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.

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