Having thoroughly enjoyed last week’s Middle-earth game, it was perhaps inevitable that Pete and I would end up back there this week. I had an idea for a scenario based on the 1066 Battle of Stamford Bridge transposed into Tolkien’s world. This week, it was the turn of the Elves to get a run-out against Pete’s Orcs.
Stretching the War of the Ring a little to accommodate the two forces, we pitched Saruman’s troops in a putative invasion of Rivendell. Elrohir son of Elrond had been sent to hold the river crossing for as long as possible (taking the role of the Viking ‘berserker’ in 1066) while the other Elves mustered for battle. (The Elf miniatures used are mostly Oathmark/ Osprey plastics with various conversions – you can read more about them here.)
The result of the combat would determine who had the advantage in deployment for the battle, as well as bolstering the successful force’s Reputation. Rules were, once again, my own Midgard Heroic Battles.
The Orcs deployed along the river while Elrohir blocked the single bridge, but no other Elves were placed at this stage. Pete debated sending his Troll or some Orc archers to try to fell Elrohir, but decided to go for the heroic option: Ugluk the Uruk stepped up to the bridge.
Despite Elrohir’s higher status, Ugluk got the first blow in and wounded the Elf (shockingly bad dice rolling by yours truly!) Things stabilised in round two, with honours even, but the third round of single combat was one round too many! Both champions struck a wounding blow, which doomed Elrohir, dropping dying to the boards of the bridge.
This favourable result for the Orcs allowed all their units to cross the river, with one of the groups surging forwards. Elrohir’s sacrifice allowed two-thirds of the Elf army to muster opposite the forces of Isengard.
The Orcs surged forward and I decided to meet them with a counter attack on the left flank, where the Elf cavalry rode up to rain arrows on the Orcs. With the Elven force being much smaller, I decided to refuse the right flank while attempting to crush Saruman in the centre. This was going to take some time, with Pete running his usual triple line of Orcs with hordes out front and Uruk Hai and Trolls in the rear, but the Elves just didn’t have sufficient troops to fight the Orcs in a single front.
In the centre, I advanced my Elven spears up behind the archers, hoping that the first line of Orcs could be taken out by arrows. In Turn 2, my last group of Elves turned up – an archer and spearman unit under the command of Lindir, a minor Elf hero – who took up position on Gildor’s left.
This was the turn to get the charges in, and the first Orcs crashed home. Ellandan son of Elrond counter charged his heavy cavalry into the Orc hordes; mad with rage upon learning of the death of his brother, he challenged an Orc captain to single combat. Considering my dice rolling, this was possibly a bit impetuous, and so it proved to be: Ellandan became the second Elf hero to fall in the battle.
The Elven archery wreaked havoc on the Orcs in the centre, but it was the black arrows of Isengard that produced the defining moment of the battle… Gildor had gone forward to rally his struggling archers when his unit came under fire. With an unnerving number of hits from the Orcs, Gildor had to roll two ‘Risk to Heroes’ dice without scoring a double one: easy, right?
Well, y’know, on paper…
You’ve guessed it, a double one on the raven dice popped up! But not to worry…I could expend a Mighty Deed (the silver counters used for heroic feats) to reroll a single dice. What are the odds of getting three ones? (‘1 in 216’ says Scrivs).
And with that, Gildor Inglorian of Rivendell snuffed it. Fortunately I had an appropriate mini available! Despite the Reputation loss – a painful 7 tokens lost from the goblet – it felt very Tolkien, given the number of heroes who end up with Orcish arrows stuck in them – Isildur, Boromir and Faramir all leap to mind. Out of an original four Elven Heroes, only one was now remaining.
However, all was not lost and Turn 3 was when Elven quality began to tell. The battle started to turn against Saruman; the Elves fought back with charges and devastating shooting, annihilating the Orc front line. The Elven cavalry broke through on the left flank and began to roll up the line. Saruman used his influence to get as many Orc units into combat as possible, and used the spell ‘Battle Rage’ to urge them forwards.
Turn 4 saw the Orc horde on the right flank beginning to make ground – the Elves had to break the enemy before all their surviving units could be brought to bear. More Orc units broke under Elven pressure, reducing Saruman’s Reputation tokens to 3, but it was not quite to be.
A nail-biting final ten minutes was ushered in by Elf Hero Lindir leading a massed charge of archers and horse archers on Saruman and his Uruk bodyguard. Surrounded and with nowhere to retreat, the Orcs fell like corn but would not be broken; Saruman ended up having to roll four Risk to Heroes dice and rolled not a single raven! It wasn’t my night!
With another Elven archer unit having been broken by Isengard, their Reputation dropped to -1. This heralded the end of the game – another turn would almost certainly have seen Saruman’s Orcs in rout, but it never happened. The Elves were out of Reputation and out of time.
This was a brilliantly close game, even if the early demise of Gildor made it an uphill struggle for the Elves. We’ll have to play it again in another setting – maybe Vikings and Anglo-Saxons?