Greetings again from the How! It's our pleasure to continue this week with another post on Isengard strategy and tactics. Last week we did a post on the heroes available to Isengard, and in this post we will continue with a discussion of the warriors available to Isengard commanders. Next week we will complete our discussion with general thoughts on tactics and pairings, as well as some thoughts on what to expect when playing with/against an Isengard army. My teammate for the upcoming THRO 2014 Tournament will be using Isengard, and I'm excited to see how he fares in the tournament (as we will be testing some new things with his army).
Before discussing the warriors for Isengard, it is helpful to realize upfront that some of their units are "niche" units: I don't expect demolition teams to be standard in anyone's army (though who knows: once this post is over people might begin looking at some of the more unusual unit choices). Also, there are substantially more unit choices for Isengard than there have been for the other civs I've reviewed (Shire, Rohan, and Grey Company), so realize upfront that this post will look different purely because there is more variety to be seen among Isengard model choices.
What this also means, though, is that there are some models in this list that are purely built for a themed army. There are also some models that just don't work well for standard games, and may only come into play in a very specialized scenario. That's okay: this post is designed to show what a unit can do, but don't expect that to mean that there is a reason to take that unit consistently to a game or tournament.
With that said, let's look at the warriors for Isengard.
Warriors for Isengard
|Photo courtesy of GamesWorkshop|
Uruk scouts are cheap for what you get. It is rare to find a model that, for 8-9 points, gives you F4 or S4, and usually at that cost bracket they are mutually exclusive (you will either get a high FV with S3, as is the case with Wood Elves and dwarf warriors, or you will get S4 with a lower FV, with hunter orcs from The Hobbit coming to mind immediately). Other models that only cost 9 points that give you both, like the Abrakhan Guards for Harad, will cost 9 points without the option for D5 or the shielding rule. And while some generals will prefer the Chop! special rule to shielding/D5 in their armies, there is a reason that you do not see an army composed almost exclusively of Abrakhans.
Not so for uruk scouts. From personal experience you can have an army that is almost completely scouts and have a competitive chance in a brawler match because, at a decent cost, you get F4 with S4 and a chance at D5. This makes them survivable enough against your average opponent (who is looking at S2 archery and a F3 frontline), and you will usually be wounding an opponent's frontline (D5 or D6) on the same rolls he is wounding you on due to the S4.
The thing to remember about uruk scouts, though, is that they are all armed with swords or bows: you do not have an option to take a spear. This means that you will have a number of fights where you are down on the dice count (or are shielding to tie the dice count), and any warrior not engaged in combat is not contributing toward the team damage output in a given round. For those who run scouts with orc bows (which is not a bad option, by the by, as you get the 4+ Shoot Value), you can use a similar strategy to mitigate the lack of spears that is employed by Tiberius for his dwarves (as detailed in this post), though unlike a dwarf force Isengard is usually required to charge forward (because of weaker archery and overall defense against S3 archery options), so don't count on getting in too many archery kills until you close to melee and are attempting to wipe out spear support.
Scouts also get a wide variety of upgrades. They can take a banner (which I highly recommend doing, as it gives you, in most cases, the equivalence of spear support within a 3" radius), shields (which I highly recommend as standard on virtually everyone), and orc bows (which are decent; I've been shying away from them, but that's more due to a new addition I'll mention below). In addition, if you have Mauhur in the army you can pay +1 pt/model to make your scouts Uruk Marauders, which increases their move stat from 6" to 8" - a helpful upgrade that will be discussed in-depth next week in the tactics post. Again, you have to want to take Mauhur (but, as was noted last week, that's not a sacrifice as he's well worth the cost) and pay +1 pt for them (so the same cost as an uruk warrior, the next warrior choice we'll look at), but if you're looking at cutting out enemy archery rounds, keeping up with cavalry, getting past throwing weapons, or wrapping around the flanks, this is a good upgrade.
Right now the understanding is that a D6 frontline is highly formidable against a S3 army (because they wound on 6s). Uruk-Hai Warriors with shields are S4, though, so they still wound the frontline on 5s while they are being wounded by S3 opponents on 6s, and they usually cost around the same amount as their S3 counterparts from other civs. Also, since they are F4 infantry, they will usually do decently well on winning ties or forcing roll-offs.
On the whole, you cannot go wrong with this unit choice: they hit hard, they can take a beating, and they have a decent cost. Your army may not be as large as an Isengard army that invests in cheaper units, but if you are basing an army off of a mixture of uruk warriors with pikes, shields, and crossbows, you will have a solid army. I can highly recommend them.
|Photo courtesy of GamesWorkshop|
That being said, I'd argue that the current meta uses this unit wrong. When most people look at a berserker, they think, "Ah: I've got a F4 S4 dude who is D6 without a shield and gets 2 attacks - sweet! Chop away!" And then they accompany him with 2 pikes for spear support, thinking, "Hey: let's get this bad boy up to 4 attacks at F4 S4!" And at this point some in my audience are thinking, "...Yes, what's wrong with that approach? Isn't that a solid strategy?"
Veteran viewers of our blog know exactly where I'm going with this: while you can use berserkers this way, 1) there's a cheaper, better option for getting exactly the same benefit (which we will be discussing next), and 2) this is due to the fact that you are missing the biggest benefit of berserkers: the two-handed weapon.
Berserkers used to be the only non-hero unit that could receive 2 attacks at S4 with a 2H (until the arrival of hunter orcs in the Azog's Hunters list for The Hobbit), and that means that a berserker can wound a D6 warrior or hero on a 4+ and a D7 "bunker" unit on a 5+ when using the 2H - which is what you need to help you break through the enemy lines. So why don't people do that? I...don't know, :P We will discuss the berserker v. feral uses in Part III of this series at length (as I think uruk players overpay for way too much when they build an army), but suffice it to say for now, if you're going to pay 15 points for a 12-pt warrior that gets D6 instead of D5, C7 instead of C5, and a 2H instead of just hand weapons, you should be making the most of the 2H option.
As mentioned earlier, ferals cost 12 points, and they have the same F4 S4 D5 that you get from an uruk warrior with heavy armor, and for 3 more points you get Courage 5 instead of Courage 3 as well as an additional attack. To follow-up on our discussion regarding berserkers above (and not to give away too much of the thunder of our next post on tactics), there is an advantage to fielding ferals: if you pike support them you lose nothing (they only have hand weapons, so we don't antiquate the use of two-handed weapons in the profile for the unit), and they have exactly the same killing power as a berserker for 20% less cost. And at Courage 5, even if you are facing a terror-heavy army you will likely complete the charge (or pass the Courage Test to stick around once the army is broken, making them a great model to leave at an objective in a Domination game).
So why would you take a berserker over a feral? A few reasons. Berserkers are D6, so if you are really worried about S3 attacks hitting your model (throwing weapons, elf/dwarf bows, copious amounts of Rohan/Goblin/Orc melee attacks, etc.), take a berserker, as it will increase his longevity and viability on the field. Also, if you are facing a heavy terror army, having Courage 7 is good for piece of mind because you only fail the charge on Snake Eyes. You would also take a berserker for the 2H option (yes, I'm going to beat this horse to death, and I'll resurrect it to beat it to death again next week in Part III because I think it's important for armies that are preparing for tournaments) to increase your damage output, especially against D6 and D7 models.
Personally, I find that ferals do the job for me so I don't tend to buy berserkers, but from a math perspective, you should seriously look at ferals as a reliable damage contributor for your army. They are a great choice, especially if you plan to just pike support the berserker and not make use of his 2H, as you save 3 points/model.
|Photo courtesy of GamesWorkshop|
Having access to a monster can be helpful; if you like doing the monster brutal strikes, or if you want to have something tough on the field to eat up enemy archery, this troll is a good idea. I'd argue it is an expensive option (for the same cost you can get 7 berserkers or almost 9 ferals), but not a bad one. Again, you would purchase the troll for the monster class rather than the model count, which in some games is worth it (being able to shrug off siege equipment, black darts, other monsters - not too shabby), so this model would serve more of a niche roll in your army (and for some generals they will really appreciate that niche being filled), though it may not be the most productive use of points if you are looking for straight-up damage output (let alone model count to enhance your break point).
|Photo courtesy of GamesWorkshop|
Dunlendings play an interesting role in an Isengard army. They still boast the S4 that Isengard commanders value, and their profile is exactly the same as a Rohan Warrior except that they cost +1pt/model more and are S4 instead of S3 (so basically you get a Helminga without having to take a named hero). Like a Rohan Warrior they can take a banner (which is a bad idea - more on that in a bit), a bow (which is nice, since uruk scouts can only take orc bows, so you gain access to 24" S2 archery through these guys), a shield (to bring you up to D5 and give you the possibility of shielding), and a 2H, which I want to camp out on for a bit.
While it's not a bad idea take a Dunlending with a shield (for 1 pt cheaper than an uruk scout you get an uruk scout with shield that is F3 instead of F4), it is a much better deal to take the 2H over and against the other options available for these guys. The banner option suffers from the fact that the model is only F3 (so stands a chance of losing rolls with the -1 modifier to win the fight) at D4 (so relatively easy for everyone, including S2 archery, to wound), but is also S4, which is both harder to use when you are losing the fight and increases the base cost of the unit, meaning that you are losing more points if/when the model dies.
What the 2H option offers a commander is a cheap means of getting S4 two-hander killing power - when teamed with an uruk of any kind, a Dunlending with a 2H becomes not just another uruk with weaker FV, but instead becomes to linchpin for damage output. When an uruk and a Dunlending with 2H fight together, the F4 and unmodified roll to win the fight from the uruk wins the fight and the Dunlending wounds D5/6 models on a 4+ and D7/8 models on a 5+, which is really nice for a model that only costs 8 pts to field. So instead of being "just another model in the army" (that is less effective but slightly cheaper), the Dunlending plays an independent (and helpful) role.
Wild Man of Dunland
The Wild Man of Dunland is similar to the Dunlending: he is F3 (like most men), but unlike his Dunlending counterpart he costs 2 points less and is S3 (instead of S4) and D3 (instead of D4). He is also limited in his upgrade selections, being locked into only the 2H weapon. As someone who plays with orcs who use S3 two-handers, I have only one piece of advice for these guys:
Don't buy them unless you're really short on points.
Here's the reason: the S3, even with a 2H, makes wounding a lot harder for these guys than their Dunlending companions. True, you wound D4/5 on 4+ (Harad, Grey Company, most Rohan, and Galadhrim, for example) and D6/7 on 5+ (Easterlings, Gondor, most Dwarves, and High Elves, for example), but F3 and D3 means that 1) you have a poor chance of winning the fight against any of these civs, and 2) if you lose you have a good chance of them killing you (as they are all wounding you on 4+ with their basic units). Furthermore, all of these civs, for just a few more points than a Wild Man, can buy an archer option who is wounding you on a 4+ or a 5+ from 24" away, so the chances that you even get these guys into combat is quite low.
The only reason you would field Wild Men is if 1) you were running a themed army (which is perfectly fine - I'm all for running themed armies) or 2) you only had a handful of points left and you wanted to increase your model count and include some extra damage options. For example, I would consider running Wild Men if I was building an Isengard army and I had 30 points remaining, and I could purchase 3 Uruk Warriors with shields, 3 Uruk Scouts with shields, or 5 Wild Men with 2Hers. In that scenario, I'd likely look at the extra bonus to break point, the addition of 5 guys who would D5 on 4s instead of 5s, and the likelihood that I could put them in combats alongside a F4 warrior as worthy of consideration when rounding out the army.
|Photo courtesy of GamesWorkshop|
Warg Riders are your fast attack option. While Isengard has the advantage of drummer-enhanced Marauders that move at 11" to accompany the warg rider as a fast attack selection, the warg rider does not require the purchasing of a hero that is almost exclusively support-based (lacking in the damage and fighting prowess of your typical uruk heroes), and offers a lot of skirmishing options to commanders who field them.
Warg riders can take similar upgrades to Riders of Rohan: they have the option for shields (which brings them up to D5 warriors on D4 mounts), throwing spears (for some 8" ranged attacks at S3), a banner (which I do not recommend), and an orc bow (for some 18" S2 archery options).
Personally, looking purely at the 12pt cost of the model, I find that both the banner and the bow are poor equipment choices for warg riders. On the one hand, having a banner that is extremely mobile can be very helpful if you have a long battle line. The downside though is that you have invested at least 37 points in a F3 D4 model that is elevated on a horse for all the world to see (and shoot at), and when an enemy can take down 37 pts with a single shot (which, as a quick reminder, is over 5% of a 600-pt list), they take that shot.
The orc bow would be more attractive to me as a commander if warg riders came with the Expert Rider rule that Rohan cav possess, as it would allow them to both benefit from the D5 of the shield while also being able to shoot. Instead, warg riders suffer from shorter range with lower defense, which means a lot of your opponent's archery will go against them.
This may not necessarily be a problem - part of the strategy for an uruk-based army with warg riders in support might be tempting your opponent to shoot at the wargs to ensure that more of your uruks get into melee combat. I'd argue this is an expensive way to do it, but it is a viable strategy. If a commander is aiming for this, though, they should consider 1) purchasing the shield and possibly the throwing spears instead of the orc bow, or 2) going with "vanilla warg riders" with no upgrades to keep the cost close to that of an uruk warrior. A few thoughts.
|Photo courtesy of GamesWorkshop|
Orc Warriors also offer a variety of upgrades to an army: they can take banners (not a bad choice, though they suffer similar weaknesses to that of the Dunlendings mentioned above), orc bows, shields, spears, and 2Hers. One of the best ways to use orcs from my experience is to purchase them with spears (for 6 pts, which is pretty cheap spear support across the board), and use them to spear support uruks. If you do this, since the spear adds an additional attack to the FV and Strength of the uruk, you basically get the equivalent of another uruk to your fighting force for 33-40% less (assuming of course that your opponent doesn't kill your spear support with archery or engage him and pull him out of the fight). I used this to my advantage in the TMAT GT 2012, and I really enjoyed using them for that.
Quick thing to know about orcs: they're designed to eat up enemy fire. If an opponent puts any effort into killing them, they will die. That's okay - they're designed to be a cheap option that fills out your ranks and eats up damage for you so that your uruks can do more against the enemy.
For 5 points, these guys make use of the 4+ Shoot Value, which is something worth considering when comparing them to the Wild Men of Dunland, for example. It also means that they are exact replicas of the Orc Trackers from the Angmar list when using a bow, and cost the same amount.
Like orcs, Ruffians suffer from two flaws: low Defense, and poor Courage. This means that a general should use these guys in situations that will mitigate incoming damage to them (especially from S3 archery or melee attacks) and will maximize the use of their range attacks (though keeping in mind that a swarm of archers that can close to S3 in melee can work well in large numbers. Remember: when you see the word "archer," always read the word "swordsman"). Also, there is just something to be said about a 50-pt volley line (ask any goblin player - it's nice to get those for cheap), especially when that volley line has 24" range and shoots at a 4+ when people close to that distance.
Isengard Assault Ballista
|An Isengard Ballista with Engineer Captain|
1: Opponent nominates one of your models within 6" of the intended target (unless the siege weapon is "accurate," like the dwarf ballista is, in which case it is 3" away); if there is no target, the shot misses
2-5: Opponent nominates one of his models within 6" of the intended target and they are hit. If he has no other models within 6" of the target, the shot misses
6: Direct hit: the intended target is hit with the attack
What this means upfront is that the ballista starts with a 50% chance to hit. If he hits, he has a 1/6 chance of hitting one of your guys (or no one at all), and a 5/6 chance of hitting someone in your opponent's army, presuming that you do not target a solo model (more on that and how to counter siege equipment next week in the tactics post). This means that, for the purpose of math, the chance of hitting an enemy is basically 50% when aiming at a group of guys (which is what you should be doing with this weapon - we'll talk about that more next week in Part III of our series), which is on-par with uruk archers, Dunlendings, and Ruffians in regards to accuracy, but it can be done at 48" instead of 18-24" range - that is to say, at volley range or farther for your bows, who would only be shooting at a 6+ at that range.
When a target is hit with the ballista, it takes a S9 hit and is flung away from the ballista 2D6" (which is potentially double the range of a Sorcerous Blast at substantially higher strength that is "cast" on a 4+ instead of the standard 5+ at four times the range, so not too shabby), knocks the model over, and also knocks over all models of S5 or less that it passes through, giving them each a S6 hit. Models who are S6+ stop the target from moving and themselves take a S6 hit (which is still decent, as most S6 models are D6/7/8, so 4+ or 5+ to wound).
What does this mean? It means you wound on 4s or better on almost anyone when you hit them with this weapon, and at the very least (we'll assume you roll Snake Eyes for the flinging roll and all 1s to wound) you knock them over to slow them down from reaching the ballista. At most, you have a good chance of clearing out a good number of warriors when firing down the right firing lane (more on that in the tactics post).
Ballistas are best used when at an elevated position or holding an objective that allows them to be useful for the scoring rules while also contributing to the damage count. They are less effective on Hold Ground scenarios that have the armies fighting over a central objective (as you will likely have models in range of getting hit with your own ballista - more on that in the tactics post), but for Domination and To the Death games they can be very effective. What is more, at 65 points, they are cheaper than most volley lines (90 for uruk scouts, 80 for dunlendings) or comparable in cost (50 for ruffians), and arguably do more damage earlier in the game before the battle lines close to melee combat.
There are also four upgrades available to ballistas. First is the Engineer Captain, who is an Uruk Captain (see last week's post for stats and details) who costs 85 points (instead of 55-60 pts) but can spend his Might Points to help the scatter, wound, and to-hit rolls of the ballista. Personally I'd spend those 85 points buying another siege ballista, but I can definitely see the reason in purchasing him (fighting a dragon or nazgul, for example, where one wound hitting the intended target could be extremely helpful).
Second, you can add superior construction to your ballista which increases its range to 60". Since our gaming group plays on 48" boards I have no desire for purchasing this, but I can definitely see the advantage on larger maps, especially where cavalry or drummers are involved as it gives you an extra round to attempt to whittle down the ranks. Third, ballistas have a chance at flaming ammunition, which allows the ballista to re-roll 1s on to-wound rolls. For 10 points this is actually a helpful upgrade, as it means that the initial target (who will likely be wounded on 3s) has a better chance of wounding), and any incidental targets also gain a second chance at a wound if the first roll goes poorly.
Finally, the ballista can also purchase additional crew for 10 points, who are Uruk Warriors with heavy armor who can man (and fire) the ballista. You would take this upgrade if you were afraid of people firing at your ballista (a volley line of S3 archery from elves, for example, who would have the same range and a 5+ chance to wound your men), and at the very least you do get solid F4 D5 warriors if people close to melee against your ballista crew. More on this next week as we will talk about ballistas at length, but suffice it to say for now, I really like this unit choice, and will likely be fielding one in my armies from now on when running Isengard.
Uruk-Hai Demolition Team
|An uruk demolition team: 2 Uruk-Hai |
Warriors in heavy armor and a Berserker
Again, this will likely not be a standard purchase for armies, but in a siege game I could see this being very helpful in quickly making a hole for your heavy infantry to pour through.
Isengard has a lot of options - both thematically and in weaponry/functionality, Isengard gives a lot of options to obtain a lot of advantages. If a commander wants something in their army, they can find it in Isengard. This will come in handy when we examine the tactics available to Isengard, though it can also become cumbersome to generals who do not know what they want and "just want to build an army." With this in mind, a word of advice:
Have a clear idea before building an army of what you want your units to do.
Do you want guys who will not die to archery? Uruk Warriors and Isengard Trolls are probably the best way to go (and include a ballista for damage as you approach). Do you want a fast army that can quickly close distance, reach objectives first, and outmaneuver an enemy army? Uruk scouts and warg riders are your men (and include a ballista for damage as you approach). Do you want models that can dish out a lot of melee damage with pike support to take on high-Defense models? Ferals and berserkers could form your "elite" choices for high-end damage ability (and add a ballista for damage before they reach their targets). Do you want to sit back and shoot? 20 Ruffians (for 2 volley lines at 48") and a ballista with a siege engineer captain will cost you 250 points, leaving you with 350 points for other models (like 2 more siege ballistas with engineeing captains and another 10 ruffians, for example). You have a lot of options with Isengard, so build an army that does what you want it to do. If you enjoy the way that your army plays, you'll enjoy your games more, even if you aren't stacking up tons of Ws at a tournament.
In the next post we'll talk a bit about good practices when using Isengard, strategies for how to optimize your models in melee and ranged combat, an at-length discussion on how to use ballistas (and how to counter them and similar siege equipment), and some thoughts on army composition. Until then, you know where to find me,
Watching the stars,
"I watch the stars, for it is mine to watch." ~ Glenstorm, Prince Caspian