Monday, January 28, 2013

Picking a Captain - Uruk style!

So, I know we're in Flight to the Ford month and all, but I was coming home from work one day and said to myself, "Self, there are many different named Uruk-Hai heroes you can choose and other un-named ones that you can build to meet your purposes...but why pick one hero over another (or are they more or less the same)?"

I kept my vow of not answering myself (that's when you know you're crazy), but I did decide that I'd write up a few thoughts for the insight of our faithful readership - and I'm particularly interested in the thoughts, as I'm going to take my army of the White Hand with me to the TMAT-GT this spring. As it occurred to me, there are three generic purposes for having an Uruk hero in the first place: offense, defense, and army-wide resilience. Though most Uruk heroes are built offensively, these heroes can have other functions as well, which we will discuss in the following classes of heroes: the rock, the main-stay, the hatchet, and the arrow (side note: most of the pictures in this post can be found elsewhere in the blog - this is a shameless plug of mine to get more views on the Google ticker so my blog comes up first during image searches).

1) The Rock: when you need to stop, NOW

The rock is the hero you pick when you need to stop an enemy hero or warrior (or set of warriors) from rampaging through a flank. These heroes should be tough to kill by nearly anyone, which necessitates Defense 7 (hard to wound both in close combat and in melee). For this kind of hero, there is one (and only one) build:

Uruk Captain with heavy armor and shield - 60 points
There is little to no strategy with this guy: he exists to make it hard for your opponent to cut through your lines. If you need to keep your opponent from running through with a hero, this captain (for 60 points, probably less than what you're facing) can roll 4 dice to win the fight while shielding (has an 80% chance of rolling a 5+) or 2 dice with Fight 5 and Strength 5 if he wants to kill someone. Since most Uruk captains are 60 points, this is a decent price to pay for someone who could tie up a more expensive hero for a few turns (or assail a rank of warriors with little fear of being wounded).
2) The Hatchet: when it's all about kill-kill-kill

Any Uruk-Hai Captain can be used as a "hatchet." The goal of these captains is simple: killing enemy units in close combat. Two characters in particular, though, are built for melee combat (and pretty much nothing else). While most Uruks have the same combat profile, a few differences occur in this set of characters:

Mauhur - 60 points
Mauhur (WIP of converted model) is the only Uruk captain with 3 Attacks. This, coupled with his 8" movement and his ability to make other Uruk Scouts 8" movers as well is a great boon to those who want to get into combat earlier (especially when fighting an army of throwing weapons). Though the 3 Attacks makes Mauhur a tempting hero in his own right, having 8" of movement makes him even better - you can trap enemy battle lines by rushing around their flank and engaging enemy spearmen. Your Fight 4-Strength 4 units assist you in pummeling both sides of the enemy and trap many, many units. This is great and all, but if you really want some power, you should check out the...
Uruk Captain with heavy armor and two-handed weapon - 60 points
This Captain gives the "hatchet" class their name (that, and I recently finished a grad school class talking about early American colonial warfare and got to see a tomahawk from the 18th century and I wanted to use the weapon in a post). Two-handed weapons capitalize on the high strength of the Uruks and when coordinated with Warriors who will roll a 6 for him to win the fight, even the strongest opponents (like Dwarf Warriors with shields or Khazad Guards) are going to be wounded easily. Defense 7 heroes or Dwarves in your way? Wound them on 4s. Defense 5 Warriors of Rohan in your way? Wound them on 3s. Wood Elves or Hobbits perhaps? Wound them on 2s. Yes, TWOs! This is a bit excessive, I know, but you get the picture - it's EASY!!! While these guys can really pack a punch (or spell sudden death for an enemy hero), you need to be careful not to let this hero be isolated in a fight (unless you want to pass on the two-hander, that is). Defense 6 will do wonders for you, but it won't save you against numbers or Strength 4 heroes. One final note: if you're using the old LOME requirements, check if you can even build this hero - captains in the Isengard Raider list were the only ones who could take two-handers, but they couldn't take heavy armor.
3) The Main-Stay: when there is a tactical goal that needs achieving

While having a defensive hero is all fine and good, reports on this blog (and in our archives) show that Uruk Captains can't be trusted to keep your units in line if/when your force is broken...or can they? If you are most concerned with your units fleeing the field (or reaching an enemy quickly), here's a few heroes you should consider:

Ugluk - 60 points
Ugluk (center-right) is the only Uruk Captain with a 12" Stand Fast! This comes at a price of a unit a turn, which can be costly on your army (and sometimes more than it's worth if that unit was an Uruk). Just like in the Two Towers, you can get the most out of this rule by having Orc Warriors in your army (a disposable archer grunt or two, perhaps) to always stand in base contact with Ugluk so that when the fighting draws to a close and you need to stay in the game, you lop off the head of a 6 point unit and call life good. Having played Ugluk many times in the hands of Glenstorm, I can say that there are few more effective ways to keep your men in the field than to use the Head Taker rule. In the same breath, I also remind you that Ugluk is only Defense 5, so keep him safe from Elf and Dwarf archers. There is, however, another option...
Uruk-Hai Shaman with armor - 55 points

No picture for this guy because...well, no one uses him. An Uruk-Hai shaman can cast Fury, which will ensure that all Uruks within 6" of him pass any courage tests they need to take. You can also save a few guys with the Fury 6+ Fate save rule, but generally, I don't recommend that you count on getting that save (Goblin shamans + Groblog, on the other hand, are a different story). The disadvantage of taking the Uruk-Hai shaman isn't his defense anymore (now that he has D5, he's just like most Uruk-Hai Captains), but the fact that he's not a fighter. If you are willing to pay 55 points for a hero who won't be killing anyone and not losing units to courage tests is part of your game plan, then you can (dare I say should) buy this guy.

Uruk-Hai Drummer - 45 points

No picture for various reasons, not least of which is that no one uses him. The model was created for the War of the Ring game and has been used by SBG players in the recent past as an Uruk Scout with War Horn. BUT...with the arrival of the new sourcebooks and the recent FAQs, the Uruk-Hai can now (like the Orcs long before them) take a drummer. This blissfully cheap hero is more or less an Uruk Scout with a few drumsticks and not a lot of stealth. He allows your Uruk-Hai within 12" of him, however, to move an additional 3" and not charge that turn. Though the new deployment rules (and even the modified deployment rules that we at TMAT used in the recent Hunter's Red October tournament) allow you to start pretty close to your opponent, you can skip one turn of archery every two turns, which can really save you against some armies (most notably, armies of Elves and Rangers of all kinds). Though not much of a fighter, a Drummer does have some utility in ensuring that you get the most out of your Uruk-Hai - which is the heart of resiliency (plus, I needed a category to put him in).

4) The Arrow: when melee isn't all it's cracked up to be

The "arrow heroes" cover those with ranged weapons. It is commonly held here at TMAT that the best and worst captains are included in this category, as you'll see below. The first hero we're going to look at is perhaps the best Uruk hero available to a general (of Isengard, that is):

Vrasku - 60 points
For starters, Vrasku (top-left) has a crossbow that shoots twice each Shoot phase and hits on a 3+. Yeah, Vrasku can be a one-man archery team and is easily the best ranged hero available to an army of Evil (I still hold the Prince of Mirkwood to be the best ranged hero in the game, but we won't compare them here). His Defense 5 can be a liability, but with a dedicated core of Uruk-Hai Warriors with crossbows or shields around him, you can deal nasty death and hold a section of the board for quite a while. If your opponent wants to close distance on you, he will face a Fight 5-Strength 5 hero with 3 Might points...perfect. What is less perfect, though, is the next hero in this category...
Uruk Captain with heavy armor and crossbow - 60 points
For the same price as Vrasku, this Captain (top-left) is a D6 hero (instead of D5) who hits on a 4+ (instead of a 3+) with a single shot each turn (instead of 2 shots each turn) and 2 Might points (instead of 3 Might). In my mind, there are only two reasons to consider a hero like this: first, you value a defensive role for your hero instead of the offensive role. I don't think this is a good reason to choose this hero over Vrasku, though (I mean, Vrasku does in most games pay for his points value...can your captain with a single shot each turn do that?). The second reason is that you have Vrasku already in your army and you want a few more captains with crossbows in your force. An all hero army of Uruk captains with crossbows? Yeah, I could see that, but very few Uruk commanders actually use more than one ranged commander.
Uruk Captain with heavy armor and Orc bow - 60 points

No picture here, because no one uses him. Why, you may ask? This hero has the same profile as the captain above, but has an 18" range (instead of 24") with Strength 2 (instead of 4). You gain 3" mobility while shooting instead of being stationary, but I really only see this hero being used if you are running a themed army of "Uruk Scout" heroes. I do think that you could (and should) use heroes like Ugluk, Vrasku, Captain with shield and heavy armor, or Lurtz (who we're looking at next) instead of this hero, but we needed to consider this equipment possibility, right?

Lurtz - 60 points
Ah, the great named hero from the first movie...why isn't he more epic than he is? Lurtz, by profile, is quite similar to Vrasku: Fight 5, Strength 5, Defense 5, 3M/1W/1F. The differences? Lurtz carries an Orc bow (as opposed to a crossbow) which he can shoot once per turn (instead of twice) and he has a shield (which Vrasku doesn't have). The main rulebook states that a unit with a shield and bow/crossbow does not gain the +1 Defense bonus that the shield normally offers, but can use the shielding rule (in Lurtz's case, 4 Attacks instead of 2 Attacks, no rolling to wound if he wins).
So...why take Lurtz? For this point, you need to be willing to do one of two things (determined by your opponent, really): first, be willing to use him offensively and only shoot on rare occasions. With Fight 5, Strength 5, and 3 Might, Lurtz is as good as any at winning and killing in a fight (on par with Ugluk and Mauhur for killing potential in melee). He's good, no doubts. If your opponent is okay with it, ask if you can discard the Orc bow at the beginning of the fight, similar to what units with the "Expert Rider" rule have to do when they are dismounted and had a bow and shield (or during the game, if allowed). If you can chuck the bow, you become a D6 hero with 3 Might - there are no other Uruk heroes like this! I hold Defense 6 to be the desired defense of all units, as most of your foes (especially from the armies of Good) will wound you on 6s.

If your opponent says "no, you can't chuck your stuff to improve your profile," you still have the ability to defend yourself in a fight by shielding, kill lots of people with your offensive profile, or shoot low-defense units with your Orc bow. Lurtz, in summary, is the most flexible named Uruk hero and is the only named Uruk hero with a shield, allowing him to be a rock (winning fights by shielding and 3 Might), hatchet (2 Attacks with Strength 5 and 3 Might), or an arrow hero (Orc bow with 3 Might).

Putting it all together

So (*to the tune of the 12 Days of Christmas*), with 4 Arrow heroes, 3 Main-stay captains, 2 hatcheteers, and a rock Captain in a hard place (*end of Christmas music tune*), how do you make your army? Here's a suggestion for using all four categories in a Warband-compatible force:

Warband #1 (Arrow): 154 points
Vrasku, Army Leader
4 Uruk-Hai Warriors with crossbows
5 Uruk-Hai Warriors with shields

Your warrior choices for "arrow" are far from limited (Orc bows in the hands of Uruk Scouts or Orc Warriors, normal bows in the hands of Dunlendings, and crossbows in the hands of Uruk-Hai Warriors). By far, the most lethal of these ranged weapons is the crossbow, and as Vrasku is arguably the best Uruk Captain available to an Isengard general. Having this hero at the head of a small contingent of crossbows is excellent. Statistically, the six shots a turn should kill one person each turn (maybe more), which may not seem like much, but anything that allows you to use the superb Strength 4 of the Uruk-Hai at a distance is great. Protecting these units are five Defense 6 Uruk-Hai, mostly to protect the crossbows from Strength 3 ranged weapons (which are traditionally wielded en mass by Elves and Dwarves and now can be wielded by select units from Rohan and Gondor...which would be just about everyone you can face).

Warband #2 (Main-stay): 156 points
2 Orc Warriors with shields
4 Orc Warriors with spears
6 Uruk-Hai Warriors with shields

Ugluk not only comes in the same blister as Vrasku (convenience for those concerned about money), but also is the cheapest of the three (yes THREE) units in the Isengard list with a 12" Stand Fast! The "Head Taker" special rule, unfortunately, requires that you lose a unit to keep other units from failing their Courage tests (or risking that Ugluk fails his own). To part with an Uruk unit of any kind would be a shame, but to part with an Orc (like Ugluk's company did in the Two Towers) is WONDERFUL. So, this warband includes two Orcs with shields to protect Ugluk from being swarmed (or skulk out of the way) and later sacrifice themselves for the sake of the team. The Orcs with spears can support the Uruk-Hai with shields in the front line, providing cheap bonus attacks in the hands of your capable Uruk-Hai.

Warband #3 (Rock): 160 points
Uruk Captain with heavy armor and shield
6 Uruk-Hai Warriors with shields
4 Uruk-Hai Warriors with pikes

This is a standard Uruk-Hai formation: a few pikes supporting a few shield-toting Uruk-Hai with a defense-focused Uruk-Hai Captain at their head. The goal of this warband is to hold ground against all-comers and buy time for the other units. This formation works best when protecting the flank of the "arrow" warband and relying on the "main-stay" warband to keep the enemy off of the other flank. If possible, this warband should be deployed against the flank that the enemy will have its combat heroes focused in, as the captain's job is to hold down the heroes of the enemy from getting their points worth out of your Uruk-Hai. Consider also moving the Uruk Captain away from his unit during the game if the enemy's heroes set up away from him.

Warband #4 (Hatchet): 130 points
7 Uruk Marauders with shields

This small team of warriors have a lower defense value and a larger movement value than the Uruk-Hai Warriors with shields of the army. This larger movement, coupled with the 3 Attacks of their leader Mauhur, makes them a quick-strike force, able to race to objectives or rush around the flank of an army. With Defense 5 all-around, these units are fairly resilient against Strength 2 bows, but beware Strength 3 bows or being ganged-up on by Strength 3 foes (which will be most everyone).

The army as a whole sports 42 units, 5 crossbows (including Vrasku), and 10 Might points. Everyone in the army (except the 4 Orc Warriors with spears) is Defense 5 or higher, so fairly resilient against archery, unless you're facing Strength 3 bows (even then, you have 18 units with Defense 6-7, so hopefully you'll be able to endure the archery until you reach the melee). Vrasku and Mauhur are excellent in combat, while Ugluk combines a strong offensive profile with a 12" Stand Fast! (and up to six Orcs to lop heads off of should the going get tough). A dependable unnamed captain also assists the force to tie down powerful heroes or hold enemy elite units in check.

These are just some thoughts on Uruk-Hai Captains from one gamer among many. I need to note before we leave that the army provided above is a balanced force. Balance can lend itself to new players, but if your fighting style makes this frustrating for you, you won't like it. I invite your comments on these heroes and any combos you have found work well in the forces from Isengard that you wield, particularly since I'm running Isengard in the upcoming tournament.


  1. Ahem - the picture of "Vrasku"? ...That's not Vrasku. I own Vrasku. He looks cooler than that, ;)

    Good summary - I had forgotten that LOME only gave 2hers as an option to my Scout force, as opposed to the heavy armor force everyone else runs. Thanks for posting!

    1. what? my conversions don't count? It's just Vrasku when he is in warmode rather than hunting mode =P

      Fortunately for Isengard, Uruks actually tend to run better under warbands (unless you are fielding Saruman), so you can run around with a heavily armored beatstick.

    2. Fair point, :) I'm just thinking of our readership that is newer to LOTR SBG, so I'll throw that out there to let them know, "Oh, by the way, the model may look different if you buy it in the online store." :)

      And I definitely agree on Isengard running better under warbands - I think that if any civ benefited from the warbands rules, it was Isengard, and the two that were hindered the most were High Elves (expensive units with more required heroes) and Grey Company (who are forced to buy heroes that don't add to the hero count for warbands).

    3. well I'd contend that Harad got quite the drubbing with the warbands rules as well, but that is mostly due to the comprehesive profile downgrades they received

      not that I am bitter or anything =P

  2. Surely with the updated rules that came with the hobbit a shaman becomes viable hero? Channeled fury =5+ save for units, plus he could be used as spear support so he can be kept close to your defensive front line

    1. With the new Hobbit magic rules (which we haven't integrated into our games here at TMAT yet - see the "House Rules" section), the Shaman isn't really much better. For starters, Fury is an exhaust, which means you need 1 Will in your Will store to keep it in play. If you plan on channeling it with your only Might point, you need to spend 2 Will (and keep one) in order to have it most likely go off. This means one lost fight, and you're done.

      Second, this shaman (like all other shamans) remains a D5 model (when you pay for armor). For the same cost, you can get a F5 D6 captain with 2 Attacks. That means that you don't lose fights as often and when you do lose, most grunts wound you on 6s. Shamans are often wounded on 5s by melee units (and a good deal of ranged weapons), which makes them great targets.

      The spears are nice, but now that you can't support with a pike, you not only expose your shaman to engagement if they can cut through your front rank, but you also limit the front line to getting 1 bonus attack.

      I've come to the conclusion (especially with Goblins) that the primary reason you take Fury isn't for the saves - it's for the Courage passing (broken, terror, certain special rules). In the end, that's valuable in itself if you get demoralized by losses (and can often "save" more guys than the 6+/5+ fury save can).