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.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

BGiME #5: Painting Lurtz

Hunt them down. Do not stop until they are found. You do not know pain, you do not know fear. You will taste man-flesh! – Saruman 
 The Uruk-hai from issue #4 need a leader, a savage Evil Hero armed with bow and sword to command them. They need Lurtz!

Like the Uruk-hai themselves, Lurtz was a quick paint and I had him ready for the tabletop in a flash. The dark Uruk flesh and filthy metal lends him a grim appearance, matching nicely with the color scheme of the armored fighting Uruks that he’ll be leading. The “White Hand” war paint is a small splash of brightness amongst the muddy tones. I skipped the painting guide’s instructions to do the base green with flock, preferring the brown base with sand and desiccated grass as I felt this better suits an Evil model.

While not a equal match to Aragon, both in the movie and in the SBG, Lurtz nevertheless would make a suitable commander for a 500 point war band should I need to field some Isengard troops any time. We'll see how he fares on the tabletop in our next post, when we play through the "Hunt of the Uruk-hai" scenario.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Battle Games in Middle-Earth #5 Overview

Work projects temporarily derailed my efforts to get back to chronicling my journey through the Battle Games in Middle-Earth series, but I’ve reached a brief clearing in the woods and can play catch up a bit. While I’ve been neglecting the blog, I’ve been playing and modeling more than ever thanks to my efforts to assemble a local group of SBG players. Those meetings allow me to play through more of the scenarios in the magazine series and compel me to paint and scratch-build to keep up. So with apologies out of the way, let us get things moving again and examine issue #5 of BGiME.

Issue #5 continues to add to the might of Saruman, introducing us to our first Evil hero: the fearsome Uruk-hai, Lurtz. The issue’s “Guide to Middle-Earth” spends a single page describing the origin of the Uruk-hai and the event that made Lurtz stand out among his first birthing brethren, making him commander of the scouts sent to recover the One Ring. It further introduces the reader to what the remainder of the issue, hinting at the scenario and painting guide to come.

After delving further into the rules of the Move and Fight phases in the previous issues, the “Playing the Game” section now goes on to cover the Shoot phase, presenting new rules and complexities to missile combat in the SBG. The rules provided advance the reader’s knowledge base, moving him closer towards the full game. This in-depth examination of the Shoot phase introduces the limitations on movement for bow-armed models (they can only move half their full move if they wish to shoot that turn), line of sight and cover (giving advantages to the players who uses terrain and obstacles to protect his models), and discussing why Good models can’t shoot into a melee but Evil models have no such quibbles (life is cheap in the minds of the forces of Sauron!).

These rules made a world of difference when we replayed the “Elven Attack!” scenario we originally tried last year at a recent Meet-up. Cover gave the bow-less Uruk-hai a way of standing up to the barrages of elven arrows they had to endure to win the scenario. When replaying Elven Attack twice the other week, the Uruk-hai snagged one victory and lost the second game by a narrow margin, a great improvement over our original play-through of that scenario.

This issue’s “Battle Game” scenario is “Hunt of the Uruk-hai.” This set-up is a “what if?” exploration of what might have happened if Lutrz had arrived along with his Uruk-hai when Aragorn and Frodo were alone at Amon Hen. The scenario requires Aragorn to get Frodo to safety (off the board), while the Evil forces win by capturing the Ringbearer. Can Aragorn stay the tide of Saruman’s forces long enough for Frodo to escape? We’ll see in the battle report soon to come.

The “Painting Workshop” section provides a detailed guide for painting the Lurtz model that originally shipped with Battle Games in Middle-Earth #5. While many of the guide’s tips will be familiar to readers who’ve been following the series so far, advice for painting minute details such as Lurtz’s “White Hand” war paint are a welcome new tool in the reader’s painting repertoire.   

Up until now, the SBG scenarios assume the reader is playing on the kitchen table, floor, or other handy flat household surface. The “Modeling Workshop” for this issue is about to change all that, moving the reader into the miniature wargaming big leagues, by giving detailed instructions for constructing your very own battle board for gaming! The board is basic, but it can easily be upgraded as the reader’s skillset and interest in the hobby increases. It can even be made modular for those of us with not a lot of home square footage to spare.

In my opinion, issue #5 is the first big leap into the wargaming hobby in general and the Strategy Battle Game in particular. Readers who’ve come this far now have a modest collection of both Good and Evil models, a real gaming board to stage play on, and a handful of terrain to make battles interesting. Battle Games in Middle-Earth does a superb job of laying a solid foundation for beginning wargamers to build upon. Reading this far, I can’t but shake my head in sorrow at the fact that BGiME was never available in the United States. It would have made a tremendous difference in the popularity of the SBG here in America. Maybe, just maybe, the next iteration of the SBG (and my efforts here at the Forsaken Inn) might win some folks back to Middle-Earth.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Rumors about the Future of the SBG

Various company folks at Games Workshop have commented vaguely about the future of the SBG, alluding that the game is not dead despite the lack of support its has received since The Battle of the Five Armies. Signs seemed to indicate that the game would continue to be supported by Specialist Product Design Studio initiative and rumors of a reprint of the SBG rulebooks and sourcebooks have been in the air thanks to a response from an GW employee on one of the miniatures forums. However, further details were still forthcoming.

Today, a post on 3++ is the new black reporting unconfirmed news from Throne of Skulls provides a possible future for the SBG: "Middle-Earth Strategy Battle Game," an updated, not replacement, version of the SBG incorporating both the Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit games into a single ruleset. Out of print models will be re-released as Forge World resin and the game will be supported until 2020.

While all of this remains speculation and rumor until I see an official Games Workshop release, I'm keeping my fingers crossed that there's some truth to these reports. With my attempts to build a small local SBG group underway, any support that might lure people back to the game (or introduce them to it) would be good news indeed!

Monday, March 14, 2016

Cubicle 7 Entertainment to Produce D&D-compatable Middle-Earth RPG

This was announced today by Cubicle 7 Entertainment:
Cubicle 7 Entertainment and Sophisticated Games have announced plans to make a Dungeons & Dragons® compatible roleplaying series for J R R Tolkien’s legendary fantasy world of Middle-earth, the setting for The Lord of the Rings® and The Hobbit®. Cubicle 7’s CEO Dominic McDowall said, “We’re all very excited to be building on the success of The One Ring Roleplaying Game and bringing Middle-earth to D&D® players. Uniting two things very close to the hearts of gamers, me included, is very cool – I can't wait for the summer.” The best selling The One Ring Roleplaying Game will continue as a separate and independent line, with some very exciting announcements coming this week. The new series will be based upon Francesco Nepitello’s highly praised work in The One Ring®, with Francesco acting as creative consultant. Further details will be released in the coming months, with the release set for Summer 2016.
It's too early to comment on this, but I will be watching how things develop with great interest.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Light the beacons, for I have returned!

Time has flown by while I’ve been head-down in other projects for work and neglecting my miniature adventures in Middle-Earth. Now, however, sunlight shines through the clouds and I can return to chronicling tales of conflict and triumph in the Professor’s creation.

I’ve been working on getting my Grey Company army painted while I’ve been away and I’m almost ready to display them for public view. I need to finish basing them, but I have been hampered by the cold weather here in New York. Luckily, today is a pleasant and warm one, ripe for priming, sealing, and basing. My worktable should soon be clear and I’ll then be able to get back to working my way through Battle Games in Middle-Earth.

Before we get back to that, let me share with you the fun I had this past weekend at Gary Con VII in lovely Lake Geneva, WI, the birthplace of role-playing and home to many a miniature battle over the years. Gary Con is held each year to commemorate the life and work of D&D co-creator, Gary Gygax, and is one heck of a convention. This was my fifth Gary Con and it shows no signs of slowing down.

Gary Con is my chance to play games I rarely get the opportunity to play anywhere else and my convention schedule—aside from my duties for Goodman Games—always has one or two old school miniatures events. This year saw me playing Dawn Patrol for the first time and Chainmail for the second. The Chainmail game was a Middle-Earth-based scenario that occurred during the Kin-strife of Gondor, a pitched battle outside the walls of Linhir. I command the Umbar Marines, faithful soldiers beneath the command of Castamir the Usurper. Things did not go well for Castamir and my Marines were trampled beneath the hooves of the Eotheod, but it was a great game. Game organizer and referee Kevin Cabai has some wonderfully painted Games Workshop miniatures he used with the Chainmail rules and it was seeing his game at Gary Con VII and Gen Con that made me sign-up to play this year.

The forces are assembled before the gates of Linhir
Opening gambits. My Umbar Marines are down on the near left
Umbar forces with Chainmail stats
Umbar tentatively advances from beyond the cover of the farmhouse
The Eotheod advances from around the hill. Umbar realizes it must hold the right flank
The Eotheod is hesitant and refuses to come into archer range. The Marines attempt to draw them out
Half-trolls for Hadad and far too many slain Umbar Marines stand off the battlefield
The battle was lost, Umbar was decimated, but I technically survived to earn a certificate

I was too busy fighting for my life to take further pictures, but suffice to say the results weren't pretty. Umbar held on as long as it could, but the infantry was outmatched by the medium cavalry of the Eotheod. The right flank collapsed when Umbar was routed and the middle of Castamir's line soon buckled under its own enemies. The Usurper was driven away and the legitimate reign of Gondor endured a while longer. I did received a nice certificate of participation and a pair of dice for answering Middle-Earth trivia correctly. I've said I'm no Tolkien scholar, but apparently I'm pretty good with Arnor-related minutia.

That's it for now, but new content is on the way, including the next installment of the Battle Games in Middle-Earth project. Until then, may your marines never be forced to face off against charging cavalry without support!