Hobbits? What do I know about hobbits? I’m a Warhammer nerd. Well, it’s time for all of that to change, because Games Workshop were good enough to send me the new Battle of Osgiliath box, and so I reckoned that it’s time I start getting into the Middle Earth Strategy Battle Game. So, what do I know about hobbits?
Ok, so with this box, Middle Earth’s famous halflings don’t actually feature, so I have that on my side, but the other reason I wanted to review this box is because the MESBG crowd always seemed like the most pleasant tabletop enthusiasts to interact with, and because it never hurts to have another string to one’s dice-rolling bow. Whenever I’ve been at Warhammer World and there’s been a Middle Earth event on, I’ve always been struck with how nice everyone seems to be, and how much fun they’re all having – I want to go to there. I also wanted to offer you, my dear readers, a review from someone who hasn’t ever played this game before. Because if you’ve always looked at this game and thought it seemed confusing and strange in comparison to Warhammer, I’m like you, and hopefully my review can make a difference to you. So this is one for the potential newbs out there – is this a good box to buy?
Straight off the bat, as you open the box, you see that lovely plastic, and these sprues, for the most part gave me a real sense of nostalgia. The scale is smaller, the models not quite as detailed as those found in most Warhams-flavoured boxes that comes out these days, and there’s just a sort of pleasantness about them. They’re not intimidating, and building and painting looks friendlier than 40k or AoS models. I appreciate that, and after looking into that new Horus Heresy box and feeling a bit sick with the thought of how many bits of plastic I’d have to glue together, this is a refreshing change of pace. The troll has a few more bits to it, but most of the men and orcs look like a gentle ride. I can get on board with that. After all, there’s no sense in wasting too much effort on the nameless grunts, is there?
Then there are the new characters which buck that trend. The heroes are full of detail and show their newness, so you still get some high end, top-level detail minis in this box, but a nice small amount – five to spend some time on, while the rest of the box can be knocked out quickly and easily. And the scenery is a nice touch too – that as well can be dry-brushed easily enough, or you can spend some time on it depending on your preferences. But it’s great to get a battlefield in a box like this.
In fact, it’s great to get this spread of miniature types for the game itself all in one box. A monster, a mounted champion, foot champions, archers and close combat troops. From what I understand, that covers nearly all of the unit types in the game, and that’s fantastic for helping new players like me to learn. And speaking of learning, let’s take a look at the literature…
You get two things to flick through and peruse here, starting with the brief and light scenarios and profiles guide. If you’re an experienced player, and you just want to get going, this is the book for you. There are four scenarios set in Osgiliath for you to play through, and all the rules profiles for the minis in the box. Once I get to grips with the wider ruleset, this will be a lovely little treat to breeze through and relive those moments from the films. So far, so good.
Then there’s the big book. It’s a monster and contains everything you need to play this game, though if you want to get into matched play, you’ll need some other books, like The Armies Of… tomes to get points values and special army rules (again, I’m a newb, so I think it’s those books you need). But this book will help you understand the phases of the game, the weird characteristics each unit has (when you’ve been used to the classic 40k characteristics, the MESBG ones look as peculiar as a slender hobbit or a sharply dressed goblin), and all of the universal special rules. This book really does have some heft to it, and this set of rules, along with those sprues, really make this box worth the price tag. Two armies, and everything you need to get into this branch of the hobby, and start playing some games. It certainly seems like a great deal.
So how am I, the novice, feeling about this box now that I’ve had a chance to go through it? Erm… good. Ish. While those plastic warriors and the troll are a bit old-fashioned, which speaks to a hobbyist like me with plenty of years under my belt, I can see some people being a little disappointed with them. The new characters are gorgeous, but those older minis, now in plastic, are just a bit… uninspiring. Yes, they’ll be easy enough to paint, but think about what you get in a new 40k or AoS box, and even the basic troop units are new, and beautifully sculpted with the latest technology and techniques. These orcs and men look fine, but is fine good enough for a big box like this? Maybe it is, but you should be aware of this before buying. Honestly, I’m still torn – I really like the simplicity of them, and the idea of quickly batch-painting them all without much effort, but at the same time, maybe some new, multipose (which isn’t really a thing in Middle Earth from what I can tell) minis would have been nicer, though that could just be the Warhammerist in me talking. Can you see the quandary I’m in?
And while the big book is backed full with everything you will need to play this game (bar the points costs), it would be nice to have a quick start guide too. Maybe another 10-12 page book to help you get a game going straight away, that maybe references parts of that big book for those wanting to get more into the minutiae is what’s missing here. I can see players getting to their first game, and struggling to get that flow going that makes these games really wonderful. Yes, you will get that over time, but a short guide to help new players get going would go a long way, I think, to getting the curious purchasers to turn into undaunted advocates in no time at all. Lots of board games now are getting great at starting people off, and, through quick start guides, moving through the rules with a logic that helps to get that flow… er… flowing. I hope GW will think about this for the next Middle Earth box.
That being said, I am still excited to get going with this. I love how this is set during a key moment in the films, because that really helps the player to care and worry (in a good way) about the outcome of their battles. It actually makes me want Warhammer games to lean back into this sometimes as, while 40k and AoS seem determined to advance their storylines, boxes centred around big battles that we’re familiar with would be really cool. This is one of the best things about these Middle Earth boxes, and as a 40k enthusiast, I’m a little jealous of this.
What’s more, the overall production of this box is exceptional – well done to everyone involved. Everything about it looks great, and while we expect this now from every big box that GW produces, it’s nice to see Middle Earth keep up like this. So, yes, if you have the cash, and you’d like to get into the MESBG, you should pick up this box. It’s not perfect, but it is good, and that’s not bad at all.
I’m going to try and knock out some orcs soon, and start rolling dice as quickly as I’m able. Thankfully I know a few people who love this game, so hopefully their knowledge will get me going in no time. A couple of minor gripes aside, I’d have no problem recommending this box if you’re looking to get into hobbits and the other denizens of Tolkien’s universe. Onwards.