If Only I Lived Closer to the Mid-West!

American mid-west, that is.

I stumbled upon an update on the Plastic Legions blog just the other night and thought I’d talk about it now–before even more time passed since the original post’s date of September 29th. Could it be true? Could there really be a resurgence of interest in the Lord of the Rings Strategy Battle Game?

That’s just what the post gets at (I hesitate to use the word “implies” as the post backs up its assertations by revealing just how many  paid registrations there are for the Bilbo’s Birthday Bash tournament being held at Games Workshop’s Chicago bunker store on November 5th and 6th). Granted, just under half of the attendees are not from Illinois; still, a tournament with 41 players is nothing to sneeze at—especially if the game is Lord of the Rings!

They even have a separate painting competition!

Like I said in today’s title: if only I lived closer to the mid-west!

Mind you, I haven’t played any Lord of the Rings SBG at all recently. This is mostly due to me being more drawn to War of the Ring—not because it’s a better game (though I do find it quite enjoyable), but more for its scale: I like games that are more epic in scope and are designed to play out that way (no big surprise: I’ve bought practically every edition of Epic 40k and I also own two Warmaster armies!).

My brain has problems accepting skirmish games that refer to the twenty models on the table as “armies” and then try to pass off the fights between two small groups as being major battles (I get the impression that Warmachine / Hordes is guilty of this, and I know Heavy Gear has done this in the past–heck, pre-Apocalypse, 40k  was often guilty of trying to pass battles of 40-50 models per side as BIG battles!). I’m completely satisfied with a skirmish game representing just that: small-unit actions and tertiary battles (“skirmishes”) being fought in places quite likely other than a war’s main theatre (or they’re patrols or what-have-you).

Accordingly, I’ve never much cared for giant games of Lord of the Rings (not until War of the Ring came along, anyhow). I’ve played them—and even had a good time doing so…but there’s always a point in the game where it’s blatantly obvious that the mechanics were never meant to handle so many miniatures on the table. I think my only beef with Lord of the Rings (a beef that highlights who the originally-intended audience for the game was): the funny place its rules occupy in regards to the scale of the game. I’ve always felt the game was a little too streamlined for running small “armies” of twenty or less models and too detailed for games where there would be forty-plus models per side.

Also, I’ve always wished the game had a few of the spells that were true to the books—like when Gandalf made his staff spew flames [FotR pg.308], or when he seemed to grow to the size of a tree and then made the treetops burst into flame [pg.316]. Sadly, the game’s rules keep gouts-of-fire spells absent from any of the wizards’ repertoire of spells, preferring instead to have their most damaging spell be a Mighty Wind.

By "A Mighty Wind" I don't mean THIS.

(Despite my criticism of the game’s spells, I can’t deny I’ve always felt the game made spell use its very own skill set, where their use was rarely straightforward and always very rewarding to the cunning player who employed them.)

At the very least, I had always wished that the very-definitely magic items from the books and movies had been given better, more exciting treatment in the rules. I mean take Gandalf’s sword, Glamdring: it’s an Elven sword that was originally forged for Turgon, the ruler of the ancient elf-kingdom of Gondolin; it is an artifact originally made during the height of Elven smithing knowledge that survived the destruction of Gondolin and came into Gandalf’s possession more than 6000 years later. However, in the game, this relic of considerable power and pedigree merely passes on a +1 or +2 to Gandalf’s Fight Skill–wait…what? (Even that’s debatable: Saruman and Radagast are both Fight Skill: 5 and neither of them wield an Elven relic-sword.) Come on, really? Glamdring should confer some special ability and some sort of re-roll (or some extra attacks…or something of that ilk) and increase the wielder’s Fight Skill by a little bit. Forgive the internet cliché, but Glamdring doing all that for whoever used it in battle would be epic.

The Elven blade, Glamdring (Sindarin. Foe-Hammer), was nicknamed "Beater" by the Goblins of the Misty Mountains.

Despite my criticisms of the game, its quality can’t be ignored–no matter how hard the average Fantasy or 40k player will try to yell at you otherwise. The Lord of the Rings SBG is a solid set of rules—it’s the only rules set GW has made that had to pass someone (New Line Cinema) else’s scrutiny: the game went through four editions in five years, with each edition adding and improving on the edition previous. Along with all the other LotR players, I’m hoping that the upcoming Hobbit movies only bring improvements to this game system.

And who knows, perhaps in the near future I’ll have the discretionary funds necessary to attend the Gathering in the Desert tournament that’s regularly held every February in Arizona!


7 responses to “If Only I Lived Closer to the Mid-West!

  1. Like you, I feel LOTR is better represented by large armies clashing, and looked forward to WOTR coming out, and played it several times, but I have become frustarted with the game for various issues with it… ( I am hoping for a Hail Caesar variant!)
    The SBG is fun, but just doesnt sit so well with my idea of the scale of the conflict. But yes its certainly fun with a few figures to represent a skirmish, and the mechanism works quite well and enjoyably so for Legends of the High Seas too, where pirate crews are at fairly low levels.
    The one frustration with skirmish gaming is where, as you say, forces get too large, and it becomes annoying and frustrating having to move all the individual figures…

    But who knows, I could be tempted into getting back into playing it, and with a bit of planning and permission from SWMBO, it may be a reason to arrange a trip to the US, for the next ‘Gathering’?

    • Yeah, I still like War of the Ring, but its rules really make a good argument for house rules–HOWEVER with the Hobbit soon coming, perhaps New Line (or what-have-you) will turn the screws on GW and insist on revamped rules that are noticeably different than WotR…just as what happened with the LotR games (I was a worker bee at GW in 200-2005 and saw just how much better each edition of the LotR SBG got with each movie-instigated revamp).

      I’m tempted to pull out all my Middle Earth RPG source books and make up an ensemble of magic items & rules and start gaming LotR SBG with those implemented to a certain degree–or run a battle-companies-esque campaign where such magic items could be gained alongside skills–and then figure out how to transfer battle companies to LotR SBG and then transfer the SBG to War of the Ring games: essentially making it an escalating game where players start off with some scouts, progress to limited engagements and then culminate in some epic battles!
      …I’m sure I’ll never have the time to make such a campaign; but who knows…..

  2. WOTR is good at its core (well aside from non-hero monsters and bow/high def) – it is some statlines and special rules that need another look.

    So what you have to say about the design revision process for SBG is very, very, encouraging. It wouldn’t take much more to make WOTR very well balanced and it would be a sight less clunky than even my streamlined version of houserules.

    So from your mouth to GW’s/New Line’s/Warner’s ears!


    • Thanks!

      Here’s hoping the future of War of the Rings with GW is bright (and devoid of failed stupidity tests on Workshop’s part!)

      Was that your guys’ Market Garden Flames of War game I saw being highlighted on Battlefront’s FoW main page? Congrats are definitely in order!

  3. It was us (I am even in that group-photo… somewhere) and my boys were down defending the Oosterkeek.

    All credit goes to the organisers though, and I’ll be passing on your and others’ congratulations to Simon tomorrow at our FOW tournament.

  4. Hmm, where are you located? I may be able to talk the guy who runs GitD ( to try to help you out with registration). Some of the folks going to BBB will be making the trip to GitD.

    • I live up in Canada (Calgary, Alberta)…so I really am quite far away: Chicago is about 2500km / 1600mi away….hence my wishing I lived (a lot) closer to there.
      Thanks for the offer with GitD registration (etc), but there’s really no way I’ll be able to go to the event this next time–same goes for BBB in Chicago–I’m in the process of starting a business right now, so my time is at a premium right now (as is money)…and there likely won’t be much change in that until well after Gathering in the Desert V has come and gone.
      But thanks for the offer–and thanks for checking out my blog!

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