Sunday, April 7, 2013

Post-Tournament Review: Why I Uruk the way I Uruk...

As a wrap-up to the more-or-less recently completed TMAT GT 2013, I wanted to talk a little bit about all three games my Uruks played and use the games to illustrate a few trades I was interested in testing - and how happy I am after the tournament. As I'm pressed for time due to grad school exams coming up, no pics this time - sorry, but I'll link to lots of posts that have plenty of pictures for your enjoyment.

To get things started, let's review the army list:

The Fist of Isengard: 603 points

Saruman the Colorful - 170 points
Mauhur - 60 points

18 Uruk Warriors with shields - 180 points
7 Uruk Warriors with pikes - 70 points
3 Uruk Warriors with crossbows - 33 points
6 Uruk Marauders with shields - 60 points
3 Uruk Marauders with Orc bows - 30 points

39 units, 3 crossbows + 3 Orc bows, 2 heroes

There were three questions I had as I got ready for the tournament - those who know me know that the Uruk-Hai have taken the longest for me to love commanding due to their expensive units and their general lack of good archers (more on that later), having to balance using low Strength short-range bows or stationary high Strength crossbows. I also didn't like how their heroes were either Fight 5 and reasonably priced or ridiculously expensive (in the form of Saruman). Finally, I got frustrated with the need to balance pikes with shield-units (especially my new marauders) - how many do I take and why? Let's look at the answers to this question as answered by the tournament.

Game #1: Where the Wild Things Are (fighting the Treasure Fleets of Abrakhan)

This was a game I really didn't want to have during this tournament, but at least I got it out of the way from the start. The army I'm facing is larger than me, has equal or higher Fight value than me, and has a few strategically placed Strength 4 units...perfect. The only good news? Defense 4...everywhere. So just win.

Key question at stake: pikes or marauders? An Uruk Warrior with pike and an Uruk Marauder with shield have the same profile with the following exceptions: the Warrior can support a friendly unit, the Marauder can use the shielding rule, and the Marauder has 8" movement. I decided to take a chance and use 6 Marauders and 7 pikemen instead of using a ton of pikes. Why? What strategic advantage does the Marauder bring over the pikeman?

To understand the strategic advantage, I need to talk about my experience as a Dwarf commander. Dwarves (at least, the armies from the Free People's sourcebook and not the new Hobbit rulebook) don't get spears on the whole, so you need to get your non-ranged units into base contact in order to be useful. This means that you need to often run around the enemy battle line to engage spearmen in order to stand a good chance of winning on the front lines. The added bonus of engaging from behind the ranks is that not only do you break spearmen off from the front into two one-on-one battles, but you can also trap enemy units (which you didn't have the option of with spear-supporting).

Back to Marauders: 8" movement and only needing to "see" an enemy unit in order to charge him means you can wrap around an army really, REALLY far. Want to see how this worked out? There's a battle report that showcases it here. Marauders can then race around the flank, trap models, and between them and your front-line, you mash the enemy into a paste.

This actually worked rather well on one flank during the game against Harad. At the end of the game, I was 1 unit away from breaking the enemy (much closer than I've come before) and even managed to mess up the lines of the enemy. This isn't going to be a game-changer, but since I prize units who can confuse an enemy and get him to play a different game than he walked in wanting (Saruman is great for that, but more on that later), I was very pleased with how the Marauders performed.

Game #2: The Arkenstone (fighting Dol Amroth for Gondor)

I have to say, the army from Dol Amroth was one of the armies I actually wanted to face in the tournament - and this happened to be the game that I lost by the most. Why? One round of absolutely great luck for Tavros, one of my favorite opponents to play against. Fact of matter: when your foe is rolling sixes in every roll and wins every roll-off, you're going to lose lots of guys no matter what army you're fielding. The key question in this case was as follows: when all else is falling apart, what the heck do I do with my archers?

The classic question of archers for an Uruk army is this: Orc bows or crossbows? Crossbows lend themselves to most of us Uruk generals because of their high strength and longer range - be honest: if your Uruk can smash someone with his normal Strength 4 from 24" away and his target can do nothing but hope you don't roll well enough to kill him, who wouldn't want these guys? Where Orc bows buy themselves some credit over their higher-strength cousins is in their mobility and their cost. In the army I brought to the tournament, I had an even mix of archers with Orc bows and crossbows and I'll tell you what: if you want options to face any given opponent, you want to have a mix of both.

I took some time before the tournament to assess whether crossbows have any real benefits over Orc bows. I came to the conclusion that in any given game, you're going to be able to do one of three things: 1) keep your archers parked somewhere and not move, 2) be moving more turns than not in order to slay enemy units who are staying away from your main body of troops, or 3) be moving for part of the game and then park somewhere for the rest of it. In the first case, the crossbows are going to win without question and in the second case, the Orc bows will be far more useful, so neither of these are instructive. The answer lies in how valuable an Orc bow and a crossbow are in the third case - what I've found to be the most common result.

Thought Experiment: "To The Death" scenario with two sets of 6 Uruk archers

If we assume that the units we're looking at are 6 Uruk Warriors with crossbows (66 points) and 6 Uruk Scouts with Orc bows (54 points), we immediately realize that the Uruk Scouts free up points for other units to become more elite (or have an additional unit in the army than we otherwise would). We're going to keep the unit sizes to 6 and no more than 6 because of the math you'll see later, but understand that the performance of the Orc bows should be understood to provide a slight improvement somewhere else in the battlefield.

Let us further assume that both armies deploy within 12" of the center of the board and will move at least 3" towards the center of the board, allowing both units to fire on the first turn if they wish. We are also going to assume (as is often the case for Uruk-Hai) that the enemy has more archers than we do and our melee units will need to advance towards the enemy in order to not get roasted alive under enemy arrows - this is important, as it requires movement, which we said above was critical for this experiment to be useful.

If the crossbows move a full 6" on the first turn (to get in a good firing position for later in the game) and are able to sit in place for a turn after that, they will have moved a total of 6", hit 50% of their shots (total of 3 hits) and wound an average defense unit (Defense 5-6) on 5s (total of 1 kill). The end result for the 6 crossbows is 1 kill in 2 rounds (or 0.5 kills/round). This percentage will rise if you are able to stand in place for more than one round, but we'll wait to calculate that for now.

If the Orc bows advance at half their movement each turn for a total of 6", they can still hit 50% of their shots each round (total of 6 hits) and would would the same units (Defense 5-6) on 6s (total of 1 kill). Ergo, with the same amount of time and the same total amount of movement, the Orc bows deal 1 kill in 2 rounds (or 0.5 kills/round). Though Orc bows can score just the same as crossbows in this construct, they do not gain any bonuses for staying in the same place for multiple turns, increasing the ration of kills per round. What they gain instead, however, is the benefit of advancing with the army and becoming melee units, spreading out the killing capability in close combat to enable more trapped models or fewer spearmen supporting friendly fights.

How you measure the benefit of crossbows over Orc bows needs to take these considerations into account. In my book, they're both equally useful. Against Dol Amroth, I knew from my opponent's oath that Imrahil (a monster of a hero) was going to try to get near one of the terrain pieces on my side of the board. This is a prime time to use your crossbows, as they could sit on the targeted terrain piece and know someone was on his way (and they had plenty of bodyguards to shoot down too). The Orc bows were not nearly as effective from a distance, but they could begin by shooting and then race into base contact to stall the enemy while the crossbows leveled everyone who was supporting or waiting to engage. It worked quite nicely and at the end of the game, Imrahil was held a few inches from his goal, thus failing his oath. In sum, if you want the ability to respond to any strategy your opponent throws, you want a mixture of bow types.

I will say this also about Marauders (whether armed with shields or Orc bows): they're great for tagging horsemen - especially if your opponent forgets that some of your units have 8" movement. As rare novelties, these guys are great for surprising your opponent. :)

Game #3: He Gathers All Armies (fighting the Defenders of Lothlorien)

Of all the games I had scheduled, I was happy that this was the last one. Wood Elves vs. Uruk-Hai, an epic clash. Of the 37 Elves fielded, 10 of them were mine, so I knew I'd be facing my (dreaded) D3-but-can't-beat-them "shield" wall. What I was pleased to see when facing this army was that the melee-king Celeborn was leading the team instead of the arrow-nixing Galadriel.

When fighting Elven armies, you already know that there are going to be Fight 6 heroes trying to carve up your front ranks. In this game, I had three of them - the 3 Attack Celeborn who is also really hard to kill (D7 with 3 Wounds and 3 Fate points takes a long time for non-Uruk heroes), the 2 Attack Rumil who makes you reroll any 6s you get in the same fight, and the 2 Attack Haldir who not only wields an Elf bow, but also deals a Strength 4 hit to anyone who participates in a melee fight that kills him. Perfect...

It's with this backdrop that I faced the epic question: is it better to field Saruman or 3 Uruk Captains? In the other two games, Saruman didn't do too much for me (having miffed his Courage roll against Harad to stay in the game and not killing too many people in the Dol Amroth game). In this one, though, Saruman was the best choice I could possibly have made. An explanation in detail now follows...

Uruk Captains are great - see a recent post for why certain types are great for doing different things. But their problem is that they're capped at Fight 5, which means they fall all too easily to Elven heroes (especially Celeborn). In the last tournament game, Mauhur lasted a single turn against Celeborn before being carved up into a messy paste (he did take down most/all of Celeborn's Might points, but he still died in a single round). A D7 captain can stand for longer against this onslaught, but you're fighting a losing battle - see one of the games from Fellowship month if you don't believe me. In addition, when you get a roll-off against Fight 5 warriors (all Elves are and so were the Corsair Reavers I faced in the first tournament game), the captains don't get to do a lot of killing unless they win roll-offs.

Enter Saruman: both Rumil and Haldir had a single Will point each, which means that they cannot resist my magical barrage for more than a single turn. After that, my worst Uruk wounds them on 5s and wins ties. Haldir was reduced to a single wound after being hit by a friend during a Sorcerous Blast and was promptly killed that turn (and he miffed his Final Blow - sorry pal). Rumil was transfixed, resisted it, and then lost to a horde of Uruks who rerolled their 6s to get 6s again, beating the best score Rumil could muster and he was killed in a single round as well.

Fighting Celeborn took more tact, but a well-timed (and high scoring) Compel spell is great for making him lose his Will more quickly and not being able to Immobilize my own troops. Once the Will is gone, the final killing hero (and consequently half the enemy's points) is rendered useless - unable to kill anyone else and attracting the attention of many of your units. With him also comes victory points (in the TMAT 2013 tournament, that was 2 points), so finishing him is always a good idea.

But I take Saruman for another reason: once your army is broken, Saruman doesn't fail Courage tests - unless there is a Ringwraith or the Golden King present, your Courage 7 and free Will point mean you can pass any Courage test you need to (you may not be able to cast magic that turn, but you'll be around). With your presence comes a 12" Stand Fast, meaning that most/all of your other units won't be testing for Courage either, which means the points you lose from fleeing units is greatly reduced. I've seen one too many Uruk heroes flee from a fight, so I don't trust any (except Ugluk) to keep their units in line once the going is tough. Saruman is different and (generally) dependable.

All told, I wanted my army to have options against any foe and Saruman was the best way to do that. I currently stand as the only Uruk commander in the TMAT community to field Saruman the Colorful in a competitive tournament and I don't believe there is a commander I faced who didn't think he made things difficult (he may not have been a game-changer in two of the three battles, but he made a name for himself). If you want options for your army, there is no better pick than Saruman if you're running Uruk-Hai.

A few more side notes: the Orc bows and crossbows did a heavy toll on the Elves during this game, but no toll greater than keeping the emissaries of the enemy on their backs and unable to run very far each round. They paid for themselves early and spent most of the rest of the game keeping the emissaries from going anywhere. The Uruk Marauders with shields not only kept Celeborn from the main body of the army until the final turns of the game, but one got away from Celeborn's hit squad and ran off the board to complete my secret objective, which turned the game from a draw into a major victory. Yes, I'm quite happy with these guys. :)

Looking Forward

So, all told, I'm going to go on the record and say that I'm finally happy with my Uruk army. An army that brings strengths against any army needs to be balanced so that it can optimize its effectiveness in any battle. To this end, I'm saving my spending fund to pick up a few Berserkers, as I discovered in two games gearing up for the tournament that I can't deal with terror-causing units. The additional attack bonus is great when you're running low on spears. I'm also planning on making a few conversions to my heroes: bye bye two-hander captain, welcome...well, you're going to have to wait for a later post to know that.

Happy Hobbying!



  1. Interesting thoughts T. I'd prolly differ with you a bit on the orc bow vs xbow theory though. Your scenario didn't take into account the fact that the enemies deployed within range of the xbows - thus giving xbows a second round of shooting that the orc bows wouldn't have. Also, there is the return fire factor. Most enemies are going to be packing S2 bows - cutting down your orc bows at 2x the rate of xbows. For most army generals (S2 bow armies) facing orc bows. they are little more than a great big "free archery kills here!" before the lines clash. If your xbows are running while in range, you're doin' it wrong. At the very least, the majority should be firing while 1-2 move up to a better position.

    but that is why you uruk the way you uruk, and I have 7+ xbows. ;)

  2. That was a detailed explanation of why you uruk the way you uruk wasn't it =P

    I think you should give the Uruk's the axe and get down and dwarven. Dwarves are the coolest guys going, I'm telling you lol.

    1. lol. Tiberius is actually our token dwarf player - he just regularly loans them out. Check out the dwarf tagged posts (right side) to see his armies in action. ;)

    2. @ Zorro: yeah, Marauders with Orc bows are squishier than crossbows. I actually expected to lose them all to enemy bows early, but the only ones I've ever lost have been killed in close combat - probably because enemy commanders try to break down the D6 warriors before they get in close combat.

      @ Nathan: I first made the Uruk Captain with two-hander because I love my Dwarves with two-handers. I've found that, unless I want a one-man hit squad to kill whoever Saruman transfixes, I rarely ever use the two-hander. Because I can't wait to spill the beans, I'm trying out purchasing an Uruk Drummer - 20 points saved means 2 more units, all Uruks in the army can charge normally or add 2" to their movement (that's 11" Uruk Marauders or 5.5" movement while shooting)...the trades will be interesting. :)

  3. Nice write-up: I was wondering if the Grey Company v. Uruk-Hai game would pop up in reference to the Maraunders, :)

    Sometime this month, if you're game, we should have your Uruk force face off against my Rager's Raiders list: it would be fun whether how you uruk is better than how I uruk, ;)