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Erik Nicely
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Here's my review of Games Workshop's Lord of the Rings Strategy Battle Game hardcover rulebook. I'll start by saying that I am not a player of any other GW game, I've passed when it comes to playing Warhammer Fantasy and Warhammer 40,000. I've been a minitures gamer for around 25 years. This review is being written after playing 5 games of the LOTR SBG.

The Setting:

Tolkien's Middle Earth. Everyone in the free world probably knows a little bit about the background. The LOTR SBG does not focus solely on the Peter Jackson trilogy of movies and some characters and events from the Tolkien novels that weren't in the films are represented in game terms, mostly material from the Third Age of Middle Earth.

The Package:

Attractive 240-page hardcover with the One Ring on the cover. Glossy paper inside with full-color photos of painted miniatures and shots from the movies. Good presentation. The book retails for $50 USD.

Changes From Previous Rulebooks:

A lot of the material from the supplements is compiled here providing a one-stop resource for everything. It's also a much prettier book and is what's required for play in official GW tournaments.

The Rules:

After 4 pages that include an introduction, overview of a game turn, and a brief explanation of unit stats the movement rules are explained. 7 pages of rules with illustrated examples. Movement is UGOIGO with the player that has priority moving his entire force at once. Nothing revolutionary here, models move on average 6", there's some pretty basic and easy to implement terrain rules.

Next comes the real meat of any miniatures game, 6 pages detailing the basic combat rules. It is a very playable and fun combat system with all models having a specific number of attacks and Fight, Defence, and Strength scores. Hits are determined by both combatants rolling a die, high roller wins with a model's Fight score as the tie-breaker. Wounds are determined by cross-referencing attacker Strength and defender Defence, a target number is given to beat on 1 die (with 2 rolls needed to kill big opponents like the Balrog or a dragon). Most models have only one wound but heroes and monsters have more and are able to fight on after being hit. These are combat rules I was able to pick up quickly, by my second game I wasn't turning pages, the rules are pretty intuitive.

Next follows 38 pages of advanced rules. Quite a bit of substance here the rules cover Defending Barriers, Courage (morale), traits of heroes (more on those in a minute), Magical Powers (spells and whatnot), Wargear, Banners, Cavalry, the giant Mumakil oliphant, and rules for fortifications and seige warfare. The basics of fantasy combat are all covered. The rules I've used so far (like spells and wargear) are easy to use and add a very cool and playable dimension to the game.

There's nothing stopping you from playing Aragorn or Gandalf (as long as you pay the point cost) and heroes both good and evil have heroic traits. Heroes have a Might score that can be used to adjust a die roll up or down. The Will score that governs the use and defense against magical powers (interestingly, the Ringwraiths have to spend Will every turn or they face from existence). The Fate score is used to make a roll to avoid taking a wound. Heroic Actions can be called to improve a hero's underlings fighting abilities by spending Might. Good stuff with these 3 traits, you're playing heroes, not grunt troops with higher stat numbers. Easy to implement during games.

Scenarios:

There's a brief scenarion section near the front of the book and one near the back, the first having one "historical" scenario focussing on the Fellowship's battle with goblins in the Mines of Moria. There is a brief "build your own" set of guidlines. The second scenario section contains 4 generic scenarios for use with any armies. Generic scenarios are important because any player can use his forces, not being constrained to a particular army.

The Forces of Good and Evil:

86 pages of unit statistics for a good sized representation of the soldiers, heroes, and monsters of Middle Earth. Each with a picture of the painted gaming model. The lists are broken down into forces according to Middle Earth locations, the elves of Rivendell, the Easterlings, the Riders of Rohan, for example. There is nothing limiting players to these smaller lists for their force selection, it can be more broad, with one player taking the forces of Good, the other with an army of Evil. The army specific lists are defined in a supplement, the Legions of Middle Earth http://us.games-workshop.com/games/lotr/legions/default.htmbut Good and Evil are sufficient for freindly non-tournament play. There's enough characters provided to interest the true Tolkien fan, though don't be expecting characters from as far back as The Silmarillion.

The Rest:

The final 44 pages of the book include some very good miniature painting guides and how-tos on terrain building. I've been painting miniatures for a long time, but a novice painter could pick up some good tips here. Some nice dioramic photos too. There's 2 pages on the gaming hobby and how to contact GW and rules reference sheets (the latter being a must-have in any minis game).

Support:

Plenty of supplements detailing specific army lists and scenarios for "historical" events, as well as the aforementioned Legions of Middle Earth book. The GW website does have some stat blocks and rules summaries, but the company's online resources could be better. There are some really good fansites out there though. Lots of official GW minatures available, both blisters and boxed sets.

My opinion of the game:

I've given brief comments on the combat rules above, they are very playable and can accomdate large armies without trouble. I do have a problem with some wargear being in character writeups and not the Wargear section. And yes, there is a cheese factor in this game. An army consisting of all heroes, though while fun to play, probably won't hold up against large numbers in a well-constructed army with one minor hero and a lot of grunts. It isn't a big problem but the potential for being able to abuse the force lists, however small, is keeping me from giving this game a 10.

All in all this is an excellent fantasy game with enough non-movie Tolkien material in there to keep me interested and while my knowledge of Middle Earth can be beaten by some, it can't be beaten by anyone I know personally. The big heroes have the abilities they're supposed to. I have an army of Rivendell elves and one of Aragorn's rangers, probably more armies to come. It is playable and fun and would be a really good game for beginning miniatures gamers, but has enough meat to keep an old guy like me interested. I gave it a 9.





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Daniel Arabella
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Thank you for the review. I am going to start learning and playing this winter with a friend who has tons of equipment for it.
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