Monday, July 13, 2015

BGiME #2: Creating a Simple Ruin

I have a love affair with making smaller versions of big things that goes back to the first time I ever saw a museum diorama. I’m utterly fascinated by the skill and labor it takes to reproduce the real world in a smaller scale and just seeing a well-crafted scenic diorama or tabletop battlefield or model railroad layout always immediately transforms me into a joyful child. It’s no wonder that my favorite section of Battle Games in Middle-Earth is the “Modelling Workshop” chapter of the magazine.

Issue #2 contains instructions for creating an extremely simple ruin for your battlefield, a piece crafted from thin and thick card and a craft knife. It’s the sort of project that takes less an hour if you don’t count the time it takes for the glue to dry. Simply bisect a square of thick card with a jagged, ruined wall-type cut, glue the two section together back to back, and stick it to a square of thin card. A coat of green and gray paint later and you’ve got yourself your first piece of scratch-built wargame terrain.

Defend this crumbling corner of Arnor!
The base of thin card warped when painted.

Nothing fancy, but it works.

The simple ruin provides cover for a squad of Grey Company Dunedain.

Let’s face it: this is a beginner project and doesn’t have much shelf-life as a piece of terrain. Even the project in issue #3 is more advanced and better looking than this one and the ruin is going to be swiftly replaced by more impressive scenery. Does that make crafting this simple ruin a waste of time? Not completely. 

First, for the neonate wargamer, it gets them scratch-building early and thinking about better projects they might want to tackle. Secondly, it serves fine in a pinch to add a little more variation to the battlefield or to act as an objective point. Thirdly, this is prime hand-me-down terrain. If you have children hanging around you regularly, you know they tend to become interested in whatever Dad, Mom, Uncle John, Cousin Bill, etc. is doing and might want to start playing with little soldiers themselves—even if they don’t use dice, tape measures, or other things like rules. This piece, quick and cheaply made, it something you wouldn’t mind letting them use when they play or as a project you could create with them as a lazy Sunday afternoon activity. I’ll keep my simple ruin on my shelf for now and I might put it to use a few issues from now when we play through the “Defend the Ruins!” scenario found in issue #6.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

BGiME #2: “The Last Alliance” Battle Report

On the same evening we ran “Goblin Ambush,” we followed up the mini-tournament with the scenario “The Last Alliance” from Battle Games in Middle-Earth #2. This battle saw a dozen Moria Goblins facing off again a mixed group of High Elves and Men of Gondor. The premise was that, prior to the conflict on the slopes of Mount Doom, a small group of goblins attempts to break through the lines of the Good forces to summon reinforcements. It is up the Last Alliance to stop the goblins from escaping by eliminating all twelve Moria Goblin models, while the Evil player(s) need only get a single miniature across the opposite edge of the table to win. Scott and I played the forces of Good as we faced off against Dave and Tom as the minions of Sauron.

Set-up was that each side had to have all their models touching the appropriate edge of the battlefield, but could be otherwise positioned as desired. Scott and I divided the Elves and Men up evenly between us with each controlling two Men of Gondor, two Elven bowmen, and two Elven Warriors. Dave and Tom did the same with their Goblins, with each responsible for two archers and four warriors. As the forces of Good, Scott and I had Priority in the first round.

The forces face off. Who shall be the victor?
“For NĪmenor and Elbereth Gilthoniel!”

The goblins advance tentatively, knowing they’re almost certainly in range of the elven bows.

High Elf warriors rush to meet their green-skinned foes.

The slower goblins creep forward as elven arrows rain down upon them.

One goblin has already fallen as the two sides approach the middle of the battlefield.

The forces of Good and Evil clash as close combat erupts!

Measure twice, slay once!

Men of Gondor close in on a goblin archer.

The toll has been heavy on the forces of Evil and only two goblins remain.

A single goblin, the sole survivor of Evil, rushes towards the edge of the battlefield seeking victory!

Alas, he is outnumbers and dies a (blurry) death.

This was a short but fun scenario. With the longer ranges of the Elven bows, the forces of Good put a hurting on the goblins before close combat began. And while it wasn’t a bloodless battle for the Men and Elves, we suffered few casualties from the weaker goblin warriors.

As the battle reached its end, only one goblin archer remained standing and was pushing fiercely towards the Good edge of the board. It was one of those times when even we, the forces of Good, admired his courage and began to hope that the goblin, dubbed “Blood BBQ” by his masters, somehow beat the odds and achieved a victory for Evil. Alas, he perished with the rest of his foul brethren and Sauron’s troops would see no reinforcements when they clashed with Gil-galad and Elendil the following day.

This scenario was the last to use the “bare bones” rules. From here on out, the rules gradually increase in complexity, but after running both this battle and “Goblin Ambush,” we’re ready for more.

Next up: A simple ruin is created as we tackle our first terrain making project.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

BGiME #2: Painting the Warriors of the Last Alliance

Issue #2 included a sprue of Warriors of the Last Alliance to add to one’s collection of LotR SBG minis. These are not figures I’ve previously had much interest in, but now that I’ve got a dozen painted, I’m seeing the possibility of using them to further expand the forces of Good in the North. Over the course of this mad project, I’ll be acquiring painting some more of these models come issue #44 and, with two dozen such miniatures in my collection, I’ll have a solid basis for either some Arnor scenarios or to create Grey Haven allies for my Grey Company army. 

As I mentioned before, I’m explicitly following the painting tutorial provided in each issue of Battle Games of Middle-Earth. This means the result are a bit cruder than my usual paint jobs, but forces are table-ready in a much quicker fashion. I’ll revisit this figures once issue #44 comes around, but in the meanwhile they’ll do on the battlefield.

The Men of Gondor advance!

High Elves with Elven Blades
High Elven Bowmen

The Warriors of the Last Alliance march on Mordor

Next up: The Warriors of the Last Alliance face off against the forces of Sauron!

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Battle Games in Middle-Earth Issue #2 Overview

Continuing my mad scheme to work through the entire ninety-one issue run of Battle Games in Middle-Earth, today we take a peek inside the second issue and see what was in store for the would-be SBG player in 2002. The answer is “The Last Alliance.”

This issue introduces us to combined forces of elves and men who challenged Sauron’s claim to supremacy over Middle-Earth at the end of the Second Age. It also provides a collection of High Elf and Men of Gondor miniatures to use against our Moria Goblins (provided in the last issue) to reenact a minor skirmish from the final days of the Second Age. Fittingly, both the Moria Goblins and the Last Alliance models where among the first sets of miniatures produced for the SBG by Games Workshop and make an excellent starting point for the would-be gamer’s collection.

Originally, the second issue came with a sprue of plastic models and four new paint pots to add to your palette of colors. The sprue was comprised of four Men of Gondor models and eight High Elf models (four warriors and four bowmen). The paints were Enchanted Blue, Skull White, Elf Flesh, and Shining Gold. As with the first issue, my copy was acquired secondhand and lacked both models and paint. Luckily, I already had the necessary paints on my worktable and Last Alliance plastic models are some of the cheapest to be found on eBay. I acquired a full box of Warriors of the Last Alliance miniatures for a relative pittance and was then all set to work my way through this issue of Battle Games of Middle-Earth.

Issue #2’s “Guide to Middle-Earth” section is only one page with a single paragraph describing how the issue deals with the climactic battle on the slopes of Mount Doom and presents a movie still image of Elrond as well as a photo of a well-painted Elrond miniature as accompaniment. Then it’s straight into the crunch of the magazine.

“Playing the Game” introduces us to the concept of base profiles for each figure type, demonstrating and explaining the various game statistics used in the SBG: Fighting, Strength, Defense, Attacks, Wounds, and Courage are explained, and examples of various figures profiles are given for comparison. For example, we learn that Merry and Pippin have a paltry Defense of 3 compared to the armored Uruk-hai’s score of 5 and that Elrond can endure 3 Wounds before being eliminated as opposed to a Mordor Orc’s single Wound. The chapter doesn’t delve deeply into the subject, but gives the reader a clear basis upon which to build. 

Another short section of “Playing the Game” follows immediately after and consists of several base profiles for comparison’s sake. Profiles for Elrond, Sauron, Haldir’s Elves, Uruk-hai Berserkers, Aragorn, Lurtz, Warriors of Rohan, Mordor Orcs, Merry and Pippin, and Uruk-hai are presented, giving the reader an idea of the variety of types of models available and how they stack up against one another. It’s no surprise that Sauron is the most formidable character of the lot with the two hobbits holding the least powerful position in the rankings.

Next, it’s on to the meat-and-potatoes (‘Po—ta—toes,’ said Sam) of the issue: “Battle Game.” As before, the “Battle Game” section presents a simple SBG scenario to play through, putting the rules of the game to actual use by playing them. A stripped-down version of the game’s basic rules are provided for those who missed the first issue, and base profiles are given for all three types of models used in the scenario: Men of Gondor, Goblin Warriors, and Elven Warriors.

The scenario, “The Last Alliance,” describes a minor skirmish in the days before Sauron’s defeat. A small band of goblins (12 in number, in fact) are attempting to break through the lines of the Last Alliance to summon reinforcements and it’s up to a combined force of Men and Elves to stop them. Comprising the troops of the Last Alliance are four Men of Gondor, four Elven Bowmen, and four Elven Warriors. The victory condition for the forces of Good is the utter destruction of the Goblins, while the Evil side needs to get just one model across the Good side of the battlefield.

If the idea of pitting 12 unpainted plastic miniatures of the Men of Gondor and the Elves against your more colorful Moria Goblins doesn’t appeal to you, you can turn to the next section, “Painting Workshop,” and get a coat of paint on your forces of Good before challenging the might of Evil. This chapter is divided into three parts. The first is a recap of how to assemble the plastic models and prepare them for painting, and a list of what you’ll need to paint the figures.  The second section focuses on painting your Men of Gondor models, while the third section covers painting the High Elf figures. As in the first issue, the goal of this chapter is to demonstrate painting basics and get your miniatures table-ready as swiftly as possible. However, techniques such as dry-brushing and using washes are introduced so the magazine is already laying the basics for more advanced paint jobs to be presented in future issues. 

The issue closes with my favorite chapter, “Modelling Workshop.” Whereas the first issue merely presented some pictures of grand battlefields, this one sets us down the path of scratch-building. It provides us with a full list of tools we’ll likely need, covering everything from basic tools like brushes, scissors, and craft knives to more specialized materials like flock, static grass, and modeling sand, as well as providing hints as to where we might acquire these tools. A very big round of applause goes out to Battle Games of Middle-Earth for not shoving the Games Workshop website down the reader’s throat as the sole place to buy their modelling tools and materials.

Best of all, the “Modelling Workshop” chapter actually gives us a modelling project! It’s far from a complicated bit of terrain or building, but it serves the purpose of getting the reader to actually construct a piece of battlefield decoration and to experience the pleasure of creating terrain for oneself. The terrain piece, a simple ruin built from thick and thin card, is nothing fancy but it’s a start.

Ad from White Dwarf (Nov. 2001)
The back cover gives us a glimpse of what to look for in two weeks (in 2002, that is) with Issue #3: a closer look at the Move phase, a Ringwraith scenario, another paint pot, a metal Frodo miniature, and tips on painting him. We also get an ad for The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers SBG and some other miniature sets.

Issue #2 is again a solid magazine which moves the reader further into the wargaming hobby. He now has 24 plastic miniatures evenly divided between the forces of Good and Evil, eight of the most commonly used colored paints and a brush, and a single bit of scratch-built terrain. For £7.98 (about $12.25 in 2002 dollars), the combined cost of issues #1 and #2, that’s not a bad deal—especially in comparison to Games Workshops’ more recent pricing strategy. The Lord of the Ring: The Two Towers SBG set was priced at £40.00 at this time if we’re comparing the cost of getting started in the hobby. Again, I can’t help but wonder if the SBG’s popularity would have been greater in the U.S. had Battle Games of Middle-Earth been available over here.

Next up: Let’s paint us some minis!