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.

1 comment:

  1. Good thoughts - I especially like the idea of placing Saruman in a 600 pt army. I've seen Saruman used in situations where he was the only hero in the army, and it didn't go very well, :)