War of the Ring – My Thoughts a Few Months In

I actually started this post yesterday, by popping my Lord of the Rings picture on the post. However, work got in the way and I didn’t get any time for posting, inconsiderate I know.

Saturday saw the usual suspects gather together for another day’s gaming. Gribblin has to work at the weekends so we ignored his poncy Elves and threw down with a 4 player, 1000pts each battle. Gondor and Rohan allied against the nasty evilness of the Fallen Realms and Isengard. But don’t worry, I’m not planning on boring you with a battle report, we only managed three turns of a Field of Swords scenario and totting up VPs at the end the Good side won, however, despite a massive difference in the scoreline it was a much closer game than the score alone would tell and there were another 5 turns left in which for things to change.

We’ve been playing War of the Ring for a few months now and have sampled enough of it to start making some judgements about it founded in experience rather than from just having read the rules. I’ve tweaked and modified my list from the first game until this one, all working within 1000pts, it looks like people are wanting to move towards 1500pts which is what the game is geared towards anyway. So, let’s explore together my own insights into War of the Ring and an examination of how my lists have changed.

Here’s the first list I ever took and got spanked by Carabus;

  • Dark Marshal
  • 4 Companies Haradrim with Taskmaster and Chieftain
  • 3 Companies Easterlings with Captain and Dragon Knight
  • 3 Companies Haradrim Raiders with Banner Bearer and bows
  • 2 Companies Easterling Archers
  • 1 Company Watchers of Karna with Bows
  • War Mumak

This army got whooped. It was my first game so I didn’t know what I was doing. I stuck the Ringwraith in with the Archers who did nothing, the vast quantities of command did little as things were whittled away, the Haradrim Raiders died to artillery as did the Mumak, I forgot my ambushing Watchers and there was nothing that put pressure on the Gondorians, there were a lot of units with a good bit of Might but nothing actually threatened.

I changed up the list from then on and went with;

  • Dalamyr, Fleetmaster of Umbar
  • 4 Companies of Haradrim with Bows and Balefire Arrows
  • 4 Companies of Haradrim Raiders with Banner Bearer
  • 3 Companies Easterling Cohort with Pikes, Captain and Dragon Knight
  • 3 Companies Morgul Knight Regiment with Banner Bearer
  • 1 Company Watcher Warband with Bows
  • Winged Nazgul – Shadowlord

After seeing other people’s games and having experience of one myself this army list was a step up from the first. I’d added in a second Epic Hero and changed the Ringwraith for a more mobile version at the expense of the Mumak. This was a much harder hitting list, the Raiders still did nothing as did the Watchers but everything else worked pretty well, the Morgul Knights ended up charging cavalry (they have yet to hit Infantry in any game but they are rock hard and scare people), the Haradrim with Dalamyr are great as they can hold up cavalry or monsters easily and, providing something hits them in the front, the Easterlings are a solid defensive block too. This allows the Nazgul to Swoop all over the place and spell things to death. Using a Ringwraith in this way was a revelation into just how powerful they can be.

The next game was against Gribblin’s Elves, the list remained virtually unchanged but I changed the Balefire Arrows for Black-hearted Trees and made the Shadowlord into Khamul, the Easterling. It was a bloodier game than the one against Rohan, I made some mistakes as did Gribblin but with a virtually unchanged list the evil side emerged triumphant again. It was at this point that I decided to drop a lot of the units from this list and come up with something a little tougher.

This is the list I trotted out on Saturday to much derision by my gaming compatriots, I did this partly to toughen the list but also to see just what would happen;

  • Khamul, the Easterling
  • Dalamyr, Fleetmaster of Umbar
  • 3 Companies Easterling Kataphrakts
  • 3 Companies Morgul Knights with Commander
  • 4 Companies Haradrim
  • 3 Companies Easterlings with Pikes and Dragon Knight
  • Winged Nazgul – Knight of Umbar

I realise that in that list are two of the most broken Ringwraiths in circulation but I wanted to give them a try just to see. This was not viewed with kind words from my opponents.The units in this list are much tougher than I first started out with, sure adding in a second Ringwraith may not be particularly friendly but they only have 1 point of Might each and one Epic action available to the non-Fell Beast version. Good can get cheaper Epics with way more Might than I can by looking in my own list.

I also understand that Ringwraiths can be looked upon as a kind of crutch, easier to win with them so why bother taking something else and challenging your game? It was also mentioned that this was more akin to a tournament list than one for a friendly game. Before playing War of the Ring I’d read some stuff on forums, especially regarding how cheap the Nazgul were for what they can do. Without experience of them this was something I could not comment on, however, after playing I can see why people hate them so much. On their own they are OK, it’s the addition of the special rules that really up their power. Khamul being able to redirect hits to enemy formations is pure evil, I’d rather see him get a 5+ save against hits without the ability to transfer, or even make the abilities upgrades at 25pts each. However, the real power of the Nine comes from their spells. Understanding that these guys are not fighty characters is key to their use, as it realising you want them up front where the Spell of Darkness can really hurt the enemy. Sure, Black Dart is probably going to be the only spell you get off if you cast it first but if you are close enough to enemy heroes (like behind them after flying your Winged Nazgul over them) you can seriously impact their game before they get to make any contributions. This First Strike mentality works very well and shutting down enemy Epics really is a great boost to your chances of winning, one of the reasons why so much effort is being focussed on how to kill the Winged one I take as a matter of course. Being able to cast 3 spells a turn can also decimate troops formations. My Winged Nazgul destroyed a Dwarf Ballista with one spell for the second time on Saturday and due to bad rolls left 1 crew alive on a Battlecry Trebuchet.

Being able to shut down entire units if you stack courage debuffs on them is incredibly offensive, you can stop a charge in its tracks and then throw your dudes in to gain an advantageous position. Pike armed Easterlings and the Dalamyr buffed Haradrim are amazing for infantry. No-one really likes to charge them as chances are there will be no bonuses for anyone. Low defence Haradrim hate being shot (perhaps I should save money and drop them, remove pikes from my Easterlings and plonk Dalamyr into them) but when you know you are not getting bonus dice for charging against them cavalry in particular really start to grumble.

What I am noticing is that this game is very much all about the Epic Heroes. Magic has had much more of an effect that we thought it would, especially with the spells that the Ringwraiths have access to. I love magic in Warhammer Fantasy and the Ringwraiths are some of the most evocative characters in Lord of the Rings so I love taking one. Two is a nightmare for anyone to deal with considering their spellcasting abilities to shut down threats to them. Sure you are reliant on dice for some of that but the mobility you get from things like Wings of Terror and the Hero destroying Black Dart and Black Breath means these guys punch above their cost.

I understand why people hate them so much and they provide a great efficiency for their points cost. I’d still be happy to take them if they didn’t have any of the special abilities listed with them. Your heroes define your army and what it can do, while units can do some damage the focal point of any match up is what happens with Heroes, if they do badly, you do badly, if they do well, you are on a winning track.