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!



  1. Hey guys I found your site a few months back and have been reading through all of your posts.I started playing when I was kid and lotr first got released but have been out of the hobby for about 4 years. I have recently got back into lotr and reading through these posts has been a blast. :) I look forward to the next one.keep up the great work. Cheers ,

    1. Hey Jake, welcome to the blog! We've been kind of sparse in posting the last few months, but got a few project from the workbench coming out. If there's content you wish you could read about, please let us know!

    2. Hey guys sorry for the delayed reply. I really enjoyed the reports you do on the different forces and analyze the heroes and troops.looking forward to reading the next post. Cheers ,Jake

  2. Thanks for joining us at TMAT Jake! Great to hear from another reader, :)

    Great write-up as always Tiberius - and I'm with you on not understanding why people don't take as much archery nowadays. Sure, it's a rummy-based strategy of, "what if I don't hit very much with my archery," but it's no different than the dueling roll in melee or the chance "to hit" with magic.

    What I really don't understand is all of the Rohan armies of late that don't field archery. For 7 pts you can get a solid archer (3+ Shoot with 24" at S2) that can still hold his own in close combat (F3 S3 D4). It seems like a no brainer that in any game of 400+ pts you'd run at least 100 pts of these guys - great value for what you pay, and helps to flesh out your numbers.