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.

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