The Lord of the Rings Strategy Game: Part One   7 comments

There and Back Again.

(or my trip to the mall to meet a guy selling this game on Kijiji)

New blogger here!

I have recently (late July 2011) become a fan of the minis game Lord of the Rings Strategy Game by Games Workshop.  Justin & Andrew had talked about trying this game at some point but I have to credit my friend Chris Cormier for piquing my interest when he told me of a Kijiji post by someone selling this game.   I had also had a brief conversation with Andrew where he told me that this game was supposed to be good at replicating the “back and forth” nature of sword fighting.  As a fan of LOTR, I decided to investigate this game further.

I checked Kijiji shortly after speaking with Chris and found a prepainted version of the starter box entitled the Lord of the Rings: The Mines of Moria.  This box set included a shortened rule set for the GW game as well as several scenarios including Balin’s Tomb.  It was of course, the prepainted aspect of this sale that had me sold (and for half the cost of the unpainted version found in any GW store!)

At this point I should backtrack for a bit.

Gamers who know me know that I detest painting minis.  I don’t mind playing them, but it is the time involved in painting the minute details that bugs me.  My eyesight is starting to go as well as my patience, so lets just say, I don’t want to use my time prepping to play a game when I’d rather be playing it. (yes, I’ve been known to “mod” games, but that is different!)

My other love/hate experience with collectable miniature gaming has to do with what I perceive as a structural “sameness” to the genre and the reliance on collecting for the sake of finding that “edge” over your opponent.  Most of the games I have tried give you a points budget and the players proceed to buy units in the hope of making a cohesive fighting force that will pummel your opponent.  This business model is great for publishers that want to make money as players buy Army books of multiple factions, scour the internet for tips and existing combos and then go out and purchase the necessary figures to make their uber-list based army.  Then when they lose, they do it all over again, and again and again.  Suddenly, you find yourself in a tabletop arms race where tons of time has been spent studying stats and digging deep into your wallet….and as soon as you start to get a grasp of a specific rule set, WHAM!  we all buy into a new minis game!

Now up to this point, I have previously bought into War Machine (which confirmed my dislike for painting) and Uncharted Seas as well as the prepainted games Confrontation – The Age of Ragnarok and AT-43 and the partially prepainted game Arcane Legions.  (I’ve also purchased boardgames that use prepainted collectable minis like Monsterpocalypse, World of Warcraft, Wings of War, and Axis & Allies War at Sea.)  I have tried other collectable minis games like Battlefield Evolution, Warhammer Fantasy, Anima Tactics, and Malifaux.  My point is that I have tried several other systems though I am certainly not an expert in any of them. I found them to be enjoyable but they suffer from some or all of my main criticisms previously given.

So with some trepidation, I purchased the LOTR MoM box set from the guy on Kijiji when I met him at Scarborough Town Centre.  Just prior to that, I went to the GW store in the mall just to see what other figures and books they had. A Salesperson approached me and I told him I was getting into the LOTR game but that I was worried about the painting aspect of miniature games in general.  He proceeded to give me a 5 minute tutorial on how to paint “table ready” Warhammer 40K units.  The ease of this demo surprised me.  After 5 minutes, I had painted a space marine and dry brushed some highlights on him.  It didn’t look bad at all!  I thanked the salesperson and proceeded to look at the LOTR stuff on the shelves.  I was intrigued by the Journeybooks which contained many scenarios but I thought I should try the game out first before I bought more of it.  So, once I completed the sale with the Kijiji guy, I went home, and opened the box.

The Fellowship face off against a ferocious cave troll.

Included in this box set were 24 Moria goblins, the entire Fellowship (9 figures) and 1 large Cave Troll.  There were also 4 pillars, some rubble, and the door to Balin’s Tomb.

The paint job by the previous owner was decent and I found that my only additions were to add a wash to them, change the flocking to match my terrain, and repaint the pillars.

Right away, I was drawn into the theme by the figures and descriptions in the rulebook. These were characters that I “knew”.  The rule set supported their abilities as I have seen in the movies and in the books.  There were no made up “combo” based special abilities with which experienced players could blindside opponents with.  Each set of stats seemed to be accurate representations of what the characters can do.  As I perused the rules, it became clear that this was a game of tactics using familiar scenarios that had preset unit lists and clear objectives.  It didn’t matter which “side” players played as the scenario’s winning conditions and predetermined unit lists made it a game that would be fun no matter which side the players chose.  Figure stats were simple and realistic.  Weird terminology that necessitated rulebook lookups was kept to a minimum.  No obscure iconography either.  I would have liked to have seen card summaries for each character/unit, but it was not to be.  Games Workshop never provides those anyways and they are no problem for me to make.  There were character summaries on the back of the scenario booklet however.

The rules for magic were equally impressive to me.  In the game, Magic has its limitations and can take its toll on the user.  There weren’t never-ending lists of  spells that could be used as commonly as a ranged weapon.  This was a risk management based rule set that could be exhausted by the user.  In other words, magic is to be used sparingly and in so doing, it becomes “special”.  Just like in the movies!

Now when I actually played a couple of games, I was pleasantly surprised.  During my brief dabbling in various minis games, figures usually end up congregating in the middle of the table where melee prevented further movement and the various tricks/combos and dice rolling decided the rest.  In this game, combat is simultaneous with the loser having to retreat its base width in length.  This is important as it frees figures to reposition or re-engage depending on what the initiative winner wanted to do.  This allowed characters to choose different targets if need be or retreat to a better position.  Ah – fluid movement within the context of melee combat!  This was the back and forth sword fighting that Andrew had heard about.  I won’t go into the advanced rules here but I just want to mention that they provide even more options for heroic characters who often find themselves vastly outnumbered.

So I played the Balin’s Tomb scenario twice and enjoyed the feel of the game tremendously.  Simple, yet effective.  Winning conditions were different for each side yet gameplay seemed balanced.  Heroes fought battles from one side of the table and ran over to another side. Dynamic, simple and fun!

…and as is often the case with collectors, my mindset began its path down a road well-travelled:

I wanted more.

next: Part Two – An Unexpected Journey (or my encounter with the Journeybooks and how everything started to change)


7 responses to “The Lord of the Rings Strategy Game: Part One

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  1. Oh-oh! Now I feel responsible! 8)
    Can’t wait to try this one!

  2. “Most of the games I have tried give you a points budget and the players proceed to buy units in the hope of making a cohesive fighting force that will pummel your opponent.”

    I had a lot of fun playing LotR and I agree with everything here from within the context of the scenarios that are written for LotR SBG. However, at its heart, it is the same as those other games. It has a list building competitive mode of play that is probably how most people play. I am not very interested in trying this game in that mode as I find that this often causes the casual player quite a bit of distress as synergies and combos they didn’t even realize existed get tabled against them overwhelming what they thought was a fun force to play.

    • heh, you’re getting ahead of my blog as I’m still catching up on several months of experience with this game. My first post only covers the late summer.

      “I am not very interested in trying this game in that mode as I find that this often causes the casual player quite a bit of distress as synergies and combos they didn’t even realize existed get tabled against them overwhelming what they thought was a fun force to play.”

      actually, you couldn’t try it and be effective in “points” mode unless you did some or all of the following: a) buy into the game, b)look for combos via sourcebook research or online c) collect units and build an army to effect those combos/synergies…etc. etc., rinse, repeat. ….which has to do with my main praise for this game. You don’t need to. 🙂

      anyways, I was going to mention the points system in the next blog or two, how it is different in combination with the abundance of scenarios, and how I chose to ignore it as well as being grateful for the choice. And then there’s the difficulty in creating a game based on well known existing subject matter.- but now I’m getting ahead of myself.

      • Yeah, for sure. And I mostly meant that I was so satisfied with the game as you have introduced me to it that I don’t see the need to move in that direction anyhow. Certainly it has not let me down with regards to simulating that back and forth of heroic sword play. So far I have felt that the scenarios we have played have felt very cinematic. Looking forward to all the follow up posts on this game.

  3. Have to say I am a huge fan of the Mines of Moria – it is a great intro to this world of gaming, and even roped in a few non-miniature wargamers into trying it out only because it was small, self-contained and had the commercial appeal that they could recognise names etc. I love this series, and probably have more LOTR minis than any other, and still use the mines instead of the War of the Ring to play out dif scenarios. I couldn’t agree more with the “flee” function that frees up gameplay, even if it almost always leads to follow-up massacre!
    What I have to ask is if you have any experience of Warmaster or more specifically Battle of the Five Armies, as I am on the verge of getting this obsolete game just because it is a self-contained unit, and I would value any advice from someone in the know!
    Thanks a million!

    • Me as well. I found the scenario for Balin’s tomb to be a fun and dynamic introduction to minis gaming. Les and I have been exploring the various scenarios available and have recently started using the special abilities and hero points (or whatever they are called). There is a lot of depth in this game.

      As for Warmaster, not sure if Les has played but I know Loy (the Dark Elf contributor here) and Rob (the Dwarf contrib.) both have played Warmaster. I will draw their attention to this comment and see if we can get you some feedback.

      By the way, I’m about to start into my copy of Dreadfleet. Your blog is going to be very useful. Good work!

      All the best,


      • Thanks, Andrew! I appreciate you passing the comment on too – I am wondering whether to invest or no – miniature war-gaming is a small (read:almost non-existent) community here in Ireland, and nobody I know personally has Warmaster or BoFA, so am interested in opinions before hopefully investing and blazing a trail!

        Best of luck with Dreadfleet, but I am certain you’ll do a more complete job than myself. You know when you set yourself a task, and suddenly regret the deadline schedule?! I have another ship just finished for today’s post, but each one is taking longer and I’m ironically taking shorter cuts with the painting – I know it’ll show too, so a break may be in order.
        My only advice that I am qualified to give you would be, don’t let the sails put you off the rest of the model – they’re tough to get through without a million touch-ups that show glaringly on the shallow sculpt, but the models themselves are a dream.

        Thanks again for your help!

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