Issue #3 of Battle Games in Middle-Earth contains a few firsts for the series, all of which we’ll explore it a moment. It marks, in my opinion, the first step into both the SBG as a whole and into the advanced stages of the miniature wargaming hobby. If you’ve purchased issues #1 and #2 and found your appetited whetted, issue #3 is the first real course of the delightful meal that awaits you.
Issue #3 starts off as usual with the “Guide to Middle-Earth” chapter. In this issue, we are introduced to Frodo the Ringbearer and his flight from the Nazgûl, plus the role Strider the Ranger plays in escorting Frodo and his fellow hobbits to safety. We get a single page summary of the scenario to come postulating a situation where Frodo becomes separated from the rest with the Ringwraiths closing in. There is also a brief introduction to the rest of the issue’s contents. In short, the “Guide” doesn’t provide much concrete information about Tolkien’s creation, making it the least useful of the chapters within the issue. Here’s hoping this isn’t the beginning of a trend.
We next move on to “Playing the Game.” Now that the reader knows the basic rules, it’s time to start building upon this knowledge. Issue #3 features more information on the first two phases of the game turn: Priority and Move.
Priority is the shortest section. There’s really not much more you can say about “roll two dice and see who goes first that round.” There is a brief mention that, in rare scenarios, Good does not always begin the game with Priority, such as in the case of an ambush scenario. Further information is promised in later issues.
The Move Phase gets the most attention. The basic game rules presented a stripped down set of movement rules, but issue #3 begins the process of explaining the exceptions, clarifications, and special rules to these basics. For instance, models with ranged attacks can no longer move their full distance and fire. Those models wishing to attack during the Shoot phase are limited to half their movement or less. The concept of difficult terrain (any terrain that would slow down the model) is introduced along with the “difficult terrain counts as twice the actual distance” rule.
We also meet the idea of visibility, wherein models cannot charge enemies they cannot see due to distance, terrain or other circumstances. The standard “model’s point of view” (wherein the player crouches down to eye-level of his miniature and sees what he can see) is described as a means to determine visibility in the case of terrain and obstacles.
One last new rule is presented and it is an important one: control zone. Each model not currently in combat “controls” an area in a 1” radius around him. This means no enemy figure can move through this control zone unless it charges the figure controlling the space and engages him in combat. This represents the fact that an enemy can’t simply stand near a hostile foe and not expect to get drawn into a fight. It also makes it possible for a skirmish line of troops to defend a doorway, barricade, or similar obstruction in a somewhat realistic manner. As with most wargame rules, there are exceptions to the control zone and these are given brief coverage as well.
The next chapter gives us our gaming scenario for the issue: “Pursuit of the Ringwraiths.” This is a difficult one, folks, and is sure to test the skill and luck of the Good player. The basis of the scenario is the possibility that Frodo gets separated from the rest of his companions shortly after their flight from Bree and he must either escape the Nazgûl alone or be rescued by Strider. If the Ringwraiths capture him, all hope for the Free Peoples of Middle-Earth is dashed in a single master stoke by the Enemy.
The deck is stacked against the side of Good in “Pursuit of the Ringwraiths.” Not only does Frodo suffer from a slower movement rate than his pursuers, but each round before the Move Phase, the Good player must roll a die. On a result of a “6,” the Ring thwarts Frodo’s attempts to flee and the model cannot move that turn, allowing the Ringwraiths to close in or preventing Frodo from reaching safety. Aragorn also starts a fair distance from Frodo, leaving the poor hobbit potentially facing up to five Ringwraiths at once with little hope of wounding them. This is going to be interesting to play out on the game table.
We briefly pause between chapters to examine the cardstock insert containing fold-out models for use in the included and later scenarios. The insert in issue #3 contains five Ringwraiths including the Witch-King (to be used in this issue’s scenario), Saruman, Lurtz with bow, Armoured Moria Goblin Captain, two Mordor Orcs, an Uruk-hai Warrior and an Uruk-hai Bowman. Our collection of models, plastic, metal, and cardstock, is growing nicely!
The “Painting Workshop” provides information on detailing this issue’s model: a metal Frodo miniature from the Fellowship of the Ring boxed set. A pot of red (“Blood Red” in Citadel’s range) paint is included as well. This will be our first metal miniature and what better place to start that with the Ringbearer himself?!
This chapter provides tips on more advanced painting techniques that will serve the reader well going forward. The basics of mixing paint to achieve different color tones (such as the green of Frodo’s cloak or the light brown of his pack and waistcoat) are introduced. We also cover basing. Whereas the Moria Goblin and Last Alliance models had bases painted green, issue #3 discusses coating Frodo’s base with PVA glue and dipping it into green flock to give it a grassy appearance. Most serious wargamers use some sort of basing for their models to help add detail and/or tie their armies together, so it’s a helpful tip for the starting wargame hobbyist.
Finishing off the issue is my always-favorite “Modelling Workshop” which gives the reader his or her first real terrain building project. The simple ruin in issue #2 were a nice introduction, but here we have a piece that will see prolonged use on the game table: the hedgerow. With rules for visibility and difficult terrain presented in this issue, the hedgerow project is a nice touch, one that puts those rules to immediate use. With just a few easily- and cheaply-acquired materials, the reader can have a pair or more of hedgerows assembled in a day or two, ready to add detail to his gaming table. As one of my goals is to eventually run “The Scouring of the Shire” campaign, having a good collection of hedgerows is important and I can’t wait to get some cranked out!
The magazine’s back cover heralds more plastic troops on the way as we are presented with pictures of issue #4’s cover (featuring a fearsome-looking Uruk-hai) and a sprue of ten Uruk-hai troops. Looks like Saruman’s forces are coming to visit next! We better get Frodo painted, build some hedgerows to slow them down, and practice our tactics against some Ringwraiths in anticipation of issue #4’s arrival.