Tuesday, 23 November 2010

LOTR: Strategy Battle Game - Review

As you might know I have recently decided to pick up the LOTR:SBG and so this is my review of the game.  I will start off with my thoughts on the LOTR boxed set - "The Mines of Moria", and then move on to the rules of the game itself.  

The Mines of Moria              The first thing I found to look at with this boxed set is the miniatures.  What you get is the entire Fellowship of the Ring, 24x Moria Goblins (a mix of hand weapons, spears and bows), a cave troll and some plastic ruined terrain - including Balin's Tomb.  These miniatures are all in plastic, and everything except for the Fellowship is clip together kits.  Nice and simple.  One thing I have found is that the Fellowship are really not that well cast.  They don't look amazingly like the actors from the film or anything, but I suppose considering it is the basic kit it is forgiveable.  For value, I think this is a nice start.  You get good and evil, and a mix of heroes, basic models and a monster type creature.  The terrain features are quite nice and simple as well. 

Alongside this you get a little booklet and the rule book.  The booklet is a good little introduction guide to the basics of the game, the moving, shooting and fighting phases of the game.  A nice simple guide with the use of helpful diagrams.  The manner in which it does this is through little scenarios, slowly bringing the rules in bit by bit.  It is quite helpful and a good guide for beginners to the game, alongside this it has a very basic painting guide to the miniatures in the set.  The rule book I will get to in a moment.

Overall I found the set to be a good start for the beginners.  The miniatures didn't impress me that much, but they will do for their purpose.  The rest of it works out quite decently.  Something I would suggest for all new starters of the game.

Rule Book Review

The first thing I found upon my first read through the "Rules Manual" is how clear and concise it seems to be.  Admittedly without playing any games I cannot say whether or not this is true, but I found myself understanding the rules quite easily.  This is a nice change from the other major GW games, where the rules end up with just so much interpretation and arguments on how they work.  I did find that overall, the rules are quite a bit more simple when compared to the other two games (40K and WFB), but when you think about this as being an entirely different game, and not a new take on the old systems which the above two are based off.  If you think of it like this, the rules work really well and simple, leaving for a seemingly smooth and continuous gameplay.  Another nice little addition that GW dropped into this rule book is the "editor notes" or the "tactical notes".  These actually seemed quite useful, making some good suggestions, especially for a new player.

So, into the rules.  

Going in phase order, we start with a new rule which I am very unfamiliar with.  Priority.  This rule I found very intriguing.  Basically the order in which players move is not set, but rather you roll a dice and the winner gets to make the first actions in each phase for that rule (unless otherwise stated in the scenario settings).  I love this rule, as it leads a more tactical situation.  Now you can't set up your assaults or shooting an entire turn before them, you have to consider that your opponent moves right after you do, and can ruin your plans with a couple of moves.  This leads me on to a HUGE change (to me as a 40k and WFB gamer) is how the turns are played out.  In the other two it has always been; Player A, moves, shoots, assaults, ends turn.  Player B; Moves, shoots, assaults, ends turn. Player A... etc.  Not so in LOTR:SBG.  Instead it goes like thus; Player A moves, Player B moves; Player A shoots, Player B shoots.. etc.  This I find makes a difference and makes thing a lot more fluent, rather than the second player being forced to react to their opponent, they can pre-empt them with some good moves or charges.  So the priority becomes an important thing to gain and a nice change to the "I go, you go" play many other games have.

The shooting I think is one place where the veteran GW games became worried about and claimed the over simplification of certain areas or rules.  However, when you look at it it isn't that much of a huge change from the other ones.  The model still needs a certain roll to hit, it is just not modified by anything but a base roll.  It is rather similar to the 'To hit chart' in the other two.  I quite like it, there is no need to work out what they need, it is on your profile from the beginning.  Another change I like is that models who can fire multiple times (like powerful archers such as Legolas) can actually choose to fire each shot against a different opponent, and you can decide after you have rolled the wounding of the previous shot.  A nice change from the others, where you have to fire everything against the same model/unit and if it dies in the first hit, the others are wasted.  Again we come to a change from the usual GW format is the 'To wound' chart.  It is the same for combat, but in LOTR you compare the strength (either the weapon for shooting or model for combat) to the model's 'Defence'.  This defence stat represents how tough the model is, and also incorporates their armour.  So for example Gimli has Defence 8 - representing his well crafted Dwarf Armour and his innate Dwarf toughness.  Meaning his is very hard to wound unless someone has high strength.  While a Wildman of Dunland only has Defence 3, as he lacks armour and his not as hardy as a dwarf or a hero.  This means if you roll high enough to wound the model, it takes a wound - there are no armour saves for this game.  It is a nice change and reduces the number of rolls to protect individual models, making the game seem quicker.

Combat is perhaps the biggest change from the other GW games.  It is very simple, quick and easy.  I can see why many gamers might dislike it when you are use to the mechanics of the other two games.  In combat, you roll to attack, whoever rolls the highest wins combat; their opponents must move back and are then wounded.  Wounding is done exactly as above for the shooting, so again it is quite quickly.  The special rules for the various weapons in the game are nice, nothing too complicated and some very useful rules that requires thought on how to play the individual models.  I like the rules included for obstacles making them very good to be defending even against multiple opponents.  Other mechanics I like are the trapped rule where surrounded models take a lot more wounds, something useful to remember when using cheap troops to surround tougher and advanced models or heroes.  The way combats are separated I found interesting, a nice unique touch, though I can see if being hard to identify sometimes who are in single, while others are in multiple.

I briefly wanted to talk about the magic in the game.  As all know from the films and novels magic is quite prevalent in Middle Earth, there are some powerful wizards and beasts made almost from magic themselves.  In game mechanics each magic user gets a set number of spells which they can use - once per turn - and alongside the spell's range in their profile it has a score (eg 3+) this is what is required to cast that spell.  It uses a point of Will to cast (more on that in a moment), in addition something I really like is the target can attempt to resist as long as they have some will points left.  This I like as 40k bothers me that psychic powers are auto cast as long as you pass the test, and only a few number of minis are able to stop them.  I like it when these powers can be resisted, it makes it more interesting; again bringing in some slight tactics - is it worth letting it go or should you burn a point of Will to defend against it.   
Heroes are quite important in this game.  Even more so that 40K or WFB.  Here, not only are many of them beasts in combat, shooting or with magic, but they also have the ability to inspire troops to do other out of place effects.  These generally come from Heroic Actions.  These vary, but are moving, shooting or fighting.  These are done out of sequence, allowing these models to charge, shoot or fight before the opponent which in turn can alter the tactics of them.  In addition, with the first two, they can inspire the close by models to either move with them, or to shoot.  Very useful.  They also have Might, Fate and Will points.  These can be used to do Heroic actions, alter certain rolls or to cast magic.  It also makes them hard to kill, if the model has a high store of these points.  It makes keeping them alive important and makes them even more important in the game.

Winding this up now, I found that the rule book has everything you need to play the game, the special rules or advanced rules add some more interesting tactics and rules to the game (I like it that mounts can remain in the game, and then be remounted during the battle).  No need for expansion, and even then there are not many special rules or any really confusing ones I found in there.  I really like that they had some very well written rules for fighting in sieges, including rules for destroying sections, ladders, battering rams, siege towers and explosives (aka the mines from The Two Towers at Helms Deep).  Another nice addition, is the inclusion of the forces.  At the back of the book it has nearly all of the stats, options and point costs for models in the game - including various versions of the characters in the game.  I have noticed that it doesn't include everything (Dwarves are noticeably  missing), but GW has included the 'cheat sheets' for all of their expansions on the website that has nearly everything you need include these forces in your games.  Which is a nice change.  I did notice that it lacked scenarios in the book, which was a bit of a shame but it is quite minor as buying the Legions of Middle Earth supplement or looking on GW's website to pick them up.

Closing Thoughts

Overall, I really like the mechanics and system.  It is really different to the usual GW games, and with it it has a fresh and new feel to it.  I had no trouble understanding or following the rules, even the advanced rules were quite easy to follow.  The basic rules I found great and it does seem like a quick, simple game.  However, I do not think that this simple view should be seen as too simple or basic, but rather it brings with it it's only challenges.  I do look forward to getting in to this game, though when I get around to it I am unsure as there are various projects on the go.

I am as of yet unsure what force to have, but I am leaning towards Dwarves (for obvious reasons) and then perhaps Moria Goblins to make the most of the 'Mines' boxed set.  Then I like the idea of a Rohan and White Hand force.  This will depend on many things, I want to check up on things like guides.  At the moment, I just plan to slowly paint the Fellowship and think about things.


  1. "Clap" "Clap" "Clap" You can't hear me clapping but I am. I must say that was a well written post on the game. You hit all the major points of the game and understand the rules are simple however the game is hard to play. Movement is the key because you don't know who is going first and you always need to be defending your troops. Keep us up to date on your progress.

  2. Thanks for taking the time to write all this down and for sharing your thoughts with us. Must admit I've never tried the game myself, but this review got me interested.

    A major issue for me, though, is that I find the models quite poor... The models are smaller, leaving less room for details, most models seem to be one-piece or very few parts, making little room for conversions or kit-bashing, and makes everything quite static.. it all adds up, and the lack of "eye candy" sort of puts me off every time I've considered giving it a go.

    So, after all this ranting, I've got a question: would the game mechanics suffer from using Warhammer Fantasy models? I guess the whole group of gamers would have to switch over, or can one mingle the two sets?

  3. Da Green Skins - Thanks, I did get that feeling about movement. It seems even more important than it has been in Fantasy.

    noeste - Same here, I have been intrigued by re-reading the LOTR novels.

    I admit, some of the minis don't look amazing, and like you say don't really open themselves to be converted that much, but I think they are still decent.

    I don't think so, as long as everything was that size; including terrain. The main thing is things like base size and line of sight. I think other miniature lines could easily be used with some careful reading of the rules to determine what this would change.

  4. Nice summary - I remember reading througth the LotR rulebook last year and being very impressed with how it was set out. I think WHFB 8th Ed took some pointers from LotR in that respect.

    If only the LotR miniatures were the same scale as WHFB as it would be great to be able to interchange them.


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