Following Strength – Getting Started with the Free Folk in A Song of Ice and Fire

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Following Strength:
Getting Started with the
Free Folk in A Song of Ice and Fire


Brian Kerr
Big Top Gaming

South of the Wall lies a kingdom of squabblers, a generation of kneelers unsure of which boot to lick until they see the golden topped head that rises from the ashes.  Here, in the true North, we don’t follow titles or birthrights; we follow strength.

Free Folk are a faction that provides you with the tools for success on the battlefield but you have to guide them there; be the strength they need to lead them to victory.  You’ll find little manipulation in the Tactics Cards, instead, you’ll find tools that help tip the scales while you utilize large hordes of infantry alongside towering Giants. As a Free Folk player, you engage the game on the table; subterfuge is best left for the kneelers. Only Mance knows how to beat the southerners at their own game but he needs your guiding hand to organize and deliver the power of the Free Folk.

In the Free Folk starter box, you’ll find the tools that serve as an introduction to the faction and this article will walk you through the options contained in the box. In the end, you’ll find a few recommended purchases after the starter so you can go forth with what you’ve learned here and show those southerners what real strength looks like.

Combat Units

Free Folk Raiders

You get two units of Free Folk Raiders in the starter and for good reason, the Raid Party special rule dictates that Free Folk Raider have to be taken in groups of two units.  At first glance, this seems like a harsh restriction but at 3pts each you have a small investment for two activations and your future lists will likely contain many of these units.  Free Folk Raiders don’t have the greatest stats but taking them in pairs means you’ll have an easier time getting the rule Gang Up to come into effect and you don’t have to worry about giving up a lot of Victory Points in most scenarios with this unit having the Insignificant rule; they may be easy to kill but your opponent isn’t getting much for their time investment.  Taking several units of Free Folk Raiders also means you will have an easier time getting most of your tactics cards like Surrounded and Exposed, There’s Too Many, and Group Assault to trigger. One unit of these won’t take down an opposing unit all on their own, it is up to you to get them into good positions to launch double charges/engagements or to use them to bait out a charge from your opponent only watch them fall right into your trap.

  Free Folk Trappers

The starter also contains one unit of Free Folk Trappers.  Much like the Raiders, the trappers don’t have the greatest stats and do come with the insignificant rule but the similarities stop there.  At one point more than the Raiders, Trappers shoot better than they fight and with a Short shooting range you would expect to see them running up on the front lines right with Raiders but they have a very powerful order in Hidden Traps that will make you want to run them a bit behind those raiders.  Hidden Traps is truly powerful for the Free Folk, often times our units aren’t resilient and want to be tying up our opponents’ units for as long as they can for us to chip away at them; Hidden Traps allows us to do that. Defensively, we take the chance of Disordering an opponent’s charge from 16% to 33% and the D3 wounds either makes less work for us to do and/or will take out a rank from a damaged unit to help soften that initial blow. Offensively, we put the opponent in a hard place by dangling a unit of raiders that’s tempting them to charge but they know there’s an increased chance of that charge doing less than it normally would. Hidden Traps can make our opponent reconsider launching that charge thus giving us the ability to charge before they do.  Insignificant can’t be overlooked here, it is the ability that allows us to bring so many fragile units and laugh as our opponent gets nowhere on the Victory Point total while we keep burying them in bodies, watching them stumble on traps, all while we set the charge up for our more scary units.

Savage Giants

That’s right, we have Giants.  Savage Giants come in at a whopping 7pts, which is a lot by Free Folk standards, but bring a lot of punch to the Free Folk army.  At first glance, they look pretty terrible; one attack, at least it hits on 2+, and only 5 wounds but once we turn our attention to their special rules we see they are quite effective and survivable.  In the Giant special rule, you’ll see that this model only suffers one wound for every two unblocked hits and with a 4+ defense save these things could be staying around for a long time. Additionally, you are unlikely to lose wounds from Panic Tests with their Moral of 3+.  Their attack, Mighty Swing, states that if you generate any hits you do d3+1 wounds plus an additional wound for each wound the Giant has taken. That means auto-blocking hits won’t save units from this attack and 2+ to hit makes this very reliable. If you take hits from an opponent’s unit you are also likely to survive so those extra wounds from Mighty Swing can start adding up to where a Savage Giant is deleting rank after rank of infantry or crunching horses left and right.  There is a lot of strategy to Giants though, anything with great combat rules like Sundering can take a lot of the Giants survivability away and you need to be mindful of effects that cause them to lose abilities since Mighty Swing will do nothing under those circumstances. You also have to pay close attention to the rest of the table and opponents potential output when it comes to healing GiantsIs it safe to keep those few wounds on them so they do d3+3 wounds from Mighty Swing or do you have to heal them in order to make sure they tie up the unit they are stuck in with?  Giants, while survivable, should not be the vanguard of your Free Folk Force; use those Insignificant units and Hidden Traps to make the job easier for Giants so they don’t have to play the game uphill.

Attachments

Raid Leader

The Raid Leader comes in at 1pt and you get two of them in the starter.  The Raid Leader provides the order Combined Assault which allows another unit within long range of the Raid Leaders unit to activate immediately after they do with the stipulation that the second unit can only attack the same unit the Raider Leader unit attacked this turn.  We often out activate our opponent with all these cheap units so using a Raid Leader to chain an activation doesn’t hurt our activation advantage and can make a dent in some scary units. Raid Leaders serve as a way to get Gang Up to trigger if you send a unit of Raiders in after the Raid Leaders unit but it can also send in Giants to make sure the retaliation from our opponent isn’t as effective, at least you would hope to take out at least one rank after a Raider charge followed up by a Mighty Swing. Raid Leaders are a strong piece to help push out combat forward before our opponent gets a chance to react but are not a necessary inclusion in every unit.


Tormund Giantsbane- Tall Talker, Horn Blower, Breaker of Ice

Tormund’s attachment version brings some combat power where you need it. Furious Charge puts out a Vulnerable token on the unit he charges and Shattering Assault gives a charging unit the Sundering special rule.  In the starter, Tormund is best suited on Raiders and makes a phenomenal second unit to chain off a Raider Leader; the first Raider unit should take off a few wounds but with Tormund coming in after combined assault hitting on 3+ with Sundering and the opponent being vulnerable you’re just a rough panic check away from wiping that enemy unit.  Tormund likes going after units that have taken some hits because he follows an “ABC Logic”, Always Be Charging.

Non Combat Units

Craster, Ally of Convenience

Craster is a cheap 3pts and brings the replacement effect Refuge and Supplies, which means he uses his ability instead of the zone he claims but this is optional.  Refuge and Supplies brings two relevant effects that Free Folk can utilize regardless of which zone he takes; if you don’t have a use for a particular available zone or want to block one you opponent wants you’ll be getting two wounds and a card for your troubles. Craster is also a great NCU for Giants since two wounds means a lot more to them than it does to Raiders.


 Lady Val, The Wildling Princess

Lady Val is just another one of our many 3pt options and her Lady of the Wilds ability, much like Crastor, replaces the tactics zone effect with a very handy tool for Free Folk.  We do want the Maneuver zone to turn on a portion of our cards but we also like the ability to control the battlefield with our movements so even though Lady Val doesn’t give us control of the zone she still lets us engage in those movement tricks.  It is important to remember, and I swear your opponent will forget this, that Lady in the Wilds allows you to use the retreat portion of the zone. She’s a great tool for the starter and Free Folk, in general.

Mance Rayder, Artful Tactician

If you opt to not include Mance as your commander you can get him as an NCU for 4pts.  Unlike like the other NCUs in the starter Mance can use his Skillful Preparation ability and use the tactics board effect when he claims it.  Mance puts out condition tokens that you can either use to increase the output of your army (Vulnerable, Panic) or lessen your opponents’ impact (Weaken) but he also gives out penalties to the unit he influences if they have a condition token on them to the point where they lose all abilities.  These penalties are cumulative so Mance can really take the wind out of a unit. You’ll find that grabbing the Tactics Zone is a great play for Mance Rayder.


Commanders

Mance Rayder, King Beyond the Wall

Mance is an attachment commander and brings a serious buff to the Free Folk army with Inspiring Presence and Rally Point, effectively giving the option of Free Folk within Short range of his unit 6+ moral.  This really lessens the impact of the poor moral we find on most of the units in the starter which makes Mance an early grab for players not wanting to put so many Free Folk at risk. Mance also seems to prefer being in units that can hang back and not put themselves at risk, the Trappers provide a great place for him.  The tricky part about Mance is in his Commander Tactics Cards; they force your opponent to reconsider what they’ve planned out to be the best play for their turn and have brutal consequences if they choose to do something you don’t want them to. At first glance, these cards seem difficult to play properly and, to some, might seem underpowered but making your opponent have to come up with a new plan at key moments is quite devastating.  Be mindful to tell your opponent, at the start of the game, that you have triggers when enemy NCUs activate and another at the start of their turn. This will help avoid unfortunate situations when your opponent grabs an NCU late game and just slams them on whatever zone they planned to take without telling you they were activating.

Tormund Giantsbane, Thunderfist

Mance is the expert strategist while Tormund is all about melee output; he wants to charge often and make sure he gets the best out of it.  His cards are all related to charging; he either heals ranks to get those better attack stats, pulls charges out of nowhere that your opponent didn’t see coming, or pumps up the output of a charge.  Tormund is an attachment commander and keeps the Sundering when charging rule, Shattering Assault, but trades adding the Vulnerable token for the Order Overrun. Tormund the Commander plays much like Tormund the attachment: charge damaged units and Always Be Charging.

Expanding Your Starter Box Forces

Free Folk armies like having lots of units in their list so, if you have the means, it is strongly suggested to pick up a second starter since the value in the box is so high.  The retail price of the Free Folk starter is less than the cost of two Raiders and a Trapper unit so you get those at a cheaper price and just get two more Giants for, essentially, free.  Outside of getting more Raiders I think every starter will enjoy having a unit of Cave Dwellers and Free Folk Hero Box 1. Cave Dwellers give you an amazing flanking, damage dealing unit and the Hero Box 1 give you a ton of commander options in addition to phenomenal NCU’s and attachments.

Looking to see the Free Folk in action? Check out Brian Kerr’s Battle Reports on his youtube channel – Big Top Gaming!

What’s Inside the Free Folk Starter Set?

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