Next time you stop by a Games Workshop store, take a look around at all the products on the shelves. One wall will be well stocked with the armies of Warhammer Fantasy. The forces of Warhammer 40K will stand ready for battle on the other side. Chances are that in a dark corner of the store is where all the Lord of the Rings Miniatures can be found. There seems to be an impression that LOTR is the forgotten step child of Games Workshop. While popularity of a game will vary from location to location, it would be quite unfortunate if LOTR gets little game time for it brings a fresh style of game play to GW's product lineup.
Lets start with the first thing about a game that everyone is going to see: the miniatures range. LOTR strategy battle game carries the movie license for the franchise. Every figure from the game is modeled as they appear in the movies and there are a lot of figures from which to choose. So expect to see Legolas looking like Orlando Bloom and Frodo bearing a resemblance to Elijah Wood. Figures for this game are excellently crafted. Even the standard troops show considerable detail. One change from 40K/Fantasy is that the figures are as not as pose able. They are assembled in a fashion similar to how figures from the 40K/Fantasy Starter sets are assembled. Most of the figure is already put together and often times only a weapon or a shield needs to be attached. Since a goal of LOTR was probably to lure in players new to tabletop games, easier to assemble figures is never a bad thing.
Another feature that will be great for new tabletop war game players is the layout of the rulebook. The layout reminds of how Classic Battletech rules have been laid out in the past. The book begins with a core set of rules that is about 20 pages long. For a new person, only these 20 pages are required for play. Following the core rules are sections which describe additional sub sets of rules. Sections include weapons, calvary, heroes, and many others. Each section is completely stand alone from the other sections and will add more depth and strategy to the game. My favorite aspect of the rulebook is the inclusion of all the unit stats at the end of the book. No codexes or army books required for play here. There are optional expansions to Lord of the Rings, but none of them are required.
In terms of game play, the biggest difference from 40K or Fantasy is that every soldier operates as a stand alone unit. While a few special actions can allow groups of units to act at once, most movement and combat is resolved one figure at a time. Therefore, Lord of the rings would probably play best as a war band game, but there is no reason one can't re-create the epic siege at Helm's Deep. I like this style of combat over the more abstract combat of 40K and Fantasy. Figures get pushed around as the result of combat. Instead of two blocks facing off, the battle lines get chaotic.
Battlefield tactics consist of a mix of unit positioning and weapon choice. Each weapon carries advantages and disadvantages into battle. Therefore certain weapon types will perform better in certain positions. For example, spear men, while good front line fighters, can also support friendly troops without placing themselves in the way of danger. Proper movement of figures can be critical to success. Every unit has a control area which enemy units cannot enter unless they intend to engage the figure. These control areas can be used to force enemy troops down certain paths. Though it probably goes without saying, out numbering opposing pieces in combat can greatly tip the scales of battle in your favor. Several figures can “trap” enemy pieces allowing themselves to inflict extra damage on the trapped enemy. Along those same lines, pushing enemy forces up against walls or off cliffs will grant additional damage bonuses.
I do have several complaints about this game. Archers seem to come off weak at ranged combat. Expect a kill ratio of around 10% for a typical archer. I can imagine archers created a frustrating situation for Games Workshop. In this game, archers can fight quite well in hand to hand combat. I assume that ranged combat was weakened so that archers do not become super soldiers. As much as their weak shooting annoys me, I would much rather have diversity in troop choice and weak archers then armies consisting of the same small set of super soldiers. The most annoying feature of the game is the high reliance on probability to kill a unit. Almost always figures needsto roll a 5 or 6 on one die to kill an enemy. This seems to often leave the battle up to chance more then tactics. The only way to reduce this probability is to outnumber your opponents in combat or to force your opponents into corners.
Complaints aside, Lord of the Rings is still a solid game by Games Workshop. I have not played it enough to say if I like it better then 40K or Fantasy, but on the surface they have streamlined parts of the game system. Perhaps best of all is the cheap cost of this game. A sizable army for LOTR will probably cost a quarter of what a sizable 40K army would cost. If you are looking to enter the world of Games Workshop or want to dive deeper into Tolkien's masterpiece, this game is great way to accomplish that goal.
Lord of the Rings is another solid game by Games Workshop. It suffers a little bit on its high reliance on probability, but there are tactical options to offset that. Being GW's cheapest game, I recommend this to anyone interested in the Lord of the Rings.
-> Discussion on dakkadakka.com - Should GW drop LOTR
-> Our Review of LOTR on the Tabletop Battlefield