Thursday, June 11, 2015

Battle Games in Middle-Earth Issue #1 Overview

So with the preliminaries out of the way and our introductions made, let’s get down to one of the main reasons this blog exists: to work our way through the Battle Games in Middle-Earth periodical and have some fun in the process. I’m not the first to attempt such an endeavor—others have done it better—but that’s no reason to avoid a good time!

Battle Games in Middle-Earth debuted in 2002, but the exact month escapes my research. The very first issue demonstrated the format that would remain largely unchanged throughout its ninety-one issue run: five sections covering various subject matter. The first section is “Guide to Middle-Earth,” which contains general information about the world and occupants of Middle-Earth. In RPG circles, this would be the “fluff” chapter—a section that provides colorful details and pertinent information, but no hard game mechanics or tools. The “Guide to Middle-Earth” in issue #1 introduces each member of the Fellowship of the Ring via a photo portrait, provides a map of Middle-Earth, and presents a glimpse at some of the battles Aragon participated in. 

The second section is “Playing the Game.” In every issue, this chapter introduces the reader to the rules of The Lord of the Rings Strategy Battle Game. Rather than a single, massive information dump, “Playing the Game” presents the rules piecemeal, allowing the reader to digest them in small bits and experiment with how they work in actual play. In this issue, “Playing the Game” lists the materials the reader will need to play the SBG—tape measure, dice, record sheets, pencils, figures, a place to play, and so forth. Once those are in hand, the reader can turn to the next section and immediately start playing.

The third section is “Battle Game.” Every issue of Battle Games of Middle-Earth features either a scenario to play or a battle report of an actual game intended to instruct the reader and teach potential strategies. Not every issue has a scenario, but they far outnumber the battle reports, descriptions of actual play which tend to extend across two back-to-back issues. 

“Battle Game” in issue #1 not only includes a basic skirmish scenario, “Goblin Ambush,” but also contains an extremely simplified version of the SBG rules so that the reader can begin experiencing the game as soon as he gets the magazine home. The rules are basic and stripped to the bone, but succeed in teaching the four phases that comprise every turn of the SBG: Priority, Move, Shoot, and Fight. This knowledge is vital to learning the complete game and the “Battle Game” chapter demonstrates them clearly and, most importantly, by getting the reader to actually use them. 

“Goblin Ambush” is a basic “fight-or-flight” scenario. Aragon has stirred up a lair of goblins and must either escape the battlefield or kill all the goblins. The goblins merely seek to slay the Ranger. To make things even (theoretically), the Good side controls only Aragon, while the Evil side has twelve goblins at his command. Luckily, the goblins are broken up into three groups and Aragon is a mighty hero with three attacks every Fight phase. He might not be as doomed as he appears!

The fourth section is “Painting Workshop,” a chapter dedicated to instructing the reader how to paint his miniatures and teaching various techniques of increasing skill as the magazine series progresses. Issue #1 is dedicated to getting the 12 Moria Goblins included with the first issue off their sprues and onto the table as quickly as possible. Issue #1 also came with a brush and four paint pots to get the would-be wargaming hobbyist off and running. After reading this section and following its instruction, the reader would have twelve table-ready goblins prepared to face off against Aragorn. The Aragorn miniature itself wouldn’t appear for several more issues, but Battle Games of Middle-Earth provides a stop-gap solution: a cardstock sheet of twelve fold-up figures including the entire Fellowship, Elrond, Gamling, and Eowyn. These figures would be utilized in “Battle Games” appearing in later issues.

The magazine closes with my favorite section: “Modeling Workshop.” This chapter introduces a new terrain project in each issue, beginning with the simplest of wargame table decorations and ending in complex projects that are centerpieces for battles. Issue #1 teaches the reader how to create the most basic of battlefields—a table or floor, one perhaps covered by a cloth, blanket, or towel, with books piled underneath to form hills and valleys. The section also features a very brief overview of commercially available scenery and terrain, as well as a galley of “Dream Battlefields.” These intricate battlefields will be familiar to anyone reading the SBG rulebook or who has perused issues of White Dwarf. These well-constructed and beautifully decorated battlefields are intended to get the reader’s juices flowing and induce dreams of the elaborate tabletops he will build once he has mastered the tricks of the “Modeling Workshop.” Or at least that’s what it did to me.

The back cover of the magazine provides a preview of the next upcoming issue, advertising what new miniatures the periodical has in store for the reader, as well as ad copy on the subjects covered in the five sections of the magazine. In many issues, the next two Battle Games in Middle-Earth are advertised, showing the reader a full month of content in advance. Issue #1’s back cover informs us that we’ll be seeing a sprue of elves and men of Gondor, as well as some additional colored paint pots in issue #2 and to look for a Frodo miniature and one more paint pot in issue #3. I can hardly wait for the next fortnightly issue to arrive at my newsagent! 

And there we have it, the inaugural issue of Battle Games in Middle-Earth. If only it had been available in America in 2002, I might have succumbed to the wargaming bug much sooner. In a forthcoming post I’ll get my hands dirty with issue #1 by painting some goblins as if I were a first-timer and taking the “Goblin Ambush” scenario out for a spin. I think things might turn out bad for those goblins…

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