Friday, December 28, 2012

The Hobbit SBG: The First Battle Report

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.
A quick recap of the game and then I'll try and break down the rules changes and my thoughts on them in general.  We played a 600 point game with me bringing 3 Uruk-hai warbands led by Saruman, a Captain and a Shaman while Mike brought 3 Dwarf warbands led by two Captains and Gimli.  We played "Lords of Battle". 

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 following turns saw our two forces get stuck in to combat with me initially having a slight edge in kills.  Saruman also managed to get off two Sorcerous Blasts killing a total of 4 Dwarf Warriors and 1 Banner.  He also used the Palantir to steal priority giving him a wonderful flank shot of Sorcerouns Blast.  On the downside, Mike used another Heroic Accuracy to whittle Saruman down to zero fate and 1 wound.  I quickly pulled Saruman back and hid him behind two Uruk-hai forcing Mike to make two in the way rolls.  With no might left and all but two archers out of range, Mike took a chance and shot his two in range archers at Saruman.  One hit, passed both in the way rolls (on a 5) and then rolled a 6 to wound Saruman!  With no fate and one wound that was the end of Saruman giving mike 6 victory points in one figure.
The death of Saruman was a sign of things to come.  The battle in the center started to turn Mike's way given the intervention of Gimli and the other Captain.  At one stage I needed to kill 5 more to get him to break and force a roll off for the end of the game.  He needed to kill 8 to do the same to me.  For the next two rounds I killed a total of 1 warrior while Mike killed 10 of my guys.  I either failed to win combats, Mike seemed to always win the roll offs for ties and if I did win I couldn't wound anything (3's don't wound Dwarves!). Of course, Fury kept me in the game except for my 4 remaining crossbowmen on the flank which promptly ALL failed their courage checks, needing a 7 and I rolled four 6's!!  Even though we went three rounds we never rolled the one or two to end the game and finally, with me down to three figs, I cried Uncle and threw in the towel.  Even taking out the 3 points for him being unbroken I lost 39 victory points to 16.
So, the new rules clearly haven't changed my ability to win games which I guess is good news for everyone else. :)

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.

Monday, December 10, 2012

It's the most wonderful time of the year!

Why?  Just because a little film debuts in 4 days called The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey!!  Better than that is the release of the new The Hobbit Strategy Battle Game from Games Workshop.  Since I have a number of other things to paint AND I also purchased the hardback rulebook, I decided to let me family wrap the limited edition starter set: Escape From Goblin Town so I can open it at Christmas.

I thought I'd take a moment to share my thoughts about the rules and hardback book.  Since the shrink wrap is still on the box you'll have to wait for some model reviews until the new year.  Before I begin, let's just talk about the elephant in the room; namely, GW's prices.  I know, they suck but I've given up complaining about it since I'm still buying the stuff, albeit much less than before.  As much as I can dislike their pricing strategies and their attitude toward the community of gamers, I do love the game systems (Lord of the Rings and 40k), the models, and the background (40k).  Plus, I know many people who play and who I enjoy being around so in the end, I'm a GW hobbyist whether I like it or not.

On to The Hobbit Strategy Battle Game.  The hardcover rulebook has all the profiles for new models in The Hobbit plus new army lists based around the movie.  These new lists coincide with the lists in the Lord of the Rings Sourcebooks released earlier this year.  One of the things I was thrilled about was the continued use of the "Warband" lists they started in the sourcebooks.  In my mind, this sort of point match system was sorely lacking when The Fellowship of the Rings box was released in 2001.  As a result, IMHO, players either tired of the scenario based system or didn't get hooked as it was NOT like starting 40k or Fantasy.  All this changed with Legions of Middle-earth, the first supplement to offer dedicated army lists and ally rules.  Then came numerous army books based on the same system which finally made it easy to simply start an army rather than recreate scenes from the books and movies.  The new sourcebooks and now this new rule set have continued this which I think is a huge plus.  You can play scenario based games from the films and books AND/OR point match games like you would for 40k or Fantasy.  The best of both worlds!

Now, one downside to this point match system is the fact that you MUST purchase the hardback rulebook to get the profiles and army lists.  The soft cover rulebook in the box game does NOT have these.  Underhanded?  Maybe, but they have never published profiles and army building with the rules of other systems (you even had to buy new books to build armies for Lord of the Rings in the past) so they'd have sold something to allow army building at any rate (i.e. think a Hobbit Codex to go with your rules).  So, it would have cost you either way. GW is good at that, aren't they?

The other thing I'm so excited about is that the core rules of the Lord of the Rings Strategy Battle Game have remained essentially the same at heart.  Same turn sequence, same characteristic names, same priority system, same shoot, combat, magic, etc.  Like a true "new edition" it is the core rules with a twist.  Changes include things like varying powers of spells, special attacks for various hand weapons, new heroic actions to name the big ones.  Although I'm sure some will love these changes and others will hate them, for me I'm just glad it is still the game I love and I look forward to the new challenges and opportunities these changes will bring.

So for now, I'm sticking to finishing the plethora of Lord of the Rings figures I own before I march into forces from the Hobbit.  The prices make it easy to put off new purchases but I already feel the call of upcoming models shown in the rulebook.  Ah, must stay focused. 

Damn you GW!  You keep pulling me back in!