Friday, August 31, 2012

Carrying The Weight of the World: The Fellowship's Tactical Units

This is the final tactica post in the series on the Fellowship. I've got a few more games left to play and this post will highlight on the final few members of the Fellowship that I have yet to comment on. This will include a lengthy discussion on Gandalf the Grey, a shorter discussion of Gandalf the White, and an interesting conclusion on Bill the Pony. I'm not going to dedicate a separate section to tactica because doing so would be uneventful, so I'll explain some of the tactical considerations as we explore special rules and abilities.

Gandalf the Grey
Gandalf the Grey is one of the iconic characters from the Lord of the Rings and is many a man's favorite character. In the Strategy Battle Game, there are few spell-casters quite as good as the Grey Pilgrim. Gandalf's stat line is a little better than the standard profile for a wizard (1 Attack at Fight 5 and Strength 5 with Glamdring, 3 Wounds with Defense 5 and 3 rerollable Fate points thanks to his Elven ring, Courage 7, 3 Might points, 6 Will points + 1 free Will point each turn thanks to his staff of power). He also sports more spells than any wizard in the game besides Gandalf the White (more on him in a bit), giving him a lot of options during his Move phase.

Gandalf the Grey's upgrades are mounts: a horse (10 points) or Gandalf's Cart (25 points). The cart is by far the better mount choice, moving at 8" (instead of 10"), but sporting a defensive line of 3 Wounds at Defense 5 (instead of 1 Wound at Defense 4). Against Strength 2 bows, neither Gandalf nor his cart are likely to take much damage (especially if Blinding Light is in play - more on this later) and the damage that is taken should be easily sustained (3 Wounds on mount and rider with 3 re-roll Fate points for the rider). Since the cart would push Gandalf up to 195 points, it is usually best to just take Gandalf without upgrades, but the question of taking the cart should certainly be asked.
Gandalf has six spells at his disposal: three offensive and three defensive. His offensive spells are very straight-forward: Immobilize (3+), Command (4+), and Sorcerous Blast (5+). The Immobilize and Command spells allow Gandalf to make the target have 1 Attack at Fight 1 and not be able to wound his foe, which is great for making a monster (or a low-Will enemy hero) grovel at the feet of virtually any basic warrior. If performed against a killer of the Fellowship (especially Aragorn or Gimli), this can have particularly nasty results. Your enemy will likely know that this is your aim (as it is the most effective way of dealing with an enemy combat hero/monster), but at a point, there may not be anything he can do about it.

Sorcerous Blast is one Gandalf's iconic spell, utilizing raw magical power to rocket away an enemy and wipe out him and a few unlucky companions nearby. This spell will certainly be anticipated by your opponent and is best utilized if Gandalf is able to get around the flank of your foe and knock down a good chunk of his front line. Alternatively, shooting with your Sorcerous Blast at a diagonal (as shown in the picture above) can hit as many targets as a straight line, but will also knock down targets that you may not be able to reach without cavalry. Be mindful to target units without Will points, as this will make the chance of successfully casting the spell more likely.

Gandalf the Grey's three defensive spells are Terrifying Aura (2+, remains in play), Blinding Light (2+, remains in play) and Strengthen Will (4+). Terrifying Aura lives up to its name and gives Gandalf terror so long as he has a Will point left in his store. This spell should be cast early in the game and usually means you're not trying to get into a fight on the first turn. Why choose to cause terror? Since most evil units have low Courage values, this could mean that the dog-pile that usually is sent to deal with expensive spell-casters doesn't work nearly as well as it otherwise might. Blinding Light is perhaps the most valued spell on this blog, as it shields all friendly units within 6" of the caster from enemy archery unless the roll to hit is a 6 (this too remains in pay so long as Gandalf has 1 Will point left in his Will store). This has little effect against Goblins and Orcs with a 5+ Shoot value, but against Uruks or upgraded Haradhrim with a 4+ or 3+ Shoot value respectively, you will see the difference when you play.

Strengthen Will, the final defensive spell, is Gandalf's way of assisting his teammates (specifically a fellow hero). Strengthen Will allows a hero within 12" of Gandalf to EITHER regain a Will point spent earlier in the battle OR gain a Will point if they started with 0 Will at the start of the game. This cannot be used on warriors (banner-bearers, elite troops, etc.), but can greatly assist heroes who lack sufficient spell-caster protection (Boromir of Gondor, Legolas, or Gimli, Son of Gloin as key examples). You should weigh the cost of Gandalf's magical damage or capabilities during a turn you consider using Strengthen Will, as the need to preserve a power hitter as opposed to a wizard is certainly an important question.
Courtesy of   Gandalf the Grey is a great hero to take for protecting the Fellowship from damage, but in the past few games, I've found it's better to take Aragorn and deploy close to the enemy. Gandalf is a great ally to protect your warriors from archery or killers/monsters, but having a hero who can cut through the enemy easily and quickly is much to be desired. That being said, an army that was primarily built on Warriors of Rohan or Warriors of Minas Tirith (or otherwise cheap core units) and used captain-type heroes to keep the cost down could field a 39-unit contingent from their main force (426 for a 39-unit Rohan force featuring 50 point captains, or 410 for a 36-unit Minas Tirith army with two 55 point captains and a 25 point Beregond) and include Gandalf the Grey as an ally in a 600 point force. With a few modifications, these armies could also field Gandalf's Cart, which is perfect for allowing him to keep away from enemy infantry and remain relatively safe from enemy archery.
Gandalf the White
The discussion of Gandalf the White will not be nearly as extensive as the discussion on Gandalf the Grey because the differences between them are few. Their stat lines, starting wargear, and special rules are not different at all - the only difference is found in the equipment they can take and the spells they can cast (and the dice score required to cast said spells).
Gandalf the White cannot take the great cart or a horse as listed on Gandalf the Grey's profile. Instead, he can take an Elven cloak (10 points) or Shadowfax (15 points). The Elven cloak would be useful if you wanted to keep the White Wizard safe from archery, cavalry charges, or magic from a distance of greater than 6". Since you've already invested 220 points in this hero, I can see spending 10 points more to keep him from harm (like I normally do for Boromir of Gondor).

While the Elven cloak provides a defensive boost to Gandalf the White, Shadowfax provides a boost to his offensive capabilities and a slight boost to his defensive capabilities. On the offense, you have a 12" movement which allows you to get your wizard into position to deal the maximum possible damage with his Sorcerous Blast spell (more on that in a moment). Since you paid 235 points for this hero, he needs to kill more than 20 units in order to pay for him (unless you get a hero or two in that count), so Sorcerous Blast is going to be where it's at. Shadowfax also allows Gandalf to charge the enemy from a great distance (with a second attack), which is also nice. Defensively, Shadowfax gives Gandalf a permanent in-the-way roll because he's a mount, which should direct a few shots towards the D5 horse instead of the rider. For 10 points less than the cart, Shadowfax is an excellent purchase, trading 2 wounds for an extra 4" of movement and an additional unit to assist the White Wizard.

Gandalf the White also has access to the six spells that Gandalf the Grey has and adds "Your Staff Is Broken!", which can take away the benefit of a wizard's staff of power (free will point and two-handed weapon). Though not an often-used spell, it certainly provides an incentive to not take Saruman (as if we needed a reason in most cases, right?). The other benefit that Gandalf the White has is that four of the six spells cast by Gandalf the Grey are cast more easily by Gandalf the White. Terrifying Aura and Blinding Light are still cast on a 2+, but all of the other spells improved by one step, making Immobilize cast on a 2+, Command and Strengthen Will cast on a 3+, and Sorcerous Blast cast on a 4+. This opens up a lot of options, which I will detail briefly below.
Courtesy of .  I play a lot with Saruman with my Uruk-Hai and it's very nice when you know you can all-but guarantee that you will cast Transfix (evil version of Immobilize), but it's also very useful to be able to cast Compel (evil version of Command) on a 3+ (also, passed in most cases easily). When cast against a banner-bearer, a melee hero who has little or no remaining Will points, or a monster, you can neutralize the effectiveness of your enemy's army pretty quickly. Gandalf the White, therefore, gets to decide whether or not it is beneficial to move his foe, rather than whether he wants to move his foe. Since both immobilizing or commanding his target is relatively easy, the choice becomes much simpler.   
Strengthen Will and Sorcerous Blast are tactical offensive and defensive spells: Strengthen Will being cast on a 3+ means that you can aid a friend who is under attack from a spell-caster or bolster the courage of a nearby hero who began without magical protection (like Theoden). Though this has obvious implications if you are fighting a spell-caster, it also helps if you need to pass Courage tests (either after your force is broken or because you are facing an army with lots of terror and maybe a Ringwraith or two). Sorcerous Blast is Gandalf's chief offensive capability and (besides Blinding Light) his greatest contribution. Since the spell is cast on a 4+, it is best employed against a warrior with no Will points. Shadowfax should ensure that you get this look if you want it, but keep in mind that the goal with this hero is just to cast the spell correctly. Doing damage will be great, but placing the enemy on the ground and then charging them (or retreating while firing) can kill just as easily.
In my assessment, as great as Gandalf the White is, he was one of the units that suffered most from the new sourcebooks. Under the Legions of Middle-Earth rules, he could be fielded in the Tower of Ecthelion list and if this were true under the warband rules of the new sourcebooks, he would likely find a place alongside the armies of Gondor. But as it is now, you will need to pay additional points to get the heroes you need to field a warband and then ally in the White Wizard. Unless you are fielding captains and basic troops for most armies (7-8 points a piece), you are not likely to see more than 2.5 warbands with this hero added. On a side note, Gandalf the White used to have a 12" stand Fast, which he lost as well (in my opinion, that's the greatest blow he took).
On the whole, I would stay away from taking him for two reasons. First, you can field Gandalf and 3-5 other warriors (depending on whether you take the cart or not) to protect him while he casts his spells. The only loss that Gandalf the Grey suffers from his future self is the ease in which he casts his spells. As a frequent user of Gandalf when I started the hobby, I'll say from experience that with the exception of Sorcerous Blast, the other spells are cast relatively easily or are rarely needed. when I fielded Gandalf the Grey with my Wood Elves, I relied on him to 1) protect my low-defense Elves from enemy archery, and 2) immobilize monsters or enemy heroes. The occasional Sorcerous Blast helped to be sure, but his place in the army wasn't so much to be a killer as it was to enable my other units to kill. With the addition of the cart, you're talking about taking a great spell-caster with a mount that protects him from a lot of archery. I'd say that's a better deal than Gandalf the White.

Bill the Pony
So, to make sure that a Fellowship-only army has multiple warbands, Bill the Pony finally has received rules for the Strategy Battle Game. Bill the Pony comes in at 30 points and has a rather unimpressive profile for a hero but a great profile for a pony. With 2 Wounds (at Defense 4), a Will and Fate point, and 1 Attack (at Fight 1 and Strength 3), Bill is above average but not far above. In order to field him, you need to field Sam, so you are committing to 60 points worth of no-killing machines. Why buy the pony then?
A few reasons: first and foremost, Bill maximizes the potential of hobbits because they treat him like a banner. This means, of course, that he is most effective if the other hobbits (or at least a chunk of them) are taken. This could be a lump total of 80 points then for the Bill-Sam-Merry-Pippin contingent, but that's 4 units for less than 100 points in a 500 or 600 point battle, which isn't that bad. I have learned from experience, though, that this banner bonus doesn't matter much if you're fighting Fight 4 villains, so beware of Uruk-Hai and sometimes Haradhrim. In exchange for the banner bonus to hobbits, Bill can use the Stand Fast of a friendly hobbit, which allows him to bypass his rating of Courage 2.

The second reason that Bill is valuable is because of the potential for greater killing capability, magical resistance, or survivability for your killing heroes. One hero from the Fellowship may be in base contact with Bill at the end of his Move phase and roll a dice: on the roll of a 6, the unit regains 1 Might, Will, or Fate point that he spent earlier in the battle. If Legolas were shooting from behind Bill (or Aragorn fighting in front of Bill), you could potentially get a lot back from Bill. Though I have not focused very much on utilizing these rules in the games I've played to date, the potential for these benefits still exists.

I've also learned that it helps to have Gandalf around if you use Bill. Keeping Bill safe from archery is nearly impossible, so making sure he doesn't get shot is a nice boon. Alternatively, starting near your enemy might complicate the shots of the enemy, but nothing quite beats Gandalf's Blinding Light spell. This is especially dangerous when Bill is within 6" of Gandalf (with Blinding Light active) and Legolas is shooting from behind the two of them: in this way, Legolas could regain a Might point that he used previously and has a clear in-the-way roll from the horse. A similar strategy could protect Boromir of Gondor with his Elven cloak from being shot - all for 30 points.


I hope this has been helpful and that together with the other two posts, you'll have some greater understanding for the uses of each Fellowship member. I really like the army list and find them fun to use (though each game is a struggle). If you have a Fellowship army and have combos that you like, please feel free to share in comments or link to a battle report/tactica article location. If you have sample army lists that can sport Gandalf the Grey or Gandalf the White, I'd also like to see those in comments. Happy hobbying!

1 comment:

  1. Definitely agree on the Gandalf the White assessment: as a major Elrond fan, I've always wondered what would happen if in a team game one player fielded Elrond, and the other fielded Gandalf the Grey, as one could play killer/stunting force (Nature's Wrath) and the other play tactical. We should try this sometime, :)

    Major fan of Bill: I've been thinking about a larger contingent of Hobbits for my Grey Company, as it would be awesome to have Bill and Sam rocking with a troop of Dunedain, and restoring might points from last round's charge. Still, 30 points is almost a complete band of Rangers of Arnor for a Dunedain, so I'm not sure I'd make the expenditure.