April 25th, 2010
Classic Review: LOTR Return of the King Strategy Battle Game 2004
The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King Strategy Battle Game from Games Workshop is the third boxed set from Games Workshop based on the New Line Cinema feature films, which were based on JRR Tolken’s beloved The Lord of the Rings literary trilogy. Even if you have the Two Towers and Fellowship of the Ring boxed sets, there’s still a lot to be found worth having in The Return of the King. First off, the rulebook is updated with all of the stats for the new figures from the Return of the King line from Games Workshop.
Some minor rule tweaks and updates can also be found in the new rulebook, like an updated supporting role for spears and pikes when fighting from behind a friendly figure, and the addition of advanced rules like Volley Fire, allowing six or more archers to fire indirectly at double the range, but at a penalty of needing a die roll of six for each hit. This book alone is a must, since it features the most up to date version of the rules.
The set also comes with 24 new assorted Mordor orc models and 24 new Minas Tirith Gondorian Warriors models, all of which are plastic. Actually I’d have to say that these are by far the nicest plastic models I’ve seen them deliver in the entire Lord of the Rings product range to date. All new ruin pieces also come with the set, giving you a variety of nice pieces of rubble and ruins to fight amongst, as an added bonus they even included a plastic “one ring” that you can paint up.
The ring is really a nice piece to use for showing who has “Priority” that round too if you don’t already have one of those slick coins from the GW Lord of the Rings dice sets. A handful of D6 dice, a little inset cardboard ruler to cut out and a map of middle earth round out the offerings to be found in the ROTK boxed set.
The rulebook includes 12 all new scenarios to play out depicting battles from the movie, and the War of the Ring section allows for some fun beyond Return of the King by offering up five additional scenarios depicting characters and scenarios not found in the films ( like those found in the Shadow and Flame range).
The miniatures range offered by Games Workshop for The Return of the King is absolutely outstanding too. The new The Heroes of the West boxed set even supercedes the excellent Heroes of Helms Deep set that they released for Two Towers in terms of model detail and character selection. The set includes a new Gandalf The White, Farimir (in Gondorian Heavy Armor), Aragorn, Gimli, Legolas, Pippin ( in Gondorian gear), Merry ( in Rohan gear), Eowyn (in Rohan gear) and Eomer. This set is an absolute must for any GW Lord of the Rings gaming enthusiast, and the models are some of the finest depictions of these beloved characters yet. At $40 it’s worth every last penny and then some. If you’re looking to get any of the specific figures from the Heroes of the West set separately, the latest issue of White Dwarf reveals that they’ll be selling them direct from GamesWorkshop mail-order only.
Other new releases include a very nice command set for both the Mordor Orcs and Gondor. The Gondor set includes a flag bearer and captain figure, and there are two different blister variations of it to be had (so there are two different captains and two different flag bearers to acquire). The Orc set also offers the same variety (a captain and flag bearer), in two different blister pack variations at $9 per blister, both of which sets are essential to compliment the Return of the King boxed set, since it comes with a small Gondorian and Orc force already.
To expand your Gondorian forces the Knights of Minas Tirith boxed set includes five mounted Knights of Minas Tirith. The figures are metal, and the horses are the same plastic horses that they offer with the Riders of Rohan. It’s a fantastic set; one that I’ve went ahead and acquired two of just to fill out my ranks a little to give my Good force some more mounted support. Not to mention they really are gorgeous once assembled and painted, so nice that I may eventually get my hands on a third and forth set before long.;-)
What’s more, there’s a blister with a single Knight of Minas Tirith Standard in it for $9 to be had, which is an essential piece to compliment your Knights of Minas Tirith formation. It’s a really nice model too, and the flag is intricately detailed and large, larger than the flag that comes with the standing bearer that’s found in the command set. If you want a hero to add to your Knights of Minas Tirith who better than a Mounted Faramir, which they also have to offer in a blister for $9, so he can be had on foot or mounted now in heavy Gondorian armor.
A few other notable new figures include a beautifully Mounted Theoden in heavy armor, Eowyn on horseback, Mounted Aragorn King of Gondor (by far one of the nicest models yet!), Guards of the Fountain Court (three to a blister, all absolutely stunning models), Denathor Steward of Gondor, and a set with Sam, Frodo and Gollum.
The Easterlings are out, so you can build small pockets of them up for your Evil armies, and the Guards of the Fountain Court are a must for any Good force, as they’re not only gorgeous models, but pretty darn useful just the same. The Army of the Dead set is right around the corner too, which will come in a boxed set with the king, and in blister form as well with troops alone to help fill out the ranks, and with the new rules for their weapons, they’ll be a force to be reckoned with it.
In the way of evil, there aren’t a lot of new models out yet to choose from. The orcs are really the main foes in Return of the King, and you get 24 in the boxed game, and you can purchase more in a separate box for $20 for 24 of them if needed to add more to your army. Aside from the new plastic orcs, they do offer a new blister with three Mordor Urik-Hai in it, and a Gorbag and Shagrat blister, all of which are outstanding models. They’re pretty useful too, as the new Mordor Urik-Hai can take two-handed weapons, something that Urik-Hai of the white-hand can’t wield, aside from Berserkers.
Don’t despair, as more forces of evil are planned like the massive Mordor Troll and The Fall of The Witch King box set and later this summer will see the release of a Witch King on Fell Beast model. We’ll have a big spider to play with before long when they release the Shelob set too. Lets not overlook all of the outstanding Two-Towers and Fellowship range pieces that can be used in RotK scenarios, like the Nazghul on FellBeast, Rangers of Gondor, Riders of Rohan, Rohan Royal Guard, Gandalf on Shadowfax, Legolas and Gimli on horseback, just to name a few.
It doesn’t end there. In March we can look forward to the all new supplement called The Siege of Gondor, which expands upon siege warfare rules and such, and will introduce even more figures, siege machines and scenarios to run with. Many new figures are set for release too, including sets with massive siege weapons, orc shaman, orc trackers, a fantastic Borimir in heavy Gondorian armor (before FotR), the orc captain Gothmog on a Warg, Guards of the Citadel Court and many others.
So Return of the King is definitely not the end of the line for Games Workshop with the Lord of the Rings line, because after Siege of Gondor this August the Battle Pellenor Fields begins via yet another supplement, and once that happens we’ll finally see the release of Haradrim and the massive Mumakil or (Oliphants as the hobbits like to refer to them). Rumor has it that beyond that Games Workshop might explore the age in which the Last Alliance took place somewhere down the road too. No matter what comes after Pellenor Fields, the future definitely looks bright for the line, and by the look of things it’s undeniably in good hands with Games Workshop when you look at where the game is at now that Return of the King is among us. It just doesn’t get too much better than this.
You can’t go wrong with The Return of the King boxed set, because separately everything included within it would run a great deal more money than what you pay for this set alone. What’s more, they’ve raised the bar again by offering some of the finest sculpted depictions of the characters found in the feature films, all of which we can go wild painting and playing with in our own Middle Earth battle scenarios.
Even if you never played any of the other GW LOTR Strategy Battle Games previously, now is definitely a good time to jump in and give it a go, because you really can have fun and compelling games with what comes in the boxed set alone, and expanding from there only makes it that much more fun. The ruleset overall isn’t much more complicated than that of most collectible miniature games, so newbies can get playing and enjoying the game after just one or two games, but it’s also compelling enough to keep even most hardcore wargaming enthusiasts just the same.
The range of miniatures to be found for Return of the King are truly the most brilliant releases yet, as the level of detail offered, and how well each miniature portrays the true character and likeness of each movie counterpart makes this the most striking offering of figures based on Lord of the Rings ever. No matter how you look at it, there’s a lot to look forward to yet due to the slew of other new releases still to come, so you won’t get tired of Return of the King anytime soon. This spring and late summer the Siege of Gondor and Pellenor Fields supplements should heat things up even more by opening the doorway to insanely larger scale battles, allowing for the largest scale siege combat we’ve seen yet in any Middle Earth combat game with miniatures.
As a note of interest, I should also mention that a recent issue of White Dwarf #288 (Jan04 issue) included a new War of the Ring rule-set, which allows for playing the game in about 45-minutes, offering up some great down and dirty skirmish action when you only have a little time to kill. This is something that can’t be found in the Return of the King rulebook, so you really might want to get your hands on a copy of WD #288 if you’re looking for a nice way to get in a few games, without having to build huge armies and setting aside a few hours per game.
Personally I like playing it both ways, but I tend to find myself playing it a little more now since I can just toss together 300-points and get right at it. One thing is for certain, by their actions alone it’s clear that Games Workshop is dedicated to making Lord of the Rings the most fun and versatile experiences ever before set in Middle Earth, and that alone is reason enough to dive in and see what makes it the ultimate hobby and gaming experience that Games Workshop has molded it into.
This review originally appeared at GamingReport.com in February 2004. Since then, GamesWorkshop have released countless miniatures and expansions for the game. With the Lord of the Rings Trilogy having been recently released finally on Blu-Ray, interest in LOTR games may peek again, making now a good time to revisit GamesWorkshop's LOTR Strategy Battle Game. GamesWorkshop designed a new game altogether in 2009 using all of the existing miniatures from the LOTR GamesWorkshop range called The War of the Ring.
Not to be confused with the War of the Ring rules they released in White Dwarf that I mentioned from 2004 in the article above. Actually the new War of the Ring game is quite the opposite, as it turns the LOTR Strategy Battle Game into more of a large scale wargame, focusing on larger formations of figures and utilizing infantry and cavalry movement trays.
I think of it as Warhammer 40k Apocalypse scale meets LOTR Strategy Battle Game. The War of the Ring rulebook runs about $60, then add into the mix that you need the movement trays for all of your figures, and it ends up quite an investment. Not to mention the shear number of miniatures required to create a WOTR scale warband.
Having said that, it's clear that even today, this is still a relevant review, because quite frankly, the Return of the King Strategy Battle Game is still a fantastic game worthy of being played in 2010. I personally think the War of the Ring wasn't necessary, because you can still depict fairly large scale combat with the Strategy Battle Game rule set just fine.
The last boxed set they released after Return of the King was the Mines of Moria set, which includes a pocket sized trimmed down rule book, plastic goblins and the fellowship plastic miniatures, plus a plastic cave troll and some very nice Moria scenery pieces.
Digging around on eBay you can find the RotK rulebook from this set for roughly $20, which is reasonable since they raised the prices of all GW products at least twice since 2004. Add to that the figures from the set can be found for $20 per set, so for about $60 you can get most of the contents of the RotK SBG, and have everything that you need to get started with LOTR Strategy Battle Game. The Mines of Moria starter can also be had for about $60 on eBay, or $75 direct from GamesWorkshop if those figures appeal to you more.
Finding old stock somewhere at a discount is always a possibility, and keeping an eye on eBay is your best bet for any of the LOTR SBG products. Now is a time as good as any to give LOTR Strategy Battle Game a shot. It's the least expensive option of the two games from GamesWorkshop, and the variety of miniatures to choose from is truly astounding. I still think it's the best miniatures game created based on LOTR ever.