Table of Contents
Note: All articles on the different editions of this game should be read in chronological order. This will allow you to get a very deep insight into the quality of the game and its long creation process!
The Basic Game
Long awaited by Games Workshop Fans and Tabletop-players all around the world, Games Workshop released their new tabletop game "The Fellowship of the Ring" at the beginning of November 2001, just a few weeks before the first part of the movie-triology was coming into cinemas all around the globe. Based on the famous Lord of the Rings books by J.R.R. Tolkien, Games Workshop left the Warhammer world and adapted their new game to a different background story.
Unlike Warhammer Fantasy, players of the new game do not move huge formations of troops over the battlefield, but instead all battles are played on a man-to-man level, leaving the players to move each figure individually. In essence, this leads to small, skirmishing battles, but as the rules demonstrate, even large battles with up to 300 (!) models involved can be played. At the beginning of the game, the players agree on a scenario which they want to play. The rulebook includes a selection of 8 different scenarios of which 6 are based on the story of The Fellowship of the Ring whereas the two others are taken from an earlier age of Middle Earth, the time of The Last Alliance. Usually a scenario dictates which miniatures / characters the good and the evil player should use, but if they do not want to play a scenario close to the original story-line they can also build up forces of their own. For this purpose, they can agree on a certain number of army-points, and each player then can chose troops and equipment up to a maximum of his army-points. To allow free army-building, army-lists featuring all troops available to the players are included in the rulebook. The good player basically can chose from the characters of the Fellowship, additional characters like Elrond, Bilbo, Galadriel, Gwaihir the Eagle-Lord or Gil-Galad, and standard foot soldiers equipped with sword, spear or bow from Gondor, the Wood Elves or the High Elves. The evil player on the other hand can include all 9 Ringwraiths, Saruman, the Balrog, a Cave Troll and a number of different Orc and Goblin forces. Additionally, players can spend some points to equip their Hero-Characters with certain types of extra-equipment like special swords or Elven Cloaks, once again following closely the storyline of the book.
Once all players have chosen their troops and have placed them on the battlefield following the rules set out for their scenario, the battle will begin. At the beginning of each turn, both players will roll dice to find out which player has the initiative that turn, allowing the player with the higher result to move and act first. Then, the game is divided into different phases in which always the player with the initiative is allowed to act first. In the Movement Phase, players are allowed to move their figures up to their maximum range (depending on the characteristics of each character or troop-type). Movement can be along simple plains, but also rules for moving through difficult terrain, jumping barriers, climbing mountains, crawling on the ground and even movement on horse are included, thus offering a variety of movement options to players who want to make advantageous use of the terrain on the battlefield. After movement, the next phase is for Archery, and now the troops equipped with bows or other ranged weapons will have a try to inflict some damage on the opposing troops. A simple roll of a dice is required to find out whether a unit has hit an enemy, and then another roll of a dice (modified by the attacker's strength and the defender's defense characteristics) will determine whether the hit has caused damage to the unit which was hit. Units which possess only one Life-point (most units with the exception of characters) will be directly removed from play as casualties. After the ranges combat is over, all units which are in contact with enemy units (i.e. the miniature's bases are touching each other) are allowed to fight in the Melee Phase. Once again the questions whether a unit hits and whether it causes damage are resolved by rolls of the dice, but many optional rules may have influence on the outcome of a close combat. Thus, a unit may defend a barrier, or it may be attacked by more then one enemy, making it quite hard for the specific unit to escape his doom. After this phase, if no player has fulfilled the victory conditions set out in the chosen scenario, the game will continue with the Initiative Phase of a new turn.
In addition to these rules, the players may decide to include a set of advanced rules which will allow them to play the game in much more depth. One element which will be introduced into the game is Troop-Psychology, making it possible that troops cut off on the battlefield or facing a fearsome enemy will not attack but instead turn on their heels and flee - with a quite devastating result for an orderly line of attack. Even more story-elements are introduced through the use of characters (Heroes), depicting famous personalities from the story of the Lord of the Rings. With their special attributes like Heroism or Willpower the Characters often will have a decisive influence on the game, and special attributes like the ability to use Magic can have devastating effects on a badly organised enemy. Even more detail is added by the use of different types of weapons, and all these advanced rules together allow the game to become an in-depth adaption of battles and skirmished based on the Lord of the Rings.
When trying to evaluate a gaming product as big as Games Workshop's new Lord of the Rings branch, a review cannot simply stop with an evaluation of the rules but has to move further and have a look at some other influential factors. Having said this, it seems nonetheless advisable to start with a comment on the rules, and here it can be said that Games Workshop did rather well with the development of them. Unlike former Games Workshop products, the designers of the new game avoided a "flooding" of players with lots of in-depth rules for almost every occasion and many special variants, but instead they developed a quite streamlined, straightforward set of rules which appeal to tabletop-novices and seasoned players alike. The rules-compendium included with the basic game includes all the rules needed, from movements and battles over characters up to scenarios and instructions for building terrain and painting miniatures. Enough details are included to allow good battle-strategy and tactical choices for the players, but the players never get lost in a maze of alternative rules or special case rules which tend to be quite unnerving in other types of tabletop games.
Having given a favourable comment on the rules, this also can be upheld as far as the quality of the miniatures is concerned. With the exception of the plastic-miniatures included in the basic game which are easy to break and not of a very good design, all the pewter models available are rather well done. Comparing the character-miniatures with the actors from the movie, most of the miniatures are looking rather similar and the miniature-designers at Games Workshop did a pretty good deal in creating quite delicate miniatures of the characters from the movie. A bit smaller that usual wargaming standard, these figures need quite a high degree of practising to be painted properly, but endurance and patience in the end will be rewarded by some quite beautiful miniatures.
However, I cannot refuse to give some comment also on Games Workshop's sales concept underlying their new products, and here some points of criticism cannot be refused. First off - despite the well done rules-compendium which is included - the box of the basic game alone is not very useful for serious playing. Comparing the box content's with those of a basic game of Warhammer Fantasy, the basic game of the Lord of the Rings is equipped rather poorly. Players do not get any character miniatures (only Elves, Gondor and Goblin standard units) and this enables them to play only ONE of the scenarios presented in the rulebook (and this scenario does not even explicitly appear in the movie or the books). Furthermore, other useful gaming components are missing too: No rulers for ranges, no cardboard buildings (only a few plastic wall-ruins), no troop-rooster (needs to be photocopied from the rulebook), no overview sheets etc. Knowing other Games Workshop games, they could have done much better concerning the composition of the basic game. In summary, the equipment a player receives when buying this box does not at all allow a player to "Experience the Battles taking place in the movie". To get this experience, a player needs to buy more expansion sets - a fact which quite a few parents will not have known when they bought this game for their youngsters at Christmas. All essential miniatures (The Fellowship of the Ring, Saruman, the Ringwraiths and many other characters and monsters) need to be bought as singles or boxed sets, and only a player who has acquired several of these additional sets will be able to play the game at a level close to the story itself. And even when buying additional miniature-sets another questionable concept becomes visible: So a player needs to buy the "Fellowship of the Ring" box to get characters like Boromir, Legolas or Gimli, a "Escape from Orthanc" box to get Gwaihir the Eagle Lord and a "Battle at Khazad Dum" box to get the Balrog. However, when buying all these sets a player ends up with 3 (!!!) Gandalf-miniatures (although in different stances), a ridiculous fact considering that only one of these may be used in a game. Sadly enough, this fact is repeated with other characters as well, so that at least the question could be asked if prices could not have been reduced a bit by leaving these repeated character-miniatures out. Or, if still planning on selling a certain number of miniatures in a box, Games Workshop could have revived a bit of their creativity and could have created miniatures of some characters from the books (like Tom Bombadil) which do not appear in the movie. To my mind, that would have been a brilliant move - uniting the positive aspects of the movie in one game with some of the additional flavour from the books.
In the end, these flaws diminish a bit the high hopes which I did set into this game, but still these points of criticism alone do not outweigh the positive aspects which I said about the game itself. The Hobby of Tabletop-Wargaming always was a bit more expensive than any other gaming-related activities, and those players who are willing to invest into this game will receive a mature, well-constructed product. Overall, Games Workshop receives my praise for this product, which is quite close to the new movie and better than most normal boardgames which have been released on the Lord of thr Rings...
The New Basic Game for the Tabletop
With the coming of the second movie The Two Towers in December 2002 Games Workshop also made a step forwards and has introduced the new Two Towers Basic Game for their Lord of the Rings Tabletop game, effectively replacing the Fellowship box which was released a year before.
With the newly released game the sales concept which Games Workshop has put behind the whole series becomes more clear. Thus, they are not planning to have one big gamebox in print for every part of the movie, but instead they only keep one big starter box at a time, matching the current part of the movie. Likewise, the choice of single miniatures and boxed sets will be adapted to correspond to the different parts of the movie, so that some miniatures which were sold for the first part quite soon will not be available in Games Workshop Stores anymore.
Reviewing the contents of the new Two Towers basic game, it can be stated that not much of the original playing concept has changed. The box now contains different plastic miniatures (Riders of Rohan and Uruk-Hai warriors with pikes) to keep up with the story of the second part of the movie, but considering the rules much has remained unchanged. Thus, the main body of the rules is virtually the same as it has been in the Fellowship game a year earlier, but a few interesting new options have been added to give a bit more depth to the game. Furthermore, some of the old rules were revised following players' comments, thus increasing the playability of the game as a whole.
One of the new chapters in the rulebook now concerns the use of Cavalry. Until now there have rarely been any riders in the game, but this fact now has changed due to the appearance of the Riders of Rohan and Orc Warg Riders in the movie. Thus, a more complete set of rules for the use of mounted miniatures was needed, and here Games Workshop has introduced some rules which working perfectly with the already existing rules for the game. Thus, the different parts of the main rules on Movement, Archery and Melee have been taken into consideration, and each of these concepts has also found corresponding rules in the new Cavalry-chapter. Consequently, the players now will find rules for mounting and dismounting, movement in difficult terrain and jumping barriers, shooting at riders etc..
The second new concept which has been included in the new Two Towers game are the rules for Siege-combat. Since a major part of the new movie deals with the battle of Helm`s Deep, the Games Designers at Games Workshop were forced to include a new set of rules about the storming and defending of castles. To my mind, this is a point in the new game where the designers at Games Workshop did rather well, introducing some easy playable but athmosphercially fitting rules. Thus, the players now find close guidelines on how to proceed in order to stage a battle for a castle: included are rules for siege engine, damaging walls and towers and gates, movement and close combat etc. When tested, these rules prove to be quite detailed, but due to some interesting features the players actually get around to feel how it must be like to battle within the close quarters of a castle. Such battles can become very intense, with combat taking place at many different parts of a castle, but due to the many strategic options available such battles also mean a lot of fun for strategists and thinkers.
Leaving the rules-section behind me, it remains to say that the other parts of the rulebook have been adapted accordingly to the new movie. Thus, 10 new scenarios are now included, replacing the ones from the Fellowship-game with new scenarios concerned with the battles in Rohan and Isengard. Also, rules for the new character miniatures have been included, allowing the players to stage the new characters introduced in the Two Towers movie.
Unfortunately, here a major weakness in the whole design concept becomes visible, and to my mind this factor will be quite sad especially for collectors. Thus, apart from the removal of the old scenarios, Games Workshop also has decided to remove the rules for certain characters which were included in the Fellowship-game. Characters like Arwen, Galadriel, Bilbo, Lurtz etc. are not explained in the new rulebook anymore, making the use of their miniatures quite difficult for new players and collectors alike. Games Workshop actually has planned to let the miniatures for these characters go out of print, but a lot of players already will own them and furthermore there will still be quite a lot of these miniatures available in the different stores. However, in order to be able to use these miniatures, a player still will need a copy of the old rulebook, and this was only included in the Fellowship-game. Personally, I can imagine a lot of confusion arising from this practice, with people going into the store and buying the new Two Towers game along with a few miniatures, and finding out at home that some miniatures actually have become useless. Shame on Games Workshop, but being familiar with the concept of collectable games for years they could have done better here! It would have been much more useful for new customers and collectors alike to have the rules for the older characters and the scenarios re-printed in the new rules. Okay, it would have taken a few pages, but these pages would have made the new edition rules complete and even more useful.
Apart from these flaws, the new game once again shows that Games Workshop is the right company for releasing such a complex tabletop game based on the Lord of the Rings. Apart from a few exceptions, the quality of the new Two Towers-miniatures once again is outstanding, and any player who decides to purchase the new game will get a well-thought, mature game which will offer fun for hours.
The Lord of the Rings Tabletop Game - Third Edition
Once again a year has passed, and with the release of the final part of Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings Movie Adaption GAMES WORKSHOP also has published the new version of their basic game for the Lord of the Rings tabletop game.
After reading my earlier reviews of the previous editions of the game, one might ask how GAMES WORKSHOP actually could have made even more improvements on the game, but as it will become clear during the course of this article, there were still some areas in which the game could improve. As a matter of fact, I was rather happy to see that some improvements actually met with points of criticism which I explained in my earlier reviews, and although I am not as vain as to suppose that I could reach any improvements with my reviews, I am nonetheless happy to see that GAMES WORKSHOP did have a good understanding for the need of their customers. But enough of this initial praise, let's get deeper into the new game...
As for the main body of the rules, many of the rules which were introduced in the previous games have remained virtually unchanged. Once again their are a few points of criticism issued by players which have been taken as a basis for improving the rules, but in essence the basic playing mechanism still works the same way. However, one aspect of the rules is standing out in so far as it was not provided for in the earlier editions: the advanced rules section now contains a chapter which features rules for making units Standard Bearers. This concept is basically known from other GAMES WORKSHOP products like Warhammer, and in combat a Standard Bearer gives a morale boost to all friendly units in its vicinity, thus resulting in a strengthening of the combat values of these units. Although this has been a rather small addition, it still bears great impact on gaming and strategy, since the clever placement of Standard Bearers within a player's formation might give a decisive advantage in battle.
After this short look at the improvements of the basic rules, it will now be even more interesting to examine the rest of the rulebook, since the repetition and consolidation of the existing rules only makes up a part of all the different elements included in the book.
One of the biggest improvements in comparison to the older editions of the book is that this time GAMES WORKSHOP has decided to present all different characters in one book. Thus, players get rules for new characters which have appeared in Return of the King like Denethor or Shelob, but furthermore they get a full repetition of the rules for characters like Galadriel or Bilbo which appeared in earlier editions of the game. Having all character rules in one book comes in handy, since it makes the cross-referencing of different rulesbooks quite unnecessary, and furthermore there also has been a change of policy concerning the character miniatures. Thus, new boxed sets of characters have appeared in Spring 2004, featuring just a few of the character models which so far were included only in bigger sets. None of the character models will go out of print, and - even better - models like Bilbo or Wormtongue which so far were limited edition characters in Germany now have become available in unlimited supplies.
As far as characters and miniatures are concerned, these changes were quite a bit in favour of the players and customers. The hobby of playing the Lord of the Rings tabletop game has become much more accessible, since now the players can get full access to all necessary rules and background materials by possessing just one rulebook and furthermore players can avoid possession of miniature-doubles since now they can purchase the smaller character-sets at a much lower cost. Since these two factors were points of criticism in my reviews of the former editions of the game, I am rather happy to see that GAMES WORKSHOP has decided to introduce these changes.
But let's now move on to the next part of the rulebook. As it has been tradition from the previous editions of the game, this book once again features a total of 12 different scenarios which were based on different settings which were presented in the movie. These scenarios differ in their complexity and victory conditions, but even more interesting are the special rules which were included for some of these scenarios.
As a matter of fact, some of the scenarios are traditional in the sense that each of the players sets up an army of combat units to battle against the other player's army, but some others of these scenarios differ considerably. Thus, there is a scenario called Shelob's Lair, in which the good player only has Frodo and Sam available to battle against the Giant Spider Shelob which is played by the evil player. Since only this handful of figures is used in the scenario, the strategy for playing and winning the scenario is much different from the others, since here a player actually has to plan very carefully what to do with his figure(s) and how to make best use of any special abilities.
Very interesting is also a cumulated set of six scenarios which concentrate on different stages of the Battle for Minas Tirith. Different scenarios are used for the attack of the Gondorian Cavalry, for the arrival of the Rohirrim and for the coming of Aragorn. The outcome of each of these scenarios will influence the set up for the final scenario for the Battle on the Fields of Pelennor, since the good player only may use such Heroes in this battle which were not killed in any of the previous scenarios.
Likewise, the final battle in front of the Morannon Gate also features some very interesting rules, since it is the aim of the good player to hold his hopelessly outnumbered ranks together until Frodo succeeds in destroying the One Ring. For this, a separate gameboard is set up depicting the Cracks of Doom, and here Frodo and Sam will need to figh Gollum who will try to prevent the destruction of the Ring.
However, as readers of the Lord of the Rings will know, the history of the Ring-War does not stop just with the events experienced by the Fellowship. There were several places all over Middle Earth where the forces of the Elves or the Dwarves had to best the attacking armies of Mordor, and to give the players a possibility to go deeper into these parts of the story the new rulebook also contains a Ring War - Chapter which features a total of 5 scenarios which concentrates on battles which took place in different parts of Middle Earth. Thus, the players now get a chance to defent Lorien against the Orcish invasion troops or to join the population of the Long Lake Esgaroth in their valiant defence against Sauron's troops.
Having the chance to observe and evaluate the development of the Lord of the Rings Tabletop Game through its three different editions, I have come to the conclusion that the development of this game is a perfect example on how a playing system can evolve and get better over the years.
When GAMES WORKSHOP started their engangement in Tolkien's world with the release of the first edition of the game, they were able to come up with a solid set of basic rules which did work together quite well. However, there were still some flaws in the playing concept and also some uncertainties, and it is a great advantage that these could be removed from later editions of the rules because thousands of players all around the globe had joined the new gaming concept and were giving GAMES WORKSHOP the much needed feedback. Over the editions, new rules were developed, mistakes were removed and uncertainties were cleared up. This was paired with the constant introduction of new characters and scenarios, and in the end this made each edition of the game a worthwhile follow-up of its predecessors.
However, the greatest praise needs to be issued when talking about the third edition, the Return of the King game. As outlined above, the creativity crew at GAMES WORKSHOP once again was able to fill up gaps left by previous editions, but the greatest feat of this game was that the third edition rulebook actually serves extraordinary well to tie up all the lose ends which were developed over the years. The players now have one compendium of rules which can be used together with the full range of miniatures, and together with the most current set of rules the book has become a perfect playing aid.
To sum it up, GAMES WORSHOP has succeeded in creating a playing sytem which does rather well in reflecting the depth and the variety of the story of the Lord of the Rings, and any player who will risk a short look at the game will fastly be absorbed by the strategic challenge of tabletop-wargaming, the beauty of the miniatures and the attractiveness of the hobby.
- Expansion Module -
As might be conceived by some fans of Tolkien's works, a disadvantage of the movies by Peter Jackson is that you simply cannot show every aspect of the books in a motion picture, regardless of how long the motion picture may become. However, when talking about a game like the Lord of the Rings Tabletop Game by GAMES WORKSHOP, the designers fortunately are not submitted to the restrictions of a screenplay. Instead, such a game can be enhanced and enlarged as desired, and following such a notion GAMES WORKSHOP published one of their strongest products in the whole Lord of the Rings range.
Taking up some elements from Tolkien's books, GAMES WORKOP decided on going a step further than staying with the licenese which they had acquired in 2001 when the first movie was released. At that time, GAMES WORKSHOP only had acquired the rights to release a game based on the movies, but due to the great success of their new product range the staff or GAMES WORKSHOP thought back to the 1980's - a time when GAMES WORKSHOP already did own the rights to publish lead figures based on the full Lord of the Rings books. Seeing that the books offer storylines which have not been explored in the movies, GAMES WORKSHOP enlarged their license to get an allowance to publish figures and rules for characters and storylines which were not included in the movies but which were nonetheless part of the books, and the new expansion Shadow & Flame actually is the first such product which was released.
The new rulebook contains 7 new scenarios for the game and it is roughly divided into 4 major sections, each of which presents some new characters and playing options.
The first of these sections may be titled Moria, and it takes up the story of Balin's expedition to free the ancient Dwarven stronghold of Moria from the clutches of the Goblins. As readers of the Lord of the Rings will know, this expedition happened about 30 years before Frodo's march to Mordor, and the whole expedition of Balin ultimately found their doom in Moria through the attacks of the Balrog. With new rules and miniatures, the players now can go on a mini-campaign of 4 scenarios, with one side representing the Dwarfs under Balin and the other being the Goblins who had infested Moria. The players will fight battles at the East Gate of Moria, at the Mirror-Lake, and ultimately they can experience the final demise of the Dwarfs at the Chamber of Marzabul. To do so, the players get special rules for playing Balin and his dwarven troops, for the Goblin-King of Moria, for Goblin-Drummers and - of course - for playing the 4 scenarios.
The next part of the expansion takes up another storyline from the books - the meeting of the Hobbits with Tom Bombadil and his wife Goldberry. In this scenario, the 4 Hobbits have gotten lost in an evil fog which is lurking around the Barrow Downs, and in this fog they will be attacked by the evil Barrow Wrights which are trying to draw the Hobbits into their Tombs. If left alone, the Hobbits most certainly would not stand a chance against the Barrow Wrights, but fortunately they are able to call upon the help of Tom Bombadil and Goldberry, two good spirits whom the Hobbits have met earlier on their voyage. The new scenario takes up the story at the point where the Hobbits have gotten lost in the fog and where the Barrow Wrights are approaching, and it includes special rules for playing Tom Bombadil, Goldberry and the Barrow Wrights.
The third part of the new expansion takes up Tolkien's descriptions of Rivendell, and it indroduces to the game some of the characters which are living there. Thus, the player of the forces of Good ow may chose to add the Elf-Lord Glorfindel and Elrohir and Elladan, the two sons of Elrond, to his troops. Special rules are provided for each of these characters, and the section is rounded up by a scenario in which the Elves of Rivendell lead a charge upon a band of marauding Orcs which are approaching Rivendell.
The final section of the new rulebook takes up just another character from Tolkien's books. It features rules for playing Radagast the Brown, the third of the three great wizards who have remained in Middle Earth. Radagast is a wizard who has spent his life with the study of nature, and thus he can be played with a special choice of spells corresponding to his character. However, since Radagast once again is a character which can only be included by the player of the forces of Good, a counter-balance for the forces of Evil had to be made. Thus, rules are provided for the introduction of Orc and Goblin Shamans, which now can make use of their own special kinds of Magic. Finally, the rules end with a scenario which is set on the woods of Fangorn, in which Radagst, Treebeard, Gwaihir and some Riders of Rohan face a band of marauding Orcs.
As indicated above, I consider Shadow & Flame to be one of the best expansions which GAMES WORKSHOP had created for their tabletop game. It is great to see characters come alive which had played some role in the books but which could not be included in the movie for reasons of time. However, most striking about the new expansion are the miniatures which have been designed to fit the new scenarios. Here the design staff at the GAMES WORKSHOP studios was free to design some new figures without having to copy characters and actors from the movie, and this actually resulted in a fantastic range of new, beautiful miniatures.
Returning to Middle Earth !
GAMES WORKSHOP's series of tabletop games now has seen five years since the initial release of the first boxed set The Fellowship of the Ring, but seemingly the boom still holds on and thus the release of another major boxed set once again has called me from the peaceful world of family boardgames to make another visit to Middle Earth in order to report on the latest clash between the forces of Good and Evil.
Let us first catch up on what happened in the last months: After Shadow & Flame, GAMES WORKSHOP followed the newly discovered line to publish products on parts of Tolkien's epic which where not shown in Jackson's films or which only played a lesser role. Thus, we got modules and miniatures introducing new scenarios for the Fellowship, concentrating on the forces from the east etc...
However, what all the new releases had in common was that they were expansion-modules in the form of books for which miniatures could be bought separately, whereas the last basic game released still was the Return of the King box. Now however, time has moved forwards once again, and due to the still growing fan community the Lord of the Rings product line has developed into a best-seller for GAMES WORSHOP which can already be compared to Warhammer - not concerning its age but considering the sophistication of its rules and the considerable variety of available models. Thus, it is no wonder that the GAMES WORKSHOP design crew once again has been assigned to prepare a major release for the world of Middle Earth, and so we now witness with Mines of Moria another basic game game to life.
The first thing I noticed upon unpacking the box was the fact that the composition of the miniatures available in this box definitely outclassed the miniatures available in the all earlier starter boxes. If you remember my earlier review on Fellowship of the Ring, it was especially the included miniatures on which I made some negative comments since I considered the plastic figures to be very delicate (and thus easily breakable) and the choice of included miniatures virtually useless for all but one of the scenarios included with the game. And now it is exactly this point on which Mines of Moria has made a landslide improvement, since now the players do not just get Elf and Goblin warriors, but instead you get character figures for the whole Fellowship of the Ring, a good sized Goblin force and even a frightening Cave-Troll! True, the figures are once again made from plastic, but they are very detailed and having experimented with the plastic figures for a couple of years now I have to give in that you get used to having such figures instead of miniatures made from pewter. In the end, it is the plastic which allows GAMES WORKSHOP still to release decently priced boxes, and since the quality of the plastic figures has become so good you do not discover any differences once the figures are painted.
Unpacking all further plastic parts from the box and examining them, I was positively surprised to find not only the nice figures but also the Tomb of Balin, some columns and a big portal which all can be used to create fitting settings in the Mines of Moria. Thus, as far as the outfit of the box is concerned, the novice to the world of Middle earth tabletop wargaming now will find a much more atmospheric start than any of the previous starter boxes could offer.
As far as the books included with the set are concerned, I was happy to see that GAMES WORKSHOP also took up a concept which they first tested on the last release of a basic game for Warhammer 40.000. Thus, Mines of Moria now contains a consolidated rulebook in A5-format which includes all playing rules from previous starter boxes, so that the players not only receive a nice and handy rules compendium but also a new one-book reference which can replace the different older editions of the rulebook. The only thing lost are the older scenarios (apart from a "Tomb o Balin" sample scenario), but I would not consider this to be a weakness for this book since it would contradict the sense of a rules-compendium to cover many pages with scenarios which could be found elsewhere. For my taste much more important is the fact that they included all rules for character miniatures from previous starter boxes, and by this the whole personage of the Lord of the Rings becomes much easier to handle.
The other included book looks like a Mines of Moria scenario book, so I was curious to see which differences it could possibly offer to Shadow & Flame. However, it is by no means comparable to a module like Shadow & Flame, but instead it is a beginner's handbook featuring a condensed basic version of the rules, some learning scenarios and a general introduction to the hobby of tabletop wargaming. So, in the end the box does not replace any of the module books, since it does not include any of the rules, characters or scenarios introduced in the modules.
To come to a conclusion, I really consider the Mines of Moria once again to be a major step forwards in comparison to the older starter boxes. Rules, miniatures and background have been led together to form a rather harmonious set, and I can recommend this set without doubt not only to players who want to make some first experiences with GAMES WORKSHOP's world of Middle Earth but also to collectors who want to get some additional miniatures and also a well compiled version of the rules.
For me, it was quite interesting to make once again a loop backwards in time to compare this box and its contents with the remarks I made about earlier versions of Lord of the Rings boxed sets, since it seems that the people at GAMES WORKSHOP have a taste similar than mine concerning the question on how a good and useful basic game should be composed. As a matter of fact, the game has evolved over the years, and now its youngest offspring has developed all the attributes which can be expected from a mature GAMES WORKSHOP product!
Copyright © 2005 Frank Schulte-Kulkmann, Trier, Germany