The Lord of the Rings: The War of the Ring
Wait, what? What's with all the rings?
In case you were living under a rock around five years ago, there were some pretty popular films made based on the even more popular high-fantasy tome that is JRR Tolkien's "Lord of the Rings
The War of the Ring is Games Workshop's second tabletop miniature battle game based on the films and book, designed to make playing out the massed battles depicted therein possible within the lifespan of the Sun. This was necessary because the first game (The Lord of the Rings Strategy Battle Game) was a skirmish game designed to allow nine heroes to take on fifty goblins and win (or get swamped and die horribly) and did not scale that well to 9,000 Men of Gondor vs 50,000 Orcs, not that people haven't tried.
So this is a wargame based on a film based on a book about tiny men with furry feet?
Sort of; the game is technically based directly on the book and includes stuff not found in the films (like the last two Wizards that travelled into the East and were never heard from again), it just happens to have also licensed the art and visual style of the films, including the likenesses of the principals so in theory your Galadriel miniatures should look like Cate Blanchett.
As for the tiny men and their feet, they are in there, but the game is mostly about pretending that little plastic dudes are hitting each other with swords. Or clubs. Or big rocks. Or...you get the idea.
How's it work then?
First you need two players, each with an army to command, then you need a table, some terrain, a tape measure and dice. Lots of dice. Once you have assembled all these in some convenient location in four-dimensional spacetime, you can get down to the gritty business of hacking the other guy's army to shreds (figuratively speaking of course).
You do this by assembling your men into 'companies' of eight infantry or two cavalry on a movement tray, which are in turn assembled into 'formations' of between one and nine companies each. You can also have individual large creatures (monsters) and unique Legendary Formations which you can have only one of. In addition, you will need an Epic Hero to lead your army into battle. Epic Heroes are all named characters from the Lord of the Rings books, such as Gandalf the Grey, the nine Ringwraiths and Wormtongue.
Once your army is assembled, you move your formations around the table in an attempt to get into or avoid contact with the enemy, manoeuvring your little mans into the best position from which to strike with bow or blade.
So it's just like Chess except I have to paint my pawns?
Well, in the sense that you are simulating a battle using small plastic figures, yes. However the similarity ends there; WotR, like most tabletop wargames, allows for much more free-form movement than the squares-based system of Chess. Formations can move in nearly any direction from the outset for instance. Also unlike Chess, combat in The War of the Ring is not pre-determined - there is a strong random element, mediated by dice rolls, that makes the outcome of any individual clash of formations uncertain.
Wait, it's all random? What's the point then?
Not at all; whilst dice are used to allow for the possibility of odd occurrences, most of the game revolves around combining the various bonuses and penalties that can be accrued from terrain, charging, magical effects and psychology in order to stack the odds in your favour. The point is to have fun matching wits against your opponent who is mostly trying to do exactly the same thing to you....
Forces and Factions:
Choose your side
There are several factions that you can choose your army from, and some of them can also ally with each other (see Good and evil below). The factions are:
Men of Gondor - stalwart defenders of Middle Earth
The greatest realm of Man in the Third Age, Gondor stands as a mighty bulwark between the evil of Mordor and the Free Peoples of Middle-Earth. Peace for other lands is bought only through the unceasing vigiliance of Gondor, its mightiest city Minas Tirith and its Captains, Knights and Warriors, but its inhabitants pay a heavy price for the freedom of others - as the ruins of Osgiliath are testament to.
Elves - the Elite's Elite, the glory of the Elves evokes terror in all who oppose them
Immortal, unchanging, the Elves are the firstborn, the eldest race in all Middle-Earth, but in the time of the Third Age they are dwindling and slowly passing into the West from whence they came. The haven of Rivendell and the woodland realm of Lothlórien are two of the last bastions of the Elves, but such is the power of their people that even in their last days does Sauron fear them.
Dwarves - the unbreakable wall, extremely well armoured and courageous in all things
Like the Elves, the Dwarves are a dwindling race now that Men have risen to prominence, but in all other respects they have little in common. Short and squat where Elves are tall and fair, the Dwarves live in underground kingdoms carved from the rock of mountains and love mineral wealth above all else.
Riders of Rohan - Raiders and horsemen par excellence
Rohan is the kingdom of the Rohirrim, a warlike people descended from Eorl the Young who was gifted the Riddermark in return for the great service he provided to Gondor in time of peril. Indeed, Rohan is still Gondor's most important ally, for few enemies can withstand a cavalry charge of the Rohirrim.
The Forgotten Realms - everything else, from Hobbits to Ents to Wizards and Eagles.
From Arnor and the Shire, far to the North and West of Gondor come the Dunedain Rangers, scions of the line of Gondorian kings, together with the halflings whose lands they protected. Even as Isengard rose against Gondor, the hidden might of Fangorn was roused by those same halflings to come to the aid of Men.
Mordor - Sauron's own legions, cruel and powerful
The dwelling place of Sauron himself, in the tower of Barad-Dûr, Mordor is an evil, dark land infested by the Orcs and Trolls that make up the bulk of his armies. The Witch-King leads them from the terrifying city of Minas Morgul, once a bastion of Gondor over which it looks, and upon the Plains of Gorgoroth within a ring of three mighty mountain ranges lies Mount Doom itself, where Sauron forged his Rings of Power - and the One Ring to rule them all.
Misty Mountains - the Goblins of Moria and their associated monsters
The mighty underground Kingdom of Moria, founded by the Dwarf King Durin, was a haven of the Dwarves for thousands of years until their mining delved too far and awoke the Balrog that drove them from their realm. Now infested with Goblins and Trolls, Moria is an evil place that travellers of sane mind avoid.
Isengard - the traitor Saruman's dark host of mighty Uruk-hai
Originally a Citadel guarding the western approaches to Gondor, in Saruman's time Isengard and the Tower of Orthanc became an evil place, harbouring his armies of Uruk-Hai and Warg Riders until it was pulled down by the Ents of nearby Fangorn.
The Fallen Kingdoms - the tainted Men of the East and their mighty war-beasts
The far-flung lands of Rhûn and Khand, far to the east of Middle-Earth, are the home of the Easterlings and the Variags, races of Men who fight willingly for Sauron. The great land of Harad lies far to the south of Gondor and is inhabitated by many tribes of the Haradrim who constantly war with one another. A land of deserts and great plains, the Haradrim are a hardy folk who now fight for Sauron.
Good and Evil
In the LotR books, there is a pretty clear dividing line between "the good guys" and "the bad guys" which is carried over into the game. There are therefore two sets of factions divided between the alignments ("Good" and "Evil") who can ally with other factions of the same alignment but not with the other side. Not that this means a Good force can't fight another Good force (or Evil fight Evil) - after all some of Sauron's most cunning ploys pitted friend against friend, and Orcs need no excuse to fight each other.
When choosing your forces, you can choose any one good or evil faction (except the Forgotten Kingdoms) then select your formations from that army list. You can then also include up to one quarter of your list as allied forces from the other lists that share your alignment.
Finding out more:
Games Workshop's own introduction to WotR
(print in booklet form, if your printer does it, for best effect).
A basic Scenario w/forces.