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 points...my 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!


  1. I've faced off with Saruman a number of times, and since I use a Rohan army that focuses on Eomer + Royal Guards + gobs and gobs of infantry, my strategy is usually pretty predictable: engage most of his troops with my infantry, break through the ranks (usually of Uruk-Hai) with the royal guards, and flank Saruman with Eomer, as 4 dice on the charge + might points means I usually don't lose (and even if I do, he has trouble killing either Eomer or the armored horse).

    I have considered taking a different approach to him: I've bought a number of cavalry (which would be harder to blast away), and am experimenting with a Parthian strategy for whittling away high-cost heroes, and I think it will work quite nicely against Saruman in particular (though, with your history with Radagast being as impressive as it is, I'd also be interested in testing it against him as well).

    Looking forward to reading the other articles! I'm thinking about purchasing a Nazgul to assist my Uruk-Hai, but we'll see how that goes, :)

    1. Shooting at Saruman will probably work, but the other wizards will give you a hard time. Since Saruman lacks Cast Blinding Light (CBL), his resiliency to archery is limited to his D5 rating (which is good against Riders of Rohan, but not a guaranteed shrug-off). For Gandalf the Grey (or White), the D5 rating is bolstered by CBL, which makes the statistical likelihood of suffering a single wound 1/36 shots (and you get a rerollable Fate save after this). Galadriel's CBL makes the likelihood of her being wounded by S2 bows 1/18 shots with rerollable Fate saves(not as good, but still pretty good). Technically, the Dark Lord Sauron or Sauron the Necromancer falls into this category of spell-casters too and though they lack CBL, their high Defense (read, "you're rolling 2 dice for all S2 or S3 bows") makes archery less appealing.

      Finally, you mention Radagast. Unlike all of the other spell-casters (except Gandalf the White if you wish to pay for it), Radagast can have an Elven cloak, which not only prevents him from being shot at from a distance of more than 6" if he's obscured by something (like a squat Dwarf), but he also cannot be charged unless the unit _begins_ his move within 6" of Radagast. This means that a cavalry unit could be 7" away from Radagast (within charge range) and would be unable to charge him that turn if something was obscuring his vision. While you're within that charge range (no matter what your steed is), you are still considering charging the only unit with the Panic Steed spell, which will dismount a rider who lacks Fate points on a 2+...and he gets a free dice.