Friday, July 7, 2017

BGiME #6: “Defend the Ruins!”

Looking back over the previous entries, I see I never posted the actual play—or as they call it over at Spillforeningen the Fellowship STF, “the post-battle bat-rep breakdown”—of issue #6's Battle Game. There’s been a lot of water under the Brandywine Bridge since we played this, but I have pictures and a faint memory of what went on. This battle sees Aragorn facing off against a group of Uruk-hai who are trying to find a secret entrance into Helm’s Deep. If Aragorn can hold them off for ten rounds, Good automatically wins. If the Uruk-hai find the secret entrance before then, the number of Saruman’s servants who enter the tunnel dictate whether Good or Evil triumphs, or it’s a draw.

We played this one a few times, as it was a short scenario. I recall one battle saw the Uruk-hai gang up on Aragorn and take him down, while another had Aragorn running willie-nillie, cutting down the Uruk-hai before they could locate the entrance. It proved to be a balanced, if not especially long battle game.

The field of battle. Aragorn stands alone against five Uruk-hai!

The Uruk-hai advance and Aragon chooses his first opponent.

An Uruk-hai stalks the ruins, seeking the hidden entrance into Helm's Deep.

Aragorn rushes to stop his enemies from searching the ruins.

Get 'em! Three Uruk-hai face off against Strider.

"You'll not get past me, filth!"
That rounds out coverage of issue #6 of Battle Games in Middle-earth. We’ll pick up with issue #7 in a day or two. Thanks for stopping by!

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Back Again

It’s been just over a year since I last visited The Forsaken Inn and kept up my journey through Middle-earth. I’ll skip the details as they’re the usual ones that prevent regular blogging and it’s not as if this little corner of the ether possesses a large following. This is largely a place for personal reflection and creativity, as well as an on-going chronicle of my painting efforts. If you’re reading this, thank you for your patience.

The end of my long absence coincides with several recent developments in the world of Middle-earth gaming. Warhammer Fest last month brought exciting announcements regarding miniature wargaming in Middle-earth. As reported last year, the Strategy Battle Game is returning as the Middle-Earth SBG in Spring/Summer of 2018. Meanwhile, a steady stream of new models is trickling out from Forge World, and articles related to The Hobbit SBG are turning up in the revised White Dwarf magazine. If you’re a fan of the game, both of those happenings verge on the miraculous!

Games Workshop also announced that Battle Company rules are coming out in late 2017, which is something I’m looking forward to. The role-player in me enjoys the concept of the Battle Company campaign, wherein a small band of models gains experience and improves over the course of several battles. I’ve not actually played a Battle Company campaign, mind you, but the premise intrigues me.

Business is booming for Middle-earth in the tabletop RPG world as well. The Adventures in Middle-Earth line by Cubicle 7, which I reported on back in March of last year, was released during my absence from the Forsaken Inn. Created for use with the 5E rules of Dungeons & Dragons, AiME is truly impressive. I’ve read the player’s book and came away with high praise for what C7 has used 5E to their advantage, and the Loremaster’s book is sitting on my shelf waiting for some free time to show up in my life. Wilderland Adventures, the AiME adaption of The One Ring adventure book, Tales from Wilderland, is currently out (although I’ve not purchased it…yet), and the journey supplement, The Road Goes Ever On has been announced. I’m looking forward to that book with keen interest, as I’m sure there will be some interesting things to steal for my occasional 5E game.

The One Ring also had a slew of releases in the last year. Journeys and Maps, Erebor the Lonely Mountain, and The Adventurers Companion are all available for purchase, and the Bree supplement is up for pre-order. Forthcoming releases include Oaths of the Riddermark and The Laughter of Dragons, adventure anthologies set in Rohan and the Erebor regions respectively.

As if that isn’t enough Middle-earth gaming at the ready, The Lord of the Rings Online MMO is currently celebrating their ten-year anniversary. I’ve dabbled in it before, but now I’m playing somewhat regularly with friends I know from the RPG convention scene and social media. Although real life often gets in the way of our weekly game, the chance to explore Middle-earth whenever I have time and an internet connection pleases me greatly.

Speaking of conventions and role-playing, there’s an effort underway to have a Tolkien-themed room at North Texas RPG Convention for 2018. I’ve volunteered to run a session of either The One Ring or Adventures in Middle-Earth, as well as two sessions of the Middle-Earth SBG, which I’m hoping will be out by then. If not, I’ll run LotR/Hobbit rules and try to get people excited for the game. If there’s one thing I’ve learned as a member of the Great Britain Hobbit League Facebook page, North America is woefully underpopulated with Middle-earth miniature gamers.

Middle-earth happenings aren’t solely confined to the game realm, however. Just a few weeks ago, what is likely to be the last of Tolkien’s works edited by Christopher Tolkien, saw release. Beren and Lúthien is the second of what J.R.R. Tolkien considered the three most important stories from the First Age (these being the tale of Túrin Turambar, as recounted in The Children of Húrin, the story of Beren and Lúthien, and the Fall of Gondolin). Like The Children of Húrin, the book contains art by Alan Lee, making it just a visually beautiful as it is literarily, and it, too, sits on my shelf awaiting free time in my life so that I might escape into its tale.

As one might imagine, it was this explosion of Middle-earth escapism that got me thinking about this blog again. While my attempt to develop a regular Lord of the Rings SBG group eventually unraveled, I am playing miniature wargames with a friend on a (mostly) weekly basis. While we’ve largely been playing X-Wing and Muskets & Tomahawks, I think he might be down with the idea of doing a once-a-month game of the SBG. If so, it will give me impetus to continue my quest of working my way through the entire Battle Games in Middle-Earth series. It’s time to take up the brush and crafting tools and get back to work on building my personal, small scale, Middle-earth. Hopefully, you’ll rejoin me on the quest!

Friday, June 17, 2016

BGiME #6: Making Ruins

I’ve said it before, but constructing terrain—especially ancient and/or mysterious structures from the distant past—is one of my favorite aspects of the miniature wargaming hobby. As such, issue #6’s terrain-making chapter is my favorite one so far. The process of making more advanced ruins is presented in this issue. The techniques are simple and the results are terrific.

The “Defend the Ruins!” scenario found in this issue requires six pieces of terrain. Although any of the terrain from previous “Modelling Workshop” chapters would serve, I wanted to conjure up images of the early centuries of the Third Age and perhaps lingering relics from the Second Age of Middle-Earth in my games. So an even half-dozen ruins it must be!

The ruins are made largely with thick cardboard cut into the appropriate shapes with a craft knife, then mounted on base of thin card. Spackle is applied to give the pieces texture and, once dry, each ruin is then painted and flocked. I did these six in about a week of intermittent work, but could have easily cranked them out in a weekend if I had need to.

These are the ruins in the early stages of construction. Masking tape is applied to the cardboard edges to conceal the corrugation and create the appearance of solid stone. Each entire piece is next slathered in spackling compound. I went a little heavy in places, resulting in “frosted cake” consistency that is a bit too thick, but they still look fine for the tabletop. I finally sprinkled “sprue rubble” and a few rocks I picked up while walking to add some more details to each piece.

Once the spackling compound dried, I applied a basecoat of black spray paint for coverage.

Each of the ruins was drybrushed with a dark gray paint, followed by another drybrushing of a lighter gray, then one last layer of drybrushed off-white to pick out the final highlights. The borders of each ruin was painted a chocolate brown and a layer of grass flock was applied to finish off the ruins.

Overall, I’m tremendously satisfied with the results. The cost was negligible, making them was quick, and the technique to craft them was simple. I can easily see myself using the same method to make more elaborate ruins for a city-centric miniatures wargame. With a little snow effect flocking, similar ruins would make a great addition to a Frostgrave gaming table. Next up, we’ll see how they look on the tabletop when we play through “Defend the Ruins!”

BGiME #6: Painting Aragorn, Hero of Helm's Deep

Far more than a King...he is a Man who may command me. --Theoden
Had we been buying Battle Games in Middle-Earth as they were released on a fortnightly schedule back in 2003, issue #6 would have been an important one. With this issue, we could now discard the cardstock version of Aragorn we'd been using and replace him with a metal model as he truly deserves. This won't be the last Aragorn we paint before we come to the end of the BGiME line, but this one serves as a good place to begin.

I want to take a moment to remind the readers that, as part of my exploration of the Battle Games series, I'm painting each issue's model(s) exactly as instructed in the "Painting Workshop" section. In many cases, these means that the model won't be up to my normal standards, but it should be at least tabletop ready. I'm no Golden Demon winner, but I like to hope my skills are a bit better than the introductory level ones the readers are assumed to possess in the early issues of Battle Games in Middle-Earth.

With that in mind, allow me to present Aragorn, Hero of Helm's Deep:

Aragorn rushes to defend the Hornburg!

Apologies for the blurriness.

"I would have followed you, my brother... my captain... my king."
Even painted according to the "Painting Workshop" techniques, the final result isn't particularly poor and Aragorn makes e a nice (and powerful)  addition to the readers' growing miniature forces. We'll revisit this particular model and paint job in issue #61. Maybe we'll see a marked improvement over this beginning painting then. In the meanwhile, I think I'll shelve this version of Aragon and use my better painted model on the tabletop.

Battle Games in Middle-Earth #6 Overview

The spring has turned into summer since I last posted words here and we’ve said farewell to the rain and cold that stymies our efforts to prime and seal the painted warriors of Middle-Earth. Despite the lack of scribed words and posted reports, there’s in truth more SBG gaming happening around these parts than ever before. My efforts to beat the bushes for people interested in the SBG has borne fruit and my Facebook feed is richer than ever with Middle-Earth miniature news, thanks to my discovery of the GBHL. So, in celebration of this increased gaming activity, let’s continue our examination of Battle Games in Middle-Earth.

Battle Games in Middle-Earth #6 greets us with the stoic visage of Aragon staring at us giant-like from beyond the ramparts of Helm’s Deep. Right away, we know we’re in for some Strider-centric action this issue. The enclosed miniature model, selected from the “Heroes of Helm’s Deep” boxed set and depicting Aragorn rushing into battle clad in his chainmail hauberk, confirms our suspicions.

As always, the issue begins with the “Guide to Middle-Earth” section. Issue #6 is focused on Aragorn, Hero of Helm’s Deep. It recounts his journey from a Ranger in the wild to the fateful council in Rivendell to his efforts to defend the Ringbearer and rescue Merry and Pippin from the clutches of Saruman’s Uruk-hai. The article ends by setting us up for the rest of the issue, discussing Aragorn’s apparent death and subsequent arrival at Helm’s Deep at the cusp of the Battle for the Hornburg.

“Playing the Game” offers up a new wrinkle in the movement rules: climbing, jumping, and falling. Having mastered the basics of movement and the role terrain plays on model movement in the game in previous issues, BGiME #6 provides rules for moving miniatures up, down, over, and across terrain, obstacles, and barriers. It describes the differences between barriers and difficult terrain, presents rules and charts for determining a model’s success in scaling or leaping across obstacles, and the consequences of falling from heights. Thanks to these new rules, tabletop battles are no longer limited to two dimensions. The section closes with notes on how barriers affect trapped models in the Fight phase and gives the reader rules for concealing warriors by laying them prone behind terrain and how to determine if the enemy spots them.

The “Battle Game” chapter includes a new and interesting scenario, “Defend the Ruin!” This scenario depicts a classic “what if?” situation: Could Aragorn stop a band of brutal Uruk-hai intent on sneaking into the Glittering Caves and massacring the women and children of Rohan? Not only is this a challenging scenario for the players, it also features the first time limit on a game we’ve so far seen in BGiME. The Evil player has just ten rounds to find the secret entrance to the Glittering Caves and get his Uruk-hai inside before Rohan reinforcements come to Aragorn’s aid. Given that neither Good nor Evil player knows the location of the secret entrance at the start of the game, and that Aragorn must stop or slow down five brutal orcs to achieve victory, this scenario isn’t easy for either side to score a decisive victory. In typical fashion, we’ll look at “Defend the Ruins!” in more depth in a later post.

“Painting Workshop” describes techniques and offers useful tips for painting our new Aragorn model. Much of the information is material we’ve seen before, but the concept of customizing miniature bases is introduced with a “top tip” instructing the reader to adorn Aragorn’s base with a small stone painted in appropriate gray tones. Anyone who has done excessive base modeling for their figures knows that this is the first small step towards a gentle madness!

Issue #6 ends with the “Modelling Workshop” section and it’s an excellent one. This chapter is filled with detailed instructions on constructing ruins of far better quality and appearance than the simple one from issue #2. Using basic, inexpensive materials such as thick cardboard and Spackle, the reader can craft impressive-looking, yet crumbling relics from a previous time in Middle-Earth. These ruins make fantastic terrain, barriers to be breached or defended, or objectives to be taken or held. I was personally inspired to make six ruins for my table after reading this chapter and they all look fantastic.

The issue closes with the usual sneak peek at the next magazine’s contents. We see that we have a sprue of Rohan Warriors headed our way in issue #7, as well as new rules for defending barriers, tips on building walls and fences, and a scenario pitting Rohan against rampaging Uruk-hai. Sounds like a great issue! We’ll cover it in the weeks ahead. Until then, let’s take a further look at the fun stuff in Battle Games in Middle-Earth #6.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

BGiME #5: Making a Gaming Area

The terrain workshop feature for this issue takes a larger look at the game—literally. Instead of providing instructions on how to craft a piece of terrain to liven up your playing field, it focuses on the playing field itself. It’s time to make a battle board!

While every one of us would love to have a fully-modelled terrain board, time, money, and space issues often preclude it. Instead, a basic flat battle board decorated with scattered terrain must suffice. Creating one is a fairly simple task, but options exist to improve upon the basic version.

Due to space and storage issues, I decided to construct my board from two 2’×4’ pieces of MDF board instead of a singe 4’×4’ piece. A two-piece board easily slides under a bed or stands at the back of a closet, allowing for quick storage when company comes over and they don’t want to play the SBG for some reason. While I’d love to cover the board with grass matting, I decided to hold off for now. My concern was that the extra bulk of the grass gaming mat would prevent the two boards from meeting snuggly, leaving a small ravine down the center when assembled for gaming. When new digs allow, I intend to rebuild or replace the board with something more eye-pleasing.

Since I couldn’t cover the board with grass matting, I decided to make it a multi-purpose battle board. One side was painted grass green to represent your average battle field, but the reverse side was given a coat of gray paint. This stony coloration makes it a cinch to model scenarios set in Moria or on the scarred plains of Mordor. Simply flip the boards and you’re ready to rumble in Balin’s Tomb or at the Black Gate.

The stage is set for battle.

Yes, it's a convertible!

Down in the dark of Moria or in the shadow of Mount Doom...

The irony is that, now that I have a suitable gaming board, my efforts to locate fellow gamers have forced us to play at the local games store rather than at home. I have no desire to haul the board there and back every three weeks, so it sits unused so far. One of these days, however, I’ll get a game going closer to home and break it out to break it in. I’ll be sure to document that event and post photos and recaps here.

That wraps up issue #5! This coming Sunday is the next meeting of the local SBG group and we’ll kick things off with the scenario included in Battle-Games in Middle-Earth #6. Look for complete coverage of that issue in the weeks ahead. Until then, happy battling!

Monday, April 18, 2016

BGiME #5: “The Hunt of the Uruk-hai”

I’ve slowly been building a network of local gamers interested in playing the SBG, beating the bushes and trying the drive these outcasts back into the daylight. We’ve managed to meet twice now in the last six weeks, playing some on the scenarios from Battle Games to introduce players to the game. We average two scenarios a meeting, playing each one twice to allow players the opportunity to experience the battles as both Good and Evil.

“The Hunt of the Uruk-hai” was the second scenario we played at our last meeting. As such, I was flying high on endorphins from our first two matches (re-plays of “Elven Attack” from issue #4) and failed to take as many pictures as I’d hoped. It’s always a sure sign the game is going well when you forget about everything but what’s happening on the tabletop. Please excuse the scant pictures documenting the scenario.

“Hunt” features Aragorn and Frodo facing off against Lurtz and four Uruk-hai warriors, representing the events at Amon Hen in the climax of The Fellowship of the Ring. Aragorn and Frodo are separated from the rest of the Fellowship and need to get the Ringbearer to safety in order to win. The Uruk-hai must capture or kill the hobbit and bring the One Ring back to Saruman.

 I started as the Good forces and, being hindered by Frodo’s 4” move each round, cautiously worked my way towards a hedgerow near my edge of the board. Aragon carries a bow with greater range and Strength than Lurtz, and I wanted to use the hedge row as both cover for the ranger and as a sight barrier for Frodo. Lurtz and his crew advanced and Aragon shot, but the heavy Uruk-hai armor protected the orcs from his arrows.

I worked my way down the edge of the hedgerow on the subsequent turn, keeping Frodo nearby but out of sight. The Uruks closed in, matching my movement on the opposite side of the hedge. A lucky shot from Lurtz inflicted a wound on Aragorn the following round, but I had the forces of Evil in my sights. One the very next turn, Aragorn managed to charge three of the Uruk-hai, allowing Frodo to make a wide run towards the right edge of the board. My plan was to keep him “running down the sidelines” where the terrain was clearer so as to not reduce his already pathetic movement rate. Aragorn took out one of the Uruk-hai as Lurtz closed in on the ranger. But one of the orcs chased after Frodo, managing to charge him and keep him from fleeing.

The next two turns saw a pitched melee, but both Frodo and Aragorn managed to hold their own. The Ranger lopped off a few more Uruk-hai heads before Lurtz was forced to charge in and support his warriors. A poor tactical decision by Evil freed up Frodo to run further towards the safety. However, it was Aragorn’s sword that won the day, dispatching the last of the Uruk-hai and their commander before Frodo reached the opposite end of the board. Chalk up a win for Good!

We swapped sides after the first game, allowing me to take on the mantle of Evil commander. My plan was to let Lurtz hang back and employ his bow as much as possible while his underlings moved in to slow down Aragorn and his cursed hobbit friend.

Beginning gambits
 My Uruk-hai advanced in a line, moving swiftly to cover ground while Aragorn and Frodo crept towards the center of the board at the Ringbearer’s slow movement rate. Lurtz rattled off an arrow whenever terrain allowed a clear shot. A lucky strike managed to pierce Frodo’s mithril coat, inflicting a wound, bringing the forces of Evil halfway to victory!

The Uruk-hai advance!
With a blow struck, Good played very cautiously, allowing me to close the distance as well as getting themselves pinned in the corner of the playing field. A small hill in that vicinity was considered difficult terrain for this scenario, meaning Frodo was limited to a mere 2” of movement if he dared ascend it and use its rocky outcropping for cover. I dispatched one Uruk-hai to chase down the halfling while the rest charged Aragorn, pooling their numbers to have a chance versus his 3 attacks and high Fighting score.

Frodo ascended the hill, much to my delight, and my Uruk-hai warrior ran him down. The noose closed around Aragorn as Lurtz, sensing it was time for the commander to join the fray, rushed towards the battle. The dice were rolled…and my Uruk-hai were sent back, one falling slain by the ranger. Frodo’s hobbit luck and mithril coat saved him from a lethal blow and he retreated back down the hill.

Battle on and below the hill
From there, the battle was joined as all the remaining forces of Evil encroached upon Frodo and Aragon and I smelled victory was near. But, as things are wont to do in these games, the tide turned when a series of lucky rolls by the Goodies dispatched more of my Uruks, leaving just Lurtz to take the halfling alive. The mighty Uruk-hai commander tried to charge the Ringbearer, but the priority roll deemed that Good would go first and Aragon stopped Lurtz cold. The dice rolled one last time and, as in the movie, Saruman’s champion was cut down by the heir of Arnor and Gondor. Good had triumphed once more!

Despite Good’s two wins, the scenario was a fun one, a quick little match to whet the appetite for battles yet to come. I feel I had a strong strategy when playing as Evil, but the dice turned against me at a critical time. I look forward to replaying this one again someday and see if I can do better.

Next up, a look at my finished game board as we close out our look at Battles in Middle-Earth #5.