Friday, April 19, 2013

Battle Report: Rager's Raiders v. Defenders of Osgiliath

Dear Reader,

With this month being devoted to my new Uruk Tracker force, I took the opportunity on Sunday night to get together with Donatello to playtest my boys.  Per an insane last week of work, it has unfortunately taken over five days to get this post up, and for that I apologize to our loyal viewership.  My hope was to get it up on Monday, but life has a way of thwarting seemingly simple plans like posting on a blog, :P

But I digress. :)  As we talked about which force he'd like to use, I mentioned in passing a Gondor force that I had been dabbling with, and it caught his eye.  So in this battle report, I'll be using my Rager's Raiders list, and Don will be testing my new Defenders of Osgiliath list.  You can find the breakdown for each team below:

Rager's Raiders (Isengard Raiders, LOME)
-Ugluk (60) (Army Leader)
-Vrasku (60)
-Uruk-Hai Scout Captain w/ 2Her (55)
-Uruk-Hai Scout Captain (50)
-6 Feral Uruk-Hai (72)
-1 Uruk-Hai Scout w/ banner (33)
-20 Uruk-Hai Scouts w/ shields (180)
-10 Uruk-Hai Scouts w/ bows (90)

TOTAL: 600 pts, 41 units, 10 Might

Defenders of Osgiliath (Rangers of Ithilien + Fellowship + Grey Company, LOME)
-Faramir w/ hvy armor/shield (80) (Army Leader)
-Damrod (20)
-8 Osgiliath Veterans w/ shields (72)
-8 Osgiliath Veterans w/ bows (72)
-8 Osgiliath Veterans w/ spears/shields (80)

-Boromir of Gondor (105)

-3 Rangers of the North (75) (Culang, Cadan, Torchirion)
-3 Rangers of Arnor w/ spears (27)
-9 Rangers of Arnor (72)

TOTAL: 603 pts, 42 units, 13 Might, 24 bows

A bit of discussion about this new list before I delve into the battle report (since this list has never been used or tested here on the TMAT blog).  First of all, this list combines two of my favorite forces in the game: Osgiliath Veterans and Grey Company.  Osgiliath is my favorite battle in all of Middle Earth lore bar none (which is amazing, since my favorite character is Eomer), and being able to use Os Vets in my Osgiliath Ruins scenery is something I've wanted to do for a while.  I thought of using Rangers of Gondor instead of teaming in Grey Company, but as this would make my Os Vet archers obsolete (as they'd still need to fit the 33% bow limit), I opted to team in Grey Company without a power hero to attempt to stay thematically pure while still building the strongest list I can.

Second, though, the list is a highly durable one.  With both Faramir and Boromir, my Os Vets have a wide radius in which they become F4 D6 warriors with Courage 4 - which is very handy for engaging terror-causing units, even if a Nazgul is present.  Behind the solid line of spear-supported F4 D6, though, you also have 24 bows (25 if you choose to give Faramir one instead of giving him a shield), which is enough for two (read it again: two) volley lines.  This force can carve holes in enemy formations from a distance solely because of overwhelming amounts of archery.  When placed within a city where a model usually has to choose between cover from enemy archery and being able to charge next turn, this really plays to your advantage.

Finally, you have 6 heroes: Boromir (your melee tank), Faramir (who can either do ranged damage with solid melee offensive stats or be a secondary melee tank), 3 Rangers of the North (for a good spread of S4 firepower and a Might or Will point here or there), and Damrod (who is a Ranger of the North with -1 armor and -1 Courage for 5 points less).  Personally, I really like the last four heroes more than the first two, which is good since people tend to target the Sons of Gondor first. :P

This is the list I'm thinking of taking to the Hunters Red October Tournament, but I'm still deciding (there's a side of me that is making a very strong argument for a straight Grey Company list, so we'll see).  Needless to say, as I'm giving Donatello the defensive position in our scenario today, this will be a hard team for me to crack as I test out a new civ.

Scoring

Today we will be playing a To the Death scenario, with the following scoring rules:

  • The game ends when one side is reduced to 25% of its starting force
  • A team receives 3 points if they break the enemy force, and 5 points if they break the enemy force and are not broken when the game ends
  • A team receives 2 points if they kill the enemy army leader (Ugluk for me, Faramir for him)
  • A team receives 1 point if they have a banner surviving at the end of the game, 2 points if they are the only team to have a banner at the end of the game

Per Don's last To the Death match, he was much more optimistic of his chances to win in this battle, and had a subtle hungering for revenge ("You won't have a mounted macho hero this time to tear up my ranks, Glenstorm," :) ).  I was more than happy to accommodate, as Don (along with most of the LOTR SBG gaming community, I'd contend) underestimate the power of a well-placed Ugluk on an enemy line.  Our battle takes place today on the outskirts of the ruined town of Osgiliath.  During a brief hiatus from their skirmishes with the forces of the Dark Lord, scouts report a horde of uruk-hai thundering toward the rear of their position.  Without barricades or the river to protect them, the forces of Good rally their defenders to defend the aged city.

Glenstorm's Strategy: Donatello's archery is going to pummel me as I approach.  With almost 25 bows, he's expected to do about 2 casualties a round from range, which means I'll likely be short 4-6 guys before entering melee combat.  Since he also has superior numbers (by 7 worst case scenario with the stats above factored in), I'm going to attempt a 1-2 punch using melee and archery.  My archers will primarily screen the rest of the army, attracting volley fire and straight shots once within range, with Vrasku doing a few kills at range before closing in for melee combat.  My shields will screen the captains, who I will attempt to use to kill rangers, as they wound on 4s (or 3s for the 2H).  Ugluk will hold down Boromir and force him to burn through Might quickly.  To win the match, I'll break his army, not lose my banner, not lose Ugluk, and quickly fall to 25% to end the match.

Donatello's Strategy: Glenstorm's shields and captains are all D5, which means wounding them with archery will be hard.  Most of my army will be F4, though, so the Uruk advantage of high FV will be lost so long as I keep Boromir and Faramir alive.  That means I'm going to attempt to keep both of them out of combat with his heroes as much as possible, as those Might points could cause additional losses on my forces due to a loss of FV.  The goal will be to draw his elements toward my more defensive positions, keep him from wrapping around my men, and use spear support to force him to shield.  Killing the ferals will take priority, followed by the banner for Victory Points.  So, to call the ball: Boromir and Faramir will break the two flanks, the rangers will provide supporting fire on the wings in a Flying Column formation, and I'll shelter the center with suppressing fire to keep his elements from reinforcing each other.

The board was set, our forces were placed, and as we prepared for Round 1, the board looked like this:


And with that... ("For death and glory!")

Round 1 (P: Osgiliath)

The armies advanced toward each other, with the rangers at the top of board opting to move 3" to form a volley line.  As you'll notice, Don has his Os Vet archers split up between Boromir and Faramir's detachments, so he is only sporting one volley line (that is also attempting to hold against my right flankers).  I opted to move my uruk archers 6" this round, as my chances of scoring a kill were very low, and I was more interested in getting into the city than sitting outside like deer in a glen.


In the Shoot Phase, Torchirion killed one of my archers and one of the rangers of arnor took down one of my uruk shields with their volley line.  With no melee attacks in the Fight Phase, we move to Round 2.

Round 2 (P: Osgiliath)

Forgot to take a board shot - my fault.  Don moved up his force, taking entrenched positions behind barriers and walls as his archers moved up to the higher sections of the ruins.  My force approached the city, and began the long process of entering the maze of walls that was the edge of town.  Vrasku opted to stand his ground and load this turn.


In the Shoot Phase, Culang and one of the Rangers of Arnor took out two of my uruk archers before they could fire.


On the far side, one of the Rangers of Arnor took down one of my uruk shields.


In response, Vrasku shared the love that was going around and took down an Os Vet and Os Vet with spear from Faramir's detachment (1/3M).  With my force moving through the firing lane that Vrasku is currently using, though, I will likely need to move him next turn to get him in a better firing position.  With no melee fights, we move to Round 3, where I finally manage to get priority!

Round 3 (P: Isengard)


The armies are now firmly within the city, and the men of Gondor are eyeing close combat (which looks like it will be met in Round 4).  The Osgiliath Veteran archers have primarily taken higher positions, and the brave company of rangers on the far left are now being supported by Boromir and his force on the other side of the wall.  Ugluk and his detachment head toward the mighty son of Gondor, while the captains take their forces around the wings.

Glenstorm's strategy: My plan over the next few turns is to move Vrasku toward the center of the map, so that I can use him to fire down the spear support lines.  This will either draw soldiers away from their intended detachments, or it will negate the spear support advantage that Don has on me.  Optimally, a number of the rangers will be in the crosshairs, as I wound them on 4s instead of 5s.


Pardon the blur.  In the Shoot Phase, my archers killed no one (my token dice wiff round), and Don responds with yet more wounds from archery.  Cadan killed one of the uruk shields (1/1M), and then...


...One of Culang's rangers killed another uruk shield, and the Osgiliath Veteran archer with the head bandange also managed to kill my archer that made it to the perch on the city wall, bringing the casualty count so far to...

Casualties: 8/41 against the Uruks, 2/42 against Osgiliath ("This...isn't going very well...")

Round 4 (P: Isengard)


MELEE TIME!!!  After three agonizing rounds of casualties, my force is finally in its element: the inevitable mauling and goring of close-combat melee rounds.  Ugluk and his force (with banner support) are locked against Boromir's force of F4 Os Vets, and the captains have engaged the front lines on the wings.  As Vrasku stops to load, most of the uruk archers opt to move 6" in order to bring them into melee combat next round.



In the Shoot Phase, Vrasku takes down both of the archers in his firing lane (2/3M), but both of my uruk archers on the right failed to hit the Os Vet archers up top.  In response, Donatello's already deadly archery take the casualties to the next level.  Damrod took a well-aimed shot at the Feral Uruk-Hai coming around the far right side ("Man, I wanted that!"), and the Os Vet archer with the head bandage took down one of my uruk archers ("Dude, this guy's a BOSS!").  On the other side of the board, just to add insult to injury...



The Ranger of Arnor at the top of the steps (far right of the pic) took down another of my Feral Uruk-Hai, paying for himself and then some in one round of archery.  (*Blink blink*  "...Words fail me...")  And on that note, as the lines crashed together, a slew of Heroic Combats were called as we entered the Fight Phase.

In the Fight Phase, there were 4 Heroic Combats called, resolved in the following order: Boromir (1/6M), Ugluk (1/3M), Culang (1/1M), and Faramir (1/3M).


Boromir wins his fight and kills his uruk (3/6M), then engages another uruk shield.  Ugluk, in response, kills his Os Vet Swordsman, and engages the spearman that was previously spear supporting Boromir.



In Culang's combat, he, Dannassel, and the other ranger killed the trapped uruk, and they split forces to support his men.  He and Dannassel tagged the uruk shield in the Feral Uruk-hai's fight, while the other ranger assisted in the fight with the Uruk Scout 2H Captain.  Faramir lost his Heroic Combat (I could have won it if I spent my remaining 2 Might points, but I decided not to.  In hindsight, this was a very good call) to the shielding uruk, which ended all of the Heroic Combats for this turn.


Sorry again for the blur.  In the rest of the Fight Phase, the Os Vet with spear support to the right of Ugluk killed the Feral Uruk-Hai they were up against, which set back my plans a lot.  Boromir won his fight, but failed to wound the uruk shield (I could have wounded him if I spent 2 more Might, but I again opted not to. I'm also glad in hindsight that I did that).  Ugluk killed his man handily, and the other Feral won his fight but failed to wound the Os Vet.


On the far left side of the battle, nothing goes right for the rangers.  An uruk shield kills one of the Rangers of Arnor, the Uruk Scout Captain kills one of his rangers (2/2M), and the Feral Uruk-Hai wounds Torchirion once who fails to save the wound with Fate (1/1F), and is unable to promote the Fate roll with his Might to a winning number ("That bites.") ("Yeah; I'm sorry, man...").  The uruks now outnumber the rangers on this side, which from my experience as a Grey Company player does not bode well for their survivability.


On the right side of the field, things are looking much better for Don.  One of the Os Vets kills one of my uruk shields, while the Uruk 2H Captain goes to town on the rangers in his combat, wounding one of the rangers and barely missing the other.  Don still has me majorly oustripped on numbers on this side of the board, though, which will cause problems for my force.

Casualty Count: 15/41 against Isengard (6 from break), 10/42 against Osgiliath (11 to break)

Round 5 (P: Osgiliath)


As we enter Round 5, the armies are now completely engulfed in melee combat.  I called a Heroic Move with my Uruk 2H Captain, as I wanted to reform the lines a bit, as we were very scattered at the end of the last turn.  Don didn't challenge it (My heroes and warriors were in well-entrenched positions, so I wasn't very worried about my position afterwards.  I'm also hoping to save Faramir's Might for later this round), so the movements ended like this.  After Don engaged my archer at the top of the board, I opted to move Vrasku into melee mode, taking advantage of his F5 S5 in close combat.  My uruks swarm his rangers on the far left - I'm really looking forward to seeing how he's going to call those combats, :)  With no shots available in the Shoot Phase, we move directly into combats.

Four Heroic Combats are called, and were resolved in this order: Boromir (4/6M), Ugluk (2/3M), Faramir (2/3M), and Vrasku (3/3M).  Boromir succeeds in killing his man (5/6M) ("AAAARRRRGGGGHHHH!!!  These SHIELDS!!!"), and engages the banner (which is potentially a problem for me, as it is an easy 2 points for me if my banner survives, and is my primary means of attempting to win this game at this point).  Ugluk and the shield involved in his combat kill their man, and they both engage Boromir, hoping to protect my banner, and take advantage of the fact that he is down to only 1 Might point.


On the other side, Faramir kills the uruk shield in his fight (3/3M) ("Man, the shields are killing my Might store today!"), and then engages the uruk archer in the Feral Uruk-Hai's combat, evening the odds in the Os Vet fight.


Vrasku and the archer kill their man, and they split forces.  The archer moves to reinforce Ugluk and his troop, while Vrasku attempts to join up with the Uruk 2H Cap on Faramir's side of the board.


Don opted to start with the fights on the left first, and he met with great success.  The Feral took down one of the Os Vet Swordsmen and one of the rangers fell to my 2Her Captain, but all of the other fights went his way.  Faramir and Damrod killed their men, Captain Terrek and his spear support felled another warrior, and the ranger at the top of the screen somehow fended off yet another wave of aggression from the two uruk archers at the top of the screen.  Culang and Dannassel lost to the shielding uruk in their combat, but Don is still managing to outscore me in kills on this side of the board.  He also has me 1 model away from breaking, which is not good considering that Boromir has yet to go...


...And he gets that kill.  Ugluk passed the Horn of Gondor courage test (Test: 11), but we failed to win the fight, and he managed to kill both the banner and the shield (6/6M), which breaks my army and costs me my banner.  The other units in this area all did a bunch of nothing: I think the highest number any of us rolled was a 2 in those fights.  It was...pretty pathetic, which is not good since I'm still pretty far from breaking him, which I need to do very soon.


On the far left, the dramatically overwhelmed rangers managed to hold on valiantly, with only two rangers falling in close combat.  My plan at this point is to overwhelm the aged retainer, Cadan, and the spearman, and start rushing warriors through the door to assist with the Boromir problem.

Casualty Count: 22/41 against Isengard (9 from game), 16/42 against Osgiliath (5 to break)

Round 6 (P: Isengard)


Before discussing this round, I wanted you to know that there was a lot of nothing this round; the dice hated both of us, so there was not nearly as much carnage as there could have been (which I was okay with for this round).  I started out by courage testing for my army, and with all of my heroes passing (Uruk Cap: 14, Ugluk: 11, Vrasku: 13, Uruk 2H Cap: 12), and one uruk archer passing (Test: 10), everyone stuck around to continue the assault.  Don started moving a number of his archers off of the perches and brought them into melee range.  With no shots available, we moved into combats.


On the far left side, I was counting on five kills (which would break his army), and only managed to kill Cadan.  One of the Os Vet Spearmen managed to kill one of my archers, and the rest of the fights in the area were wiffed on both sides.  The Feral passed Boromir's Horn of Gondor test (Test: 11 - yay for C5 units!), and after winning the fight, Boromir wounded Ugluk once, who wiffed his Fate roll (1/2H).


On the left side, Captain Terrek manages to kill one of the Uruk shields, Vrasku kills one of the Os Vets, and the uruk archer with the helmet manages to kill Damrod (who wiffed his Fate roll; I'm still a bit ticked about that) instead of aiming at Dannassel.  At the end of the round, the casualty count is coming down to the wire:

Casualty Count: 24/41 against Isengard (7 from game), 19/42 against Osgiliath (2 from break)

Round 7 (P: Osgiliath)


Don began his move by tagging all of my captains, which prevented me from calling "Stand Fast!" on successful courage tests this round for my captains.  I ended up testing for 5 units, and two of them ran (which you can see exiting on the far left side of the pic).  From this angle it's impossible to see, but Vrasku has been trapped and swarmed by Os Vet archers, and my men are pretty much ganged all across the board except on the far left.  Things are looking desperate for me as I'm 7 casualties from the end of the game and have still not managed to break his force.  With no shots available, we move to fights with no Might points left on the board.


Faramir manages to kill the Uruk 2Her, and the Os Vet archers land 2 wounds on Vrasku, who fails his Fate roll (1/1F, 2/2H).  The Feral wins his fight against Culang and Dannassel, though, and wounds Dannassel.

And here it is worth taking a moment to pause for a moment for the gravity of the situation - and by this I do not mean that Don is 1 unit away from breaking.  I am referring instead to two solemn facts that have both come to a head in this fight.  First, this is the first time Dannassel has been a casualty in combat, which on its own deserves a moment of silence.  What is more, this is also the last time I will be fielding Dannassel, Ranger of Arnor, in my army, and thus her first death is also in her last game, which is worth pausing over.

...LET ME EXPLAIN!!! :)  The reason that this is the last combat for Dannassel, Ranger of Arnor, is not that I am not fielding the model in combat anymore.  After all, after all of the time I spent on the conversion, I could never bring myself to not field the model in a fight.  Instead, I wanted to take this moment to announce that Dannassel will be undergoing yet another conversion: in the next battle report you read involving her, you will be introduced to her as Dannassel, Ranger of the North!  Of all of my Rangers of Arnor, she has well earned a place among the greatest of her kin, and I look forward to changing the paint scheme to accommodate her as a stronger, more resilient warrior.  Anyway, back to your regular programming, :)


On the far side, Ugluk wins his fight against Boromir and the spearman ("Yay for 6s!!!"), and opted to take a shot at the spearman instead of Boromir.  The result was a wound, which broke Don's force.  The Uruk Captain and his force continued to maul the remaining rangers, resulting in the death of the aged retainer and Cadan's loyal spearman.  One of the rangers, though, manages to kill one of the uruk shields in his fight ("Gotta love killing an enemy when you're ganged 2-1!").  Things brings my army to 2 away from breaking, which means that I broke his force just in the knick of time (*Gandalf voice* "...for which I am very grateful...").

Casualty Count: 29/41 against Isengard (2 from game), 23/42 against Osgiliath (9 from game)

Round 8 (P: Isengard)


After testing, the Uruk Captain passed (Test: 10), Ugluk passed (Test: 14), and the Feral passed (Test: 10).
One of the archers ran (1 away from the game ending), but the other stayed.  For Don's force, Culang passed (Test: 15), Faramir passed (Test: 10, 2/2W) ("Cutting it kinda close there, Faramir - don't scare me like that!"), and Boromir passed (Test: 10), leaving only one Os Vet Archer and Os Vet Spearman to test (who both passed).  In the Shoot Phase nothing happened, so we enter the Fight Phase.


Apologies for the blur.  As you can see (after wading through the haze), we finally got the ranger in the corner, and all of the other combats resulted in nothing of importance.  Boromir wins his fight against Ugluk, but fails to wound him (there goes my chance to kill his Army Leader...).


On this side, Faramir and the Os Vets ganged the Feral and took him down handily.  This brought my force to 25%, and the game was over.

Final Count: 31/41 against Isengard, 24/42 against Osgiliath (8 from game)

The final Victory Points count, though, was amusing: we each received 3 points for breaking the other army, but since neither of us killed the enemy army leader or had banners remaining at the end of the game, we pulled a 3-3 Draw.

Conclusion

Glenstorm's Thoughts: Wow, he led off with 8 kills at range before we even closed distance.  I did not expect to take 20% casualties before charging in, which will likely only be worse if I face off against an elf or dwarf force, as they hit at S3.  All in all, though, I really like the force: it is very predictable, as there are only three units and four heroes, but it is an adrenaline-pulsing team, which I really like.  I also just really like the models and poses of the army, so even if we never win a game, I'm looking forward to fielding this force again.  My opponent played well in his position and deployment, and I had a ton of fun.  Well fought, friend!

Donatello's Thoughts: The game played out more or less how I wanted it.  I wish that Boromir's force could have broken the thin shield line sooner, but otherwise I cannot complain.  I probably should have thrown more forces at Ugluk to attempt to kill him, but with the dice being how they were, chances are I'd have only thrown soldiers away, as he only rolled 6s to win the fight after Round 5.  All in all, though, I'd look forward to fielding this force again, Glenstorm!  It's definitely a keeper!

Stellar Unit for Glenstorm: Gotta be the Ferals - no question.  The shields do a good job of holding ground, but having a unit with 2 attacks at S4 has become a fetish of mine, and I really enjoyed fielding these guys.  I really want to play another game with this force just to field the Ferals again!

Stellar Unit for Donatello: The Osgiliath Vets were absolutely essential to the effectiveness of this list.  With all of the Uruks (including heroes that did not have 2Hers) wounding on 5s - whether at range or in close combat - I was able to level the playing field in regard to wounding chance.  This gave my Might-heavy heroes an edge.

So, all told, this was a really fun fight, and I look forward to having another one soon (probably this weekend).  Until then, you know where to find me,

Watching the stars,

Glenstorm

"(Your teacher) is a human...and is therefore blinkered and fettered by the limitations of your kind." ~ Firenze, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Cavalry

Being the sole regular user of cavalry in our group here at TMAT (at least so far... hoping... hoping!), I felt like writing a post about the tactics I employ for the use of cavalry in the LOTR SBG.

Alright... ok... I hear ya... "Cavalry? Why on earth would I want to spend, like, ten extra points - the price of a good warrior (or two bad ones) -  for a mount?". Good question... Most don't... But they miss out on a lot.

Cavalry have always been a huge fascination of mine... *cough... well... If I'm completely honest... my fascination with cavalry starts with the armored cavalry divisions of WWII and transfers to the modern Air Cavalry divisions in today's military that get to use cool things like the AH-64 Apache... So, I like cavalry as soon as you get the horse out of the picture... (mostly joking)

I will start with a strong point:
In the Strategy Battle Game that we all here know and love, cavalry charges do... not... work! I'm not kidding. When I first got into this game, I loved the idea of cavalry. Glimmering knights atop their prancing steads, lances reflecting the sunlight so as to appear that they had some enchantment from the Valar... I won't even talk about my love of the warg and any model that is enthroned on one... but I couldn't understand why no one, who was familiar with the game ever used them.
I didn't care.
I got ahold of some Knights of Minas Tirith and sent them off to charge at the vanguard of my armies!... and they died.
I was not happy... Again I sent them off in their next game, to valiantly vanquish my foes and flank the enemy!... they died... again.
For the longest time, the only cavalry that had any sort of luck were wargs beneath petty orcs and their riderless counterparts (which are subject to controversy) but with S4 you're bound to chew something every now and then... (plus wargs are just awesome)
I was disappointed. But I did not give up. It took me a good long time, yes, but I have since discovered  few pointers that greatly improve your chances of succeeding with cavalry... In a nutshell... Cavalry work with infantry. plain and simple... more specifically, while staying alongside infantry, cavalry engage only after the battle lines have clashed...
Reasons:

  1. You want to give the cavalry some supporting attacks to win the fight.
  2. You want more models around to make the opponent think about who he's targeting.
  3. You don't want your horses all alone holding a flank. They just don't have the strength (for the most part)

This is not a hard and fast rule, I suppose. Knights are still as fit of a soldier as a normal infantry unit. They're not weaker somehow. They just are not invincible and in order to get the distinct advantage that you pay for with cavalry, you need to protect them and use them wisely. Sending them out on their own tends to go downhill reaaall fast. but sometimes you need to... So, don't underestimate the psychological effect five knights will have if they suddenly take off around some major piece of terrain, threatening to flank the opponents force.

Obviously, deployment is crucial. but the extreme mobility that cavalry have, allows you to maneuver them into position long before any normal warrior would be able to get there. - sigh... I feel like I'm giving away my secrets here to my regular opponents... but oh well... I guess it isn't all that secret - I deploy my cavalry behind the front lines on both flanks... As soon as the battle lines clash, my cav wip out from behind the lines and engage alongside the infantry... of course... your opponent is sitting there watching your lines advance and he's looking at your cavalry advancing behind the lines... I wonder what he thinks your gonna do? So, mix it up. Cavalry can pretty much get to wherever you want them to be, so they can completely switch what side of the field they're on in 1-2 rounds. Getting your opponent thinking that they are going one way and then taking off another way is what cavalry are great for.

I also never field large amounts of cavalry (unless the fight is 1000+ pts). If you have too many horses, you won't have enough infantry to support them with added attacks and take some hits for them if need be. In the end, your cav will die, and you won't have enough other stuff to hold their own against the onslaught and you will, in almost the blink of an eye, lose the game and have to pack up and go find someone's arms to cry in... don't ask me how I know.

The above pointers are to help convince anyone who is just not too sure about cavalry to give it a try. I want to get more people to use cavalry because they are an interested unit and pull a whole 'nother dynamic to the game (yeah that... and I want more people to invest in cav cuz I'm tired of being so darn outnumbered all the time!)... And no... It is not fool proof... nor is it traitor-dice proof... You'll have to work that part out. But treat your horses well and they'll come through for you... maybe.

Here is a quick rundown of the cavalry that I am familiar with:

  •  Knights of Minas Tirith are nice. Definitely on the cheaper end of the points cost of cavalry, these bad boys pretty much can only brag about their fancy lances (+1 to all wounding die when you charge) and D-6 with shield.
  • Mounted Knights of Dol Amroth on the other end of the spectrum are among the most expensive. but with their F4 riders, D5 mounts, lances, and special banner rule with their prince Imrahil, these guys have been the most successful of any cavalry unit I've seen. 
  • Morgul Knights come in just slightly more expensive then the mounted KoDAs but their shtick is the terror special rule. Now in case you fell asleep through my above writing, it is very important for your cavalry to charge their enemies. This special rule, at least in theory, mixed in with (again) a lance, gives the Morgul Knight the potential to be the most lethal of all the cav units because if the enemy can't charge you cuz they keep failing their tests, guess who gets to charge them. Nazgul mix very well with these guys. *evil grin*
  • Riders of Rohan are a fair bargain for the price (cheap). Great for running around, shooting, and engaging at just the right moment. These guys come with a  bow and still get the defensive bonus of having a shield. That's pretty good. But at D5, you better have some infantry around to make sure they win the fight. If the army includes Erkenbrand, you may upgrade your Riders of Rohan to F-4. Very nice. You should pretty much always do that. Erkenbrand is one of the best heros in the game for his price and why wouldn't you want F-4? I will also note and admit that the tactics I use for cav I have not tested much on this particular type. If you know a Rohan General who has his own techniques for these guys, his way is probably better. 
  • Son(s) of Eorl are worth mentioning. I've never played with them nor have I ever seen them used, but these guys sport two attacks, S-4 and an armored horse with a move of 12". Three attacking die on the charge, six wounding die, and the movement of an eagle? Yeah... if are willing to pay the price (in $$$ and in point value :P), these guys could be very effective.
  • Warg Riders are largely unimpressive. The orc on top is kinda just going to sit there and be an extra unit for you if the warg dies because the warg is the one who brings the hefty strength 4 to bear. But think of it this way: you get a warg for just seven points plus a five point orc on top. There's a free point hanging out there somewhere! (unless my math or memory is off) 
  • Wild Wargs are my personal favorite. At Strength 4, these devils can really put a damper on someones day, (or flank). The performance I've gotten out of wargs has been spread across the whole spectrum. I've seen three wargs slaughter a whole entire battalion of Gondorians (we're talking like ten guys here) and I've seen wargs run up and die in the first round of combat. They are only D4 so they will die on you.  Some games they are very effective, sometimes mildly effective, sometime not overly effective, sometimes not effective at all, sometimes quite ineffective, and sometime extremely painful at how pathetic they were. But I loved wargs in the movies, I love wargs in all the games, and I love wargs on the battlefield, even if they do seem to be a little unreliable.
Now I know that many of you may have opinions that Wild Wargs are not, in fact, cavalry... And the mucketty mucks at GW have recently come out with a modified rulebook, themed after The Hobbit, in which they define, very clearly, what a cavalry model is... yeah... I guess I ticked somebody off, but they threw that in just to spite me personally. Not kidding. I am personally offended by those few sentences... The extra attack and knock down special rule for cavalry comes from the physical force of  impact when a 400 lbs beast crashes in to you. I'm sorry, but how does a warg with an orc on top of it have any substantial increase in its momentum? Answer = it doesn't. Wargs are cavalry. (I'm not quite sure if I've actually convinced most of my regular opponents of my view or if they've just gotten tired of my whining... maybe I'll never know)

There are, of course, many other cavalry units that I have not covered and I am definitely one who would encourage players to try them out. But you can't just throw them at the enemy lines and expect results. Be tactful. It's called a battle strategy game. It just took me a year and a half to learn how to use these guys but they are a lot of fun and very satisfying to play with. Plus they just look cool.

   ~Tavros~


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!

Tiberius

Thursday, April 4, 2013

April Project: Uruk-Hai Month with a Twist!

Dear Reader,

So, I want to begin this post by mentioning a fact that has likely heretofore not been known in the blogosphere:

I was the first person at TMAT to run Isengard, and the first to field a Fallen Realms army!

Okay, glad that's settled, :)  Yes, I am returning to one of the first armies I ever made: The Isengard Raiders!  This is a unique brand of Isengard, and since all of the other players in our gaming community use the heavier, more expensive Fighting Uruk-Hai, the scout side of the list is rarely seen.  In the first TMAT GT I fielded them with a number of Mordor Orcs (primarily for spear support), and in the recent TMAT GT, Tiberius fielded a few of them as Marauders.  In this post, I want to highlight why I love the trackers so much, as well as why I'm building the list the way I do.  I will also give you all a sneak peak at some of the other models I'm painting - some of which have never been seen on this blog, and which will likely be my project for the very merry month of May.

Theory and Preliminary Tactics
My force, as well as a number of wolves in the background that
are definitely not the "wolves of Isengard"
First of all, for those who are using the new Sourcebooks, the units included in an LOME Isengard Raiders list are very limited: Uruk Scouts, Feral Uruk-Hai, Warg Riders, Uruk-Hai drummers, and an assortment of light, cheap heroes costing 60 points or less.  There is some variety within these units, but not much.  We'll examine the heroes and units in turn in the next section.  What I want to focus on under this point, though, is the theory behind a purely Uruk Scout force as differentiated from their heavier counterparts, as well as some of my preliminary thoughts on tactics before playtesting the army against anyone.

As we look at strategy, there are only two differences between an Uruk Scout and a Fighting Uruk-Hai Warrior: armor and cost.  Both affect your strategy.

1.  Your units are less survivable: Fighting Uruk-Hai wear heavy armor, so they start at a base D5, and become D6 with a shield.  This makes them more survivable against S3 attacks in close combat (Elves, men, most dwarves, orcs, and goblins) as well as at range (Elves and dwarves, plus select human heroes using longbows).  While both scouts and warriors have F4, the D6 over D5 distinction makes warriors more survivable in close combat should you lose a fight.  This is exacerbated by the next problem...

2.  You lack spear support: When you add the lack of spear support to the fact that you have a lower defense value, you will generally have less dice going into a single combat to attempt to score a "6."  With F4, you are likely to win ties against most units, but if you fail to have the better role, your unit will likely have a 33% chance of falling in combat, instead of a 17-33% of falling.  This statistic is boosted when fighting units with multiple attacks.  This leads to the next point...

3.  Flanking with power units and heroes is critical: Notice I didn't say "flank with units" there.  While you will undoubtedly have scouts getting around the battle line (especially if you run Marauders, which we'll discuss in a bit), but crunching the enemy battle line is not the only consideration for this force: you need to smother and destroy the enemy battle line before it punctures a massive hole in your battle line, as you will have no support behind your front line (except maybe archers, who can double as capable swordsmen).  In the picture above, you can see both that you can field a long battle line with this force with some melee warriors in reserve, so you have plenty of units to go around.  But if you start losing soldiers in this line without getting around the flank, you will quickly find your army broken and Ugluk being forced to play headtaker instead of army leader.  And as a minor aside, try to avoid bridge combat if at all possible, :)

4.  Timing is everything: As much as possible, you need to be picking when your forces enter melee combat. If your battle line moves up too quickly so that it will be 2-3 turns before your flankers hammer home into your enemy's sides, you will lose a lot of your warriors in a short period of time.  Because all of your warriors and heroes fight individually, any warrior not engaged in combat in a melee combat round is a unit lost, as he contributes nothing to the combats.  Compare this to someone charging into a pike formation: pikes will help their army, regardless of whether the attack happened according to the timing of the general.  For scouts, timing is everything.

5.  Shielding is your friend: As much fun as it is to know that you have F4 at S4 for all of your units (except heroes, who are F5 at S5), shielding is an old tactic, well proven, that still takes advantage of your F4.  Use shielding to take ground, hold ground, and keep the main body of your opponent at bay until your flankers can punch a hole through the opponent's main force.

Did none of this strike you as new?  Not surprising, due to the final point to consider:

6.  A limited list means limited options and strategies: There are only so many things you can do with four units.  As I mentioned in my post on Grey Company units, when you have only a handful of units to play with, you are hemmed in by the natural constraints of the list.  This will limit your ability to evolve and branch out in your strategies and tactics.  I suppose we cannot all be Harad, Gondor, and other civs that are heavily developed and nuanced; Isengard as a civ is very nuanced, but the Raiders side of the list has remained fairly stagnant since the first batch of units came out.  Just part of the limitations of the list, I suppose, :)

Units

Before jumping into the units Isengard offers, I'll give you both a caveat as well as my 600-point army list.  First, I don't use all of the units available in the Isengard Raiders list, so some of these will be using GW pictures.  The analysis under them will also be fairly scant, as I haven't given them nearly as much thought as I've given the others.  Second, here's my 600-point list, with 200+ points given to heroes (in case a tournament requires that):

Rager's Raiders: 600 pts, 41 units, 10 Might
-Ugluk (Army Leader): 60 pts
-Vrasku: 60 pts
-Uruk-Hai Scout Captain w/ 2H weapon: 55 pts
-Uruk-Hai Scout Captain: 50 pts
-20 Uruk Scouts w/ shields: 180 pts
-1 Uruk Scout w/ banner: 33 pts
-6 Feral Uruk-Hai: 72 pts
-10 Uruk Scouts w/ bows: 90 pts

With this in mind, let's examine the units available to Isengard.

Uruk Scout (with shield)
Presenting, Clansmen of Lamedon!  In May I'll highlight my Gondor forces,
including these boys.  Two lessons learned: 1) painting redheads is fun,
and 2) painting plaid is not fun
I first bought a blister of Uruk Scouts because I loved the poses for the shield warriors.  When I discovered that I could actually determine the placement of the arms of a few of these guys as well (first chance at customization! :) ), I got really excited.  Over the years, I've really loved the look of these warriors, and painting and customizing them over those years has been a joy.

Anyone looking to run a Raiders list - whether you run Marauders with Mauhur or regular scouts - should be comfortable using these units.  I foresee almost no instance in which you'd forgo buying the shields for these guys, so I'd recommend equipping all of them with shields.  The only scenario that I could foresee that would encourage you to not purchase shields for these units is if you were facing a Dwarf or Elf army, where everyone is S3 (which wounds them both on 5s), and if you had absolutely no desire to shield (which I'd say is a dumb move considering you have no spear support).  From someone who has played with scouts without shields...buy the shields, :)

Marauders deserve a special look: Tiberius has used them in a few games, and I must admit: they are very effective.  For +1 cost, a Marauder has 8" movement, giving an additional 2" of movement to your infantry.  This may not seem like much, but consider: 8" is enough distance to close a gap against throwing weapons before they fire.  8" allows you to sit comfortably away from an enemy battle line, and have the chance to strike first, picking which units you fight, and opting not to take others if you don't want to.  It also makes wrapping around flanks insanely easy (and almost impossible to hide banners and other weaker units).  I don't use them because I don't run Mauhur, but I'd highly recommend them as an option for a general who wants more versatility in his list.  The only other option is the Warg Rider, which we'll discuss later on.

Uruk Scout (with bow)
Damrod and two Osgiliath Veterans fend off an Uruk archer attack
Whatever chronicles may say of the bows of Elves, Dwarves, and the fell sons of the Dunedain, never underestimate the danger of a well-placed orc arrow.  Uruk scouts are not exceptional archers: 4+ shoot value at 18" with S2 punching power.  They are far less deadly at range than their crossbow counterparts, and a commander that is more of an artillery general at heart should definitely take crossbows over orc bows any day of the week (except Mondays - nothing goes right on Mondays).

I really like the orc bows, primarily because I'm more of an infantry general.  As I've mentioned earlier on this blog when discussing Rohan, my theory regarding archery is this:

Whenever you read the word "archer," you should be reading the word "swordsman."

I make it very clear to all of my archers that, at some point in the battle, they will be asked to contribute swordarms instead of arrows.  This is especially true of Uruk archers: with the same F4 and S4 of their shielded companions, they are twice as powerful and much more effective as swordsmen.  Their primarily role in my army is to soften up the enemy a bit (not expecting more than 2-3 kills in a game from archery), and then move in for the kill at close quarters.  We'll see how this goes.

Feral Uruk-Hai
That's right, Boromir: call for help...
These guys are new to my army, and I had a ton of fun using a small pair of pliers to turn their arms and hands to make them more unique.  With 2 attacks at S4 and F4, these guys offer you a bit more firepower, either for a flanking maneuver or holding the center of the line.  At D5, they are also just as survivable as their counterparts at range and in melee combat.  Their Courage 5 also makes them exceptional at charging units or heroes that cause terror.

You'll notice upfront that this is really just the lighter version of the berserkers that other Isengard generals are fond of using.  I'm glad that GW provided scout players with this option, though, because I've grown to love 2 attack warriors following my time with Angmar over the past few months.  They fill a special niche in my army list, though they don't attract nearly as much attention as a berserker would from archery.  With six of these guys on the field, I'm looking forward to some serious carnage against an enemy battle line!

Warg Riders
Photo courtesy of GamesWorkshop
Personally, I don't run Warg Riders in my army.  I know that some players will want wargs so that they have a 10" move unit, which is very handy if your archery comes from the worst bow in the game (S2 at 18").  For 12 points base, you can purchase shields, bows, a banner, and/or throwing spears for these riders, making them very similar to Riders of Rohan for close to the same cost.  There are a few reasons why I am currently not investing in Warg Riders.

1) It's an orc mounted on a warg.  The warg sports a S4 attack, but it is not F4 like your Uruk-Hai.  They represent the weakest Fight Value in this army, which is often what you rely on to win fights.

2) They sport the lowest defense, and attract a lot of attention.  The warg is D4 (like non-armored horses), and there is no way to enhance that stat.  With the orc also at D4, the warg rider either remains D4 if given a bow or banner, or can become D5 but is limited to only taking a shield and possibly throwing spears.  This is because...

3) Unlike a Rider of Rohan, warg riders lack the "expert rider" rule, meaning that they cannot have both a bow and a shield at the same time.  Warg riders either focus on giving you mounted archery, or being primarily a close-range melee fighter.  But at D5 and F3, the threat from these warriors is much less than the threat of, say, a Feral Uruk-Hai, who costs 12 points - the base cost for a warg rider.

Ultimately, you'll field these guys if you want speed, or if you just love commanding cavalry.  It's an option for you if you'd like to use it.

Heroes

For an in-depth discussion of Isengard Uruk heroes, I highly recommend Tiberius's post on this blog regarding Isengard Heroes and their roles in an army.  I wholeheartedly agree with his approach, though I'll make a slight jab for one of my boys later in this section (because I might be the only guy in creation who runs him), :)  In this section, I want to highlight the four heroes that I use in my list.

Vrasku
Vrasku and two of my archers - shout out to Tiberius for the helmet!
Vrasku is one of the most commonly fielded Uruk named heroes, regardless of which list you use.  With a 3+ shoot value and two shots with S4 at 24", it is hard to top his firepower in the Isengard list.  For only 60 points, he makes a devastating hero at range, and a good artillery option if you need to hold a position.  Tiberius does an exceptional job describing him in his post, so I'll forego further discussion here.

Ugluk
Ugluk and his trackers encounter Faramir, Capt. Terrek, and some Osgiliath Veterans
Sorry for the blur.  Tiberius describes Ugluk as the tactical/support hero for Isengard, as he has a 12" Stand Fast! with his headtaker special rule.  I know that some players prefer to run Lurtz or Mauhur as their "hatchet" and power hero, but I really like this guy.  As I mentioned earlier, I'll throw a line for Ugluk here that Tiberius doesn't mention.

Ugluk is one of the strongest Isengard heroes in melee combat, primarily because of his profile.  While Mauhur is the 3 attack brawler for Isengard, Ugluk has 3 Might points (to Mauhur's 2), allowing him to be involved in more heroic combats, and boosting critical dice in dire situations.  At D5, he is also just as strong as Lurtz on defense (with a similar M/W/F breakdown), but his lack of a shield forces Ugluk to focus on killing units: he is completely one-track, being forced to kill his target.  For someone who loves shielding, I appreciate the fact that Ugluk forces me to stay constantly on the offense, as he does not have the option of shielding.  For the army as I run it, I really appreciate that.

All that to say, I agree with Tiberius that he serves a critical support/tactical role for an army, but I'll also mention that he is quite the capable melee brawler, and will rack up a good number of kills if you place him well.

Uruk-Hai Captain with 2H weapon
I got $20 on the Uruk...
Thanks to a Christmas present from Tiberius, I now own 3 Mordor Uruk-Hai, all of whom are in the process of being modified into Isengard Uruk Captains!  This means that I will soon have 2 captains with actual 2H weapons, which will be sweet!  Check back to this space for further updates on those conversions.

Uruk-Hai Captain
An Uruk Captain leads a troop of scouts
In case you were wondering, yes: I opted to run this captain without a shield.  Tiberius makes a solid argument for the "rock" hero that a captain with a shield is for a team, and I'd very much have preferred to buy a shield for him.  Alas, though, my army could not accommodate the other 5 points, so he will be running as a weaker version of Ugluk in this force.  I still intend to use him to defend a flank like a shield cap would do, but he will be slightly less defensible.

I considered getting an Orc Captain with a shield and an Uruk Scout without a shield to round out the points, but I think I'll be pleased with another F5 hero at S5.  We'll see if I change that in the list.

Conclusion

As you can expect, the strategy for most games will be simple: rush the enemy line as they form, swarm and envelope each element, and crunch each element of the enemy force until you can overrun into the next element.  There is not a lot of variety in this army, so it will feel a lot like an Easterling/Dol Amroth force in terms of what you can do with your units once they are on-table.

The most important thing for Raider commanders is this: you need to be comfortable with D5.  If you are worried because your boys are wounded in close combat on 5s instead of 6s by normal infantry (like you would if your men were D6), you're in for a learning curve with a scout force.  As someone who started with Rohan and now consistently runs Azog's Hunters and Grey Company, I'm very comfortable with D5 and below, so it's not a major concern for me.  But for those who are used to D6, be warned: it will feel very different when you are on the wounding side of things.

Finally, your heroes fit a niche roll in your army.  Unlike your Halbarads, Golden Kings, Gandalfs, etc., all of your heroes are designed to do one and only one thing for your force.  Use them effectively within those niches, and plan ahead to ensure that your opponent does not do a last-minute switch of placement for a critical hero or element that will neutralize the strengths of your heroes.  I'll also warn you in advance that your heroes only have 1 Will point: magic is going to hurt.  Period.  Just remember: keep calm, and eat man flesh. :)

I look forward to what the next few weeks will hold!  You'll find me,

Watching the stars,

Centaur

"Centaurs are concerned with what has been foretold!  It is not our business to run around like donkeys after stray humans in our forest!" ~ Bane, Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone

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,

Centaur

"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