The return to the Middle Earth tabletop had already been announced: On the occasion of the 20th anniversary of “The Fellowship” last December, I was seized by a wave of nostalgia. To breathe new life into the old projects, I treated myself to the current starter box “The Battle of Pelennor Fields”. Let’s take a look at how “Lord of the Rings” plays in the year 2022.
First, a look back:
When I sifted through my Pile of Potential in December, a lot of Lord of the Rings miniatures showed up. Some 2001-2005 painted miniatures were examined. Some I wanted to leave as they were, some I wanted to repaint. Many, many more, however, have been living a miserable existence as unpainted metal treasures in boxes for 20 years. All plastic miniatures I had sold in the course of the hobby abandonment – I have nothing more.
I had always wanted to keep the hero models to maybe paint them one day. The ordinary troops were not so important to me and also took up quite a lot of space in their casting frames. Now with Saga: Age of Magic and 7TV Fantasy two nice possibilities have arisen to use Lord of the Rings miniatures as well. Be it in a closed LotR scenario or as generic miniatures in a generic fantasy scenario. And why shouldn’t Conan also encounter “Orcs”, “Easterlings” or “Haradrim”?
I really enjoyed playing the Middle-earth tabletop back then. It was still called “Lord of the Rings Tabletop” and offered entertaining and not too tactical action in a movie style. At times I even preferred it to Warhammer Fantasy. So it was obvious to finally take a look at the current rules, when I’m dealing with the miniatures again anyway.
Starter Box: The Battle of Pelennor Fields
The once immensely popular LotR tabletop eked out an existence on the sidelines for years, which even the Hobbit movies couldn’t really change. Regardless of this, there was always a loyal and active tournament scene that enjoyed great loyalty, even in Germany. Possibly it was the support of longtime fans that kept the system alive at all. Although GW had declared the Middle-earth tabletop as the third main system besides Warhammer Fantasy and Warhammer 40,000, the support was rather sparse in the meantime and might not have attracted new players.
For many, it came as a surprise when 2018 saw the release of “The Battle of Pelennor Fields”, a completely new starter box, and the simultaneous release of several new miniatures. To this day, this has not subsided, even if the system is still much less supported than the other main systems and many novelties appear at Forgeworld. So a certain revitalization was discernible. My cautious assessment is nevertheless that GW mainly serves old players with it or brings back former players. There are quite a few who, like me, have taken up the hobby again after years of abstinence. We are probably the target group.
Even though the Starterbox is now a few years old, I would like to review it here. Maybe there are more possible returnees among my readers?
What’s in the box?
The Pelennor box is filled to the brim: Included are the current and complete hardcover(!) rulebook, 84 plastic miniatures, an accompanying booklet, and some game essentials like dice, scales, and cardboard markers. That the full rulebook is included is a nice surprise. GW usually gives the starter boxes slimmed-down quick-start rules and refers to separately purchased rulebooks – this additional investment is now omitted.
The box also has a lot to offer in terms of miniatures: The 84 figures are divided into:
- 1 King Theoden mounted
- 1 King Theoden on foot
- 12 Riders of Rohan
- 12 Warriors of Rohan
- 20 Warriors of the dead
- 1 Witch-King of Angmar/Nazgul on Fellbeast
- 1 Mordor Troll
- 36 Morannon Orcs
The two variants of Theoden are the only novelties, all other miniatures are previously released. The impressive model of the Ringwraith can be assembled either as the Witch-King of Angmar or as an ordinary Ringwraith, and the Mordor Troll also comes with the familiar variants including the war drums.
Light and Shadow
Thematically, the box is a well-rounded affair. Many participants in the battle on the Pelennor Fields are included. Additional heroes can be added without any problems and the troops can be increased. So the battle can be replayed well. The selection also serves as a starting point for a Mordor or Rohan army, as it provides an attractive base in each case, which will be present in both armies anyway. This also makes the box interesting for players who want to join in pairs and share the contents.
The rulebook is very positive and not to forget the price. Currently, the box costs 120€, with many dealers there is still neat discount on top. The rulebook costs 45€ individually, the Ringwraith on Shadow 50€, the Mordor Troll 32,50€ and already the price of the box is exceeded. In fact, content worth more than 250€ is included. This is definitely an attractive offer and interesting for anyone who does not already have everything.
But not all is gold: It must be pointed out that the vast majority of the miniatures already have many years under their belt. The Rohirrim in particular all date from 2002, when they first appeared. They were modeled by the Perry brothers at that time, but even then they weren’t that great. “Newer” units like the Warriors of the Dead or the Morannon Orcs are better, but can still only be considered standard today. The new Theoden clearly shows what would be possible: clear, sharp details, a great casting. In the mold, a revision of the whole range would be necessary – four years after the release of “The Battle of Pelennor Fields”, however, this wish will clearly not come true.
I find it a pity that Theoden sensibly comes with the mounted and unmounted variant, but not the Ringwraith. If he is separated from his mount (and that happens in the game!), there is no model for him. It would be necessary to buy a model right away, if you don’t want to improvise.
And the Rules?
Well, I haven’t had a chance to test the rules in game yet and don’t know the previous version. In general, though, the Middle-earth rules seem to have remained very stable. In terms of reading, little has changed compared to the 2003 game, although there have of course been adjustments. Those who know the game from before will quickly find their way back into it, in my estimation. Some changes (new to me) were obviously already in the last version of the game: Multiple attack corners in close combat, for example, or the evaluation of magical powers. New, however, is the use of cardboard markers (actually unusual for GW), which can be used to symbolize models that have been knocked down. In previous editions, the miniatures were laid down, which could damage them under certain circumstances.
In general, the Middle-earth tabletop has remained an entertaining game without too much tactical depth. It is still quite dynamic and characterized by (dice) luck, but that also makes it easily accessible and quick to learn. I’ve always enjoyed the game, as it just made for uncomplicated and entertaining games against the Lord of the Rings background.
The accompanying booklet contains the values of all units from the box and four introductory scenarios, which are probably supposed to be a kind of turtorial. As a help for this box this is fine, but for more info you need further material.
For newcomers and returning players, the “Battle of Pelennor Fields” box is definitely recommended. You get a lot for your money and the probability is high that you would buy a large part anyway, if you enter the game differently.
However, if you want to add more units or heroes, you have to buy one of the books “Armies from Lord of the Rings” or “Armies from the Hobbit”, because only these books contain the corresponding profiles and information. In return, all options from the movies are covered with the respective supplementary book and you can really get started.
As mentioned at the beginning, I didn’t have any plastic models at all anymore. Despite the age, the complete content of the box was therefore useful for me, because so my existing collection is supplemented playable. I’ll start now with Mordor again!