Today is quite an exciting game day for me, as I wanted to tell you all about my first game of Middle Earth Strategy Battle Game (Lord of the Rings) that took place yesterday! This may well be a very rambling blog, as I attempt to recall what happened and how it all works, so apologies in advance for that! My buddy JP is a huge fan, and has been collecting the miniatures ever since the magazine that came out in, what, 2001? Back when the movies were being made and all of that excitement was going on. A couple of times now, he’s mentioned it to me and we’ve tried to arrange a game but never seemed to get round to it, but locally to us there is quite the tournament scene, and I think after he attended such an event at the weekend, it has whetted his appetite once more.
It’s a game that has been around since the movies came out, but recently has gone through a bit of a refresh, it seems, as GW is finally devoting more time to it as a proper game, rather than letting it languish somewhere on the website. Back in December, the game celebrated 20 years and, in some respects, has made it through three editions (although not in the way we know them from 40k). When the Hobbit movies came out, GW actually improved their miniature casting processes to be able to recreate the Dwarf characters, which is quite astounding really. Indeed, the consolidation of The Hobbit line, and The Lord of the Rings line, into Middle Earth as a whole in 2018 seems to have precipitated this change, and from what I can tell, it’s turning out to be a really nice game!
I am a huge Lord of the Rings fan, of course, and have long called the LCG my favourite game of all time, even if it is bloody hard to play at times! It was the movies that got me into this position though, and while I have read the books, at the risk of being blasted as a heathen, I do prefer the film trilogy. In that respect, this game seems like it is a perfect fit, really!
There are the three ways to play that we’re all familiar with from regular GW games – open, narrative, and matched play – and I’ve heard good things about all three, if I’m honest. Narrative play allows you to recreate scenes from the movies, and we played a game that was the Balin’s Tomb scene where the Fellowship are overrun with Moria Orcs before fleeing to face something even more terrible. Matched play sounds like it should be really good as well, though, as you can take an army that is organised somewhat like warbands surrounding a leader, so you pick a hero (and there are so many, you’re kinda spoilt for choice) and then pluck a band of fighters to go with them. Hopefully next time we play, we’re going to try that out.
The game is quite straightforward, really. There is something of an alternating activation, where one player moves all his guys, then the other player moves; then one player shoots, then the other player; then one player fights, and then the other player does. So there’s very little downtime between turns. Fighting is even more dynamic still, as you essentially roll off to see who actually gets to fight, so you might not be able to attack with each of your people as the flow of battle becomes so fluid.
It’s this fight mechanic that I find really interesting. A model will have an attacks characteristic, which determines how many dice you roll. Aragorn is rolling three dice, for instance. Opponents roll together, and whoever wins the roll off then gets to “strike blows”, as they are the aggressor. So they roll to wound, comparing their strength against the opposing fighter’s defence value in a table that initially gave me palpitations as I remembered 7th edition 40k! In the case of a tie for this roll off, each model has a fight value which is used to determine the winner. In the event of a further tie, you simply roll off and on a 1-3 the evil player wins, 4-6 the good player wins.
It’s good, because while you do run the risk of not actually killing stuff on your turn, it keeps you engaged throughout the whole game, and you generally aren’t spending a whole bunch of time sat back watching stuff happening to you.
There is a lot to like about the ruleset in general, though. It somehow feels a lot cleaner than games like 40k, which seems to favour a byzantine array of moving parts. Having magic happen in the movement phase is interesting, but it does mean that it cleans up things like having to sit out a psychic phase if you don’t have anything you can do. There isn’t a great variety of weapons, which means you aren’t forever making thousands of micro-decisions about what you’re trying to do, but instead the game is kept moving along at quite a pace. It’s good, because it means that you can focus on enjoying yourself, and not trying to remember the difference between an elf bow and a normal bow.
While everybody has the basic sort of movement and fight attributes, heroes also have three others – Might, Will and Fate. These are used a little bit like command points in 40k, where you can use Might points to perform specific “heroic” actions; Will points are used to cast or resist magical powers, and Fate points are used to dodge wounds. Generally, heroes have a set amount and, once they’re gone, they’re gone. However, Aragorn generates a point of Might each turn, and Gandalf generates a point of Will each turn, which is a nice way of showing their “special” status within the narrative. As I was playing with the Fellowship, I had a lot of options available to me, which I think was quite good as a new player, because it allowed me to play with the toybox as it were. I believe in matched play, where you have fewer heroes, things are a lot more different and you really need to think about what you’re trying to do on your turn.
Something that I really enjoy is the cinematic rules that have been incorporated. For example, Boromir has the Horn of Gondor, which he can blow whenever he is outnumbered in a fight, and it forces the enemy to take a courage test. Courage is a little bit like morale, but only comes up in specific circumstances and isn’t a whole industry with its own phase – you have a courage value, and to make the test you roll 2D6 and add your value, trying to equal or exceed 10. Simple, but nice and effective! If that courage test is failed, Boromir basically wins the fight and can strike blows without needing to roll off when he is surrounded by enemies!
There are just tons of these scattered throughout the rules, and it really makes the game something quite special. It’s based on the movies, and so does take a lot of its cues from there – if you’re a Tolkien purist, you might well dislike some aspects of it, but it isn’t meant to be using the books as a reference. There are some non-movie elements like the scouring of the Shire, however, though they’re few and far between.
Now, the miniatures range seems to be undergoing a bit of a refresh at the minute, as we’re seeing a lot of characters being released in plastic, and GW seem to be giving a lot more thought to the game in general, with battle boxes and battlehost boxes available to let you quickly start an army. From what I can tell, these battlehost boxes are actually incredibly good, because you don’t need to have a lot of models to be able to play a decently-sized game, which means the investment is much better. The main issue that I can see when perusing the Middle Earth section of the website, though, is just how old some of these models are. A lot of the heroes are old metal models that have not aged well at all, and kinda put me off wanting to buy any of them, if truth be told! It could just be the paint job, of course, but some of them do look a little bit cringe-worthy. Even so, I am very tempted to get one of these battlehost boxes!
For now, though, I’ve got my own plastic Fellowship that JP got me for Christmas last year. It may have taken ten months for me to take the bait, but he’s finally hooked me into this game, that’s for sure!
7 thoughts on “Middle Earth!”
One more way to spend your time. Thank goodness you don’t have to worry about what to do w your copious spare time 😉
I would hate to be bored, you’re right! Working full time and having two small kids just isn’t enough to fill my time, really 🤣
Slacker. My coworker has 2 with a 3rd on the way. I really don’t know how he and his wife do it. I get exhausted just hearing some of his stories 😀
For you, how do you keep your kids from trashing your games or interfering when you’re playing?
I can’t imagine having a third. For starters, we don’t have the room, but two is definitely more than enough for me!!
Preventing them interfering is easy enough, as I only play games when they’ve gone to bed, or at other people’s houses 😃 Keeping them off my stuff hasn’t been so bad for now, as they’re 3 and 16mo, so having stuff in the garage or loft is sufficiently out of reach. However, under the stairs is where I keep my currently-working-on stuff, so there’s a lot of dangerous glue, paints, knives etc. They just haven’t figured out that anything of interest is under there yet, though! But I do need to re-think the hobby storage soon!