Monday, March 9, 2015

Through the Smoke Rings: Thoughts on Shire Armies, and Moving Forward

Hey Reader!

Hope this post finds you all well!  This past weekend we held the TMAT Grand Tournament 2015, which was a ton of fun - major thanks to Zorro for being the tournament director for the tournament.  Much fun was had, :)  As I sit on the front porch thinking about the tournament (and without giving anything away), I wanted to provide some final thoughts on Shire armies (at least for now; I'm putting that army away for a bit, as I will explain a little later in the post).  So if you will indulge me, feel free to pull up a chair, find a comfortable position, and I'll give you some time to light your pipe as I recap a bit about my army for the GT.

The army represents the "little folk" of Eriador coming together to defend what they love from the "big folk" who would oppress them.  The army is composed of 299 pts of hobbits (well, in addition to three dogs and a horse, but yes - hobbits) and 304 pts of dwarves to add a bit of durability to the army.  Now for those of you who follow the blog you know that I usually run Aragorn fully decked out (Anduril, bow, armor - everything except the elven cloak) in this army, alongside a couple Dunedain for some additional suppressing fire in archery and a spread of Might Points in close combat.  For this tournament I opted to scratch Aragorn and the Dunedain, switch over to a Warbands scheme (instead of an LOME Shire build), and instead go for a larger model count and a number of S3 D7 warriors just to help hold the lines against the armies that I'd face.

And I'm glad I did: I learned a lot about how hobbits work, how dwarves work, and the synergy that a 56-model army has to have if it is to be competitive in a tournament.  Three things specifically stand out to me:

1.  Archery as a Non-Factor

First, as a quick clarification, I'm not saying that archery played no part in the games at the tournament - quite the contrary, actually.  What I am saying is that if a Shire player assumes that archery is the most important phase (and the round in which they will get the most kills), they are in for a rude awakening when playing Shire.  More and more I am coming to put less of my hope in the Shoot Phase and more and more of my trust in the Move Phase as the most critical phase for Shire.  I say this for a few reasons.

  • The Move Phase is much more predictable: hobbits always move up to 4", dogs always move up to 8", and Bullroarer always moves up to 10" every Move Phase.  How many of my arrows will hit on a 3+ in a Shoot Phase?  Sometimes a lot of them, sometimes an abysmally small number.  The Shoot Phase (like the Fight Phase) involves a die roll, which means the more you anchor your strategy on either of these phases the more you are leaving the strength of your strategy on a shifting and unpredictable foundation.  I'll cover this more in the next section, but suffice it to say for now, advanced armies (that is to say, armies that require a lot of skill and strategy to run, like a low-FV, low-Strength, low-Defense army like Shire) require the strategy to be solid and well-grounded, and I've found that the best grounding is the Move Phase.
  • Armies can plan ways to take down archery.  Wood Elves get Galadriel for 80 pts and they can make all of your archery - which, granted, in my army was about 48 pts of dedicated archers, and tons of throwing stones, so I'm not as affected as elves, crossbow uruk-hai, etc., but still a good point here - and the Wood Elves have made virtually all of that archery a non-factor for the game.  You're forced to close.  Teams that field The Shadow Lord or Gandalf can do this too (albeit for more points, so it's not as bad), and then there's those dwarf armies that just shrug off all archery just because they're dwarves and those uruk and easterlings who use drums to move up quickly and cut out entire rounds of shooting.  So while archery can be devastating against certain armies (Rohan armies that don't field enough cavalry or outriders, for example), it is hit-and-miss (hehe, :) ), and thus I don't recommend trusting to it.
  • Some scenarios have rules on deployment, where you will deploy in a variety of places on the board.  This means that your archers (which are generally low in armor value unless you are running High Elves, Easterlings, or Erebor) are not guaranteed to be in a safe position during the game.  This means that if you are counting on 3-4 rounds of archery to soften up a foe and they deploy a warband right next to your archer troop, your strategy goes straight out the window and you are forced to start from Square One.

All of this can be avoided if you don't make the Shoot Phase your focal phase for your strategy.  And similar concerns could be said about the Fight Phase: opponents investing in high-mobility armies to stay out of close combat until it is to their advantage (mounted Galadhrim, Rivendell, and Rohan armies come to mind), opponents investing in high-FV and/or large amounts of terror units to give them an edge in close combat, "monster mash" armies that rely on 80% or more of their points in monsters, etc. all cause problems for armies that are anchoring their strategy on a strong Fight Phase.

So if there is one thing I've learned through my time with Shire it is the value of anchoring your strategy on the Move Phase.  You still have variables (where your opponent moves, for example), but even those variables have limits: Mauhur can only charge within 8" at the start of the Move Phase, Eomer becomes S5 if he is on the charge, line of sight, etc.  And this is something that has not only served me well with Shire (where ironically movement at first appears to be a "limiting" factor for them), but will also serve me well with other armies.

2.  Close Combat: The "Slow Bleed"

Shire runs an army that is very weak in close combat: low Fight Value (you know you have problems when you are cheering because your hero is Fight 3!!! YAY!!!), low-Strength (ditto comment on the fact that Bullroarer is Strength 3!!!  YAY!!!), and low-Defense (Merry with a shield is Defense 5!!!  YAY!!!  Okay, we'll stop now).  And with the only banner being Frodo (unless you run an allied contingent like I did), the chance that you lose a fight is pretty good unless you are facing a spam army of goblins.

Shire armies (and I'll also add for all of the Rohan players out there that this also works for you, so stay with us here) need to first and foremost realize this: you are going to lose a lot of combats.  In fact, take a moment to let that sink in, and just become part of your mindset:

You're going to lose a lot of combats.

Okay, now that we have that down, let's talk about how we use this to your advantage.  Now I can hear you all right now: "Wait: we can use losing combats to our advantage?"  Oh yes!  Most certainly!  I've intentionally lost combats - even let people kill some of my models - through what I call the "Slow Bleed," which I'll take a moment to explain.

Imagine for a moment an army of hobbits that is hailing you with arrows and stones all day long, running and scampering about to get away from you, and you have to spend the entire game chasing them down in exasperation because the sheer amount of archery lands a few 6s each turn resulting in casualties.  After an hour of this, how much fun are you having?  Probably not much.  And as Shire players if there's one thing we hate more than people killing us it's people saying that we're not very hospitable.  And we want to be hospitable to our opponents.

Enter the "Slow Bleed" strategy.  If we feed a few of our models to the enemy each turn - be it through archery or melee combat, doesn't matter - they get the satisfaction of giving some wounds to us, which softens the blow of the incoming archery/charging Bullroarer/random hero we added to the army because we had more than enough points to add So-and-So the Hardcore Hero.  Suddenly you can play a game where you cream the other army on the kill count, but they still call the game fun because they still got to get in their combats and kill enemy models with the guys they paid points for.

Now if you are "too nice" you'll feed them your entire army and you'll lose every time, and we don't want to do that - there's a difference between hospitality and suicide, and the latter is bad.  So the trick with the Slow Bleed (and hence the name, by the by) is how to bleed enough to satisfy our opponents, but to do it slow enough that we don't break before the timer runs out, :P  As you read the posts for the GT, see how well I did with this: how many times I broke, and how many casualties I took, as I was really attempting to put polishing touches on this strategy, and I really like how it is shaping up.  It allows an army with bad defensive stats to stay competitive while also not being "that annoying army at the tournament that doesn't just fight me," and that is a hard balance that yields great rewards.

3.  Variety in Heroes Is a Must

Not surprising for Shire armies, you will need a varied mix of heroes in your army.  This is not necessarily true for every army (Isengard armies and dwarf armies can usually do pretty well with just power heroes designed for damage output, maybe with a single defensive "bunker" hero to anchor the main battle line), but it is essential for Shire.  Because we have a limited warrior core (and among our three warrior choices the only one that can hold its own against other models is the hobbit archer), we will need heroes to cover our bases, and we have a lot of bases to cover.  Naturally this is easier in a Warbands scheme (as Shire LOME can't team with anyone, though they gain Aragorn, Gandalf, and Dunedain in their list), but that's one of the beauties of Shire:

You can build full 13-model warbands for 80-100 points.

What heroes you choose to take will depend on what you need for your particular strategy.  Afraid of breaking?  You'll want a 12" Stand Fast! hero, or at least Merry to make them all Courage 4 (and Farmer Maggot C6, which is really nice for empowering the dogs as "wizard hunters").  Do you need more ranged damage output?  It is really easy to team Legolas and a troop of wood elves - even a small contingent of elves - into a Shire army without sacrificing model count (you can still easily keep your model count at 50+ by adding Legolas, Thranduil, a couple of Mirkwood Guard, and some elves with throwing daggers to a Shire army - now that would be a lot of pain at range).  Do you need some power heroes in close combat to wreck face on a high-Strength enemy frontline?  I brought Dwalin (S5 with 3 attacks with a 2Her with no penalty to win the fight at F6) and Balin (S4 with 2 attacks, a free banner re-roll, and a +1 to wound at F6) to my army for the GT.  Shire gives you the ability to team in what you'd like and still sport a massive army.

And so, with these thoughts fresh in my mind, I'm going to take a hiatus from the Shire army.  For 18 months I've been thinking about this army, and I'll be honest, it's kind of hard putting them down for a bit - the Waistcoat Brigade has really grown on me, and I'll be sad to see them sit out the next few tournaments.  But that leads us to something exciting that I could use your help with...

Going Forward

I'm trying to decide on the next army to test on this blog, and I'm currently in a quandary.  The following four armies are on the table, and I'd like your thoughts:

1.  Rivendell: I've been toying around with a Rivendell army for a bit, and I've finally gotten all of the models I need to run it.  I'm partially tempted to take this army just because I've seen Zorro run them and that looked fun, and Tiberius has always been a Wood Elf player (which also looks fun, by the by) and he really likes elves, so there's a huge side of me that wants to play with them.  If I do, expect to see Elrond, Lindir, possibly Erestor, and the Twins (so yes, you won't see Legolas in this army - I'm going to branch out beyond what the rest of the gaming group does, because I'm Centaur, which means I won't run the same sort of armies my friends do, :P ).

2.  Dwarves: I've had one game with an all-dwarf army, and since I got a troop of dwarves for my Shire army I want to further dabble with the dwarves.  If we choose this army, expect to see it anchored by Murin and Drar (yes: I'm going the Iron Hill Vets route, so they'll be my primary heroes), and I'll have a healthy dose of Iron Guard, Khazad Guards, and probably either a Dwarf Shieldbearer (or DSB as we call them here at TMAT) or Dwalin if I run this army (again, no Gimli, not because he is a bad hero - quite the contrary - but instead because everyone runs Gimli, and I don't want to be like everyone else, :P ).

3.  Easterlings: One of the guys who is just beginning to look at the hobby is interested in Easterlings and dwarves, so I'm tempted to play with Easterlings so that I can build up the blog content on Easterlings (and do a hero, warrior, and tactics breakdown like I have for Rohan, Grey Company, and Shire for his edification).  If we choose this list, expect to see either Khamul or Amdur in a given fight (I'll toy with both, as I like both), at least one Dragon Knight, kataphracts, and definitely a War Priest (as he's become a staple of my strategy...and no one else uses them, :P ).

4.  Isengard: Okay...I've seen a lot of Isengard armies run recently (and I really enjoyed playing against Tiberius in preparation for the tournament), and since I've made some suggestions to people on what they should/should not run, I figure it's probably high time I took some dedicated time to run Isengard so that people can rightly critique my thoughts, :P  If you choose this army, expect me to run Ugluk (that's non-negotiable - he's coming) an Uruk Captain with a 2H weapon (because I've discovered I really like S5 with a 2Her), and a ballista, :)  Maybe two, :)  But one of the big changes about the armies I'll be running:

No Vrasku.

That's right: no 2-shot crossbow with a 3+ Shoot Value for this army, because everyone (sans Tiberius, because he's hooked on that Mauhur/Lurtz combo) runs Vrasku.  Now, the irony of this is not lost on me, as I was the first player to play Isengard, I was the first player to play Vrasku, and I made him famous in our group to the point that everyone started using him, :P  But yes, I will be refraining from taking Vrasku, and will likely be using a shaman instead.

SO, to help me make up my mind, post in the comments which army you'd like me to play, why (if you care) you think they should be the next army I should focus on, and if there are particular units you'd like me to experiment with, let me know!  I'm looking forward to the next few months as I dabble with more armies and better wrap my mind around them, and watch out gaming group: I'm setting up games with each and every one of you, :)  Until my next post, blessings on your projects (I hope to do an updated terrain post soon highlighting the Worldsmith terrain I used in the tournament), and you'll know where to find me,

Watching the stars,


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


  1. I always enjoy your army break downs like this... sadly I never see a force in such depth... I just see a 'story' and pretty figures ;-) ... your ideas make me think things over a bit... I don't mind which force you take next... they're all interesting...

  2. Excellent write up Centaur. Especially the emphasis on the move phase. so many of the crew tend to blow off that phase, but much of the critical action actually happens there, not the fight (or shoot) phases.

  3. Great write-up, though Galadriel costs 125-130 pts depending on which one you get (Cirdan is 90 pts and probably who you were thinking about.

    1. Yeah - that elf. The one I never see, :P But yes - one of the things I've been thinking about more and more is basing a theory around things that my opponent cannot change (especially if the list is posted only a few days before a tournament, so I have no time to prepare for a certain list), and Blinding Light has become a big part o the equation that taught me not to rely on archery, :)