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!