Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Experiment in Soft Lists in LOTR SBG

Dear Reader,

Greetings from the Forge!  After a few weeks of heavy travel for work and moving friends into new houses, I'm finally finding time to give you all an update on the projects we have been working on here at the How.  In this post, and somewhat as a reflection on the TMAT GT Tournament, I want to highlight some of the ways that you can use "soft lists" instead of "hard lists" in an LOTR tournament, and what you can expect from running such a list.  Before moving into that discussion, though (which will be centered around the army list I took), a few definitions should be laid out.

For those unfamiliar with the terms, a "soft list" usually refers to a list that will be weaker in combat, and usually receives a handicap in randomly drawn battles, or will face units with a similar score under a comp system in order to compensate for this.  A "hard list" usually refers to a list that runs very powerful units, and usually aims toward a very set strategy - you will rarely see a surprise in the tactics and choices of a general with a hard list.  These are painting in very broad strokes, and there are a number of tournaments that don't even use the Swedish Comp System or other system to determine the hardness or softness of a list (especially in the 40k gaming community).

For those who have played LOTR SBG, you know that there is no Swedish Comp System or other system for determining a "hard" or "soft" list.  Because of that, I can't give you a math-based system for determining whether you are using a hard or soft list for an LOME or Warbands army.

That being said, the structure of LOTR lends itself toward favoring certain stats and unit groupings in combat, making it easier to win in a straight brawl.  Some of these insights may only be because of the players that I have encountered when playing the game, though the strategies seem to hold true across the board (and I welcome the thoughts of our loyal readership on this).  In general:

  • The high FV, high defense armies tend to win (especially when accompanied with numbers at or above 40 units in a 600-pt match)
  • They have 1 power hero with a few addendum heroes to round out hero point requirements
  • Forces that tend to focus on either S3 or S4 archery or none at all tend to do better than those that rely on S2 archery (with the word "rely" being an important operative word: S2 archery armies that do not rely on archery to deal wounds are a notable exception to this rule, and caveated by the grammar of my observation).
  • Forces that employ FV and Strength over magic tend to be stronger in tournament play (as the well-rounded set of debuffing, rooting, or blasting enemies tends to give less points in combat than outright kill count)
  • Larger armies with comparable FV are stronger than smaller armies with high defense and lower FV

All of these things play into my assessment when I am choosing an army.  What follows in this post are some thoughts from my Chill of Angmar list in the recent TMAT Grand Tournament, which is by far the softest list I've ever built.

1.  Units

My army was composed of 47 units (tied for largest army in the tournament), which makes sense when most of your army is 6-8 points.  A few of the things that I knew walking into the tournament about my list:

  • Every army in the tournament was sporting F4 or higher for their front line fighters.  Mine was F3.  This meant that on FV I had the weakest army in the tournament, which is only a problem when combined with the next dilemma:
  • 44 of my 47 units were D3, D4, or D5, meaning that almost everyone was wounding me on 4s and 5s for over 90% of my army.  If we lose a fight, my army had a 33-50% chance of being killed outright (sometimes higher; we'll return to this point later)
  • My Army Leader, the Dwimmerlaik, is not a killing machine.  As a Nazgul, he gives me a lot of options for magic in the Move Phase, and is a great asset in debuffing heroes.  Since he wields a 2H weapon at S4, he also has a pretty good chance of dealing a wound if he wins the fight.  This necessitates 1) that he wins the fight with the -1 penalty to his die roll, and 2) that he has enough Will to remain on the board following extensive combat.  Any scenarios that favor heroes chomping through enemy lines will hurt my list.
  • My battle line was very long compared to others, though it was uniquely susceptible to archery.  My D5 units were terrible front rank fighters, while my 2 attack S4 units were only D4, and thus very vulnerable to archery.  Creates a problem, :-/

What I discovered from the tournament, though, was that a soft list can be effective if (and I'd argue only if) it has a wide range of options and specializations that allow you to take advantage of the weaknesses in an opponent's list.  Let's walk through the games to see what happened.

2.  Round 1: Fire from the East (Easterlings)

Out of all of the matches I played, I really enjoyed this one.  I enjoyed playing against everyone in the tournament, but out of all of them, I think I enjoyed facing off against the Black Prince the most.  This may be due in part to the fact that I'm building an Easterling force myself (though it uses War Priests and Khamul over Amdur and a teamed in Shagrat), and also the fact that the Black Prince is super laid back like me, :)

If there was a list in the tournament that epitomized the hard list, it was this force.  Sinking over 90% of his points in a solid battle line of D6 melee warriors and killing machine heroes, this was one of the lists I was hoping not to fight, because it played to my weaknesses very well.  They were tough: cracking their army (even for his spear support!) was really hard, and having two solid melee warriors in close proximity was brutal to say the least.  The fact that the game ended 3-1 in my favor only because I had a banner at the end of the game should indicate how hard the match was for me.

So how did I do it?  Well, only one of his heroes had more than 1 Will point.  Like most heavy rank-and-file armies, magic can be useful in punching holes in enemy lines to create inconvenience.  Also, I employed a good number of 2 attack units (often with spear support for 3 attacks), placing him in the difficult place when using pikes: do I spear support with 2 pikemen to give me 3 attacks and force one of my other units to shield for 2 attacks, or do I spear support both of them with one guy, and only roll four dice instead of five?  In most of the melee combat rounds, a good number of the Easterlings were shielding because they needed the extra dice.  This did wonders in keeping my low defense units alive, as they could not strike wounds if they won the fight.

By the end of combat, he had enough spear support to break my force, and I broke through his F4 shielding enough to break his force.  Both of us did a number on each others' armies, but the soft list not only held on through the fight, but also killed a heavy armor, high strength, high Will store hero while we were at it.  That was pretty fun. :)

3.  Round 2: Defenders of the Forest (Lothlorien)

Lothlorien boasts F5 (like all Elves), though against an army of F3 orcs, Elves, Dwarves, Uruk-Hai, elite human infantry - they're all the same.  Their FV is higher than ours, so we lose ties.  Two things helped me in this fight: 1) my opponent was D4 and D5 primarily, making it much easier to wound his men, and 2) he invested in a number of low Will store heroes who were solely built for melee combat.  Captain Glot's strategy and deployment allowed me to test a lot of the tricks of my list, as the twists of the map favored the army that could adapt best from round to round.

I sported four heroes in this army: three casters (a Nazgul and two Barrow Wights), and an archer that received a free Might point for archery-related rolls.  This meant that if a hero or swordsman was hit by Paralyze from one of the Wights, the spearman behind him (at D4) was wounded by Narzug, my archer, on a 4+ to hit, 4+ to wound - which is really good odds for a S2 bow.  With all of his forces falling within the radius of the Dwimmerlaik's special rule, it also disincentivized him from using his Might, Will, and Fate points, which crippled the firepower of his heroes.

His archery did a number on me (like all Elven armies should), including an arrow that killed one of my Barrow Wights before we reached melee combat.  The fact that the wargs tied up the archers, though (and Haldir for a bit) helped to ensure to give me some time to setup my battle line, moving from a D5 front line to D4 high attack units with spear support before the fighting began in earnest.  I had a lot of fun in this fight, as it gave me a chance to try out something with all of my units.

4.  Round 3: Treasure Fleets of Abrakhan (Harad)

Okay, facing off against a team that has you matched man for man in numbers but boasts a higher FV, better archery, and magic-resistant front men is just brutal, :)  If there was one team that was well-built to challenge my list (and by "well-built," you've probably guessed that this really means "well-rounded"), it was Harad.  Not only is Zorro a capable general, but he also designs his lists well to complement his playing style and play to the weaknesses of his opponents' lists.  Whether he puts time into this or just has a knack for it I will likely never know, :)

Truth is, though, the game was pretty brutal for both of us.  There were rounds when Reavers and Watchers would fall en masse, and there were rounds where gobs (and I mean GOBS) of orcs fell in one round.  With both of our armies sporting low defense and solid offense, it was a bloody battle to say the least, and the only game where my army reached 25%.  Interestingly enough, I was actually hoping to reach 25% on the last round, as it guaranteed that one of the objectives remained empty (and not scoring against me), and gave me complete control of another objective, increasing my final score to 12-5, instead of it being 15 or 16 to 2 or 3.  Funny how it works, :)

On both sides of the field, I was able to exploit his weaknesses for a time: I pushed him back from one of the objectives and stunted his Reaver attack up there, and was able to finish off Dalamyr and most of the Watchers at the other objective.  What I didn't plan for, though, was a more aggressive Golden King than I have ever seen beating a ton of my warriors in one combat (and killing most of them), and a line of Serpent Horde spearmen holding their ground against the best I had to throw against them.  On a completely unrelated note, did you like the well I made? :)

5.  Conclusion

My list had no particular strength: all of the other teams in the tournament were stronger in each of the categories we've discussed (though I may have been strongest in magic; I'd argue, though, that 1) Gandalf and Saruman are nothing to sneeze at, and 2) I caveated that killing power scores higher than magic, and I think Game III proved that).  Because your models do not move in units in LOTR, and the fact that it is much easier to reform/rotate your units, there is an advantage to high defense, heavy hitting blocks of men with a high FV.  What this list (and my next tournament list, which I'm still ironing out!) sought to do was provide a number of options and opportunities for me to capitalize on weaknesses in opposing forces.  I submit that since there will likely never be a comp system for LOTR, if players want to make soft lists, choose forces that give you a wide range of options, and build your lists without focusing around an integral unit/hero.  I'd argue that the Wood Elves, Angmar, and (definitely) Harad give you a ready supply of options for such lists.

Interestingly enough, Angmar can employ both a soft list build (I'm currently working through a list that uses a number of spectres, Angmar orcs, the Dwimmerlaik, and Wights; we'll see how this goes), but it can also build a hard list, relying on trolls, orcs for numbers and meeting blocks of infantry or cav, more trolls, high-damage heroes, more trolls - lots of options, :)  Lists that can field soft lists can also field hard lists, but I want to encourage the gaming community to give the more well-rounded, creative sides of these lists a go-around. I found it to be exceedingly fun, and a sure adrenaline kick when facing a more traditional looking army.

In my next post, I'll update you on some of the projects I've been working on, including some units that have to date never been seen on this blog!  Until then, you'll know where to find me,

Watching the stars,


"Remember, Firenze, we are sworn not to set ourselves against the heavens.  Have we not read what is to come in the movements of the planets?" ~ Bane, Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone


  1. Very interesting. That was a very educational read.
    I am actually about to be in the process of (:P) adding more fiefdoms (lossonarch/lamedon) to my Gondor list to mix up the army. Getting some of those more unique units, though they may be "softer", can really allow for more adaptation for a particular game and open up whole new areas of gameplay.
    Looking forward to seeing your next army (gray company, perhaps?).

    1. In case you're interested, Tavros, I've got 4 Clansmen and Angbor the Fearless. So if you'd like to avoid spending cash on some of the units, you can definitely borrow mine. I think that a Gondor list could field a very soft list through the Fiefdoms list, as you have a variety of weapons, defense levels, courage levels, movement, and special rules to play with.

      Oh, and a small hint on the next army: you haven't seen it before on the blog, though some of the prototype units have appeared in scenery posts, :)

  2. I'm so glad I stumbled on this blog! am working on an Angmar army myself. Here's a question we've been pondering you might have a better idea with - does the Barrow-Wight's Paralyze spell throw the rider when cast at cavalry, making them roll on the 'Thrown Rider' table?

    1. Hi Timothy!

      Welcome to TMAT! My understanding of Paralyze is that it dismounts the rider, and it was my primary concern in a game I played on Christmas Day 2012 against a friend of mine. It's listed as the "What Fun It Is to Ride and Sing a Slaying Song Tonight" battle report.

      I don't know if it makes them roll on the "Thrown Rider" table, but I know that it does dismount him. For wights, though, that may be even better, though, as you can then casualty the unit with a hero in a Lords of Battle game, say, instead of it just being an opponent casualty (much like falling off a siege ladder). Either way, Barrow Wights present a deterrent to fielding horsemen, :)

    2. The paralyze rule says the target is knocked to the ground. I don't remember if the rule expressly addresses cav, but I would assume you don't roll on the thrown chart, you treat them as having rolled a "1" on the thrown chart. Per the paralyze effect of being knocked to the ground, there is no way they can keep their feet (get a result other than 1 on a thrown rider roll).

      Moral of the story: keep your cav away from wights. =P

    3. Thank you for the comments guys, much obliged. Great to hear others thoughts on it. I agree that this makes the most sense.

      Keep up the great blog :)

    4. Hi again - you guys were correct! The rider also takes a S3 hit. For reference, I just got the Hobbit book today and checked out the FAQ's and errata;

      "Page 53 – Cavalry, Cavalry Knocked Prone.
      At the bottom of the page, add the following paragraph:

      Cavalry Knocked Prone

      The riders of any Cavalry models that have been knocked Prone are automatically Thrown, counting as having rolled a Knocked Flying result (see page 52). The mount is treated exactly like a mount whose rider has dismounted or been killed (see page 51), except that it is also knocked Prone."

    5. Thanks for the follow-up, Timothy!