“It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.”
Even before the release of the new The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies trailer signifying the end of a rather epic saga in Middle-Earth I was considering coming back to the world of Dwarves, Hobbits and Elves by Tolkien and taking up the Strategy Battle Game once again. It all started when I was sorting out some of my old White Dwarf magazines and looked at the articles for the original Fellowship of the Ring release. The first thing I noticed (other than how cheap things were!) was that the game, from the battle reports and articles, played really well and the actual mechanics match up to even some of the best modern tabletop games. So begins my return to Middle-Earth.
Down From The Door Where It Began…
The next step was to look at what I still had in my collection from past experiences with the game. After digging through a mass of different boxes I realised I had a small warband of Rivendell Elves, some Moria Goblins, Orcs, Uruk-Hai, Dwarves and Rohirrin with the whole old Fellowship at my command as well. This meant I have a good starting point and so I began to do some painting to try and get the troops looking good enough to play with. My painting is still rather bad on occasion now but back then it was terrible!
You can see a few of the different warbands above and immediately I was struck by how cool the miniatures were back then, and still are. The detail is superb even on the plastics and they are a joy to paint too. It’s rare that I find myself utterly absorbed in painting something and occasionally I’ll drift off and do something else in the middle of hobbying (damn you internet) but I think I sat down and painted about twelve goblins in one sitting!
With a host of miniatures at my command and some heroes to go along with it the next step was getting my hands on the rules and working out what I had to do to get people interested in playing this game again.
Re-learning The Ropes…
A friend of mine had The Hobbit rulebook from Goblin Town and I also managed to grab myself a version of the rules for the different factions too meaning I had everything I needed to make up legal forces for the game and start out at the 200 point level the book suggests. However before I started getting ahead of myself I had to see if there were any changes to the system I’d learned over ten years ago.
The system was mostly the same with combat being decided by the rolls equal to the amount of attacks each character has and the highest being the winner. Any ties are won by the model with the highest fight value. Shooting is done by rolling on or over your shoot value and you can still use Might, Will and Fate points to adjust dice rolls in your favour or to force a particular outcome. The big change came in the use of special attacks and the way weapons work.
Weapons now have properties attached to them. Some weapons allow you to feint, allowing you to dodge away from an enemy. Others allow you to shield, protecting yourself against a mass of attacks, or piercing strike making your damage all the more nasty when it hits. It was when I read through this portion of the rules that I realised how skirmish based the game really should be. Handling something like this on a larger scale might become somewhat unwieldy but maybe that’s just an initial thought.
Needless to say I resolved myself to stick to around the 200 point mark and do skirmish based scenarios like those in the book itself or indeed character driven scenarios from the various Journey Books where you use the heroes and villains from the films. I absorbed the rules in the mini-book very quickly, it must have only taken an hour or two, and apart from the tables I was fairly sure I could start fighting right away.
The next step, now I have the rules and the miniatures, is to paint up the varying warbands and then present them at my local gaming store and say “you don’t have to buy a thing, just try this game out”. I think it’s pretty criminal that the game has been overlooked in favour of Warhammer Fantasy and Warhammer 40,000 and hopefully with a ‘no pay’ way of getting a taste of the game people will be enthused to try it out. From there the next step should hopefully be to see what they think about getting their own warband and making something that fits their likes.
Goblin Town is also quite a good investment when it comes to starting the game. It sits around the £70 mark but you get some nice terrain, a good mini-rulebook, all of the Company of Thorin, a mass of Goblins and a whole bunch of scenarios to play through too. There is a lot of content in there and I’ve watched a few people play through the Goblin Town scenarios and have lots of fun. Give a few friends one or two of the Dwarves each and let them run it a bit like a dungeon crawl with you as the evil Goblin King! Want to expand on the scenarios, easy, come up with your own using the scenery and kit provided and give the Dwarves a new challenge!
The discussion of price awoke like an angry dragon when I was talking about the game with my friends and I pointed out that as long as someone else has the rules (me) the entry cost for The Hobbit/Lord of the Rings is significantly lower than any of the other games on Games Workshop’s shelf. All you need to get started is to buy one of their boxed sets featuring a few of each kind of troop with some ranged and combat options and then paint them up. Make one of them slightly different and make him your Captain, or get yourself a special character and you’re done. That’s as near enough to 200 points as you need and you will have a competent fighting force.
The great thing about the game is that, at it’s skirmish level, it’s very tactical and you’ll find yourself warring between playing for the objective or getting that one character his next mighty kill where he’s fending off four orcs at once! Even with the basic twelve or twenty miniatures per side you can have a lot of fun and I’ve seen this come across in a whole host of videos I’ve watched by groups like the Great British Hobbit League.
Don’t Go Alone!
One of the other complaints I’ve heard about the game is that there just isn’t enough people to play. In the UK alone, with the Great British Hobbit League as a guide, there at 600 or so of them waiting and looking to play games and setting up tournaments. There are also dedicated forums about the hobby helping it grow like The Last Alliance and The One Ring and you nearly always get a warm and detailed answer to questions you ask.
On top of that there are still events run for the game and later on this year I’m reliably informed there is a rather large event talking part in Stockport and at the end of August there is the Longbottom Carnival where you can duke it out in the tournament scene. I have watched a fair few videos on the last big event in Stockport and it attracted a healthy crop of wargamers each with very different lists. Some were spammy and raised an eyebrow but most were built to fluff up (match the background) well and genuinely looked fun to play.
On The Edge Of A Knife…
It would be a real shame to see this game essentially vanish like one of the Specialist Games once Games Workshop are done with The Battle of Five Armies, which could alternately maybe revitalise the hobby (we shall see). The world is amazingly deep, the characters are fun, the rules are quick and easy to learn with loads of scenarios and such to play with added tactical depth. The models are pretty amazing too even if most of them are hard to find now. Ebay is your best friend by the way if you want some of the older miniatures!
Keep the game small, play it as a skirmish affair, play through the scenarios recreating the scenes from the movies and books and you can’t go too far wrong. There’s even a progressive campaign style version you can play called Battle Companies where you can level up your warriors and make them into heroes in their own right! “You can’t deviate from the books and movies enough in this game”. Pish I say! Treat LotR and The Hobbit as a historical game and play through things with ‘What If’ scenarios. What if Saruman didn’t turn and instead joined The Fellowship to destroy the One Ring? What if Rohan had fallen at Helm’s Deep and Minas Tirith had to hold off on it’s own?
Don’t forsake this game and I’m adamant to keep you abreast of how things go with the game when I get it down to my friendly local game store!
Do you still play?
The video at the top of the page is GBHL’s ‘Beginning Battle Report’ explaining some of the basic mechanics.