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!

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