The Post Where I Whinge For a Bit….Part I

Thanks to yesterday’s battle report, I’m still reeling a bit from reliving that terrible outcome of the battle I played against Scott’s Elven Galadhrim at the start of the month. I thought of more things to comment about in the game while writing that battle report; but, rather than than making the already-long battle report even lengthier with these extra thoughts tacked on at the bottom of the post, I thought I’d just do a new post….of a more easy-to-digest size.

I won’t lie: this is a post where I piss and moan about the unfairness of life–or in this case, the unfairness of pretend life in a pretend setting that I play games in.

Unstoppable overlords of the galaxy, mercilessly harvesting souls--whom whole RACES were created in a vain attempt to stop you, huh? That's NOT what the rules say!

One of my biggest concerns/complaints traces a line back beyond just that War of the Ring battle. To start this diplomatically, I think the issue one risks when writing miniatures-wargaming rules is in writing back stories (“fluff”) and then using the game’s rules to interpret that back story.

I’ve found Games Workshop’s games have always struggled with this: up until (perhaps) Warhammer’s 8th Edition, the mind has boggled as to how the Empire has been able to survive and keep its borders, with how out-classed the army tends to be (and in more than one way) when facing the armies that commonly show up for games nights and tournaments. Eldar have fared similarly; perusing their Codex, one wonders what the point is of two-thirds of the book’s entries (other than ways to guarantee the Eldar remain a dying race in decline); the rules for SO many of the entries don’t live up to how their flavour text describes them. (The 40k poster boys, the Space Marines fared no better until just this edition!)

War of the Ring doesn’t escape this either.

Take the Elves for instance. I mean, remember that time in the Lord of the Rings book when the Elves showed up, and were so terrifying that everyone on the battlefield either fled before their approach or soiled themselves as they stood paralyzed with fear, unable to do anything other than stand around getting hacked to pieces?

Neither do I.

But apparently Games Workshop does. I think the only real unpleasant surprise for me in my first outing against the Elves was when I discovered just how good they were at doing all the characteristic things that are supposed to be the trademark domain of the Forces of Evil.

Were these the Elves Games Workshop was thinking of when they were reading about them in Lord of the Rings? Perhaps GW should have just stuck with seeing the movies...

The Forces of Evil (mostly the Nazgûl, really) are renowned for sowing fear and disorder among those of lesser resolve. In game terms, the Ringwraiths run around, lowering the Courage score of their opponent’s troops and then take advantage of their drained courage to press home their attack using other spells and, to a lesser extent, combat (they make troops flee, killing some by fright, hacking down others where they stand, defenseless and frozen in fear). Martial prowess may not Team Evil’s forté, but spreading despair, then unleashing hordes and monsters upon the disheartened foe before finally closing in to deliver the coup de grâce is Team Evil’s forté.

The main defense Good armies should have against the tactics of Evil is soldiers with a bit more skill and a bit more courage than do the minions of Evil–not great in itself, but added to the other BIG defense “good guys” should have (and rightly so) against Evil’s tactics is inspiring heroes possessing the leadership necessary to bolster the resolve of their basic soldiers so they can apply their superior martial ability on the less-disciplined minions of Evil. And the Good heroes would be no slouches either.

Essentially, this dynamic held true in the Lord of the Rings Strategy Battle Game (Good forces had all kinds of buff and healing spells, and Evil had plenty of debuff and control spells). It’s considerably less so in War of the Ring. Yes, the Ringwraiths can still drain Courage and use that to their advantage; but the Elves are actually better at the tactic than the Nazgûl are. No, seriously.

The Elves in War of the Ring have that same basic traits as stated Good armies should have versus Evil ones–except, of course, being Elves their Fight ability and Courage values are significantly better than the evil models. But the Forces of Good also have more spells than Evil does–rather, they have more spells that are capable of lowering Courage values than Evil armies do! What’s more, the spells available to the Forces of Good, via lower focus values, are easier to cast! Add to that the fact that ALL Elves cause Terror, and you suddenly have an army that uses Team Evil’s playbook better than Team Evil can!

If Elves looked more like Sauron when he was 'Annatar the Gift Giver' they could be excused for looking like good guys yet being so good at being evil.

I felt more than a little disheartened after I came to the realisation that if I want to play an army that uses magiks to cause terror among their foes, demoralize their enemies and then hack  them down in combat because they were too busy engaging in …”brown trouser time,”   then I should be playing Galadriel and her elves. Sigh.

It just makes me really wish GW had people in their employ whose job was to take a sober look at the ramifications of the rules being written, ensure proper fluff-rules agreement and keep the game writers in line with their prose (for both rules and back story…including such mundane and “unnecessary” things such as spell checking and proof reading).

In short, I really wish Games Workshop valued (and had) honest-to-goodness editors. Their games are awesome, but sometimes it feels almost like GW is continuously “upping the ante” of stupid, waiting for me to finally just concede, fold and stop playing their games. Almost like they’re daring me to quit.

I also wish Elves weren’t so evil.

Ah well…”Another Day, Highlander!”

Little-known fact: Nazgûl wear dark robes so that if they run into Elves, no one will be able to tell when the Nazgûl soil themselves.


12 responses to “The Post Where I Whinge For a Bit….Part I

  1. Another enjoyable post.

    I can see and understand your frustration regarding elves and terror. But I think there is scope under the ‘Tolkien-fluff’, to account for it to a certain extent, at least with Noldorin Elves, who have that ‘inner light of the Valar’ thing going on.
    But I agree it is damned annoying when your evil mobs slams the breaks on because theres a few pretty boy pointy eared guys in front of them…
    I have alway thought the orcs would be more terrified of upsetting the Nazgul that were leading them, and would charge regardless!

    Gamewise, I think the only counters are making sure your orc mobs are lead by quality leaders with a decent courage value themsleves AND give them a taskmaster to bump it further up (Nazgul + Taskmaster gives a base courage of 6, so you’ve only got to roll a 4 or more on two dice to get the charge off). Not sure off the top of my head but there may be some evils spells that will help too? Granted they can hit you with spells to drop your courage but depending on how many spellcasters you are facing and how many units you have going forward together, they can only target so many of them.

    I am of course playing devils advocate here…

    Oh BTW – goping back to your last post, I did find a good use once for a single Fellbeast mounted wraith, and that was chasing Glorfindel round the board. A well timed Black Breath and Black Dart, could just about render Glorfindel impotenet, and the mounted wraith could then take him out, in a combat, with or without a duel. But again the trick was keeping the wraith safe until Glorfindel over exposed himself…


    • I think my big frustration with Elves is not so much that they cause terror (I think the whole ‘Light of the Valar is in them’ thing is actually SUPER awesome!) but that they use the play style laid down by the evil races AND do it better than them.

      I think I’d argue that the forces of Evil should have 2 spell lists that contain a Courage-draining spell, instead of the Elve having access to that.

      This post (and the next one I’ll be posting) have less to do with me being really frustrated and unable to come to terms with the game’s rules and more more to do with me going off on a couple heated tirades at the conclusion of that Angmar-Elf battle (and me subsequently deciding that I said a thing or two that might make some good reading).

      I *will* say that I DO think it’s fitting that despite all the bad-ass…ness present in the Angmar army, it is TOTALLY in character and true to the books that the Elves are unphased by what Angmar brings to the battlefield. I mean, it was only when the Elves decided to get all serious (which only happened after Arnor was finally sundered) and actively go to war against the Witch King that Angmar was finally vanquished!

      Good point about using the Ringwraith on Fell Beast to go Glorfindel hunting! (And VERY topical: my Elven opponent has decided next game Radagast will be switched out for Glorfindel!)

      Again, thanks for all the tips on coming to grips with those cursed first-borns!

  2. My group has an Elf player in the making so it should be interesting to test them out but on paper I can’t say I envy them. The Black Numenoreans and Morgul Knights lead by the Dark Marshall can compare somewhat to Elves in that they all cause Terror. Saruman is another great leader and with a Taskmaster his shared courage is 7… wow. This is where banners are handy when facing an Elf army. Those re-rolls come more often than not. Nice rant.

    • I think the weakness of Elves is that it’s relatively easy to list-build an Evil army that can counter everything the Elves bring to the table, whereas the Elves have more limited options…meaning they have only so many different styles of list they can build to surprise their opponents.

      The strength of the Elves is that if your gaming group isn’t geared towards building lists that lean into the “optimized” part of the spectrum, Elves are better than they look. Elves in their most basic form kick the snot out of all the other armies’ basic soldiers….but yeah, Morgul Knights are a terror to behold. I have yet to face them, but I already think they are the best bang-for-your-buck formation in the game.

      As for banners, don’t they only allow you to re-roll your charge *distance* ? (Tho’ they also allow you to re-roll the result on the ‘panic table’ if you’re unlucky enough to lose that round of combat).

      After playing against my other friend’s Isengard army, I’ve found Saruman to be good and almost great, especially when Terror tokens are added to the formation that Saruman decides to hitch himself to for that game. That said, his ability is finicky and should not be relied upon too heavily: in one game, over the course of two turns, something like TWELVE charges all failed–thanks to Saruman’s ‘Word in Your ear’ ability that forces you to roll a 4+ to be allowed to charge his formation. The next time I played against that army, only one or two charges over the entire game failed to roll that 4+ needed to charge Saruman. Still, I think he’s worth the points…I just don’t think it’s the best policy to bank too heavily on his ability.

  3. I don’t quite agree with that. The general sort of lists that we design, to be good vs everything (I tend to always field pretty much the same lists for my two usual armies – the only changes are related to whether its house-ruled or not) do very well vs Elves. You’ve set a counter-post germinating though, something for the Saturday afternoon once the family is settled.

    I’ve actually got a game vs Elves on Monday. I told the player your take on them but I wont print his reaction. They will be quite heavily house-ruled for our matchup

    • I’m willing to believe that I’m wrong about my views on the Elves–this WAS my first time facing off against them. (I’m certainly willing to believe that the guy who plays Elves would know more than me, the guy who doesn’t.)

      A lot of the last couple posts have been more about me being so utterly shocked that Elves *didn’t* suck and automatically lose (like the internet suggests they do and would), rather than being about me trying to convince people that Elves are the best army in the game.

  4. But Kyle – isn’t that the exact complaint of hardcore tournament players? That the game isn’t balanced appropriately because this stupid thing called “fluff” gets in the way?

    • I think my complaint is more about the lack of fluff vs game-mechanics agreement.

      If the Eldar codex said that Guardians suck wraithboners on the battle field and only a desperate general fields them as foot soldiers cause THEY’RE JUST NOT WORTH IT–especially because you pay too many points for each Guardian, I wouldn’t have any solid ground to stand on with some of my Eldar complaints.

      Likewise, if Elves went around Middle Earth, during the Third Age, acting more like Michael Moorcock’s Melniboneans than how Tolkien portrays them in his novels, I would have less problem about them being an army that is exceptional at using Ringwraiths’ strategies (at least the strategies that especially were their domain in the SBG).

      I have no problem with Tolkien’s Elves being expert shots, absolute terrors in close combat and utterly unflappable; that’s how they’re portrayed in the books (along with not sinking in snow and being around six foot six on average).

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