Greetings from the Forge! As you saw in my last post, Operation Tuckborough is nearing completion, and I'm really excited about some new possibilities for new boards! In this post, I want to begin laying out some of the strategy and tactics for effectively using a Shire list in combat. Over the course of the next few posts, I'll be detailing the warriors in the army (which will occur in this post), the heroes you can field (the next few posts), and a short discussion on tactics and deployment strategies for your forces to wrap up the discussion.
Before discussing the three Hobbit units in the army, though, I'd like to note that I've spent some time searching the blogosphere for any other tips and hints in regards to strategy with this force, and so far all of my searches (including searches in other languages) have come up with only one thread on Warseer from 2007, and in that article there was hardly any discussion on the importance or role of the units in your army. So this is a discussion that has not been discussed very much by the gaming community at large. I propose that this is due to three contributing factors.
1. The list is limited: with only three units and a handful of heroes, they have the feel of the Grey Company in regards to options, but have overall weaker heroes, and their heroes do not play nearly as many roles for a team as they do for GC. Thus, once you've discussed the army in a thread, there are few other stones to turn over in a future discussion.
2. Hobbit warriors do not come in plastic blisters. This means that in order for someone to play hobbits, they need to spend $45 USD just to obtain 12 warriors - which, understandably, most players would prefer to spend on 20 Uruk-Hai, 24 Rohan warriors, and so forth. Naturally, players who do not invest in a civ are less likely to discuss/suggest input to that list, as they don't know the feel of the units from a firsthand perspective. But perhaps most telling of all...
3. The Shire list is just not exciting. You get to use Gandalf, Aragorn, some Dunedain, and a ton of S2 D3 models. And all of the cool models can be used by other civs that are much more exciting to use, more survivable in combat, and tactically superior to a Shire force. In short, I cannot blame people for not being naturally attracted to purchase and play with - let alone write articles on - this civ. Even in the Warseer article mentioned above, the guys who play Shire play them as a novelty list; it excites their interest as hobbyists, not as competitive players.
In this post, I hope to break the stigma against this list: it has limitations, especially for those who look purely at army stats for their strategy. For those of us who spend as much time (possibly more) working with terrain, I think "there is more to [these hobbits] than meets the eye," to quote the Wizard. I agree with most of what is written in the Warseer thread, though I hope to expand on it in this post, and add a unique twist at how to view the units available in this list. So, with no further ado, let's look at the Shire list.
All hobbits share two special rules which offer unique advantages to a Shire army. First, you receive the "Throw Stones" rule for free on all of your hobbit models (including heroes), allowing you to use a S1 throwing weapon at 8", fired like a crossbow (so the model spends the move phase standing still to pick up the stone, and then may throw it in the Shoot Phase). S1 doesn't sound like much - it wounds D4 models on 6s, and D6 models on 6/4s. Two thoughts on this: 1) it's free - it would be overpowered if it did anything more, :P But also: 2) this means that 100% of your force could throw rocks on a given turn, which means that statistically, even with only 16 hobbit melee warriors + 4 heroes (let's say, Merry, Pippin, Frodo, and Farmer Maggot, which are the ones I'm interested in), you are throwing 20 rocks in a given round, which, at a 3+ Shoot Value, means you are landing roughly 14 hits in a given round solely from rocks (not including normal archery), which, on 6s, will statistically contribute 2 kills - perhaps more - every round.
Now, at 8" range, this is not sustainable: you won't be able to whittle down a force like a set of archers can, since you cannot do the "three-inch scoot" like a number of Elves I know, nor can you gain more distance on your opponents following the first round of shooting. But if you've ever had the great misfortune of gaining priority, creating a solid battle line, and then having your opponent tag a few of the guys in that line (and thus leaving the majority of your force unable to contribute to combat), at least you have a chance to contribute to combats by removing spear support from the fight. Again, not a huge advantage, but worth remembering as a general.
Second, hobbits all gain the "Resistant to Magic" special rule. This means that a Shire force is ideal for facing spellcasters, especially those who do not gain free Will points each turn that would prefer to cast spells on large blocks of spear-supported ranks that have no Will points to resist a Nature's Wrath, for example. If you're not facing a spellcaster, yes: you just lost one of your advantages in your match. But in the event that you play against an opponent like Tiberius who loves magic, you have built-in magic protection for your whole team. Not too shabby.
1. Hobbit Militia
Hobbit militia, at 3 points per model, are the cheapest units in the game, and for good reason. With an extremely weak fighting profile (F1, S2 normally, and D3), they will be wounded on 4s by most units in melee combat, and on 4s by S3 and S4 archery (which makes up about half of the archery fielded by guys in our gaming group; I'd be curious to see whether this is common in other parts of the world as well).
Per the new Meriadoc, Knight of the Mark profile, Hobbit militia can now be upgraded to Battlin' Brandybucks for 1 point, which increases their Strength Value from S2 to S3, giving them the competence in close combat strength that is standard for basic infantry. And, for only 4 points/model, it's not bad. As you can see from the picture above, I only use four of them in my force, so that I can complement a shirriff or two in a combat, but won't lose too many of my S3 models in a given fight if the dice go south. Hobbit militia should be used as an addendum to your force, and not as rank-and-file infantry, primarily because they are F1, and will likely lose a fight if they are involved in combat alone.
2. Hobbit Archers
I've mentioned Hobbit archers before in a past post on the Grey Company, as they used to be included in the Arnor lists. Hobbit archers offer a ranged option for your force. Per the update in the Free Peoples Sourcebook, they use bows (S2 damage at 24", as opposed to the old short bows - BIG fan of the new change, :) ), and with a 3+ Shoot Value, they perform decently for S2 archers (and usually cheaper).
If your force fields Peregrin, Guard of the Citadel, you can also pay 1 pt/model to upgrade your archers to Tookish Archers, changing their FV from F2 to F3. This is useful if you're facing goblins or other F3 civs, as it will make your archers more sustainable in close combat. Throw in the fact that the unarmed rule that used to be attached to hobbit archers has been removed, and these guys provide decent archers for only 5 points. At the same cost of goblin archers, you have a D3 archer (instead of D4) who is twice as likely to hit his target as his goblin counterpart at range (a longer range, I might add), with a higher Courage value in case you dip below your break point. In melee combat, a Tookish Archer is more likely to win combat than a goblin archer, but he is only S2 if he wins (as opposed to S3, though both would be wounding each other on 5s). Just avoid close combat as much as possible, relying on F3 as a ditch effort to save your force, and you have a decent archer corps.
It is worth noting that hobbit archers break my quintessential rule in regards to archery that I have mentioned on multiple occasions on this blog - namely, that when you read "archer" you should really read "swordsman." In the case of hobbit archers, when you read "archer," you should read "please keep me out of combat if you want me to do any good for the team whatsoever."
You also have the option of paying 20 pts to add a horn to your archers, increasing the Courage value of all hobbits in the army (heroes and warriors) by +1 (Note: this does not improve the Courage value of Aragorn, Gandalf, or Dunedain). This bonus does not stack, so buying more than one horn will never bring a hobbit warrior's Courage above 4, or a hero's Courage by more than 1. The only other character that can take a horn in the list is Merry, and between the two, I'd personally be more open to giving the horn to an archer rather than Merry if for no other reason than it draws unnecessary fire to your only D5 hobbit hero by sacking more points into him (more on that in the hobbit hero post).
3. Hobbit Shirriffs
Hobbit Shirriffs are reminiscent of the constables of Britain, armed with sturdy cudgels and donned in the traditional traveler suits and garb of the bounders. At F3, Shirriffs are the most reliable rank-and-file infantry in this list. They are still D3 and only S2, so the only stat that makes them more resilient than their counterparts is the fact that they are always F3, will tie against basic infantry, and will win ties against goblin warriors, spectres, and barrow wights. At 4 pts/model, that's not too shabby. What is more, they are a better use of points against D6 infantry, as they wound their opponents on the same roll as a traditional S3 warrior, though they will also always be wounded on 4s by a D6 model. So, against D5 armies, they will prove to be inefficient, though your Battlin' Brandybucks will hit their stride against those opponents.
This is one of the strengths of the list: your models will cover for each other. The trick - and hence the substance of the tactics post which will be Part IV of this series - is getting the right units into the right combats without your opponent blocking you out, :)
Now, before concluding this post, it is worth mentioning a general rule of thumb for your when constructing a Shire list:
You play with a Shire list to play with heroes.
With these three units as your only selections for non-heroes, don't be surprised if your army looks terrible on the stats. Save your points to invest in heroes. In my force, I've invested in 12 Shirriffs (48 pts), 4 Brandybucks (16 pts), and 8 Tooks (40 pts), which is just over 100 points. This leaves me with 499 points to spend on heroes - which goes a long way when you have a wide variety of heroes at your disposal, as you will see in the next two posts. Until then, you'll find me,
Watching the stars,
"I watch the stars, for it is mine to watch." ~ Glenstorm, Prince Caspian