War of the Ring at Croydon 4-Apr-09

090404croydon16aWar of the Ring made its debut at NWA on the day that the rule set was released for sale. Several members had been pre reading copies at Games Workshop stores to get a head start. A number of keen members had painted up many of the movement trays in the few weeks since their release so the rules could be tried out straight away. These photos show what a small version of the new game looked like at Croydon.

Click on any photo below to see a larger version of the photo.

War of the Ring

The first game was helped along by Travis, who had been playing at Games Workshop to get an idea of the rules. Traditional enemies were chosen for this first encounter. The Riders of Rohan versus the tough Uruk-hai.

The game moved along reasonably quickly, despite having to look up rules a lot. The rules appear straightforward to learn. Something to watch is the changes of some movement distances and a few characteristics compared to the Lord of the Rings skirmish game that we are used to playing. But many things are the same, so it made it easy to pick up.

The pike blocks of Uruk-hai looked impressive as did the many trays of Rohan horsemen. This was only a part of our combined collections, to ease introduction to the rules, but gave a taste of how good it would look when we a ready for massive battles. Pelennor Fields; here we come.

Movement and Manoeuvring

The Riders of Rohan can move full distance and shoot. This is allowed by Warg Riders as well,which makes itlikely that the light cavalry can perform its proper skirmishing role in the game. These special type of rules make a more interesting game and give a better feel of the special characters and different races in Lord of the Rings.

Movement is very fluid; which we like. On the whole it is reasonably straight forward. You move one company in a formation first. This company can be any of the companies in a unit. No part of the base can move further than the allowed movement. This means checking the corners. Then the other companies are moved, but no part of each company can be moved more than the  movement allowance. Care must be taken if a complex change of formation and direction is performed. Players can often check carefully with movement of the first unit, then quickly move the others around it.

Also take care in manoeuvring when close to the enemy. Movement is halved if you start within 6" of the enemy. This is a good rule. It reduces the ability of infantry formations from unrealistically leaping around onto the flanks of other infantry units when starting in front. It is still possible for cavalry to do this, which is fine.

Charging and running away are different. A die is rolled to determine the distance moved after declaring a charge. If the lead charging company cannot make it into contact, or you roll a 1, the charge fails and the formation stays where it is. This is great as it makes it exciting not knowing whether the chargers will hit home. Rules like this are good for the long term viability of a rule set as they take some of the predictability out of a game. Such random variation is great in a rule set as it stops the experienced players from knowing exactly what will happen.

Also different is that once the lead formation is moved into contact, the other companies can move twice their normal move to form around the lead company. That is the normal move, not the random charge move. With care this can allow more companies to come into contact.

Another tactic this can be used for is to shield some troops like Uruk-hai Berserkers behind another formation until the last minute. This can safeguard the Berserkers from bow fire or charging cavalry. When the front formation charges in, move one flank company of this formation into support rather than charging straight. This unmasks the Uruk-hai and gives them an opportunity to charge home against the enemy formation.

This would make a great cinematic moment. The defenders confident in bracing themselves for a charge by normal troops. Suddenly the enemy parts and a horde of Berserkers come thundering towards them. A bit shaky at the knees for the defenders. Although they would have a good chuckle if the Berserkers roll a 1 and don't end up charging! This is the stuff that memorable games are made of.

Getting Up Close and Personal

Large combats are quicker than in the skirmish game, as you would expect to suit this larger scale game. There is no "to hit" roll and a separate "wound" roll. There is just a "wound" roll. Instead, the various factors that affected the "to hit" roll modifiy the number of dice rolled. With such a large number of dice being rolled, the results tend to be more average. This is good, but extreme results will still occur enough to keep the tension.

One thing we did wrong initially, but corrected ourselves later in the game after more careful reading of the rules, was in taking off casualties. The first paragraph on this is misleading, but it is explained clearly in the following numbered points. It shows not to rely on interpretations or  rules that have been passed on by word of mouth via several people. The message gets distorted. So go back to the rule book and read it for yourself.

What we were doing wrong was to take the casualties from an infantry company in contact and not give them the chance to fight back against cavalry that had charged them. What we should have done was to remove them from supporting units (point 2 in the book, as point 1 did not apply in this case). If there is enough support you can still end up with 8 in the front company, which at least gives them a chance of doing some damage back.

This we like as it represents the ones in the back pushing forward to take the place of fallen comrades. It also means that units with depth can initially soak up casualties, but one this depth runs out, the unit can fall apart very quickly. This gives a very realistic feel to the battles. It also gives the player a choice. Do they expand their formation to a 1 deep line and get the full weight of their numbers as dice? This may give them an advantage early on in a fight but will make them more fragile later on. Or do they keep some depth, which does not give them as many dice, but makes them less susceptible to injuries if the fight continues. It is these sort of simple but agonising decisions for the players that make a game enjoyable.

Despite early success for the Rohan, the Uruk-hai eventually routed them from the field of battle. Travis was a great help in guiding us through the rules. The game was enjoyed by the players and onlookers, who were all keen to see how the new system worked. 

Hobbits versus Ruffians and Wild Wargs

Given that some minor mistakes were made in the playing of the previous game, a smaller game was chosen to check carefully through the rules. Some Hobbits were pitted against a company of Ruffians and 2 small groups of Wild Wargs.

The Hobbits shot away the enemy force before they most could come into contact. It showed how fragile a small formation of only one company was; in this caseRuffians andWild Wargs. When a formation is down to its last base, the formation disperses (is removed from play) if it is reduced to half or less on that last base.So for an infantry formation of one base, it only requires 4 casualties for that base to disappear. If a formation has 2 bases, then 12 casualties are required before the formation disperses.

So you can see that only 8 casualties are required to disperse two 1-base formations but 12 are required to disperse one formation of 2 infantry bases. The two 1-base formations may be more flexible in movement, but they are certainly more fragile in combat.

The new system appears to be very playable and will make for a quick game once players are familiar with the rules.