Monday, August 25, 2014

The White Council: What Build Should I Make?

So last year at THRO 2013, I took a five-man Ringwraith force. We lost two of our games outright and nearly tied our third. Why did I take this army? Because I could and because they're fun. My foes agreed that playing against an army of terror-causing, magic-blasting units was different than the traditional fight, but my "all-hero" lists came under some critique on their competitiveness.

This year, I'm bringing a White Council list, which I think will not only be very competitive, but also will be very, VERY fun to use. The list is as follows:

The Might of the Elves (aka, "Melee Is Everything")

Elrond - 170 pts
Celeborn with Elven blade, shield, and heavy armor - 150 pts
Glorfindel, Lord of the West with Armor of Gondolin - 140 pts [Army Leader]
Erestor - 80 pts
Arwen Evenstar - 60 pts

Total: 600 points, 5 units, 1 throwing daggers, 11 Might points

This list features four - count them FOUR - D7 heroes and everyone is Fight 6+ (with more than one wound and usually 3 Fate points). That's a tough army to crack. Arwen is the light-weight of the army, but she has the uncanny ability via Nature's Wrath of putting an entire flanking force on their backs OR sending the front lines into complete disarray (taking away the vital benefit of spears and ensuring my men don't take wounds in a given round). When you consider that Elrond also has this spell (not to mention Renew to put wounds back on those D7 heroes), and Celeborn has Immobilize, the army is kitted out for magical casting.

The army is also great at magical defense because of the White Council's special rule (getting a +1 to your roll means you often only need a single dice to resist). Glorfindel's armor not only makes him D7, but also makes him Resistant to Magic, which is great for continuing to resist enemy spells late in the game (or keeping him free from magic entirely since casting against him may be pointless).

This is a very straight-forward offensive build, but there are other legitimate builds for the White Council, depending on what you value. The build that you see above is subtitled "melee is everything," because everyone is designed to either dominate melee combat or mitigate the effectiveness of enemy units (via Nature's Wrath primarily). I decided that this list would be fun to try in this particular tournament, but here are a few of the runners up.

Alternate Army #1: Shooting is Everything

The White Council has twelve units to work with, and only three have traditional ranged attacks, so we'll buy them first:

Legolas with armor and Elven cloak - 105 pts
Thranduil - 90 pts
Erestor - 80 pts

Subtotal: 265 pts (325 pts left)

After buying archers, you need to protect them (especially when an Elven cloak comes standard on Thranduil), so let's get some "ranged" units from the wizards of the army:

Saruman the White - 150 pts
Gandalf the Grey - 170 pts

Total: 595 points, 5 units, 2 Elf bows + 1 throwing daggers, 13 Might points

Saruman and Gandalf both have Sorcerous Blast, which is a great way of slowing units down (and secondarily killing some). With Legolas and Thranduil scoring roughly 3 hits per round at long range, Saruman and Gandalf casting Sorcerous Blast in medium range, and Erestor rerolling failed to Wound rolls in close range, you've got some serious damage dealing capabilities before your foe gets to you. Enemy archery is not a worry, with Gandalf reducing the effectiveness of direct archery and all of your units being D5 or higher. I didn't choose to take this army because the scoring rules will reward brawlers this tournament...not this army's forte.

Alternate Army #2: Magic is Everything

All but three of the units on the White Council (Glorfindel, Legolas, and Erestor) have magical spells they can cast, so our working list is now down to nine units. It's tempting to approach an army list that centers around magic by buying the units who can cast lots of spells and have a wide variety of spells (i.e. Saruman, Gandalf, and Radagast). From experience, keeping just two of these guys alive is really hard...and I would assume that keeping all three alive would be really, really, REALLY hard. So instead of buying units who can cast a lot, the idea will be to generate a list that has (nearly) all the spells that are available to provide a toolkit approach to dealing with threats.

We begin with purchasing either Gandalf the Grey OR Saruman the White. For the sake of this list, we'll take Saruman, because casting Sorcerous Blast more easily is a great way to supplement the damage out put of our other units. To protect Saruman from both archery and melee, we will also take Galadriel, who not only provides us with one of Gandalf's spells that Saruman lacks, but also gives us a melee queen who will make charging both her and Saruman (once he gets up Terrifying Aura) much harder.

Saruman the White - 150 pts
Galadriel, Lady of the Galadhrim - 125 pts

Subtotal: 275 pts (325 pts remaining)

If we wanted to get Radagast the Brown, he would add three spells to our collection: Panic Steed (which we can't regain with other units), Terrifying Aura (which we can get from Cirdan or Thranduil), and Renew (which we can get from Elrond). Let's plan on taking Elrond (great melee hero), since he provides us with both Renew and Nature's Wrath. In order to get Terrifying Aura, we'll be taking Thranduil for the following reasons.

First, Thranduil is limited to casting Terrifying Aura once per game, but it doesn't cost Will points and it's automatically cast on a 6. That's hard to resist without sinking Might points into when the only person in range to resist is an Uruk Captain with a single Will point (if he hasn't spent it yet). Cirdan will likely have 2 Will points that he could use to cast the spell (one used to cast and one to keep Cast Blinding Light up), but he needs to get a 5+ in order to get it off. He could fail it pretty easily (using his only Might point, he has a 25% chance of failure while using two dice) and like Thranduil, you're only getting this off once anyway. Secondarily, Thranduil is a much better warrior than Cirdan, having one of the best Shoot values in the game, an Elven cloak for protection against archery, armor to reduce damage intake, and a melee weapon that can be used as a two-handed weapon. Not bad, right? Our list then also includes:

Elrond - 170 pts
Thranduil - 90 pts

Subtotal: 545 pts (65 pts remaining)

At this point, you have two choices: upgrade one of your heroes, or add Arwen (the only hero you can get for 60 points). If you're going to upgrade anyone, I'd recommend changing Thranduil to Celeborn with all his gear (if you really like melee and don't care about archery), or if you chose Gandalf instead of Saruman (45 pts to work with), you could forsake the spell-casting requirement and exchange Galadriel for Erestor and Legolas. For the sake of this list, let's assume that you purchase Arwen, since four-man teams are hard to use and because having three casters with Nature's Wrath is just awesome:

Arwen Evenstar - 60 pts

Total: 595 points, 5 units, 1 Elf bow, 13 Might points

Alternate Army #3: Numbers is Everything

So this army list is simple - we're going for body count. That means, we can start with the cheap units, and work our way up from there. Let's begin with three of the six cheapest warriors for overall protection and damage output:

Legolas with armor - 95 pts
Thranduil - 90 pts
Galadriel, Lady of the Galadhrim - 125 pts

Subtotal: 310 pts (290 pts left)

The above units should be safe from enemy archery and should be able to deal pain when the enemy arrives. On their own, though, they're going to struggle, so let's get two more cheap heroes to protect them in close combat:

Erestor - 80 pts
Arwen Evenstar - 60 pts

Subtotal: 450 pts (150 pts left)

Erestor we briefly talked about above as an excellent short-range archer, but his 3 Fate points with D7 should immediately signal a utility bunker captain. On offense, his choice of rerollable wounding dice or using a two-handed weapon is great for damage output. Arwen plays the alternate roll (with Thranduil, really) of making sure your foe can't reach your archers (because when you're sent to your back, it's hard to keep up with nimble Elves).

With 150 pts left, we only have room for one more unit (because of our unit selection). This gives us a few options, but let's assume you want to be able to do some melee damage/protection. You could pick up Glorfindel with the Armor of Gondolin for his melee/anti-caster prowess and equip Legolas with an Elven Cloak, greatly enhancing the archery effectiveness of this team. Alternatively, you could take a fully-decked Celeborn to neutralize enemy units. I, however, will recommend a very different player: Radagast the Brown.

Radagast the Brown - 150 pts

Total: 600 points, 6 units, 2 Elf bows + 1 throwing daggers, 14 Might points

Radagast is not going to kill very many units, but he'll provide tactical benefits that your team lacks. There are exactly four members of the White Council who don't cause Terror...and all of them are in this list (not Galadriel or Radagast). Radgast is the only hero who can reliably cast Terrifying Aura (granting everyone within 6" of him Terror for a turn) more than once. Since all of Radagast's other spells are cast on a 2+ or 3+, it's pretty easy to spend the free Will point only to get these off. Barring a barrage of enemy magic (Elven cloak rule should take care of that), you can spend your Will points casting something that will preserve your archery advantage for another turn (or two, or three).

Secondly, Radagast can restore wounds on your heroes via Renew. With Erestor as your bunker hero, making sure he keeps his spare Wound available will help you a lot in buying time for your archers to do their work. I could go on and on about how great Radagast is, but it turns out I already have on a previous post. Take a look at that for how you can use Radagast in your army!

Alternate Army #4: We Can't Die (really)

We've done a magic, ranged, and melee-focused army already, and we've tried to maximize the number of units we run, but our last list attempts to focus on one aspect that the White Council controls quite well: high health/Fate/defense units. This list will try to meld the benefits of having high defense with lots of restorative powers.

For starters, we want to get some reliable heroes who will pass their Fate points. This means taking two of the three units with the Elven rings:

Elrond - 170 pts
Gandalf the Grey - 170 pts

Subtotal: 340 pts (260 pts left)

With the remainder, we can buy three more heroes if we want, but for this list we're going to just buy two of them:

Radagast the Brown with Sebastian - 155 pts
Legolas with armor and Elven cloak - 105 pts

Total: 600 points, 4 units, 1 Elf bow, 12 Might points

Radagast can cast Renew rather easily on his friends (and doesn't need line of sight to do it) and Legolas will stand nearby to protect him. Purchasing Sebastian (thanks to the new Hobbit SBG profile, which we here at TMAT allow players to use in the LOTR SBG sourcebooks where the same model is reproduced) gives you a bonus attack dice at a really low strength. The goal is not to wound with this dice, but to win with this dice: since Radagast isn't a fighter, anything that gets him more dice is a great thing. For 5 points, it's a bargain.

This list will be hard to win with (because of its low body count), but it has the potential to live for a very, VERY long time - everyone has 3 Fate points (rerollable for two of them), everyone is D5/D7, everyone has 3 wounds (except Legolas), and you have the ability to do mega damage in each phase of battle - who wouldn't have fun with this list?

Adventure Is Out There!

So part of the reason for this post is to get our readership excited about THRO 2014, but a dual purpose is to gain a little exposure for the possibilities of all-hero lists. I was actually able to use/recommend everyone except Cirdan from the White Council list in at least two army lists, so there's some flexibility in what you can do if you invest in them. In the coming weeks, I'll be doing a similar thing with the Fellowship of the Ring and my Riders in Black, just to show how non-conventional armies can be built based on your playing style to emphasize a certain trait. At the end of the day, the scenarios may not make your list competitive, but you can have a lot of fun playing with these lists.

Until I see you again, happy hobbying!

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Dwarf Tactica: Archery is Everything

At TMAT GT 2014, I took my beloved Dwarf army. Since starting the hobby, I knew I wanted Dwarves - I always loved the Dwarves. I still think my Wood Elves are the most sophisticated army that I own, but the Dwarves are my hardiest group (and are not lacking in strategy). They are also very, very fun. Coming into this tournament, though, I knew there was one critique that all Dwarf players must face: how do you fight armies of spears/pikes with no spears of your own.
I must note here that I believe (and will endeavor to show) that the Durin's Folk Dwarf list is better than the Army of Erebor Dwarf list. Though the army from the Hobbit SBG can get spears (D7 spearmen to boot), they cannot get any ranged weapons. Having D7 across the entire army is great, but I hope that at the end of this post, the merits of having archery options instead of spear options is at least as competitive for a Dwarf list as a high defense, spear-toting army.
I must also caveat that more than half the units I brought in my army had ranged weapons: 10 Dwarf bows, 2 Dwarf longbows (normal bows), and 9 throwing weapons in a 39-unit army means that you should have some archery at all times (not to mention the lowest Defense of these units is D5, what is considered to be a good Defense value for archers in the game). This build for a Dwarf army could be viewed as anomalous, but I find it to be the most practical build for a Durin's Folk list.

1) The Benefits of Spears

Many armies here at TMAT use spears - most of mine do too. Spears are great in that they allow a unit to lend some additional fighting capability (more under the Hobbit SBG rules than in the LOTR SBG) to a friendly unit without risking injury in the fight. An unwitting benefit of spears is also to prevent a powerful hero from rushing through a thin line into strategic heroes, like Shamans. In this picture, even Balin will need to take several turns (or spend Might on heroic combats) to get to Groblog and the Goblin Shaman, both of whom assist their peon warriors by helping them shrug off wounds (making heroic combats less effective.

Spears, though, have a critical shortfall: they are only useful when you engage your foe in combat. Of the eight armies brought to the TMAT GT 2014, five had seven or less archers in their ranks (and two of the others dropped from the tournament). This means that only a small part of these armies (roughly 20% or less) could weaken the foe before he arrived. This requires your spearmen to deal with virtually all of your foes when battle is met. If you are willing to deal with most of your foe intact in a battle, feel free to do so. However, allow me to submit a better way...

2) How Archery Doubles as Spear-Support

Dwarves are known for their defense, but they are less well-known for their archery: S3 bows (and/or S3 throwing weapons) means that you can nail anyone short of D6 pretty well, and even when fighting against D6-D7 foes, you have the advantage of being able to attack at your base strength from a distance (you're going to need to get that 6 to wound sooner or later). If you run a stagger-pattern, you can shoot at anyone who is directly ahead of you as the charge begins. This is critical - the more F4 D6 units you can kill before the fighting starts, the fewer F4 D6 units you need to kill in melee later (when their full stat line comes down to bear on you).

Once your foe is in combat, though, your bows can act as spear killing enemy spearmen. In the picture above, running your units in a stagger-pattern means that most spearmen won't be able to evade your shots. The Dwarf on the right side has had his shot denied him, but the others are doing just fine. As a note, this particular squad in the tournament also featured two Rangers with two-handers and two Warriors with Dwarf bows - this is great for running behind the enemy to make sure you get sneaky spearmen why try to avoid your firing lanes!

Finally, remember that the key for using Dwarf archers is to capitalize on their excellent Fight value and Defense value - very few archers in the game get to F4 or D6, so if you don't think you'll get good shots at their spearmen, be sure to charge them if they come crashing into your ranks! Remember the famed words of Glenstorm on this blog: Archers are Swordsmen.

3) How Archery Is More Versatile

Archery, in my humble opinion (especially as a Dwarf player) is a better option than using spears. This is for several reasons: first and foremost, archery can be employed long before spears lend their aid to melee combat. We've hinted at this above, but the primary gain in versatility comes from the fact that you can whittle down your foes before they get to you. As your foe gets closer, any throwing weapons you have (this group has three of them) also aid your archery. Once combat begins, you have the flexibility of continuing to shoot from behind a D7 bulwark, or you can charge into your foe and engage his spearmen.

The second reason why archery is more flexible is driven by the scenario. Consider a Domination game, where an enemy objective is held at the start of the game on the opposite side of the board. A clever foe who knows you don't have archery can use his own archers (maybe a volley team?) to peck at exposed defenders on your objectives or try to nail one or two of your units as he charges to a contested objective. Because a single man can change a game of Domination from victory to a draw/defeat depending on where he is or where he was going, archery is key to giving you late game (to say nothing of early game) advantages. Spearmen will be trucking along with the shield wall they support, and if your foe is capable enough, can be stopped from getting to an objective because of terrain limitations of sheer enemy numbers.

The final reason why archery is more versatile is because it is independent of your opponent. The value of a spear supporting a combat is completely driven by what units your opponent is fielding. F2 Goblins will have a hard time cracking a F4 Dwarf Warrior who choose to shield instead of striking (or a F4 Feral Uruk-Hai). Spears in the hands of Dwarves have serious advantages over many armies, but if your opponent fields a Shade (who makes it impossible for your warriors to get higher than a 5 on their roll to win if they are in his realm of influence), your overall value is reduced. An archer, on the other hand, is only affected by visibility, terrain, his offensive stats, and his foe's defense value. This means that if you can keep clean firing lanes, your archery can be more reliable than spear support (especially when the strength of your bows is equal to your strength in melee).

4) So...Why Use Spears?

The Dwarves are a bit of a special case: their archers either shoot well with normal bows or shoot decently with stronger bows. If you compare Dwarf Rangers with longbows to Rangers of Gondor (same offensive stat line and equipment), you pay 2 extra points for increased Defense, Courage, and a special rule that gives you terrain maneuvering advantages. It's a steal. The Dwarves, as a result, are more effective in archery than most armies against D5 foes and certainly not worse off against armies with D6 warriors.

If, however, you are limited to an army that has a decent/awful shoot value and a normal strength hit (Goblin and Orc armies in particular), there's good reason to critique the value of archery. For these armies - and I'll go out on a limb and say those armies only - spears are the best option. In the picture above, which Goblin strategy do you think is more likely to kill all the Dwarves?

In about two months, we're going to be having our third annual THRO tournament (see the first and second for context), so watch this space as the announcement comes up!