Friday, February 8, 2019

Weapon Swaps: When Is It Worth It?

Good morning gamers,

In this post, we’ll be covering a new mechanism that’s been added to army creation in the new book: weapon swaps. Each model in the game has a base equipment item that he carries (most models don’t have any choices, a few have anywhere from two to four options). Non-unique models have the ability to change their weapon for 1 point/model for warriors and 5 points/model for heroes to a different type (sword to axe), though it keeps the same weapon class (single-handed, hand-and-a-half, or two-handed). In this post, we’ll explore all five types of special strikes and look at models that benefit from a weapon swap to that weapon type and why.

Feint/Stab – Swords/Daggers

Most everybody has a sword or dagger to start with – it’s by far and away the most common weapon type. Since Feinting (when you have the higher Fight value) and Stabbing (when you have the lower Fight value) will only allow you to reroll 1s on the To Wound roll, the armies that best benefit from this weapon swap a) don’t have access to swords or daggers, and b) don’t already get a reroll on their To Wound rolls for any 1s. After pouring over the lists, I didn’t find anyone who benefitted greatly from this, but here are some imperfect choices:
  • Moria Goblin Prowler near Groblog – Moria Goblin Prowlers begin at Fight 3 (which for being a Moria warrior is pretty good). Near Groblog if he gets his special rule off, they become Fight 4 and they become Fight 5 if they’re fighting someone who’s trapped. This can enable them to use Feint and go back to something more normal for a Goblin, but getting to reroll 1s with a +2 to their To Wound roll (+1 for wielding a two-handed sword, +1 for Backstabbers). If you normally wound on 6s, you’re now wounding on 4s with a reroll of 1s – not bad at all. Now that axe would allow you to be Strength 4, which might change your base wounding requirement to 5s, making your new wounding requirement 3s, so it’s probably not worth it, but still…
  • Mahud Warrior – Clubs are great, but their special strike is unreliable. With a shield and being Defense 5, a sword would allow a Mahud Warrior to only be wounded by the Strength 2 hit from Stab on a 6 (willing to endure that) while giving you a reroll of 1s on your Strength 4 attack. Not sure it’s worth 9 points/model to get that, though…

Piercing Strike – Axes/Picks

Piercing Strike changed a lot since the Hobbit SBG – Battlin’ Brandybucks shouldn’t be able to be as strong as Cave Trolls, okay? The question that is raised when picking units for axes is that a) the model should benefit greatly from gaining ONE pip of Strength, and b) the potential reduction to its Defense value shouldn’t cause harm to its purpose.
  • Haradrim Warrior – so long as you keep your army bonus, Haradrim Warriors have the Poisoned Weapons rule, so losing your dagger in favor of an axe doesn’t take away your poison bonus (as it would if you replaced the spear on a Serpent Guard). Plus, because you have the Poisoned Weapons rule, you already reroll 1s, so there’s no point to using Feint or Stab. Since Haradrim are Defense 4, you’re also already a fragile unit, so what’s losing a few more Defense points? In trade, winning the fight makes you Strength 4 and you’ll still reroll 1s – that’ll be able to crack through many Defense 6 shield walls, I think. While you could also say that Abrakhan Merchant Guards and Watchers of Karna would also benefit from axes (with base Strength 4 and Burly on your Abrakhans, this would certainly be helpful - as would 2 Attacks at Strength 4 from your Watchers of Karna), neither of these guys have Poisoned Weapons attached to their melee weapons, so making the swap isn’t quite as good. Plus, you’re talking 10 points/model for the two options above, vs. 7 points/model for a Haradrim Warrior.
  • Isengard Troll – Since Isengard Trolls are warrior models, it only costs you 1 point to change that sword into an axe. Thanks to their shields, Isengard Trolls are Defense 8 normally, which means most of the time they’ll stay at Defense 6-7 (occasionally falling to Defense 5). While this CAN make them vulnerable, 3 Attacks at Fight 7 make them pretty likely to win the fight. In trade, a Piercing Strike will be rolled at Strength 8, which is pretty irresistible (wounding most warriors on 3s). While Feinting CAN be good, you’ll be hard pressed to Feint against elite troops who might best your Fight value if it gets reduced by 3 points (but Piercing Strike? That I can do). Note that this rule doesn’t apply to Mordor Trolls, who not only have a better array of weapons available (hammers and clubs as free alternatives to the sword), but also have no shield, making them likely to fall to Defense 4-5 if they use Piercing Strike (which will see those expensive monstrosities collapse pretty quick if they mess up a roll).

Bash – Hammers/Maces

Bash is one of the best Special Strikes in my opinion – if you don’t want someone mounted, Bash him. If you’re trying to keep someone from racing to an objective, Bash him. If your target as a very high Defense stat but has nearly the same Strength stat as you, Bash him. All told, Bash is wonderful. The best Bashers are those that a) have Strength 4-5 (as it’s above average), b) have two-handed weapons (since this further increases your likelihood of bashing), and c) also have Burly (since this helps you not suffer the penalty to win the fight whilst two-handing your hammer/mace).
  • Khazad Guard – At 11 points each, these guys are a bargain no matter how you view them. While their profiles are awesome, the biggest advantage is that they have single-handed axes AND two-handed axes. This means that you get the choice of either converting their single-handed axe to a single-handed hammer (Strength 4 only) OR converting their two-handed axe into a two-handed hammer (Strength 4 + 2h bonus). If you do Piercing Strike on a different round with the hand axe, you’ll still be Strength 5 (which wounds average-defense models on 4s and high defense models on 5s – not bad), so personally I’d upgrade the two-handed axe to a hammer. At 12 points/model, these guys are great bashers and very effective at keeping your heroes killing things if they can get in the same fight. Durin can make these guys go a step farther by upgrading them (for 2 points/model) to Hearthguard, granting them Burly (which gives them the trifecta for Bashing). At 14 points/model, they MIGHT not be better than Iron Guard … maybe.
  • Abrakhan Merchant Guard – Remember how I said that Abrakhans didn’t make as much sense with Piercing Strike as Haradrim Warriors? Do you remember how I mentioned they were Strength 4 base with two-handed swords and Burly? Well, for 10 points/model, you can get some fantastic mace-wielding brutes for your army. Abrakhans are deadly (and thus are often targeted by archers as fast as possible), so protect them before they get into the fight and let them knock people around. Even if you choose not to Bash with them, I can’t imagine that Feinting will keep them alive very long (or help them kill too many more things than they already are – though the reroll of 1s is always good).

Stun – Clubs/Staves

Let’s get this out of the way first: Stun is the most risky (even above Whirl) of the Special Strikes because 67% of the time after you win the fight against an opponent (83% of the time if it’s a Monster), the guy trying to Stun the opponent won’t be contributing anything to the To Wound stage of the fight. Unlike Bash, having a two-handed weapon doesn’t improve your chances of Stunning the target (boo). However, there are no Special Strikes that help you quite as much against big nasty heroes as a good Stun. So, you should go for it. Because your weapon type doesn’t matter and because your stats don’t matter, the ideal models for Stun have a) low Strength values, b) single-handed weapons, and c) low model costs so you can get a lot of them (increase your chances of Stunning someone each round by just having a lot of them).
  • Lake-town Guard – Do you know what the best thing about a model with a base-cost of 5 is? You can buy a lot of them no matter what you give them. Like Moria Goblins, Goblin-town Goblins, Orc Trackers, or your everyday, run-of-the-mill Orcs, you can field a bunch of these Lake-town Guard and you’ll still have plenty of space for other models. While swords are the most common weapon in the game, Lake-town Guard run a risk having them, since a Stab will wound you on 5s thanks to no. ability. to. take. shields. Save yourself the trouble, give each one of them a “bully stick” and let them whap people on the heads. Lake-town Guard (like the others we’ve mentioned here) also benefit from having spears, so you can have numbers brought to bear from afar with your front-ranks free to Stun as they go.
  • Ringwraith – Since a Ringwraith is a hero, it costs 5 points to give one of these guys a staff (the Undying already has one, just saying). Personally, I’d give a Ringwraith a Club instead of a staff, since staves can be broken by the Your Staff is Broken magical power, while you need Shatter to break a Club (and that can only be cast a handful of times during any game). Still, while Ringwraiths don’t spend a lot of time fighting, you can bring them in as a support hero alongside someone else (a Mordor Troll or the Witch-King for example) to try to get a quick Stun in on your opponent. While you might say, “Why would I spend 1 Will to fight and possibly Stun someone when I could cast a spell on them?” Because this is the only way to get the old version of Transfix, of course – so why not let a Ringwraith try to get it!?!?! Because Stun is so hard to pull off, it also makes sense for a Ringwraith to try it, since his Might points can improve the roll of the Stun, making an important Stun roll more likely to go off. 

Whirl – Flails/Whips

At first look, Whirl is the most risky of all the Special Strikes – I mean, you reduce yourself to Fight 1, right? While this makes Whirl far less common of a special strike, it is undeniable that increasing the number of To Wound dice you roll on a given turn (one/enemy model in base contact) is a good thing. Therefore, there are two key qualities that make for good candidates for this weapon swap: a) a way to cope with the low Fight value, and b) 1 Attack (since multiple attack models are less likely to see the utility of this Special Strike).
  • Hobbit Militia – These guys don’t have spears in their army, but they do have one thing going for them: they’re the only Fight 1 models that can hold weapons in the entire game. Hobbit Militia begin with a wide array of weapons to choose from: Hammers are good on Battlin’ Brandybucks (only units likely to Bash in a predominantly Strength 2 list), avoid Daggers like the plague (your archers get them, though even they should be wary of using Stab/Feint), and take Axes on everyone who you don't care what they have (Battlin’ Brandybucks become S4, everyone else becomes S3). The exception, of course, is if you take Flails on them: while being Strength 3 (or 4) with an axe is good, getting 2-3 wounding dice if you’re outnumbered could help you kill some models. If you’re ganged-up on AND have Fight 1, being Strength 3 (and likely Defense 1) isn’t going to help you that much – but getting additional dice might. So, since you have nothing to lose, you might as well pay a little more per model to get Flails (again, if you don’t want axes).
  • Warrior of Numenor – Having swords on your Numenoreans is fine so long as they have shields. The benefit of having spears in a Strength 4 army is that you can have some of your models (let’s say, the archers) supporting shield-toting troops who wield Flails, giving them the front-liners the ability to strike normally or Whirl while still getting the benefits of a high Fight value thanks to the spearman. While Warriors of Numenor are not cheap, they are the only warrior model choice available to Numenor, so finding ways to add flavor to your army and supplement your weaknesses is key to doing well. Have problems with your flanks collapsing during a fight? Maybe a few flails on the ends of your battle line and spreading them out to prevent wrap-around (and encourage more models to engage them), while supporting them with spearmen will do the trick.

So, that’s it for now. There are other good models who benefit from weapon swaps too (Uruk-Hai Scouts benefit from Hammers, Warriors of Minas Tirith with shields can benefit from Axes, etc.), but these examples I felt showcased the diversity of options you have for swapping weapons. If you have other thoughts, I’d love to hear them. When we return, we begin discussing the Armies of the Hobbit – until then, happy hobbying!


  1. So you now have me thinking about swapping swords for flails on my front line of Iron Hills warriors. Just thought you should know that. ;-)