A Study of Defense

in Strategy Battle Game and War of the Rings

Defense is one of the most critical of all the stats a unit may have in its Profile.  I would be willing to accept that there may be other stats that tie with Defense in importance, but I would be hard pressed to believe that Defense takes a backseat to any others.  Defense is what keeps your units alive on the battlefield.  When a unit dies it does not matter how great it's Fight of Strength was or how many points of Might it had.  Wounds and Fate only come into play if an enemy's attack actually gets through your Defense. If it's high enough to minimize the number of Wounds you may suffer, then the importance of those two values are minimized as well.  However, if you have a Hero with a low Defense you had better hope it has multiple Wounds available and at least a couple Fate points.

But is it always best to spend as many points as you can to maximize the Defense of your entire army?  When I first started playing I would have said "Yes".  Through experience and better understanding of some of the subtleties of the design I do not believe that is a blanket answer any more.

 

Understanding the Wound Chart

To better understand the role of Defense and properly selecting your target values for your army, we should start with a review of the Wound Chart.

NOTE:  Yeah...I'm still learning how to make charts look pretty in this editor.  I might just paste in an image of it...  :-P

 

Str
D E F E N C E
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
1 4 5 5 6 6 6/4 6/4 6/5 6/5 6/6
2 4 4 5 5 6 6 6/4 6/4 6/5 6/5
3 3 4 4 5 5 6 6 6/4 6/4 6/5
4 3 3 4 4 5 5 6 6 6/4 6/4
5 3 3 3 4 4 5 5 6 6 6/4
6 3 3 3 3 4 4 5 5 6 6
7 3 3 3 3 3 4 4 5 5 6
8 3 3 3 3 3 3 4 4 5 5
9 3 3 3 3 3 3 3 4 4 5
10 3 3 3 3 3 3 3 3 4 4

 

There it is in all of its glory.  It looks pretty straight forward at first, but there are actually some interresting subtleties within it once you start looking at the pattern.

 

  • Generally speaking, all Wound rolls appear in pairs.  The Strength 4 ( Str4 for short ) row is the best example of seeing this pattern and therefore will be looked at as our baseline.
  • After two consecutive 6 values, a second die is needed to confirm the Wound. For Str4 to Wound a unit with a Defense 9 ( Def9 ) the player would need to roll a six, followed by another roll of at least a four.
  • A 3 is the lowest possible value to be rolled to incur a Wound. A roll of 1 or 2 (without any modifiers to apply) will always fail to wound regardless.
  • As the Strength goes down from 4, the target dice are shifted one column to the left (reducing the number of low rolls needed and increasing the number of high rolls ).
  • As the Strength goes up, the target dice are shifted one column to the right (reducing the number of high rolls needed and moving closer to the maximum number of 3's ).

The fact that target dice appear in pairs which are shifted by only one column per increase in Strength means there is not a linear progression in the protective value of Defense.  In fact, it is stepped in an manner that is both exciting and frustrating when planning an army.

For example, let us say you are building an army of Isengard's finest.  Your Uruk Hai in Heavy Armor already have a Def5 naturally.  Most Good Warriors have a Strength of 3, while Good Heroes are fairly evenly split between 3 and 4.  Your Uruk Hai's Defense already means both Warriors and Heroes will need to roll a 5 or better to Wound.  However, if you gave those Uruk's a shiield, then it will mean the Warriros will now only Wound you on a roll of 6.  This is a major jump in the value of Defense and probably well worth the extra point per Uruk.  However, for those Heroes with a Str4 it will make no difference.

Now the other part of your force are your Uruk Hai Scouts with a standard Def4.  Good Warriors ( average Str3 ) still need to roll a 5 or better to Wound you at this base Defense.  However, many Heroes and a few stronger Warriors only need to roll a 4 or better.  Giving your Scouts a shield and shifting thier Defense to a 5 may not be worth it.  Because of the stepped progression, the new Defense ( 5 ) for Uruk Hai Scouts with Shields still means that the number needed by the majority of Good Warriors (and therefore the majority of attacks against you ) did not change.  It was 5 before and it's still 5.  Even those pesky Elf Bows ( Str3 ) are no more or less a threat to your Scouts.

So, unless you are facing a fair number of Strenght 4 units there is almost no reason for Uruk Hai scouts to pend the points to boost thier Defense.  I did stress the almost, in that last sentence becuase there is one other significant advantage that a shield provides other than the stepped increment of the required Wound roll.  Any unit that has a Shield as part of thier Wargear can use the Shielding rule, allowing them to roll an extra die for determining who wins the Fight at the sacrifice of being able to strike if the win (they are taking a defensive stance behind thier shield).  But are you better off equipping a dozen Scouts with shields or saving those points and getting one or two extra models on the board?

Now the Good player does not have it quite as easy.  The average Strength of Evil Warriors (not counting Trolls and other such large monsters) is over 3.6.  In other words, there are more Evil models with a Strength of 4 than there are with a Strength of 3.  Generally, if you face an army of Moria for example, they have Str2 bows and most of their warriors are Str3.  Your threasholds are Def4 and Def6.  For general Moria Warriors ( Goblins ) there is no reason (except for Shielding ) to have a Def5.  For many Moria Heroes ( Str4 ) and the every-present Cave Troll ( Str6), that Def5 actually does provide the next step in incrementing the Wound roll.  But since most forces will only contain a limited number of these stronger opponents it needs to be weighed as to the effectiveness of spending that extra point per model.

However, when you face Isengard, most of it's common forces (the Uruk Hai) are Str4.  In this case Def5 is your thrashold. Luckily, many of the Good Warriors already have a Def5, so they are at least at the 5+ Wound level.  Now, my poor Wood Elf army is NOT in a good position here.  They generally have a base Def3 with no Wargear option for Shields or Armor.  As a result, Uruks will score a Wound on a Wood Elf 50% of the time ( 4+ ).

I could obviously go thru dozens of combos of scenarios of how to select target Defense numbers based on Army A vs. Army B, but that's not what this topic was intended for.  I just wanted to get my initial thoughts down as to the key points that an increase in Defense is not directly proportional to an increase in the minimum Wound roll, and that in some situations increasing the armor of your Army is not necessarily the best expenditure of points either because your oponent's army has such a low Strength that they already have a high roll to wound you, or they have such a high Strength that the shift of one point of Defense will not change the threashold to wound.

Likewise, realize what the Wound chart means to selecting your targets. Obviously, given the choice of two targets it is often best to select the one with the lower Defense as you have a better chance of eliminating it.  But instead of making your decisions based on the Defense number, you should try to make it based on the Wound roll.

As a recent Strategy Battle Game example, I was playing a force of Wood Elves against a horde from Mordor. There was a large variety of Orcs in the Mordor force, with Defense ranging from Def4 to Def6.  For my Elf Bows ( Str3 ) the roll to Wound a Def5 is the same for a Def4*.  So when shooting I had just as much of a chance of killing a Mordor Uruk Hai with Armor and Shield as I did the lowly Orc with a spear.  I could focus my fire on the greater threat without worry that I would miss wounding on a shot that would have killed the other target.