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 supporters...by 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!


  1. Great write-up, Tiberius: I've always held the notion that archery is unreliable (as I've seen a lot of 1s and 2s rolls for to-hit rolls), hence my adage that "archers are swordsmen."

    That being said, I've also seen that in a good number of games spears are unreliable (which is why I don't mind playing with Rohan or an uruk scout build for Isengard): spear support is only helpful if you roll high: I've seen a number of armies invest in a lot of spear support (sometimes to the point of 16 swords and 15 spears/pikes), and because they rolled low they lost a lot of front men and consequently the whole unit.

    Of course, the easy way to avoid this problem is to bring a banner, but who does that, right? ;)

  2. Nice write up, I've always preferred using 2/3 khazad guards and 1/3 archers myself, maxing out the amount of archery, S3 shooting is nothing to spit at after all