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Friday, October 30, 2009

Gathering in the Desert 2010 Primer

I played in the GitD 2010 Primer this last weekend. I would like to thank to Tim Kulimski, his wife Shannon, and Darren Cochrane of Imperial Outpost for putting on a great event.

I got called by work to resolve a computer problem shortly after arriving at Imperial Outpost and signing up. Since I wasn't able to resolve it over the phone, I had to go in and missed the first round. After resolving the problem I rushed back to Outpost and arrived a few minutes before the first round ended.

Tim told me that Jerry Autrieri had also missed the first round (he overslept), so we would both be credited with a Major Loss on our first game and continue from there. Talking with Jerry revealed I would be taking my High Elves against his Gondor force. When I found out he had 31 models including Guard of the Fountain Court (with shields) I knew I was in for a tough game. I think I have faced Jerry in every single LOTR tournament I have played in, and every single game has been a squeaker. He is a very capable player.

Since I was out numbered (by his D6 and D7 troops) I knew I would have to take advantage of every advantage my Elves had. Those advantages were:
Two Captains (I had to field 2 Captains 1 for the High Elves, and 1 for the Wood Elves to have Galadthrim Knights to support my High Elves so I had more Might), a higher Fight value (I would win all ties), Mobility (Woodland Creature rule on map with some forested terrain), Armor (I had High Elf Spear with Hvy Armor and Shield so I had some D6 troops as well.) and Shock (Cavalry against Infantry). My Elven Bows were also a plus, but since the majority of Jerry's forces were D6/7 I knew I would need 6's to wound most of his models.

The scenario for round 2 was a Domination variant. Jerry won the roll for table set up. I set up on the opposite table corner. I won the roll for priority and moved my Elves forward to position myself toward the closest objective to my start position. Jerry split his force and moved to occupy the closest objective on his side of the table and sent the other force at full speed to the other objective on his side of the map, using the Weathertop ruins for cover. There was no shooting since we both had moved to far and no fight phase since we were not in HTH.

Here is a shot of Game 2 in progress; Jerry's Guardian's of Minas Tirith vs. my High Elves.

Jerry won the Priority on turn two and advanced his first group into the center of the map up the hill, leading with his Guard of the Fountain. His second group continued to advance on his next objective marker. I now moved my Cavalry full again (knowing that Jerry couldn’t shoot this turn) across the open terrain in the middle of my side of the table, aiming to use the copse of trees on the hilltop for cover. My Spearmen moved full speed again to a position near the base of the ruins, while I moved the Archers only three inches this turn to position them past my first objective and allow them to shoot. Since I could only see Jerry’s first group, I targeted the 3 Minas Tirith Archers and let fly. The grey elven shafts flew true and killed two of the archers. Jerry’s remaining Archer returned fire but with no luck.

The next turn Jerry again won priority and advanced his first group again, this time to the top of the hill. His second group captured his second objective this turn. My Spearmen moved along the base of the Weathertop Ruin and my Cavalry positioned themselves for a charge next turn. I also moved my Archers 3 inches again to give me a clear shot at his first group. During the shooting phase Jerry’s Single Minas Tirith Archer killed one of my Archers, but my 5 return shots killed him and 3 Guards of the Fountain Court. (I don’t think I have ever rolled that many 6’s in one turn before!)

On the fourth turn, Jerry won priority and charged his Guard of the Fountain Court and caught the flank of my Spearmen’s formation. He wasn’t able to get all of his GotFC into combat though, so he positioned the remainder to have spear support for the Elven Cavalry he knew was coming. His Captain was unable to make it into the combat and so he ran (with a Warrior of Minas Tirith) into the center of the Weathertop Ruin which would allow him to make it into combat next turn. His second group left behind a Warrior to hold the objective and began maneuvering on the third.

I moved next and brought the unengaged Elven Spearmen into the fray, making several 4-on-2 fights to maximize my chances of rolling the 6’s I would need to kill GotFC. My Captain (on Horse) and the Galadthrim Knights then charged the remainder of this group. I knew I needed to crush this group as quickly as possible, before Jerry was able to complete his circuit of the objectives and reunite his two groups. Then hopefully I could use the speed and shock of my Cavalry to pick off the defenders of the captured objectives.

To add insult to injury, I shifted my Archers back 3 inches towards my first objective and positioned them for a clear shot at Jerry’s Captain. The 5 shots were enough to kill the Captain and the lone Warrior in the Ruins. This also placed the Archers in position to cover my first objective that Jerry was maneuvering to take.

Then, as Jerry said, he got to sample Elven Cavalry for the first time and didn't like it at all. The Fight phase went almost completely my way. I won three of the four Cavalry Charges and two of the 3 Spear fights and killed 4 more GotFC only losing 1 Knight and a Spearman.

Things went downhill for Jerry from there. He couldn’t seem to get the Priority to stop my Cavalry, and the time he did my Captain just used a Might point to call a Heroic Charge and continue my advance. The Elven Knights rolled over Gondor again and again until the defenders were dead. But even then, they did as I feared and held out long enough to force a draw.

Actually, Jerry had a Minor Win until the last moments, since he had seized his third objective with his second group despite my bowmen killing more of his forces as they advanced on it. On the last turn my Cavalry finally broke behind the line and captured the first objective Jerry had captured. But I didn’t have the time to seize any other objectives, so the game ended with both of us controlling 2.

As I said, every game we have played has been tremendously challenging and has always been close. All in all, he’s an excellent player. Now I just have to convince him and some of the rest to come to Outpost more often to play! I am there almost every Saturday around noon.

In my last game I was matched up against newcomer Andre's Grey Company force with 28 bows on the Ruin of Osgiliath (lite) Table. The scenario was "Contest of Champions". Although being run by newcomer, I know Andre as a 40K player so he is not completely new to the Hobby. Plus I have seen the casualties his Grey Company Army inflicts in War of the Ring, so I knew I needed to stay in cover as much as possible. But even with cover that many shots of volley fire had the potential to inflict casualties. My only hope was to use cover to close before I was broken from shooting and try to pick off his Champion with bow fire if possible. If I could do that before he could make any kills with his Champion I knew my Mounted Elven Captain could run up a number of kills against the D4 Rangers of the Grey Company.

Here is a shot of Game 3; Andre's Grey Company vs. My High Elves

So off charge my Elven Knights on the left flank aiming to stay behind ruined buildings the whole way. My spearmen advance at full speed up the left center, also staying in cover as much as possible. My bowmen did the same on the right center, sacrificing shooting (only 5 Elf Bowmen, so no volley) to close the distance. Andre wasn’t able to see my Spearmen or Bowmen because of ruined buildings, so he fired his entire round of volley fire at my Cavalry on the first turn. He got only 4 hits, and no wounds (Str 2 bows vs. D5 Galadhrim Knights/Galadhrim Steeds meant he needed 6’s). I breathed a sigh of relief and hoped my luck would hold.

Next turn went much the same though I had now moved my Spearmen into an area where they could be spotted/volleyed as well. Andre volleyed again, splitting fire between Cavalry and Spear. End result: 1 dead Galadhrim Knight and 1 dead Elven Spearmen.

Next turn, Andre moved some of his Grey Company into cover since he knew my Elven Bowmen could move into position and fire during the coming turn. I positioned my Elven Captain and Knights behind the large ruined building on the east side of Andre’s deployment zone. My Spear advanced again and took advantage of another ruined building. My Elven Bowmen advanced three inches taking cover behind the fountain in the center of the map and positioned themselves to shoot into the unprotected Grey Company. Andre and I exchanged fire. He used a group of 8 to direct fire my Bowmen and the remainder all volley fired at my Knights. He killed one Bowman and although he hit 6 times on the knights not a single horse or knight fell.

My 5 Elven Bowmen returned fire and all 5 hit. Four Grey Company fell.I think this psyched out Andre a little, because next turn he retreated the band of Grey Company in the center towards cover. The group of 10 that included his Champion also retreated back 3 inches away from where my Cavalry and Spear were advancing. I advanced my bowmen 3 inches to the southwest and positioned them in the center of the street to fire down it at the group that contained Andre’s Champion. I also advanced the spearmen down the center of a street towards the Champions group as well. Finally I moved the Elven Captain and the knights around the building but outside of charge range. I kept Elven Captain behind the three Knights to give him some cover.

Andre now had some difficult choices, since both the Spear and Cavalry were moving into engagement ranges. Plus my Bowmen were now in range. He volleyed the group of 10 in cover that couldn’t direct fire my Cavalry or Spear because his own men were in the way at the Elven Bowmen and killed one. The other group of ten then direct fired into my Spearmen who were in charge range and killed 4 of the 7. The remaining 4 all fired on my Elven Captain, and scored 3 hits. But then the Grey Company had to make”in the way” rolls for the ruin and the knights in front. All 3 hit the wall.

My return fire was done one at a time. The first shot was at his champion and hit. I then had to make two “in the way” rolls. The first hit a ranger. It killed him. The second shot was also aimed at the Grey Company Champion. It flew past the other ranger who was in the way and wounded the Champion, who then rolled a 1 on his Fate roll and died. The remaining two shots killed one more Dunedain. Andre grinned and said, “Well I guess I’m playing for the draw.”

Next turn I won priority, and Andre called a Heroic Move. I called one as well. I won the roll off and charged my Captain, Knights and the Spearmen into combat. Andre was unable to do his heroic move since none of Grey Company in range were unengaged My bowmen moved 3 inches back into cover and prepared to fire on the Rangers behind the ruins to the southwest. Andre then moved the rest of his Dunadain and Rangers towards my Elves. During the shooting phase the Elven Bowmen killed 3 more of Andres Forces and he killed 1 Elf Bowmen. During Combat my Elven Captain killed his two Ranger opponents (and secured the Major Victory for the Elves). One of my 3 Spearmen killed 1 Dunadain, but the other 2 both lost their fights and 1 was slain.

Even though I had met the conditions for a Major Victory, Andre and I decided to continue to play just to see if my captain could survive. In the end he killed a total of five models before he was finally pulled down and slain. In the end the 18 elves inflicted a total 15 casualties. But after the Elven Captain and Knights killed the Rangers they were in hand-to-hand combat with they were mowed down by massed bow fire from the remaining Rangers as they moved to engage them. The second Elven Captain with the bowmen was the last to fall.

All in a an interesting game. I think Andre might have been able to limit me to a draw if he had had his last group of bowmen in a position where they could have direct fired on my captain. But the restricted lines of fire on the Osgiliath Board (lite!) helped me to minimize some of the Grey Companies shooting advantage. I think Andre's Grey Company Army will be more flexible at 600 points also when it has actual Captains instead of just Dunadain.

All in all, a great day of gaming and definately helped clear up the doldrums caused by WOTR!!!

Return to Posting on The Valley of Starlight.

I have not updated this blog in quite some time. I blame "War of the Ring". Initially because I was really looking forward to "Mass Combats in Middle-Earth", and so was playing games at our local Hobby Shop (Imperial Outpost Games, Glendale AZ) when the game first came out. Later because I was so depressed over the obvious lack of play-testing that showed when you read the rules or attempted to play the game.

We had a Summer WOTR League held at Outpost that was supposed to run 8 weeks. The League was intended to get new players interested in the game so it was very loose. Unpainted models were allowed and the league started at 750 point so new players could get an army with minimal investment. Each week the Army size would increase by 250 up to a maximum of 2000. The league died in week 4 because everyone, even the newbies, had figured that the game was not "Mass Combat in Middle-Earth", but "Massed Heroes and Massed Magic in Middle-Earth". The very minimal army building rules allowed for truly heinous character combinations, like Aragorn with Anduril fighting alongside Elendil who is wielding Narsil. Then Throw in Gil-Galad as well. In WOTR this is perfectly legal.

My friend Mike figured out in week three that using Counselor on a model with another model with Counselor or Epic Renewal made for some massive Might Pools that allowed characters to slaughter whole units and enemy heroes. Or placing the two Nazgul; the Betrayer and Khamul; in the same formation to allow every failed wound on an enemy model to be re-rolled and every wound inflicted on the formation to be reflected back as an auto hit on the enemy on the roll of a 5 or 6. Needless to say, the game did not capture the feel of massed forces in conflict.

Instead as the league progressed we saw that the “best” Armies really had very little of a LOTR “feel” and instead consisted of a small core of supposedly “Common” Troops (with D7) supported by large numbers of Magic and Combat Characters. In fact many of the more competitive armies seemed to consist of more points spent on characters than troops. That was definitely not what I and many of the others were looking for in a Mass combat game. Add to this the lack of clear rules regarding so many of the basics of the game (movement in particular) and many became discouraged and stopped showing up for league nights.

I looked at the basic game system and saw that it had some good basic concepts, but other things just did not have the LOTR feel that I was looking for. For instance there were tons of Morannon Orcs being fielded on the table, but no Orcs. Orcs are The Dark Lords bread and butter, but were not represented on the table. This just felt wrong to the LOTR Lore Geek in me.

Another thing that felt wrong: All Elves cause terror in WOTR, but this was not really supported by the books. There are many examples of the great heroes of the Elves (and even some Human Heroes) causing terror, but not the regular warriors.

To make a long story short, I went to Dave Bishop, Anthony Pigatti, Sean Ramirez, Jace Boatrite, Mike English and Carl Matherly, some of the best LOTR/WOTR Players I know, and asked all of them what they liked/disliked about the WOTR System. I also gave them my thoughts. From those discussions I put together a list of “House Rules” to attempt to address the flaws in the game. More about the results of that in a later post.