Saturday, July 28, 2012

The Fellowship: The Strength of the Company

So, let's admit it, we play with the Fellowship warband not because we like playing with hobbits or ponies, but because of the epic heroes that can be fielded. Yes, we can't have a large (conventional-sized) army, but the units we have are specialist fighters and very, VERY fun to use. In this post, we're going to depart from the generally-below-average statistics of the hobbits (and Smeagol) that we looked at in the last post and instead, we're going to focus on the heroes who pretty much do one thing well: killing Orcs, Goblins, and evil men.

1) Aragorn - Strider
Rules & Stats
Aragorn is the king of all killers, sporting an excellent offensive stat line (Fight 6/3+, Strength 4, 3 Attacks, and 3 Might points) in addition to a decent defensive stat line (Defense 5, 3 Wounds, and 3 Fate points). Aragorn's "Mighty Hero" special rule allows him to spend a Might point for free each round, giving him access to more Might points during a game than any other hero available. Aragorn's wargear options are vast and most of them can be useful. For 5 points, Aragorn could choose to take a bow or armor (or pay 10 points for both). The bow allows him not only to capitalize on his 3+ shoot value, but also means that he can use his free Might points sooner. With the new scenario rules in the sourcebooks, you can (of course) start very near to your enemy and get into combat sooner, but if you want to play more defensively, the bow can really help. The armor makes Aragorn Defense 6, which is my standard for a good defense rating (as Strength 2 and Strength 3 bows or melee attacks wound on 6s). I generally say that taking the armor is a good idea (unless you're fighting Uruk-Hai), though the bow is optional.
Aragorn could also take an Elven cloak or a horse for 10 points. The Elven cloak is great for ensuring that Aragorn doesn't become an archery pin-cushion before getting into combat, but it also ensures that a Nazgul or Barrow-Wight doesn't begin casting spells on Aragorn before he's close to the enemy battle lines (hopefully allowing Aragorn to cut through the lines and charge the spell-caster after a turn or two). The horse doesn't provide protection for Aragorn, but having 10" of movement means that you can close in on enemy archers very quickly and when you charge them, you have 4 Attacks at Fight 6 - perfect! I haven't played with Aragorn mounted yet, but if you have other cavalry (Riders of Rohan?) this might be a nice combo.

Finally, you can give Aragorn Anduril for 75 points. This is tied for the most expensive item in the game (Sauron can take the One Ring for 75 points and I think that an armored Fell Beast might be that much) and can be useful, but generally I'd say it's overpriced. Anduril allows Aragorn to wound any foe on a 4+, which is great if you are consistently fighting D7 or higher units, but on the whole, I'd be fine with wounding D5 and D6 foes on a 5+ and pay 75 points for a contingent of Rangers or another hero to guard Aragorn's back.

Purpose in the Army
Aragorn is your killer and he's a must if you're fighting Uruk-Hai. Because I'm a nerd, I'm going to take you through a quick analysis of why this is the case:
We know that statistically, your chances of rolling a 5+ on a single dice is 1/3 (33%). Since Aragorn has a free Might point, all he needs is a 5 on his highest dice to win the fight (wounding will be harder, but life is sweet).
When we up this to two dice, we get nine possible combinations, with the rows being when Dice A is rolling a 1-2 (top row), 3-4 (middle row), or a 5-6 (bottom row). The columns represent Dice B rolling a 1-2 (left column), 3-4 (center column), or a 5-6 (right column). Our chances of rolling a 5+ on two dice, therefore becomes 5/9 (55%). Not bad right?
But Aragorn rolls three dice, so this is a layered three-dimensional demonstration of the likelihood of rolling a 5+ on three dice. Each 3x3 square is the same as laid out above for two dice, but now we have three levels of these rolls with the left square representing when Dice C is a 1-2, the center square representing a 3-4 on Dice C, and the right square (completely full!) represents a 5-6 on Dice C. The chances of getting a 5+ with three dice (as Aragorn rolls) is 19/27 (a 70% chance). Against units with Fight 5 or less, Aragorn should win his fights (at least in 7/10 cases).
So why is Aragorn a must against Uruk-Hai? Uruks come into a field all their own when they get to wound people. The Fighting Uruk-Hai that I field have a Defense 6 shield-wall that can carve through an enemy Defense 6 enemy line with relative ease. In the case of the Fellowship, most of the Fellowship heroes who are not hobbits will be wounded on 5s and all the hobbits, Bill, and Smeagol will be wounded on 4s (unless Frodo has his mithril mail on). That's a lot of pain if the Uruks win. As a result, you want heroes who won't lose and Aragorn is that man - winning 7 out of 10 fights, he should be able to carve through quite a few Uruks before he takes a wound (and with 3-6 wounds including Fate saves, you're looking pretty good for one turn if you're not trapped).
So how do you maximize the potential of this amazing hero? Heroic combats! A common tactic for armies of Evil to deal with killer heroes like Aragorn (especially those with lots of disposable units) is to throw a single warrior at the hero in order to keep him from doing maximal damage. A heroic combat by any hero could be called, but with the usual 2-3 Might points, you won't be cutting through very many units this way. Aragorn, however, is a different kettle of fish: with a free Might point each turn, you can call a Heroic combat for free and finish up the unit you're fighting rather easily (or so the hope is). Once the foe falls, force your way into more dire fights, assisting other heroes, raining on an enemy hero's day, or bashing through more rank-and-file troops to break the army.
Aragorn also works well with other heroes and in this post, I'm going to briefly review a hero (or two) who can be incredibly helpful to the hero highlighted. In this case, Aragorn can be helped by his good friend Gildor Inglorion (Rivendell & Eregion army list). This Wood Elf commander comes in a 80 points, and has a fairly standard Elven hero profile: Fight 6 with 2 Attacks and Strength 4, 2 Wounds with Defense 4. He has 1M/4W/1F and can cast Immobilize on a 3+. This is the reason he is a great complement to Aragorn. I mentioned before that Aragorn's chances of rolling a 6 (or promoting it with his free Might point) is a 70% chance, but this really comes into its own field when Aragorn is fighting a unit with a lower Fight value than his own. What happens if Aragorn is fighting a Troll (Fight 6 or Fight 7)? This is risky at best, but Gildor's Immobilize spell can reduce any hero or monster to Fight 1 and 1 Attack. What are the chances that Aragorn loses the fight now? Not very high... The pair cost ~260 points, which is expensive for most games, but the pairing can easily defeat enemy heroes, especially those who are traditional killing-focused heroes (1-2 Will points for most captain-type units and an occasional 3 Will in others).
2) Boromir of Gondor

Rules & Stats
While Aragorn is the best hero you can field with the Fellowship, Boromir of Gondor is, point for point, the best aggressive combat hero available to an army of Good. For 105 points, you receive a hero with the necessary 3 Attacks at Fight 6 and Strength 4 and a special rule which makes Boromir win the combat automatically if the enemy with the highest Courage rating fails a Courage test. With 6 Might points to ensure that fights are won or near-wounds become wounds, there are very few armies that Boromir of Gondor can't handle. Defensively, Boromir of Gondor is left wanting, though with 3 Wounds at Defense 6 and no Fate points, his foes will still find tackling this hero a bit daunting.
Boromir has access to two items: a horse and an Elven cloak. As mentioned above under Aragorn's profile, the horse allows Boromir not only to enter fights sooner, but also allows him to gain an additional Attack when charging infantry. The added knock-down bonus provides Boromir with a greater likelihood of wounding his foes and saving his Might points for a later date. The Elven cloak is, in my opinion, a better item for Boromir, as it prevents Boromir from taking damage from arrows until he is up-close and personal - just where you want him. Even at that close range, his allied units should provide a cover screen to at least provide an in-the-way roll and protect their friend. Mounting up is great and all, but you make a fine target for every able-bodied bowman on the map.
Purpose in the Army
Boromir of Gondor is as one-dimensional as they come: he is built to kill units and not much else. In the Fellowship warband, Boromir is a cheap substitute for Aragorn, but not a wise substitute for Gimli or Legolas in general (more on that later). Boromir's Might points allow him to also call Heroic Combats effectively, allowing him (and say, Gimli or Aragorn) to move on to other fights that are more pressing. The mobility that you can have with Boromir in your army is superb, provided he stays alive long enough to call these actions before being shot or slain by magical attacks (1 Will point isn't going to help you much in the long-term).
Boromir is best employed when charging multiple opponents. Though you can often find multiple opponents if you drift to the end of your battle-line, I would suggest keeping him near the center of your line. If you have the opportunity to charge the enemy, charge Boromir into more than one person (forcing a Courage test). Be aware of enemy shamans or war priests who allow all units of their race or heritage to pass any Courage test they need to take, as this quite effectively negates Boromir's special rule. Once the battle is raging, Boromir really doesn't require too much tact to use. Ensure that you win fights, as you shouldn't assume you'll survive a round of wounding.
Boromir of Gondor should be focused on forcing Courage tests and ensuring that those fail. If Good had a unit with a Harbinger of Evil or Ancient Evil special rule, that would be beneficial, and it so happens that in a way, they're in luck. Galadriel, Lady of the Galadhrim is available in the White Council list. For 230 points (or 240 points if Boromir has an Elven cloak), you can purchase both heroes who sport Fight 6, 3 Attacks, and Strength 4. Galadriel's Elven blade (two-handed weapon or hand weapon) and 3 Might points means that she can be a real killer in close-combat, but she also inflicts a -1 penalty to the Courage rating of all foes within 6" of her. This mini-Harbinger of Evil special rule allows her also to capitalize on her own Terror rule, but further benefits Boromir if he stays close. Galadriel also has a single spell: Blinding Light - perfect for making sure that Boromir isn't shot up too early. Used in tandem with an Elven cloak, you could run through many an enemy with this pairing.
3) Gimli, Son of Gloin

Rules & Stats
Gimli, Son of Gloin, is (point for point) the best resilient hero available to an army of Good and certainly the most resilient unit available to the Fellowship warband. With an impressive offensive stat line (Fight 6 with 2-3 Attacks at Strength 4 and 3 Might points, more on this later) joined with a most impressive defensive stat line (2 Wounds at Defense 8 and 2 Fate points), very few units will be wounding Gimli easily (and Strength 3 units will need to roll a 6 followed by another dice that scores a 4+). When Uruk-Hai (captains and warriors) are only wounding you on a 6, you know you found a good unit. Gimli's Axes of the Dwarves! special rule allows him to choose between 3 Attacks or 2 Attacks with his special two-handed axe (+1 to wound, no -1 penalty to win the fight). In my opinion, Gimli is the best hero available to Good armies in the game because of his flexibility on offense and his stalwart defensive stats.
Purpose in the Army
Gimli's purpose in the army is simple: kill lots of basic troops with his throwing axes and hand axes. For 90 points, very few heroes can deal out the death and punishment that Gimli does. Like Boromir, Gimli is very one-dimensional, but he does take a bit more skill to use. Unlike Boromir, Gimli does have a ranged weapon, allowing him to dig into an enemy in the Move phase and if he slays his foe, he can then charge someone else, further upping his kill potential.
Gimli's flexibility is also seen in his choice of weapons. He can choose to either have 3 Attacks OR 2 Attacks with +1 to wound. In my opinion, there are only two cases in which the +1 to wound is helpful. First, if Gimli is being assisted by another unit (orseveral units) who can increase the chances of rolling a 6 (or otherwise winning dice roll). Losing 1 dice that Gimli could use Might to improve is a hit to be sure, but with a friend or two, the +1 to wound is an excellent bonus.
The second case in which I would recommend using the two-handed weapon is if your foe is trying to tie down your hero with a single warrior. This is one of the most effective strategies for dealing with a killer in any army, and this is the time when you want to be able to call a heroic combat, wound your foe quickly, and help with the rest of the battle.
Gimli is one of those characters who could work with anyone, but my favorite pal for him is a Dwarf Shield-bearer. Not only does the pair of them cost 150 points, but you can hold a position and kill lots of guys with this combination. The Dwarf Shield-bearer should have one warrior between himself and Gimli, ensuring that he is within 3" of Gimli. 
When the Fight phase begins, the Shield-bearer can call a free Heroic Combat and if he succeeds, he must try to get into Gimli's fight. By placing another unit between Gimli and the shield-bearer, we have prevented the shield-bearer from entering that fight and instead can move him to a different fight (like the one next to him!). On the following turn, the shield-bearer will be within range again and can repeat the process again.

The best thing about using the shield-bearer is that Gimli no longer needs to call heroic combats, as another friendly hero is doing one per turn. This allows the mighty Dwarf to save his Might points for winning fights or killing foes.

4) Legolas

Rules & Stats
Legolas was my favorite hero when I began collecting because I misunderstood his "to-hit" special rule (see next paragraph for details), but even after the rule was clarified, I really liked the famed archer from Mirkwood. It was because of Legolas that I chose to invest in Wood Elves and since that time, I'm glad I made the choice I did. Legolas is, in my opinion and with clear and convincing evidence, the best ranged hero in the game and is often considered to be one of the best heroes for cost that an army of Good can purchase. For 90 points, you have an Elf hero with a traditional profile: Fight 6/3+, Strength 4, Defense 4 (unarmored), 2 Attacks, 2 Wounds, 6 Courage. You also receive 3 Might/2 Will/3 Fate, which is far above your average Elf captain.
Legolas is also the only hero to have the Deadly Shot special rule. With this rule, he can choose to either shoot three times during the Shoot phase (more than any other hero in the game) or shoot a single shaft which hits his target regardless of "in-the-way" rolls or the "shooting into a friendly combat" rule. Since Legolas wields an Elf bow (Strength 3 with a range of 24"), Legolas can tackle Defense 5 foes with relative ease, which is better than most bow-armed warriors.
Legolas' equipment choices are simple: you can take armor for 5 points, an Elven cloak for 10 points, or a horse for 10 points. Each of these options has value, but my standard equipment choice for Legolas is just the armor. Since all Evil armies wield even-Strength bows, getting Legolas to Defense 5 is great for keeping him safe from enemy archery (as Strength 2 bows will be wounding him on a 6). The Elven cloak is a handy item, as it can protect you from archery until the enemy gets close and maximizes the effectiveness of your own archery by negating the charge range of cavalry. Generally speaking, though, I would take a friendly archer (or a melee warrior to stand between me and my foes) over taking the cloak. A horse gives Legolas added mobility and provides a built-in in-the-way roll (two if you are behind some form of cover). While harder to hide Legolas, a horse allows him to decimate foes with Movement 5 and also allows him to rush to cover if necessary.

Purpose in the Army
By and large, Legolas is the archery of the Fellowship. Though he is the best archer in the game, again in my opinion, Legolas often has his work cut out for him. If a horde of Goblins approaches, does he fire into the rank-and-file or does he look to the troll (or trolls) among them? If Gandallf stands ready to handle the troll, does Legolas deal with the Bats or the Goblins first? The choices will have costs, but Legolas' primary duty is to make life easier for his comrades (and it often helps if he can kill his weight in units before he falls).
The only "tactica" issues that the wielder of Legolas needs to consider are as follows: how many arrows should I shoot, and who should I take to be Legolas' protector. My general rules of thumb for how many arrows I shoot are:
1) If Legolas is participating in a volley team, use the single arrow, as you guarantee one arrow in your volley team hitting its target.
2) If your opponent brings the Shadow Lord (or some other hero who inhibits the archery prowess of your team), use the single arrow to knock out the guy.
3) If there is a hero or warrior who is immobilized, paralyzed, or otherwise at a severe disadvantage in a fight, it is often useful to use the single arrow to take off some of the pressure.
4) Unless your gut is giving you a different feeling, I recommend shooting with the three arrows in every other case. Don't use your Might to promote your to-hit dice, and use them when you are trying to wound a key unit (a Barrow-Wight, a charging Uruk-Hai, etc.). These shots are best spent on units with 1 Wound and Defense 3-5. Remember also that the instances above where I recommend using a single arrow are for when that shot is going to do something game-changing - shooting once just to hit automatically may not be the best choice (like if you're about to be swarmed by foes). Legolas does not often wound 3 times, but I've seen it done on more than one occasion and some of those times are recorded on this blog. Usually, you will average one kill per round, but if that kill happens to be a valuable one (like a 50 point Barrow-Wight), you can pay for Legolas quickly.
Like Gimli, Legolas does well working with almost anyone. I'll highlight two possible allies with Legolas because your focus for your ally will either be to further boost your team's archery or to team in a competent melee hero to work in tandem with (and protect) Legolas. If archery is your goal, Legolas' father, Thranduil, is an excellent choice. With a single shot that hist on a 2+, Thranduil is a dependable archer. His base cost is the same as his son's, but hebegins with both armor and an Elven cloak. Though he has less Fate points than his son and shoots less arrows each turn, Thranduil provides two other key benefits to your army.
First, if you are fielding Wood Elf Warriors, Thranduil can upgrade them to Mirkwood Guard, who share his 2+ Shoot value. For 2 points per model, this upgrade will be expensive but could be worth every penny. One kill that results from an arrow that hit on a 2+ will pay for the upgrade of 3-5 warriors, which should cover a good many who you upgrade this way. You also will deal a psychological blow to your opponent, who will be saddened that almost all of your arrows hit his warriors.

Thranduil's other benefit to the team is wrapped in his Circlet of Kings special rule. The crown that Thranduil wears allows him to cast two spells automatically: Aura of Dismay (which makes all units within 6" of him when he ends his movement cause Terror) and Nature's Wrath (which knocks down all enemy units within 6" of him). Aura of Dismay is best cast when you have priority or when you call a Heroic Move, as terror only affects enemy units who are trying to charge the terror unit. Nature's Wrath can be used whether you move first or not, as you will be knocking down your enemy to make fights more one-sided or knocking them down to allow your units to fade towards the trees more.

Though we are still trying to reconcile how a spell (like Nature's Wrath) can be cast automatically when it is usually resistible, our current solution is either to treat the spell like a 6 was roll to cast it (consistent with the Cave Dweller rule) or allow Thranduil to cast the spell on a 1+ while rolling two free dice (for a reference to how a Doubles Tournament determined how to treat this rule, see the following link on the Last Alliance forum). In either case, we here at TMAT believe that the spell should be resistible in order to be fair. The only time I've play-tested Thranduil, I cast the spell while no enemy heroes were within the radius of the blast, so it was a moot issue. If Legolas stands beside his father, you can guarantee that they will have some distance put between them and the melee foes of the enemy who seek to charge them.
If you are looking for a melee hero to team with Legolas, Gimli is my favorite choice. For 185 points, there isn't much of a pairing that beats Legolas with armor and Gimli. We've already detailed how strong Gimli is as a hero, but when you have him guarding Legolas from a melee assault, you have a truly daunting force. If you view the games that I've played with the Fellowship on this blog, you will see a clear difference between the games where Gimli was assigned to protect Legolas and when he was acting on his own.
These are my thoughts on the Fellowship. In the final post I'll be making on Fellowship tactica, we'll be looking at Gandalf the Grey, his successor Gandalf the White, and Bill the Pony. If you have strategies (or common combos) with these heroes, I'd love to hear about them in comments!


1 comment:

  1. Good post - that would explain why I had such a trouble killing that guy in past games, :)

    I share your fears about facing trolls without a spellcaster mitigating his fight value, though I perhaps have a greater fear of paying over 250 pts for two characters (especially when you can get other heroes, like an Elf Captain) that could tie his fight value and use might points to make 6s. I'd likely roll with Aragorn and Halbarad over Gildor (in the hopes of either taking him down fast with archery or giving us a chance at redemption if there's a low roll), but that's probably because I roll with Grey Company more.

    I agree, though, that for the points, one of the best combos is Legolas and Gimli: there aren't many heroes that have the longevity of Gimli in a fight, or the winnowing power of Legolas, for under 200 points. Although, Eomer and Erkenbrand... :)