With some time off after Christmas I was able to schedule a game with a friend and long time Lord of the Rings player. For him it was his first game in a year. For both of us it was our first game with the new Hobbit SBG rules.
My initial deployment found me placing my Uruk-hai crossbowmen on the second floor of a ruined building on my left flank across from Mike's Dwarf archers deployed on a hill on his right flank. To the right of the building I deployed Saruman and his bodyguard in hopes of getting some Sorcerous Blasts off on the Dwarf flanks. Finally, in the center I deployed my third Warband led by the Captain so they could go toe-to-toe with the Dwarves.
As the game began I managed to get my Shaman to cast Fury using a heroic channelling which meant the fate roll was a 5+ instead of the normal 6+. Saruman, on the other hand, botched his roll for Sorcerous Blast. The crossbowman killed one dwarf archer and that was it. On Mike's turn he called a Heroic Accuracy with his captain positioned by his archers. This allowed them to re-roll any failed in the way rolls. Even though I had hid Saruman behind some Uruk-hai Mike was able to use his archers and the re-roll to force Saruman to take a couple of Fate rolls, which he passed.
The new rules are great! The game is the same game as the Lord of the Rings SBG but has definite tweaks to it that give the game some new life and new challenges. The new options for spending Might are very cool. They give characters a chance to use Might when they might not normally do so. For instance, Mike's Dwarf Captain leading the archers used his two points to call Heroic Accuracy which reduced Saruman's fate and wounds to the point where one lucky shot was enough to kill him. With how far out of the battle that model was, without that use of Might for that action that figure may well have ended the game not having used any might at all.
Heroic Channeling is another great use of Might. Using it on my Fury spell meant I saved wounds on a 5 or 6. I have almost never made a fate roll in the past but with it being 5+ I actually passed three or four. Considering that is about all my Shaman is good for I think I'll be using that move with him in the future.
The other big change is the added rules for weapons. For my Uruk-hai, they could use Feint which gives you a re-roll of 1's on the wound roll but reduced your fight value by d3. With us both having F4 this wasn't so useful to me. Mike, on the other hand, could do Piercing Strike which increase their strength D3 if they win but reduced their defense D3 if they lose. Maybe if I won the duel roll more often this might have been good for me but with Dwarves high defense (7 usually) even this reduction may not have a huge impact. But the increased strength really killed me, often letting him wound on 4 or 5 instead of 6.
The two concerns I have are more about tournament games. First, not only the time it takes to decide when to use new Heroic Actions or Special Strikes but the additional time it takes to resolve these (re-rolls, rolling to determine the increased strength, etc.) will add to the length of the game turn. This will lessen as people become more comfortable with the rules but even then I still worry the game will take longer. The second concern is about the use of the Special Strikes themselves. Some models, like the dwarf warriors are armed with axes, making it easy to decide what Special Strike they could use. But, do you declare every time or simple tell the opponent "all strikes are Piercing unless I say otherwise" which is how many people currently handle two-handed weapons. Then there is the issue of warriors armed with two-handed weapons. The rules state that, unless it says they are unarmed a model always has a hand weapon. So, does the model now need to have that weapon modelled on it (it never did before)? And if you choose to use the hand weapon instead of the two-handed weapon can you use a Special Strike and if so which one. So for our game we decided that models such as the Uruk-hai berserker has both a two-handed sword and a dagger (this is generally how it was played before). In this case, if I used the dagger I could have used the Feint strike. In cases like this, I don't like the idea of modeling something that is assumed to be their but I also think there needs to be some rule about what this hand weapon is (i.e. you can't just choose which weapon is best based on the special rule). My personal feeling now is that, if not specified, the hand weapon is always a dagger or sword thus making it easier to know what special strike that can use.
As you see though, these concerns are really only related to tournament games as I think in friendly games players could establish their own "house rules" to deal with odd situations. All in all, I'm very happy with the new rules and I'm excited to see a renewed interest in the game. I'm not sure how well this will stick but given the small crowd for LotR I feel that any new player is a big win for us.