Review: Great Battles of Middle-Earth: The Battle of Five Armies

Copyright D. Andrew Ferguson © 2005

Edited by Nicholas HM Caldwell for The Guild Companion

Overview

The Battle of Five Armies is a miniature game based on the epic final battle in J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit. It is published by Games Workshop.

Contents (Here's what you get)
Game Manual
2 Hill Sections
Card River Sections
1 frame of plastic ruins
Miniatures (28 Units and 10 characters)

Game Manual

The Game Manual is 96 pages, it is full colour with a great deal of photographs and diagrams to help you understand the concepts presented in the text. The artwork is very nice and is on par with other recent products from Games Workshop.

The material itself is laid out in an easy to follow manner. The rules are unfolded slowly with plenty of examples and illustrations, and the authors do not assume that the reader is familiar with any of the concepts before reading the book.

There are sections on: basic rules, advanced rules, scenarios, the armies, collecting and painting, along with a useful index and glossary of terms.

Hill Sections

The game contains 2 plastic hill sections that are not like the hard foam hills that you usually see. Instead these are hard plastic hills that have a slot and key connection so that you can hook up 2 or even 4 of the sections to form a large hill. The hill is well detailed and very sturdy.

Card River Sections

The game contains a set of punch card sections to be used as a river for the main scenario. Although useful enough for the scenario the card stock river does not quite fit together properly, will eventually break down and would not be that hard to lose. Overall, the river is not bad, but not great either.

Plastic Ruins

Also included is a frame that can be put together to form a set of ruins. This is very useful for terrain and gameplay.

Miniatures

The set contains a large number of plastic miniatures:
8 Goblin Infantry Units
4 Goblin Cavalry Units
4 Warg Units
1 Men with Bows Unit
1 Men with Spears Unit
2 Dwarven Units
2 Elves with Bows Units
2 Elves with Spears Units
1 Eagle Unit
Along with 10 characters: Gandalf, Beorn, Thranduil the Elfking, Dain, Bard, Thorin, Bolg, Goblin Shaman, and two Goblin Chieftans.

Please take note that the miniatures are Epic Scale. This means that they are much smaller than normal. Each man stands about 5 millimeters tall, but there are 14 to a stand of infantry and 3 stands to a unit so each of the infantry units mentioned above have 42 men. Some of the miniatures such as the Wargs, Eagles and Beorn are much larger.

Gameplay

For those of you that have played Warmaster you will find that The Battle of Five Armies is a cleaned up version of the rules. For those of you who have not played Warmaster each turn is broken down into 3 sections: Command, Shooting and Combat.

Command is one of the most important concepts in the game. Troops don't do much by themselves and a nearby character (who need not be in the unit) must command them. The character can continue to issue commands until they fail an attempt. Each time that they try they roll 2d6 and try to get equal to or under their current Command rating (which is reduced by 1 each time they issue a command). The Command section of the turn ends when the General fails an attempt so make sure to use him last.

This means that it is possible to move a unit more than once during a turn. Infantry moves at 20cm per movement but other unit types can move quicker such as flying monsters that can move 100cm per turn.

Once the Command phase is complete the Shooting phase takes place, units with missile weapons can attack enemy units. Shooting attacks are worked out by rolling a die for each stand that is shooting, normally a 4 or higher is required to score a hit. It should be mentioned that all magical abilities take place in the Shooting phase.

Combat takes place in a similar manner to shooting, but both parties have the opportunity to hit each other. The losing side may have to fall back, as any seasoned Games Workshop player would expect.

Conclusion

The Game is easy to learn and fun to play, but beware the intricacies of the Command Phase. There are already several other miniatures out for the Game including the dragon Smaug. However the game has only been released through Games Workshop UK and is not easily available in North America yet (I was lucky to find the copy that I have).

For those people who like miniature games I would recommend The Battle of Five Armies, it is simple enough to learn, but complex enough to have a lot of surprises waiting.