wield (Gandalf, Saruman, or Radagast) or because of an innate magic ability that surpasses that of less extraordinary lore-masters (Galadriel and Sauron). We will deal with both of these types of wizards in turn.
Two popular wizards to include in armies are Gandalf and Saruman. Wizards are some of the least common spell-casters because they are very, very expensive. Cheap wizards like Radagast the Brown or Saruman the White (Good version) cost 150 points each, while Gandalf the White costs over 200 points...that's a lot to pay for one hero. Gandalf the Grey and Saruman the Colorful (Evil version) are 170 points each and both provide a few specialized benefits for their armies.

Wizards are expensive primarily for three reasons: first, they have amazing longevity in typical games. All wizards (Galadriel not included here) have Defense 5, 3 Wounds, 3 Might, 6 Will, and 3 Fate points. The high number of Will points is an obvious boon for spell-casters, but the large number of both Wounds and Fate points means that they can deal with enemy archery pretty well and live to tell the tale. If wizards receive a screen of protection by allied units, their ability to save their wounds and Fate points for melee combats later will also keep them alive longer. The 3 Might points not only helps in making sure that spells are cast, but they also allow these mages to call Heroic Moves or Heroic Combats, depending on the situation's need.
Wizards also gain a free Will point each turn. For Gandalf, Saruman, and Radagast, this takes the form of a staff of power giving them a free Will point that they can use to assist in casting spells, resist enemy spells, or occasionally pass a failed courage test (usually not a problem with 7 Courage, but I've seen it done). This makes wizards particularly dangerous at the end of the game when enemy spell-casters and especially combat heroes have burned through their Will points and are now incapable of resisting the spells they cast (or choose not to resist in the case of Nazgul units).
The final advantage is that though wizards don't have more than 1 Attack, their Fight values are high. Galadriel has the typical Elven hero Fight 6, while the other wizards have Fight 5. This makes them on-par with Elven warriors and most heroes, ensuring that they should win ties against most basic units and stand a good chance of winning fights that they assist in. For wizards like Gandalf and Saruman, that staff of power comes in handy in combat, as you use it like a two-handed weapon. This makes your Strength 4 spell-caster capable of assisting other heroes in taking down tough targets, relying on the combat hero to win the fight and the great wizard to come crashing down on the head of the enemy. Gandalf is the most combat-ready of these heroes, as he may choose to instead wield Glamdring the Foe Hammer instead of his staff (hand weapon with Strength 5), perfect for cutting through most enemies without penalty.
Where all wizards come into a field of their own is the sheer number of spells they can cast and the ease in which they do it. Like the Nazgul described above, wizards have many spells and the most commonly used ones are easy to cast. We will begin by looking at Gandalf's spells. Immobilize (does the same as Transfix mentioned in a previous post) and Command (same as Compel mentioned in a previous post) are cast on a 3+ and a 4+ respectively, which is typical of a dedicated spell-caster. Gandalf also has two static spells: Blinding Light and Terrifying Aura, both of which stay with him so long as he has 1 Will remaining in his store (free Will point doesn't count). The former prevents units within 6" of Gandalf (or obscured by him) from being hit by archery on better than a 6. This is great for protecting weak troops, but isn't very good at getting past enemy volley fire. Traditionally, I've used this spell to protect Wood Elves, who generally get cut to ribbons by archery. Terrifying Aura gives Gandalf the Terror rule, which is great for protecting him from being engaged by lots and lots and lots of angry Goblins.
Gandalf's most prized spell is also the one he has the hardest time casting: Sorcerous Blast. This spell not only deals a Strength 5 hit to the unfortunate recipient of the spell, but also casts the body of the target away from Gandalf X" which is determined by the roll of another dice. Any units hit by the target (including the target himself) are knocked to the ground and those who get hit by the body take a Strength 3 hit. Kill a few units with this spell and you can guarantee your foe is going to be careful about making nice pretty lines with his warriors, but since the spell is cast only on a 5+, don't expect to cast it easily on a single dice (like most of your other spells). I find that this spell is best cast diagonally at spear-filled ranks, as you can clip multiple units (usually 4 or so) with a single inch of movement. Optimally, you'd want to align yourself so that you are shooting slightly diagonally down a battle line, but since this rarely affords itself, I'd go with the diagonal shot through the ranks.
Gandalf also has a little-used spell called Strengthen Will which can give a hero (sorry warriors, you're not eligible targets) 1 Will point if they started with none or return a Will point to a hero who spent one earlier in the game. Though this spell has obvious advantages if you have a hero who is being threatened by an enemy spell-caster (Gimli, Boromir, Legolas, or Aragorn in particular), it is a rare occasion when Gandalf's magic turn will be used in bolstering a friend. Still, it has some great uses which we will get into a bit later.
Saruman casts Transfix and Compel on a 2+ and a 3+ respectively. He also has Terrifying Aura and Sorcerous Blast like Gandalf does (cast on a 2+ and a 5+ respectively), but he lacks the Cast Blinding Light and Strengthen Will spells. To make up for this, Saruman's tactical advantage is found in two special rules: first, his Stand Fast! range is 12". Since the other heroes in the Isengard list have no higher than Courage 4, having a hero with a 12" Stand Fast! radius and Courage 7 means that your ability to keep units in the field shouldn't be too difficult if you can keep Saruman from being engaged by enemy units. Saruman also has a palantir, which he can use to claim priority on one turn before the dice are rolled for priority. This is great for catching archers seeking to escape your units, getting the charge against cavalry, or closing on enemy warriors with throwing weapons. Your foe could, of course, call a Heroic Move (and you could call one too if you wanted), but even if your foe moves first, most heroes will be hurt by spending one of their two or three Might points to move out of the way of your troops. So even this is a boon for an army that fields Saruman, since all wizards should fear Might points (perhaps only behind a large store of Will points).
Galadriel is a different kind of spell-caster: she gains a free Will point without a staff of power (can never be taken away from her), and she has three spells which are easy to cast. Blinding Light is great for protecting the fragile armies of the Elves from Lothlorien (as we've discussed above), while Immobilize and Command are great for neutralizing enemy heroes who specialize in killing units (and she casts them on the traditional 3+ and 4+ respectively). For 130 points, she is a bargain hero (not to mention she has a Fight 6 and 3 Wounds with 3 Fate points that she can re-roll if she fails them the first time). One should be careful though, since she is only Strength 3 and Defense 3, so enemies that engage her in combat could pummel her easily.
Fighting Spell-Casters: Wizards

The most straight-forward way to deal with wizards is to engage them with several warriors in melee combat. With 1 Attack dice for each of these heroes, their ability to fend off a lot of enemies is difficult - very difficult - even with a high Fight value. Their relatively low Defense values will mean that even an average melee soldier will not have much difficulty wounding these heroes and can burn through the caster's Fate points and Wounds.
Shooting these heroes is possible as well, though those with Cast Blinding Light make this a bit less effective than engaging in combat. Gandalf and Saruman's Defense 5 rating means that Strength 2 bows will also have a low likelihood of wounding the target. On the other hand, Defense 5 is not a high Defense rating for most melee warriors (or Strength 3 bows). This makes the straight-forward approach more appealing (or the use of Elf bows or Dwarf bows).
One of the most subtle way of dealing with these spell-casters comes when you use a Nazgul. Since spell-casters are only worth their while when they have Will points, a well-rolled Sap Will spell can reduce the Will store of any of these heroes to 0. With the free Will point each turn, the wizard will now need to rely on using low-end spells (usually not devastating ones) or use it to resist your next slue of spells. The 170 point wizardry specialist is soon turned into an over-priced hero, which should pay for any Nazgul on foot. If you're using the Witch King, you can of course cast Your Staff Is Broken! to take away even the free Will point from Gandalf or Radagast, but I would instead just go with a Transfix spell, for the same reason I don't recommend casting Sap Will against a unit with 1-2 Will points (you still force the hero to use their Will up defending against you and you could potentially make it easier to kill them in combat).
The next post will deal with the other two categories of wizards, but I'm curious to hear about tricky ways you deal with wizards (or knacks you use while using them)! In the next few posts, I'm going to be covering the final two categories of spell-casters in the game and provide a summary of Saruman the Colorful, who I've tested in a few games, so watch this space!

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Understanding the Game: Using and Fighting Spell-Casters, Part 1

So if you've followed my army lists at all, you know that I really, really, REALLY like using spell-casters in my Lord of the Rings armies. Most of my friends shy away from these units, but they really are useful and fun to use (albeit limited in scope and usually expensive). I'm going to go over some of the ways to both use and fight spell-casters, focusing on some of the heroes we have seen/might see on this blog.

The heroes we will look at today fall generally into four categories: Nazgul, Unlimited Casters/Wizards, Combat Mages, and Auxiliary Support. Each of these casters has a different purpose in the army and is used to supplement the needs of the force.

1. Using Spell-Casters: Nazgul

Nazgul are both blessed and cursed as spell-casters: they have the potential to be very, VERY cheap, they can cast several powerful spells with relatively easy casting values, and have a minimum of 7 Will points to use to cast spells. Since their ability to fight and stay alive is tied to their Will (as well as health), special care must be used when choosing to use Will and where to position Nazgul. Since a Nazgul really enters into a realm of its own when the enemy force is broken, keeping a Nazgul alive throughout the game is a must.
There are three spells that should be used by any Nazgul commander because of their ease in casting (should use 1 dice) and the devastating short-term or long-term impact that they can have: Drain Courage (2+), Transfix (3+), and Sap Will (3+). Each of these requires a very specific target, however, in order to work properly.

Drain Courage is useful when targeting minor heroes with Courage 4-5 (or less, of course). These heroes have the ability to call a Stand Fast! when the going gets tough, which can keep lesser units from fleeing the field - what you definitely don't want. With only 1-2 Will points (perhaps) to resist the spells cast by your Nazgul, it is possible that these spells may not even be resisted - especially if the hero is in the middle of a hoard of enemies. Why this is the case will be seen later under the section discussing the Transfix spell. When the army breaks, the minor hero (or heroes) might be in a serious trouble if they are within 12" of the Nazgul, as their Courage values will be at least 1 lower than normal and probably 1-2 lower than that.

Transfix is a spell that should be used against any foe that specializes in killing units (usually heroes, but elite warriors can be targeted too if they are in a valuable position). The Transfix spell reduces the Fight value of the victim to 1 (that's lower than almost all basic troops), reduces their Attack dice to 1 (even if they shield), prevents them from rolling Wound dice even if they win, AND prevents the unit from moving or calling heroic actions (in the case of a hero). A hero only needs to be stung once by this spell before he chooses to resist it every time. Be sure to have a group of warriors nearby to charge the hero (or already have charged the hero) to capitalize on the hero's weakness, trapping if possible.
Sap Will should only be used against enemy spell-casters and other auxiliary heroes who rely on a Will store greater than 3. Since spell-casters use Will to make up for their expenses, reducing their effectiveness is a must for a Nazgul. This spell also becomes one that MUST be resisted, as failing to resist leads to a Will store of 0...ouch. From experience, even if your spell-caster gets a free Will point each turn, the Force of Good will feel the pain of not having more than 1 Will point (which means the caster either resists OR casts). Casting Sap Will against heroes with 1-3 Will doesn't make that much sense, as a Transfix or a Drain Courage is likely to deplete their Will Store already. Since Sap Will seeks to eliminate Will points, blocking a Transfix or a Drain Courage spell meets the same objective with greater damage done either in the short term (with Transfix) or in the long term (with Drain Courage).
It is with this backdrop that I need to talk about the Witch King. He casts spells at the same level as unnamed Ringwraiths and begins with the same stat-line as other Ringwraiths except that he has already paid for 3 extra Will points. Where the Witch King pulls away from other Nazgul, however, is his baseline access to the spell Your Staff Is Broken! With this spell, the Witch King can take away the benefit of a "staff of power," the source of free Will points for wizards. Though this is rarely going to be used by the Witch King, there are two other benefits that come from equipment that can be given to the Witch King.
The first is the Crown of Morgul. For 30 points, you can turn this Nazgul spell-caster into a slayer with 3 Attacks. With a base Will store of 10 (and a max of 20), your hero can now fight in a lot - I mean, A LOT - of fights. 7 rounds of combat later, you'll see lots and lots and lots of dead units (especially if he has 2 Might/10 Will/2 Fate for a grand total of 120 points). Though his Fight value is still only a 5, this combat strength is great for supplementing a small army and making them more impressive. The other benefit that the Witch King can receive comes from taking a Morgul blade. If you win a fight, you can declare before rolling your wound dice that you are using the blade - if any wounds are not saved by a Fate point (or some other means), the unit dies outright, no matter how many wounds he still has. Bummer for heroes (or Trolls and Balrogs if you're fighting a Force of Evil)...
Fighting Spell-Casters: Nazgul

Nazgul have a single Wound, which means that the most straight-forward way of killing them is to shoot them from afar. Defense 8 (and obstructions from line of sight) tends to limit the effectiveness of this strategy, but it remains an option (and I've seen it done before). Thankfully other strategies can be used to defeat these foes: simply engage them in battle, force them to use their Will points up, or exhaust their store to incapacitate them. Each of these runs its own risks, but the options are varied depending on your strategic advantages.
Engaging a Nazgul in fight-after-fight is one of the most straight-forward ways of killing them. If you have warriors who have high Courage values (or the Bodyguard special rule), you can engage a Nazgul unit and wear down his Will store by mere engagement. Most likely, enemy units will only wound your Nazgul on a 6, unless they have a two-handed weapon to increase their chances (like Elrond's Elven blade does here).

Spell-casters can force a Nazgul to use his Will points in a defensive manner in very limited situations. These could include casting Immobilize against a Nazgul who is already in a fight with a major hero (or a lot of smaller heroes) or casting Command on a Nazgul who could be forced to move into charge range of melee troops (or ranged weapons). A Sorcerous Blast or a Nature's Wrath spell, of course, will force a Nazgul to resist a spell to avoid taking damage (or dealing damage to other units), but having units with these abilities can be very, very costly. On the whole, the user of a Nazgul should weigh what the cost of ignoring enemy spells is - usually, accepting the spell's effects will not be damaging to your character. Remember that survival until the last turn is critical for your Nazgul!
Once a Nazgul has a limited number of Will points (if the unit casts a lot of spells or fights a lot), you can sometimes let them run their course and weather their storm. At some point, every Nazgul will be down to 3 Will points or less and will (read "really should") consider strongly whether he should cast any more spells or venture too close to your battle lines (especially if you have cavalry in your army). The Nazgul will seek to remain shielded from the enemy while staying close to the action to affect the courage tests of the enemy units if/when they break, but besides that, he is a dead weight to his army. If you can weather his wrath, this can give you an opportunity to clobber enemies with surviving heroes and elite troops. It's risky, but it definitely works against cheap, unnamed Nazgul.
Think you know what it means to use a spell-caster? We're just getting started! Nazgul are good spell-casters if you need a cheap caster for your army. If you're running an army of Uruk-Hai and you're tired of buying 60 point captains who flee from every engagement, consider paying 60 points for a Ringwraith with 1M/7W/0F to benefit from his Courage 6 and neutralizing of enemy heroes - perfect! In the next post, we'll talk about what spell-casters you can use if you have a good chunk of money sitting around (or you're playing a big game one afternoon), so watch this blog!