Today’s post covers a War of the Ring game that I played near the start of the month–two weeks ago now. It was against a friend who’s played WotR a couple times and has now decided to get into it full bore with an army of Galadhrim: the Elves of Lothlorien.
After rolling our mission and with the two armies coming to grips being from Angmar and Lothlorien, I liked thinking that the story behind this battle was that the evil minions of Angmar descended upon Galadriel and Celeborn as they led a complement of their Galadhrim through the Weather Hills–probably journeying to the Elven Havens of Lindon. Why the Galadhrim would travel from Lothlorien (just south of the eastern entrance of Moria) to the Grey Havens on the western coast of Middle Earth by way of the Weather Hills (just north of Weathertop) is anyone’s guess. Who knows what lured the Elves of Lorien into the empty lands that were once the Dunedain’s kingdom of Arnor?
Before the game started, we rolled ‘Battle for the Pass’ for the game’s set up and ‘Seize the High Ground’ for its mission. This meant our objective was a ‘high point’ in the center of the table, and we were playing length-wise down the table—a board that had hills touching each table edge but nothing in the table’s center apart from some moveable rough terrain with some broken columns. So the game was less the fight for a hill in the middle of a mountain pass and more a fight for a rough patch of ground in the middle of a hilly causeway–possibly through some low mountains or tall foothills.
Quick Note on Pronunciation: I’m a huge Tolkien nerd. I still remember how dumb I felt when, after reading Lord of the Rings a few times and also after playing the Middle Earth Role-Playing game for a couple years, I discovered that I had been pronouncing a lot of the basic spellings in Lord of the Rings incorrectly.
As I was content to simply read the stories and play the RPG, it had taken me years before chancing upon on some appendices telling me that the ‘C’ at the beginning of Elven names was pronounced as a ‘K’ and not like the ‘S’ I had always assumed it to be (so it’s Kirdan the shipwright and Keleborn the Wise, husband to Galadriel, ruler of Lothlorien and NOT “Sirdan” or “Sellaborn”). And it was only two years ago that I learned the “dh” in Galadrim was pronounced as a “th” noise—not “th” as in myth or thing but a “th” as in that or there.
Even with the pictures I did take while we played, I can’t remember enough details to give the detailed play-by-play I’d like for each turn. This is what happens when you wait a couple weeks to do up a battle report for a game that you took no notes of while you were playing! Anyhoo.
I can’t remember who won the dice-off for setting up first and going first, but it didn’t really matter: because the scenery was set up before we rolled the mission; I wasn’t expecting that the one large piece of defensible terrain (capacity of 6 companies/movement trays) to be a factor until a few turns into the game. I was wrong.
The ruins, thanks to the length-wise deployment, now sat in the center of the Elven lines and almost completely inside the their deployment zone…meaning in the first turn, three companies of Elven archers would be occupying the stone ruins, armed with Elven longbows—and fittingly upgraded with the ‘Galadhrim Longbows’ Fortune. If Elves benefit from anything it’s a bonus to their defense stat–exactly what the ruins would give them. The rest of the Galadhrim set up was pretty straightforward: the Galadhrim Knights deployed on the right of the soon-to-be-occupied-by-Elven-archers ruins; to the left of the ruins but still sharing the center of their deployment zone was a four-company-strong formation of Galadhrim warriors, led by Galadriel; further off on their right flank was an identical formation of Galadhrim, this one led by Celeborn.
My force, outnumbering the Galadhrim complement by two-to-one, set up in kind. My Gundabad Black Shields (goblins) and shield-equipped Orc throng positioned themselves across from the Galadhrim Knights; my thinking was that their combined nine companies should be able to fend off any charges the knights were most likely going to get on them. (It’s a rare day that infantry can steal the charge from cavalry.)
My center was filled by my Orcs armed with two-handed weapons and my Court of the Old kings, a legendary formation of Barrow Wights. My Shade, with its ‘Chill Miasma’ ability (which reduces the Fight stat of ALL models whose formations are within twelve inches of the Shade), also rested in my line’s center. Behind them were my Wild Wargs, ready to speed off to wherever they’d be needed.
My right flank was made up of my Men of Carn Dûm and Orc archer formations (both being three-companies strong). Behind them was the Angmar force’s general, the Ringwraith known only as the Dwimmerlaik, atop his trusty Fell Beast mount (lovingly dubbed “Pepper” by the Dark Lord Sauron’s undead servant). With only this epic hero present, clearly this was a smaller force ranging through the Weather Hills more than it was a war party seeking glory in battle!
Lastly, I secretly marked down which terrain feature Buhrdûr, my Hill Troll hero / legendary formation, was waiting in ambush, hoping to catch the Elves unaware.
The first few turns saw the Elves sitting on their haunches in their deployment zone, none too eager to close distance with my Orcs, their archers trying to whittle down the Orcs with their bow fire while the rest of their army jockeyed into better positions to set themselves up for future charges.
The Orcs, not really liking the prospect of standing up to withering fire for too many turns in a row, moved rather tentatively forward, hoping to occupy the table’s center while still staying out of the short-range distance of the Galadrim’s longbows. (My formations getting shot at by bows doesn’t make me nervous; my formations getting shot at by bows that have a +1 strength due to being in close range does).
The rest of the Angmar force, fully aware of the Elves’ superior movement (and how easy it would be to get charged by them at the wrong moment) crept forward. The Wild Wargs moved off to the right flank, preferring to stay away from the Galadhrim cavalry (Wild Wargs are pretty squishy and are best used against infantry, where their cavalry-versus-infantry bonus dice on the charge can do some real damage). My Shade moved into defensible terrain, planning to use it to slingshot forward in a future turn. The Dwimmerlaik, painfully aware at how easy it is to be “killed” by enemy bow fire, remained at the back of the army.
Turn three was when I attempted a ‘Hail Mary’ play in hopes of hamstringing the Elves long enough to kill off one of their formations: I zipped the Dwimmerlaik forward, determined to cast ‘Pall of Night’ on the Elf archers (to guarantee that the Ringwraith wouldn’t get shot down that turn), then he’d cast ‘Transfix’ on the Galadhrim cavalry, making it so they could nothing…just long enough for the Orc formation with shields to charge them. Then, assuming I could roll well enough on my focusing attempt to cast a third spell that turn, I planned on casting ‘Strength Through Corruption’ on my sword-and-shield Orcs to as they fought the Galadhrim Knights.
This turn was pretty much indicative of how the whole game went for me. I rolled a 1 to cast ‘Pall of Night’ …so I used the Dwimmerlaik’s sole Might point to increase the die roll to a 2, making the spell successful. Unfortunately for me, the Galadhrim captain in the unit used one of his Might points to make a ‘Will of Iron’ roll and dispel ‘Pall of Night’ right then and there. Despite the Dwimmerlaik’s life now being at risk, he continued with his original plan and decided to ‘Transfix’ the Galadhrim cavalry; all he needed to do was roll high enough on his focus test to be able to cast another spell. He rolled a 1. His spell casting was done for that turn.
With heavy feet, the rest of the Angmar army continued moving forward, hoping to pressure the Elves enough that maybe they’d appear a bigger threat than the Dwimmerlaik atop his Fell Beast, Pepper, did. The only notable action was that the Shade left his defensible terrain to stay behind the Men of Carn Dûm formation in support; now the men of Carn Dûm had a Fight stat of only 2, but any Elves they fought would likewise have their Fight reduced to 2—quite the drop from Elves’ regular fight of 5.
What happened next, I don’t remember much: the Elven Galadhrim Knights jockeyed for a good position from which to charge …and the rest of the army barely budged an inch. It was only at the end of the Elven movement phase that I realised for the second turn in a row, I had forgotten to bring Buhrdûr onto the table from his ambush spot. Ugh.
Then the shooting phase saw the archers shoot down and kill the Dwimmerlaik in one volley. Ugh.
The only good thing that happened to the Angmarrim on Turn three was that the Galadhrim Knights charged my Orc formation armed with swords and shields, killed two companies and were then annihilated to the last elf—and while charging the Orcs at that! It was a rude shock to the elf player who only then realised just how fragile his elves could be (both of us expected the Knights to utterly destroy my Orcs).
The middle turns were dominated by my frustration at feeling like I was not needed to be present at the table for the game due to all the Elven special abilities—did I mention that it also took me until Turn FIVE to get it through my thick skull that Buhrdûr should come on to the table? Yeah.
With my army now leaderless and going toe to toe with an elite army lead by THREE Epic Heroes, I felt the battle slipping (fleeing?) from my grasp with each passing phase. The next few turns were characterised by the Elves continuously whittling away at my army with their bow fire, while Radagast used his ‘Epic Tranquility’ epic action each turn to ensure no enemies could charge the Elven archers in the ruins…well, ever. (And should Radagast get close to draining his Might-points reserve, Galadriel–ever within six inches of the archers in their defensible terrain–would use her ‘Counsellor’ epic ability to restore some Might back to Radagast. Ugh.)
The two formations of Galadhrim warriors had their Epic Heroes continued to use their ‘Epic Defence’ ability to ensure my bow fire could do nothing to hurt them, and thanks to good dice rolls, were also able to cast their full focus amount of spells every turn (thus ensuring my Orcs weren’t able to pass the required Terror tests to charge anything that was an Elf…you know, his whole army).
By the way, how is it that Elves are better at the “Evil” tactic of draining Courage and forcing the enemy to flee than my Evil army is?
It was also in Turn four that the Elves had given my Shade the pin cushion treatment. With the Shade no longer around threatening to level the playing field with its Chill Miasma, the Elves prepared to do battle with the Men of Carn Dûm.
By Turn five, my pack of Wild Wargs were disordered, thanks to losing one round of combat against Celeborn’s formation of Galadhrim warriors (a state they wouldn’t be able to shake for several turns…ack!). With the Wargs freaking out, the Men of Carn Dûm were robbed vital support in the coming fight against Celeborn and his Galadhrim.
The good news for me was that I finally remembered to reveal Buhrdûr and unleash him into the game. His ambush spot was the very ruins the Elven Archer formation was in, but the Ambush rules make it so that he was kicked out of the defensible terrain and had no choice but to start moving towards the rear arcs of Galadriel’s and Celeborn’s formations, hoping he wouldn’t be given the dreaded Elven “pin cushion” treatment.
Turn six, saw the Galadhrim facing the battered Angmarrim lines, ready to do battle in earnest. In one swift combat round, Galadriel’s formation destroyed the Orc formation armed with two-handed weapons holding my center (I think they had been courage-drained and failed their Terror test), and Celeborn’s Galadhrim despatched the Men of Carn Dûm—what was worse: the Carn Dûm warriors’ Berserk ability that increases their strength barely helped out enough to kill more than one company-tray of Galadhrim warriors.
By this point the game was effectively over.
The remains of my army were:
- My half-strength Orc formation with swords and shields who kept getting Courage drained enough to be unable to pass the Terror tests necessary to charge Elf formations.
- My disordered Wild Wargs…who had not been able to pass a single Courage test the entire game (and desperately needed to pass one to recover from being disordered).
- My Gundabad Black Shields, having no enemies on my left flank, were doing their best to get over to the objective.
- My archers who, thanks to the Elves’ constant use of Epic Defence, always needed to roll sixes then fours to cause any Elven casualties (by turn six, they had killed maybe eight Elves).
- Buhrdûr…too far away to charge any Elves.
- The Court of the Old Kings (Barrow Wights) who were being slowly whittled down by the ‘Light of the Valar’ spell that causes automatic casualties on any “spirit” units.
Sure that list looks like I still had an army at my disposal, but it was an exhausted force, unable to bring itself to bear against the Elves. The only bright spot was that my Barrow Wights were sitting on the objective…so, in theory, the game was still mine to lose. We kept playing.
The next two turns saw my sword-and-shield Orcs able to get a rear charge on Galadriel’s Galadhrim warriors….only to get completely destroyed; then she followed up to maul (and then destroy in short order) the Gundabad Black Shields. Despite some fancy foot work and support from Buhrdûr, the Barrow Wights were eradicated—as were the Wild Wargs.
It was at Turn nine that I finally conceded defeat with just Buhrdûr and the Orc archers left on the table. Apart from one monster and three stands of models, my entire army had been wiped out by the Galadhrim, all at the cost of about maybe twenty Elves plus the entire formation of Galadhrim Knights–a pretty good trade off for the Elves!
What Went So Horribly HORRIBLY Wrong?
War of the Ring is such that, bringing more than a couple Epic Heroes to a game changes the entire game—almost regardless of the battle’s points limit. Epic heroes in some ways are too powerful—they don’t feel it when you inspect their rules (yes, they look powerful—and darn handy to have in a tight spot…but not too powerful), but as soon as you put a few of them on the table, you see just how quickly they become bigger than their stats.
My opponent’s Galadrim army had three Epic Heroes among its lines; my army did not. It’s as simple as that: that’s the biggest reason for my army’s terrible performance. This should not be confused to mean that I’m saying my opponent’s list was cheesy or that he was power gaming; knowing what he had in his army, I simply misread how effective Epic Heroes could be and opted not to take additional heroes, favouring instead to put more formations on the table.
Which brings me to my next failing: my army had a total of twelve Might points at their disposal–but only four of them weren’t tied down to my formations’ unit champions. The Elven army packed fifteen Might points into its list; and, thanks to Galadriel’s Counselor ability, they renewed seven or eight of their Might points throughout the game…meaning the Elves had close to double the Might points at their disposal that the Angmarrim had.
Not only did my list fail in those ways, but I decided I should also play recklessly with the one Epic Hero I did have: a bad move to say the least. Losing the Dwimmerlaik (and pepper!) before the game had really begun put my army in a bad spot from the start—not that I’d say losing him was what cost me the game. I chose the Dwimmerlaik (whose ability is a 50-50 chance of forcing any hero within 12″ of the him to spend two Might points every time the enemy hero tries to use a single Might point) because his special ability had huge potential against the Galadhrim and their heroes. But I neglected to weigh just how easily Elves would turn the Ringwraith into a pin cushion—my own stupid fault, that: in more than one game I’ve had my Ringwraith on Fell Beast go down to the first volley of arrows loosed upon it.
Even if the Dwimmerlaik hadn’t been killed so early in the game, he would have been overwhelmed by all the spell casting he was up against. Plus, he didn’t have the Might points necessary to contend with the Elven heroes and all their spells and epic actions (and really, if he didn’t go down in the second turn, he would have been killed later: it’s surprising just how squishy Ringwraiths riding Fell Beasts are in the game).
So I made lots of poor and/or stupid choices that cost me the game. The last of my faults on this long list of shame I’m less sorry about: I wasn’t playing for the win. This was a game where I could have held back the Angmarrim army and simply weathered the Elven long bows for a few turns, never bothering to close with them at all. I could have moved just forward enough to hold the center objective (which I could have done in a single move phase), and then parked myself there waiting for the outnumbered elves to come to me. Instead, I played right into my opponent’s hands: I let him destroy my army bit by bit; I made sure his thrice-damnable archers never had to leave their defensible terrain; I enabled Radagast to work his mojo every turn, casting ‘Guided Arrows’ on his formation,making their shooting even more effective—and then using his ‘Epic Tranquility’ to stop any units from tussling with the archers. (It should also be noted that my archery had NO effect on those Elves: the Elven archers got a +4 Defence bonus due to their being in stone ruins).
Had I been playing the mission (as opposed to playing for fun’s sake while trying to keep one eye on the mission), I could have played boring and done much better than I did—not to suggest that victory surely would have been mine, but my defeat would not have been SO total. My army was still playing against a style of army it never had to deal with before, and I played slow to learn in this game.
Interestingly enough, I’ve played against one Mordor army several times whose driving tactic is to spam opponents with ‘Pall of Night’ and rob them of their ability to shoot well and charge. He’s tried that on my Angmarrim, but each time I’ve had too many units for him to shut down reliably each turn, making his main tactic less effective. In many ways, the Galadhrim were doing the exact same thing, but what really did me in was that they were halting my charges and caused Terror..which halted more charges! The combination of both made my army next to useless…to the point where I didn’t even need to be at the table: my army was merely going through the motions of playing the game.
So, the faults behind my defeat:
- I made a list lacking the buffs that Epic Heroes bring with them.
- My army not only had less Might at its disposal but it let the enemy have extra Might—and free reign with all those points!
- I played recklessly when I should have known better.
- I played into the enemy’s strengths rather than trying to turn the game to my army’s strengths.
- I opted to forego playing strictly to the mission, choosing instead to try getting stuck in from the start.
- Did I mention that monsters get killed a little too easily by archers? The Elven archers killed the Dwimmerlaik in a single volley…which then dictated Buhrdûr’s actions for the whole game as he was dead-scared of getting shot as well.
These are all things I’ll have to work on the next time I face up against the Galadhrim.