Sunday, February 28, 2016

The Last Alliance: Concept & Strategy

In this post update, we're looking at Numenor and Rivendell & Eregion and what you can do with them. First, we'll do a brief overview of both army lists and then we'll talk about how those in our gaming group have approached the hero and warrior choices for a High Elf list and then we'll close with what I saw in both of these lists and how I've chosen to build my army. Pictures will be an update from the workbench for our progress on Numenorians (and a few High Elf acquisitions).

Unpacking The Lists: Numenor and Rivendell & Eregion

Both Numenor and Rivendell & Eregion (hereafter Rivendell) lists have one thing in common: they have one warrior option. On the one hand, having one warrior option is nice because you know very quickly what you want - spears? Bows? Shields? Shields with spears? Banners?

On the other hand, having more than one warrior choice often allows an army to compensate for the weaknesses of a basic unit (for example, having a Strength 4 unit choice). This means that an army taken solely from Rivendell or Numenor will be stuck with certain limitations (say, expensive base units for the Elves or average Defense values for Numenor).

400-pt Warbands for Rivendell...not a lot of guys...
Rivendell has poor warrior options primarily because the emphasis of the list is on its Hero choices - you have many combat hero options (like Glorfindell or Elladan and Elrohir), captain options (both named captains like Erestor or Gildor Inglorion and unnamed ones), and even some auric/tactical hero options (like Arwen or High Elf Stormcallers). Magic casters are a given for Elven armies and the Elves of Rivendell are no exception. This list also has some crossover heroes (like Elrond) who do both magic and damage. The problem, of course, with having lots of good heroes is that once you choose one or two heroes you want, you quickly run out of room for warriors...

For 201 points, you can get a Captain with shield, one with no
equipment, and 12 Warriors - cheap and average troops.
Numenor, on the other hand, not only lacks in warrior choices, but also lacks in hero choices. You really have three hero options: Elendil (lots of combat power and free Heroic Combats), Isildur (good combat abilities with the ability to sneak in on enemy forces), and unnamed captains (who can be F5 D7, which makes them good bunker captains to hold down enemy heroes...or kill stuff, you know, as well as captains can). By taking Elendil or Isildur, you basically opt for a smaller army, but more damage done by conventional hero methods (bashing). By going the captain route, you could get ~50 models in a 600-point game. Take Isildur and you're looking at a list in the mid-40s. Take Elendil and you're looking at roughly 3 full warbands.

The Might of the Elves: The Current Rivendell Meta

High Elf lists as you've seen them on this blog tend to take one of three flavors:
  • Legions Of Middle-Earth (LOME) adapted rules (which we've altered to require the total cost of heroes to be at least equal to 33% of the army list requirement) build with 2 heroes that barely break the 33% requirement (one could be allied) and spamming 10-11 point High Elves (generally an even split between shields, shields + spears, and Elf bows).
  • LOME build with 3 heroes who all do combat damage (one could be an ally) and fewer High Elves (still basically spamming the traditional shield, shield + spear, and Elf bow combinations).
  • LOME build with 2 heroes and spamming not only traditional High Elf Warriors, but also including a High Elf Warrior with a banner.
We'll look at some common concepts of the meta in brief.

1) Legions Of Middle-Earth Dominates Over Warbands

The choice of LOME shouldn't come as a surprise: if you want numbers, it's going to be hard to get to ~39 models without choosing some really poor hero choices (at least, in terms of combat power). Let's face it, if we buy three 80-point heroes (say 3 High Elf Captains with shields or Elf bows), we have ~120 points per warband to spend on units. If we want 33% of our warriors to have Elf bows (which we probably do), four of our other warriors will need to take no equipment at all and the other four will need to choose between shields (D6) or spears (supporting attacks). Not great options.

If we choose to take two 80-point heroes and one Stormcaller/Arwen, we gain 20 points to work with, which basically can outfit our melee warriors with shields (or almost all of them), but we are choosing a hero who is not that likely to kill any warriors (or at least, not many).

Also, we mentioned before that one of the big draws to playing as Rivendell is to be able to use their power heroes, who will take up 140-170 points to use. Clearly, LOME is a good option.

While all of this is true, there is one big advantage to running Warbands over LOME:

You get to run Wood Elves.

Yes, I'm a Wood Elf player, so of course this is a big draw to me. LOME doesn't allow High Elves to take Wood Elves because Gildor is in the Wanderers in the Wild list, not the Rivendell or Eregion lists. Now consider: let's say that I'm trying to build a 600-pt list and my first warband looks like this:

Gildor Inglorion - 80pts
11 Wood Elf Warriors with Wood Elf spears - 88 pts
Army Total: 12 models, 168pts (432 remaining)

If my goal is three full warbands (we're going to get close, but not quite hit 39 models), here could be my next warband:

High Elf Stormcaller - 60pts
11 High Elf Warriors with Elf bows - 121pts
Army Total: 24 models, 349pts (251 remaining)

This allows me to do the following warband to finish my crew:

Elladan and Elrohir - 140pts
11 High Elf Warriors with shields - 110pts
Army Total: 36 models, 599pts

If your league allows for grace points (we at TMAT usually do 0.5% of the limit, which in this case would be 3 points), you can actually convert more of your Wood Elves into High Elves. Regardless of what ratio of High Elves to Wood Elves you use, this kind of list actually gives you a lot of flexibility against opponents: your spear units are cheap, and while their Defense is low, they can shield if charged (an ability gained at +3 points/model with High Elf Warriors).

Your archers are supported by a stormcaller, who can blow a target model away from the group 2D6" and keeps them knocked on the ground for that turn. This buys you valuable time against cavalry models/heroes/monsters who might try to clear out your archer core. You can probably get this off three times in any given game, but you could get it off more often than that. Target something worth at least 60 points, and you'll probably keep that value out of the game completely (especially if it's melee).

My melee wall will have 11 High Elves supported by Wood Elves with the twins running havoc on their foes. They don't have the D6 armor buff, but they're still very capable on offense, so if you can keep them protected from enemy fire, they should be able to weather the storm. With Gildor Immobilizing their targets, you can also take down monsters/light heroes with ease, paying for the pair quickly and efficiently (not to mention saving the rest of your team from a lot of pain).

Alternatively, if I wanted three more models for the list, I could swap the twins with Erestor (saving me 60 points), allowing me to purchase 3 more infantry models, swap my Stormcaller for a Captain with Elf bow, and still have a few points left over for converting Wood Elves to High Elves.

It's important to note that you can't take this army with Legions: you can run roughly the same list by dropping Gildor entirely and converting his cost (and his men) into High Elves (or upgrades on the twins), and you'll basically gain 2-4 models. I'll emphasize this point:

Taking a Legions list would be just fine - not as flexible, but more resilient.

2) The F5 D6 Spam

Here at TMAT, we have a F4 D6 meta - basically everyone shoots for this or shoots way under it and spams lots of guys or takes lots of monsters/bashy heroes. It's just how it goes - people like above average combat prowess and resilience. Where High Elves come into a realm all their own is the F5 combat prowess (trumping basically all other warriors and some heroes) in addition to a D6 resilience. It's sooooo tempting!

It comes, however, at a price: I believe all High Elf players should take a good handful of F5 D6 warriors - it pays to be a winner in fights and to come out alive on the off-chance that you lose. However, how far does this go?

Most High Elf players here at TMAT run two ranks of D6 warriors, with each file in their battle line costing 21 points (10 for the front man, 11 for his spear support). This is a lot of money - even for armies with expensive warriors, like Uruk-Hai. While I call this method the "spam," it's really hard to spam this because it's really expensive. If you want to get three full warbands (or their equivalent) and assuming that you have 33% of your warriors with Elf bows ('re Elves), you'd have this to work with after getting your warrior core set:

12 High Elf Warriors with shields - 120pts
12 High Elf Warriors with shields and shields - 132pts
12 High Elf Warriors with Elf bows - 132pts
Army Total: 384pts (216 remaining)

Okay, if I just spend 2/3 of my army on warriors, I have a few options:

a) LOME: Elladan and Elrohir with heavy armor (or Elf bows) + Arwen (or a stormcaller)
b) LOME: Elrond, Master of Rivendell + 1 more High Elf Warrior with Elf bow
c) Warbands: Arwen with Elven cloak + Stormcaller + High Elf Captain with Elf bow (or shield...or Erestor...or Gildor...)

Not a lot of options - all good options (maybe not Option B...not convinced that will work), but you're limited simply because of your warrior choices. I also didn't highlight that Gil-Galad allows you to get a F6 D6 front line...but that only exacerbates the issue (and would probably reduce your numbers a fair bit).

3) The Rule Of One (Power Hero)

Generally speaking here at TMAT, High Elf lists have one power hero. Even in the sample lists I provided, you're looking at one good hero (unless you take the twins). It's hard to break this rule, even though Rivendell is loaded with good heroes. Legions lists thrive on having numbers and the necessary evil that comes from spamming 40 guys is that if you're paying 10-11 points per model, you're going to have ~200 points to play with for your heroes. From my perspective, that tells me one thing:

If you only want to spend 200 points on your heroes, don't play as Rivendell.

I make this note fully knowing that people have taken Rivendell lists on this blog with a single power hero and won. Lots. TONS even. But if you're taking Rivendell, you miss out on their true capabilities if half your army isn't invested in heroes. Why take the twins and some captain/stormcaller when you could take the twins AND GLORFINDEL? Three combat heroes will clear out enemy positions easily. Want to cut down on costs a little? Drop Glorfindel and take Erestor - rerollable wounding dice on ranged and melee attacks is downright scary. Or perhaps you leave the twins at home and pay a few more points to get Elrond with Glorfindel. To do any of this, you need close to 300 points invested in heroes (or more).

Going Tiberius-Crazy: A Last Alliance

So, I'm a long-time listener of MrMalorian's Warhammer Fantasy youtube channel, and he likes to talk about lists that are "Malorian crazy" - lists that focus heavily on one thing that only a player who knows what he's doing would do but could end up proving to be quite valuable (or a complete bomb).

What we're going to talk about here is the most "Tiberius-crazy" army I've come up with to date: a Last Alliance build that takes all the tactical units you could hope to field with High Elves (well, most of them) and the supplemental units you can field from Numenor (which have gone heretofore untested on our blog).

Okay, some basics for starters: with the current meta, as I've mentioned in my previous post, we see a lot of unprotected Elven archers running about. D5 on your archers is great, but against S3 bows, you're going to get roasted. While you may take down some of them in return, it'll probably cost you more in the long-run. Sending a D6 warrior to stand in front of these guys (never count on terrain being your friend) is expensive - why keep 10 additional points/model out of the fight?

So, we recruit some cheap warriors from Numenor. While Numenor doesn't have access to D6 (you'd have to turn to Arnor for that - read more about them in Centaur's post here), you do get cheaper 8-point cost units who are also D5 to improve the survivability of those deadly archers. Let's assume we have the following Numenorian warband to ally into the army:

Captain of Numenor with heavy armor and shield - 60pts
10 Warriors of Numenor with shields - 80pts
2 Warriors of Numenor with bows - 16pts
Army Total: 13 models, 156pts (444 remaining)

With about a quarter of the army point cost spoken for, we now turn to getting some High Elf warriors to flesh out our ranks. If we shoot for two full warbands, we'll spend at least the following points on our High Elf Warriors:

16 High Elf Warriors with shields - 160pts
8 High Elf Warriors with Elf bows - 88pts
Army Total: 37 models, 404pts (196 remaining)

With almost 200 points left, we can do a few things, but here's what I would recommend:

2 Stormcallers - 120pts
Captain of Numenor with shield and heavy armor - 60pts
2 Warriors of Numenor with bows - 16pts
Army Total: 42 models, 600pts

Why so many Numenorians? And why run 10 shields and 4 bows? The answer is simple: your army already has 16 warriors decked with F5 D6 and the shielding rule to stay alive. The rest of your army are elite bowmen hiding behind either a F4 D5 shield wall or a F5 D7 captain who can shield. Factor in two stormcallers, and any enemy heroes you face are not going to be punishing your lines. The result is pretty simple: you clean up enemies with your archery and absorb whatever enemy archery comes your way. It's important to note that by dropping 4 High Elf Warriors, we could grow our number by one total unit by adding in some more Numenorians (say 2 with bows and 3 with shields). In this kind of set-up, we'd be going for firepower with this list, instead of the traditional charge-and-break. Tiberius-crazy? Perhaps...we'll be looking to get the army tested for either this year's GT or next year's GT, so more on that in a bit.

A special thanks to my little munchkin helper, Vin, who isn't looking her best, but is sick we give her a pass.
In our next post, we'll be looking at my beloved Wood Elves and how we get a very different Elven experience with them. Until then, happy hobbying!

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Tactica: Getting The Most Out Of Your Archers

Aaaaaaaaaand we're back! It's been far too long everyone, but things have been crazy - lots to catch up on.

2016 brings with it a new emphasis: Elves! And what way to showcase some of the work we're doing on our Elves than a post on archery. The regular readers of this blog know that archery is my thing - most of my armies max out their archery or have some kind of magical power that works like archery. In the gaming group you see here on TMAT, most of the armies that come to our tournaments lack in archery (often having 0-6 units that participate at range greater than 8"). This post is for the non-believers out there and ways you can tailor your list to do more in a distinct (and potentially powerful) phase of the game.

1) Why Do The Haters Hate: The Risk Of Emphasizing Archery

250 pt Lothlorien & Mirkwood List: Legolas, Wood Elf Captain
with Elf bow, 4 Wood Elf Warriors with Elf bows, 6 Wood Elf
Warriors with throwing daggers
Armies that focus much of their value on archery face the following problem: what happens if I just can't kill things when I'm shooting? When I first started collecting in the hobby, I had an army of Wood Elves where everyone toted a throwing weapon or Elf bow. This not only maximized on the high shoot value that Elves naturally have, but it also provided me with devastating power over melee-oriented armies. In the army you see on the left, this is what 250pts of Wood Elves running this kind of strategy would look like - not a lot of units, but everyone gets to participate in the shooting phase. If your opponent gets the drop on your melee warriors, however, those throwing daggers won't do anything for you.

Revised List: Legolas with armor, Wood Elf Captain with Elf
bow, 5 Wood Elf Warriors with Wood Elf spears, 1 Wood Elf
Warrior with throwing daggers, 4 Wood Elf Warriors with Elf bows.
Consider the alternative: skip the investment in archery and instead focus your purchases on compensating for melee weaknesses - in this case, purchasing armor for Legolas and Wood Elf spears for many of the melee warriors (instead of throwing daggers). While you are still vulnerable to melee damage, the spears will not only allow you to support the other warriors should you get in a fight, but could also be used to shield (useful for buying the archers time to redeploy and escape). This team still sports a lot of archery, though you could choose to substitute the Captain and Legolas' armor upgrade for Haldir with an Elf bow (for still more archery). In small games (or one section of a larger battle), that's powerful.

I'm convinced that it's this assessment of "what happens if my non-bows are nerfed" (or "what if my bows never hit") that dissuades many from taking archery in the first place. While this certainly has its share of reliable stories to prove the case, the greatest value of archery comes in this:

Archery is the only thing in this game that your opponent has no control over once he's done moving his guys.

There is no dueling roll like there is in the Fight phase, there is no sneaky maneuvering like there is in the Move phase. There is only shooting - and unless your opponent calls a Heroic Shoot to shoot with some/all of his warriors near a hero before you do, there's nothing that can be done. It's all in your hands, really. That's what makes it unique, and I think that's what makes the Shoot phase powerful.

2) Knowing Your Army: How To Make Your Archery Work

Goblin Warriors or Goblin Prowlers? Both can be archers...
Choosing what archers you use can be simple for some armies: if you only have one unit that can carry a bow (or use a throwing weapon), you're really just debating whether to take archery or not (and if you do, how much). For other armies, however, the choice between what unit to take can be quite involved. Consider a Goblin army for example: it would be wrong to assume that all you have as options are those TERRIBLE Goblin Warriors with Orc bows - I've written up in the past a whole section on how they're the worst archers in the game. Goblin commanders should consider whether to get Warriors or Prowlers (who we always forget have Orc bows as an equipment choice): Prowlers cost more (you get 3 for the cost of 5 normal Goblins...roughly), but shoot more reliably on a 4+, have throwing daggers when the enemy gets within 6", and are Fight 3 when the enemy invariably charges you. Not a bad choice, unless you intend to field lots of monsters and need the points spent elsewhere.

A mixture of Dwarf Rangers and Dwarf Warriors?
Dwarves have a similar choice: Dwarf Warriors or Dwarf Rangers (not to mention, ballista). One of the great benefits of a Dwarf Warrior is that he's got great Defense and a strong bow (albeit only with 18" range). Against armies that sport odd-Defense units, there are clear advantages to taking Dwarf Warriors. But since almost every army you'll fight has some even-Defense units (usually D4 or D6), the improved strength of the bow is negated entirely. Against these units, for 1 point more, you hit more reliably at a longer range and you lack 1 Defense point. It was this logic (took me a while to realize) that eventually sold me on getting a mixture of Rangers and Warriors.

There's no right or wrong answer: sometimes I leave my Rangers at home, sometimes I bring them. I haven't been sold yet on Prowlers as archers, but I'm starting to come around to them. It ultimately depends on what you want your army to do (or if you want to focus on archery at all).

3) And Then They Died: How To Protect Your Archers Smartly

For some lists, protecting your archers is a matter of choosing the right non-archer unit to stand in front of your bowmen (I don't trust terrain to work too well). Take Isengard for example: you have excellent choices of D5-D6 Uruks who can stand in front of your D3-D5 bowmen/crossbowmen (depending on whether you want to take Ruffians, Orc Warriors, Dunlandings, Scouts/Marauders, or crossbowmen). While I can see value in taking Ruffians (Glenstorm did an EXCELLENT write-up of why you take these guys here) and almost everyone can see the value in taking crossbows (anyone who gets their base strength from their archery is an excellent choice), I personally like Uruk Marauders with Orc bows. Why? Three reasons:

  • Marauders are fast - 8" base means moving 4" while being able to shoot. This allows them to keep close to your ranks (more on that in a bit);
  • Marauders are F4-S4, which makes them reliable damage-dealers in melee combat if you need to throw archers into a fight (remember Glenstorm's first rule of archers: archers are swordsmen);
  • Marauders cost 10 points, which is about what you expect to pay with Isengard anyway (though expensive compared to many, MANY other lists). 

250 pt Isengard List: Mauhur, Drummer, 8 Uruk Warriors with
shields, 3 Uruk Warriors with pikes, 4 Marauders with Orc bows.
If you choose Marauders, you can get a 250pt army as shown on the left - featuring Mauhur, a drummer, a handful of Uruk Warriors with shields and pikes, and four Uruk Marauders with Orc bows. The archers here would be able to move at 8" (11" if the drummer beats his drum) and can fire if they've moved 4" (or 5.5" with the drum). Moving at 5.5" is basically like moving with the rest of the battle line and you can still fire - how great is that??? Still, we're paying a lot for D6 archery cover to protect our D4 archers. If they spend most/all of the game standing in front of a row of archers (until they eventually charge), the points are kind of wasted. This is when commanders like me come to the conclusion that there must be a better way...

Revised List: Mauhur, Drummer, 3 Uruk Warriors with shields,3 Uruk Warriors with pikes, 4 Orc Warriors with shields,
1 Orc Warrior with spear, 4 Marauders with Orc bows.
The answer, I've found, is actually to run Orc Warriors with shields: for 6pts/model, you're dropping your Defense a little bit, but you grow the army by a few guys and while they don't benefit from the drum's movement bonus, they can still advance in front of the Marauders without slowing them down. The army would look like this (we traded 3 Uruk Warriors with shields for 4 Orc Warriors with shields and one Orc Warrior with spear). The numbers for this list have grown a little (19 models in 250pts) and the overall resiliency has gone down against odd-Strength units only (which most ranged weapons are not). It's important to note too that your spear/pike line has grown by one more file, so you might be able to do more damage against your opponent when your melee warriors clash.

250 pt Rivendell & Eregion List: Erestor, Arwen Evenstar,
4 High Elf Warriors with shields, 6 High Elf Warriors, 6 High
Elf Warriors with Elf bows.
The other option is to take an allied contingent to protect your archers. Some lists don't have a lot of unit flexibility and to highlight this point, I'd like to showcase my Rivendell & Eregion warriors that I'm working on. When you only have one warrior profile to work with (High Elf Warriors...though with Gildor you unlock 0-12 Wood Elf Warriors), it's hard to manage both cost and function. Most High Elf armies that you'll see here on TMAT feature a 1/3 split between shields, spears with shields, and Elf bows. This means that your bows generally go unprotected. A typical 250pt group (without spears) would look like this: High Elf bowmen are protected by D5 "vanilla" warriors. A small contingent of High Elves with shields would support whatever power hero you're using (which is Erestor here, but could be Glorfindel, the Twins, or Elrond if you really wanted damage).

Revised List: Erestor, 4 High Elf Warriors with shields, 4 High
Elf Warriors with Elf bows, 4 High Elf Warriors, Captain of
Numenor, 5 Warriors of Numenor with shields
So how can we protect our archers while still featuring a strong front line? Ally in Numenor: for 8 pts/model, you get the same D5 protection and this allows you to raise your army total a little while not sacrificing Defense. I'll note that you could also go with the same number of units, add four Warriors of Numenor (instead of five) and give all of your "vanilla" High Elves spears and shields (which most people like). I'll also note that if I'd chosen to ally in Arnor, instead of Numenor, I could get D6 cover for the archers for the same amount of points (and if you fielded a few more to spear-support your High Elf shield-wall, you'd actually both grow your number and improve your protection from enemy archery all in one move).

I'm hoping to get more content up in the next few weeks - things have been crazy recently, but got some hobbying to do on my Wood Elves (you saw the new captain I procured), High Elves, and Numenor. We'll be delving into some tactics and strategy (and why I decided to get Numenorians anyway), so stay tuned!