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Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Lord of the Rings- Why Not?

Sorry, couldn't resist!
I'm a big fan of Lord of the Rings (LotR)- the Strategy Battle Game, not War of the Ring (WotR) (that's a separate article, if I ever get around to it.) I think it has a lot going for it as a wargame, and thought I'd put fingers to keyboard to talk about it.

To start, here's what the Games Workshop (GW) website has to say:

"...The Lord of The Rings Strategy Battle Game allows you to recreate some of the best-known events from the book and films. This system is suited to small skirmishes fought between bands of heroes, such as the battle in Balin's Tomb, the fateful ambush at Amon Hen and many of the other scenes depicted in the books and films. If you've ever wanted to control the fabled Fellowship of The Ring or unleash the Black Riders, this could be the game for you..."

First of all- ignore all that. I think that one of the greatest misconceptions of LotR is that it's used to re-enact scenes from the films. Yes, it can be used to do this- but that's not it's key selling point!

So, if it's not a re-enactment game, then what is it?

It is, in fact, an elegant game that relies on strategy and tactics to achieve an objective, and incredibly simple at its core. (Who doesn't want that in a wargame?) Movement, shooting and combat are all quick to learn and play; the complexity comes from the interactions of the heroes and minions.

I'm going to break this down into the hobby journey- Starting up (Cost), Model range, Start Gaming, Continued Gaming, Support. I'm using this system simply because it's the way most people get into a new game- they find out about it, figure out they can afford it and buy a few models and the rulebook, have a few quick games and then if they like it, go further. 

Starting Up

This is good

Well, the good news is that it's relatively simple to get hold of, as long as you can find an opponent. In fact, go into any Games Workshop and tell the staff that you are thinking about getting into Lord of the Rings, and watch their eyes light up :) The Rulebook is about the best Games Workshop have ever produced. It has:

Full Rules- every last little rule is in the book, and it's complete. There are hardly any ambiguous rules, and the short GW FAQ clears them all up. From GW, that's impressive all in itself.

Full Army Lists- There are expansions, but they just add extra layers of complexity. At the end of the day, if you buy any LotR plastic box, then the rules are in the Rulebook. No Codicii/Army Books necessary.

Scenarios- There's 3 key scenarios in the book. Then there's another few later on. Oh, and some more- I think there's 12 scenarios in total. then there's full rules for ships and raiding battles, with ship-to-ship combat. Which leads nicely on to....

Modelling/painting section- the usual is in here- plus loads more! Information on how to make simple terrain (with walk through), templates for banners and scenery, painting guides on how to paint lots of models simply and quickly.

This rulebook is, undoubtedly, worth the £35 price tag. ($57.75) 

So that's the rules- I am assuming that you already have dice, tape-measure etc. If you don't and you found this article- then thanks to whoever told you about me :) Oh, and DON'T BUY THE MINES OF MORIA BOX! the value for money you get in the Rulebook is inversely proportional to the value for money of the Starter Box. Here's why:

This is NOT good

What army do you want to play in LotR? What really grabs your attention? Let's say, for example, that you've settled on Gondor and Uruk-Hai. So you buy a plastic box of each, and the rulebook- that's set you back £69- that's £9 more than the Core Box. However, you don't have a rulebook missing half of the units in the game (I'll ignore the loss of the hobby section and scenarios for now), and you don't have the horrendous miss-match of 30 Goblins and a Troll vs The Fellowship! Small wonder that the people who bought this bow then didn't buy any more models!

That being said, the biggest obstacle to starting, realistically, is the lack of players. it is far easier to find a 40K opponent than a LotR one- so either convince your friends to start (£50 will buy you infantry, cavalry and heroes) or buy two armies and put on some games (thereby convincing them to start :) )

Pro's- cheap, good quality, complete
Con's- if you buy the starter box, you'll never play; lack of opponents

Model Range

Pictured: GW figures

One of the best-kept secrets in Lenton is that they have a complete game- LotR (not WotR- they are still behind on that one!) Every model with rules has been released. there are a few concepts "out there"- the Elf Chariot mentioned in Legions is the most notable, but every stat-line published has a figure to go with it. 

Think about that for a second. You've bought the Rulebook, settled on a faction, and bought the Sourcebook for them- and that's it! You now have everything you need to play- apart from models.

Now, opinion of the models is pretty much polarised. People either love them or hate them (Lord of the Marmite expansion a possibility? :) ) The big difference is that they are "true 28mm." that means that 6 foot is scaled down to 28mm. Over the last few years there have been a few exceptions, but since not much has been released in the last few years, that's not really a problem. 

What it means is that, compared to other model ranges (which are most commonly "heroic 28mm," or more accurately 32mm) the LotR models look a bit.... strange. They lack all the bling a definition that you get with other figures. Personally, I quite like the simple look and feel of the models- they are like artist renderings. When you look at them, they help create the picture of what they represent, rather than trying to be an exact copy in miniature (which usually confuses the eye and makes models look cluttered.) 

Best way to find out if you like GW figures- check them out here. Want alternatives? Look at these

Pro's- Complete range, Inexpensive
Con's- True 28mm, Love or Hate

Start Gaming

You've got all the bits you need, and 2 armies, and an opponent. There are who-knows how many scenarios to play, both in the book and online. The important bit to get your head around is the interaction between Heroes and Goons. Now there are a few great elements to LotR:

  • Player initiative is random each turn. So you can't set up the ultimate game-ending move with any kind of reliability- there's always a 50/50 chance you'll lose out.
  • Heroes are immensely powerful, but will fall if they are not well supported- there are very, very few "Deathstars" in LotR
  • All models are individual- everyone acts by themselves, there are no fixed units, so you can peel a few guys off to hold up an enemy flank, support the rear etc. This makes for fluid gameplay, and the need to think about strategy during the game rather than just before it.
Once you get the hang of the rules (which should take about 2 games) then you can start to get to grips with the gameplay- and I think that's where LotR really shines!

Pro's- Encourages strategy, tactics and good use of the force available to you.
Con's- Umm.... well, you need a table, I guess that might be difficult? :) 

Continue Gaming

By this point, you are either convinced by LotR or you're not. It is worth mentioning that a few things became apparent to me over time:

  • The use of Legions of Middle Earth is a huge benefit.It gives you a template for army lists, bow limit and a balanced playing field for non-themed games. Added benefit- there's even more scenarios in this book!
  • LotR runs best when Good factions fight Evil. There is nothing stopping you, running Good vs Good, or Evil vs Evil, but every now and again game-balance issues can crop up.
  • Don't play games bigger than 700 points, unless you've put a lot of thought into it. Rolling for combat with 100 models takes forever!
The one thing that really hooks me with LotR is the visual effect of the battles. Once the two armies close with each other, the line starts to bow as models die or are pushed back. This leads to a flowing line of battle, as seen in countless Hollywood movies- none of the "static box" formations that are often seen in wargames here! Eventually, a few models (usually Heroes :) ) will break through the line, and Goons will rush in to support- at this point, the enemy line either reasserts itself or splits. The ebb and flow of battles is captured beautifully.

On the other hand, the end game can take forever. Models die slowly in LotR (usually!), and a lot of scenarios will force the game to go on just a little too long. As a rule of thumb, once I've clearly lost (my forces are out of position, seriously weakened and have started to rout) I'll concede, rather than keep rolling Courage tests and watching my men get slaughtered. Often, this is so that I can squeeze in another game.

Pro's- Huge range of Scenarios, great "feel" to the games
Con's- End game


If GW was a Balrog...

This is where GW really let themselves down. Support for LotR is lack-luster at best. They had a stab at breathing life back into the franchise with WotR, but that was poorly conceived (in my opinion.) If it's already out, then great. If, on the other hand, you are waiting with baited breath for something to be released, then I recommend talking to Necron, Wood Elf and Dark Eldar players and asking them how it felt to wait for years in the Hobby Wilderness. Luckily, as I said before, LotR is pretty much complete. Yes, they can add more to it (and I really wish they would support it) but everything that you want or need to play is available. With the exception of terrain of course- you'll need to make your own.

Pro's- Complete product, lots of variants for gameplay already exist
Con's- Unlikely there will be anything huge in the future for LotR, and Lenton has basically forgotten it exists


This would be one of the few ways to improve LotR

To sum up- Why not? (the original question- see the title!) There is no reason for you to not play this game- stop listening to the GW haters who won't touch it because it's different. Pick up a copy, try it and play it- it's definitely worth it.
Final point- you can kill these as many times as you want!

Comments, as always, are welcome.

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