Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Gondor at War Review

Continuing on my journey through middle earth, today we review Games Workshop's "Gondor at War" MESBG supplement. 

Time to lock in my share of the sweet sweet LoTR blog readership.
This might be of limited use to anyone else...

The Board is set, the Pieces are Moving. 

The book says it’s a supplement that focuses on the events in the War of the Ring that happen within the realm of Gondor.  So think about the battlefields, characters, and dramatic stuff that happens at the tail end of the Two Towers and throughout The Return of the King.  It mostly contains a bunch of narrative scenarios that aim to recreate these moments, which is exactly why I bought it in the first place.  

Side discussion: narrative vs army list.  
There’s basically two ways to play LoTR. The more usual one is the army list / competitive way that is very familiar to everyone.  You make your army list up to a point total and your opponent does the same, each looking for the killer combination.  You then both play some random scenario from the list of official random scenarios.  While there’s nothing wrong with all that, I did  it for years and years when I started wargaming, these days this style of play doesn’t hold much interest for me.  

The other style of play is called Narrative, in which you play specially written scenarios that aim to recreate parts of the books and movies. So naturally the army list is just made up of who was in that part of the narrative and the scenarios usually have some special rules as well.  This is what appeals to me bc you recreate the iconic scenes with the characters you love and just feels way more ‘Lord of the Rings.”   I think this style also appeals to my historical gaming core; just like historical gaming where you are reliving history based on the historical record you’re basically playing out the history of Middle Earth.  It’s just that the history is all fictional. But all history is fictional to some extent.  (Whoa, Deep Thoughts)

Now I could write these scenarios myself but that would require a lot of thought and effort.  That’s why I buy scenario books, they do that work for me.  So that’s what I am looking for in the Gondor at War book.  

What’s in the book?

First up is a 2 page history of Gondor.  Like most potted histories, if you knew nothing of LoTR then this would be a good beginning primer.  However, since most people who would buy this book I’m going to assume at least saw the movies and/or read the books, it’s nothing you didn’t already know and does not go into satisfying detail. 

Next up we have a ton of narrative scenarios , the heart of the book really.  There are 29 scenarios in this book which is a huge number. 
It’d be a little tedious to describe each one, but safe to say that there are a large variety of scenarios that focus on the events of The War of the Ring that happen within the realm of Gondor. Just what it says on the back cover, so there’s some truth in advertising.  

OK, FINE.  Let's list the scenarios anyway..with my added short description and opinions..
Movie quotes as well, because if you're like me and seen the movies about a 1000 times that's what you think of...

Defense of Osgiliath
-Faramir and friends try to hold the ruins from an endless fire hose of orcs.  I've played this one.  It's fun.  It's not in the movies and the books mention it as already happened.  

Retaking of Osgiliath
-Boromir and Faramir reclaim the ruins from the orcs.  "This city was once the jewel of our kingdom!"  The aftermath of the battle is in the extended cut of the movie.  You do have the extended cut don't you?  Because 3 hours is not long enough...

Ambush in Ithilien
-Faramir and rangers shoot at Mumaks.  This part is in the movie of The Two Towers.  While not part of the scenario, I would definately place Frodo, Sam, and Golum on the table to watch the action.  "War will make corpses of us all."

Raiding of Pelargir
-Fiefdom troops from LAMEdon fight corsairs.

Fall of Osgiliath
-Gothmog and grunts take the ruins.  Great scene in the movie.  'Fall back to Minas Tirith!'
Frodo has moved on by this point.

The White Rider
-Faramir and friends flee Osgiliath pursured by Ringwraiths on fellbeasts.  Gandalf the White rides out to help.  It's a short scene in the movie where Gandalf scares away the Wraiths with his super staff spotlight.

Faramir’s Charge
-Faramir charges with cavalry back to Osgiliath and gets shot to pieces.  It's not even a remotely fair scenario and says so.

The Battle for Pelargir
-Grey company, more fiefdoms, and the Dead storm the coastal city to fight the corsairs.

Atop the Walls
-Gandalf the White, Pippin and others fend off the endless hordes of orcs spewing from siege towers. This is a clever scenario and does NOT need siege towers or a complete set of walls.  it's a very small table and is just the top of the walls in one small area.  "Guard of the citadel indeed."

The Gate is Breached
-Hordes of Mordor come streaming through the gate while Gandalf the White and others try to hold the courtyard.  "No matter what comes through that door, you will stand your ground."

The Streets of Minas Tirith
-Pippin on one side, Gandalf on the other; Pip has to reach Gandalf to warn him about Denethor loosing his marbles but in between them the battle rages...

The Witch-King’s arrival*
-minigame; Gandalf versus the Witch-King.  "your staff is broken."

Charge of the Rohirrim
-Theoden and everyone who can ride a horse charge into the Morannon Orcs.  "Ride for Ruin and the world's ending!"  (best line EVER!)

Denethor’s Madness
-Gandalf, Pippin, and Beregond try to stop Denethor from burning Faramir alive.  "Stop this madness!"  The movie doesn't have Beregond.

War Beasts from the South
-Rohan versus 3 mumaks.  "Reform the line!  Take them head on!" (worst plan EVER)

The Horse and the Serpent
-Not in the movie, but in the books.  Theoden and friends battle the Serpent horde.

Death of a King
-The Witch-King and Theoden surrounded by troops are on a collision course.

Final Fate of the Witch-King*
-minigame: Eowyn and Merry versus the ridiculously sized flail.  "I will kill you if you touch him."   or "I am no man."

The Ride of the Fiefdoms
-Not in the movies but in the books.  Imrahil rides out with friends in support of Rohan (no Rohan are in this scenario).

The Grief of Eomer
-Eomer is surrounded and mad with grief (have you ever been mad with grief?  I have) and Imrahil comes to save him or is it too late?

Defend the Gate
-While Imrahil is out in the fields goofing around, a small band guards the gate for re-entry from hordes and Mumaks.

The Docks of Harlond
-The 3 hunters and the Dead get off the boats and surprise the Morannon Orcs.  "There's knife work here."  There's an alternate OOB for the good side to make it like the book versus the movie.

Death of Gothmog
-Aragorn and Gimli have to wade through orcs to get to Gothmog before he gets to Eowyn.
This looks like a fun scenario.

That Still Only Counts as One!*
Minigame: Legolas kills a whole Mumak by himself by jumping around.  Then slides down the trunk all super cool like.  I SOOO wish I was Legolas.

The Dead Arrive
-The army of the dead attacks the Mumaks.

The Battle of Pelennor Fields
-I think this is a reprint of the scenario in the Armies of Middle Earth book, maybe expanded just a bit.  It has everybody.

The Black Gate (left hill, right hill)
-3 scenarios really.  1 for how it's depicted in the movies and 2 for in the book.  

*3 of the scenarios are probably better described as ‘mini games’.   These represent famous duels between characters like Eowyn and the Witch King.  They’re not miniature wargames, but they use a deck of cards or alternate rules to resolve.  I would guess they take about 10 mins to play tops.  I support this decision, because  if you used the normal MESBG rules to fight a duel between the Witch King, Eowyn and Pippin, then it would be very boring and one sided.  So while there are 29 scenarios it's more like 26 scenarios total.

OK, SO maybe that wasn't so tedious to list all the scenarios.  Hopefully that gives a good idea of each of the scenarios but not give the whole thing away.

Each scenario is basically 2 pages long.  The first page is the fluff and sets the context for the scenario and basically describes 'what's going on here.'  If you read this part in a voice like you were trying out to be a narrator for an audio book, the prose is kinda fun.  I'm trying to say that it's written very dramatically. There also always a a large dramatic picture.  The next page has a map, a small paragraph describing the terrain suggested for the scenario (in pretty vague terms, but that’s understandable), a paragraph about starting positions, victory conditions and special rules.  Each scenario has special rules.  Lastly there are OOBs for each side dictating which characters / miniatures are needed to play.  All of these are easy to follow and make setting up the scenarios straight forward.  

I only found 1 big mistake; in the  Streets of Minas Tirith scenario the evil side OOB  has 3 trolls listed in it, but in the paragraph for starting positions it makes no mention of trolls but does so specifically for everything else in the scenario.   So either the trolls in the evil OOB are a cut and paste error or the scenario writer forgot to mention where/how to deploy them.  I can guess where the trolls are supposed to go; there are 3 trolls and the Mordor forces are split into 3 groups and deployed into 3 different deployment areas so I'm guessing 1 troll goes in each.

I have heard that a lot of these scenarios are just slightly tweaked versions of previously published scenarios in journey books and/or older LOTR sourcebooks.  This might be true. I suppose if one had a large collection of these books then buying GaW would be redundant.  I don't have a big collection of the old books and most of those are out of print now and hard to find.  These were all new scenarios to me.

Now, let’s talk a little more about what miniatures are needed to play.  Obviously, because of the book covers the Battle of the Pelennor Fields  / Siege of Minas Tirith, it has every faction that was at the battle....Which is all of them.
Probably a smart move by GWs part bc it makes the book more accessible to people no matter what armies they happen to have laying around.

What I like is that none of the scenario OOBs are too outrageous.  Most top out at around 40 miniatures per side, many with less than that.  Yes, if you wanted to play ALL of these scenarios it would be very expensive to have all the models.  So like most scenario books, in reality there are only a select number of scenarios that are doable with your collection.  This strikes me as no different than when I purchase, say ACW scenario books, which out of like 10 scenarios only 2-3 are immediately doable, the others requiring more troops than I have, or more cavalry, cannons, special terrain,  etc..

The OOBs tell you exactly what to field, there's none of this take Hero X and Hero Y and 300 points worth of soldiers.  Also the OOBs don't use elite troops.  It's basic troops plus heroes.  So there's no Rohan royal guard, no Gondor Guardians of the Fountain Court, no Mordor Black Guard or Numorians...

I'll try to give examples of the more extreme OOB requirements, but what is considered extreme is very subjective.  People who have large / diverse collections might not think so...
-one scenario requires 3 ringwraths on fellbeasts (i dunno, I had 2 of these lying around in my modest collection)
-one scenario requires 3 trolls (again I dunno, I had two in my lead pile)
- a few scenarios require 2 War Mumaks (these are $100 models) and one requires 3.
I don't have these, so I won't be playing those scenarios anytime soon.  Though I guess if you were someone who played Harad you might have 1 or 2.
(or be like Jay who has 5..)

In my case, given some recent purchases, out of the 26 scenarios (29 - 3 minigames) I have the required models for 6 of them.  That's not a terrible ratio, and it's not like I had a huge collection of LOTR figures lying around.

What I also like is that the force lists repeat themselves in the scenarios.  What I mean to say is, there seem to be some 'core' forces and these are used in multiple scenarios with just some fringe changes here and there.

For example: A core force of 36 Mordor Orcs, 12 with shield and sword, 12 with spear, 6 with bow, 6 with 2handed is used in 3 different scenarios.  Only the special characters change from scenario to scenario.
Perhaps 'core configuration' is a better term.  But there are several of them across the factions.

Special Characters also appear in many scenarios.  For example in any scenario featuring Morannon Orcs there is usually a Gothmog, Gothmog's Enforcer (I guess he doesn't have a name), Gurtiz, or a Goroth.  Why do all Morannon orc names start with G?  We may never know.

That is NOT to say that there are no 1 off OOBs.  There are miniatures that only appear in 1 scenario.

Gah, Special Characters are Expensive!

Don't I know it.  I just spent over $100 at Forge World for a total of 9 miniatures.
9 miniatures; $100.  That's $15 a miniature.  I even winced when I typed that.
(I only did it because I had a tax return with some money marked for 'frivolous expenditures.'  And I didn't tell the wife how much they were.)  This is a GW game isn't it?  We all know that GW is expensive.

Now, I think that part of the fun of LOTR is using miniatures that are recognizable from the the movies / books, and obviously some characters are more iconic than others.  And the special characters seems to be where GW will make all it's money.  Most of the scenarios use a special character or two (or three or four).

This is also a good time to mention a few things about Proxies, substitutions, and amendments.  Namely to say that if you are playing narrative scenarios then what do you care about WYSIWYG or following the OOB exactly.  Take the core of the scenario and make it work for your collection.
Some examples from myself:
In GaW, Faramir is always in his ranger version (light armor and bow).  There's even a scenario were he is mounted as a ranger and that model doesn't even exist.  Despite having 5 Faramir models, I don't have a ranger version, so I'm going to substitute Faramir with heavy armor instead.
(though it didn't do him any good in the first scenario...see This AAR)

Madril is in 3 scenarios, but I don't have one of those miniatures either.  So to proxy I'll be using a Duinhir miniature I have laying around.

You get the idea.

Campaign System (Kinda)

After all the scenarios comes the campaign system, but honestly the word campaign is a little too strong.  What it basically describes is how the winner of 1 scenario will get a bonus in the next scenario (or how the loser will have a weakness).  It is NOT that if a character dies in 1 scenario he (or she) can't be used in the next.  The force list for each scenario is fixed so casualties in one scenario do not matter in the next.

That soiunds like I dislike it, I actually like what it does, I just wouldn't call it a campaign.  It's more like 'linking' the scenarios to provide a little bit more narrative and the additional rules don't seem overpowering.  How each scenario affects the next makes sense as well, and makes going through the scenarios just a little more interesting.  

What's next in the book?

I'm only gonna briefly mention the next half of the book, because it's mostly stuff that I minimally care about.
the next section has a bunch of summaries of each faction mentioned in the narrative scenarios.  It's basically a 2 page advertisement of how awesome each faction is, how each can knock blocks off with their socks off. 

GW has a long history of making everything sound like it's the best ever.  This is where they do it in this book.  
I had a roommate like this once.  "man, these are like the ultimate chicken nuggets ever."  

It's here where the book starts to transition from narrative play to competitive / army list play.  

But importantly for me; It also has the stats for any of the special characters mentioned in this book's scenarios that are not in other big army list book.

The next bit is a small collection of army lists called "legendary legions" (these are like, the best ever man) which are just what I said; army lists for the competitive player.  I read them once just to see what they were about, but I honestly haven't looked at time since.  They seem cool but I couldn't tell you for sure.

It's not that I mind that the army lists are included in the book.  It doesn't seem like there was enough there to warrant it's own separate publication, or maybe GW just wanted the book to have something for everyone.  But if you were just buying GaW  so you could have the stats for the special characters / heroes and the legion lists for competitive play then you definitely got ripped off.  Because the majority of the book is not for you.

However, I might be a minority type of player that's only interested in narrative play; could be that the majority of MESBG players are interested in both styles.  

And last but not least: At the back of the book are bunch of pictures of miniatures painted up really well.  I assume these are included to 
1) add to the page count
2) serve as a paint guide
3) make me feel bad about my average painting skills.

So... Overall and in Summation

I bought it for the narrative scenarios and I think the content delivers in spades.  You hear the word 'thematic' thrown around a lot in MESBG circles, and I'd say that the narrative scenarios are especially thematic and worth the price of the book.  I'm already planning the next 4 months of my life and hobby time around doing more LOTR gaming because of this book.  I'm pleased I purchased it.  

The book also has a high production value and is pretty to look at.  Even my wife said one night "that's a pretty book."  

I hope someone will find this useful.  I wrote it because a blogger's gotta blog, and because when I typed into google "GW Gondor at War review" not a whole lot popped up.
Who knows, maybe GW will send me a box of miniatures of something... (Army of the Dead please!)

I also wrote it because because despite being a mild mannered hobbyist and miniature wargamer at heart, I haven't had any wargaming or hobby time in all of April.
Fittingly, I wasn't mild mannered either.

Thanks for reading.  Till next time. 


  1. Thanks for the review (of a book I will never own!)

    It is interesting that the book has some scenarios for fights that differ from those depicted in the movie, but does not have "book actuate" battles. So no battles of the Rammas Echor, no black ships bringing in the troops from the southern fiefdoms instead of the dead and so on. I guess that is where your scope to make more scenarios comes in.

    As an aside, how different is the "current" version of LotR from the older movie release versions?

    1. Thanks Las. I’ll have to reread what I wrote, but actually there are a few scenarios that happen in the books and not the movies and where the movie scenes differ from the books the scenarios provide an alternative OOB to make it more book accurate. Like you can have the dead get off the boats or living souls. Overall I think it’s a good balance. 😀

      As to your question: the new rule book is not at all different from the previous when it comes to its core. Just minor changes really. There are videos on YouTube that go into detail. 😀

    2. Sweet, because I have the old Return of the King rules somewhere...

    3. Oh man, that’s even older! Those are the rules before the rules! I’m gonna have to give you my old rule book. 😀

  2. $15 a miniature? I’m not too familiar with GW as fantasy isn’t really my thing but they DO seem overly expensive. I winced too!

    Btw, great writeup. Beats me how you manage to go into so much detail. Thanks for taking the time and patience to put in so much depth.

    1. Thanks Mike. I got to write a very detailed book report because basically I’ve had no gaming to speak of. ☹️

      $15 a miniature indeed is very pricey. Exorbitant even. I only purchased them due to having ‘free money ‘ but I could of gotten a trunkful of other miniatures or hobby supplies for that price. Too late now. 😀

    2. $15 a miniature seems cheap in comparison to the Age of Sigmar or 40k characters which start at $25 each...

    3. Crazy! GW has such a weird pricing model.

  3. Thanks Stew - I love my WOTR figures and have not heard of the book so will look this up. Really enjoying your take on playing teh games and it may well inspire me to get the lads out again for a battle. I'm actually getting ready to use them in the fantasy version of To the Strongest named, very amusingly, To the Strangest! No magic just battles which suits me to the ground. I will get a sample of list from Simon and see what I can track down.

    1. Thanks Carlo! The Book reviewed is probably only good for the MESBG skirmish game but you never know.
      Funny you mention TtS, because naturally I’ve been casting about for a mass fantasy battle rule set for all these LoTR figures I will one day paint. I wouldn’t of considered TtS. I have been thinking about Sword and Spear fantasy version. 😀

  4. Interesting write up,I would say LOTR was one of the main reasons I got into this hobby, luckily there was no specific figure range out in those days! I really liked the films but haven't got into GWs game, which at those prices is something of a relief! Nice idea of "free" money btw!
    Best Iain

    1. Thanks Iain! GW certainly has something of a crazy pricing model where 2 figures that are special characters will cost as much as 24 of the grunts. I didn’t start gaming with LoTR in mind but when I learned there were figures for it I knew I would have a collection.
      Though I still need a Rohan force. 😀

  5. 29 scenarios all in the one book has got to be a good buy and will keep you gaming for quite some time. Thanks for sharing Stew.

    1. Thanks Pat. There’s no way I could do all of them since I don’t have all of the figures. But still a good buy I think. The whole LoTR genre has my imagination flowing and that’s the best part. 😀

  6. In terms of the campaign, my impression is that this is a common element across SBG going way back. The game started as a narrative skirmish system, and that more or less still lies at the heart of it. Linked scenarios are the norm. The map campaign in the new Battle Companies book is a bit of an outlier, in that sense.

    1. Hi FMB!
      You might be right there. I know battle companies has always had a linked narrative to it. I’ve come from the other side where I started with more tournament style game play and now I want the narrative. 😀

  7. I'm pretty certain you have far more free time at work than me. LOL

    Excellent and thorough review mate. Hope we get to play some more of these soon

    1. That is the plan my friend. 😀 as soon as life settles down.

      I wrote most of this post while I was down in SD getting my Father’s house ready for sale, but I undoubtedly have more free time at work than you. Life is unfair. 😀

      I got spit on last week if makes you feel better. 😀