This week’s guest article is written by Robert Cantrell. Cantrell has had a lot of success as an Infinity player, but has been experimenting recently with Song of Ice and Fire.
“Wait a minute, you’re not Thanqol!”
Indeed I am not – I’m from the same community, though. Thanqol spent several months attempting to proselytize me into the game back in 2020, and I agreed to take a look at it again when the 2021 update dropped.
Like Thanqol’s articles to date, this is a deep dive into the 2021 version of the Free Folk faction for the Song of Ice and Fire miniatures game. This is not theorycraft, but it is all learned from first principles, and I’ve found that a lot of my perspectives having never played the older versions of the game are in conflict with established wisdom. For what it’s worth, though, I’ve taken them into online events and TTS games and they’ve held up well.
So – what’s the deal with Free Folk?
Credit: Robert Cantrell
Free Folk are a faction that wear a number of interesting hats in 2021.
Most obviously, they’re the game’s horde faction. Their units are typically poorly armoured and with low morale, but they’re cheap as chips, allowing Free Folk to regularly play one more activation than everyone else even before abilities that allow additional units to be spawned mid-game.
Secondly, Free Folk are the game’s weird faction. Although most of the game is built on a stable common base, Free Folk have a lot of unique rules and interactions, and their troop selection fiercely prohibits any attempt to build the traditional fighting trifecta of infantry, cavalry, and archers. Instead, they have infantry, more infantry, and towering monsters.
Finally – and least obviously – Free Folk are the game’s interlocking synergy and combo faction. This is what has most surprised me learning them over the last half-year, but the Free Folk tactics deck and unit abilities together produce a faction that tries to line up and execute combos in a manner that’s more reminiscent of Magic the Gathering than traditional rank and flank games. Free Folk have the most ability to one-shot enemy units (a by-design rarity in 2021) of any faction, but it’s entirely contingent on lining up the right combination of cards and abilities on the right units in the right place. Get it right, though, and the gears all turn together just so in a way that can overwhelm even a well-prepared opponent.
Although many of our cards require some setup to pay off, the Free Folk core deck is easily one of the strongest in the game, and it benefits from having among the fewest conditional cards of any faction deck. Overall, it’s a playmaking deck, with multiple cards that can be used in combination to set up explosive results.
One very nice thing to note about the Free Folk deck is that with the exception of The Endless Horde, none of their cards are contingent on controlling zones to have an effect. Instead, cards scale in power based on how many of your units are near or engaging a given enemy. This is very useful, since it frees you from political considerations when claiming the tactics deck and instead lets you deploy NCUs however is most effective for you and annoying for your opponent at any given time. It also incentivises you to take more units and fewer NCUs, since every unit you have on the table represents a possible power increase to your already good cards.
The Endless Horde
This is the card that made me pick up Free Folk. It can be played on claiming the Horse tactics zone and allows you to immediately and for free deploy either an entirely new unit of Free Folk raiders onto the battlefield, or re-deploy a previously destroyed unit of any type the same way. Units are deployed with no attachments, but come on within 12” of your back table edge and can activate the turn they arrive.
This card is easily the most powerful single tactics card in the game. Although a single raider unit without attachments is only really worth about 3pts, that’s still 3pts more than your opponent has, and it represents both an immediate and ongoing activation advantage for the entire rest of the game. On top of that, it’s just about the only functional comeback mechanic in the entire game, because if you draw this card late, it doesn’t deploy a generic unit of raiders anymore, it re-deploys an entire unit of your more valuable infantry, like Spearwives or Followers of Bone. It gets stronger if you’re behind and makes Free Folk one of the only factions in the game that can genuinely bounce back from an early disadvantage.
If you’re playing against Free Folk, it goes without saying that this card is the one you want to block more than anything else. Claim the horse.
This is one of the main playmaking engines in the Free Folk deck. Played at the start of a turn, it allows two units in short range to share all their abilities with each other, and immediately use a start of turn ability (like war cry) for free.
It’s probably easiest to explain how much value you can get from this card with a worked example. Let’s say you have a unit of generic Raiders with Tormund Giantsbane in them (a good, common 5pt choice) and then nearby you have a unit of Spearwives with Harma in them. At the beginning of turn you play Coordination Tactics and share all abilities. Firstly, Harma’s unit just gained Warcry and Stalwart from Tormund and can immediately Warcry for free on a 5+. Secondly, when you activate Tormund’s raiders and charge, they’ll have +1 Speed from Harma’s enhanced mobility and will deal 3 extra automatic hits on the charge if they’re at full ranks thanks to having the Spearwives’ coordinated assault ability. That’s a massive payoff from a single card and can further be combined with other offensive cards and NCU influences for truly egregious damage output.
There’s Too Many!
The second big playmaker of the Free Folk deck and one that can put Lannister morale shenanigans to shame, this is a simple enough effect on paper: an enemy taking a panic check suffers -1 to their roll and +1 damage on failure for every of your units in short range of them, to a maximum of -3/+3.
It’s difficult to overstate how much of a swing this is on most panic checks. When stacked with other modifiers, Free Folk can inflict panic damage even on units traditionally immune to morale effects like Dire Wolves and Dragons, and this card is the second half of most one-shot-kill opportunities available to a Free Folk player. A Frozen Shore Chariot going into the flank of an enemy engaged with a unit containing a Champion of Bone and another unit nearby can play this card to a colossal -7 to the panic check roll and +4 to the damage, which is truly explosive.
For best results, try to bring at least one source of panic tokens in a list if you can. There’s nothing worse than forcing an enemy up to needing 10s or 11s to pass a panic check then seeing them jank the roll; the ability to force rerolls on these checks will help ensure There’s Too Many pays off.
A solid and reliable card, Diversion Tactics lets you manoeuvre one unit after another in long range is attacked in melee. This is a very long leash, turning Diversion Tactics into essentially free manoeuvres wherever you need much of the time, letting you set up attacks or more rarely get a vulnerable unit out of danger. The presence of this card in the core deck is one several big elements that totally make up for Free Folk not having access to cavalry and make us actually one of the most mobile factions in the game.
One big thing to note when playing this card: it does you no good if your unit was wiped out. You have to pick someone in long range of the defending unit, and you can’t do that if the defender wasn’t on the table.
Regroup and Reform
Another solid and reliable card with a hint of playmaking, this card lets you take wounds in one unit to restore wounds to another, then move or swap attachments to boot. Most often this will be used to take Raiders and turn them into Spearwives or Followers of Bone, but the ability to move attachments can also be extremely useful. Swapping your Commander into a unit holding an objective is an immediate free point in many scenarios, and you can also use this to set up plays in the absence of Coordination Tactics some of the time.
One additional niche but extremely fun use is to take advantage of the card’s ability to swap attachments. This part of the card doesn’t demand you obey the usual attachment restriction limit, letting you stack multiple attachments into a unit if you already have two there to start with (for example, if you have Harma’s Bannerman in a unit). I’ve played one game where both Harma and Tormund Commander ended up in the same Spearwife unit and it was a wild ride. You can also use this function to take Maimed Jaime out of your more valuable infantry and flip him back into some raider unit that will sit on an objective all game, which is a massive quality of life improvement if your local Lannister players have cottoned on to how good he is.
A good, reliable attack buff that lets you select from a variety of options, increasing in power the more of your troops are engaged with the enemy. Most often this is a card you play to give a charging unit that already has sundering and rerolls critical blow as well, but in a big brawly scrap it can also be used to really turn up the power of even generic raider units. Never bad, always fine, occasionally explosive thanks to the effects of critical blow – a good card.
Surrounded and Exposed
The weakest and most conditional card in the deck, this allows you to place a condition token on an enemy for every unit of yours after the first in short range of them. This is very hard to play early in the game and rare to play to maximum effect, but getting even two conditions of your choice off this card is a fairly flexible effect. If you draw this early in the game you’re liable to pitch it looking for other cards, but late in the game when there’s a big brawling melee or if a unit of cavalry has made a punch through your lines to try to break through, occasionally you’ll be able to play this to full effect and really cripple an enemy. The weakest of our cards overall, but if you set it up it’s still flexible and useful.
Credit: Robert Cantrell
The King beyond the Wall is considered Free Folk’s most powerful commander, and with good reason. He’s a control and manipulation commander at heart with a suite of cards and abilities that let you control your draws and deny or manipulate effective enemy activations and abilities. Signature plays include crippling enemy NCU activations by threatening them with Wildling Diplomacy if they claim a zone, or punishing their late-in-turn activations with Predictable Manoeuvres.
Equally powerful, though is the morale boost he gives his army. He makes his own unit have a 5+ morale score and extends this bonus to every unit with short range. It really can’t be understated how much of a boon this is for a free folk list; units like Raiders are balanced around how quickly they’ll panic and run when they start taking hits. Raider units that don’t panic are infuriating to deal with and this factor alone makes Mance our most consistent and well-used commander. If you aren’t sure who to play, play Mance. He’s the king, baby.
Tormund is our maximum aggression commander. If he’s not charging, he’s thinking about charging, or maybe setting up a charge in future. He can let your units automatically roll a 6 on their charge distance for a massive threat, or make their charges especially devastating, or let them counter-attack (including by charging) when a friend is attacked nearby.
This aggression means Tormund also slots neatly into our biggest high-roll commander. His native Overrun and Furious Charge abilities (which can be handed out to other units with coordination tactics, remember) mean that if all of your stars align you can pull of some absolutely game-ending plays in a single fell swoop. On one occasion previously I’ve had a unit activate, picking up Tormund’s abilities with Coordination tactics, charge 11” into the flank of an enemy unit, wipe them out in one attack thanks to the combined damage of all the stacked combat effects, then overrun into another enemy unit and wipe them out two.
This won’t happen often – you need the right cards and right units in the right places at the right time. But ASOIAF is not a game with native comeback mechanics, relying instead on alternating activations to ensure that over-extensions are responded to and punished to maintain player equilibrium. Killing two units from full health to dead in a single turn just isn’t something that’s recoverable from, under almost any circumstance – and Tormund can do it. Sometimes.
Harma is our mobility commander… sort of. In practice, her armies aren’t actually more mobile than regular free folk armies most of the time because she’ll still want to be using Diversion Tactics and Lady Val (see below) to get where she needs to go and do what she needs to do. On top of that, though, she does add her Swift Reposition card to help extend threat even further and more importantly brings the extremely impressive Feinting Manoeuvre card, which turns frontal charges into flank charges and flank charges into rear charges.
By itself, Feinting Manoeuvre is a nice combat buff that gives you that juicy flank or rear charge bonus, potentially also triggering Harma’s Superior Flanking ability to render an enemy panicked and vulnerable. More importantly, though, it lets you neatly overcome an opponent’s attempt to present a constrained frontage to you to deny you an advantage of numbers. Free Folk are an army that can often have two more or more extra combat units in play over an enemy force and so struggle to bring all those numbers to bear in a single place; by charging and using Feinting Manoeuvre, Harma both makes powerful attacks and frees up more enemy frontage for your army to charge in on.
Overall, she ranks a little behind Tormund and Mance in terms of consistency and power, but if your opponents are learning to try to deny you the ability to overwhelm them numerically, she’s one to consider.
Although he’s personally great for going into a unit of either Followers of Bone or his signature Bonelord’s Chosen, Rattleshirt isn’t actually our panic attack commander. He does that personally, but his army wide effect is all about layering buffs and bonuses. His cards all trigger only after you do damage to an enemy but then provide a permanent bonus for the rest of the game.
On top of this, Rattleshirt can use his order to fish these cards out of either your deck or discard pile once a round (or more, if you copy his order onto another unit with Coordination Tactics). This is an incredible boon, because it means you can thin your hand at the end of every turn by discarding some of those attachment cards and drawing replacements, confident that you’ll be able to fish them from the discard pile if you need. This makes Rattleshirt really reliable at drawing into power cards from the base free folk deck, and then playing them onto troops you’ve augmented with his buffs.
If this sounds pretty damn good, it is – but remember that free folk are a horde faction and start from kind of a low base. Most of your units will have 5+ saves, for example, so will only go to 4+ when given Armour Trophies. Pretty good given what we pay for our units, but not better than what everyone else has. But of course, you still have so much more than everyone else.
When I mentioned that Rattleshirt isn’t our panic commander, that’s because this guy is. The Weeper spread and plays with panic tokens like candy. He fits perfectly in a unit of Followers of Bone so that an enemy attacking you has a chance to fail a panic check before they resolve the attack and become weakened for their trouble. His ability to hand out panic to every enemy inside short range also makes him good at punishing an enemy that tries to bunch to prevent you from surrounding them, although you will still need to force the panic checks to actually take advantage of that.
His cards are a mix of utility and unusual potential. He can heal, hand out tokens, ensure your units hit their attacks, all good stuff. He also has the big high-payoff card Remorseless Examples, which only fully triggers when played in response to an enemy being wiped out and lets you place a high-power corpse pile terrain piece that only affects enemies. This is a massive payoff to a list playing a panic game plan but only being able to play it after killing an enemy puts it behind a huge gate: you have to draw it at just the right time or else hold it all game, and to date I’ve pulled it off exactly once. However, most of my games with the Weeper were before our new chariots released, and I think they might help him deliver the punch he wants where he wants it.
Styr is our commander that brings Free Folk mechanics that make them more like the rest of the game, in line with his position as the leader of the Thenn, the most conventionally ‘civilised’ (I use the word loosely) of the folk beyond the wall. They even have bronze weapons! And Styr borrows tropes from Lannisters, Baratheons and Starks to make him play a little bit like his enemies.
Styr also likes being in the thick of it the among most of any of our commanders. His unit personally will be a little hard to shift, and many of his cards will get more powerful if they’re played on or near him. Final Strike (a signature Baratheon card) is of especial note in Styr’s deck because while this card is ok in Baratheons with their 3+ saves everywhere, in Free Folk you will often take massive casualties to an expendable unit of raiders and drop Final Strike in response to gut an enemy who was probably much more expensive than the disposable troops they just attacked.
Ultimately, he’s a little less consistent than Mance in a kind of similar straightforward army leadership role, but he is very good at racing an enemy to the bottom and beating them with experience. His biggest downside, all told, is that by taking him as your Commander you can’t take him as your NCU – more on that later.
Mag the Mighty
Our newest commander, the King of the Giants brings an entire new 20-card deck that’s full of things relating to giants, monsters, and giant monsters. He’s a totally unique play experience for free folk, topping out at a smaller number of activations with greater force in a much smaller footprint. Essentially, when the rest of Free Folk are going wide, Mag is going tall.
For obvious reasons, Mag is my least-played Commander, purely because he’s been out a tiny amount of time and I only recently got access to his cards. Initial results are promising, but not overwhelming. Not everything quite clicks yet and army building for him is a little cumbersome thanks to the demands on is list construction.
The biggest downside for Mag is purely that by taking him you give up a free zero-point commander attachment, and all our commanders would easily be 2pt attachments if you costed them normally. That means Mag is playing a 40pt game to everyone else’s effective 42pts, and while that doesn’t seem like a huge disadvantage, his cards aren’t any better than the (admittedly good) base free folk deck.
So far, he’s fun and promising but (happily) not a new Mother of Dragons.
Credit: Robert Cantrell
Free Folk Raiders
The briefly-beating heart of any free folk army, raiders are our cheap and cheerful expendable infantry core. Every free folk player will want at least a couple of these units because even if you don’t include them in lists (and you absofuckinglutely will), you can spawn two of them a game with The Endless Horde.
Their stats are absolutely nothing to write home about but while we can force multiple them if needed, their fighting power’s not that important. What matters most is their Insignificant rule, meaning they don’t give up points for being killed and can be cheerfully expended without falling behind in the game.
Take them, add free or discounted attachments, and use them to absorb enemy attacks and support your more significant actually-do-things units. Just about every enemy charge can be expected to massively damage but not actually kill your raider units, and sometimes they might even survive more than two rounds of incoming attacks before they finally all break and run.
Free Folk Trappers
Although they can sort of be considered the ranged equivalent of raiders, Trappers are missing the critical Insignificant rule that makes raiders truly expendable in a game where you’re racing your opponent to 10 points. They’re also only short range on their bows, which is not hugely different from not actually having a ranged attack at all. Any speed 5 unit can risk an 8” charge a lot of the time (especially expendable ones) and that’s all trappers threaten with their bows.
Despite the disappointing shell, their Hidden Traps ability does allow them to get a tiny bit of damage out onto enemies at longer range, making them the only real means Free Folk have of actually inflicting damage on an enemy outside short range or in melee. Having bows also means the can fire into melee against a fully-engaged enemy, when a melee unit would have to look on helplessly. But overall, these are a rarely-reached for unit, falling behind our other 4pt units in either lethality or expendability.
Where trappers are a disappointing unit, spearwives are an exciting one. Their defensive stats are as terrible as everything else we have (but better than trappers, at least) but their offensive output as a shock assault unit is phenomenal especially for their discount 5pts. They’ll get more expensive as you add attachments into them, but at their core they make a ranged attack (that can still do damage and force a panic check) and then use their charging volley order to immediately follow up with a free charge. When they charge, they get an extra automatic hit for every rank still remaining in their unit, meaning that in total just by themselves that can throw out 10 dice of attacks plus three automatic hits and cause two panic checks to an enemy all in the same turn.
They can only do this once a turn because charging volley is an order, but that’s a huge damage for the cost you paid for them and you can stack force multipliers on top of that. Spearwives are the offensive heavy lifters in most Free Folk lists and you can never go wrong taking at least one unit.
Followers of Bone / Bonelord’s Chosen
Where Spearwives are our shock assault unit, Followers of Bone (and their more elite, character-only version the Bonelords Chosen) are our morale damage unit. These troops combine vicious attacks with a horrifying visage that forces a panic check when an enemy attacks them in melee, meaning they’re forcing hard-to-pass checks both coming and going. For this reason they work great if you combine them with an attachment that gives them Intimidating Presence (which will make all those checks much more dangerous) and try to find your copies of There’s Too Many to layer on top.
Although they’re not quite the same backbone unit as Spearwives, they fit well into a morale attack commander and are good to take alongside spearwives, since you can use coordination tactics to get the best of all worlds. Our most reliable one-shot-kill combos often start with coordination tactics between some followers and spearwives.
Cave Dweller Savages
A berserker unit that gets more and more powerful as they take damage, Savages are a niche but interesting pick. They have a few things that set them apart from our regular units; their armour is even worse (but remember, 6s always pass!), their morale is shockingly good at 4+, and they’re surprisingly fast at native speed 6. They also have our only native sundering weapons. They also get more dangerous as they take damage, rather than less, eventually topping out at an 8-dice attack hitting on 2s, but which causes them one wound for every dice roll of a 1 they roll when attacking.
All this makes cave dwellers a bit of a weird pick but one well-suited to operating with pretty limited support. For example, you can take them in Mance to have a unit that ranges outside his leadership bubble and still has great leadership. They’re also very interesting when you can really make use of their speed, potentially scaling them up to speed 8 if you combine a Harma attachment with Ygritte the NCU.
The one thing you do want to prioritise for Savages is either setting up the charge or playing Overwhelming Assault on them. Because they take casualties every time they roll a 1, getting them re-rolls to hit goes a long way, taking the chance per die rolled of taking a wound from 1/6 to 1/36.
Our last infantry unit and the most ‘regular’ of our infantry, then are a no-nonsense block with the only 4+ save on infantry in faction and very standard, normal stats. Their defining characteristic is their Taunt order, which can force an enemy activating in short range to charge them if they fail a morale check (with a hefty -3 to the roll if the Thenn are at max ranks, and which you can force your opponent to re-roll with a panic token).
Thenn are widely considered to be a bit of a meme but I strongly encourage you to try them out if you can. The thing to remember about Then is that they are still a very low commitment at 5pts for an otherwise serviceable-ish melee unit that can occasionally offer real board control. My preferred use case for them is to place stakes during terrain setup near an objective in a way that’s obviously advantageous for one side. If you get the advantageous side – fantastic! You have an advantageous side. If you don’t, you can still move the Thenn up and taunt the enemy off that objective and onto those stakes. It’s a potentially powerful no-lose situation and it really didn’t cost much.
Even if you aren’t game to throw stakes around or expect your opponent to spend actions destroying them, many scenarios score 2pts per turn for a Commander sitting on an objective. Taunting the enemy off their objective into melee, even if the Thenn eventually die, is a big scenario swing, and again worth the relatively low investment of a single point over a base raider unit.
I’d almost never take more than one unit, but the opportunities they bring, even if your opponent plays perfectly around them, give you some pretty significant control.
Monsters and Warmachines
Credit: Robert Cantrell
The Giants – Savage Giant, Wun-Wun and Mag the Mighty
All three of our giants share a common set of base rules, which is that while they only have six wounds they only take one wound for every two failed defence dice and can take at most two wounds from a failed panic check (and have good morale to boot). This makes them tougher than most full infantry and cavalry units and incredible recipients for any healing ability (like Craster or claiming the Purse), but beware abilities that bypass defence dice and inflict wounds directly, like the Precision keyword, the Mountain, or Dragons. Dragons can and will one-shot your giants.
Of the three, Savage Giants are the cheapest and will probably be least-used moving forward. They aren’t bad, but their damage scales from a low base up to a very high base depending on how badly they’re wounded, which means that your opponent can typically play around them by refusing to dedicate force to engaging a Savage Giant directly, leaving him sitting on a mere 1d3 wounds from his attacks until they’re ready.
Wun-Wun and Mag both solve this conundrum by having a more conventional attack (and very good ones at that, which means they play nicely with Raid Leaders) and each has their own strengths. Wun-Wun is the most well-rounded giant, having solid ability to punch on, huge durability with his impressive 3+ save combined with being a giant, and the fantastic Warcry ability. You can fit him into almost any Free Folk list – if you can afford him – where he functions as a brawler, anvil and buffer for the rest of your army.
Mag the Mighty is a bit more specific in his synergies. He has a terrifying melee attack that ignores enemy armour (but not shield wall or hardened abilities), which means that for best results you want to tune up his hitting power and ideally find a way to give him Critical Blow. This makes him a fairly natural fit with Tormund, who brings several cards that are terrifying when played on Mag.
The War Mammoth is a profile that bears some nerf scars from prior editions, where I’m reliably informed they were extremely oppressive. While the balance changes are welcome, Mammoths as they are now are deep in the hole of not actually doing much of anything, except for when they fail a panic check and just run back through your own lines. The best thing that can be said about this is that because trampling through a unit causes virtually no damage they won’t do too much to your own forces, but a unit that literally leaves the line of engagement under your opponent’s control and so is out of the game for a whole turn whenever it panics is too much baggage to be reliably fielded by a faction that relies on cohesion and synergy as much as free folk do.
The models are really nice, though. Shame, that.
Frozen Shore Chariot
The newest addition to the Free Folk roster of weirdness and fantastic one at that, Frozen Shore Chariots are the game’s most extreme glass cannon. On the charge into a full infantry unit they can do catastrophic (although not one-shot) damage and they’re fast enough as a speed 6 pseudo-cavalry unit to land reliable flank changes, adding a layer of unconditional mobility to Free Folk that you can further augment with Lady Val or Ygritte as desired.
They pay for this by being made of absolute glass. Chariots die to an angry glance and the slightest whiff of good dice from your opponent, meaning they can only be safely left engaging enemies that can’t immediately swing back, making them demand a priority spot in your activation order (usually either very early before they die or very late so they can’t be retaliated against that round).
In practice, this means that Chariots are a great unit in small numbers with diminishing returns as you take more of them. One (or sometimes even two) in any list can be good, but as you start trying to spam them in numbers you’ll find that you cease being able to effectively leverage their strengths and have assembled an army that gives up points to Victory Through Combat like a piñata gives up candy.
The archetypal free folk attachment to include in raiders, and for good reason. Gang up is a big offensive buff that no-one leverages quite like free folk. They won’t be in other units much, but if you don’t know what to take in your raider units, take Raid Leaders.
Champion of Bone
The second easy attachment in a Raider Unit to spend their free attachment point, Champions of Bone make a raider unit a little more independently dangerous and synergise better with units that want to shoot into combat (i.e. spearwives) and interestingly also chariots thanks to how the math works out. They’ll be less consistently reliable than raid leaders but a little more flexible.
Cave Dweller Alpha
A trap in just about any unit unless you have a spare point free, they do nominally have some synergy with cave dwellers if you aren’t willing to use a card like Regroup and Reform to get the cave dwellers profitably up to a good attack dice number manually. Use sparingly.
Chosen of Styr
Very niche in free folk, and definitely don’t take in Thenns despite the ostensible synergy – they work best as a minimum investment unit. Chosen of Styr have some merit in raider units, though – sometimes someone has to be set forward to die, and a raider unit that you don’t get charge or flank bonuses against could representing a frustratingly effective anvil for just 4pts.
Jarl, Advance Raid Leader
Ambush is a trap ability in almost any army and competes desperately with The Endless Horde for the already highly monopolised Horse position on the tactics board. However, he has some utility with Mance Rayder in particular, where you can punish the opponent for claiming zone spaces and use Predictable Manoeuvres to stop your opponent from being able to move away from an impending flank spearwife charge.
Harma, the Dogshead
Pricy at 2pts but an absolute bomb attachment, Harma can go in any number of units to turn them into a massively mobile flanking threat. Some players take her in every single list and they aren’t wrong to do so; she exerts pressure on your opponent if they risk using ranged attacks against you and can end up in places that are just catastrophic for your opponent’s plans. Beware over-extending her while your opponent still has cavalry in reserve and try to avoid getting her shot by archers directly but with those caveats she’s part of the Free Folk mobility game that competes even with Dothraki for ability to go places and inflict damage.
The other absolute bomb attachment, Tormund is an easy include in any list that has a spare raider unit to accommodate him and can even have a place in other more elite units. He brings the great combo of improving a unit’s morale and warcry (which plays off that improved morale score to trigger reliably), handing out tokens to the enemy while being frustratingly tough to remove. Probably even more takeable than Harma, and that’s saying something.
Given how much spearwives want to be charging rather than stuck in protracted melee, she’s a solid choice that gets very solid when combined with Harma’s Bannerman. A free retreat has some value on its own merits, but…
…that value goes up massively when it’s also accompanied by a free heal. You can stack these two attachments together provided you’ve also taken Harma to enable the Bannerman, and it’s a very solid combo to present some albeit at hefty expense.
My personal favourite not-actually-good attachment. He summons bears! Unfortunately he summons bears massively conditionally and a bear also only gets a single dice attack on a 3+ and will miss more than you’d like (but, it does get to activate again after it appears). Not actually bad but also not great, the honest main benefit of these is that they’re a source of morale buffs that stack with other morale buffs like Mance, letting you make a very durable raider core if you’re willing to invest.
Walrus Clan Chieftan
Resilient is a great order that’s still not worth 2pts, especially in free folk where it can’t multiple any sort of existing tough base. If he had one other ability, even a small one, he might be a serious pick, but he’s just short of takeable right now.
A souped-up Champion of Bone. Expensive at 2pts but definitely has some merit in a panic-focused list or if you had a spare point lying around. If the Free Folk deck wasn’t as good as it is I’d be reluctant to take him, but being able to use coordination tactics to give all of his abilities and all of the Follower of Bone unit abilities he’s attached to off to some other unit and have them go and panic bomb and enemy and then spread fear adds even more payoff to an already good card, so he can be worthwhile as an investment.
A kind of weird niche pick that wants to be part of a panic archetype list but will take a raider unit he’s in up to 5pts without making them tough enough to justify the cost. He might have some play inside a weird Mance Rayder or Styr panic attack list that’s trying to be more well-rounded (or let’s be honest, powerful, if we’re taking Mance) than a list led by him in his commander form, but overall pretty niche.
Ygritte’s biggest downfall is that she’s kind of like Tormund but just a little worse, despite how good Disrupt looks on paper. In practice she adds a nearly identical survivability increase to a raider unit as Tormund (remember, morale is a defensive stat) but doesn’t help protect against ranged attacks. However, this doesn’t make her bad – and she has a really obvious niche in lists led by Tormund as a commander, where you obviously can’t take Tormund as a regular attachment.
Credit: Robert Cantrell
Free Folk NCUs stand out in terms of both quality and seriously limited quantity. Without access to neutrals, we have exactly five NCUs to choose from so you’ll see lists repeat similar NCU configurations often even when the lists themselves are quite different.
In general, I much prefer two NCUs over three in Free Folk, which you’ll see in my sample lists below. Unlike other factions where four points buys you either an NCU or at best only 80% of a combat-capable unit, Free Folk combat unit options at four points tick all the boxes of flexible, useful and expendable. Combine that with how many of our tactics cards get stronger the bigger your on-table presence is, and in general the argument for more combat and fewer non-combat units in Free Folk is extremely compelling.
Our most expensive and overtly powerful NCU, Styr gives any unit he influences the double combat buff of +1 dice on melee attacks and sundering. This is the single strongest combat buff handed out by any NCU in the game (although such buffs are rare) and Styr in a list is one of the factors that can turn your weak and plentiful units into force-multiplied blenders or your stronger units into one-shot-kill factories.
At 5pts you can’t always take him in every list but he’s powerfully strong and any list this side of Mag the Mighty’s march of the giants will benefit from his inclusion.
Lady Val replaces the effect of any zone on the board with a free manoeuvre or retreat for one of your units. If she’s not the single strongest 4pt NCU in the game then she’s absolutely in the top five. The level of threat and flexibility she affords a Free Folk army absolutely makes up for the near total lack of traditional cavalry and archers to exert threat and pressure.
Of particular note is the value in holding her later in a turn if you think you can. Keeping her movement on a unit in reserve drastically expands the positional space your army can occupy and threaten and can be a key to out-manoeuvring ostensibly faster cavalry armies. This is also part of why I like two NCUs over three – you can’t really hold back an NCU if there are more workers than worker placement options on the tactics board.
Another character bearing some nerf scars, NCU Mance is a draw engine and that’s fine. He falls behind Styr and Val but especially when combined with either Val or Craster with their zone replace effects can represent three or even more extra tactics card draws a turn, which is a lot – although more often it’ll be just one or two. But it’s still free draw, and that’s a good effect. A definite consideration if you can’t or won’t fit in Styr.
A tricky NCU to use thanks to her ability to influence both friends and enemies, she speeds up friends and slows down foes. It’s only a +1 or -1 change but this can still be really significant in a game with where movement is as important as it is in ASOIAF. Another good NCU in a faction of good NCUs, she also opens up some terrain play by letting your units ignore hindering and rough (but unfortunately not dangerous) terrain. Don’t get too tricky though – if you lock yourself behind a swamp and rely on Ygritte to get you through, you’ll really give up flexibility.
Our second zone replace NCU and honestly a good one that only struggles because he competes with Val. Craster heals, and also turns tactics zone into heal ‘n draw, which is great – except you already have the best zone replace imaginable with Lady Val, so Craster represents a second zone replace which means really giving up on the actual board entirely. Craster fits best when you commit to three NCUs so the zone replace is much more meaningful, or when you’re playing with Giants so his healing effects are essentially doubled.
Credit: Robert Cantrell
Rolling in at a whopping nine (9!) activations before any successful plays of the Endless Horde, this is a straightforward power play of just combining a lot of the very best stuff in Free Folk all together and trimming the fat until you get to a full nine units.
You give up a lot of tech to get to this point, with the list notably lacking Harma, or really high-power coordination tactics plays – in fact, Mance is in spearwives mostly to open up a slightly stronger coordination play by being able to give both the spearwife abilities and his counterstrategy order out to another unit. But it makes up for that in numbers, and the hitting power is still very strong. Mance will also keep your core alive a good long time thanks to his morale bubble, making this a powerful, well-rounded list able to play into basically anything south of the Night’s Watch balance whoopsie that is Othell Yarwick.
• Spearwives (5)
Mance Rayder – King Beyond the Wall (0)
• Spearwives (5)
• Free Folk Raiders (4)
Tormund Giantsbane – Tall-Talker, Horn-Blower, Breaker of Ice (2)
• Free Folk Raiders (4)
Champion of Bone (1)
• Free Folk Raiders (4)
Champion of Bone (1)
• Frozen Shore Chariot (4)
• Frozen Shore Chariot (4)
Non Combat Units
• Styr (5)
• Lady Val (4)
Although Tormund can be built several different ways, this is a list that makes use of Mag the Mighty. It has to give up access to Styr (although Mag takes care of your anti-armour needs) but it can power Mag up and fling him around the board will still having a solid core of aggression and mobility.
Mance is present over Ygritte or Craster because we’re going to be card fishing to set up wombo-combos. The high watermark attack is something like giving the Followers of Bone all of Tormund’s abilities (or vice versa), then charging 11” with Rush of Aggression, then playing Overwhelming Assault, then playing There’s Too Many! on the subsequent massively-stacked panic check, and then when you kill your opponent in one gratuitously violent attack you trigger Overrun and do as much of it all again as you can.
There’s a lot of room for tailoring here, though. You might cut the chariot to go to three NCUs (taking Craster to help keep Mag alive), or cut Mag entirely to be able to include Harma and upgrade your units and NCUs.
• Spearwives (5)
Tormund Giantsbane – Thunderfist (0)
• Followers of Bone (5)
Champion of Bone (1)
• Mag the Mighty (9)
• Free Folk Raiders (4)
Raid Leader (1)
• Free Folk Raiders (4)
Raid Leader (1)
• Frozen Shore Chariot (4)
Non Combat Units
• Lady Val (4)
• Mance Rayder (4)
That wraps up our look at the Free Folk. We’d like to thank Robert Cantrell again for providing this wonderful insight around the faction. As always, if you have any questions or feedback, drop us a note in the comments below or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.