Sunday, September 28, 2014

The White Council: Forty-Man Lists

Good morning gamers,

Today, we're continuing our discussion on the White Council and its utility to add valuable heroes to conventional army lists. While in our last White Council post we added two members of the White Council to various Free People's Lists, in this one we're going to add a single member of the White Council to four thematic lists. Note that with these army lists, you will not be able to capitalize on the army special rule that increases your rolls to resist magic spells, as you need at least two units from the White Council list in order to do that.

As with the last post, I'll only be posting lists that follow the warband creation rules for the new sourcebooks (and mostly be working out of the Free People's sourcebook), but I will be the first to say that an LOME list (following the constraints we place on our tournaments) will probably be more powerful than these, since you can upgrade your units/heroes pretty far by dropping one hero from each list.

1) Scouts of the Woodlands: Galadriel, Lady of Lothlorien

Warband 1: The White Council

Galadriel, Lady of Lothlorien - 125 pts

Warband 2: Lothlorien & Mirkwood

Galadhrim Stormcaller - 60 pts
12 Wood Elf Warrior with Elf bows - 108 pts

Warband 3: Lothlorien & Mirkwood

Galadhrim Captain - 65 pts
6 Wood Elf Warriors - 42 pts
6 Wood Elf Warriors with spears - 48 pts

Warband 4: Lothlorien & Mirkwood

Galadhrim Captain - 65 pts
6 Wood Elf Warriors - 42 pts
6 Wood Elf Warriors with spears - 48 pts

Total: 603 points, 40 units, 12 Elf bows, 8 Might

This army uses a large number of Wood Elf Warriors, primarily because they are cheap. Their Defense 3 is a hindrance in close combat, but at range most archery will be wounding you on 5s (and for those around Galadriel, hitting on 6s). I've included a Stormcaller because you want to be able to deal with multiple large foes at once - the stormcaller is great for making sure monsters who lack Will and the Resistant to Magic rule don't approach your lines - ever. While Nature's Wrath allows you to do this for large groups of units (potentially), the Call Winds spell I find to be of far more value (and increases the effective number of turns you can cast magic in, since its casting value is ridiculously easy). Galadriel, for her part, not only protects your units from enemy archery fire, but also brings an excellent combat profile to bear against her opponents. The captains cost the same as Wood Elf Captains, but come with armor as standard issue instead of an Elven blade (2h rules and allows you to carry a bow). If you dropped one of these captains and added another warrior to the mix, you have 55-60 points to spend on upgrades, which could include upgrading the other captain to Haldir/Rumil or kitting out your 12 "vanilla" Wood Elves with throwing daggers or spears. You could also change your Wood Elves with bows to Galadhrim with bows if you need the extra defense.

2) Defending the Old Roads: Radagast the Brown

Warband 1: The White Council

Radagast the Brown - 150 pts

Warband 2: Durin's Folk

Dwarf Captain - 60 pts
10 Dwarf Rangers - 70 pts
2 Dwarf Rangers with throwing axes - 20 pts

Warband 3: Durin's Folk

Dwarf Shield-Bearer (DSB) - 60 pts
9 Dwarf Rangers - 63 pts
3 Dwarf Rangers with throwing axes - 30 pts

Warband 4: Durin's Folk

Dwarf Captain - 60 pts
10 Dwarf Rangers - 70 pts
2 Dwarf Rangers with throwing axes - 20 pts

Total: 603 points, 40 units, 7 throwing axes, 8 Might

This army for sure benefits from running it as an LOME list - you can basically upgrade everyone to a Dwarf Warrior if you drop one of your captains. That much being said, this list ignores the high defense of the Dwarf civilization on its warriors while maintaining a high defense profile on its heroes. Radagast allows you to give heal wounds on your captains and DSB, which greatly improves their resilience. If your heroes are healthy, you can make the units around Radagast cause terror via Aura of Dismay, which greatly makes up for their average defense profile. Before I rain too much on the Dwarf Ranger parade, these units with no upgrades aren't bad units - yes, throwing weapons and bows (even two-handers) are great upgrades, but for the same cost as a Warrior of Minas Tirith (base profile), you get the same Defense value but a higher Fight and Courage value. Rangers without upgrades are also relatively cheap, which means you can afford to buy an expensive wizard to neutralize enemy heroes or support your main line.

3) Defense of the Plains: Saruman the White

Warband 1: The White Council

Saruman the White - 150 pts

Warband 2: The Kingdom of Rohan

Theoden, King of Rohan with heavy armor - 70 pts
11 Rohan Outriders - 77 pts
1 Rider of Rohan - 13 pts

Warband 3: The Kingdom of Rohan

Hama - 50 pts
4 Grimbold's Helmingas with shields - 32 pts
7 Warriors of Rohan with shields - 49 pts
1 Rider of Rohan - 13 pts

Warband 4: The Kingdom of Rohan

Grimbold - 55 pts
4 Grimbold's Helmingas with shields - 32 pts
7 Warriors of Rohan with shields - 49 pts
1 Rider of Rohan - 13 pts

Total: 603 points, 40 units, 14 bows, 9 Might

Though Saruman doesn't have a particularly strong tie to any of the other members of the White Council, he has always been neighbors with Rohan. As such, defense of the plains (which he would later fill with Uruks and Wild Men) was probably important to him at one time. This army takes advantage of the cheap warriors from Rohan (as well as providing some token cavalry to get to objectives or harass your foe) as well as some of the cheap but effective heroes from Rohan. My good buddy Centaur has written up a full review of these heroes and warriors in a previous post, but the Theoden-Hama mix ensures that your army will stay in the fight so long as these two guys are around and Grimbold gives a valuable S4 bonus to certain warriors. By dropping Hama or Grimbold and running an LOME list, you could add throwing weapons to some of your warriors and upgrade others (maybe your Helmingas if you drop Grimbold) into Rohan Royal Guards.

I could go into lists for each of the members of the White Council, but all of the others have their own civilizations that they could build on. I will present below one army that breaks the mold:

4) The Last Stronghold of the North: Cirdan

Warband 1: The White Council

Cirdan - 90 pts

Warband 2: Arnor

King Arvedui, Last King of Arnor - 70 pts
12 Warriors of Arnor - 96 pts

Warband 3: Arnor

Malbeth the Seer - 80 pts
12 Warriors of Arnor - 96 pts

Warband 4: Arnor

Captain of Arnor with shield - 55 pts
6 Rangers of Arnor - 48 pts
2 Rangers of Arnor with spears - 18

Warband 5: Arnor

Ranger of the North - 25 pts

Warband 6: Arnor

Ranger of the North - 25 pts

Total: 603 points, 38 units, 10 bows, 7 Might

This list is slightly below 40 units, but it capitalizes on an interesting alliance I saw in a write-up about a Chicago tournament years ago. Warriors of Arnor start with F4-D6 (the goal of the meta here at TMAT) and for 8 points each, they're a bargain. However, they suffer greatly from only being Courage 2. Enter Cirdan: this is perhaps the only army where Aura of Command is an absolutely necessary purchase. To protect Cirdan, there are over 20 heavily armored warriors who benefit from the equivalent of an upgraded Fury rule from Malbeth the Seer. Your heroes are basic combat warriors, but capable enough to hold the flanks and protect Cirdan from harm. This list also features a volley team of ranger archers, who are more than capable in combat as well as archery. These units can also be protected from return fire from Cirdan's Cast Blinding Light (the others benefit from it too, but it's less important). If you ran this list as an LOME list, you could trade out the Captain of Arnor for another Ranger of the North and four rangers (at hte cost of the spears you currently have on your rangers), but because of the synergy of this army, this may not be necessary (plus you would be relying on Arvedui and the Rangers of the North to be your killing heroes).

I'll be on vacation when this is posted, but when I get back, we'll be gearing up for THRO 2014, so expect to see some battle reports with tournament lists as we learn the intricacies of our own and other lists! Until next time, happy hobbying!

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Isengard, Part II: Warriors

Hey Reader!

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

Uruk-Hai Scouts
Photo courtesy of GamesWorkshop
Uruk scouts were what first convinced me to pursue Isengard, though I confess it was primarily from an aesthetics approach (to this day I really like the look of the leather armor designed by Weta for the uruks in Fellowship of the Ring, and the Perry Brothers did a good job of designing the models to reflect that).  After months of playing with Isengard, they quickly rose to prominence as one of my favorite armies (and were my army of choice to the first TMAT Grand Tournament back in 2012), and having taken time to reflect on the warrior selection choices for a lot of different armies, I now know why.

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.

Uruk-Hai Warriors
Photo courtesy of GamesWorkshop
The heavy infantry option for Isengard, these guys are your heavy armor wearing "core" units.  Uruk-Hai Warriors can take shields (which is your F4 D6 option), pikes (for three-rank support), crossbows (which makes the model cost 11 pts, but gives them a S4 attack at 24" if they did not move earlier in the turn), or a banner.  Since these guys are usually 10-11 points, they tend to be the purchase of choice for the vast majority of Isengard players, and I understand why: they play well against the current meta.

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.

Uruk-Hai Berserker
Photo courtesy of GamesWorkshop
Okay: if there is a model in this post that will get me in trouble it's this one, :)  First of all, I want to mention that I think this is a fine unit choice for 15 points - it's a good model, and it is not wrong to use this model in your army.  I've seen very successful armies (read: won tournaments) use this unit, and it has worked well for the commanders that field them.

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.

Feral Uruk-Hai 
Three fearsome Feral Uruk-Hai!!!
If you are looking for straight-up damage dealing, ferals are the way to go.  Along with the berserkers they form the "elite infantry" choice for Isengard, and unlike most elite infantry choices (who only boast additional Fight Value and sometimes additional defense), both ferals and berserkers gain an extra attack, bringing them to 2 attacks.

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.

Isengard Troll
Photo courtesy of GamesWorkshop
Talk about overkill: if you thought cave trolls for Moria and Angmar were nice, play around with one of these guys.  At 105 points they are nowhere close to cheap, but they sport the F6 S6 with 3 attacks that troll users really like, but get Courage 4 (instead of 3), Defense 8 (yes: D8), and has a shield as part of that defense bonus (so yes: if for some reason you were worried about losing a fight you could shield for 6 dice at F6 like Boromir).  You can also pay 1 pt to give him a spear (I wouldn't do it), and he still maintains the S8 hit at 12" for the throwing rock option as well.

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).

Dunlending Warrior
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.

Warg Rider
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.

Orc Warrior
Photo courtesy of GamesWorkshop
Orc Warriors serve as a baseline for Isengard armies: most of their model choices are better than them (we'll get to ruffians in a bit), though the comparison between Wild Men of Dunland and Orc Warriors is an interesting one that deserves a bit of fleshing out.  First of all, Wild Men cannot get above D3, so orcs already hold a slight advantage over Wild Men in this regard (as they are base D4 and can reach D5 if they are given shields).  Wild Men are better than orcs in their Shoot Value (4+ instead of 5+) and they are C3 instead of C2, so more likely to stick around/charge an enemy if Courage Tests come into play.  The problem of course with these two advantages is that 1) Wild Men cannot take any form of ranged weapon, so the only way to take advantage of this bonus is to play on a Glenstorm map that has weapon caches, and 2) the slight bonus in Courage is negligible; it still requires the commander to roll pretty well to keep them in play.

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.

Ruffian

Ruffians are a thematic addition to Isengard - for their points, they offer you very little, so you will never see these guys in a conventional army.  They were first designed to accompany Sharkey and Worm in scenarios built for the Scouring of the Shire (Battle of Bywater in the Free Peoples Sourcebook, for example), and thus they are comparable to the hobbits they were built to attack: they are F3 S3 and D3, with a 4+ chance to hit with a whip (which is a 2" throwing weapon at S1) or a bow (which is your traditional 24" S2 bow).  They cost 4-5 pts, and are thus on-par with a hobbit shirriff or a Tookish Hunter in cost.

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
Okay...this is my grand reveal: I bought a ballista team, and I'm very pleased with it! :D  I love ballistas: for 65 pts, you get a 4+ Shoot Value on a 3-man team with a 48" weapon.  If the weapon hits, you roll a D6 on the scatter chart (which I've included here for your edification):

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
Demolition teams are niche units, designed for cracking through enemy defenses and walls.  For 80 pts, a demo team comes with 2 uruk warriors (who can take any of the weapon choices normally available to uruk warriors above, as well as access to a flaming brand for +1pt/model if they do not take shields) and a berserker with a flaming brand in addition to the demo charge.  This means you are (more or less) getting 35 pts worth of units and 45 pts toward a siege weapon, which is a decent price for the punch a demo charge provides.

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.

Conclusion

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,

Glenstorm

"I watch the stars, for it is mine to watch." ~ Glenstorm, Prince Caspian

Sunday, September 21, 2014

The White Council: Allies Revisited

Good morning gamers,

Nearly two years ago, I wrote a post on how you can use the White Council as an ally for a different list, focusing on Gondor lists that could be augmented by the various skills of the White Council. In today's post (and as yet another build-up write-up to the THRO 2014), we're going to pair up all twelve members of the White Council and ally them with six lists that you could reasonably expect to have found in Middle-Earth. Conveniently, you can find all of these lists in the Free Peoples sourcebook.

The Magic of the Wood - Celeborn and Galadriel

Warband 1: The White Council

Celeborn with heavy armor, shield, and Elven blade - 150 pts
Galadriel, Lady of the Galadhrim - 125 pts

Warband 2: Lothlorien & Mirkwood

Galadhrim Stormcaller - 60 pts
2 Galadhrim Warriors with shields - 18 pts
1 Galadhrim Warrior with spear - 9 pts
8 Galadhrim Warriors with Elf bows - 80 pts

Warband 3: Lothlorien & Mirkwood


Galadhrim Stormcaller - 60 pts
6 Galadhrim Warriors with shields - 54 pts
5 Galadhrim Warriors with spears - 45 pts

601 points, 26 units, 8 Elf bows, 8 Might

This list features the Lord and Lady of the Galadhrim at the forefront of their host. They are supported by two other casters who can cast Nature's Wrath if you're facing a unit-heavy list, but can also do excellent anti-captain casting via Call Winds, which on average will set your opponent back an entire turn of moving - perfect for keeping him from doing any damage and allowing your two power heroes from the White Council to focus on clearing out grunt troops. When your opponent does fall against your ranks, he'll find nearly two full warbands of high Fight value warriors to oppose him.

Assault on Dul Guldor - Legolas and Saruman

Warband 1: The White Council

Saruman the White - 150 pts
*Legolas with armor - 95 pts

Warband 2: Durin's Folk

Balin, Son of Fundin - 75 pts
3 Khazad Guards - 33 pts
5 Dwarf Warriors with shields - 45 pts
4 Dwarf Warriors with Dwarf bows - 36 pts

Warband 3: 
Durin's Folk

Dwarf Shield-Bearer - 60 pts
8 Dwarf Warriors with shields - 72 pts
4 Dwarf Warriors with Dwarf bows - 36 pts

603 points, 28 units, 8 Dwarf bows + 1* Elf bow + 1 throwing axe, 10 Might

So Saruman doesn't really go with anyone thematically. Maybe Elrond, maybe Gandalf, but that's it. So today, we're sticking him with Legolas and a bunch of Dwarves because 1) they probably fight together against the armies of the Necromancer in the upcoming movie and 2) because there's no better protection for a big wizard than a bunch of high defense Dwarves, two combat-heavy heroes, and an excellent Elf archer. Legolas will assist the Dwarf bows in weakening the foes from a distance and Saruman can ensure that their lines are a mess - that's critical for Dwarves, since they get no spear support (at least not in this list).

The Terror of the Woods - Radagast and Thranduil

Warband 1: The White Council

Radagast the Brown - 150 pts
Thranduil - 90 pts

Warband 2: Lothlorien & Mirkwood

Wood Elf Captain with Elf bow - 70 pts
4 Wood Elf Warriors with Wood Elf spears - 32 pts
8 Mirkwood Guard with Elf bows - 88 pts

Warband 3: Lothlorien & Mirkwood


Wood Elf Captain with Elven cloak - 70 pts
5 Wood Elf Warriors with Wood Elf spears - 40 pts
7 Wood Elf Warriors with throwing daggers - 63 pts

603 points, 28 units, 10 Elf bows + 7 throwing daggers, 10 Might

This is a lightly defended list, but you get a lot of archery in it (nearly three-quarters of the army can shoot). One of your captains wields an Elven cloak to make sure that he isn't pegged by archery early in the game (these cloaks are the cheapest heroes can get them for), while the other adds an Elf bow to your mix, allowing you to volley if you so choose. Though you could give these guys both Elf bows and Elven cloaks, the points are currently being spent upgrading your Wood Elves with bows to Mirkwood Guards, who hit their targets on 2s instead of 3s. While there is only a marginal return on this, the fact that nearly all of your shots each round will hit their targets is incredible - do not underestimate this. Once your opponent gets close, you have two means of casting Aura of Dismay, which means the units surrounding these heroes will be causing terror. This is great for making sure you don't lose many units.

The Rulers of Rivendell - Elrond and Erestor

Warband 1: The White Council

Elrond - 170 pts
Erestor - 80 pts (12)

Warband 2: Rivendell & Eregion

High Elf Stormcaller - 60 pts
4 High Elf Warriors with Elf bows - 44 pts
5 High Elf Warriors with shields - 50 pts
2 High Elf Warriors - 18 pts

Warband 3: 
Rivendell & Eregion

High Elf Stormcaller - 60 pts
4 High Elf Warriors with Elf bows - 44 pts
5 High Elf Warriors with shields - 50 pts
3 High Elf Warriors - 27 pts

603 points, 27 units, 8 Elf bows, 6 Might

You could reduce the total number of units in this list by removing one of the "vanilla" High Elves and giving a bunch of guys spears, but this list might stand on its own merit (this coming from a Dwarf player who doesn't believe in spears). The stormcallers in this list have the Strengthen Will spell, which is great if 1) you're facing enemy casters and they're focusing on killing your White Council heroes and 2) if you want to get off Renew and Nature's Wrath with Elrond. If your opponent fields captains, target them with Call Winds as discussed in the Lothlorien list above. Your army fields a lot of F5 D6 units, which is great for keeping your lines intact while your archers and heroes do their dirty work.

The Guardians of Bruinen - Glorfindel and Arwen

Warband 1: The White Council

Glorfindel, Lord of the West with Armor of Gondolin and horse - 150 pts
Arwen Evenstar on Asfaloth - 70 pts

Warband 2: The Fellowship of the Ring

*Aragorn/Strider with horse, armor, and bow - 195 pts
Frodo Baggins with Sting and Mithril mail - 100 pts
Samwise Gamgee - 30 pts
Bill the Pony - 30 pts
Meriadoc Brandybuck - 10 pts
Peregrin Took - 10 pts

595 points, 8 units, 1 bow + 4 thrown stones, 10* Might

So this list isn't much larger than a normal White Council list, but you get some interesting play styles with it. Three of your units are mounted and the other five can huddle together if needs be. This list is themed off of the book and movie of the Fellowship of the Ring, sending the two riders who escort Frodo to Rivendell during his flight from the Ringwraiths. Frodo has been decked out to semi-competent combat capabilities (which he didn't have in the story at this time). You can make lots of improvements to the list if desired - you can trade the three horses and all of Frodo's equipment for Anduril or trade the hobbits and Bill for Legolas with armor and Gimli. Whatever you decide in the end, the Fellowship can provide either numbers (with combat power) or enhanced melee fighters. I will say that if you do field Legolas, the only reason you would field him in the Fellowship warband would be for thematic reasons - from a meta perspective, you want the bonus to spell resistance by placing him in the White Council list...

The Defense of the Shire - Gandalf and Cirdan

Warband 1: The White Council

Gandalf the Grey - 170 pts
Cirdan - 90 pts (2)

Warband 2: The Shire

Meriadoc, Captain of the Shire with shield - 35 pts
8 Battlin' Brandybucks - 32 pts
4 Tookish Hunters - 20 pts

Warband 3: 
The Shire

Peregrin, Captain of the Shire - 30 pts
12 Hobbit Shirriffs - 48 pts

Warband 4: The Shire

Paladin Took - 25 pts

12 Hobbit Shirriffs - 48 pts

Warband 5: The Shire

Bullroarer Took - 40 pts
12 Tookish Hunters - 60 pts

598 points, 54 units, 16 bows, 10 Might

This list features two great heroes who help conventional lists: both Gandalf and Cirdan can cast Blinding Light, which is perfect for this low-defense army. The most important reason that I wanted both of these guys in here (besides the fact that they live reasonably close to the Shire) is because Gandalf can allow Cirdan to get back his Will points. Normally, you'd cast Blinding Light and maybe Aura of Command with Cirdan, but that leaves you with 1 Will point (2 if you forego Aura of command) to cast Aura of Dismay, making all your little hobbits around Cirdan cause terror! Thanks to Gandalf, you can spend the early turns casting Strengthen Will on Cirdan after he gets off the two augment spells so that he can cast Aura of Dismay twice in a game. Gandalf also provides the ability to negate the combat capabilities of captains/major heroes and do some damage with Sorcerous Blast - all great ways to make sure your hobbits don't die. While the heroes of the Hobbits aren't that great (thematically, Bullroarer is probably Tom Cotton), they do have the requisite 2 Attacks and 2 Wounds or provide a solid Stand Fast!

As a close, there are other combos you can do too, but hopefully this opens your imaginations to what you can do with a White Council list. In two weeks, I'll be flying out to California and spending the week with my in-laws, but when I get back, I hope to begin working in earnest to get a few more tactica and battle reports up with regard to White Council armies. We'll see if I get anything up before I leave. Until you read this space again, happy hobbying!

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Isengard, Part I - Hero Summary

Hey Reader!

So, my teammate for the upcoming Hunter's Red October Tournament 2014 is running an Isengard force for the tournament, so in preparation for the THRO Tournament, I'm going to do a short series of tactical posts on Isengard.  Now Tiberius has done a fantastic write-up on Uruk Captains on our blog (and I'll be borrowing heavily from those when we talk about Uruk Captains below) as well as some amazing commentary on Saruman (which I'll be highlighting under his entry), but I want to spend another three-part series (coming out every Thursday for the next three weeks) looking into some of the things you can do with Isengard as we gear up for the tournament.

In this post, we will be focusing on the purpose of the various heroes available to Isengard, and next week we'll be looking at the warrior selection options.  In the third post we'll talk a little bit about tactics, using 600-point lists as a guide when looking at the tactical element of this list.

Isengard - History and Strategic Overview

Isengard, located at the intersection of four major geographical landmarks (the base of the Misty Mountains, the Gap of Rohan between the Misty Mountains and the White Mountains, the Isen River, and the Forest of Fangorn) is a stronghold of power that requires constant defense and readiness.  Those who live in this region have seen constant warfare, and the result is a civilization that thrives on power and brute strength.  Not surprisingly, this carries over into the models available for the Isengard civ in LOTR SBG.

In general, Isengard warriors and heroes have three common traits: high firepower, high defense, and limited magic defense.

1.  High Firepower

Isengard gains a huge advantage in combat from high Strength all around, mixed with a decent to strong Fight Value.  This means that if you win the fight (which is assisted by high Fight Value and an assortment of banner choices), Isengard units have a chance of dealing wounds that is better than most.  Couple this with several warrior choices with extra attacks and a lot of heroes with 2-3 attacks, and you've got yourself a recipe for high damage output in a given game.

2.  High Defense

For Isengard, the "low" end of Defense tends to be D5 - for most of their heroes and warriors, they have the option of getting up to D6+, and those who are D5 or less have a solid Fight Value and/or Will Points, for solid melee and magic defense.  Like most civs archery (especially S3 archery) can be a problem for Isengard (which will be covered in the tactics posts as Part III of this series), but in comparison to other civs Isengard does a fantastic job in the Defense category.

3.  Limited Magic Defense

This weakness is not unique to Isengard - many other civs, including Rohan, the Easterlings, and Angmar (to name a few) have few defenses against Magic, and often result in heroes either failing to resist spells outright or resorting to the use of Might Points to avoid being transfixed, immobilized, etc. (which, if you're new to the game, is not what you want to be using Might Points on).

While the weakness is not unique to Isengard, it is compounded with Isengard because of the advantages above.  If a character is sporting a high Strength and Fight Value, being reduced to F1 with no chance of striking wounds is a serious problem for an immobilized hero.  If a high-Defense unit gets hit with a Black Dart (at Strength 9), it doesn't matter how high your defense is - a D4 Dunedain Ranger is wounded the same as a D7 Uruk-Hai Captain (on 3s).  Add in the chance of being knocked over by Nature's Wrath (which makes pikemen useless for a given turn if the front line is fully engaged on the ground), being moved by Compel or Command, and the risk of paralysis, and you've got yourself a number of problems as an Isengard player.  So being aware that the list is weak against magic will help when determining the tactics used on the field (and we'll talk extensively about that in Part III of this series).

4.  Consideration for Heroes: Divergence of Cost

An additional broad thought for Isengard is that there is a divergence of cost in their heroes.  While their warriors provide a nice spread between cheap infantry (brigands and dunlendings), standing infantry (uruk scouts, uruk warriors, and dunland warriors), elite infantry (feral uruks and uruk berserkers), and expensive novelty warriors (ranging from trolls to siege equipment), Isengard heroes are usually either 60 points or less (uruk captains, orc captains, Sharku, Grima, etc.) or close to 100 points (with Saruman being the major choice that stands out).

This means that unlike other civs (especially the human- or elf-based civs), you lack the mid-range 70-pt options that usually provide your anti-magic, 2Wound - 2Fate heroes, and your durable heavy armor fast attack options, Isengard heroes are heavily on one side of the cost spectrum or the other.  This is important when building lists, as it means that a switch between one hero and another can mean serious revisions to an army list.

With this in mind, let's take a look at the heroes available to Isengard.

Isengard: Heroes

Saruman
Photo courtesy of GamesWorkshop
Tiberius has spoken at length on both the Saruman the White profile from the White Council and the Saruman profile for Isengard, and over time I've come to understand why Saruman is one of his favorite Isengard heroes (probably a toss-up between him, Mauhur, and his more recent affinity for Lurtz).  Saruman is a unique hero choice because he defies the conventional rules for Isengard models.

First, he gains high firepower not through a large number of attacks (like all wizards he only has 1), and for being 170 points he is only F5 for his Fight Value (which is on-par with the 60-pt captain models).  In what should be the F6 option for an Isengard force, Saruman does not sport it (which, again, is in-line with the other wizard profiles, so it makes sense).

Instead, Saruman sports a higher level of firepower through an unconventional means: heavy magic.  If you want a solid evaluation of Saruman's spell-casting ability, you should check out Tiberius's evaluation of him from June of 2012; it's very in-depth and gives a good perspective on the versatility of Saruman as a hero for an Isengard contingent specifically.  Suffice it to say here, Saruman increases his firepower both by nerfing the attacks and Fight Value of his opponent (through Immobilize or Command), not to mention the Sorcerous Blast option for S5 damage and S3 residual damage on units that have been knocked over (and while I'm thinking about it, would anyone like to explain why Saruman the White from White Council gets Sorcerous Blast on a 4+ and Saruman for Isengard gets it on a 5+ cast?  Did he just get older?  I don't understand...).

Second, he gains "high defense" in three ways.  First, while Saruman is only D5 (like all other wizards), he has two ways of keeping an opponent's Strength from coming to bear against him, increasing his viability on the battlefield.  First and foremost, Immobilize and Command keep you from using your Strength in a given round (which is a sure-fire way to keep Saruman from being wounded).  More than that, via the Terrifying Aura spell, Saruman can force his opponents to pass a Courage Test to charge him, reducing the number of models that can attack him at a time.  Add into that a high Fight Value and 3 Might Points, and Saruman can probably win a fight against your everyday assailants.

Perhaps his most effective way of keeping himself from damage, though, is the Palantir.  Unlike spells and rolls that require you to roll well and/or your opponent to roll poorly, the Palantir grants certainty: for one round, before rolling for priority, you seize priority for the round.  I've seen Tiberius use this very effectively, where the granting of priority ensured a good use of Sorcerous Blast, a quick retreat, and the engaging of the remainder of my now-on-the-ground frontline by a savage troop of uruk-hai that also conveniently cut me off from both archery and melee options to engage the wizard.

Of course, even if you do end up catching him, he still has 3 Wounds with 3 Fate, so it's still not an easy thing to kill him.  For more thoughts on how to tackle Saruman, Tiberius has a post on how to fight wizards which is worth the read.  In summary, though, Saruman is a solid hero, and well worth taking.

Third, he doesn't suffer from the Isengard problem of low magic defense.  With a free Will point each turn, he basically receives the Resistant to Magic rule (so long as he doesn't cast a spell) that he can "use" before depleting his magic store, and he starts with 6 Will Points and 3 Might (so plenty of ammo to dispel an incoming spell).  He also has counter-magic that can hinder spell casters, so Saruman stands as the exception that proves the rule regarding Isengard models.

Lurtz
Photo courtesy of GamesWorkshop
Lurtz is an anomaly among heroes.  Tiberius has done a fantastic write-up on uruk captains, so in lieu of repeating everything he said, I'll just mention in passing that Lurtz is a good deal for 60 points (and I'm going to assume going forward that my reader has read that post, so if you haven't you really should: it's really good).  At 60 points he is almost exactly like an uruk captain with armor and shield (who is only 55 points) but you get both an orc bow and a third Might Point for the 5 more points you pay.  The result is a more versatile hero that can serve as damage dealer, ranged attacker, and shield bunker.  Not my favorite uruk hero, but worth looking at if you're building an army.


Ugluk
Photo courtesy of GamesWorkshop
Okay: I need to preface this profile by mentioning that Ugluk was my first uruk hero, he is my favorite uruk hero, and nobody understands him, :P  It breaks my heart every time I see an Ugluk model on eBay being sold individually because I know that people bought the blister for Vrasku and they just want to dump one of the best Isengard heroes around...and the meta side of me is shouting, "NOOOOOO!!!"  But I digress, :P

People have their reasons for not liking Ugluk as much as other captains.  He doesn't get 2 shots at S4 at 24" like Vrasku does (which is cool; I use Vrasku too), he doesn't get to shield to increase his viability as a D5 hero (like Lurtz does), he doesn't have 3 attacks at S5 (like Mauhur does), he doesn't have D7 with a shield to keep him alive when the dice go down from a S4 enemy hero (like a D7 Uruk Captain does), he can't wound hobbit shirriffs or wood elves on a 2+ (like an Uruk Captain with 2H can), which makes everyone wonder by this point, "...Yeah: why do you like this guy so much?!?!"  And now comes the reason why I wanted to start a series on Isengard: to flesh this out for the blogosphere after years of playing with him, :P

First of all, per my last post on Ugluk, remember that each uruk hero (sans Lurtz) is really only designed to do one thing for your army.  Some players use this as a crutch: they only make the hero do that one thing.  I tend to see the advantage of the hero as a smokescreen for how I use heroes, especially when it comes to Ugluk.  As everyone knows from a casual glance at his profile, Ugluk is a support character who gives an army a 12" Stand Fast! for only 60 points (instead of Saruman's cost of 170 pts).  So when most people look for heroes, they think, "Okay: this guy is designed to keep my whole army from running when I break," so they see Ugluk as a mid-game/end-game hero.

I disagree - this is the smokescreen for how (and why) people should use Ugluk.  Yes: when the going gets tough he's a good support hero.  But before that happens...what is he good for?

Doing damage under the radar, obviously.

You know what's funny: I've played a lot of games with Ugluk, and even though my D7 Bunker Caps have been killed, Vrasku has been killed, the one game I played with Mauhur he got killed...do you know who tends to survive?  Ugluk - because no one sees him as a threat until the army is broken (in fact, I think the only guy who has ever killed him is Aragorn, if I'm remembering correctly, and Aragorn kills everybody).  We use this to our advantage: Ugluk doesn't look like much when estimating threats, so heroes don't usually match up against him.  This makes him an excellent flanking hero, doing damage on the periphery of the main body while your heavy-hitting heroes (a D7 Bunker Cap, Mauhur, a 2H Captain, etc.) all attract attention through doing damage, hammering through the center, taking on the big heroes, etc.

And in combat, Ugluk is nothing to sniff at: he's F5 with S5 (which is hard to get beyond the Isengard list) with 2 attacks and 3 Might (which is a good spread, especially for only 60 pts), and he doesn't have a shield, which, as I mentioned in my last post on Ugluk, I have come to appreciate because it reminds me to keep him going on offense, hammering into enemy spear support or flanker units to neutralize a potential threat.  This works a little better in a scout-based army as opposed to a heavy uruk list (which we will discuss further in Part III of this series), but when it comes to raw damage output, Ugluk is a solid purchase.  And, what's more, your opponent doesn't see it coming (such has been my experience to date - though, now that I've said it before the world, everyone is going to target him now just to say they killed him, :P ).


Grima Wormtongue
Photo courtesy of GamesWorkshop
Okay...I did a series on Hobbit heroes for the Shire List, and I'll be honest: I found it easier to do the write-ups on Freddy Bolger and Lobelia Sackville-Baggins than I did for Grima.  Here's why: even though the utility of these two heroes is very limited (and why they only cost a handful of points), at least it's static: what they do is a guarantee for you.  Grima, on the other hand, costs 25 points (which is more than Damrod for Gondor or a Dunedain for Arnor/Grey Company, for example), and requires you to purchase Saruman (so you're looking at almost 200 points between the two of them.

What Grima does for your army is he makes it harder for heroes to use Might Points, as heroes within 6" of him must pay 2 Might instead of 1 to make them effective.  This is not a bad skill per se, though I'd argue that for 25 points (which could be 3 uruk scouts, 2 feral uruks, almost 2 berserkers) it's not a worthwhile purchase.  It may also be that I'm used to running the Dwimmerlaik and he gets the same bonus for Might, Will, and Fate (not just Might) on a 4+ roll within 12" (which honestly, based on how I play Angmar, is basically the radius of my entire army), I'm underwhelmed by Grima's utility.  More than that, he's only D3 with 1 Wound and 0 Fate, so if Saruman ever dies or if Grima ever attempts to voluntarily attack an enemy model, he will likely be dying outright in combat.  I could caveat him a bit more if he was a cheap leader for a warband, but he doesn't even offer that to you (as he's technically an independent warband, though he actually deploys attached to an opponent's warband).  So, all that to say, you are free to take him, but I would recommend shying away from him, as I think you have better options at your disposal.


Thrydan Wolfsbane
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The other expensive hero in the list (85-95 pts), Thrydan is the third option for Isengard (you heard that right: they get three choices with this ability) for a 12" Stand Fast! in your army.  He also sports a 2H weapon that does 2 wounds for every wound inflicted, which is handy for bringing heroes down quickly.  Like the uruk heroes he is S5 and D5 (though only F4, so not as good on the Fight Value, but still decent), and is one of the few heroes to sport 2 Will Points (as all of the orc and uruk heroes have only 1).  This makes him a solid choice for a "hero hunter" or a character designed to crack through heavily armored opponents (killing D7 warriors on 4s with the 2H, not to mention doing 2 wounds which antiquates models that only have 1 Fate).


Sharku
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Sharku is dirt cheap: he's 45 points (50 points with a shield, and 60 points if you also add the warg), and he gives you the 2 Attacks and 3M/1W/1F of an uruk captain at a discount.  That being said, he's not an uruk, so he's only F4 at S4 (with Courage 3, so not as reliable for charging either), but if you're looking for a fast attack option, Isengard has one, and he come with 3 Might Points.




Vrasku
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Perhaps the hero most commonly chosen from Isengard, Vrasku is the best archery option for an Isengard army.  At 60 points, he boasts the fighting profile in melee combat of Ugluk (2 attacks, 3 Might, S5 at F5) with 2 shots at range with a S4 crossbow for solid 24" protection.  Like all crossbow wielders he cannot move and fire in the same turn, but if you need a low-end artillery piece that can shrug off D6 heavily armored warriors, Vrasku will do reliable damage (well, as "reliable" as archery is in LOTR - sometimes rolls just go bad) from a distance.

Something that should be said about Vrasku from my experience playing with him: my old adage on this blog still applies to Vrasku.  Whenever you see the word "archer" you should always read the word "swordsmen": I've seen some commanders keep Vrasku in the back for the entire game as their frontline gets pummeled to bits, and they get frustrated by the fact that they "can't line up a shot with Vrasku this round - he's not contributing!"  Yes...having been in that frustrating place, a very quick insight for you:

Get him into melee combat.  Bull rush him in if you have to.

Why?  Think about it: he's F5 (which means even though he has a 3+ Shoot Value he actually has about the same chance to win combat against the vast majority of standing infantry if he is in melee or at range) and S5 (which is higher than his crossbow damage rating) in close combat with 3 Might Points (just in case a roll goes bad) and 2 attacks (same as the crossbow).  So you don't actually lose anything by rushing him into combat, except perhaps the chance that if they beat your roll to win the fight they can strike wounds against you - though they would have shot at you anyway, so at least now the damage is based on them beating your roll instead of them just rolling well.  And with Might Points, at least if they roll well and you don't roll as well, you can still contest them for it.  Centaur's thoughts; take them as you will.


Mauhur
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Mauhur is a newer addition to our gaming group, and while I've only used him once I really like him.  He's the only named uruk hero that has 2 Might (instead of 3), but in exchange he gets the desirable 3 attacks (instead of 2), which I've almost always valued more because of the static bonus (especially since there is no shielding option for him).  He also has a base 8" move, which means that he gets an extra 2" of movement for free compared to the rest of his colleagues, and gives you the chance to upgrade your scouts to marauders (more on that in Part II of this series).  On the whole, as Tiberius notes in his post, if you're looking for a damage dealer I recommend this guy.



Uruk-Hai Captain
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Tiberius has done a marvelous job of commentary on these guys in his post, so I'll let them be in this one.  A few quick pointers on these guys, though, just to reinforce:

1) Crossbow: If you're looking at the crossbow option, just take Vrasku.  You get a better Shoot Value, an extra Might Point, and the model looks cooler, :P  If you're going for a theme of an all-heroes-with-crossbow army then pay for Heavy Armor with the Crossbow (up to 60 points), but otherwise just take Vrasku.  You'll thank me later.

2) Heavy Armor: Unless you're running a scout-themed army (which I do), you should always buy this upgrade.  Getting to D6 will make you a lot more survivable against S3 infantry and archery, so you should invest in this.

3) Orc Bow: Don't buy it.  Just don't buy it.  Not worth the cost, keeps you from buying a shield, and it's not worth the 5 points (as you could get a crossbow which has double the damage and 6" more range for the same cost).  If you really want an orc bow on a captain, purchase Lurtz.

4) Shield: Always a good option.  The fact that captains only have 2 attacks means shielding gives you more dice than most heroes, so it's a good option for a "bunker" captain who is simply designed to hold down an opponent.  Throw in the fact that a shield/heavy armor captain is D7, and you've got a solid defense against most attackers.  Don't take it though if you take a crossbow or the next selection...

5) Two-Handed Weapon: Okay - people need to use these more on uruk captains, :P  Tiberius mentions these guys in passing in his post, but I want to camp out here for a bit.  First of all, S4 2Hers are pretty rare in the game, let alone S5 (read: you've got Dwalin, these guys, Thrydan Wolfsbane...and maybe 1-2 others) with a 2H, so if you want to talk raw damage output, you should buy one of these guys.

Don't believe me?  Here's the math: you wound D6 and D7 models on 4s (which, with 2 Might, means you've got a good chance at dealing out wounds), you would D5 and D4 models on 3s (so that's most of Rohan, virtually all of Grey Company including the heroes, all of Harad and Umbar, most of Moria, almost all of Angmar...you get the drift), and if you face D3 units (Shire and Wood Elves), you're rocking...wait for it...2s to wound (which, again, if you've got 2 Might and 2 attacks, means you're landing 2 wounds in that fight, period.

Now you say, "But I'm -1 to win the fight when using the 2H."  Yes you are: which is why you attack with some other random uruk (heck, you can attack with an orc if you like; it doesn't matter), so that his dice wins the fight (with your Fight Value of 5), and your 2H wounds the guy.  Suddenly, not a problem.  So, I'm just saying: people need to buy these guys.  End rant. :)


Uruk-Hai Shaman
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Shamans have been growing on me, especially since more and more of our armies are sporting terror-causing units (often in range of a nazgul that reduces Courage), and Fury is a nice spell for dealing with that.  Uruk shamans have a profile similar to the warrior profile for uruks (following the Rule of 4, which we'll discuss in Part II in-depth), though they have 2 Wounds and the 1M/3W/1F profile.  They also offer the Transfix spell on a 5+ (which, since you have 1 Might, means you can cast it once on a 4+ really) for neutralizing heroes, and they also have a spear, so you can keep them in the back.

When it comes to using this spell, though, something worth considering: only cast it once.  As I mentioned in my last post on uruks, timing is everything with uruks (and that applies more broadly than just to the tracker side of the list that I run).  Use this spell on the turn that you really need it to go off, and root that guy in place.  Following up on the wording used for a gamer from the Warhammer Fantasy channel I follow on YouTube, I'll call this the LOTR application of OnceBitten's Rule of One: find the one spell you need to get off and throw enough dice at it to make sure it goes off.  In this case, I recommend through 2 Will Points into casting this one, increasing the chance you get a 4.  Best case scenario, you roll Box Cars (two 6s) and you don't need to spend the Might Point to make it work.  More accurately, the math says you'll likely get a 4 or so on one of them, and you promote it.  Your chances go up a lot if you use all 3 Will, but 2 will likely be enough.  Anyway, Glenstorm's thoughts on using this spell.


Orc Captain
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These guys are dirt cheap (40 pts) and are very similar to the traditional Rohan/Gondor Captains that cost a shy bit more than they do.  They also give you an option at an orc bow (don't purchase it: 5+ Shoot Value with S2 at 18" on a hero?  Don't do it...), a shield (I highly recommend this), and a warg (eh, I'm ambivalent on the warg), so he remains a very cheap hero if you need to fill out a few more points.  He can only get to D6 for Defense and is limited to F4 and S4 for damage, but all around he makes for a good low-end captain.




Dunlending Chieftain
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Like Thrydan, this 55-pt captain is only F4 (as opposed to the uruk F5), but he has a 2M/3W/1F profile, making him a much better anti-magic defender than your average uruk captain.  You also have 3 ways to build a chieftain, each of which brings you to 60 points: you can give him a bow (further showing why you don't need the orc bow option on the uruk captain or the orc captain) for S2 at 24" damage, you can give him a shield (in case you want a D6 captain that can bunker for you), though both of these advantages are nominal and offer little to enhance your army.

Personally, if you're going to purchase an archer, pay the same 5 points to get a crossbow, and if you're going to spend 60 points on a shielding bunker cap, get the uruk as he gets to D7.  My personal recommendation is to spend the extra 5 points on one of these guys to get the 2H option, as you get a S5 attacker with 2 attacks (just like the uruk captain option), and the only real difference is you drop to F4 from F5 and you add 2 Will Points.  So you'd take the Dunlending over the uruk option if you are facing terror-heavy or magic-heavy armies.


Uruk Drummer
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Drummers are new, but I'm glad Isengard got them.  A drummer is like a soldier (very similar profile with only F4 S4 D5), and at mid-40s they are pretty cheap additions to an army, but they allow all uruks near them to move an additional 3" on a given turn such that they are not charging, which, as you'll see in Part III, is a good addition to any army.  I don't run drums, but virtually everyone else in our group does, and I can tell you from being on the business end of drummers that they are worth taking.  Good hero choice here.

And now to talk about a hero choice that GW now no longer offers as model...



Sharkey and Worm

Okay...before I begin, we all admit that these guys are a novelty piece to use in a Shire-based scenario alongside ruffians, :)  If for some reason you wanted to spend 60 points on a wizard who does not get a free Will Point, a liability of a henchman, and a D4 hero that has only 2 Wounds and 1 Fate, you'd do it for the following reason:

Immobilize on a 2+ up to 4 times.

Other than that...I'm having trouble, :P  Again, the nice thing about Shire heroes, even though they're not very good, is that at least the bonuses they give are static and don't change.  For these guys, similar to Grima above, you'd really run them as part of a theme, not because they are inherently useful on their own.  If you really want the Immobilize spell knock yourself out, but otherwise I wouldn't purchase these guys, especially if I had a chance at one of the 60-pt captains above.

Conclusion

In my next post, we'll take a look at a number of the warrior choices available to Isengard generals, and we'll also set the stage for the tactics post and how to effectively use combinations of models in an Isengard army.  Until then, you know where to find me,

Watching the stars,

Glenstorm

"Will they follow me?" ~ High King Peter
"To the death." ~ Oreius