Friday, October 17, 2014

Into the Wild: Weathertop, Part 3

So in today's post, I've done some detail painting to the Weathertop board (TEDIOUS!) and finished the columns for the top of the structure. To display some of the terrain work, you'll also see shots of my Ringwraith conversions (more on those guys in coming weeks), a shot here of my son Tamwyn, and some of the final touches that have been put on my Wild Warg Chieftain conversions (more on them after THRO). While Weathertop is great and all, it's only part of a board that will be used in the upcoming THRO 2014 tournament. The rest of the terrain pieces that will be used will be seen too.

The entryways have gotten some moss work and most of the pink polystyrene can't be seen now. It's hard to keep it that way when you have a two-year-old who thinks this is the coolest piece of terrain and wants to drag units across it (we're working on it). Gandalf is stalled by some wargs and their chieftain, trying to reach the top: you can see that there is room for cavalry to ride up to the second level and the overhang allows for archers (or climbers) to really take advantage of the terrain piece.
Further up the road, Aragorn is ambushed by two mounted ringwraiths. The alcove landings provide plenty of room for moving, but has some restricted space to allow for shield walls to try to be effective. At the bottom left, you will notice that the ground rises a bit to allow for evading your opponent's line if he doesn't block that route. It also provides some limited archery protection (in-the-way roll).
At the seat of power, the hobbits face three ringwraiths, including the Witch King of Angmar! I finally got the pillars how I want them. They are all on movable bases, making the terrain modular (and optional). The two pillars that form the arch can be used together (as shown) or separately. If used separately, I find that cavalry/monsters have a single stairwell they can use to enter the top, which for the purposes of our tournament is probably not fair - ergo, this will be the set up. Pillars are still WIP, but we'll see if I can get them improved this weekend.
Ancient Ruins

Elsewhere on the field, Glorfindel challenges the Witch King in all his splendor (yes, he appears twice...don't ask). There are four ruins that I have built the other objectives on the map. Two are shown here: on the left is a simple building which will be equipped with a non-movable ladder allowing for archers to roost on the top deck and sturdy walls to hide in if you don't have a bow. On the right is my long-time-work-project smithy, which hopefully will be a bit more detailed by the time the tournament hits two weekends from now.
Non-Objective Terrain

Other pieces of terrain will be scatter across the table. These include the large rocks that you see (perfect for hiding if you don't want to be found), a woodland piece of terrain featuring a fallen tree (great for protecting Elven cloak units), and a marsh and briar patch (both standard difficult terrain, not woodland terrain). I've also based my field boundary walls, which will be scattered across the rest of the field, providing some deployment opportunities and minimal archery protection for some races (they're not high).
Next week, I'll be hitting the Dwarf Hold board again, touching up places where paint has chipped away and talking about the terrain restrictions that go with it. The Saturday after that post goes up, we'll have the THRO tournament, the intro to which I plan to have up on that day. If all goes according to plan, all of the tournament results will be up before the end of the month. Until you choose to stop in again, happy hobbying!

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Operation Dunharrow: Terrain Update 1

Hey Reader!

So, I've been wanting to do a Dunharrow map for years now, 1) because Rohan was my first army and I love my Rohan guys, 2) because Eomer, the Third Marshal of the Riddermark, hails from Dunharrow and he's my favorite guy in the Trilogy bar none, and 3) it would give me an opportunity to pursue a very different form of urban map, as I like urban maps, and while I've designed a number in my time, they always have a Gondorian feel to them (nothing against Gondorians; in fact, since my Rohan force is on loan right now for the tournament my Gondorians and Grey Company models will be showing off the terrain pieces to you in this post, :P ).  What is more, I've always wanted to play around with a castle idea, and this map gave me a chance to do that.

In this post, I'll be looking at each of the terrain pieces going into my Dunharrow Map, as each of them has a unique contribution to the board.  Before diving in, I'll note in passing that all of the pieces were cast by GrandManner, which is arguably the best resin casting group in the world, and the detail and quality of their products are truly top-notch.  I'd been looking at investing in some GrandManner pieces for a while, but due to cost and shipping I shied away.  Then they did a 20% off special and some email-based deals, and I caved, :P  What follows is a large purchase from their 28mm Dark Ages Collection, coupled with about 14 hours of painting (plus about an hour of base coating, give or take), and you've got a number of pieces that I'm so glad I got done in time for THRO!

1.  Large Settlement

This settlement (which you can find here) is a simple circle of two houses (the bottom right and top right structures), a stable (bottom left), and a storeroom (top left), mimicking the stone and mud structure houses that I've loved ever since seeing Braveheart at the age of fourteen.  They do offer more daub/wood-based buildings (which would be more Rohan-esque, I suppose), but 1) I like these more, 2) the offer was cheaper, and 3) I just like it, and there's something to be said about buying something that you like the look of, as it makes painting a piece much more enjoyable come Hour #8. :)

Capt. Terek and his men defending the settlement, including some
Clansmen of Lamedon because they just fit so well, :)
The large courtyard, winding entryway, and removable rooftops also mean that this piece offers the multi-dimensional approach that I love in urban warfare.  For those interested in the specs, the sheep fold to the right is about 8" long and about 4" wide, and the settlement itself is about 15" long and 10" wide (not including the pen).

As you can see, the average soldier stands high enough for an
"In the Way" roll, but the wall can also be scaled with a jump test
Also, due to the height of the buildings and the fact that the walls can be scaled with a simple climbing test, you can have fights going on inside the structures while having fights going on above them on the roofs, while having fights going on in the courtyard and defending the walls.  I've been seriously considering using it for an objective in a Domination Game (with the Gondorian Warrior with banner in the picture above being more or less where I'd place the objective marker), as it provides a lot of avenues for attack, but also provides some straightforward walking options for those who want to enter but do not want to take jumping/climbing tests.

2.  Timber-Planked Workshop/Forge
Capt. Terek and his men defend the Forge
This piece (which you can find here) is actually the one that got me thinking about GrandManner in the first place.  I'd been looking for a forge for a long time, and I didn't really like the other ones people had built.  I just wanted a simple forge, like the one in Kingdom of Heaven: place to make weapons, a workbench, nothing too fancy.

And then I saw this one at GrandManner, which is priced competitively, came large enough to have some action in it, has exceptional interior detail, and the removable roof, so if you wanted to do something on the rooftop you could (though it's precarious; not recommended for metal models).

The forge sits about 8" long and about 3.5" wide between both rooms, so it takes up a good amount of space, but it feels really open, so you have some room to fight in it as well (though it ups the anti for close quarters - lots of trapping if you lose combat).  I'm looking forward to a Pirates of the Carribbean-style fight some time in the future in this place, if any of my opponents will oblige... ;)

3.  Arthurian Fortlet

From the get-go in my miniatures investment, I knew I wanted a castle.  I didn't want a "big wall, haha, can't get to me" castle, but rather one that reflected more of my lifestyle: not much to look at, simple and decent defenses, but something worth defending.  And with the Arthurian Fortlet Deal A (which you can find here), I found it.

GrandManner offers four different fortlet deals: Norman style (which uses wooden planks and stone for walls and buildings), Arthurian style (wooden stake palisades with stone towers), Celtic style (wooden stake palisades with wooden towers), and Rus/Norse style (which is similar to Arthurian but with covered tower tops), and of them I fell in love immediately with the Arthurian style.  They offer two different options for Arthurian (and all the other styles) designated as A or B, with the only difference being the situation of the tower at the corner or on a side.  Each set comes with four corner pieces, three side pieces, and a gatehouse (which completes the circle as the fourth side piece).

For those who are looking at the size/scale, the interior of the castle (from the inner part of the palisade wall to the inner part of the opposite palisade wall) is about 14", so not bad on space, but not too massive either on a 48" x 48" board, which I like.  I'm planning on adding another 6" segment to two of the sides (near the gatehouse and on the opposite side) to widen it to 20" x 14", one of which will include a heavy weapons platform for placing siege equipment or a larger contingent of soldiers.  My plan though is to keep the fort simple.

And this goes back in part to something I'm hoping to spend the winter months before the GT doing: working on a viable means of running siege scenarios in a 90-minute game.  At the next tournament that I run (which will not be the GT, as I'll be too preoccupied getting into my Hobbit psyche to run the tournament and command one of the hardest armies in the game to do both) I hope to use a siege mission, and in my desire to find a way to make for a balanced game that neither unduly benefits the defender nor over-compensates the attacker I'm taking siege combat back to its primal state, if you will.  When you strip away a lot of the clutter, what, at heart, is present in a siege?  You have walls and towers for the defender, and you have lines of attack for the attacker, either created through natural openings or through forced openings (ladders, rams, etc.).

For this castle, the defenders start with a breach in the wall, as well as a gatehouse, and a tower will accompany the breached section of the wall for extra support for the defender.  That being said, the walls are at the height where a model can simply make a jump test to get over the wall, so the attackers are not funneled into an attack against the gate or breach.  The advantage of using those positions, though, is 1) ignoring the jump test, and 2) I'm making both sides of the sloping areas (sans the area covered in debris in front of the breach) difficult terrain, so there will be reduced movement approaching the rest of the walls (including reinforcing the walls with defenders).  The towers, as you can see, are open-topped as well, so while defending archers will get In the Way rolls against incoming archery, they are still vulnerable.

The gatehouse also has a door on the righthand side (not the lefthand side, so don't scale that side to get into the gatehouse unless you intend to walk around!), and the interior allows for 3 bases to stand in there.  This makes for quick trapping if you are not careful, so plan on defending your gatehouse well!

As you can see, there are also two windows facing forward from the interior of the gatehouse and two facing back out toward the interior of the fort (nothing to the sides - cover those areas with the top section), so if you lose one end the gatehouse can still support you with archery (limited space inside still being a factor, though).  The entryway of the gatehouse is about 2" wide and 3" deep without the door in it, so enough room for two infantry side by side or one larger 40mm base to pass through at a time.

Tiberius and I are planning on doing some siege fights once THRO is over, so keep watching this space in November for further details, :)

4.  Large Trench

I've always loved trenches - I've wanted to make some for a while now, but always struggled with how to do that without also making a board (and while I think the boards my buddies have made are cool, I'm just not interested in lugging around that much polystyrene; not my thing), so when I saw that GrandManner had a trench (and it was on sale), I decided to give it a try.  It's designed for a WWI board (hence the sandbags that I colored as rocks among other things that give away the era), but since I'm looking for Infinity and 40k terrain and I'm no stranger to recasting a piece to a medieval time period, this was easy, :)

The trench on this map would serve as the encampment of the attacker (so it's the siege works, if you will), and it's about 14 inches long, so a good length.  The trench also gives just enough for a 28mm model to comfortably navigate it (with one section that opens up for a 40mm base to comfortably fit there), but not enough room to back up, so trapping can be a problem for the defender.

On the flipside, as you can see, most of the walls are high enough for an In the Way from archery, granting the defender a bit more protection from enemy missile teams.  This makes it a fair trade in-game: do you take the "in the way" against archery as the opponent comes toward your position while risking trapping when they reach melee?  Do you spread your forces out enough to prevent trapping while risking enemy models getting into the trench because you didn't have enough men shooting at them as they approached?  Good thoughts, good ideas, and a good piece of terrain.

I'm seriously thinking about getting a second piece like this for the siege works to go on a different side of the castle, but we'll see.  Still trying to decide on a setup that I really like, and trying to find ways to use it effectively so that it actually contributes in a given game (instead of just being a chasm to be jumped at the start of the game, as if the attacker didn't have enough to think about already!), so we'll see, :)  More updates coming after THRO,

Watching the stars,


"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

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Conversion Updates: THRO 2014 List and New Arrivals

Hello readers,

When I got back from vacation Saturday morning, my family all went to sleep and I stayed up and hobbied around (because once I'm up, I'm up). For today's rather eclectic post, we're going to be focusing on some conversions and new arrivals that will be seen in the upcoming THRO tournament and quite possibly the next GT...we'll have to see.

1) White Council List Preview

My list is finalized on the tournament post (see link above) and with the exception of Elrond (borrowing him from Glenstorm), I now have all the models in the army. Here's a quick look at them:
Nothing new with Glorfindel or Arwen - they've been seen in a few of the White Council batreps and tactica. You'll notice that my Rivendell characters favor white and blue, though. This plays into the newest addition to the army: Erestor.
Every game I've played with Erestor, I've proxied someone in for him. As I noticed how often he showed up in my sample lists, I decided I should probably get him. Now that I own him, I'm really excited to use him in the upcoming THRO tournament. Hard-core GW gamers will recognize, however, that this model isn't the GW Erestor model. He's actually purchased from a company called Dark Sword Miniatures - they sell single models who are only slightly larger than the GW LOTR collection for slightly less money. The detail is incredible, as can be see in this picture and I hope many more. Erestor wields throwing daggers that have bonuses to wound in melee and range combats, and also has the ability to wield an Elven blade if he chooses - very versatile and I like the pose that the model came with.
Celeborn isn't new, but the sword addition is. I had a sword taken from one of my Sentinels, but I lost it (broke off sometime and now I can't find it). So, I borrowed the sword from my Theoden model (more on him next). This makes the sword he wields honkin' big and I plan to make it glow the same color as his clothes. I have a shield that I'm converting, though I haven't decided how I want to do the armor...hopefully more on that in a later post. Whatever I choose to do with both shield and heavy armor, I'm not making these adjustments permanent - I believe that Celeborn should never be run without an Elven blade (being unarmed is rough when you're a combat hero), but you can legitimately add just the shield to this set-up or just the heavy armor (or both). I don't want to constrain myself, so we're going to leave those two pieces modular.
2) Theoden to Eorl the Young Conversion

One of my buddies at this tournament is borrowing my Rohan riders and converted Eorl model. You can see a work-in-progress image of the mounted model on another post on the blog, but I've been taking my time deciding how to convert this one. Theoden is a great hero and all, but I didn't see his role in the Rohan-Fiefdoms list that I'm building (target date is Christmas for completion, more on that list after THRO). Thanks to a spare spear model from Glenstorm, my Eorl model just needs an awesome shield and he's good to go.
3) New Arrival: King's Champion Conversion
So I have long believed that the King's Champion is one of the best priced heroes in the game: you get two banner models (who have shields) and a super captain model for 125 points - making the cost of the champion effectively the cost of a normal captain. Having two banners included in the cost basically means you don't need to buy banners elsewhere in your army and should your opponent try to kill them, you have 2 Fate points on each of them (that can be rolled over to protect the King's Champion if required and if they are in base contact with the champion. All of these guys have the ability to become D8 if one of the banners and the King's Champion (or both banners) are touching each other - not bad for resiliency, right?
The set began as a standard Dwarf Warrior metal blister, with two warriors with shields and one warrior with two-handed weapon. The heralds lost their hand weapons and got half a tooth pick instead, which is going to be the basis for the standards that they will carry. One had to have his arm rotated, but I think they turned out okay.
The champion received the weapons from his buddies and lost the two-hander he started with. The resulting pose is a classic two-axe approach: one blade swings at the shield/hand weapon to knock it out of the way while the other rips into the exposed enemy defenses in one impressive flourish. I'm really looking forward to using this guy and taking advantage of the carnage he can cause. Those who were following the conversions, though, will note that the two-hander axe head has not been listed at all...where did that go?
Oh, it was requisitioned for basing additions...yeah, you're not getting any more info on this guy until after THRO. :)

In the next few weeks, I'm hoping to get a few games in with some buddies before the tournament - don't know if the full write-up will be on the blog, but we'll see. After THRO, we'll be doing some in-depth tactica on dragons and providing some final product updates on the units you've seen in this post. Until next time, happy hobbying!

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Isengard, Part III: Strategy and Tactics

Hey Reader!

Today we conclude our three-week series on Isengard, focusing on some tactics and strategies for pairing and using units in an Isengard force.  Over the past two weeks we looked at the hero and warrior choices for Isengard, and today we want to focus on some beneficial pairings for Isengard heroes and warriors when planning out an army.  I'll mention in passing upfront the following:

This post will not say that running Such-and-Such an army build is wrong.

The point of this post is not to criticize how people build their lists.  Do you want to play a fun thematic list that is centered around Sharkey and Worm?  Go for it!  Play the lists that you enjoy playing (and there is a reason for playing with those two heroes, by the by, as we noted in Part I of this series), and if you have heroes you'd like to use but don't know how to make the most of them, feel free to comment below and me and my team at the How will find a way to fit them into an army you like, :)  What this post is intended to show, however, are some of the best pairings for armies and heroes to suit a particular style of gameplay.

To begin, we'll look at some of the common desires of gamers who play Isengard, which will be instructive toward the kinds of lists and deployment/movement tactics we recommend.  All of our advice will end at the point in which the armies come into melee contact (similar to what we did for Rohan, Grey Company, and Shire armies in the past), primarily because so much changes once armies form up into melee combat that it is difficult to give "instruction" once that part occurs.  Instead, we'll talk a lot more about army composition, pairing of warriors with heroes, and some movement and deployment-based tactics to give you an advantage when the swords clash.

Strategy Overview

We made some general observations about Isengard at the start of this series; a few quick notes are worth saying before looking at particular army builds or strategies as a dilution of those thoughts.

1.  Strengths of Isengard: Damage at S4

Isengard is the only civ that has access to not only a lot of Strength 4 damage in melee combat (even among their cheaper models), but also Strength 4 damage options at range (and 24" range at that).  With a blend of crossbows and frontline fighters rocking S4 (and D5+), Isengard has a good chance at doing damage in the early rounds, even before the front lines get into combat.  What is more, Strength 4 brings the uruk advantage to bear against D6 frontlines before the main body engages the enemy, removing a traditional strength of most lists.

The trade-off for Isengard, though, is that is a full-on Strength 4 list is also extremely predictable, as their S4 units are very one-dimensional (crossbows form up 24" away and fire, large bodies of uruk warriors with pike support advance quickly until they slam into enemy formations, etc.), so if your opponent sees an army built on Strength 4, just know that they will be prepared to brace against the attack, because everyone can see it coming.

2.  Weaknesses of Isengard: Magic and Low Courage

Most Isengard heroes have only one Will Point, and most Isengard warriors are Courage 3 (and most heroes are Courage 4 or less).  This means that I have seen a good number of games (most unfortunately - I take no pleasure in seeing this, whether it is my army or my opponent's) where someone will have to spend Might Points to keep their uruk captain on the field due to a low Courage test, and droves of their men flee the field because the player rolls poorly.  Isengard plays well against armies that are about its size that it can chomp down to size quickly (Gondor and Easterlings especially - players using these armies will need to devote a lot of thought to taking down Isengard, as your basic units cost about as much and will get mauled by uruk ranks), and they tend to run into trouble when they are Courage testing or attempting to resist the effects of spells.

Spells especially can be dangerous.  Isengard is one of three civs (in addition to Easterlings and Fiefdoms) that is allowed to pike support (3-deep support) their front lines, which gives them a dice advantage over shielding front ranks of infantry and spear-supported ranks of infantry.  This is a wonderful advantage unless a Nature's Wrath goes off around them and the pikes find themselves unable to support a front rank that is knocked prone by a spell.  Similarly Isengard blocks of infantry are very deadly unless they find themselves hit by a Sorcerous Blast, in which case the close concentration of warriors can prove impractical (if not fatal) to the uruk force.  I've also been the personal recipient of Immobilize and Command spells turning my high-power Strength 5 uruk captains into high-cost pillars all game, so there is a lot of danger to an Isengard army if they are taken apart by magic or consistent Courage tests.

3.  Crisis Scenario: Terror-Based Armies

The major danger to Isengard armies is a terror-based army.  Armies that rely heavily on the Terror special rule force uruks to Courage Test on 3s or 4s (depending on whether they are warriors or captains), and their Dunlending counterparts fare no better.  And while uruks do have options at Courage 5+ warriors (the feral uruk-hai and the berserker), they cost 12-15 points/model, which is a lot of points to put into a few models (and models that have only 1 Wound with no Fate, so archery should be a consideration).  Isengard armies will find themselves stretched thin and impotent when facing terror-based armies, and this is one area that is hard for Isengard armies to improve.

It is possible - Isengard has access to an uruk shaman option (as described in Part I of this series) to help keep your uruks with Courage problems (Dunlendings, you're on your own), and presuming that the opponent does not have good archery or fast attack models to reach the shaman past his detachment of warriors, it serves as a solid strategy for an army build to mitigate the weakness of Isengard.  But as a starting warning to players: be aware that Courage and the lack of Will Points is a serious problem for Isengard, and that you should have in mind ways to mitigate this in whatever army you build.

Strategy and Tactics

When talking about tactics, it is helpful to first start out with what type of army you want to build.  Do you want to build a balanced army that gives solid defense against melee attackers, ranged threats, magic casters, and fast troops?  Do you want an army that sits back and shoots at its enemies before engaging the remnant of the enemy army in close combat?  Do you want a force that heavily focuses on Strength or Defense (a "hard list," to tie back to a past post on army building) over and against magic and support-related functions?  Do you value an army that throws everything into damage in melee combat and ignores the ranged component?  I've seen armies that have embraced each of these philosophies and they have done well because the commander using them had a good idea of what he wanted his army to do, and he built it to do that.

Once you have an idea for the kind of army you want to build, this can help us in finding a strategy that will help you to reach those ends.  Below are five common strategies for deployment and movement tied to some of these philosophies, coupled with some ideas on which armies to run with them to use them most effectively.

1.  The Bull Rush

Most people are going to say, "Everyone does this: you run your uruks up, don't stop, and just plow into the enemy formation(s).  So why are we spending time in an already long tactics post talking about this?"  I bring it up here because, frankly, I've seen a lot of people do it poorly.  Most bull rushes look like this:

Uruk scouts with two ranks of Easterling pikes as stand-ins for uruk pikes.
I use them because I don't like the heavy uruks and will never buy them.
Seems decent enough, right?  Swords/shields up front, pikes behind, maybe some small flanker groups to the side, but on the whole it's just a massive phalanx charging forward.  The problem?  If the archers kill off the swordsmen in the front, what happens to the pikes?  Well, they're left without someone to spear support, and they're susceptible to getting shot up as well (not to mention uruk pikes can't shield, so if you get stuck in a disadvantageous fight you have to fight it out).  Consider the following as a different deployment option:

Oh: welcome to my office, by the way; I badly needed to clean
up my desk, so thank you for giving me an excuse, :P
What this does is gives some grace room to the front ranks, acknowledging that some wounds are going to happen in the Shoot Phase as you approach, and plans ahead to keep the pike support safe and to ensure a proper frontline when melee comes.

This raises the question, though: "What happens if your opponent's archery game is off and there are few/no wounds scored?  Haven't I just kept my spear support from doing its job, as they are not in base contact with the front ranks?"  I suppose so - if you don't maneuver your army correctly.  When approaching the enemy's main formation, instead of just charging in, employ a "fan" tactic, where the second rank peels off to the sides like a Japanese fan, extending you front ranks and opening up space for your spears to move up:

This not only keeps a strong frontline facing your opponent, but also creates a defensive line of control zones to protect your spear support from being engaged.  It may not work against cavalry (10" is a lot of movement), but it does help to keep formations from ploughing into (and trapping) your main body of soldiers.  And if your frontline is charged by your opponent, just pull up the infantry on the flanks, sling them around the edges of your frontline, and move up your spears.

Now what happens if you're charged by an army that overwhelms your frontline and starts going after your second/third rank?  That is to say, a situation like this:

Presuming you didn't fan out before hitting 6" (which I always recommend by the by), just modify the block to focus its firepower on the "wings" of your opponent's attack rather than his "center" line, first by moving your spear support as far as you can into attack position:

By taking four of the pikes out of formation and using them to trap the horsemen and engage guys in the right flank this opened a hole for the swordsmen in the second rank to peel out of formation and come around the side to help in combats.  Then you simply slide some of the pikes over to fill in where the swordsmen were, and you suddenly have spear support for your front ranks while also getting the vast majority of your troops into combats that are favorable for you.

In terms of unit choices, a Bull Rush works best with fast units, which means heroes like the Uruk Drummer and Mauhur will be good choices, especially if you run both of these guys with a number of uruk scouts upgraded to marauders (as they'll have 11" move when not charging and an 8" move when charging.  But the aim of the Bull Rush is pretty straightforward: close distance quickly, and do so on your own terms.  One of the ways to redirect fire away from the main block is to provide a different unit selection to redirect fire somewhere else, whether that's a body of warg riders coming up fast on the edge that will gain the charge bonus (plus D4 for the warg, so an easier target for archery than D5+), or a ballista providing cover fire for cheap.

2.  The Siege Assault

This formation plays toward the style of people who like to sit in the back and shoot at stuff.  I don't like this strategy, personally, but I've seen it used well in some of the games I've played (I once played a devastating game against Tiberius where he used a Siege Assault against my Bull was gross, but tons of fun).  The idea behind the Siege Assault strategy is to slowly advance your main infantry body while raining down damage on your opponent with archery to whittle down their forces.  So optimally it would look something like this:

Naturally you don't have to use a scout force to run this strategy, though I personally prefer it 1) because I love scouts, and 2) because they are cheaper than their D6 counterparts, and this means that the money you save you can put into archery options without sacrificing F4 or D5 in close combat when the enemy finally catches you.

For archery options you have a wide variety with Isengard.  Some will say go for the S4 crossbows (11 pts/model) often taken alongside Vrasku (because a 3+ Shoot with two shots at S4 is really nice), some will opt instead for dirt cheap volley teams (50 pts for a 10-man ruffian group that has S2 bows at 24" with a 4+ Shoot - can't argue with that), while some will go for ballistas (65 pts or more for long range, high-Strength firepower).  This means that unlike most civs, you actually get a choice in what kind of damage you want to do, at what Strength, and at what cost in regards to points.

Like all of my recommends on archery, I'll point you to my tactics post on Grey Company - archery commanders should keep two things in mind: weakening enemy elements and firing lanes .  The aim of any archery detachment is not to completely obliterate a given element of the enemy army - it is to weaken it so as to be palatable (and beatable) by the countering melee element of your army.  This is both more realistic in its demands on archery (which usually misses half the time and wounds on less than half of its hits, based on the math) and a better use for your points (as melee warriors who do nothing for a good portion of the game are wasted points).

How you whittle down an opponent's element is assisted by the concept of firing lanes.  If a map is wide open, archery loses its direction and "punch" because an enemy can spread out and the impact of a given hailstorm loses its psychological effect.  Consider the following:

Doesn't look like too much, right?  So the orc player keeps doing what he's doing, accepting those casualties as being inevitable to archery.  But if we use terrain to create a firing lane:

...Even if we score the exact same number of hits, the damage looks greater because it is having more effect on a given element of the enemy army.  Suddenly the orc player needs to consider the question, "Do I have enough to take them on as-is?  Do I need to expend more resources on this part of the field, and will miscalculating in the planning portion of the game cause me to lose this entire body of soldiers and cost me the game?"  In this case, it would take him an entire turn to just reinforce the left detachment, causing you to get in an extra round of archery, so reinforcing this group is unlikely, though charging as-is is also not convenient to him.

Forcing your opponent to ask these important questions - especially in the turn or two immediately before melee combat - will cause your opponent to either hesitate or act brashly, helping you to gain the upper hand.  Firing lanes help to do this, and if you use a ballista...

...The Principle of Compound Interest, :)  A picture is worth a thousand words, and in this case it is 250 repetitions of "Please use firing lanes."

As opposed to the Bull Rush (which centers on damage output in Turns 4-9 when melee ensues), the Siege Assault strategy focuses damage into Turns 1-4, hoping to weaken enemy formations before they arrive.  The next strategy attempts to get the best of both worlds.

3.  The Phalanx

Phalanxes are a natural approach for Isengard, Eastern Kingdoms, and Fiefdoms, primarily due to their access to pikes.  Isengard lacks the shield bonus of the Easterlings and the banner bonus of Fiefdoms, but it gains the bonus of Strength 4 and a slightly cheaper cost per model, which is a bonus worth remembering.  A phalanx combines the firepower and attack strategy of a Bull Rush but relies on a more defensive formation that weakens the enemy formation before it hits the large block of infantry at the end of the tunnel.  A phalanx may look something like this:

As you'll notice, a phalanx places its melee firepower in a concentrated block for compact melee damage (and the ability to spread out if desired), and would likely be most effective when accompanied by solid melee heroes like Lurtz (for offense/defense capability), a Bunker Captain (uruk captain with heavy armor and a shield for F5 D7 staying power), Mauhur (for high number of attacks at S5), Thrydan Wolfsbane (for anti-hero damage), and the like.

On the wings, you'll want support elements to both weaken the opponent's elements and funnel them toward the phalanx.  Whether this involves warg riders with throwing spears, pockets of uruk archers that double as solid swordsmen with F4 S4 firepower, you can pick and choose.  Lots of options for customization here.  Just remember: you want to make sure that once you've weakened your opponent's force that you bring them in to a convenient position that makes the most of your melee firepower - don't spread out too thin, and don't let your outer elements get cut off from your main phalanx.

4.  The Flying Columns Formation

I mentioned this one in both my discussion on Rohan and Grey Company, but this formation is one of the oldest in the books, dating back to the Israelites claiming the land in the Book of Joshua.  The idea behind the Flying Columns is pretty straightforward: the center force takes the beating of the enemy advance, as the elements to the side (the columns) sweep in to engage the enemy in the center:

Pretty simple; in may respects it is similar to the Phalanx strategy, only that instead of the center block being purely defensive a Flying Columns can be employed as either a defensive or offensive strategy.  It is recommended that you have highly mobile units in the columns (so as to prevent your opponent from simply rushing them and beating up a smaller portion of your army with their entire force), so a Flying Columns would work best with a Marauder/Warg Rider column, though I've used uruk scouts and ferals for this element of the strategy and they work just fine.

The other nice thing about the Flying Columns is that almost any hero will work well in this setup: you can run any style of uruk hero, Saruman, a Dunlending of some stripe, and they'll have a place in this strategy, either at hammering home against an enemy or helping the center block brace for impact.

Addenda: How to Fight Heroes

Have you ever faced an army that is "hero heavy" and designed to use heroes to kill warriors?  I've faced it several times (Tiberius is on a hero kick right now), and what I've discovered that is that a typical Isengard army is actually not well-built to take on heroes, especially if they are D7.  The funny thing is that, if the list is built properly, Isengard can actually do a phenomenal job of taking on heroes - we just need to build the list correctly.  What follows in this section of the post is not so much a "fifth strategy" so much as a thought on how to build lists to counter heavy hero armies, especially since Forces of Good (generally) get better heroes than Forces of Evil.

For starters, three things are common for heroes: high Fight Value (compared to warriors), D6+ with multiple wounds, and Strength 4 (for the vast majority of heroes).  This means that if we choose models that play well against D6, solid FV, and S4, we can conserve our points for high-budget items that neutralize heroes and wound them well.  Consider the following list:

Warband 1
-Saruman the Colorful: 170 pts
-8 Uruk Scouts with shields: 72 pts
-4 Orc Warriors with 2H weapons: 24 pts

Warband 2
-Thrydan Wolfsbane: 85 pts
-8 Uruk Scouts with shields: 72 pts

Warband 3
-Lurtz: 60 pts
-8 Uruk Scouts with shields: 72 pts
-4 Feral Uruk-Hai: 48 pts

TOTAL: 35 models, 603 pts, 9 Might

With this style build you get the Immobilize spell (handy for neutralizing the high stats of a hero), the Sorcerous Blast spell (for keeping grunts away from their captain and knocking over the hero), 24 frontline warriors in the uruk scouts (for keeping off enemy warriors and giving you some F4 S4 killing power to bear against their men), 4 2Hers (for wounding D7s on 5s and D5s on 4s), 4 ferals (for killing off warriors with multiple attacks, plus charging terror guys), a shielding captain (in Lurtz) who gets 3 Might, and a 2H option that does multiple wounds with each successful wound.

And the nice thing about this build for the list is that everyone in this list can fight a hero, and most of them do it very well.  At the same time it's also still competitive from a model count perspective, gets you 3 of the most expensive heroes Isengard can field, and gives you a lot of options for attack.  Naturally someone could make a number of edits to this list, but in regards to optimizing points this list does it decently well (depending on whether people want archery, don't want magic, etc.).


As we conclude this series on Isengard, first and foremost, thank you to our loyal readership for making it through three. Massive. Posts! :D  You guys are the best, and I hope that this will be helpful for you all as you play with Isengard.  It's a truly wonderful civ - one that I'm glad I invested in early, and I hope to flesh out more of my ranks with more soldiers from it in the future.

Over the next few weeks as we prepare for the tournament I'm hoping to get in more games with my Angmar army, help a number of my friends test out their lists and get used to how they roll, and do some terrain updates on my Dunharrow map that I'm working on (who knows; it may even make a showing at the tournament, :) ).  Until then, you know where to find me,

Watching the stars,


"Firenze!  What are you doing?  You have a human on your back!  Have you no shame?  Are you a common mule?" ~ Bane, Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone