Hero Academy: The Dwarves

Robot Entertainment has done it again! Patch 1.1 went live last week, and Hero Academy is a brand new game. In addition to some balance tweaks (which I’ll discuss in another post), the Dwarves have been added as the next playable team. Dwarves use devastating explosive attacks and augmented bonuses from boost squares to crush their foes. With these new splash damage attacks available, many of the previously accepted strategies have been upended. Large formations of units behind heavily armored knights or void monks will fall quickly to lobbed grenades, rockets, and shotgun blasts. Expect games with Dwarves to be violent, dynamic, and a little terrifying!

For an analytical look at the Dwarven units and some of the math involved with how much damage these area-of-effect attacks inflict to different squares, check out a very informative post at Wyatt Cheng’s blog. Next, read below to see some of my thoughts on fighting with (and against) the latest addition to the Hero Academy.

Expect to see a lot of this when fighting the Dwarves. A lot.


General strategies

A slow build-up favors the Dwarves. The longer a game lasts without exchanges, the larger your opponent’s army will be, and more units means bunched-up formations vulnerable to grenadiers and annihilators. Unless you’re planning to win early with aggressive attacks on the enemy crystal, don’t provoke exchanges in the early game. Lull your opponent into a false sense of security as their army grows. Then use grenadiers and annihilators to shatter their formation; once they’re on the defense, they’ll be tempted to heal their units instead of attack yours.

Simply said: the Dwarven hero is one hell of a unit. Placing the annihilator on the board intimidates your opponent like nothing else. An annihilator wields the only high-damage 3- range attack in the game (as of Patch 1.1). But the annihilator offers more than 450 damage attacks at a range of 3 squares. Consider the special elements of the annihilator’s rocket. First, the knock-back attack has many uses. Firing and seeing them ricochet across the board like bowling pins never gets old. But this assault provides more than comedic relief: it knocks healers away from their tanks, pushes units off of boost squares, and leaves gaps for your units to exploit. Second, the physical damage debuff provides opportunities for your gunners to inflict serious damage. A gunner with a runemetal upgrade does 450 to a single target at close range, but reduce that target’s physical resistance by 50% and the damage skyrockets! Especially against Council knights with their staggering 40% physical resistance, use an annihilator rocket followed by a shotgun blast. Rinse and repeat as necessary. Pay attention to the units you’ve debuffed; even ten turns later, you’ve prepared a trap to spring upon an unwary foe.

A runemetal upgrade compliments the annihilator’s frightening offensive capabilities , but don’t waste your armor upgrades on him. Just like the ninja, an armored annihilator is still quite fragile. Instead, use proper positioning and engineer shields to protect your annihilator. A dwarven brew potion can help to discourage attacks, but don’t let this replace your responsibility to keep your hero properly protected. An archer or impaler can inflict enough damage, even with a shield and a dwarven brew potion, to K.O. and stomp your annihilator, so keep him safely behind your gem and your defenders.

Don’t freak out if you lose your annihilator. Seriously, the game isn’t over. A grenadier with an attack upgrade matches an annihilator for damage output (actually, the grenadier does MORE damage to a group) and has the same 3 attack range, so your strategy of long-range bombardment hasn’t died. In fact, killing an annihilator can fool a player into thinking they’ve inflicted a crippling blow. But if you’ve been playing defensively, then your opponent had to overextend and burn valuable resources to kill your annihilator. Crush the attacking unit, and see what other opportunities your opponent left for you to exploit.

One attack. 4,000 damage. Grenadiers don't suck.

Watch out for area-of-effect attacks. You may think that your Dwarves are the best at hitting multiple targets, but the other races are no slouches at walloping a juicy target. Observe the position of enemy wizards and void monks, and keep in mind that once you’re under attack from area of effect attacks, it can be easy to become trapped in a repetitive cycle of defensive healing, allowing your opponent the freedom to attack when and where they see fit.

Turn-about is fair play.

Use your engineers! Engineers may seem like wasted units. Engineers are soft and squishy, with weak melee attacks and no ranged attacks. Engineers look really cute and helpless. They’re the first true support unit in Hero Academy, meant primarily to augment the actions of their allies. But engineers do more than clutter up your formation. Capture an assault boost square with an engineer and other attackers inflict a bonus 420 damage to crystals instead of the expected 300. Steal an enemy power boost square and they can hit surprisingly hard, 340 damage a swing. Apply the runemetal upgrade and an engineer hits for 510 physical damage. That increases to a staggering 765 damage if you find a target or two with a physical resistance debuff! Not too shabby. The cute unit your opponent has been ignoring just become a surprising thorn in their side.


Specific Techniques

Crystal Splashing: On most maps, the assault boost square is four squares away from the crystal. This means that most races need to use two units to hit a gem while holding the assault boost square. But Dwarves have two units with an attack range of 3, plus splash damage. This allows you to hold an assault boost square with an annihilator or a grenadier and attack units adjacent to their crystal. On many maps, these are vital boost squares that the opponent wants to occupy. This leaves them with two painful options: allow you to bombard them with damage while inflicting significant damage to the crystal, or abandon their boost squares and run the risk that you will steal them. In fact, that leads to our next technique…

Not a fun place to be. Unless you're the guy with the rocket launcher.

Suicide Bomber:  Did your opponent leave a power boost square empty after your constant bombardments? Do they have a cluster of units nearby, or a valuable injured unit deep in their territory? Time to steal their power boost square and cause some serious damage. Run a grenadier forward, steal their power boost square, and toss some grenades. Stomping units is less important than inflicting massive amounts of damage to everything you see, unless you K.O. a very juicy target. Prioritize large groups and healers. If you’ve got a x3 damage scroll, this might be a good time to use it, but if you’re on a power boost square, the scroll may prove to be unnecessary. Don’t run away. If they want that power boost square back, they’re going to have to take it. Keep in mind there is a good chance that you’ll lose your grenadier, so don’t send in a unit with every possible upgrade. Instead, use a grenadier with just a runemetal upgrade. If you send in a fully upgraded unit, make sure they have an engineer shield and possibly a dwarven brew potion.

Bring the Rain: I talked early about the synergy between an annihilator and a gunner. An annihilator hiding behind a gunner makes for a nasty one-two punch which can bypass the defenses of even the most hardy tank. But Dwarves have another very nasty source of physical damage: the PULVERIZER (I capitalized that because it’s AWESOME). After a physical defense-destroying rocket, follow up with a giant drill from the sky. The physical defense debuff applies to this damage, allowing you to inflict in excess of 1,000 damage with two attacks, without using a x3 damage scroll. This can be excellent for destroying a unit piled high with valuable upgrades. Make sure to run another expendable unit forward to get the stomp. This debuff also applies to a crystal. Debuff the crystal, then drop a pulverizer for huge damage; combine this with an engineer on assault boost square to compound the damage. And don’t forget that a physical debuff remains until the unit takes damage from a physical attack, so a unit is vulnerable to pulverizer attacks for a long time.

Paired Paladins: This advice applies to every race, but especially the Dwarves. The Dwarves use paladins as both tanks and healers, so these units are critically important. Losing even a single paladin can deflate your game. Losing two devastates your army and will be very difficult to recover from. If you expose them to enemy fire, make sure your paladins are within two squares of each other so they can immediately resurrect and heal to full. Add an engineer for insurance, staying nearby and immediately shielding a paladin at risk of attack. Note that it is not necessary to use your paladins as tanks. You can keep a paladin behind the lines, using engineer shields to create impromptu tanks out of any unit.

Paladins are tempting targets if not properly protected.



Dealing with Dwarves:

Exploit their resurrection deficiency. Eliminate the paladins and leave your opponent unable to properly revive his units. The Dwarves have a critical weakness in terms of resurrection: in their entire deck, they have three paladins, the only units capable of resurrecting. The Dark Elves and Council both have a total of five resurrection opportunities (3 healers in addition to 2 life leeches and 2 potions, respectively). But the Dwarves can’t resurrect with their offensive spell or their potions. K.O. a paladin in the early game and there’s a good chance that the other player doesn’t have another paladin in his hand. Keep an eye out for oddly defensive behavior, and if you see it, go on the offensive; K.O. as many units as possible. Don’t feel the pressing need to stomp every single K.O.’ed target, as Dwarves have no surprise resurrection ability. Lastly, a paladin’s resurrection only heals for 100 hit points at a range of 2 squares. Healing a K.O.’ed unit to full takes three actions, so K.O. a unit outside the range of their paladin and they will have to spend an entire turn maneuvering and resurrecting. Are they sloppy about leaving their paladin vulnerable to attack? Snipe the paladin and leave your opponent in even worse shape.

Prevent the Dwarven paladin heal synergy. This may seem at odds with the point I just made, but if you’re going to injure multiple Dwarven units, then try to scatter the damage among units other than the paladins. The paladin mends herself when healing injured units, so a Dwarven player can be exceptionally efficient by healing injured units and restoring health to the paladin at the same time. But damage multiple units, not including the paladin, to negate this healing efficiency. If you’ve got several targets and you can’t K.O. any of them, then injure the non-paladin units. That said, if you’ve got a fireball or you’re firing off attacks with a wizard, don’t try to AVOID hitting the paladin, but don’t forget that the paladin heals itself for free.

Use hit and run tactics. Dwarves have no units that can move three squares; in addition, their paladins have a limited healing range. Engineers can often get in the way, as their main purpose is to provide shields to the valuable units. A Dwarven army can become clumped up and static, leaving them vulnerable to area of effect attacks or focused fire on stragglers. Use wizards and void monks to spread damage across several units and then slip away.

Don’t pre-scroll. In a previous article, I mentioned pre-scrolling as a way to assemble an effective sequence of attacks and escape safely with your attacking unit. Against Dwarves, ignore that. Rubbish advice. Dwarves have excellent damage mitigation; all it takes to nullify your scroll is an engineer placing their shield, or the dwarven brew that reduces an attack by 50%. Once you’ve pre-scrolled and your opponent drops an engineer bubble on their valuable unit, you’ve been outmaneuvered, forced to waste the scroll on a less valuable target. Against the Dwarves, take the time to remove the shield before using your x3 damage scroll. And if you see a target with a dwarven brew potion, it can be worth it to take a shot or two and retreat; your intent is not to significantly damage your target, but to remove the potion buff, leaving them vulnerable to later attacks. Keep in mind that K.O.’ing an engineer that created a shield will also destroy the shield; it can be worthwhile to damage an engineer instead of wasting attacks hitting a bubble.

Don’t clump up your units in dense formations. This should be obvious, but building up a large formation against the area-of-effect-driven Dwarves results in truly spectacular attacks. A grenadier has a range of three, and can hit up to nine units at a time, for significant damage. And if your opponent starts bombarding your army, don’t attempt to heal back to full every turn. A Dwarven grenadier can inflict more damage per turn to bunched units that you can heal, so you’ll get stuck in a losing downward spiral. If you’re under heavy attack, accept the losses and focus on killing the attacking unit.

Prepare to receive the Holy Hand Grenade.

Pay attention to the boost squares. Dwarves get added effect from a boost square, especially the engineers. A grenadier on a power boost square can inflict catastrophic damage. Make sure to always keep your power boost square covered, or it will get stolen. Nothing good will come from this. And the easy-to-ignore engineers provide extra damage to crystal attacks if they’re on the assault boost squares, so eliminate them quickly if your opponent gets clever.

Use your helmet upgrades effectively. Almost all of the Dwarven ranged attackers inflict magical damage, so make sure to add helmets to your void monks / knights, and perhaps one on a harassing attack unit (an archer, wizard, or impaler). Unfortunately, you can’t put helmets on your entire army, so make sure the units your opponent focuses on are the ones with the best chance of surviving those magical attacks. Keep in mind that your defense boost square won’t help much against the magically-inclined Dwarves. In fact, the new map, built with the Dwarves in mind, doesn’t even have a defense boost square!

Stomping a K.O.’ed unit is a little more challenging for a dwarven unit. When computing the number of attacks necessary for your opponent to knock out one of your units, keep in mind that they have to move to stomp the target. They lack the ability to stomp with either a fireball or a necromancer; Dwarves have no ranged stomp ability. If Dwarves want to stomp, they’ll be risking their own hides. Punish whatever makes the move toward your K.O.’ed unit.

You didn't think we could get through this post without a "BOOMSTICK!!!" reference, did you?