They have a Cave Troll. No, really, they have. It’ll be along any minute now.

i was impressed by how the starter experience was laid out.  Quite liked that you can turn the box into a board of just the right size for the scenarios – i see wot they did thar.  It was nice that the scenarios followed the film version of events, and that they explained how the rules mechanics translated into real fighting. For instance, in melee, where the loser of a fight has to back away two centimetres, the booklet translates this as “representing the losing model backing off, desperately trying to escape the enemy”.  Obviously it has to be aimed at the youngest end of the hobby market, so it does come off as a little simplistic and twee, but it’s not terrible.  The way that the battles got bigger was good for teaching you the rules and making sure you’d grasped them firmly, before moving on to more rules.  One or two of the scenarios seemed a little unbalanced – but then again, it’s difficult to balance the fact that some of the Fellowship are very impressive, stats-wise, vs. the Goblins, that have a pretty poor statline.  Vice-versa, it’s difficult to balance nine dudes vs. millions of gobbos.

Into the Dark.

The only scenario in which Sam wasn’t any good, ’cause i managed to kill him first off. The booklet hobbled this scenario so it can teach you the simple first bits – you can’t engage in melee or cast spells, so it’s just ‘move up the board and get shot at by Goblins’. It was surprising how much even this scenario taught you about tactics. It looked a bit unbalanced – the whole Fellowship against four Goblins armed with shitty Goblin bows, (even though it was only two of the Fellowship firing back) – but if you arranged the Goblins right, if you blocked the door and if you went straight for the Hobbits, then well…  i think i could’ve had a good go at winning that one.  This time though, i let far too many of the Fellowship through the door before i thought about blocking it with my un-melee-able Goblins.

Ambush!

This one is Aragorn against eight Goblins. None of the Goblins are bowmen and Aragorn’s not allowed to shoot his bow (he’s in a hurry) so it’s just about the melee. i think you’d have to be really lucky with all your rolls to win that with Aragorn, blessed as you touch the dice, but it is good to teach the melee – any more of the Fellowship and it’d be unbalanced toward them, so it almost needs to be all these Goblins piling on Aragorn, just so you can have a simple melee fight.

There is a box in this section in the booklet which tells you all about trapping, and how useful that can be – i definitely used it a lot in the later battles. As a Goblin player, getting your attacks doubled is pretty marvellous – because the Goblins only have one Attack against most of the Fellowships’ two or three, and it seems very sad every time you’re rolling one die against the other person’s handful.  But once you’ve four or five Goblins trapping someone, all of a sudden it evens out and you have the handfuls of dice.

Von assumed Aragorn would be allowed to shoot in this scenario, and hung back when he should have been pelting it for the door, which gave my Goblins the extra time to get to him and nobble him – thus illustrating the importance of always reading the scenario!

Surrounded!

We actually had to play this one twice. It turned out that the Fellowship had to be really careful with the placement of its Hobbits so that they didn’t all get charged and nobbled within the first two turns.  i liked playing the scenario more than once, because that gave me a chance to rework my tactics or consider different placements.  It meant that if i’d sort of gone “oh man, i should have set up like this”, we could do that next time, so i could go “actually setting up like that makes no difference” or “gosh, setting up like that makes a lot of difference.”

Hiding the Hobbits behind both pillars and Fellowship control zones was what we found best to keep them alive (and therefore keep the game going), which meant they could sneak up on Goblins from behind – Merry and Pippin managed to take a couple of them down that way.  Sam, as usual, massacred at least three with his frying pan. The possibility that Aragorn would turn up was touted in the scenario – this did not happen, and so we discovered that Legolas and Gandalf can be surprisingly vulnerable. i suspect when you get into the proper rules, Gandalf gets better with the having of more spells and such, and apparently you can buy Legolas armour…

[From the perspective of the Fellowship, I have to say that this is a really tricky one to pull off without Aragorn – you’re pretty much reduced to driving hell-for-leather toward one trapdoor and the win condition it represents, pulling the Goblins after you, and clearing a route for Aragorn to rush the other. The only other way I can see of doing it is to throw Gimli toward one and trust in Defence 8 to get the little tank into place… – Ed.]

Battle in Balin’s Tomb

We had some real difficulties with Battle in Balin’s Tomb, the last scenario. The win condition for the Fellowship is ‘slay the Cave Troll’, and the Cave Troll doesn’t start on the board – it only arrives if all the Goblins on the board are dead, or you tie a Priority roll, and we didn’t tie for ages. i technically won the scenario three times, but we rewound twice so i could actually use the Troll [and so I’d at least have a chance of doing anything but play for the draw – Ed.]. It starts off looking equal, but as more and more Goblins pour in, it becomes very unequal. If the Fellowship did manage the ‘kill all the Goblins’ trigger for the Cave Troll, i think it’d be pretty easy for them, but then the trap doors are quite a sneaky thing. Von got the Hobbits onto one of them to close it up, but the other one kept Legolas tied up for the whole game, popping out one Goblin a turn so he couldn’t close it. It was even interfering with Boromir towards the end, sending more Goblins into the big punch-up Von started around the door.

Superior numbers are definitely the key to destroying the Fellowship, though. There was a beautiful moment where i got eight Goblins against Gimli, and destroyed her in one round. The Hobbits are the true Achilles’ heel of the Fellowship, and aiming for them is a definite way to win any of the four scenarios. The fact that the win condition for the Goblins was usually ‘kill four members of the Fellowship’ meant that it was usually the Hobbits you aimed for, there being four squishy ones o’ them. [Not only that – it also means the Fellowship player has to keep them out of fights, as it’s very easy for the Goblins to squash them if a combat goes awry – as the reluctant Good player in today’s engagement, I only really had five models in the Fellowship that could be relied upon not to end the scenario prematurely due to sheer luck – Ed.] If you pair them up or run them as a group, they’re slightly less rubbish. Sam appears to be amazing, as always, and nobbled about a bazillion Goblins, even though statistically he’s exactly the same as the others… his awesome just shines through, even in plastic form.

For all that i’m finding the box set and the booklet quite good, though, there are the occasional issues. There’s the inability to use the singular of ‘dice’, the inability to consider that a female might be playing the game (it’s not exactly hard to put a gender-neutral pronoun in there), the terrible painting advice (or rather, lack thereof)…

There are four pages on which painting is shown, and the only useful bit of advice on any of them (to someone who wants their models to look even vaguely like the actual things, rather than formless blobs of paint) is the bit where it says, basically, “it’s easier if you use less paint”. The rest of it just says “Paint your model part by part. Use paint to do this. A paintbrush can be useful.”, pretty much. i don’t think it would have been too much to ask for a couple of techniques or thoughts on blending, or shading, or anything other than just slapping paint on. The fact that the models in the rest of the guide look decently painted and then you get to the painting guide and they look bollocks is just so glaring. And some poor child is gonna be thinking “I shall paint these, it will be fine, they will look like the things on the picture.”  There isn’t even a bit where it says “go into your local Games Workshop to learn a bit more about painting”, which you’d think they’d be advertising, as they always do that in the actual shops.

i’m surprisingly happy with my Goblins. i was gonna play Evil anyway [which makes me sad, because it means I can’t – Ed.] as a purely aesthetic choice, but it’s nice to see that they are actually playable as a winner’s army as well as a contrary person’s army. i’d like the chance to play with my Troll for longer (phner phner) – it was sad that he came on, and got immediately stabbed in the balls by Aragorn, and then i won by trapping Boromir – so he only had the one round of combat.  i’d have liked to see the Gimli-Troll match, which i think would have been pretty epic, but by that point Gimli had fallen under the wave of Goblins (and Von’s go-to solution to the Troll was gonna be a direct hit from the Dwarf Tank).

You may now commence belching

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