Welcome back to TMAT! We're continuing our discussion of the warriors from the Eastern Kingdoms army list, and as there are only five army choices for Eastern Kingdoms this will be a pretty short post. In our last post on Monday we talked about the overall strengths and weaknesses of Eastern Kingdoms lists, as well as the various hero choices that are available to generals for Easterling armies. In this post we will be going over the different unit options - which actually have quite a bit of versatility, for only having five warrior choices - that are at your disposal.
1. Easterling Warriors
Easterling warriors are your rank-and-file warrior options, giving you access to heavily armored infantry. You can purchase shields, bows, halberds (read: pikes that you can use with a shield courtesy of the phalanx special rule that they have), or a banner (for 25 pts, per the normal cost for banners), giving you a wide selection of basic infantry choices that you'd expect for an army list.
This does a few things for you. First, it gives you access to D5 archers, which is very uncommon. Other than Gondor, Dwarves, and Rivendell you don't see D5 on archers all that often, and gives you good protection against S2 and S4 archery and melee damage. For players running a Warbands army, you also have access to a 50% bow limit, so you can field a solid number of high-Defense archers to support your frontline.
It's also worth noting here that all Easterling Warriors can pay an extra +2 pts/model to make them Black Dragon warriors, increasing their FV from F3 to F4 and their Courage from C3 to C4. This makes them both more durable in melee combat (as it gets them up to F4 D6, which is standard issue for elite infantry in the current meta), and also makes them more reliable for charging and staying around if they are out of "Stand Fast!" range. This gets expensive very quickly (10 pts/model for swordsmen, 11 for pikes, and 10 for archers), but can be very helpful in giving your soldiers the mettle they need to hold the ranks in a tough fight.
Another bonus for Easterlings is that it gives you access to pike support (so you can support three ranks deep) with all of your pikes having shields (for D6 protection) if you choose to purchase the shield upgrade as well. At 9 pts/model this makes them basically on-par with Isengard pikemen (who cannot use shields but get F4 and S4 standard, so pretty fair trade I'd say considering the fact that the Isengard pikeman costs 10 pts/model instead of 9) and 1 pt more expensive than the Amroth Men-at-Arms for Fiefdoms armies (which is basically the same model except it cannot take a shield, so it makes sense too). What makes Easterling halberds really nice, though, is that they are the only pike model that can become not only F4 (like uruk pikes) but also C4, so they are reliable pikes when the battle gets hard or if you need to charge a target who causes terror (and having played against a few Amroth and Isengard armies in my time, part of my strategy when facing them is to not kill the pikes early in the game so that they'll run later in the game because of this observation). Ideally you won't have to charge with them (as they'll be pike supporting), but let's face it - at some point it comes up in a game, so it's nice to know that you can do it without as much fear as your C3 pike counterparts.
The primary limitation of having one standard infantry selection, though, is that you are limited to S3 for your infantry (and this carries over to Khand forces as well). This can make it hard to wound stuff, but just be ready for this: you don't have access to S4. This makes Easterlings an exceptional defensive civ (one of the best, in my experience), but you do lack a lot of the forward firepower that other civs have (especially if you are facing another F4 D6 army).
2. Easterling Kataphracts
The Kataphract is basically an Easterling Warrior Swordsman with shield mounted on a D5 armored horse for an additional +6 pts. Starting at 14 pts/model they are some of the cheapest heavy cavalry in the game, and with the ability to be upgraded with the Black Dragon upgrade for +2 pts/model (so still only 16 pts, which is not bad), they give you easy access to F4 D6 heavy cavalry.
Kataphracts may also take a banner for 25 pts (more on that in a bit) or a drum for 20 pts, and is the only access to a drum available in the Eastern Kingdoms list. While both of these could be helpful (easy access to a 3" re-roll to win the fight and a chance at moving an additional +3" for your Easterling forces if you are not charging), I have my misgivings about both of them. First, paying the additional 25 pts for the banner (bringing the model to 39-41 pts) is a lot of points to put into a mounted (read: very little cover saves compared to the Easterling Warrior who can also take a banner) 1 Wound model (so not a lot of room for error when arrows start flying or swarms of infantry surround your 40mm base) is not recommended. Second and more than that, because Easterlings generally have a problem wounding things one of the ways to increase their damage output is knocking people over and doubling their wounding dice. While you can still attack with a banner-wielding Kataphract, the -1 to win the fight makes it less likely that you will win, increasing the chance that your opponent not only does not die (which is the big Easterling problem), but gives them a good chance of killing your banner as well.
Similarly I have great misgivings to taking a drum. By spending 34-36 pts to get an additional +3" of movement (by the by, this bonus does not help Khandish forces, for the record - it only helps Easterlings) you could pay just as many points for another 2-3 archers to add some cover fire (and distract fire from the main body of the army), 2 more Black Dragon swordsmen with shields (adding additional F4 D6 warriors to soak up the archery and melee damage), and you only buy yourself 1, maybe 2 turns of not being hit by archery if you purchase the drum (and this also assumes that you catch the archers instead of being bogged down by an enemy "anvil" unit). While it is definitely possible to simply dismount your drummer (so that he does not get shot by enemy archery), this still doesn't fix the problem of how much you paid to front the drummer in the first place.
Isengard pays close to the same amount for their drummer option, but that guy is a hero (and at ~40 pts it's hard to top that as a leader for a warband if you're pressed for points) who has a Fate point (so a bit sturdier under fire) who can call a "Stand Fast!" when you need it, so I see the reason why you'd purchase him. I don't think the kataphract with the drum is worth the investment; others are free to disagree.
Similar to the concerns for infantry (and generally for Eastern Kingdoms), while kataphracts definitely add some additional firepower on the charge they do suffer in the area of damage output, especially compared to their counterparts. Kataphracts do not get access to a lance like their Morgul and Gondorian counterparts, and lack the innate 2A of Sons of Eorl (not to mention 12" movement). Be that as it may, the fact that for 16 pts they are both F4 D6 and they are C4 gives them an advantage in charging terror-causing units, which is something that baseline heavy cavalry often have trouble with. Personally I recommend fielding a few of them in your army - they can be very useful in helping your infantry puncture an enemy "anvil" unit, and can help to provide firepower to support the infantry phalanx.
3. Khandish Warriors
Khandish warriors are your access to 2H weapons. They fill two rolls in your army: 2H infantry support (for melee damage output) or lightly armored archers. At only 8 pts/model they are decent archers (4+ SV with normal bows, just like their Easterling counterparts) and give you S3 2Hers, which is useful in cracking D6 and D7 frontlines.
We'll take a brief moment to discuss why you would take Khandish archers as opposed to Easterling archers (as we think the 2H option naturally makes sense). The only major difference between an Easterling Warrior with bow and a Khandish Warrior with bow is that one of them (the Easterling) is D5, making him more resilient against S2 and S4 attacks. The Khandish Warrior on the other hand is D4 (so competent against S3 attacks), though he is F4 (so more proficient in melee).
My recommendation is that you would field Khandish Warriors with bows if you were planning on using your Khandish Warriors as frontline archers, moving up with the phalanx and expecting to be attacked in melee (as they bring their F4 to bear, and most frontline infantry are S3 so being D4 or D5 makes no difference in regards to wounding), while you would use Easterling archers to cover flanks and trade archery fire with an opponent (as it will maximize the even-number damage rolls going against them and bring their F3 into the spotlight less often). I personally do not like this distinction between archers (I'd much rather have the Orc Tracker v. Orc Warrior distinction where one shoots better but is more vulnerable to damage), but I can definitely see the reason in running both.
4. Khandish Charioteers
Okay...for 25-26 pts (based on whether your purchase the bow upgrade) I'll say this upfront:
The 1 attack is going to aggravate you a lot.
The amazing thing about Khandish Charioteers is that it gives you access for only ~50 pts to two models with the monster rules, and since they move at 10" you basically get to choose when you go to combat with them. What is more, since the chariot has 3 Wounds at D7, they're actually pretty sturdy against most aggressors (and people need to roll In the Way for both melee and ranged attacks against the charioteer on a 5+ instead of the traditional 4+, so that's helpful).
The problem is that 1) you've only got 1A (2A if you're on the charge), so winning combat against more than one opponent is hard, especially if you don't have a banner nearby (and you've got a massive base, so hitting more than one opponent is really easy), 2) you have a 2Her, which means that if you use it to help you land a hit (because unlike other monstrous mounts you are only S3) you are -1 to win the fight on your small number of attacks (so it compounds the problem), and 3) the rider is only D4 with 1 Wound, so if they ever slip something past your chariot (or kill the chariot), your guy will not last very long.
My simple response to this: that's okay. I played a double-header set of games against Glot and Tavros this past month, and one of the things I learned about these charioteers is that even if they die to archery so that they never really see combat or get to kill anyone (which was the case in both games), they at least eat up a good amount of archery so that the rest of your army makes it to the front lines.
I then played another game with Tiberius where one of the chariots was killed very quickly (didn't even need to get past the In the Way rolls; the Khazad Guards just went to town on the poor chariot and then promptly killed the guy), but the other was able to do a good amount of damage (and keep some of the heroes at bay by knocking them over with flying guys). So are they worth the 25-50 pts? Maybe, maybe not. But at the very least I recommend seeing these guys as a "we can run them up, threaten the enemy, and draw out archery so that the main body makes it where it needs to go" addition to the army, if not a powerhouse damage contributor.
5. Khandish Horsemen
For these guys I have only one thing to tell you:
If you're looking to optimize your army, don't buy them.
Now some of you are thinking, "Wait, that's kind of harsh - I mean, Eastern armies are renowned for their horse archers, right? The Parthians, the Scythians, the Huns, the Vandals, the Mongols - they all rocked with horse archers, right?" Yes, you're absolutely right - and these guys are not Mongol horse archers.
Why do I say this? To set the stage, they are 13 pts/model, they are F4/4+ (so decent FV and average SV for horsemen as 4+ is pretty standard), S3 D4 1A 1W C3, which again is pretty standard for horsemen. The problem is that for the same cost you could get a Rider of Rohan who is only F3 (we're assuming you don't get the Westfold Redshield upgrade as that would increase the cost, but suffice it to say here the Rider of Rohan can also become F4, for the record, for only +1 pt/model) and you lose both the shield (so the Khandish horsemen are only D4 instead of D5) and all Riders of Rohan have the Expert Rider rule, which not only lets them claim the shield defensive bonus while still using their bows, but also allows them to re-roll failed Jump and Throw tests, so they have less likelihood of being dismounted, thrown, and taking a S3 hit (not to mention dying in a river they are trying to jump and other environmental penalties).
Unlike the Kataphract and the charioteer, the horsemen are not well built for melee combat. With only 1-2 attacks at F4, they are on-par with spear-supported rank-and-file infantry in the current meta, and even if they win it's highly likely they'll be wounding on 5s or 6s, whereas if the infantry wins they will likely be wouding on 4s or 5s (even Shire units would be wounding on these odds). This means that the chance likelihood that the horsemen survives melee combat (which is the only benefit for being F4) is very low, and if you're going to pay 13 pts for charge cav, you might as well pay 14 pts and take a kataphract (or 16 pts if you'd like him to be F4).
More than that, with dirt cheap archery options in your infantry who shoot just as well as these guys (the horseman is really a Khandish Warrior with a bow that costs more to add a horse) and are harder to hit because infantry have a better chance of getting cover saves, it makes a lot more sense to purchase the foot archers over and against the horsemen. The only reason I'd recommend taking these guys is if you are attempting to run an all-cav force and you want to skirmish, but even then, just know that incoming damage will hurt a lot and your ability to return fire is not on-par with how much the horse archer costs to field. You're paying points for F4, so if you're not using that you're wasting points.
Now some people are going to add these guys to a force for thematic reasons (see my post on army list building for some thoughts on that), and that's perfectly fine. But if you're looking for an optimized build (more in the Min/Max or Linchpin camp), I don't recommend these guys.
In the next post we will discuss a few thoughts on tactics and planning when using an Easterling Army, so stay tuned watching this space!
Until then, you'll know where to find me,
Watching the stars,
"Centaurs are concerned with what has been foretold! It is not our business to run around like donkeys after stray humans in our forest!" ~ Bane, Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone