Saturday, June 2, 2012

Understanding the Strategy: Skirmish Units

So besides spell-casters, I really like skirmish units. When given the considerations they need, skirmishers can be very powerful and can provide a real headache to an enemy general. This post will focus on why one should include skirmishers in a force and some recommendations for what skirmishers to take and how to use them for the armies of Good. I'll briefly go over some skirmish options for armies of Evil, but there aren't nearly as many to pick from.
Why take skirmishers?

Skirmishers tend to be expensive (7-25 points) and lightly armored (if armored at all). Though cheap skirmishers can be fielded effectively in large numbers, more sophisticated skirmishers can buy themselves back in points with high statistics, deadly weapons, or special capabilities. When protected, skirmishers can kill enemy units without fighting them up close, scoring kills without risking your own units. Often times, these units will make up for the additional cost you paid to take them instead of conventional "men-at-arms" warriors, who rely on shields, swords, and spears. To show how this works, allow me to highlight a few principles...

Skirmish Principle #1: Keeping Distance

Skirmish units are generally not heavily armored, which means that should they lose a fight in close-combat, the chances that they live are not very great. Skirmishers have a ranged weapon of sorts (throwing weapon or a bow) and to gain the full use of these weapons, they must keep some space between an advancing horde of foes and their fragile formations. A commander of skirmishers should keep in mind not only the distance between the foes and your skirmishers, but must also measure the distance between your skirmishers and the edge of the board or an impassible piece of terrain. Since most skirmishers will back up from their advancing foes to gain the greatest benefit of their archery, you need to be mindful of where the wall is that you will back into.

Skirmish Principle #2: One Step Ahead

Skirmishers with throwing weapons require an extra consideration before use: the commander of a contingent of throwing weapons must be mindful of who is more likely to gain priority on the following turn. If your opponent moves before you, you can bring your warriors into 6" range from his warriors, but you risk (against your average army) being charged the following turn (if he has priority). If on the following turn, you are required to move first, it will generally be best to move 6" backwards to create a gap of 12" between you and your foe. Even if he stops outside of your throwing weapon range, he will be unable to charge you on the following turn, giving you time to choose how to hit him then.
If you have infantry and your opponent has cavalry, this tactic becomes a bit more difficult to maneuver. Since your foe can move 10-12" towards you, it is possible to get past a 6" throwing weapon radius. In this case, it is best to move into throwing weapon range (when your opponent moves before you) and count on charging the foe on the following turn, taking away the benefits of the cavalry models. This may mean getting closer than 6" to your foe, but making sure that you can charge the following turn is imperative, as cavalry are great at countering throwing weapons if they can maintain distance.

Skirmish Principle #3: Knowing When To Strike

Generally speaking, charging a group of skirmishers against men-at-arms or elite warriors is a bad idea. With low defense and the benefit of ranged weapons, charging is not a good idea unless you have the advantage. Once the enemy has been cut down to size (a smaller size, that is), charging your opponent should only happen when his warriors are disadvantaged in multiple fights. Winning these fights (and hopefully killing the guy afterwards) will allow your skirmishers to defeat the detachment that has been sent to deal with you and allow you to move on to harassing the main body of troops of your foe.
Application of Principles #1: Wood Elf Warriors with throwing daggers or Elf bows

For 9 points each, Wood Elf Warriors are very powerful skirmishers. All Wood Elves can benefit from their 3+ Shoot value if they are given throwing weapons and when coupled with Elf bows, your Wood Elves can bring their innate Strength 3 to bear against enemies from a distance. If protected from enemy archery and charging units, Wood Elves can (and often do) decimate their foes and pay for their equipment quickly. 8 Wood Elf Warriors with throwing daggers and 4 Wood Elf Warriors with Elf bows can pay for their equipment by killing 5 Goblins, 4 Orcs, or 3 Uruks of any kind and statistically, this should happen in 2-3 turns if there are no shooting modifiers (in-the-way, volley fire, spells, etc.). Pretty good, huh?
Fighting against foes with 5" movement is the perfect scenario for the Wood Elf throwing daggers, as they can move after their foe does to 5.5" away from their foe, throw their weapons, and force the enemy on the next turn to move only 4.5" because of the control zone contention. After this advance, your units skip away to the 5.5" distance and let your opponent get ready for that again. If you are forced to move before he does, you have the choice of charging him with your throwing weapons OR moving 5" away, forcing him to choose whether to leave more than 6" between the two of you (can't charge the following turn) or come back into range (still can't charge you). Regardless of the choice, your skirmishers won't be charged during this turn and if the foe attempts to remain outside of your throwing dagger range, he won't be charging you next turn either.
Wood Elves also benefit from the Woodland Creature special ability, which allows them to move through wooded terrain without penalty. Wood Elves who can enter a wood while retreating from their foes will put a good-sized gap between them and their oppressors and perhaps buy an extra turn or two of harassment. Anyone who is foolish enough to pursue these Elves will see them skip right through the other side of the wood and watch as these troops become encumbered in it. If the foe tries to go around, the harassment continues and the Elves may be able to cut back the way they came and leave their foes staring at an empty back of the woods, buying more time.
6) Application of Principles #2: Dwarf Rangers with Throwing Axes or Dwarf Longbows

Dwarf Rangers provide a different kind of skirmisher: the armored kind. Very few skirmishers can get to D5, but the Dwarf Rangers do. For 10 points each, a Dwarf Ranger armed with throwing axes or a Dwarf Longbow is dangerous and capable of dealing damage to his foes. If your enemy uses Strength 2 bows, these skirmishers are some of the best to use, since their D5 means they are wounded on a 6s, instead of 5s.
Like the Elves mentioned above, the throwing axes of these Dwarves can be lethal against enemies. Unlike the Elves, however, your units only move at 5" each turn, which means that if you're playing against a foe with 6" movement you may not be able to skirmish as much. Against Goblins with 5" movement, however, you can readily engage in the steady retreat with throwing axes to reduce their numbers. Dwarf longbows can shoot just as far as Elf bows, but are only Strength 2 instead of Strength 3. This makes them good bows to include in a Dwarf army, though, since the extra 6" at a 3+ Shoot Value is great against D4 and D6 foes.

While the Elves can move through wooded terrain without penalty, Dwarf Rangers can move through rocky terrain without penalty. Just like the woods, these rocky places can give your Rangers the opportunity to place distance between them and their foes and also provide solid cover for your troops. Rocky ground can also be used to form choke points depending on their placement and this allows you to have your enemy choose to face a solid line of Dwarf Warriors or try to catch the Dwarf Rangers harassing their flank by slogging through rocky terrain. This choice will usually favor the Rangers if the foe thinks they can catch them and if they don't make that choice, your rangers should be there to hammer his flank hard and take out his spearmen.

7) Application of Principles #3: Riders of Rohan/Warriors of Rohan/Rohan Royal Guards with throwing spears

The Host of Rohan is almost exclusively a skirmish force: D4-D5 units carrying throwing weapons or bows (either on foot or on horseback) provides an army that lives and dies based on how many foes fall before combat begins. Warriors of Rohan have a standard profile with a Shoot value of 4+ and Defense 5 (when carrying a shield), allowing them to field a large band of skirmishers for 9 points each. This army, however, also provides incredible skirmishing cavalry in addition to elite skirmish infantry.
Riders of Rohan cost 13-15 points and begin with both a bow and shield. These D5 cavalry can resist enemy archer fire (though they benefit greatly from cover as well) and can be equipped with throwing weapons, allowing you to skirmish with your foe easily and outmaneuver him while keeping the fire up. If you move half of your distance, you can shoot with a bow from 24" away, allowing you to engage the enemy's light troops before they are anywhere near your forces (or take shots at his cavalry units with throwing weapons). If the enemy comes closer, you can use throwing weapons (if equipped) and hammer Defense 5 foes who close in on your troops. Though these are costly skirmish units, their effectiveness in combat is undeniable.

Rohan Royal Guards cost 10-12 points and provide an elite warrior with the ability to skirmish. With heavy armor and shields, these guys are D6 and can stand against most barrages that hit them. Throwing spears allow them to skirmish a little but if they are caught by the enemy, they bring Fight 4 to bear against their foes. Royal Guards can also be mounted for 6 points each, allowing them to bring an incredible Fight value to the advantages of cavalry outlined above.

Conclusion: Skirmishers in the Ranks of Evil
I hope this gives you a few ideas on how to employ skirmish units in your armies. I mentioned before that Armies of Evil can also field skirmish units, though their selection of units is much lower. Warg Riders, Haradhrim Raiders, Corsairs of all kinds, and Goblin Prowlers can be used to skirmish with a foe, and can use the same strategies identified above (corsairs operate a lot like Wood Elves with throwing weapons while Haradhrim cavalry have slightly lower defense but are similar to Rohan cavalry). All told, most Evil units fall into the traditional "men-at-arms" categories. In a future post, I'll show you an allied contingent at 600 points that fields an army of strictly skirmish units and see how it fairs against a foe that fields a conventional army without skirmish units to illustrate the usage of these principles. What armies will these be? Well, expect to go underground sometime very, very soon...

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