Siege of Gondor, Prologue: Osgiliath

This scenario is the first from the Siege of Gondor book, and covers the events surrounding Boromir’s battles in Osgiliath, which happen off-screen in Lord of the Rings (but on-screen in the movies). The format of this scenario is essentially a multi-way king of the hill game. 5 objectives are scattered in the middle of the board, 3 closer to the good guys, 2 to the bad guys. Whoever controls the most objectives at game end wins. The scenario features a bit of everything: we have the face-off between the major heroes Boromir and Gothmog (an Orc in Peter Jackson and GW’s imagination). You’ve got the Citadel Guard up against the heavily armed and armored Morannon Orcs, Mordor’s shock troops. And you’ve got a chunk of mobile cavalry on both sides, some Knights of Gondor and Warg Riders.

Kim, Jeff, and I were the good guys. Milton, Rich, and Richard were the bad guys. There are a lot of models.

The twist to the scenario is that half your models start on the board while the other half arrive randomly – maybe on a friendly board edge, but maybe on the flanks, and maybe in a spot chosen by your opponent. Our attack started out well – Boromir the tank charging down the middle, while the Knights and some archers screened the flanks. Things started to go awry when a bunch of Wargs showed up on Jeff’s flank. He rapidly found himself outnumbered, outflanked, and trapped in the street with nowhere to retreat. As you might imagine, this did not end well.

Meanwhile Kim and Richard were staring at each other across neutral territory on the left flank. After a few turn, Kim decided to try her luck with a charge, as we were feeling like the crumbling right flank was forcing our hand. It started out looking promising, but the Orcs were driven to a Fury by their shaman, and repelled the charge.

Meanwhile, in the center, Boromir was making progress … but not fast enough. The Orcs were simply falling back under the wily leadership of Gothmog as Boromir pressed on, and he and his Citadel Guard just couldn’t come to grips with them and couldn’t reach the objectives.

The collapsing flanks then led to bad news for the good guys.

This was a pretty good scenario, and played quickly for one so big (more than 100 figures on the table); we finished it in under 3 hours. It’s a fluid battle with so many objectives, which I think is good, and the players have a lot of freedom in making choices. My only complaint is the system for determining where and when the reinforcing units show up, which involves a lot of die rolling but should be played strictly instead of taking shortcuts (that is, roll a die for a model, make the decision where he shows up, go on to the next one, rather than doing them in chunks) for best effect.

Osgiliath (The Two Towers)

We always knew that The Two Towers was going to have to be, ah, altered a bit to make the leap to the big screen. The Two Towers game module preceded the movie by about a month, and we got a taste of how much … the last scenario had Frodo and Sam with Faramir in Osgiliath? With a culvert? What’s up with that? The funny thing is, after the movie came out we still weren’t all that enlightened because this whole scenario was cut, sharing the fate of the Flight to Lothlorien (from Fellowship) and the battle in the streets of Minas Tirith (from Return of the King). We got it back in the Extended Edition though.

At any rate, we played the scenario. Frodo starts on the board edge and has to make it to the middle, where the escape route is located. Of a large horde of Orcs, half start near the culvert (the delaying force), and half start near the board edge (the hammer). The hammer serves more as a timer, since if they arrive in the melee before Frodo has escaped, it’s bad, bad news for the good guys.

Rich and I played the bad guys to Jeff’s good guys. Things got off to a good start as the much-maligned (with reason) Orcish archery arm managed to do some damage, actually knocking off more Rangers than they lost themselves. This was kind of cool, we haven’t played a scenario in which both sides had substantial archery capabilities in a long time, so we got to see a little bit of an actual firefight instead of the infantry/cavalry or siege slugfests that have been more common of late. Damrod and a small force on the flank were mauled early, although Damrod himself survived (much to the aggravation of Rich, who rolled like 8 dice to try to eliminate him once). But where Faramir went, the Orcs were driven back, and he managed to force his way towards the culvert.

What then emerged was probably the greatest density of figures I’ve ever seen in a Middle-Earth game. I mean, it makes sense – there is only one objective in the game for the good guys, and it’s right in the middle of the table. So it ended up like elementary school soccer, with everyone forming a big mob around the ball. Faramir and Frodo reached the culvert, but found it jammed shut, and as they worked to open it, they were sliced apart. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen Frodo buy it before, but then again I don’t think we’ve ever played a scenario in which he had to be so close the pointy end of things.

Gollum was in this scenario, and he proved to be pretty much a non-factor until right at the end, when in a critical battle Gollum took over from Smeagol and he throttled a Gondorian soldier in a heroic fight to break through to allow a few more orcs to get at Frodo and seal his fate. Gollum has one might point, which I must admit seems a little wacky to spend on “leadership” type activities like heroic moves and combats as I did here; I doubt surrounding Orcs or Rangers (depending on whose side he’s on this turn) would be much impressed by his heroic example. The rules for Gollum, like Wormtounge, are a bit sketchy (OK, the Wormtounge rules are really sketchy). But these guys arguably don’t really belong in a full-on battle anyway. I might have to add him to the list of stuff that needs to be house-ruled.

This was a good second-tier scenario. I enjoyed it, it seemed pretty well balanced, the tactics were interesting, but now that I’ve done it it’s not high on my list of stuff to play again. With a few tweaks, maybe, to mix it up a bit and so that it doesn’t end up quite as the huge melee right around the victory area. But the Minas Tirith street battle from Return of the King (the Gandalf vs. the Witch King grudge match) was similar in flavor but much more interesting, at least from a replay standpoint, in my opinion.

The Siege of Minas Tirith

The Siege of Gondor siege-type scenarios are quite different in character than the ones from Helm’s deep. Saruman’s Uruk-Hai fielded only one piece of siege equipment (the Ballista) and it was largely a glorified paperweight. The Uruk-Hai relied on their martial prowess and ladders, and the occasional explosive, while the defenders depended a lot on the various heroes, shielding, and pushing down ladders.

The Orcs – even the “elite” Morannon Orcs Sauron fields in this scenario – are no Uruk-Hai. To counter that, they’ve got siege towers, catapults, and bolt-throwers. Unfortunately, the defenders are also similarly-equipped. The Gondorians are, however, much less numerous. I played the bad guys.

Crossing the beaten zone in front of the walls is a harrowing experience. The trebuchets threw rock after rock at the siege towers, but were only able to damage one of them before the doors opened and the Orcs poured out. Swirling melees developed near both towers, with the side that had to deal with Gandalf doing much more poorly. Gothmog, meanwhile, established a secure bridgehead on the right flank and started to push towards the gate. The left flank cleared up a bit when we decided to have the catapult drop a rock right into the middle of the melee, which got about 3 Orcs for every two Gondorians, but that seemed a fair trade to us. The Orcs carrying the battering ram rapidly determined that their odds of actually breaking into the fortress were so low, they split up and grabbed some ladders instead. Under heavy bow fire, only one actually made it to the top before being dispatched.

A big problem for us was the ineffectiveness of our heavy troops. The Trolls got blasted by defending bolt-throwers and did little more than push the towers. Due to some bad luck, the Witch-King did little more than disable on trebuchet – quite helpful, but you expect a little more for your 200 point investment.

In the end, though, the mass of decent-quality Morannon Orcs backed up by the leadership of Gothmog was enough. Just barely – it came down to the last die roll on the last turn – but enough.

I was generally pretty happy with the scenario, with one exception – the Gondorian bolt-throwers are an incredible pain. The siege equipment in general is a bit of a pain to resolve – roll a die for scatter, a die to hit, a die to wound, then a die to batter, with possible another die for an obstructed target – but the bolt-throwers just shoot so many times (requiring another die roll to determine the number of shots), every time you shoot one you’re rolling like 15 times. It’s just too much of a pain, and they are ungodly powerful for a paltry 70 points. I have also come to dislike the Games Workshop banner rules, which require a lot of re-rolling and so are a bit fiddly.

So the Gondorian bolt-thrower has been added to my list of units that need a house rule. In general, I’ve been extremely happy with how well-done the rules for the game are, but there is a short list of stuff which for me doesn’t work to varying degrees: Boromir’s horn, Anduril, banners, and now the bolt-thrower. I’ve also been considering adding Aragorn’s free might per turn to the list, which is incredibly powerful. So I’ll have to see what I can come up with.

Shadow & Flame – The Eastgate

We had originally thought to do a game of The Pellanor Fields from The Return of the King, but when we ended up with only 3 people (Pellanor is pretty huge), we decided to go with this scenario from Shadow & Flame and save Pellanor for a later date.

Overall, I’ve quite liked the Shadow & Flame scenarios, but this one fell a little flat for me. An onboard detachment of Goblins has been loosly outflanked by the Dwarves, who are forcing their way into Moria. The Goblins have to fall back, delaying the Dwarves until reinforcements show up.

This is another scenario that is hugely dependant on reinforcement die rolls; it’s possible for the second detachment of Goblins never to enter, which would be a game-loser. If they do enter, it just becomes a scrum in the doorway, with large numbers of Dwarves and Goblins locked in a big, confined melee with minimal opportunity for maneuver.

With so many interesting scenarios still unplayed, and more very good scenarios awaiting second and third playings, it’ll be a while before I come back to this one.

Return of the King: Minas Tirith

So which really is better, Gandalf the White (200 points) or the Witch-King on a Fell Beast (also 200 points)? On paper, it looks like a no-brainer – the Witch-King has 20 will, 3 might, a higher defense, good spells, and that fell beast which gives him 3 attacks and a flying movement rate of 12″. All Gandalf gets is 6 will and his free will per turn.

That free will per turn, though, is a big deal. And Gandalf’s spells, especially the Ultimate Sorcerous Blast and Effortlessly Immobilise, are quite potent. After the Witch King had spend half a dozen will points draining all Gandalf’s will, that free will still allows Gandalf to cast spells almost every turn. And his 3 wounds and 3 fate makes him tough to eliminate, even by the Mordor Troll.

So this matchup is very interesting. Unlike, say, in The Queen’s Gambit where the Jedi and Sith just roll lots of dice until one survivor joins the rest of the battle and starts ripping through the line troops, there are a lot more interesting choices here, and Gandalf has to choose between dealing with the Witch-King and the also extremely deadly Mordor Troll.

The real difficulty with the big models is getting them to eliminate more than one enemy model per turn as the enemy just feeds him a sacrificial unit each turn. Not bad, but you expect a bit more for your 200 point investment. Our Witch-King was perpetually tied down by a single Fountain Court Guard, and we had bad luck with our Heroic Combat results (I think the Witch-King lost every single one of his follow-on combats).

The turning point in this game was when the Mordor Troll was taken down after being surrounded by Warriors of Minas Tirith; in our admittedly small sample size of games, nobody had managed to even touch one of these guys before. While you’ve got to put these guys on the front line obviously and take your chances, I could have done a much better job of watching his flanks, because it was the double-strikes for being surrounded that were fatal.

This was a great scenario, I look forward to playing it again and highly recommend it.

Return of the King: Army of the Dead

This scenario from the Return of the King features Aragorn wielding Anduril, Legolas, Gimli, and a bunch of dead guys tearing into what appears to be the standard Return of the King contingent of Orcs – 36 of them plus two of the ever-imposing Mordor Trolls. Tonight, one of them will even really be a Mordor Troll model, as my newly-painted figure makes its debut appearance. The other will be represented by a rather less imposing Cave Troll.

Once again, the good guys are trying to break through to Minas Tirith (i.e., exit off the opposite board edge). This time, though, instead of a long, narrow battlefield, it’s a short, wide battlefield. The bad guys (Kim & I), setting up first, have to spread out to cover the whole board. The good guys then predictably clump along the right flank.

Here’s the brief summary: Aragorn rips through the bad guys, as usual. I don’t think we landed a single blow on him, although he never had to face the Troll. The Army of the Dead is nasty but not overwhelming – the Orcs managed to take quite a few down actually, to the point that the game was actually very close, the good guys exiting only a single extra model. The wound-split (Orcs need a 6 to wound the Dead, while the Dead need a 4 to would the Orcs) is ugly, but once the Orcs start ganging up and using their two-handed weapons to good effect, it’s no walk-over. And that Troll. A huge amount in this scenario hinges on whether the one Mordor Troll who can get into action can pass his courage checks to charge the Dead. Once he’s in there, he’s a smashing, mashing machine; with his fight 7, strength 7, and 3 attacks, about all you can do is get out of the way. In this game, Gimli was flattened beneath his hammer which was greeted by great applause from Mordor; Kim & I couldn’t even remember the last time Gimli had ever been eliminated, or even seriously wounded.

At the end of the day, I admit I wasn’t particularly taken with this scenario. Without any cavalry-type models, the long, wide board just means the good guys form a flying wedge right up against the side of the board furthest from a Mordor Troll and dash for the exit. Not really that compelling, much less interesting than the Ride of the Rohirrim scenario. The real appeal here is the Army of the Dead, which is kind of cool (lots of courage checks for the bad guys), but hopefully they’ll make a more impressive appearance in the Pellanor Fields. Just need to finish painting a few more Easterlings.

Ride of the Rohirrim

This is the scenario from Return of the King I’ve been angling to play since I got the set. The Mordor Trolls were just released last Friday and I haven’t been able to finish painting any yet, so we substituted in Cave Trolls. I also didn’t have any generic Rohan banners, so we substituted the more powerful Royal Standard for both banners, which was theoretically an even point swap. Games Workshop calls the scenario the Charge of the Rohirrim, but the name of the chapter in the Return of the King is the Ride of the Rohirrim, so we’ll go with that.

The Riders of Rohan were always slightly frustrating in The Two Towers, because the Uruk-Hai with their defense of 6 and strength of 4 and Pikes were very, very tough, so even the Riders were really not a match for them one-to-one. Now, however, they are facing down Orcs, who are not as strong, have no pikes, and have courage-related issues. All of a sudden the chances of actually eliminating your opponents are doubled, the fight values are even – plus you get all the charge bonuses. The Royal Guard are all of a sudden a lot tougher now that their heavy armor makes a difference.

All this means that the Rohirrim tore through the Orcs in this scenario quite impressively. Where Théoden, Éomer, the Royal Standard, and the Royal Guard went, the Orcs melted away. On the other hand, the Mordor Trolls were virtually immovable objects, rocks on which the charge broke whenever in ran up against them with their monstrous fight and strength. Fortunately, we were able to use the maneuverability of the Rohirrim to pin and avoid them to a great degree, so they didn’t quite do as much damage as expected. I think it’s basically impossible to take those guys down, but fortunately the good guys don’t have to.

Once the morale of the Orcs broke, things went downhill badly – this is the primary way to deal with the Trolls, I guess once everyone starts panicking the Trolls panic too, because despite their prowess their courage is fairly lousy. The Rohirrim are on a tight schedule – they have to exit half their models plus a hero from the opposite edge in only 10 turns. It was actually surprisingly close in the end, as a number of Riders got pinned down in the middle game, and while the combination of heroes backing up Théoden was able to do impressive damage with coordinated heroic fights, it meant some riders were without leaders and susceptible to being pinned if we didn’t win the priority. Also, we found that somehow an extra 3 riders got added to the good guys by mistake. We were still able to exit half, but I don’t know how much difference the three extra guys made.

Anyway, a good and exciting scenario. Definitely one to play again, especially once we get some real Mordor Trolls.