For big battle games, 10mm figures have always been my go-to scale so when Games Workshop launched their boxed game of Battle of the Five armies in 2005, it didn’t take me long to pick up a copy as it was stuffed full of 10mm plastic fantasy miniatures to play the iconic battle from The Hobbit. Over the years I end up acquiring a further three copies (!) and over time they have been the basis of several Warmaster armies but I hadn’t played the actual battle itself for about 7 or 8 years.
A couple of friends had expressed an interest in the battle and in getting back in Warmaster after a long hiatus so I dug out the game and sent out player briefings ahead of the day.
The Battle of the Five Armies takes place in the Valley of Dale which leads to the base of the Lonely Mountain. Gandalf, Bilbo, Thorin and his Dwarven companions have entered the long abandoned Dwarven Realm with the intention of reclaiming the lost Dwarven treasures therein but in doing so, have disturbed the slumbering dragon Smaug. In a fit of rage, Smaug leaves the mountain and burns the nearby Laketown to the ground before being slain by the hero Bard, son of Brand. News of Smaug’s death has spread far and wide and armies of Men, Dwarves and Elves have gathered to lay claim on the treasures of the Dwarven Realm but Thorin has sealed himself in the mountain. Just as the armies prepare to fight, scouts report a huge army of goblins approaching from the South and a following a council of war, a hasty alliance is formed against the common enemy.
Gandalf, the Elfking and the Elves begin the battle on the slopes of the western spur (top left in the photo). Dain, Bard, the Dwarves and Humans begin the battle on the slopes of the eastern spur (top right). Thorin is locked behind the gate to the Dwarven realm (top centre). Gandalf has sent urgent word for help to the eagles and Beorn but so far there has been no sign of either of them.
The Wargs and Goblin Wolf riders will deploy from the south-eastern end of the valley on the east side of the river (mid right) and are led by a Goblin Chieftain. The Goblin infantry deploy from the southern end of the valley, to the west of the ruins of Dale (bottom left) and are led by Bolg, accompanied by another chieftain and a shaman.
In the The Hobbit, the alliance of Good armies are hard pressed by the Goblins to their front and by an ambush of Goblin scouts who find a way into the mountains and hurl rocks down from above. The tide of the battle turns in their favour when giant eagles and the shapeshifter Beorn arrive from the west and smash into the flank of the goblins, scattering them from the battlefield.
Where there’s life there’s hope.
For our game, neither player had read the scenario beforehand so didn’t know the details of how the arrival of the goblins, ambush and reinforcements would work but they were both familiar enough with the story to have expected them to have some impact on the game.
The Evil player (Tom) was given two units of goblin skirmishers and the choice of whether to send them along dangerous paths to either the Eastern spur, Western spur, both spurs or to leave them on table with the main battle force. Tom chose to send both units to the Eastern spur (against the Elves) but didn’t know if or when they would arrive. In the early part of the game the goblins advanced rapidly on both sides of the river after scoring very highly for the number of units to enter on each of the first two turns. One of the units of wargs moved ahead of the rest of the mounted force to cover the ford across the river. Other than Thorin entering the table, the rest of the Good army remained stationary on the mountain spurs and contemplated the advancing horde.
The goblin skirmishers would come into effect at the start of the turn after the last goblin unit had deployed and their arrival. For each unit there was a simple dice roll: on a 1 the unit had become hopelessly lost in the mountains and would miss the battle, on a 2 or 3 the unit was still scaling the heights and would roll again on the next turn but on 4-6, they arrived on the ledges above the spur and could begin shooting the units below on the same turn. Due to the narrowness of the ledges, only one unit could be deployed on each spur so sending two units was an insurance policy. Tom rolled a 6 and the goblins immediately started inflicting causalities and driving some of the Elf units off the spur into the path of the advancing goblins.
The eagles are coming!
The Good player (Rohan) also began to roll for reinforcements after the last goblin units deployed. At the start of each turn, they rolled a die and added +1 for each destroyed unit. On a score of 6+, reinforcements would arrive. The pool of reinforcements was two units of Eagles and Beorn in bear form and a second die roll determined the number of units arriving: 1-4 one unit of the player’s choice arriving anywhere along the Western edge and on 5-6 two units. Eagle units could either be deployed normally or be sent to deal with Goblins as an abstracted contest which would effectively take both units out of the game. Rohan was extremely fortunate as on the first time he was eligible to roll for reinforcements he rolled a 6 and then a second 6! Rohan choose two units of eagles, one of which was used to cancel out the goblin skirmishers after they had only just deployed and allowing the dislodged Elves to reform on the spur while the rest of the eagles flew across the river towards the mounted Goblins.
Meanwhile the Goblin infantry were closing in on the western spur and began to engage with the Elves on a piecemeal basis but were struggling to make much headway, and two blunder rolls when activating units wasn’t helping matters. On the other side of the river, the Wargs and Goblin Warg riders made it onto the higher ground of the Eastern spur and had destroyed Bard and the human units but were finding the Dwarves a really tough nut to crack, especially when the second unit of eagles entered the fight.
Neither Tom or Rohan had played the rules before and I was very rusty but I felt we got most things right. The game ran smoothly throughout without too move scrutinising the rulebook, with the possible exception of some of the push-backs from multi-unit combats which felt a bit clumsy and over-complicated. In terms of the scenario, it would probably have been better to play out the fight between the eagles and Goblin skirmishers to give them a chance to survive and continue to harass the units on the spur below. It would also have been interesting to allow the Evil player to pick the moment spring the ambush to allow it to be coordinated with the main attacking force.
It was a great game and I’m definitely inspired to get my 10mm fantasy armies out of retirement and some reinforcements painted up ready for more games of Warmaster.