Friday, April 24, 2009


After playing LotR Strategy Battle game for the past year, I have decided it is unbalanced. To explain why, lets start at the beginning. Why do any of us play any games at all? I believe firstly it is about how appealing the theme is to us. When i say theme i mean a composit of background over all, particular aspect of that background made personal, and of course the gaming pieces themselves. The first and biggest thing going for LotR is the background so many of us are familiar with from either the books and or the movies. If possible, we all want a little corner of the LotR universe.

Once we connect with the background then we look at the rules of game play. Face it, some game systems are clearly better than others. In this regard, from the GW major games, I believe the LotR SBG has the best rules compared to Fantasy Battle or 40k. Thus it is a win win so far with LotR from both background/theme and rules. So we enter the game and choose a force for us. There are two reason to choose any particular force: theme and competitiveness. It is hard to choose just competitiveness without theme, especially since theme is one, if not the first, reason we chose to play the game to begin with. But with any particular theme, we still want our force to be competitive.

Though the game is set as good versus evil, I believe most people view this as sides rather than theme. Theme includes such concept as a Mirkwood force of elves, a city of Gondor, a tribe of Far Harad, or a force of Orc Uruk hai venturing abroad in day light. Here is where I think the LotR SBG breaks down. If you want a theme force, in general Good themes are stronger than Evil themes, and game play is subsequently affected.

Lets look at the essential phases and aspects of the game.
Movement: Usually this is fairly balanced between good and evil.
Magic: Seems to me that despite having only three wizards available, these are really powerful Good wizards and typically superior to Evil wizards. Their spells have more offensive capability and their pool of Will slightly more available. Rarely a Good army ventures forth without a named wizard. The edge goes to Good.
Shooting: The forces of Good have superior shooting in terms of elven archers and or Grey companies. This discrepancy is exaggerated even more when considering the poor shooting ability of goblins and orcs. It is no contest, the shooting phase belongs to Good.
Fight: Again on average forces of Good has better and easier access to higher Fight value troops (not to mention anything about characters yet). From Elves to Dwarves to many human options, in most fight encounters, Good automatically wins when they roll a six. This means Good statistically wins 7 out of 12 times overall. While an argument may be posed that these higher Fight value models cost more to field, the same cannot be true for an argument that fielding more Evil models can compensate for a lower Fight value. Whether facing one or three evil models, Good still wins 7 out of 12.
Might: It should be obvious that the heroes of Good have greater access to higher Might characters than Evil. I do not believe the option to take monsters can offset higher Might (much like more fighters cannot offset higher Fight value Good models). Think about it, having more Might and Fate allows a hero to win over monsters, breaking any tie and surviving most losses. And those monsters Good does not want to fight they can always shoot or magic against. Heck, even having more Might can turn the neutral appearing movement phase to favor Good over Evil.
Thus in my analysis in nearly, if not all, phases and aspects of the game Good has the edge.

Yes I know we can all build killer combinations to win with, but these combinations typically will be "unfluffly" and stray, if not violate, the main reasons many of us chose to play to begin with, and that is theme. If the common Evil themes are uncompetitive, it really becomes a drag after a while, whether you play good or evil.


Aristo said...

Sorry you feel that way, Fracas. As we discussed Thursday, I come to LOTR SBG as a newbie to tabletop miniatures and feel that theme is pretty unimportant to me. I play sci-fi fantasy games because they are creative and spark my imagination but also because I am intensely competetive. I have no real issues of theme because in my opinion LOTR was never meant to be "themed". The game is centered around books and the movie and so must exist within those constructs in order to be "faithful" to the source materiel.

My feeling is, the legions list provides plenty of opportunities for varying one's force. If one is deadset on wanting to play just the Easterlings or just the Dwarves, then I agree that LOTR SBG would be very self-limiting, frustrating and boring.

I think Good does have the advantage in magic because at least 5 spell-casters have unlimited will as part of their profile: gandalf grey and white, saruman the white, galadriel, and radagast.

The only evil casters with unlimited magic are Saruman and Sauron.

As for game imbalance, I think part of what our problem is as a group is that we don't play one on one legion's scenarios. We don't play enough battles that play to evil's strength of numbers like: domination, the high ground, take and hold.

In the context of megabattles where multiple characters are playing on the same battlefield, I do think that good has a slight advantage however this could be countered pretty effectively with the right evil models IF you are willing to field Shades and Nazguls.

I think Evil could beat good quite handily if they coordinated their attacks properly and were sure to field the proper models.

Any engagement of good with 3000 points is likely to have Aragorn, and 2 of 3 wizards. Evil needs to field The Lord of the Nazgul, the Shadowlord, and Saruman. Working together, the very first thing evil needs to do is simultaneously attack one wizard with sap will and "your staff is broken" and then repeat it on the next one.

Having 2 angmar shades on the field with a bunch of low cost goblins or orcs within 6 inches would also make good pretty ineffective.

Transfix and compel are both excellent ways of neutralizing good's heroes.

So, I would say, to make the game more fun, buy or borrow some different models, play more one on one with the legion's rules scenarioes chosen at randon per directions in the book, or play published scenarios that have been play-tested for balance.

fracas said...

the mere fact any one side has to field particular models to be competitive is exemplary of imbalance. and inevitably boredom.

Jobu said...

Shooting does not really belong entirely to good, Harad has great shooting with poison, even when volleying. They are also only 6 points while easterling with bow is 8.
As for might most evil heroes are cheaper than good ones which allows one to field a captain alongside your hero for the same points cost. Fate and special rules really does favor good heroes though.

I agree with Aristo for the most part that you need some variety to spice things up and we really do not play enough 1v1. Some of our core players are just stronger players than others and the scenarios we tend to play favor shooty shooty too much.

It's not just a matter of fielding certain models to be competitive, it is countering those models in a strategic way, i.e. gives your opponent cause for alarm. I can't tell you how many times I have sapped will only to be countered by the luckiest role on the planet that day or charged and lost the fight roll. But one does have a big stockpile of will with nazgul and it allows them to keep casting/resisting spells and typically more troops which means more dice.

You are more than welcome to my mumak/harad bowman(@ 15-16 of them) for as long as you want them (even though they are not all pretty or fluffy yet), Khamul, shadow lord, Witch king (soon), or Necromancer (soon). I will also write more 1v1/2v2/objective driven scenario's into the middle earth campaign I am working on.

James said...

I find your conclusion with regards to the overall balance of the Good vs Evil interesting. In my experience, at many UK tournaments Evil has had the edge for some years. The named Ringwraiths are excellent value for their points, and you can get a couple of them in your army without losing out on numbers, compared to the inclusion of Saruman or Gandalf in a Good force, where your troops are more expensive and therefore your numbers more significantly cut. Armed with "Sap Will", and in the case of the Witch-king, "Your Staff is Broken", they can really be a major problem for enemy spellcasters. In modern tournament lists, it seems fairly rare to see an army without at least one Ringwraith.

Every Good army has it's strengths and weaknesses, just like every Evil army does so. I would argue that actually Good and Evil as respective overall forces are well balanced. My issue would be with some points costing such as that of the named Ringwraiths and "Good" Saruman, and the prevalence of Str4 in Evil armies now. Overall, however, I personally haven't found any issues of overall balance between many individual forces.

As far as themed forces for Good vs themed forces for Evil are concerned, again I find quite the opposite. Most armies can include Ringwraiths with full background support, as at different times they were deployed to many different areas of Middle-earth. Same with the Wizards for the Good guys. So I think Magic is even odds.

As for shooting, while I agree that forces such as The Grey Company or Wood Elves dominate the shooting phase, most other Good forces will be on par with many Evil armies. Take, for example, a typical High Elf 700pts army against a typical Haradrim 700pts army. The High Elves may have around 15 archers, but the Haradrim can bring to the table 20+, and still have the Shadowlord on their army - given the prevalence of the Nazgul in the coercion of the Haradrim to siding with Sauron, not an un-themed choice. In this case, the Elven shooting is near neutralised, while the Haradrim are free to fire away. In many situations, yes, Good may have an edge on quality, but the Evil armies can often bring sheer weight of numbers into play.

Fighting: I find flaw with your mathematics here. You are correct that in case of higher Fight value for the Good side, they have a higher chance of winning a 1v1 combat. However, as the numbers of Evil models increase, their chance of rolling higher end numbers increase, while the Good's odds remain static. With 1 dice, your chances of a 6 are 16.6%, while with 3 dice, it is way up at 42.12%.

To expand on this point, let us look at a situation where Good has 1 lonesome chap against 1 Evil guy. The Good guy is higher fight value. The odds of Evil winning are around 42%, due to draws going to the Good guys. When we plot this again with 2v1 (in Evil favour), this number leaps to nearly 58%. 3v1 is even more profound, up at 66%.

The reasoning for this is as follows:

*Good player rolls N
*Evil player rolls X dice
*Evil player has 1-((N/6)^X) chance of rolling higher
*We have 6 possibilities of N, each with an equal chance of occurrence, so if we add together the probability of each occurrence, and multiply by 1/6 (the chance of each situation occurring), we get an overall probability.

As you can see, once you outnumber the enemy, Fight Value becomes less important. Since Evil can bring more models to the field in most occasions, it could be argued that Evil may have dominance. However, it is of course dependant on the Evil player bringing his numbers to bear, and doesn't account for Shielding, etc.

James said...


As for your analysis of Might, I find this a little strange. For the same cost as you can take Faramir, with 3 might, I can take 2 Goblin Captains, with 4 Might. It's also arguably easier to take out Faramir than both Goblin captains. But of course, those 2 Captains won't have the same fighting punch as Faramir. So I think that your analysis here falls down once again, as such comparison doesn't make much sense. In addition, Evil can far more easily include hero neutralising elements in their forces - for example, a Goblin Shaman can hold up Faramir long enough to be mobbed and killed with Transfix.

As I have said previously, I have found that Good and Evil are reasonably balanced most of the time, and if anything, Evil often has the edge. I understand you may have experienced differently, but in such case, I'd advise having a think about the use of your forces in the game. Consider the advantages the Evil player has:

-Easy access to cheap minor heroes with lots of Might
-Access to Monsters with a massive impact on enemy battlelines
-Wide range of high strength basic warriors
-Taskmasters and Drummers - both invaluable
-More Terror-causing troops
-More negative Courage modifiers

I could list more, but that's a different topic really. My main point here is that perhaps you could go back and take another look at the game, play some more scenarios as others have suggested, and widen your range of experiences of using Evil armies. You might just find then that you end up with some rather different games.


fracas said...


thank you so much for your thoughtful comments. they certainly caused me to reconsider.

i guess i come to SBG as a wargamer. As such the key value reside in the average trooper. and in this regard the average good trooper seems superior to that of evil.
same for the generic captain.

yes both good and evil have very powerful characters but i cannot thematically envision nazguls involved in so many skirmishes!

Jobu said...

Thanks for your comments James.

Joshua Daughtry said...

I win with mordor all the time, dont know what ur talkin about