Friday, December 26, 2014

Beware of Dragon, Part 4: The Defensive Versatile Dragon Types

Good evening gamers,

We've talked about Vanilla dragons, Utility dragons, and Offensive Versatile dragons. In this post, we're wrapping up the tactical overview of dragon builds and focusing on the "defensive versatile" dragon options. As mentioned in our last post, these dragons don't use the Breathe Fire upgrade, which brings a few concerns. The chief benefit to this dragon type is that your Will store can be saved for one of two things: casting magic (if you have the Wyrmtongue upgrade) or passing Courage tests (available to all three builds below). This allows you to protect your dragon either by weakening your foes or ensuring you are resolute enough to stay and fight. The concerns for this build are as follows:

Concerns for not taking Breathe Fire

The first and most important consideration is that your dragon is strictly a melee unit. With a large base, you need to watch terrain to make sure you can fit when you want to attack. You also need be careful not to accidentally trap your own units when you maneuver or retreat (should you lose a fight). Finally, watch out for enemy archery (for most builds), as exposure to too much archery as you try to cross the field could drain your Will (or Might/Fate) stores before combat is reached.

The second consideration is similar to a consideration for how to use Breathe Fire: you need to pay for a 350 point unit, so be deliberate about who you attack. I've hinted/said this in each post on dragons: you're paying for an expensive unit, so for the love of all that is holy, direct him at the enemy in a way that will recoup some of that investment. This could be by destroying heroes in melee combat OR by crunching enemy warriors who drift too far from the protection of a brawler hero. Whatever you choose to do to make up the cost of your army's centerpiece, don't "just attack with him," as telling him "smash" may not be good enough.

Build #4: "The Strike Drone" (Wings + Wyrmtongue)

I'll begin by saying that this is my favorite build for defensive dragons (and may be my favorite build for any dragon). Why you ask? Because taking an upgrade that allows you to fly and taking an upgrade that allows you to cast magic each turn you are not engaged is the only way to continue getting worth out of your dragon. I've talked a lot in the previous posts about how Breathe Fire only lasts for three turns (or less) and how taking the Rough Hide upgrade requires your opponent to actually try to kill you when you're nearly impregnable. These upgrades are different: they're not passive (like Tough Hide) and they're not limited use options.

The benefit of Wings can be lost if your opponent gets priority a lot, but on the whole, you should be able to use your incredible speed to position yourself to kill the units you need to kill in order to gain your points (be it to target an important hero, or line up a nice set of guys to throw one unsuspecting grunt into). Wyrmtongue also lasts the whole game, thanks to a free Will point and spells with difficulty of 3 or 4 - not all of your spells will go off successfully (and I don't particularly like spending Might points to make these work unless you REALLY need them to), but you'll have a chance next turn to make it work. Combined with wings, you have a 24" effective range too, which is great for making sure that anyone within your 12" movement path gets their will store removed or prevented from doing any damage.

Build #5: "The Lead Zeppelin" (Wings + Tough Hide)

If I didn't love magic so much, this would be my favorite dragon. I'll go further and say that if I were running a two-dragon army at 700 points, this would definitely be one of them (maybe both, depending on whether you can leave the Breathe Fire upgrade at home). With the passive skill of Tough Hide, you're not likely to take much damage and without Wyrmtongue or Breathe Fire, you can save all of your Will points to resist magic and pass Courage tests. If you don't want to be touched and be able to rapidly deploy, this is your man.

It comes at a price, though: who's going to attack you? Strength 5 heroes wound you on a single dice, but who's going to openly charge a dragon like this with the intent of trying to get that wound on 6s? Not many. The more likely event is that a single grunt (we'll call him Bob) charges you and everyone else high-tails it out of there to wherever the rest of your army is. It's worth noting that your 12" movement should allow you to lose this loser on the next turn, but losing any time with a dragon is costly. In addition, since non-siege archery isn't going to do a dent in that mail, your opponent is more likely to focus his archery on the rest of your army, which may have a greater toll on you than a Fate point or two plucked off the dragon before hitting combat without the Tough Hide upgrade.

Build #6: "The Quagmire" (Wyrmtongue + Tough Hide)

Perhaps you want to stay in step with your army and want to be able to take down the worst of your enemy's heroes. While I've come to enjoy mobility on my casters, a standard 6" movement coupled with magic works just fine. Unlike most fantasy games, you have the ability with this build to actually make your caster defensible. If you enjoy casting magic, this guy is really fun to use.

My biggest concern about this build is that you can't maneuver - it has all the benefits of the two previous builds except their movement capabilities. Being able to fly away from  "Suicide Bob" is no small thing, and being able to move quickly to keep an enemy hero on the other end of the map from making it off the board or making it to an objective is no small thing. Finally, since your foes will have no incentive to attack you, not being ahead of your army (thanks to Wings) will mean that he'll focus on everyone else. Even with a Goblin army, you're going to be pressed for numbers or other means of fire power, so having your foe focus on the rest of your army is kind of not the least for me.

The final post in this series will by my biased review of ways you can take down the 11 dragon types described in the four preceding posts. These will include general recommendations and tell you which dragon types are defeated by them - no rocket science, but a general should realize what element of his army he is neglecting to employ/expand given a monster like a dragon. After that, we move on to detail work on the Wood Elves, Goblins, and Dwarves as we celebrate the climax of the Hobbit trilogy and the turn of the year!

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Operation Tuckborough Update: Trees!

Hey Reader!

First of all, I hope that your Thanksgiving was amazing!  Over the course of the extended weekend I was hard at work with a bread knife, but not because I was baking (we'll, I was baking for the holiday, but the bread knife had nothing to do with it - I'll explain in a bit), and after a few grueling weeks at work and finally having time to upload this, I wanted to give you all an update from the weekend on Operation Tuckborough, which is my Shire board for the TMAT GT IV this March.

Per interesting circumstances surrounding the tournament last year my army, the Waistcoat Brigade (Shire LOME List, which you can find here), dropped from the tournament, and for the GT this year I am bringing more or less the same army (more on that in a future post), and will also be bringing my Shire board to the tournament to accompany them.  To add a bit more flair to the board though I decided to include my first foray into the realm of trees and woodland terrain, and today's post covers the creation of two new pieces of woodland terrain for the board.

Before launching into the step-by-step process, it is worth noting that I followed the ideas laid out by Dan at Mini War Gaming, and I highly recommend their video series on terrain building.  Really good ideas on what tools to use, techniques to provide added stability and longevity to your terrain, and just all-around good ideas, :)  So, with no further ado, let's make some terrain!

STEP 1: Cut the Styrofoam

Mini War Gaming personally recommend against using the granulated styrofoam when making terrain, and I agree as a general rule - I happened to have granulated styrofoam lying around (which I'm trying to use up so that I can clean out closet space and workstation space), so I'm using granulated styrofoam in mine.  My hope is to build two modular pieces of terrain, so I'll need bases for them.

I'm just using a $6 bread knife for cutting throughout this post; you
don't need anything special to cut styrofoam.  So get a cheap one.
Because I didn't want the bases for our pieces today to be that wide, we'll only be working with the right piece, and we'll slice that in two for our first base plates:

Major thanks for the random Uruk shaman and wood chip (that
will soon become a rock) for showing scale of size today!
So with that we've got our two bases; I made the plates about the same size, though we'll be cutting these down, and they'll likely be different sizes when we're done.

STEP 2: Trace the Base

I use a simple Sharpie pen for this - don't need anything too fancy, just something that will leave a large enough mark for you to clearly cut along the line.

STEP 3: Trace the Top

Now that we've got the base we'll trace a smaller section near the top and cut along it to create more of a slope (which will be shaved into a bit come the actual cutting, but that's okay), like so:

Nothing too earthshaking here: cut out what you want, chuck the rest.  Alternatively, you can take remnant pieces and use them for additional rock pieces, rubble and the like, so worth thinking about, :)  This is a bit easier to do with the non-granulated "sheet" styrofoam, but you can do it with either.  End result will look like this:

Starting to look like a hill already.

STEP 4: Apply Plaster/Wall Putty

Paint and glue doesn't apply well to styrofoam, so I like adding wall plaster or putty to the foam to give a more solid, rigid feel.  It also means that if you don't get all of the ridges out you'll have an uneven looking terrain which will be mostly hidden by the flock and fake grass later, giving it a bit more character.  Quickly apply, and let dry:

Once dry, glue down trees.  Some people prefer to sand it down first and then apply the trees; I tend to avoid sanding until I have the trees down purely because the sanding grains can latch onto the glue, making the bond between the actual terrain piece and the tree base weaker (and greater chance it pops off), but that's a matter of personal preference.  When you're done it will look like this:

I also took the opportunity to glue down the wood chip as well (which we will be turning into a large rock shortly).  And with that, we're ready for the final step!

STEP 5: Sand, Flock, and Paint

While painting is not usually necessary on terrain projects, it became necessary for this one because we're trying to convert the wood chip.  I used a Mechanicus Standard Gray (base coat from Citadel Paints) for my rock, 1) because it's a good looking gray for terrain, 2) because I have a lot of it lying around, and 3) because it's a base coat as opposed to a layer coat or a dry coat, so it applies thicker and will hold its color better.  Final product looks like this:

And with that, we're good for Phase 1!  I'll be adding some rocks and do some touch-up to the flocking, but otherwise these pieces are basically good to go!  Should provide some "in the way" options for soldiers, some modular woodland terrain, and we've still got half of the original base plate remaining (which I hope to get underway if not completed this weekend).  Full update on Operation Tuckborough hopefully coming out after that, probably at the turn of the year.

So anyway, that's what we've been up to, :)  Doing some touch up work to a number of miniatures (and painting up some new guys - hopefully there will be a post soon on those guys), and we'll keep you all posted!  I'm also hoping to get in some games against Tiberius, especially testing out his dragon armies, so keep watching this space as we head into the Christmas Season!  Until then, you'll know where to find me,

May your days be merry and bright,


"The world was never right unless a Son of Adam was on the throne." ~ Trufflehunter, Prince Caspian

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Beware of Dragon, Part 3: The "Offensive Versatile" Dragon Types

Good morning gamers,

In our previous two posts, we talked about the Vanilla dragon type (no upgrades) an the Utility dragon types (one upgrade). These five builds are more affordable options that what we're going to be talking about today, but they only do one thing for your army. In today's post, we're going to be looking at the three possible Versatile dragon builds that include the "Breathe Fire" upgrade, because let's face it, we think breathing fire is pretty cool. Because you pay Will points to use Breathe Fire, we're going to be referring to these dragon builds as "offensive versatile" types, while the non-Breathe-Fire builds save their Will stores for resisting magic or passing Courage tests ("defensive versatile" types). It's important to note that the fact that "offensive" or "defensive" has been tacked onto the Versatile description doesn't mean that taking an "offensive" dragon build lacks defensive options (or that "defensive" dragon builds lack offensive capabilities). Rather, the focus is only on how it enables the use of its Will store. Before we begin, let's get some of the elephants out of the room.

Concerns for taking Breathe Fire

First and foremost, as we just said, you're spending your Will store to do damage, instead of resisting magic. These dragon builds are not designed to counter serious magic armies. I've mentioned magic in every post so far, but this bears repeating:

Because you're a powerful melee monster, you will be targeted by magic.

This has become particularly true with the advent of Brutal Strikes, since monsters can't be pegged so easily by a single warrior anymore. If your foe wields an army of evil, adding a 60-70 point Ringwraith is easy and you can keep a powerful unit from doing anything for 4-6 turns.

If your gaming meta doesn't rely on magic (bad idea, but we'll get into that in a future month here at TMAT), there is another consideration for Breathe Fire upgrades. Your upgrade is only good for a maximum of three turns, so don't "just use it." While the upgrade is only worth 50 points (and you should probably be able to recoup that during three rounds of killing), any dragon commander needs to think about what he strategically needs to do to win a game. If your opponent runs a hero-oriented army, focus your firepower on the hero(es) that will make a difference for the rest of your army. For example, you can probably kill most of a Dwarf volley team with a single breath attack, but if Gimli's squad (or Balin's squad or the King's Champion's squad or...) sneaks off to the rest of your army, you've lost the game. Using the same example, though, you as the commander need to decide if you need to wipe out Gimli's two Fate points (and perhaps killing the hero) or if weakening him is good enough and taking out a swathe of guys is more important. Whatever you choose to do, you need to be deliberate with your fire.

Build #1: "The Missile Copter" (Breathe Fire + Wings)

This is your "cavalry archer" build: it combines the value of a bow-style range attack with the speed and rapid redeployment of flight. Being able to move 6"and still make a 12" range attack is powerful, especially in objective-based games. Glenstorm likes to talk about armies that can "wag" from one part of the battlefield to the other, and if you like being able to do that, this is your man!

While this is likely to be one of the most popular builds for dragons (and indeed my favorite offensive build), the greatest concern for anyone running this kind of dragon is the agro (read, concentrated fire) it will attract. With only Defense 7, beware of S3+ archery and more importantly, S5+ magical spells or siege weapons. Since you will hopefully be shooting for 3 turns, this gives your opponent time to shoot at you before melee is joined - that can be a lot of time!

Build #2: "The Sniper Team" (Breathe Fire + Wyrmtongue)

This is the "12-inch-ranged-cannon" build, and while it doesn't move as rapidly as the Missile Copter, it has the potential to skirmish for a long time. I call this the "sniper team" because you are probably focusing on taking out heroes with it. While Breathe Fire can be used to kill warriors, Breathe Fire in this build can be used to wear down one or two really powerful heroes (Elven lords, Aragorn, Imrahil, etc.) and once you've exhausted your Will store, reducing the Will and later Fight value of their other heroes as you take them out one by one.

It's important to note that if the Fly special rule came standard on dragons, this would be the play (at least for me) - you could fly 6" and still breathe fire or fly 12" and cast magic - it's incredible! Since this is not a possibility, it's important to realize that you will not be able to move up as quickly and so will be vulnerable to enemy ranged damage (to include everything listed in the previous build) AND will be closer to your own ranks when you engage. Be careful if you get charged before you get off all of your Breathe Fire attacks, as later, that could mean toasting some of your own guys, along with some of his. While the trade might be worth it if you're killing Elves as well as Goblins, you're not going to have that many guys, so be careful.

Build #3: "The Tank" (Breathe Fire +Tough Hide )

When I first read up on the special rules for dragons, I immediately thought "This is where it's at." While I no longer hold this opinion, this is still a fun build. You get a great ranged attack, and while you are slow, you are also impervious to damage (some concern from S5 attacks and S9 magic/siege weapons).

Unlike the previous two builds, you trade gaining agro for its antithesis: no one is going to focus on you. Now, whatever else you bought to accompany the dragon will be receiving the focus of the attack. We've talked in a previous post about how taking the Tough Hide upgrade results in general results in not being attacked: while at first this seems like a capital idea, since all scenario reward you on breaking your foe, you basically incentivize your opponent into trying to break you instead of dealing with your power unit. Since he's not fast, redeploying him is going to be hard. Breathe Fire will do a lot for you (if you can get it off before charges), but once entangled, only Brutal Strikes will help you. In the end, your foe is likely not going to wound you on better than 6s in melee anyway, so you pay 50 points for an upgrade that all but ensures that your dragon will make it to the end of the game. If you like that sort of thing...go with it. :)

I will say one more thing about "The Tank" - this I think would be the best build for at least one dragon in a 700 point list. Here at TMAT, we've never broken 603 points in a game (grace points included) because of the time constraints we have and the time it takes to move everyone, but I've heard speak of grand tournaments in the UK which are played at the 700 point level. Two 350 point dragons in those games have been powerful in the past and personally I'd go with one "Tank" and one "Missile Copter" or better yet, one "Tank" and one of the defensive builds we haven't talked about yet - more on that in our next update.

In our next post, we'll wrap up our discussion of dragon types with a look at the non-fire Versatile dragons, all of which rely on melee for their crushing power, but ally in various tricks to maximize that melee potential. Until then, happy hobbying!

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Beware of Dragon, Part 2: The "Utility" Dragon Types

Good morning gamers,

In today's post, we're going to look at the four types of "utility" dragons that you can buy in the LOTR Strategy Battle Game. The following terms will be used throughout the post, so here are their "formal" definitions up front:
  • Utility Dragon - a dragon with a single upgrade is termed a "utility" dragon, since the upgrade provides a niche capability for the dragon to perform a primary function (and very few other functions besides that). This is used to differentiate a dragon with a single upgrade from those with no upgrades (termed a "vanilla" dragon) and those with two upgrades (termed a "versatile" dragon).
  • Lightning Build - a dragon who relies on its fiery breath to devastate enemy ranks and the heroes who lead them. This allows a dragon, for a limited time, to have an archery attack option.
  • Thunder Build - a dragon who relies on the thunderous pounding of its wings to choose its battles, avoid several turns of archery, and often ensures that it will receive its charge bonus.
  • Rain Build - a dragon who relies on magical spells to enfeeble enemy heroes (or warriors, I guess) in order to defeat them asymmetrically. Like fighting in rain, heroes who face a dragon of this kind will not be entering the combat at full strength (if anywhere near the same playing field).
  • Hail Build - a dragon who relies on its tough hide to ignore wounds dealt by the most powerful of blows. This has its advantages against enemy archery, damage-oriented magical spells, and melee attacks.
For the sake of theme, these all have storm elements in their titles - the "hail" build is probably better termed a "rock" build, but since hail is get the picture.

The "Lightning" Build

By taking the Breathe Fire upgrade, your dragon is able to tackle large blocks of troops or nasty heroes from a distance. Breathing fire costs a Will point, which means you'll only be able to use it three times. If your foe knows the rules for this, he'll be sure to space out his men to reduce the amount of damage you can do with each attack. You should still be able to pay for the upgrade, though, by tackling 3-4 units at a time. Alternatively, you can really pay for the cost if you can take down two captains (or one epic hero) with your breath attacks, though your combat profile should generally be good enough to kill them without using up your fire.

While you can do lots of damage with this build, you are slow. With only 6" speed, you will probably be near your main lines when you start unloading pain on your foes. Since the breath attack is made during the Shoot phase, you need to ensure that you're not charged in order to use it, so watch out for high Courage/Bodyguard rule units! This "downside" isn't necessarily a problem, but how you maneuver your units will be key to victory. Another concern about this build is that because you cannot race across the field, you are a prime target for enemy archery and enemy magic: if they can stop you before you can get close enough to use your breath attacks, you're in trouble. Magical spells that allow you to move an opponent his full distance (Spectres and Wood Elf Sentinels most particularly) are real dangers, as moving you your full distance will keep you from being able to doing a bow-style attack.

The "Thunder" Build

Wings get you into combat sooner - this is a self-evident fact. Since you already invest in the strong melee profile for any Utility dragon, this utility type relies on speed and maneuverability to get into combat quickly. You can take advantage of the Brutal Strikes available to monsters in order to get your kill count in, but you are focused on getting into the fray quickly. If you are allowed to deploy within 12" of your board edge, you can engaged your opponent in 2-3 turns and can even tackle enemy siege weapons if you need to. An added bonus of this build is that for those early turns of the battle, your enemy archery will probably not be directed against the other 300+ points of your army. This can save you a lot guys!

The downside to this build is that if you race across the field on wings, you are likely going to be facing the full force of your enemy's army alone. You'll want to save your Might points to win fights (or promote Fate points), as one bad roll for you could spell instant doom for the beloved monster of your force. Defense 7 will hold up well against most enemy attacks, but this shouldn't make the wielder of any dragon foolhardy. Spectres are again very dangerous for these sorts of dragons, as they can not only make them move at great speed into a trap, but they also wound against your low Courage value instead of your Defense value. If there are any Ringwraiths nearby, those nasty spectres will be wounding on 4s from the get-go an on 3s if the Ringwraith casts Drain Courage twice. Choosing to resist these spells necessarily means decreasing your Will store, which makes passing those Courage rolls that much less likely.

The "Rain" Build

While both of the previous builds trust to the powerful profile of the dragon, the Wyrmtongue upgrade allows you to use this powerful profile against a weaker profile of the enemy unit of your choice. With three simple spells, you can reduce the Will store or Fight value of your enemy's prized hero. Being Fight 7 is usually enough to win on ties, but reducing the attack number of your foe is no small thing. Furthermore, if a hero is known for wounding his foes (Thrysdane Wolfsbane or Aragorn with Anduril, for example), removing his ability to roll to wound on a given round will be worth its weight in dragon scales.

The other great benefit of running with this build is that every turn you receive a free Will point to cast a spell. This means that you will never be lacking for use of this upgrade, unless someone charges you before you can cast. Of course, the Terror/Harbinger of Evil special rule combo should make charging you hard to do.

The biggest downside to this build is that if your opponent relies more heavily on his warriors doing his dirty work than his heroes, you'll be hard pressed to cast magic against the whole of the army before they carve through whatever is left of your army. Magic is great, but it's best employed against heroes who will make a difference, rather than hordes of warriors. This isn't to say that you can't Transfix someone you intend to throw/bash through...

The "Hail" Build

The "hail" build is the closest thing I could come up with that rings like a "rock" build while focusing on storm terminology. Taking the Tough Hide upgrade boosts your maximum Wounds and Defense value to 9 (instead of 7). The increase of wounds is a bit excessive, since having the higher defense should be more than enough to disincentivize shooting at you and reduce any damage intake from melee. This is the build for the person who wants to steam roll through the enemy ranks and doesn't want to worry about taking damage if he flubs a roll.

Like all of the other builds (besides the Thunder build), you are probably going to be close to your own ranks when you finally get into charge range. If he arrives at the same time as the rest of your warriors, however, there is a bigger danger: why would your opponent want to charge a large, nasty dragon when he could charge a softer part of your army? On turns when you have priority, you can probably charge whatever units you want. On the other turns, however, you'll be forced to use your Brutal Strikes in order to get any semblance of kills in.

In our next post, we'll look at three of the six "versatile" dragon builds (all featuring the Breathe Fire upgrade), so watch this space!