Tony F reports on the beginnings of an epic journey.
About four years ago, Games Workshop released The Quest of the Ringbearer, the latest source book in their Middle Earth Strategy Battle series. This is centred around a series of 28 scenarios which, if played in succession, tell the story of Frodo’s journey across Middle Earth to destroy the One Ring. It’s a bit of a mash-up between the story as told in the book, and the slightly different version in Peter Jackson’s films.
Phil and I have finally managed to get ourselves into gear and started on our Quest at the first meeting of the year. The initial scenarios are quite short, so we managed to race through the first four, even with the club AGM being held during the meeting ! Aiding us were Andy, who joined Phil on the Evil side, while Jon R played with me on the side of all that is Good. This report will cover the first two scenarios, with the next two in a separate post.
Scenario 1 – Farmer Maggot’s Crop
“The hounds of love are hunting”
This was a simple starter scenario, with the four hobbits (Frodo, Sam, Merry and Pippin) being on the evil side for once, trying to steal cabbages from Farmer Maggot’s field. Defending the brassicas were Maggot along with his three dogs, Grip, Wolf and Fang. The hobbits had to steal five cabbages from the field and get it back to their stash, while the dogs had to inflict sufficient bites on the backsides of the thieving hobbits to drive them away. Because this was nothing more than a scrumping mission, no-one could ‘die’ – when the dogs took a wound they ran back to their kennel until the Farmer sent them back again, while a hobbit that lost all of their wounds would run away and abandon the expedition.
In our playthrough, the hobbits got off to a good start, stealing their first cabbage and sending two of the dogs back to the kennel almost immediately. However, Wolf showed early form by biting Sam – in fact Wolf would be responsible for most of the wounds we inflicted. As soon as one of the dogs took a wound it woke Farmer Maggot, and as the mechanics of the scenario meant that the Farmer had to be touching the kennel in order to release any hound that had slunk back to it, Jon and I decided that our best course of action was simply to leave him there so that the dogs would be immediately be back into the fray.
With two of the dogs temporarily out of action, the hobbits managed to grab a further three cabbages before they returned. When a hobbit was charged it had to drop its plunder, so not all of the cabbages made it back to the stash point when the dogs returned. As all three dogs got into action we started whittling the hobbits’ numbers down, with Wolf playing a starring role, until there was only one left facing all three dogs, with two plunder tokens still needed – a couple of good bites and it was all over.
The scenario was pretty well balanced, we felt – the hobbits managed to make it off with three of the required five cabbages, and could easily have made it further had Jon not rolled something like four successive sixes towards the end of the game.
Scenario 2 – Short Cuts Make Long Delays
“It’s in the trees – it’s coming !”
This scenario saw three of the four hobbits lost in the forest on the way to Crickhollow (Merry has already gone ahead). Three Ringwraiths are closing in on them, and only the intervention of Gildor Inglorion can save them. The hobbits started in the lee of a large hedge which runs through the forest; the Ringwraiths started in the centre of three of the board edges, while Gildor was on the fourth, Eastern edge (he got to start 3″ in because the Good side won the previous scenario). The objective was to get Frodo off the Eastern side of the table.
The Ringwraiths are in ‘Sentry’ mode – each turn they must roll a dice and depending on the result they could either move normally, at half speed, stay still or even in some cases be moved by the Good side. Conversely, the hobbits are all petrified of what could be in the woods so they each had to make a Courage test every turn – pass and they could move normally, fail and the Evil side got to move them. Once a Ringwraith spotted a hobbit (which was only at 3″ range in the woods) the alarm was raised and everyone could move normally. So these rolls would be crucial to the outcome – if the hobbits could evade detection for long enough then Frodo could escape.
The Ringwraiths pottered around pretty randomly – the one on the Southern edge came up with several 1s on his movement rolls, allowing the Good side to move him away, and he gained the nickname ‘Sh*t Ringwraith’ from has master which stuck for the rest of the day. The Western ‘wraith quickly moved up to the hedge with a decent couple of rolls. Pippin then failed a courage test and the Evil side moved him back towards the hedge and things looked dicey – one more dodgy roll and the alarm would be raised, which would allow the Ringwraiths to quickly close in with their superior speed. But the Western ‘wraith twice failed his rolls to cross the hedge, and spent two turns untangling his cloak from the branches, allowing Pippin to get away. Pippin did fail at least one more courage test but the Good side, being somewhat more decorous, decided not to christen him the ‘Sh*t Hobbit’.
This left just the Northern Ringwraith as a threat – but by this time Gildor had moved up to meet the hobbits and was shielding Frodo. Since the scenario only required Frodo to escape, we decided we’d sacrifice the other two if necessary to get him away. So Sam and Pippin moved into blocking positions and Gildor hurried the Ringbearer off the table. Pippin was struck down in the last turn, but it was nevertheless a victory for the Good side again (rolling after the game, Pippin was determined to not be entirely dead, so his sacrifice was worth it).
The scenario was tricky for the Evil side, but depending on the random movement rolls for the Ringwraiths it could have gone entirely differently – and getting stuck on the hedge for two turns (only a 1-in-6 chance) effectively took one of them out of the game. What was key for the Good side was that Frodo, with his higher courage value, didn’t fail a single test and so could move towards the edge of the table at full speed every turn, making it in the minimum possible time.
So – after two scenarios, it’s