Saturday, June 6, 2015

Easterling Summary, Part III - Strategy and Tactics

Hey Reader!

Welcome back to TMAT!  Today we're wrapping up our study of the Eastern Kingdoms (Easterlings and Khand) by talking about strategies and tactics for Eastern Kingdoms armies.  Over the past two weeks we covered a brief discussion of the hero and warrior selections as well as the overall strengths and weaknesses of the list, and now that we have all of that in mind we'll talk briefly about how we weave these elements together into cohesive armies.

Per my notes on army list building, it befits us to first note that different strategies for army building are going to affect your strategies when using Easterlings.  For people who are running more themed armies, we'll have some thoughts for you all first (with the two major themes being All Easterlings and All Mounted armies), followed by some strategies for Warbands-specific armies (talking about which units would be best served by specific heroes, pairings of warriors, etc.), and then ending with some commentary generally about in-game movement tactics to get your men into their optimal place on the table.

I.  Themed Armies

When looking at themed armies, remember: if you're focused on the theme there may be elements of your army that are not "optimized" in regards to cost, which affects your tactics (as you'll often have some gaps in your inventory, and thus some potential weaknesses in a game).  With this in mind, remember: enjoy playing with the theme.  And then we'll do what we can to close up some of the gaps.

The most common theme is the All Easterlings theme, and it makes sense: who doesn't want to run a F4 D6 frontline with pike support that is also D6 (and possibly) F4?  Everyone loves that!  Couple that with some F4 D6 charge cav, five excellent hero choices, and archers with heavy armor, and you're set!  So why would we even look at the Khandish forces?

Well frankly because they'll help you break the enemy army.  Without Khandish forces you're looking at a S3 army with S4 heroes (S5-6 if Khamul chooses to boost his Strength or takes a Fell Beast), meaning that if you are up against a D6 or D7 army your chances of doing wounds are pretty low.  And with no way to boost this short of Bladewrath from a War Priest 2-3 times per game, you're looking for high numbers all the time to crack through enemy armor.

All Easterling armies need to just own the fact that they will be looking at low-Strength to do the job for them.  That's fine - they're a very good "turtle" civ, and they can survive for a long time without being broken themselves.  In Part III of this post we'll discuss this a bit further, but suffice it to say for now an All Easterlings army should be themed like a dragon: long tail in the form of kataphracts, followed by a tough underbelly of warriors.  If you like breathing fire (in the form of archery), investing in archers is also pretty solid as they are quite durable against enemy archery and are decently priced.

The second common theme is an All Mounted team, and by and large they get access to good variety of warriors.  You can field charge cav (in the kataphracts), horse archers, and flex fighters (like the charioteers, who can start the game as "horse archers" and then become charge cav once you are ready to close to combat).  And since virtually all of the heroes can be mounted (except the Easterling Captain), you lose basically nothing in regards to hero choices if you choose to run this list.

Like all teams that go 100% cavalry, you'll have a smaller model count than your infantry counterpart, and this is something to consider since Easterlings are usually smaller on the model count as it is.  With two decent heroes (call it Amdur and a mounted War Priest) costing almost 200 pts on their own, Warbands players especially will be feeling the crunch, as they are unlikely to field even the hero for a third warband.  So just be prepared for this: you're not only running with a very mobile army, but you're running a very small army.

For teams like this you'll want to skirmish; Tiberius has some excellent thoughts on this (which you can find here; he also has some additional thoughts here, though I personally disagree with the thesis of the post, ;) ) when he was testing Rohan in this regard.  Naturally Khand and the Easterlings have the disadvantage in lacking throwing weapons (one of the limitations of Eastern Kingdoms - no access at all to throwing weapons), but a lot of the discussion still holds true: use your bows, stay at range, gauge your speed, and then strike at close combat when you're ready.  And if nothing else, you have ways to make all of your cavalry F4 (F5+ for a good number of your heroes) to help you win if/when you choose to finally charge.

With this in mind for those who are theming their armies, we wanted to spend a bit of time talking specifically to Warbands players, as which units are in which warbands actually matters...

II.  Warbands Armies: Pairings and Tricks

First things first, recognize that Eastern Kingdoms really runs as a composite of two lists: Easterlings and Khandish forces.  Some models (Amdur, Lord of Blades, the Khandish King, the drum for kataphracts, etc.) only help one list or the other, not both.  So this means that if you are planning on taking an infantry warband led by Amdur, I don't recommend that you run a high number of Khandish warriors with his warband as they will not benefit from the banner rule (though having a few can help for damage output).

Similarly you'll want to be careful how many Easterlings you put near your Khandish King, how many Khandish guys you keep near your War Priest, etc. (and this is part of the draw toward themed armies that only focus on one side of the list).  This is just something to think about; there are easy ways to get past these (using Khandish Chieftains on chariots, Dragon Knights, Khamul, and ECaps, all of whom treat Eastern Kingdoms warriors the same), so this doesn't hinder the list much, but just be aware that there are heroes who will benefit some units and not others.

Another important thing to remember is that warbands armies can take up to 50% bow limit for their force, so you have the ability to take a ton of Khandish and/or Easterling archers if you so desire.  Sure, you won't be shooting with as much as a Grey Company player, but you can get in a ton of archery if you take a warbands army.

So with these caveats in mind, let's look at some tactics.

III.  Tactics: Utilizing the Dragon Army and the Scorpion Army

For this section we have three tricks for you to keep in mind, each being part of what we will call the "Dragon Army" (that is to say, a defensively-minded army) or a "Scorpion Army" (that is to say, an offense-focused army).  Each can be done with either a one-force theme or a mixture of Eastern Kingdoms, so even those building a themed list can still use them.

As a quick reminder for our tactical posts, each of the following is also an element of the army - these are not so much overarching army tactics so much as how you structure a particular element of your force (a warband, a few small detachments that work together as a unit, etc.).  This is due in part to the fact that some scenarios have random deployment (so you are not guaranteed to have your entire force in one place, or on the table at the start of the game), and it is much more manageable in-game when you are throwing dice down, as you don't have to micro-manage the entire force to make them work right.

Tactic #1: Jaws of the Dragon
Two warbands focusing on a Jaws strategy: line up, hit with as much
force as possible, and chomp through the enemy lines quickly
The Jaws of the Dragon is probably the most common tactic that exists: it relies on strong ranks of melee models (often infantry, though you can use kataphracts as well), invites the enemy to engage its front ranks, and then wraps around the enemy and overwhelms them.

Now ironically Eastern Kingdoms armies actually do this pretty well - not because they are very good at wounding enemies (S3 is one of their weaknesses, as you will recall), but rather because they are F4 and (often) D6, making them hard to kill in close combat (which keeps your "trapping" force in trapping position).  Throw in some Khandish forces along the edges (kataphracts work well too), and you can pin down and slowly kill off an enemy force.

Now of course this begs the question, "How do we get people to fall into the trap?"  Most people will not simply walk into the jaws of a dragon, so this will take some work.  I recommend using the following three things to your advantage.

The Drag Knight and his unit use the rocks and impassible terrain
to limit the enemy's deployment, funneling them into the F5 3A hero
  • Terrain: Terrain can be used to help force your opponent to attack you from a certain angle, to accept a charge because there is no other way out (or risk facing you on ground that is more advantageous to you, etc.), and that limit the availability of other elements to assist them (e.g., not allowing archers easy shots at pike support, not allowing cavalry to quickly come around the flank because of the presence of difficult/impassable terrain, etc.).  Naturally we can't plan on any of this for certain, but these are things we should definitely think about as we think through tactics: how do we use terrain to our advantage?
In a Domination Game, we know that five points on the map (like
this statue) will have guys at it, so we can crash the defenders here
  • Scenario Objectives: Scenarios often reward players for accomplishing particular tasks in a given mission, so we can count on our opponent seeking to obtain these objectives (or not, which is perfectly fine with us).  On a Domination map we know five places that they will want to be (or however many objectives there are on the map), so we can plan on setting up the jaws to strike those points.  On a Hold Ground map we know that our opponents will be near the center of the map.  In a Lords of Battle game they have to go after our main body of units (because they need to kill models).  So play to the objectives: march your main body toward a place that the opponent has to be in order to score, and then setup the jaws to strike.
The same two warbands, but switched: if you see an enemy element
that is only made of melee warriors, play to it: line up, find a good
defensive position, and hit hard when he comes
  • Opponent Strengths: This may seem funny, but it actually guarantees that we get our main force into combat.  Most civs actually favor melee combat under the right circumstances: Gondor likes melee combat (as their archers are only so-so), Isengard thrives in melee combat, dwarves generally prefer melee over ranged combat, so a good number of civs will oblige you in this regard (we'll talk about Harad, Wood Elves, and Grey Company in a bit).  The trick is that most people won't attempt to meet you head-on in melee combat unless they think they have the advantage.  So you'll need to bait your opponent into thinking that he has the upper hand to get him/her to walk into your trap.  Against ranged combat teams, a mixture of, "the scenario requires certain things" and "wow, I'm not cracking D6 very easily with ranged weapons" will usually lead to you getting into close combat on your terms, it just may take some time to get into melee.  The exception to this is cavalry - a good set of cav archers can play keep-away for most of the game, and this is the nemesis of the Jaws of the Dragon approach (especially in a Lords of Battle game where a few wounds to the enemy and no casualties to yourself can mean a Major Victory, so there is no incentive to close distance).  So just know this walking into this strategy.
And again, before moving on to the next tactic, remember: these are tactics for elements of your army, not necessarily your whole army (though some armies just focus their firepower into a single element, and it works for them).  Having some archers to cover the flanks, shoot down enemy cavalry, etc. can be very helpful in making the Jaws element of your army more effective.

Tactic #2: The Scorpion Stinger
Stingers work best if your opponent has priority: he moves up into
charging range, and then you get a chance to hammer home with as
much (or little) of the wedge as you feel comfortable
The stinger is modeled roughly after the "Wedge Formation" commonly used in history (and that we recommended in Grey Company tactics last January), and relies on a series of allied units punching through an enemy line and tearing an enemy element apart from the inside out.  A stinger will usually begin with a power hero (as they are S4 and don't take penalties to win the fight in order to gain the power to wound - I've discovered that Dragon Knights make great "tips" for the stinger as they are 70-pt killing machines who are F5) followed by some support infantry who can kill things, but are mostly to keep the power hero from being overwhelmed, and then some rank-and-file warriors along the edges of the wedge who can keep the party from being wrapped up.

While not as effective against pike-supported and "spam" infantry lines that use cheap spear support, the stinger finds its most effective use against armies that lack spear support (Rohan, Shire, most dwarf armies, etc.) as punching through the first rank can usually give free rein to the spearhead to wrap around and trap the remaining enemy models.

The danger: wedges can get wrapped up by enemies.  If this was a goblin
force, double the number of models up against this force, for example
A word of caution: this formation can run into trouble against "spam" armies and people who pike support with deep formations.  Armies who face a large horde of models will find that the wedge can be wrapped up very easily, making it easy for your opponent to double his wounding dice and remove models quickly off of the field.  So just be aware: this tactic works best against thin ranks, or against forces where the second rank has a very low Defense value and punching through the first rank is the only major hold-up.  Concentrate your fire into the tip of the stinger, strike hard, and quickly punch a hole in the enemy lines so that you can trap more warriors as the stinger pushes through.

This is a good stinger - good front support, enough shielding and
spear support to get the kills in, and Amdur giving banner support
to everyone in combat
As was mentioned earlier, so heroes make a better "spearhead" for the stinger than others; I like Dragon Knights, though Amdur and Khamul are also good choices.  My personal preference, though, is to put Amdur (if he is in a stinger formation) in the second or third slot back (which you can see above - he's third on the left), as that 1) maximizes the warriors covered by his banner rule (presuming that you have Easterlings in the main formation and not Khandish forces), and 2) gives you a F6 multiple attack character further back to keep your stinger from being overwhelmed.  It also protects him from a good amount of archery, which is also good, :)

Tactics #3: Dragon Fire

While not renowned for their archers (and we'll get to why in a bit), Eastern Kingdoms have the ability to run armies that sport heavy archery, both mounted and on foot.  Like a dragon, the aim for Easterling forces in regards to archery is to spread the damage across the enemy elements - because Easterlings provide a high-Defense component to the list and Khandish forces give us mobile units with a high FV, whittling down enemy forces can help to give our other elements an advantage.

Most people shy away from Easterling and Khandish archers, and for good reason.  For starters, cost is prohibitive.  With two archer options at 8 pts/model and a mounted options for 13-26 pts/model, even with 50% bow limit Eastern Kingdoms generals are not going to have more than 15-20 archers, which will pale in comparison to, say, a 35-36 bow "Gun Line" army for Grey Company (which is about accurate - you can actually get the number higher than that if you go for cheaper heroes) and a Haradrim army (which will sport archers for 7 pts/model that have Poison, and can have a better Shoot Value if they pay just a few points more per model).

Eastern Kingdoms archers also suffer from all having a 4+ Shoot Value.  I'm personally okay with that - I think it's both accurate for the civ (we have no evidence that the Eastern Kingdoms were renowned archers in the lore) and not a problem as far as tactics are concerned, but it does necessitate that with S2 archery you need a large volume of archers to make archery work for you during the game.  Simply running the math, if you were to run 5 archers, you'd have 2-3 hits per round, trying to wound with S2.  Since most armies in the current meta sport a lot of D5 and D6, you're looking at roughly 6s to wound (so averaging 1 wound every 2-3 rounds).  And even if you assume 5s to wound (facing D3 or D4), you're looking at still averaging about 1 wound every 2 rounds).  So all of that to say, 5 archers isn't going to do the work you need them to do.

Now if you boost the number to, say, 12 archers in your force (only 96 pts, by the by), you're looking at anywhere from 2-6 hits per round (based on whether or not you are volleying, which means you get in extra turns to shoot that you otherwise wouldn't have), you are looking at scoring roughly a wound every turn within 24" and scoring a wound from volleying over a few turns.  If you increase this to 20 archers (I'll explain why I landed on 20 in a bit), you have an even higher chance at 2-3 wounds per turn.

I say 20 archers because 1) it's hard to get over 40 warriors for an Eastern Kingdoms army under a Warbands scheme, and 2) because more than 20 is going to give you diminished returns in the mid- and end-game.  Once your army gets into melee combat your archers are decent (either F4 or D5 at 8 pts/model), but they won't be doing archery for you anymore.  This means that you are really buying a "vanilla warrior" (as Tiberius likes to put it) of their troop type who costs 1 pt more due to the purchase of the bow.  So at a point a different troop build will be more helpful near the end of the game than an archer-turned-swordsman.

With 20 Easterling Warriors with bows, though, you can front a solid second rank to cover your infantry, and for that cost you've only spent 200 pts on 20 Black Dragon sworsmen (giving you F4 D6) and 160 pts on archers, leaving you with 240 pts (in a 600-pt game) to get four heroes - which is enough to get 2 Easterling Bunker Captains and 2 Dragon Knights, for example - which is a lot of firepower.  Alternatively you could trade out the 20 archers for 20 Khandish warriors with bows, which would give you a fully F4 army once combat ensued (or F5 in the case of the Drag Knights).

So if you plan to run a Dragon Fire tactic, make sure to invest in archery.  At least 10 archers, probably closer to 20.  It means you likely won't have any pike support - that's part of the trade-off of investing in archery, so be aware of this.

Conclusion

Now naturally a lot is going to change when you are in-combat and the lines get muddied.  For an Eastern Kingdoms force, though, jut remember: protect the units that need protecting (whether that's a banner, a War Priest, etc.), use your high-Defense units to your advantage, and focus on a few kills you can get every turn.  Hopefully the emphases in this post will help to give some ideas on how to deal damage with a very defensive civ, how to use high-Defense to your advantage in accomplishing the objectives of the scenario, and some thoughts on how to use Eastern Kingdoms armies.

In my next post (which will hopefully be coming out next weekend), I'm going to start testing and winnowing down the army I'll be bringing to THRO 2015 - which, if you all missed my announcement, I'm going to try my hand at a force I haven't run in a long time - my Isengard force!  I've got some crazy ideas for this army (scouts, Dunlendings, siege equipment), so I'm looking forward to the narrowing process!  Until then, you know where to find me,

Watching the stars,

Glenstorm

"I set myself against what is lurking in this forest, Bane - yes, with humans alongside me if I must." ~ Firenze, Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone

1 comment:

  1. Finally got to reading this - been really busy. I really liked how you didn't put Amdur at the tip of the stinger - hadn't considered how much his banner radius comes to bear as a supporting point.

    Also, while 20 Easterling archers may not be better than other civs (like GC or Harad), they'll still pack a bigger punch than many civs...except Dwarves. :)

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