Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Grey Company - Strategy and Tactics

Dear Reader,

Greetings again from the Forge!  Following the last article on the Dunedain, I wanted to tie together a number of the things we discussed about each unit, and outline a few of the combinations that can be effectively used by a Grey Company or Arnor player.  I will preface with the typical warning of any gamer:

This is only my opinion.  Others will disagree with some of my assessments, but I believe that these are good tips to keep in mind, blah-blah-blah...

Okay, now that that's out of the way, let's talk strategy, :)  In this post, I want to focus on not only the units that I use (and have found effective over the past year), but also on some helpful tips that a Grey Company player should keep in mind to increase the longevity and effectiveness of his units, as that is the primary sticking point for any GC army.  I will also be including some thoughts about Arnor-specific armies, especially for those who run LOME lists, and want to stick with a "Grey Company v. Arnor" paradigm.

Strategy Overview

There are three things that are useful to discuss before launching into specific strategies: the strengths of this list, the weaknesses of this list, and how to spot a crisis scenario for your units.  As mentioned one of my previous posts, a lot of the strategy for a Grey Company player comes "in the moment," just as the battle is getting hardest, so knowing when things are just not working and a need comes to reform and reinvent your list in the midst of battle is paramount to success with this army.

1.  Strengths of the Grey Company: Damage Per Round

Warning: Targets in line of sight may
be closer than they appear.  Results
of archery may vary.
If there are only two civs in the LOTR SBG that are designed almost exclusively for damage over defense (which, I would argue, there are more, but not many that are as apparent as these two civs), it is the Wood Elves and the Grey Company side of Arnor.  As mentioned in the last post, the vast majority of your units are D4, so survivability will always be on your mind, especially against S3 and S4 units.  What you shouldn't have to worry about, though, is damage per round.

Optimize your kills every round.  In a 500-600 point game, you should be doing at least 2-4 kills every round, especially before reaching close-combat.  As mentioned before, you can do this through lots of S2 archery (even with multiple volley lines to target different divisions of the enemy army), quick sally charges with S4 hero units, and some of the tactics mentioned later in this post.  In close combat, you should easily meet this quota - get creative with your archery to maximize kills at range.

2.  Weaknesses of the Grey Company: Sustainability

Daerdan and two Rangers of Arnor,
all D4, are beset by Hunter Orcs
There are three things that GC armies should take to heart in providing sustainability for their warriors.  First, as much as possible, avoid bare places, not open spaces.  As you scratch your head over my last statement, consider the strengths of the Grey Company: lots of archery, a good Fight value, and the chance to move through difficult terrain with ease if you field Aragorn, Isildur's Heir.  What you want to avoid is being a sitting duck with D4 (the worst possible place to be), but you don't want to embrace a Goblin Town/Osgiliath-style map either, which will restrict your archery and logistical options through tunnel or urban fighting (the next worse possible place to be).  Thus, avoid bare places (where there is no strategic advantage to deploying units), but don't aim for close spaces - aim for open spaces that give you options for tactical deployment, but do not leave you completely exposed.

Second, take stock of your opponent's army upon deployment, and carefully determine which portions of the army must go down first, and which you would prefer to take down first.  I may be dreading facing that troll that Zorro is fielding, or I may be terrified (literally) of the hero that Tiberius is fielding.  That's not what's important: what's important for my force is to determine what must go down in order to preserve my warriors.  While that S5 hero may cause problems at close combat, those Uruk crossbows that the General Will is fielding are going to cause a problem well before the others do, and will likely punch serious holes in my lines before we draw swords (as he did at the last tournament).  Make your priorities based on survivability, not on what you would prefer not to fight.

Finally, the Roman maxim of "march divided, fight concentrated" is helpful to remember here.  Teaming and ganging on elements of the enemy army (especially in a warband game), even if only in your archery, will do wonders in leaving elements of the enemy army impotent against your force.  Again, aim for kills, but also reduce your opponent's force to unhelpful components (as opposed to destroyed components), as it will save your units and (likely) the victory as well.

3.  Crisis Scenario: The Long Haul

What all Arnor forces dread - Grey Company and Arnor proper - is the long game.  Anything beyond 8-9 rounds (especially with the new warband deployment rules) will likely spell single digit survivors, if any, for Arnor.  With low Courage values for your heavy infantry and low Defense values for your strong courage units, Grey Company units thrive on breaking enemy armies in 5-6 rounds, as their high Fight value and wide spread of Might points helps you in 1-1 situations in Rounds 7 and onward.  If your force is in Round 7 or 8 and the enemy is not broken, be very careful in watching your victory conditions, and rake them in as quickly as possible, or you will lose (as Game I at the Red October Tournament showed - lots of damage, but no victory).

Strategy and Tactics

With all that discussed, I want mention four specific strategies that may be helpful for you in combat.  Some will no doubt say, after reading this post, "Glenstorm, you forgot to mention the 'stay-back-and-shoot-them-all-until-Orome-returns-again' strategy, which is obviously what GC is designed to do!"  A few notes on that:

1) That's not how I play: because I do not believe in the "ever falling back" approach to combat, I don't recommend it on this blog. :)  I view archery as a means of softening my enemy's ranks as I advance, not the primary attack I resort to before hitting my opponent's line in a last ditch effort to break him.  Maybe I'm the only player that does this - I'm okay with it, :)  I will warn you in advance, though, that the strategies below come from my approach to playing, not the "ever-shooting" mindset, so make adjustments to what I say as you read to complement your style of gameplay.

2) People don't like it when you play like that, so I'm not going to recommend it on a blog: If there is one thing that irritates a player in Warhammer, it's an enemy he cannot catch, and an opponent that knows that you cannot catch him, and does it anyway. :)  I believe in tactfully using your surroundings, but also realizing the importance of drawing closer to the enemy each turn so that I can ensure a solid melee combat match-up, rather than the run-shoot-hide strategy that a lot of people recommend with Arnor-based civs.  But most importantly...

3) Maybe that strategy is just so obvious that I don't need to blog about it? ;)  Yeah - I'll leave it there, :)  In the next section, I'll be discussing four tactical strategies you can use that are not intuitive to this list, and thus may be of help to you when thinking through deployment and approach at the start of a game, up until you start slogging through melee combat.

1.  The Wheel
A body of rangers wheels from their
cover behind the ruins
All of our Warhammer Fantasy players are familiar with the term "wheeling," as are any readers that have at all studied medieval battle tactics.  Maneuvering a block of warriors allows you to cover weak units, provide strength as needed, and meet enemy advances from places of strength on the battlefield.  

This strategy is most helpful when you are meeting a two-deep block of infantry, especially blocks that are less that seven models wide.  Grey Company forces offer spears that are also archers, giving you a chance to both support your front rank and attempt to take out your opponent's spear support after the fight has been declared.  Optimally, you will also have banner support (either from Halbarad Dunadan with the Banner of Arwen Evenstar or Aragorn, Isildur's Heir) to assist you in winning the fights.  Once the first round of combat is finished, take stock of the deployment, check for possible assistance from your opponent to this block of men, and engage as many of your warriors around the flanks of the formation as possible.  Once the corps is consumed, reform, and wheel yourself in position to strike again.

2.  The Bullpen

I'm actually not making a baseball reference here - I'm making a rodeo reference.  I had a chance to see a rodeo in-person about 18 months ago, and while I really enjoyed the barrel riding, steer chasing, and bronco riding, I was also captivated with the bullpen for very different reasons.  I had conceptual thoughts for a Grey Company force at the time (hadn't paid up for the army yet), and I noticed the similarities between fielding a GC army and the place where they keep the bulls at a rodeo (nerd, I know...).

At a rodeo, there are two things that the staff are looking for: 1) mad bulls that will have a lot of energy when they come out, and 2) no goring of man or beast before, during, or after the event.  For bulls, this means a tight place where they cannot run around (as that will tire them out), but with enough space that they will not kill each other or any unfortunate cowboy/hand who goes to fetch them.  This is the same predicament for a Grey Company player, and I recommend you find the balance that the cowboy has: with a bullpen.

Here is a recommendation on how not to do it:

The standard "Killbox" Formation

Why do I recommend against this?  It is way too obvious to your opponent, and he will attempt to buck against it (by flinging toward a side) and bring in extra help from outside units against the exposed flanks of your outermost elements (and Too Many Bulls + Not a Lot of Space = Dead Cowboys, remember?).  I recommend this deployment:

A variation of the "Bullpen" Formation in its most basic form

Much less threatening, right?  You almost feel as if it will be too easy breaking this GC element - until you think about charging it.  How many units are in their front rank?  How many are in yours?  There is a guarantee that they will reach your flank, peel off toward your weaker units (in this case, a bannerman), and if there are Heroic Combats (with 2 Rangers of the North in the front rank ready to call them, this is a highly likely scenario), carve holes through your lines to enfeeble your unit.

Setup a bullpen with units in a close block, then fan them out just before charging begins, and watch as your opponent begins to count the cost of charging if he has underestimated your force.  I have used a modified version of this tactic based on the terrain around me in every game I've played with the Grey Company, and it never fails to throw a body of infantry into confusion, as there are too many targets to engage without stretching yourself too thin.  This is because there are very few infantry in the game that like to fight in solo combat - most would prefer to have (and reach their full potential when given) spear support behind them.  Rangers of Arnor benefit from spear support, but their high Fight value moves the extra dice from "necessary" to "helpful," which gives you options.  One of these options, I'd contend, is the Bullpen.

Now, everyone is likely taking a step back and saying, "Can't we just call it a 'Killbox'?  What's wrong with a killbox-style of engagement (like we saw in the first picture), since the list clearly works with that style of fighting, too?"  A few things.  First, who in their right minds walks into a killbox other than Dwarf heroes, a Mumakil, a dragon, or maybe a gang of trolls (all of which you don't want in your killbox, by the way)?  Your opponent will not take the bait, and even if he did, turning to engage the flankers in LOTR SBG is much easier than in Fantasy, weakening the effectiveness of such a tactic.

Second, and more importantly, a Killbox formation opens up the flanks of your killbox to attacks from other elements of the opponent's force.  Unless you are playing a massive game, you won't have this many warriors available to you to trap your opponent with, unless what he sends into the killbox is his entire force (in which case, you're preempting my next tactic).  If he does send in reinforcements, you will soon find your men outnumbered and out of reach of help.

Finally, when I run a Bullpen, I'm not aiming for a dead bull - I want a controlled bull that can still charge, buck, and bray.  I am perfectly fine with a good portion of my opponent's force - maybe even most of his force - arriving alive to close combat.  What I want him to do is feel secure in that force's ability to take on this element of my army, so that I don't attract additional reinforcements.  The trick to a Bullpen is feigning weakness, and then striking your opponent in ways he does not expect.  It takes a lot of practice to run a successful Bullpen, but when it works, you'll discover that your force can clean up an enemy detachment with close to no casualties, and in only 2-3 rounds.  I highly recommend the Bullpen.

3.  The Flying Columns Formation

Three Grey Company elements (Aragorn's force, Halbarad's
force, and the Twin force) envelope an Uruk force
I've mentioned the Flying Columns Formation when discussing my Rohan force in a previous post, though I'll caveat its utility here: it works better for civs with throwing weapons (Rohan, Wood Elves, and Dwarves especially) more than it does an archer-based civ.  Whereas units with throwing weapons can move their full distance and then fire, archer units make a choice between great speed around a flank and damage to said flank in a given round.  The one exception to this rule are cav archers, but ditto the comment from my last post about all of the Arnor lists lacking cavalry, and the hindrances that this gives to your unit options, :)

For Arnor, the Flying Columns gives you a chance to wrap around an enemy force through a bait-and-switch method of luring in an opponent, and then crushing down on him from all sides.  Unlike the Bullpen and the Wheel, however, you are attempting to engulf and engage the entirety (or close to the entirety) of the enemy force, and your aim is not to eliminate an enemy element: your aim is to punch holes in as many of your opponent's elements as possible to make them all impotent for his purposes.  The one advantage that the Grey Company has over Rohan in running this tactic, though, is the option of spear support, which makes crunching through enemy elements more palatable in regards to risk factor to your warriors, if not easier in breaking through enemy lines.

4.  The Spearhead/Wedge Formation

Basic Wedge: Firepower up the sides (weighted toward the
front), with spear support and banner support in the center
The Wedge Formation is an ancient tactic, primarily employed by Northern and Western European nations (with the Saxon Shield Wall as the notable exception), and was especially efficient at breaking blocks of infantry.  The Romans encountered this a lot during their invasions of Germania and Britannia, with the Picts and the Germans employing it most effectively.  The formation is very simple: your power units form the front of the "spear," with a few competent heroes/elite units near the end of the "spearhead" to protect the flank.  Place your spear support in the center to protect your heroes (and options for additional close-combat firepower, if things get rough near the front), and, if possible, include banner support as well (in the picture above, Aragorn, Isildur's Heir fills this role as well as the power hero at the front of the "spearhead").

One of the strengths of using this formation with the Grey Company (and its noticeable absence from my Rohan tactics post mentioned earlier) is that you have a power hero with a banner that does not receive the banner penalty: Aragorn, Isildur's Heir.  This means that you do not have the difficult situation of a weaker attacker near the front of your spearhead, as most other civs would have (the Easterlings have a good option in Amdur as well, in case you're thinking of building an Easterling force), or a swordsman in the center of your spearhead, doing nothing beyond providing banner support.

The Wedge is most effective at taking down large, clunky bodies of infantry that require the formation to hold in order to maintain its strength.  Large bodies of heavy Uruk-Hai warriors with three-deep pike support, Easterling cohort formations, etc. (possibly even some Gondor formations, now I think about it; hm, I'll have to try that...) are the prime targets for a Wedge, as a wrap-around strategy to take on your "spearhead" actually plays to your strengths by reducing their pike/halberd support to 2-1 (and on-par with you), spreading out an enemy that would otherwise be able to fight in a concentrated block unit.

Other than that, though, I honestly do not recommend the Wedge - it is highly unwieldy, lacks the firepower and quick engagement options granted by a Wheel or a Bullpen, and centers a lot of points in a very small, contained portion of the map, which could have terrible consequences for your forces across the rest of the board.  Wedges also have the high probability of trapping the unit at the tip of the "spear," so if you do run a Wedge, make sure that your front man wins his fights (insert the pitch for banner support here).

Wedge formations also don't work well where archery is in play: placing all of your best units in prime archery target practice range is...not advised, :)


Now, within each of these strategies, there are multiple maneuvers that you can perform, including the Feign (fake a hero/elite unit one way to get a nemesis-style unit, like a caster, to move that way, and then pull back and replace him with another hero/elite unit), the Wag (crushing toward one side of the enemy force, breaking it, then swinging back toward the other side, and lather-rinse-repeat until an enemy force is defeated), and other maneuvers that you have seen on this site.  What these four tactical plans are designed to do is to get your momentum rolling as a player, and then, when the battle gets thick, step back and command your forces as they enter combat.

You will also notice that a number of these maneuvers can be easily and effortlessly combined - why not run each of your columns in a Flying Columns Formation like a Bullpen, enticing your opponent to peel off and engage your columns, freeing up your main body?  You could run Flying Columns off of a Wedge Formation against an Uruk-Hai Warrior force, or you could hide one of your columns around terrain to prepare for a Wheel when your opponent is exposed or seeks you out.  The ability to mix and match these formations is one of the reasons that I provided them here, and also speaks to the strength of the list.  As mentioned at the beginning of this set of posts, the Grey Company cannot do everything, but what they do, they can do very well.  Test them out sometime - you'll discover that it is highly versatile, amazingly durable, and quite capable when put to the fire.

This January, I'm dedicating the month to my Angmar forces, reinvigorating them and innovating my strategies by employing a new hero (Dwimmerlaik!!!) and a new set of forces to team them with (which you have already seen here and there in the post so far).  May I be the first to introduce you to my current work in progress, the newest civ added to the LOTR SBG and the TMAT blog - the Misty Mountains List!

Watching the stars,


"I watch the stars, for it is mine to watch, as it is your's, Badger, to remember." ~ Glenstorm


  1. Great work, Glenstorm! Interesting thoughts for GC (and some great cross-over for Wood Elves). :) Also liking those new Orcs you have - we need to introduce them to some Dwarf steel sometime. :P

  2. How can you speak of damage over defense and not think Harad? Helloooo Abrakhans anyone?!? At least wood elves can shield w their spears, and your base GC member is F4. The desert people have nothing - except the ability to carve through dwarves of course.

    Nice write-up on the formations. I recognize a number of them. ;)

    I'm looking forward to seeing those new orcs in action!

  3. @Tiberius: Anytime, buddy, ;)

    @Zorro: I had Harad as a third up until about 5 minutes before posting, and then I removed them. Major reason for this: Harad doesn't trade defense for firepower, which is the primary fear for Wood Elves and Grey Company. Both Wood Elves and GC have good upfront stats to help them win fights, but if you get past that, they're done. Harad, on the other hand relies on either strength of numbers (warriors), cover before clobber (Abrakhans), or brute force and defense at a high cost (Mumak, anyone?), all of which make them a very differently run civ than Grey Company and the Wood Elves.

    So, while they are definitely not a "heavy armor" civ, they don't "trade" their defense for firepower. They just have a very different tactical scenario that involves low defense, low armor, high numbers and damage potential (not unlike the Hunter Orcs of the Misty Mountains).

    And, again, I'll point you back to the disclaimer at the front of the post: my opinion, blah-blah-blah, ;P

    1. yeaaaah. not convinced it is all that different. The difference between a lowly harad warrior w spear and a wood elf who is able to shield at F5? 1 point. The difference between a harad archer with bow and a F4 Ranger who can shoot at a 3+? 1 point. Being the only non-hobbit/non-GC civ that has no capacity to shield? if that is not sacrificing defense, what is?

      and what good is a disclaimer without a little reason to give it? ;)

    2. Hehe...well, maybe now I'll chime in a little and all the admins will have had their say.

      Here's something neither of you have considered: Harad isn't just Harad anymore - it's "Harad & Umbar." Even if you don't think that Harad trades "defense for firepower" (though you can certainly make the case that they do with their Abrakhan Guards, Serpent Guards, or Watchers of Karna), the Umbar elements arguably do (D3 or D4 warriors with Fight 4 and throwing weapons anyone?).

      If the thought of trading "defense for firepower" doesn't include hording units, though, very few armies (maybe not even Wood Elves) would count in this category. As the list is already small if we limit it to the D4 and under civs, I think Harad and Umbar is a fair addition. My thoughts...

    3. well, considering that 1) I stick to LOME lists, so I don't _really_ think of it as the same list, 2) none of us really field Umbar, I didn't feel particularly compelled to argue on their behalf. But yes, I would agree that the Corsairs would also be included.

      although I'm starting to think perhaps Glenstorm more meant "trade defense for a bump in other key profile stats" rather than firepower as "damage potential" - in which case Harad as a whole does not really qualify, but the Corsairs probably still do.

      anyways, chaulk this debate up to "Zorro just got a number of new Harad units and is feeling desert fever again" ;)

    4. Good thoughts, guys - I was more referring to trading defense for other profile stats, but I'd definitely count Umbar, now you mention it. I guess I just never saw them as a legitimate civ worthy of my notice... ;)

      I can also see the argument for Harad; the +1 cost for Rangers of Arnor, though, also includes not receiving the poison ability on shooting, which is really handy for a force that now has a 50% bow limit like Harad. So, I'd argue in passing that Harad gets a pretty good deal for their archers, all things considered, :)

  4. A very big thank you for this article! Well written, easy to read and informative - it really makes me want to play SBG again!

    1. Thanks, Llama! After experimenting with other civs, I still think Grey Company is my favorite, :)