Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Shire List, Part 4: Strategy and Tactics


Dear Reader,

Greetings again from the Forge!  Work is back into full swing, so I'm not sure how much I'll be posting on this blog for the next few weeks, but I'll try to keep it consistent, :)  I'm also hoping to have an update on Operation Tuckborough coming out soon, including a special project I'm working on for the outskirts of the map, :)

As promised in past posts, I'll be laying out a few strategy and tactics thoughts for you all when using a Shire army.  In passing before we begin, Shire is still very new to me, and I get the feeling already that this list is going to take a long time to master, and is also among the softest lists you can field in LOTR.  With low FV, low defense, and low strength, doing damage is really hard with this civ.  But if you play your cards well, I contend that you can pull it out - a claim that I hope to substantiate in the March TMAT Grand Tournament.

For the purpose of this post, I'll be using this list, with a few modifications on the heroes to integrate them into the tactics discussion:

Defenders of Eriador (Shire, LOME)
-Aragorn, Strider w/ armor, bow, and Anduril, Flame of the West: 260 pts
-5 Dunedain: 125 pts
-Meriadoc, Captain of the Shire w/ shield: 35 pts
-Peregrin, Captain of the Shire: 30 pts
-Farmer Maggot w/ Grip, Fang, and Wolf: 50 pts
-12 Hobbit Shirriffs: 48 pts
-4 Battlin' Brandybucks: 16 pts
-8 Tookish Archers: 40 pts

Total: 599 pts, 36 units, 11* Might, 13 bows

I'm currently in a quandary, because I want to add another Battlin' Brandybuck for 4 points to bring me to 603 (which, in the games I tend to play, is the max on the grace limit), but I don't want to buy another blister of Hobbit Militia to gain one more model, :P  Maybe I can use a Merry to fill the role, as he's a Brandybuck after all, :)  In any event, as we discuss the strategy and tactics of the Shire list, I'll be using this team with a few changes here and there to incorporate specific heroes that may also prove useful in those situations.

Strategy

Before discussing specific placements in combat, I'd like to begin by discussing some of the things you'll need to keep in mind when playing with a Shire team.  There are a number of easy generalizations a general could make regarding this team (don't lose fights as you'll likely die, plan on reaching your break point every game, run a "spam army" of weaker warriors to cover an incredible amount of archery, etc.), but I'm not going to do that here - primarily because I'm not convinced that all of those statements are true.  Instead, I want to discuss four rules of thumb that you should keep in mind that will help your tactical analysis and placement.

1.  Distance will be tricky for your force.  With only 4" movement for all of your hobbits, and only 6-8" for your rangers and dogs, you lack the mobility that most civs prize.  Dwarf commanders will be used to this, but for those of us used to moving 6" for base units and 10" for cavalry, the lack of speed in the list makes reinforcing weak elements of your force extremely difficult.  Keep your elements close, so that if one of them needs help (from Aragorn, primarily), they will be within reaching distance.  Close distance on your terms as much as possible.

Distance will also prove painful against heavy archer/throwing weapon civs, as you cannot close distance easily against any of those weapons.  The tactics laid out in the next section will help with this, but it's worth saying something up-front:

If the map is bare, you're going to lose.

We all already knew this, but it's worth saying here: bare, open maps are not friendly to your force, as opposing archers can run 3" way from you while you charge 4" toward them - that's a lot of archery wounding you on 4-5s, :(  Hopefully your opponent is a gentleman, and won't run the entire game, :)

2.  March divided, fight concentrated.  The Roman maxim holds for the halflings: keeping your elements spread out will require your opponent to break up large blocks of soldiers, minimizing the effectiveness of spear support (which you won't have, short of Dunedain who should be in your front ranks for melee combat) and banner support (which, if you don't pay 65 points for Frodo, you will also not have).  When the enemy closes distance, pull your elements together so that they can support each other against the oncoming hoard.  Throwing weapons will be your friend if an element is within missile range, but cannot reach the combat in question through distance (tying back to Point #1 above about distance being a problem).

3.  Over 80% of your force is F3 or less.  This isn't a problem if you're fighting a goblin-heavy Moria or Misty Mountains, nor is it a problem if you face a Rohan, Minas Tirith, or orc-based army, as you will force a roll-off if you tie in combat.  It does create a problem if you face reliable elite infantry at F4 or higher (which, by the way, tends to be how guys roll in my gaming group, :P ).  This means picking your battles carefully, and erring on throwing too much firepower into a fight.  Against F3 armies, taking Frodo as a banner may not be a bad idea; I haven't included him in my list in part because I wanted to run the Merry-Pippin-Maggot side of the list, but also because most guys in our gaming group play with Moria (at F2) or elite infantry (at F4), so a banner for this civ won't do much to help.

4.  You're running the softest civ in LOTR SBG - enjoy it!  Breathe easy: your force may lose, and that's okay.  Playing Shire requires the dice to work out a certain way, for tactical deployment to cater to a very specific set of strengths, and scenery that protects and preserves short people.  There are only a thousand things that can go wrong with a Shire force, so if it does, don't take it hard.  Shire requires the most skill to play, so enjoy the ride as you get a feel for it.

In light of these four thoughts, here are a few tactical deployment options for you.  As I mentioned in my tactics post for the Grey Company, the tactics below are only intended to give you a setup and deployment strategy up until you reach close combat.  Once melee ensues, follow your instincts and make your moves organically based on the situation.  With that said, here are three strategies for deploying and maneuvering your forces.

Tactics

1.  Modified Bullpen

Pardon the dog toy (toddler in my house; what can I say, :) ).  This
formation forces the orcs to break their spear blocks into weaker elements. 
I first showcased the Bullpen in my Grey Company tactics post, which focuses on luring an opponent to attack one of the elements of your force through deception: cause your opponent to underestimate the strength of your position, spread himself thin against all of your elements, and then capitalize on the error.  Now, for Grey Company, it's easy: with F4 warriors at S3 with strong spear and bow support, it is easy for an opponent to leave out one or two factors that can spell trouble for his force.


With the Shire, it's much harder: not only do you lack spear support and a high Fight Value to tempt an opponent to engage your element, but also it is just plain hard to tempt your opponent toward one group or another without causing him to think, "Hmm, let's just throw my entire army at Aragorn, kill him, and then let him come after my full force."  And this creates a problem for a Bullpen, as the bull will buck against the walls of the pen, bringing it crashing down (to follow up on the rodeo analogy that inspired the name of the tactic from my Grey Company post).

So what do we do?  As you can see from the picture above, we modify the Bullpen setup, optimizing protection for your archers while still leaving them open to help with combat if we need some extra attackers.  Place your men in 6-man blocks (maybe 8-9; I like 6 with a Dunedain floating near it, because we're dealing with 4" movement for the second rank, so getting around to assist where needed becomes more difficult as you extend the battle line), with about 3" of space between each block.  This gives you room to rush around the edges of an opponent, either through the middle (if he peels off into two bands), or around the sides (as the only solid block of infantry that could keep you from their flanks would be a 12-man block).

3" spacing is also helpful because if one of your elements is in trouble, it is within both melee striking distance of the next element and stone throwing distance.  This means that whether or not you have priority and the ability to react to the charge of your opponent, you can contribute with all of your elements into the combats to winnow down spear support.

In this setup, you'll notice that I've spread out my Dunedain and Aragorn throughout the force, with Pippin helping to hold Aragorn's group together, and Merry and Maggot forming up on the end groups to help hold the flanks (or wrap around the enemy flanks, in the case of Maggot's dogs).  A few hero changes that would work well for this force would be adding Frodo (for banner support for an element or two; you can combine two elements of the Bullpen if you want additional benefits from the banner), Gandalf (primarily for Blinding Light, and possibly Sorcerous Blast across the main line to soften the blow against your force), or Paladin Took in your center element to hold the lines and keep your forces in the field.

2.  Raiding Band (Urban/forest maps only)


One of the inherent benefits of a Shire force is that most of your models are short.  Extremely short.  This gives you an advantage when fighting in forest/urban maps, as terrain will give you free "In the way" rolls (which I've always seen as essentially a free Fate point; kinda cool).  As a case in point, I have a "Where's Waldo" question for you: can you point out the three dogs in the following picture?

Easily an "in the way" shot; taking advantage of this basically gives
you a free Fate point against all archery toward these guys.  Not bad.
Pretty cool, eh?  You can't even see Fang, hardly, though he would definitely be able to charge a unit that is coming up on the left flank.  Compare these to your average human counterpart:

Not even close to being an "in the way" shot for these Elves.
...And this is what it would look like with hobbits instead of dogs:

Some models will have the torso obscured, while others may not.
Terrain will be your best friend when planning and executing a successful attack.  The trick, of course, for taking advantage of this is that the terrain has to be 1) short enough for you to also see your target, and 2) spread out to allow you lots of shots and angles at an enemy element.  No map is going to be built to allow you to do this by hiding in one section of the board, so your best shot at gaining your greatest advantage against your foe will be small, independent bands that can function autonomously and effectively across the board, taking advantage of the limited terrain an opponent will permit to be used.

Since I sport 36 models, I've broken my force up into 4 bands of 6 warriors (3 Shirriffs, 2 Tookish Archers, and 1 Brandybuck in each), each with a Dunedain to help them (4/5 Dunedain accounted for), with Maggot, Merry, Pippin, and the dogs forming a fifth attack team.  The final attack team is just Aragorn and a lone Dunedain, designed to be the "Wag" force that will fling itself into an enemy element, splinter it through combat, and then move on to the next force.  By spreading out your forces and keeping like-minded warriors together, you force spear-heavy forces to split apart their large, defensible blocks of guys, and keep your opponent from taking too many of your points off of the table in one fell swoop.

If you choose not to run a decked out Aragorn, you have a chance to either beef up your individual raiding parties, or you can add more battle groups (though be careful: once you start hitting 7-8 attacking elements, they'll start to merge together on the map).  Each of these groups has ranged options (though the hobbit hero team is weaker in this area), a few S3 and S4 models, and a hero for a "Stand Fast!" in case you need it.  In a terrain-heavy map, small dependable raiding parties may turn the tide of the battle against traditional rank-and-file armies because of the flex room they give you.

3.  The Teutoberg (Domination/Arkenstone games only)

The defenders consist of a standard group for holding a position
in a Domination game: 6 basic infantry, 2 elite infantry, and a captain.
This fight involves two of the six raiding groups mentioned above.
In what has become one of the most famous routes in history, a technologically and numerically superior force was defeated by a renegade troop of barbaric warriors.  The Germanic warband lacked both the armor and steel of Varus' legion, which was among the most decorated regiments in the Roman army at the time (and bore the Roman Eagle as a symbol of this).  The Shire would do well to take note of what the Germans did, as they will be in the same position against almost any force on the map.  Let's jump into it.

First, you won't be able to use large boulders and bales of hay lit on fire to plunge into the enemy ranks before you charge, nor will you have the berserker and woad advantage in close combat that the Germanics did.  Tactically, though, the same plan holds: when engaging an enemy element, pinch in close, trap as many units as possible, and then smother each element as it comes.

"Wait, Centaur: how do we make sure that the enemy doesn't just send its entire army at us all at once, crushing the force that's supposed to be carrying out the Teutoberg?"  Good question.  One of the reasons I recommend saving this only for specific games is that there are certain scenarios where your opponent will naturally split his forces.  Domination games are the best for using this strategy, as you can send off small raiding parties to all of the objectives, and then focus your Teutoberg against one target, using it to splinter an opposing force.  If your opponent is forced to divide his forces, let's be honest: it's hard to calculate how many troops you'll need to take down a force that's as bad on the stats as a hobbit force.  This makes it easy for an opponent to overestimate/underestimate how much strength he needs, opening up an avenue for attack in either scenario.  Use this to your advantage.

The Teutoberg relies on engulfing an opponent.  This doesn't work well if you lose a combat, as it gives models that would have been trapped an escape route, reducing the effectiveness of the strategy.  Thus, I recommend that combats be resolved in the following order (assuming, of course, that you have priority):
  • Aragorn
  • Any Dunedain
  • Gandalf (if he is in your force)
  • Any S3 models in your force
  • All of the S2 models in your force
  • Merry (always use Merry last)
Why should Merry be last?  In case you use him to tie up a hero, you want him to have the option of shielding (because 4 dice from a hobbit is just amazing).  Similarly, it is worth noting that you should never charge in a S3 model without a F3 model also in the fight with him.  This is especially true for hobbit militia, who should almost always be with a Shirriff in combat.  Naturally, your opponent may not give you too many choices (which is where Frodo could come in handy to help banner low rolls to win the fight), but as much as possible you want to keep those guys out of fighting solo.

In the picture above, you'll notice that one raiding party (the one on the far right) is purely designed to draw attention from the uruk force, while the other executes the Teutoberg: all of the models are trapped, there are at least 2 dice going into each fight (so 4 wounding dice minimum in each if you win combat), and this portion of the force can be easily overwhelmed.  Next turn, throw these forces into the other element of the defenders, using an archer or two to hold the objective (just in case the game ends quickly).  Most defenses will want to form a battle line to defend their position: break it into smaller pieces, and dismantle the individual elements.

While we're talking about Domination games, don't forget: since Maggot's dogs can use his Courage Value (C5) anywhere on the board so long as he is still alive, coupled with their size, they do an excellent job "puppy guarding" (no pun intended) bases that you want to hold in a Domination game.  Easy to hide, fast attackers at S3 that won't run if your army breaks - not a bad idea for defenders.

Conclusion

I wish I had something more flashy and exciting for you all, but this is honestly the best I have to offer with this force so far.  A lot of my advice, as you'll notice, is based on terrain and other factors that you cannot pre-script before the battle.  This is half the fun of the list: roll with the punches, and just enjoy the ride.  What's the other half of the fun, you ask?  Well, isn't it obvious?  The thrill of victory (and, by extension, the overwhelming shame for the defeated team) when you pull off the stunt of winning with a hobbit team, :)  I hope to have some battle reports up soon using this force, so stay tuned!

In other news, we're finalizing a date for the Hunters Red October Tournament, so keep an eye out for further information on that in the next few weeks!

Watching the skies,

Glenstorm

"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

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