War of the Ring

When I was a budding young nerd, the two events that had the greatest impact on me were reading the Lord of the Rings and learning to play Dungeons & Dragons. Tolkien’s rich fantasy world and gaming have always been closely linked in my mind, which makes the torturous history of Lord of the Rings gaming sad. Oh, there have been many Tolkien-based games, but few of them managed to be both good games and faithful to the source material. I would still love to have a crack at doing a great Lord of the Rings RPG, but the rights situation is such that it’s unlikely to happen. News is better on the miniatures gaming front.

Games Workshop got the Lord of the Rings miniatures rights during the production of the movie trilogy. They have since published a series of games and sourcebooks and a beautiful line of accompanying miniatures. The Lord of the Rings miniatures game is fun, but at heart it’s a skirmish game. You might command a force of a dozen or two warriors, though the game is designed to accommodate the presence of mighty heroes like Aragorn, Theoden, and Faramir. I have enjoyed playing the game over the years, but I have to admit it’s not what I really yearned for.

No, what I’ve wanted since I was a lad was a real Lord of the Rings mass combat game, something that’d simulate the clash of armies seen in the Two Towers and Return of the King. I was therefor delighted when I learned that Games Workshop was publishing War of the Ring, a scaling up of their previous game designed for the big battles. I picked up the rulebook a few weeks ago and I must say it looks great.

First of all, it’s gorgeous. War of the Ring is full color throughout and takes advantage of all those years of minis production to show off hundreds of painted models. Second, it’s complete. It includes full rules and comprehensive army lists, so no waiting around for the army book for your favored force. Third, the design choices to scale the game up seem solid. The biggest problem moving into mass battle territory is that the minis range has been sold with round bases and you can’t really rank those up. War of the Ring gets around that by using movement trays as the organic element of army construction, each holding 8 infantry or 2 cavarly. It thus doesn’t matter how your figures are based, as long as your movement trays are the right size.

I haven’t played a game yet, so we’ll see how the rules hold up in play, but my first impression is quite favorable. The only weird thing I noted is that they held over way Ballistic Skill is expressed from the skirmish game. It’s formatted to tell you what you need to roll on a d6 to hit (so 4+, for example). The thing is that missile combat is done differently in War of the Ring and the BS score isn’t used as is. You take the BS and use it figure out an Accuracy score and that’s the number you use. You would think then that the army list would do this simple calculation for you, and list the Accuracy instead of the BS but it doesn’t. Every stat line in the game preserves the format of the skirmish game, presumably for the sake of consistency. I think it would have been smarter to provide Accuracy in War of the Ring, and then give the formula for BS if you wanted to use any of these stats in the skirmish game. Not a big deal but a strange design choice.

A couple of folks at Flying Lab are putting together armies, and Rick is game (as always). In the short run I’m going to use the many elves I have from other games to get playing. In the long run I’ll probably scale up Rohan and Easterling skirmish forces into full armies.

Arise, arise, Riders of Theoden!
Fell deeds awake: fire and slaughter!
Spear shall be shaken, shield be splintered,
A sword-day, a red day, ere the sun rises!
Ride now, ride now! Ride to Gondor!

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