- Phlebas Sosostris
Here is a review written by my son followed by a few comments by his dad
The Battle of Five Armies
The Battle of Five Armies is a game simulating the final battle in the Hobbit. The game is loyal to the book not the movie. In the game one player will command Gandalf, Bard, Dain, Thranduil and their Lake-Men, Elves and Dwarves against the other player commanding Bolg, son of Azog, and his orc armies who have come for the treasure inside Erebor, the Lonely Mountain. The Bolg player's armies begin in the North-East corner of the map in vast quantities, on the other hand the armies of the free peoples are scattered across the map. Whilst the armies of Bolg come from the north, hordes of goblins scale the Lonely Mountain and will join his forces later in the game. To win the Bolg player must control a certain number of key locations on the map. The free peoples must prevent this happening using his small number of troops and the abilities of his commanders. As the game goes on the forces of the free peoples will arrive in great numbers along with the powerful Beorn and the Eagles of the Misty Mountains. This forces the Bolg player to strike fast. To help his forces do this are the Great-Bats of Mirkwood who urge his troops on and suck the blood of his enemies.
The map is divided into territories each consuming about a quarter of the map. These territories are divided into regions. In the centre of the map are the Ruins of Dale, to the East are the broken lands, to the north are the Front Gate and the Eastern-Spur and to the West/South are the lower slopes and Ravenhill. At the bottom of the map is the fate track. Marked along the track are different free-peoples characters which the free-peoples can muster once they have been reached on the track. When it reaches the end the game ends in a free-peoples victory. This makes Battle of the Five Armies very much a race against time. The map is very well done artistically, painted in gloomy colours which is probably supposed to represent the shadow of the Lonely Mountain. Sadly, it does make the map slightly harder to read.
Ares Games did a great job of simplifying the units but not making them too simple so that the game loses thematics. Each unit comes with a strength, an ideal terrain, an ability and that is about it. The characters come with a leadership and a couple of special abilities. All of the units and characters are plastic figures which are easily paintable. For owners of War of the Ring, Battle of the Five Armies comes with many figures which are used in War of the Ring, however, there are new figures such as the Elven Spearmen and the Eagles, and even the Gandalf figure is different. The combat system has just enough luck to make it interesting but not too much to make the game feel silly. Units consist of Wolf Riders, Great Orcs, Orcs, Goblins, Lake-Men, Elven Archers, Elven Spearmen, Dwarf Regulars and Dwarf Veterans. All movement follows the same rules even for units which appear faster such as Wolf Riders. This is actually a good feature of the game as it reduces complication.
Compared to War of the Ring, Battle of the Five Armies is slightly more complicated particularly around combat. Leaders also have a bigger impact on the game and are mostly individualised with their own special abilities e.g Thranduil can order Archers to use a ranged attack, and Gandalf can use a ranged Blast of Magic on enemy units. Terrain also has a much bigger impact on the game. The game keeps the action dice system and the event card system. The mechanics of the game are very similar to those of the Gondor and Rohan scenarios of Battles of the Third Age.
In conclusion, The Battle of Five Armies is a fantastic game which is relatively simple and has great thematics.
A key element of the game is the fate track. The free peoples player has to choose how many generals' special abilities he wishes to use each turn. The Bolg player then can draw up to that many fate tiles. The free peoples therefore have to choose between immediate strength and advancing fate to get more strength and the end of the game. Choosing a low number increases the luck in the game: if Bolg draws a 1 on the first draw then choosing low was bad, but if he draws a 3, it is great. If the fate track reaches Beorn, and Bolg has less than 3 settlements then the free peoples immediately win. This heightens the race feeling. In fact, the free peoples can delay playing Beorn long enough to temporarily recapture a settlement, and then bring Beorn into play for an immediate victory.
Whilst the game has many similarities to the Rohan and Gondor Scenarios from Battles of the Third Age, there are many rules differences and it takes a little while to get used to them. In particular, the fate decision has been shifted from shadow to light. It is also a stand-alone game rather than an expansion. Terrain effects are different and play less of a role although more so than in the War of the Ring. The rules are also a lot clearer.
The winner is often decided early in the game even if the victory conditions have not been achieved. Can the orcs and wargs overrun the free-peoples before they have time to marshal their forces? If so it is just a matter of time before victory is theirs. Although the free peoples probably have the edge, it is much more fun to play the shadow, since the shadow drives the game play with the free peoples trying to stem the flood of orcs and wargs trying to break through. Ultimately, victory goes to the player who uses his dice most efficiently.
- [+] Dice rolls