Why War of the Ring?

If you ask a Games Workshop hobbyist to identify themselves with one primary game system, most will come down firmly in either the Warhammer Fantasy Battle or Warhammer 40K camp (various Specialty Games--Blood Bowl, Epic, Mordheim, Inquisitor, Warhammer Quest, Space Hulk--might once have had significant adherents, but it has been so long since any were regularly available on shelves few fans remain active in the hobby who are not first a player of one or the other 'primary' systems). The fact that GW has--and continues to fully support with both new-on-shelf product and regular White Dwarf magazine coverage--a third primary game system is not reflected by the hobby base...something Games Workshop is taking a major step to address.

The Lord of the Rings miniatures game enjoyed huge popularity during the theatrical runs of Peter Jackson's movie adaptations of J.R.R. Tolkien's seminal fantasy. Some sources indicate Lord of the Rings product outsold Warhammer Fantasy product in the US and Warhammer 40K product in Europe during those years (some sources suggest it outsold both product lines worldwide). Games Workshop took the opportunity to release a basic boxed set with each of the three feature films, including film-specific miniatures and rules-tweaks...then saved the best for last, releasing the game's current basic-box incarnation--which includes beautifully-sculpted members of the Fellowship, goblins and a cave troll all in plastic, plus terrain and the most polished iteration of the rules yet--once the film trilogy was complete. They have continued to support it with marvelous new plastics, highly-regarded pewter sculpts (Peter Jackson himself is a huge and public fan, so much so he included a number of GW sculptors and Studio creators in his final Rings film) and, perhaps best of all, supplemental rules books exploring areas of Tolkien's world and work either in greater detail than the previous general rules allowed, or which were not covered at all by the film series (with miniatures to match). LotR support in White Dwarf by the Studio personnel assigned to the game system has consistently been the best, most creative and highest quality the magazine has offered. In short, Games Workshop has not only *not* dropped the ball in supporting their LotR game line following completion of the three films, they've stepped up their quality of effort, laudably so.

It is just that few hobbyists have noticed.

That doesn't mean the line has been unprofitable; in fact, some sources indicate GW's LotRs miniatures line is still the third-best selling line of games miniatures in the world (behind WHFB and 40K). It simply has gone from being the closest thing the miniatures gaming industry has yet seen to a mass market product, at its height, to the kind of niche product line most other miniatures lines are and remain. And that isn't GW's fault...it is simply the nature of being a franchisee of a media phenomenon which has reached its emotional conclusion. Just as Star Wars product fell off the marketing map after Return of the Jedi in 1983 because much of its fandom felt 'the story was over,' so Lord of the Rings toys, costumes, replicas, trinkets, etc have largely disappeared from shelves following Return of the King. GW has soldiered on (no pun intended) with their miniatures game because the line remains profitable, and the system is good--but they would emphatically like to see their models for it not just sold and collected but actually played with.

To that end comes War of the Ring.

The one consistent limitation of the Lord of the Rings system created by GW observed by regular players is that, as a ruleset designed first around the scenarios, settings and adventures of the first film, which were mostly small-unit affairs, it became awkward to handle as the size of the armies and battles increased. GW tweaked this as the scope of the story expanded with The Two Towers, and again to accommodate the vast spectacle of the climactic battles in Return of the King...but at its heart, the Lord of the Rings game was and is at its best, most fun and most playable replicating skirmish-level encounters.

The new War of the Ring game takes the basic LotR rules concepts and mechanics and re-gears them for the monumental.

Now, players will be able to really recreate the feel of the siege at Helms Deep, or the Battle for Pelennor Fields. Vast armies will sweep across tabletops, invest enemy fortresses, or mount massive cavalry charges.

To quote one GW source, 'WotR will do for LotR what Apocalypse did for 40K.'

And, as with the basic Warhammer 40,000 game and its Apocalypse supplement, nothing GW does for WotR will diminish the LotR game: it will remain the choice for best retelling tales of indivual heroes and their warbands on the tabletop, for quick or pick-up games between friends.

There will be no basic boxed game version of War of the Ring. Like Apocalypse, it will be presented in a beautiful, lavishly-illustrated and comprehensive hard cover book. Its comprehensiveness is its signal virtue: every army an interested hobbyist might want to build for WotR is covered in the basic book, along with all of its variants, potential leaders and heroic characters/villains/monsters, and all of the rules one need know to play WotR. Players of LotR will recognize most of the terminology and mechanisms--but GW is treating WotR as a 'start from scratch,' so that no previous familiarity with LotR is required.

And as a new system, everyone will be starting from a level playing field, in building their armies for either fun or competitive play. And their WILL be competitive play: GW has never dropped LotR from its GTs, and expects WotR to generate a resurgence of interest in playing the game tournament-style.

This is a very good thing. I think LotR is GW's *best* game from both the pure 'fun to play' and the competitively-balanced standpoints. Fans of earlier iterations of WHFB and especially 2nd Edition Warhammer 40K are encouraged to give it a look--much moreso than either current version of GW's staple games, the role of singular heroes, and the impact they can have on battles, is dramatically more pronounced in LotR...just as any ruleset replicating a great tale of great heroes ought to be. However, the balance is generally spot-on: Aragorn, Boromir, Gimli, Legolas and the Nine *lead* their armies, but are not so powerful as to *be* the army. Sauron and the Balrog approach that level of power...but then, they should, and are distinguished by that singularity. It is an outstanding and evocative system, which moves quickly and feels 'heroic' (so much so, I have adapted the LotR rules for historicals gaming in the post-Roman 'Arthurian' era for personal use, after being repeatedly frustrated at the 'realism' of most historical miniatures rules systems failing to evoke the more mythic feel I wanted, and have been extremely satisfied with the result...and those who know me will tell you I take matters Arthurian very seriously, and with a difficult critical eye to satisfy :).

GW is hoping upping the scope of this game, to recreate the enormous battles which are among the trilogy's highlights, will provide a jumpstart for dormant hobby interest. The War of the Ring ruleset for just such huge battles seems to have retained much of what is so good about Lord of the Rings, added scope, size and spectacle, then leavened with some rules alterations to make so vast a game still proceed at a brisk pace (I particularly like the 'rather than modify results, roll as many dice as possible' approach). And they've added some marvelous lures: the base rulebook is a beautiful thing, as noted, the first new models (especially the plastic Ent!) are likewise--and the movement trays, designed to make GW's round-based LotR miniatures easy to use ranked up, for WotR, are terrific: I suspect 40K players will find them appealing for display and perhaps even play applications, as well as dedicated WotR use.

GW has built it; now, will the players come?

I hope so, for all of the reasons noted above and more. For one thing, discovering GW's line of LotR/WotR miniatures will open up a whole new area of collecting for players who've not tried the system: not just the new plastic Ents or Kingdom of the Dead figures, but the whole catalog of LotR miniatures crafted since the game's inception will open up to--and be 'like new' to--such hobbyists. And there are some wonderful miniatures in that catalog, from both the plastic and pewter versions of the Balrog to the awesomely villainous Sauron to the modular dragon--as well as original creations like Gulhavhar the daemon, which boast a laudable commitment to fidelity with Tolkein's universe.

If War of the Ring rejuvenates hobby interest in the Lord of the Rings miniatures game, such 'new converts' will not be the only ones who benefit: every closet fan of the game who has boxed up their figures for lack of opponents will profit, as well.

I've a vast cohort of valiant Rohirrim waiting for the call from sequester, to ride to Middle Earth's defense, should new Orcs, Olyphaunts or Easterlings appear on the tabletop horizon, because of War of the Ring...

The Illustrated Alamo 1836

In the pre-dawn of March 6, 1836, the fate of an unknown number (but probably around 200) of Tejanos, Texians and American Texas immigrant rebels and an unknown number (but probably in the high hundreds to low thousands) of Loyalist Mexican soldiers was decided at a place almost everyone has heard of...but that almost no one can properly visualize, as it was on the day: the crucible of Texas liberty (and an anvil upon which was struck much of subsequent North American history, from the nineteenth century through the present)—the Alamo.

Artist Mark Lemon has created the most thorough-going visual recreation of the Alamo to date, in his meticulously-researched and skillfully rendered 'The Illustrated Alamo 1836 A Photographic Journey'. From the 1/48th scale model Alamo he bases his work on, to the stunningly evocative photographic work which brings the model to realistic life, to the text analysis of both, including his reasoning behind some of the speculative decisions he had to make, Lemon's work is impeccable...and the result is a fuller understanding of the monumental hopelessness of a few hundred defenders securing so broad and open a 'fortress' against determined assault—and a deeper appreciation for the depth of their conviction to their cause, that nonetheless they tried.

While there are unfortunate errors in editing (Lemon consistently misspells Alamo commander William Barret Travis' middle name, for example), they are rendered inconsequential in contrast to the enormity and thoroughness of Lemon's research. Not only does he cover the physical plant of the Alamo on that fateful day (visitors to the shrine as it is currently preserved in San Antonio unfamiliar with the changes—and in some cases virtual demolition—the Alamo has been subject to in the years since 1836 will be stunned by how different a place it was), Lemon also details virtually everything known of the mission fortress' artillery battery, complete with illustrations of the guns, and provides one of the most cogently-argued analyses of which flag(s) flew over the commandery while it was in possession of the Texians, and why.

That this is a must for the library of every Alamo historian goes without saying. It will probably be of considerable interest to the model-builder and miniature military gamer, as well; though Lemon's triumphs here are ultimately in line with his intentions—to recreate history insofar as possible and do so with an artistry that transcends simple recreation—the stunning package that is 'The Illustrated Alamo 1836' is arguably one of the most beautiful, elaborate tributes to the scale modelers' art, as well, and deserves appreciation for that.

By the time the sun rose on the Mission San Antonio de Valero on March 6, 1836, the thirteen day seige was over. William Barret Travis, James Butler Bonham, Jim Bowie, Davy Crockett and her other defenders were all massacred (or soon would be, depending on one's fixation with how things for each of them ended, especially Crockett). Mexican General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, the 'Napoleon of the West,' would dismiss the battle as 'a small affair.' But the most experienced heart of his veteran army lay wounded, dying or dead piled high against the mission fortress' north wall, and dedication to a cause—which was arguably still smouldering in the hearts of many beyond its most ardent disciples—had been fanned to incandescence by Travis' epistolary eloquence, by the band of defenders' courage, by the mercilessness of Santa Anna's massacre. Without the Alamo, there well might never have been a Texas.

Mark Lemon's book finally brings the birthplace of Texas freedom back to life, as it was—and takes us there.