Saturday 31 July 2021

Escaping The Shire

Now that the Buckleberry Ferry had been built, the hobbits could try to make use of it to avoid the unwanted attentions of the Nazgul in Scenario 3 of the Quest of the Ringbearer.

This time, I'd set the game up for Pete to take control of the hobbits, whilst once again the Nazgul would be commanded by Sauron's most fell servant, Matt.

Scenario 3: Buckleberry Ferry

Having been helped by Gildor Inglorion, Frodo, Sam and Pippin successfully avoided the Black Riders as they crossed the Shire.

Making their way to the Brandywine River they are met by Meriadoc Brandybuck, who suggests that they make for the Buckleberry Ferry to throw off pursuit. 

Unfortunately, upon arrival at they ferry, they find that the Ringwraiths have successfully guessed their plan and were patrolling around the ferrymaster's house.

After a little bit of indecision, the hobbits decide to try to sneak round the house to the ferry, even though one of the dreaded Black Riders was snuffling and shuffling in their direction.

Meanwhile, two of the Ringwraiths had their attention taken by something behind the ferrymaster's shed.

Either that or they'd snuck off for a crafty smoke.

The hobbits took advantage of a period of inactivity from the Ringwraiths to continue to sneak around the house.

However, ultimately they knew that they'd have to risk getting closer to their pursuers to reach the ferry.

Suddenly a Black Shape swept round the corner towards the hobbits on the riverbank. A piercing, wailing shriek filled the silence. The alarm had been raised.

"Back you devil!" shouted Sam, bravely rushing to intercept the Nazgul, but Merry and Pippin lacked the courage to join the fight.

Not wanting to be cornered with the Ring, Frodo scuttled towards the ferry, intent on clambering over the fence to get there.

Seizing the initiative, Pippin found his nerve and joined Sam in trying to hold up the servant of the enemy, whilst Merry followed Frodo, who rushed to the edge of the jetty.

Suddenly, two Black Riders rushed across the jetty towards Frodo, whose mind was filled with sinister, whispering voices compelling him to turn around and walk back towards his foes.

"Come back. Come back. To Mordor we will take you!"

A blade flashed in the moonlight and Frodo cried out in pain, staggering backwards and toppling into the river...

The servants of Mordor were victorious, and Frodo had been struck down, but the quest wasn't over.

Fortunately, Pete avoided rolling a one on the casualty table, creating the first of what are likely to be many fake out deaths, totally in keeping with the movies.

We decided that Frodo was struck and toppled into the water, where the Nazgul couldn't follow, allowing his friends to find him on the eastern bank later and get him to Crickhollow, where a bath and a good meal sorted him out.

As Crickhollow is a rest point in the campaign, this defeat didn't cost the hobbits too much, as Might, Will, Fate and Wounds would all be restored for the next scenario.

This also meant that deciding on the bravest companion (Sam for being the only one to charge the first Nazgul) and 'Fool of a Took' Merry (for achieving nothing other than climbing over a fence) had no real impact either.

Before moving on to the next scenario, we played this one again, this time with me running the hobbits. I did manage to get Frodo across the river to safety, but only by him swimming very slowly, rather than using the ferry (so glad I didn't spend too much time or money on something that didn't actually get used), and losing the other three hobbits. The highlight of the game was Pippin beating two Nazgul in combat.

Scenario 4: The Old Forest

Having rested and recuperated at Crickhollow, the hobbits leave their 'friend' (they call him 'Fatty') Fredegar Bolger to hold the fort, whilst they head off into the Old Forest.

The hobbits would have to make their way across the board whilst the forest itself tried to stop them. I would be running the hobbits, and Pete and Matt demonstrated considerable enthusiasm in throwing trees in my path.

I'll stop at this point to tell you about how, many years ago, I submitted an Old Forest scenario extremely similar to this one to a fan website called The Last Alliance. At the time, this site was the centre of the LotR SBG community and so will possibly have been seen and perhaps played by many of the people who now contribute to the game.

I'm not claiming credit, as this scenario isn't exactly the same as mine (for example, I included Old Man Willow in the centre of the board), but I'd like to think that my original idea perhaps, in a small way, influenced the creation of this one.

We forgot to penalise the hobbits 2" of movement on the first turn for losing the last scenario, but this didn't really matter as Pippin was immediately set upon by a passing bush. It was driven off, but the hobbits were now aware that the Old Forest would not let them pass easily.

This was confirmed shortly afterwards when they found themselves surrounded by trees. Pippin succumbed to the whispering song of the trees, but immediately shook off the enchantment as the hobbits tried to chop their way clear.

Frodo and Sam took turns to spend might to seize 'priori-tree' and allow the hobbits to begin to make headway.

However, Merry found himself isolated and struggled to find his way through the forest alone.

Eventually, Frodo and Sam's stock of Might ran out and the trees once again closed in around them.

All three of the companions were assailed again. Pippin once again fell into a drowsy slumber which he couldn't shake off.

However, whilst Sam tried to help Pippin, Frodo made a break into a clearing in a desperate attempt to meet up with a bewildered Merry.

However, the trees once again closed in, and this time their enchantment overwhelmed each of the hobbits. Frodo was the last to fall, but fall he did. 

Another scenario lost, but again without serious loss as the hobbits were paralysed, not wounded, and so I chose not to roll for injuries.

We decided that the bravest companion was Frodo, who had nern the last to fall, but unfortunately he only rolled a one for lost points and so would begin the next scenario with just a single might point.

The Fool of a Took was, once again, Merry for wandering off on his own, which seemed a good idea at the Time, but wasn't.

We now move on to the mysterious Barrow Downs, which might be a couple of weeks, as I need to buy and paint a few models for it.

However, if you were wondering how the hobbits managed to escape the Old Forest, that can be answered in the following extract from an unpublished draft by Professor Tolkien himself: 

As he slipped into a slumber, the last thing Frodo heard, as if in a dream, was the sound of a cheerful voice singing, "Hey dol! Merry dol! Ring a dong dillo!"

"What the fuck is that nonesense?" thought Frodo.

Friday 30 July 2021

Ferry Frightening

I've really got the bit between my teeth with getting things done for my Quest of the Ringbearer campaign, and with the hobbits currently fleeing Black Riders through the Shire, their only hope of avoiding pursuit is the Buckleberry Ferry.

My aim with this project to buy, build and paint miniatures and terrain as I need them for the scenarios, and as such the next scenario requires a small ferry for the hobbits to hopefully make their escape on.

Given that this will be a single use item with limited options for reuse (although it has potential as a jetty or small foot bridge), I didn't want to spend too much time or effort on making an exact movie replica.

Therefore I set about chopping up coffee stirrers and matches to build what is little more than a raft. The barrels were found in my bits box and added some to give a little visual interest. Sadly, my bits box didn't throw up any lanterns or ropes.

There's not much more to say other than I needed to ensure I could fit all four hobbits on the ferry, as Merry will be joining the group in the next scenario.

Given that I couldn't really justify a post on a tiny balsa wood construction, I've also painted this chap.

This is the Witch King that was released on 'made to order' at the start of the year and I ordered in the knowledge that I'd need as much variation as I could get by the time I gathered all of the Ringwaiths at the Ford of Bruinen somecway down the road. This is because there are only three sculpts of mounted Nazgul on general release.

Technically I don't need mounted Nazgul until Bree, but this was a nice easy win to get out of the way, as I had forgotten how easy Ringwraiths are to paint, being mainly back with a gentle drybrush. Given that the horses are black too, I made the decision to make the tack brown (despite it appearing black in the movies) just to give some sort of contrast on the model.

Two more models done just in time to play the scenario tonight, so you can expect to see the write up soon.

Acquired: 105
Painted: 124

Thursday 29 July 2021

Dawn Crossing

Way back in the dim and distant past of last September, you may remember Pete and I optimistically starting to play through the Stalingrad campaign book for Bolt Action.

After failing to get my forces across the last bridge over the Don, it became apparent that I would need help delaying the Germans. Stalin was famously aided by 'General Winter', whereas I recieved support from his junior officer: 'Major Pandemic'.

Having successfully held up the Nazi war machine for nine months, the Major has now retreated (hopefully we won't see him again), and now it was the turn of poorly trained infantry to stem the tide. In scenario 2 of the campaign, Pete's Germans would have to force a crossing of the Don against my numerically inferior forces.

In game, victory points would be gained by destroying enemy units and having units remaining on the eastern side of the river at the end.

To alleviate some of the problems of being outnumbered, most of my 500 points of defenders would be inexperienced. However, they would be helped by being dug in and hidden (although we completely forgot about the latter), and I'd get my usual bonus unit, which is always more valuable in smaller games.

My army was as follows;

2nd Lieutenant + 1 man (Reg)
2 LMG Squads (Inex)
Rifle Squad (Inex)
MMG Team (Reg)
Medium Mortar Team (Inex)
2 Anti-Tank Rifle Teams (Reg)
ZiS-3 Anti-Tank Gun (Reg)

Pete's forces had the advantage in numbers and quality, but he had the not insignificant problem of crossing the river in flimsy boats. He would, however, gain the benefit of a preparatory bombardment.

His army was something like this:

2nd Lieutenant + 1 man (Reg)
4 Heer Infantry Squads (Reg)
2 Heer Pioneer Squad (Vet)
MMG Team (Reg)
Medium Mortar Team (Reg)
Sniper Team (Reg)
3 Sturmboots (Reg)
2 Schlauchboots (Reg)

The opening turn saw the bombardment have only a limited effect and it failed to prevent the Soviet AT Rifles sinking two of the worryingly unarmoured Sturmboots (causing us to immediately re-evaluate the scoring system to not count the boats as victory points), whilst the German return fire wasn't able to make an impact against the dug in Russians.

The start of the second turn saw the Germans rush to get at least some boats across the water, but they took fire and stranded their passengers on the exposed river bank.

However, things looked up for the attackers when the ZiS-3 was destroyed by a well aimed mortar shell before it had any impact on the battle.

On the southern flank the Soviet MMG Team poured fire on the advancing boat, piling pins on the passengers. Meanwhile the AT Rifle sank the last Sturmboot.

By the third turn, the German assault was struggling from a distinct lack of boats. However, the northernmost squad on the riverbank managed to push onwards and, with support from massed Rifle fire, crippled the Soviet squad on the ridge, who subsequently ran off following a FUBAR.

Unfortunately for the Germans the assault on the southern flank had stalled in the face of the most significant MMG I've ever seen in Bolt Action. The remaining Heer infantrymen hugged the river bank in a desperate bid to survive.

The Germans stranded on the western bank without boats now hurled everything they had at the dug in Soviets. The MMG in particular weathered a massive amount of fire due in no small part to taking a casualty, making it a small team and significantly harder to hit.

Meanwhile, Soviet fire was poured into the tattered remnants of the two German assault squads.

The norther squad were within striking distance of a vulnerable and isolated AT rifle team, but took fire at just the wrong moment, taking enough pins to prevent them making the crucial charge.

At the tipping point of the battle, both sides concentrated on trying to destroy weaker targets. However, what followed was one of the worst exchanges of fire in wargaming history.

The Soviet mortar managed to hit a German squad, but only wounded one of four targets (needing 2s). The German MMG lit up an AT rifle, but failed to kill either of the crew to force a crucial morale test. The squad on the river bank was whittled down to two men (never killing enough in one go to make them check morale) with one too few pins to force them to break.

The deadlock of ineptitude was finally broken by the German Mortar silencing its Soviet counterpart, and the Sniper taking out an AT rifle team.

This, somewhat surprisingly after how the battle began, left the score at 6-5 to the Germans, who had two units on the eastern side and four Soviet units destroyed, whilst the Soviets just had five units still active.

With the game potentially ending, the intact Soviet Rifle Squad burst out of its foxhole and sprayed the Germans with fire, needing just a pin to break them...and failed.

Knowing that the battle could be lost, the Soviet officer tried the same trick, spraying the northern German squad with SMG fire...and failed.

Things looked bleak for Mother Russia until the die to determine if the game would end with a German victory on turn 6 said, "Nyet!"

The final turn saw the Germans on the western bank try unsuccessfully to bring down the Soviet commander, who opted to go down and live, rather than retain the chance of assaulting the stricken unit in front of him.

However, on the southern flank, the MMG once again proved its worth, scoring the necessary pin to force the squad on the river bank to melt away and try to swin to safety.

This left the final score as Soviets 6 (1 unit destroyed, 5 on the eastern bank) to the Germans 5 (4 units destroyed, 1 on the eastern bank). Had we kept the boats as scoring units, it would have been 11-5 and not a contest.

It was a tense affair at the but the scenario itself seems heavily dependent on how many boats survive the first round, even with our change to the scoring. One more squad across the river could have made a massive difference.

Were we to play this again, I suspect I'd be trying to stop several more of them, but with smaller units of regulars, as orders tests were often my biggest challenge.

We now move to the outskirts of Stalingrad proper and an attempt to defend the Tractor Factory. There's another river to cross, but this time there are bridges and we're both trying to cross them.

In other news, I managed to palm off the French Line Infantry from Wargames Illustrated off on to Pete, so it was a double victory.

Acquired: 105
Painted: 122

Monday 26 July 2021

Loot Crate

I fancied a change of pace and so turned my attention to the remains of the Battlefield Objectives Terrain Crate from Mantic Games.

I did the larger pieces (the standing stones and warning beacon) a couple of months ago, and so set about finishing off the smaller objectives.

This was a really fun and eclectic set to paint up, without any of the long thin elements that are prone to warping, making this by far my favourite of the Terrain Crates I've painted.

I didn't do anything too clever with painting as the soft plastic doesn't hold smaller details amazingly well.

The weapon crate and chest off gold will go well in a dragon's horde, a monster ridden dungeon or a throne room.

They will fit in with the Treasury pieces I did a couple of years ago and like with them, I've made the shields match with my Bretonnian army, which is finding use in games of 7TV Fantasy.

These three pieces have more of a black powder feel to them, and so are more likely to feature in Napoleonic games (should I ever finish my War of 1812 army) or ganes set in the Warhammer Old World.

The supplies chest is more generic, and so is likely to shown up in villages and farms from WW2 to the middle ages or Middle Earth.

The largest piece of the eight is a representation in plastic of what happens if you shoot the messenger.

I've gone with a green cloak on the rider to allow this to fit (to an extent) on Rohan themed tables in MESBG.

The final two pieces make for a really fun little diorama of a damsel in distress having been placed as a ready made kebab for a hatchling dragon.

I'm not sure why she's been sacrificed, although it might be something to do with the fact that she doesn't appear to have a nose, and looks a little bit like a zombie (as I said, the plastic doesntvreally hold small details). I think I've made it look okay with shading, but don't go too close.

The dragon egg just makes me want to paint a dragon to go with it.

I really like doing odd bits like this, as they certainly make a change from my usual faire and I never truly know when I'm going to get use out of them, but they certainly have possibilities for Lord of the Rings, or as Macguffins in 7TV.

Acquired: 109
Painted: 122

Sunday 25 July 2021

Three Is Company

After time spent time raiding Farmer Maggot's crop of mushrooms, the Quest of the Ringbearer now begins in earnest, with Frodo, Sam and Pippin trying to cross the Shire whilst being hunted by Black Riders.

Short Cuts Make Long Delays is the second scenario in the campaign and is based on two early chapters from The Fellowship of the Ring novel, rather than the movie.

The hobbits, having left Bag End not a moment too soon, need to make their way across the table before the three Ringwraiths can track them down and kill Frodo.

Fortunately, the Ringwraiths act as sentries (with some randomised movement) until the alarm is raised, but until that time, there is a chance that the hobbits will panic and go the wrong way if they fail a courage check at the start of their move.

The hobbits will be aided in their escape by Gildor Inglorion, who I bought and painted specifically for this scenario. I kept the colours simple for the sake of speed and because the movie elves don't really go in for lots of colour.

Knowledgeable readers may at this point observe that the model I have painted is actually not Gildor, but Glorfindel. I know this, but Glorfindel was significantly cheaper on eBay.

The hobbits started with the hedge line to their back - it should be pointed out that as the hobbits, who were the 'evil' side, won the last scenario, they should have started on the other side of the fence.

It's a minor point that I don't think would have had an effect on what followed. Matt, who was playing as the Ringwraiths, says I'm a dirty cheat.

Ringwraiths lurked in the countryside behind the hobbits and on either side of them, snuffling about in the undergrowth and drawn to the power of the Ring.

Sensing an evil presence abroad, Gildor Inglorion made his way swiftly (8" movement is somewhat nippy on a 4'x4' board) to where he believed the hobbits to be.

That fool of a Took, Pippin, failed his first courage test and wandered away from Frodo and Sam, but was fortunate that no Ringwraiths were close enough to spot him.

Gildo was still a turn or two away and following a natural 6 for the Ringwraith (allowing it to take its full move), a single failed courage check from the hobbits would raise the alarm.

The hobbits kept their nerve (although it cost Frodo a point of Might) and narrowly scurried away from the Ringwraith just in time as Gildor arrived on the scene.

Deciding against leaping in to attack and raising the alarm, Gildor opted to shepherd the hobbits instead. Guarding them as they made their way slowly through the landscape.

Gildor gave them a little bit of impetus by calling a Heroic March to get the little legs of the hobbits moving and increase the gap between the party and their pursuers.

Progress was steady as not only did the hobbits keep passing their courage checks (although Frodo again needed to use his final point of Might), but none of the Ringwaiths could string together a series of positive sentry rolls to get close enough to the party to spot them.

It soon became apparent that barring a really unlikely series of rolls, the Ringwraiths were running out of chances to stop the hobbits as even their Harbinger of Evil rule (reducing the courage of enemies within 12") stopped having an effect.

The Ringwraiths continued to stumble around aimlessly and the will of their Dark Lord (Matt) was frustrated.

Gildor had successfully shepherded the hobbits to safety without a sword being swung in anger.

Even Pippin failing a courage test and wandering off to have a closer look at the robed figure on the horizon could not prevent Frodo from escaping with the Ring.

This was a bit of an odd scenario. For my part it was quite tense, but Matt said he felt he had very little agency in the game, which I understand. The dice never really fell for him and barring a couple of moments early on, he was never really in with a chance of spotting the hobbits.

As with last time, we played a second game and the hobbits were spotted early on (Matt rolled sixes at the right time) and we had a much more dramatic game with the Ringwraiths eventually driven off after wounding Frodo and the good guys' store of Might, Will and Fate was pretty much exhausted.

I do think this scenario is skewed towards the good side with the bad guys reliant on lucky rolls to really have a chance of stopping them.

In campaign terms we decided that Gildor was the 'bravest companion' as he called a Heroic March at a crucial time, Frodo managed to get his two Might points back, and Pippin was, appropriately, the 'Fool of a Took' for failing two courage tests. Ultimately, the hobbits will head into the next scenario, Buckleberry Ferry, in good shape.

I do actually have to build a small ferry (probably out of coffee stirrers, we're not talking P&O here) for that scenario, but one of the reasons I'm playing through a campaign is to prompt and motivate my painting, as it has done with Gildor/Glorfindel.

Acquired: 109
Painted: 114