Thursday, October 07, 2010

What does it take???

So I have been wondering about a few things lately and figured I would post them here.

Now as most of you folks know, I love Lord of the Rings Strategy Battle Game by Games Workshop. I love it so much that for the last three years I have run Gathering in the Desert, an Independent Grand Tournament for LotRSBG. What I am wondering is what does it take to get more folks into this game?

LotRSBG was considered one of Games Workshops "Big Three" core games while the movies were out. Now that the movies have come and gone, there does not seem to be much buzz about this game anymore. In fact even GW is lack luster in promoting it themselves, this is of course has to do with sales of the game I am sure. So we really can't blame GW for the reason why sales are down or their lack of support.

So what is it? I have been wondering this since 2001 when the game came out. I have been a cheerleader for this game since day one here in the valley. Heck Drunkensamurai and I were both screaming it from the mountain tops about this game. But no one seemed to be listening. Sure there are a few people that heard us, but I would say out here in Phoenix we may only have about 16 players that play LotR.

It is even so bad that the folks that travel from outside of the state out number the locals. Out of the 24 people last year at GitD, we had only seven local players! And it doesn't seem to be any better anywhere else in the country. My good friend Brent Sinclair has to travel at least two hours to find anyone to play and he lives in the Chicago area!

So what is it? Is it the rules? I have heard people locally say that LotR is about rolling 6's. Well hell, isn't that any game that uses a six sided dice? Most people that I teach the game to fall in love with it. As I like to say, it is a easy game to learn, but hard to master. It is after all a skirmish game and is fairly complex in what it can do, so what is it with the rules??

Is it the miniatures? Hell most of them are sculpted by the Perry Twins and if you have to ask who they are then you do not play GW games. To boot the minis are mostly in plastic and compared to GW's other games, you get more figures for the buck! Also LotRSBG has a model cap of about 75 figures for most games. So that means you could buy three box sets and nearly have all the figures you need. And once again they are cheaper than other GW ranges.

Could it be the playing surface or area needed to play? Well hell, most games are fought on a 4'x4' table or smaller. Take a look at the LotR Journey books and some of the scenarios take place on a 18"x24" board! Maybe it is the amount of terrain needed as this is a skirmish game. And that's another thing, most people I see that do play LotR play on wide open tables like WHFB. Come on folks, load the tables up and have some fun.

Is it the cost? As I mentioned above, LotRSBG is the cheapest game that GW puts out. Now I do know that their has been price increases, but overall it is cheaper to play LotRSBG than it is to play 40K or WHFB.

So what is it and what does it take for people to notice this game? I fear that when GW discontinues this game, many people will be crying out for it to come back like Space Hulk, Blood Bowl and countless other games that have gone away.

So what am I trying to say here? Well it should be pretty simple, why don't you try playing LotRSBG. And if you had and liked it, than get out there and play it some more. Hell this Sunday I am headed out to my local store (Imperial Outpost Games here in Phoenix) to throw down a few games...



davetaylor said...

Hi Tim,

Just my observations of course, take them for what they're worth.

All the points you have made are good ones: great rules (probably GW's best), great miniatures, lowest entry point cost, smallest amount of time and effort for painting and terrain, etc etc.

I feel the issue has always been one of "inclusion/investment". The 40K universe (for example) invites you to participate how you want to. There are thousands of worlds for you to create, regiments to name, Ork Waaaghs to collect. You get invest yourself in the process of creating your army (or collection).

For LoTR, as it was (and still is) a licensed product with the IP owned by someone else, GW has spent a lot of time telling people how it is and even actively discouraging creative investment, all while saying it was the third of "The Big Three". I can go and collect an army of Isengard, but how different will it be/can it be from the guy down the street?

Although many 40K players collect Ultramarines, and copy cookie-cutter lists from the Net, they have the opportunity to "make it theirs". They are "included/invested" in their hobby.

It's not as obvious with LoTR, and takes a rare breed to see how it can be taken further.

Just my two cents.


Da Green Skins said...

I will have to admit, I was not interested in the game until I started playing it. My biggest concern is having someone to play. The game is not that popular at the local shop (IOG). Most of the players do so on the weekends and I am at work. With other gaming systems I can find players any day of the week.

I am also a believer in the basic concept that people will play games that they see others playing. Since Anthony and I started playing on Fridays I know three others that started picking up some models and want to learn how to play. I also have seen the shop bringing in more models and filling the shelves. I have also noticed that GW is making it harder for shops to carry the product. If we can get a core group playing the game on a regular basis I am sure that group will grow. I am doing what I can with this.

I feel that Dave brought up some good points about the armies being locked into the stories and movies. I am drifting away from the stories with the army I am building. I feel that the world of Middle-Earth is bigger then then movies and that much is unknown. So I have written my own chapter for this epic world and have brought my own vision to life. I am sure some players will not like what I have done and other will. I am just putting my little twist into the world.

All I can say is I am now hooked on the game and really enjoy playing it. I hope to play you sometime soon.

Tom O said...

One thing to consider is that no matter what you believe is the best game or a great game, others may not like the game mechanics or the models or who knows what. I've gone through this myself back in the day when I was pushing wasn't for everyone and there are a lot of other games out there. Even now for me, though I enjoy LOTR, it isn't the only game for me and other than a couple of pick up games throughout the year I don't do much playing other than GITD. Playing a game and being seen playing it will get some interest in it, but even then there are no guarentees.


Drunken Samurai said...


What it takes is a igh degree of dedication to promoting the game. You run an excellent event but it only happens once a year. This event alone will not win many converts. Even adding a primer event is not enough. It takes getting out in the shops regulary and playing the game consistantly.

People need to know that there are players before you can expect to have converts. You also need local retail support so that those who do catch the bug can jump in.

Do you have the energy to do what it takes?

Tim Kulinski said...

@Dave - Good points Dave, your right about constraints that have been put on the game. But you are seeing other folks like Brent Sinclair who did a Unexpected Party (All the Dwarfs from the Hobbit) at last years GitD. I think others are also starting to look at creative armies.

@ DA Green Skins - Having local support from the store helps as well as playing all the time. Look forward when we can get in a few games.

@ Tom O - Yeah I hear you, it does remind me of when you were WAB's Poster boy, heck we grew the community here in Phoenix and had the most players compared to other parts of the country. And your right, playing the game more in the "public" is the way to go.

@ DrunkenSamurai - Your right, I need to promote more for GitD, but I am talking more about the game rather than the event. Yes people need to see it played and local shops need to help as well. So I would be up for playing more LotR in the shops, are you???

Tony said...

An interesting post...

I felt that the gaming system was very well 'engineered' and easy to play, however I very quickly became bored with the White Dwarf/Games Workshop articles and felt that (at first) they were targeting them at youngsters. I also used the LOTR rules with the larger (36 - 40mm) plastic CMG figures and had some fun playing smaller skirmish games. It was always my intention to paint up more figures and have larger games - but this has not materialized.

I am aware that the film The Hobbit has been in pre-production for some considerable time and I would think that if it had been released sooner a revival in LOTR would have come. I now believe that the impedes has all but disappeared and from hearsay further believe that derivatives of LOTR rules for example LOTOW are more common than the original game.

I was never 'in-to' the larger LOTR games and the latest system with multiple bases has left me cold.

One suggestion I have is to go back to the iconic scenes and re-fight the original scenario or film/book based scenarios which have more impact with film goers or readers. Another suggestion would be a scenario based story/game based on The Silmarilion, which has some great gaming potential.

I hope that this helps.


Osbad said...


My feeling, having played the game in the UK since it came out within and without GW stores and stuff is that it "suffers" from being a GW game that is not 40k.

I'm not taking a dig at GW here for their treatment of games, as I tend to agree with you that largely nowadays GW's various product rangess get the support from GW that their financial success dictates. GW'll give them an initial shove, and then if they get traction, they'll get more love. It tends on the whole to be reasonably rational hardheaded business process nowadays, since the demise of the Fanatic studio.

No. I'm talking about gamer reaction.

40k players often are notoriously bigoted about their game. And that includes all other GW games that aren't 40k. WFB is only "tolerated" often because it was around first.

WFB has its own enclosed community of people who have played it since the year dot.

LotR came along and the existing fans of 40k and WFB hated it simply because it was different. Or at least that was my impression of the reaction that I got as a fan of the game walking into GW stores.

The trouble is that GW games as a whole are often stigmatised by players of other systems who despise their games "just because" GW makes them. So they hated 40k and WFB and often weren't prepared to give LotR a shot because "it must be the same" "I don't like 40k or WFB so LotR will be bad too". Etc.

Suffering from those two prejudices, it is amazing that LotR has survived as long as it has, as it needs gamers to be "open minded" to a degree that seems difficult to find, whichever side of the GW-fanboi/GW-haterz fence you sit!

There are surely other reasons as well, but after some of the comments I heard from gamers and even staffers in GW stores in the era before the great staff purge of 2005, I wouldn't underestimate the impact of simple, ignorant, gamer snobbery.

After all, the game is one of the most balanced, aesthetically appealing and cheapest full scale wargames that GW has EVER produced in its history. There is no rational reason NOT to like it, except for personal taste. Or irrational hatred.


Tim Kulinski said...

@ Tony - I have been thinking that as well, once the Hobbit comes out and if GW gets the rights, I am sure LotRSBG will be back at the front of things. We can now only wait and see. I have also been thinking about and was just talking to Drunkensamurai yesterday about playing through the Journey books that re-create the scenes from the movie and films. Also you have take offs with LotOW & heck I wrote LotHS and it takes more from LotR than LotOW and people seem to like these.

@ Osbad - I have noticed the prejudices from other GW players and heck even GW staff when we had a GW store. I remember going to the GW store and a Red Shirt came up to ask what system I play and I told him LotR. He gave a snort and said he was going to help someone else! So I hear you.

Buhallin said...

I'll agree with both sides of the bias comment.

As someone who plays a lot of smaller minis games (Malifaux, Uncharted Seas, Warmachine in its early days) the GW community is incredibly insular. Getting a GW player to look at anything other than 40K is nearly impossible. It's not really surprising to see this extended to GW's own new kid on the block.

On the flip side, GW's reputation outside their own group pretty much sucks. Balance is horrible, bias is utterly endemic, and making you buy models is the first, second, third...seventh top priority for them, leaving things like game balance to come in a distant, DISTANT... well, wherever it happens to come in. I like the fluff and world of 40K, but have been always and consistently turned off by the rules and the utter lack of variety.

I WANT to be interested in LOTR, especially the skirmish-level SBG... But it's hard. GW's reputation for completely unbalanced rules and models make me skittish, and I have yet to see much to convince me this is any better. I continue to eye it, but given the lack of people playing and GW's history supporting its older games (they burned a LOT of good will with their handling of Blood Bowl) it's hard.

Jobu said...

I think, as others have said, the rules of SBG are easy to learn, hard to master. However I do not think that is the only reason. It may also be due to the fact that games are scenario based wins( ala Legions of Middle Earth), not points based wins as in the other systems.
The lack of a charge phase throws a lot of the other GW systems players as well. They worry about flank/rear charges, while SBG players worry about being trapped, their force being broken and the scenario conditions. The other chief complaint(s) I hear about is: getting shot up by elves, too much time to get into combat. which to me means they did not have enough terrain or they were not playing "in the ways" correctly.
One of the biggest factors that improved my love of the game was switching from a 6x4 table that GW taught me to play on to a 4x4 table. This change allows scenario resolution to occur quicker(i.e. combat). Where I live we have a pretty dedicated core group who play SBG every week. If you are ever here in Richmond we would be glad to ahve you.

Dave said...

I agree with just about everything my esteemed colleague from out East said. Dave nailed it with the limitations of the universe.

That said, I've always thought of the LotR games more in terms of historical games, in a way. You're re-fighting the War of the Ring in much the same way as a Napoleonic wargamer will re-fight the Russian campaign of 1812. In both cases, you know who won, historically speaking.

I've been a fan of the game and, obviously, the background material for a while. I told Jamie that I'm putting my money where my mouth is this year. So, almost as we speak, I'm putting together a Galadhrim list. I'll have some test models painted next week and I should have my 600 points long before Adpeticon.

Dave P.

Hank Edley said...

Well, Tim I think it is also important to remember that prior to SBG Games Workshop produced seasonal games. Folks could play 40K or WFB hard for a number of months while a new edition, codex or army book was released. But in those days, we also took extended breaks from the core games to play whatever GW might release as a seasonal game. We all picked up Necromunda, Battlefleet Gothic, Gorkamorka, Tailsman, Man o War, Warhammer Quest etc. Those games provided a nice distraction to the core offerings and yet still gave us our 40K or WFB “fix”. A number of those games are some of my favorite games of all time. They also provided a nice gateway game into the GW hobby for new players or people who didn’t have a ton of disposable income. Whether intended or not. SBG was seen by a lot of us as a replacement to those seasonal releases. It effective ended the resources that GW had available to produce those products. I also don’t think that it is a coincidence that since GW abandoned the practice of seasonal game releases that there has been an explosion of other “game” offerings able to stick and gain a footing in the market. From Privateer Press, Battlefront, to Wyrd. These games are now calling out and attract a number of traditionally GW players looking for a break. Before we had an easy spoon feed option provided by Games Workshop that still kept folks in the GW hobby while we recharged our batteries. Now, everyone has to go looking. Some folks pick up the old GW specialist games. Others venture off to other company offerings never to return to the GW hobby. So while SBG might be part of the discussion when evaluating other games it has a lot of competition.

Now, in my case I might be a bit bitter. SBG effectively for me was New Coke. It replaced something that I loved and enjoyed on a regular basis…. the variety and fun of the GW seasonal game. For my distraction ..I've return to my first love of wargaming ancients.

Hank Edley said...
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Hank Edley said...
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Tim Kulinski said...

@ Buhallin - Yes most GW games are unbalanced but LotR seems to be right. Now as GW releases updated stats I am seeing stat creep like the other systems. You should give it a try, it is a great game and perfect for skirmish gaming.

@Jobu - If I ever make it to Richmond I will take you up on that.

@ Dave P - Good for you man! I am glad Jamie talked you into it, you will have a blast playing with the guys out at Adepticon.

@ Hank - I have to disagree, I don't think LotR pulled the resources away from other games, I just think GW wanted to sell more models. Lets face it, with Necromunda or Mordheim, most people only bought two warbands and that was it. How is GW to make money off a few sales?? This arguement also reminds me of people that would complain about how Warhammer Historical was working on other non WAB products, people thought it was pulling away from WAB. Sorry you dislike like LotRSBG man, your really missing out on a great game. I suppose you dislike LotOW & LotHS as well ;-)

fracas said...
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fracas said...

The problems with SBG are several:

1. Lack of customization. We gamers want ownership of our forces. We want to be represented. This need for identification applies to both an available hero in the game and the army wide as a whole. With 40k or fantasy you may play a particular faction but there is plenty of room to make your own SM chapter or temple city. One of the consequence of this lack of customization is that once the buzz from by the movie fades, interests in the game wanes.

2. In my opinion the game favors Good too much. This is evidence by a much greater availability of good heroes (see #1), as well as the average of higher fight values and might for good. Higher strength or defense just do not mitigate against having a lower fight.

3. The game plays as a war game, a contest of warriors, but the fight just is not decisive enough and takes too long. It is much easier to inflict a kill with 40k and FB. It is also faster when you can roll multiple dice at a time. SBG is best as small scale role playing scenario driven game where the ebb a flow of strike, parry, advance, step back all make it very cinematic but this is does not make it a good war game. A consequence of indecisive fight are frequent ties for a 600 points game in 2 hours. Ties are especially no good for campaign games.

WotR tried to rectify this but still have problems with #1 and #2 while coming into direct competition with fantasy battle which does the same for larger battles.

SBG would be more successful to follow the model of 40k. 40k is a skirmish game that provides for customizable hero and squad organization that rolls together for shooting and fighting. This is what WotR should have became.

Tim Kulinski said...

@ fracas - First up thanks for your input, it is clear you dislike the game, which is too bad.

I think there is alot of customization with LotR, you can do many different builds using the Legions of middle earth and there are many people building forces from other sources (such as the Unexpected Party from the Hobbit).

Hmm, if Good is too good, why do so many Evil armies win in tournaments?

Well as to your comment about it being a War Game, well isn't 40K & WHFB as well?? I like the ebb and flow of the battle, it simulates real combat IMO. I do play 40K and it really dosn't feel real too me, but that's me.

So once again, thanks for your input it is always nice to hear from the other side.

Tom O said...

One point that a few of you have brought up is not being able to customize your armies the way you want in LOTR...basically there isn't as much flexibility as you'd like. Actually this is one of my biggest gripes about the system because I think due to the "ally" system having no real restrictions you end up with some cherry-picking going on. I see Harad spearmen in a second line behind Black Guard or Mahud...I see Orc trackers taken over Orc bowmen...I see single characters shoe-horned into lists that make me scratch my head (Gimli fighting with the Fountain Court Guard anyone?). LOTR is a SKIRMISH game and I find the leeway given with "allies" take away from the game and allow for list building to have a bigger impact on the game than if you were even more limited...then it would be even more about tactics and skill. In addition, there's the usual GW "codex creep" that's gone on as new books were released for some armies and some of the originals are left to rot with an occaisional character added via White Dwarf.

fracas said...

I do not dislike the game. I am the one that got a lotr gaming group started that job belongs to.
But I have been a wargamer for a very long time.

The core mechanism for sbg is very good, among the best I have played but it could be better.

1. Customization of a hero is needed. Allow a player to take a base hero and add might will fate and perhaps a heroic/epic ability.
2. Higher fight is too powerful. Wotr made an appropriate modification for this so that you don't auto win when you roll a 6.
3. But wotr forced movement trays and thus appear too much like fantasy battle. Too hard to compete with a more established game that allows greater customization of heroes (and lords)
4. I don't like the allies rule either mixing elves and dwarves or easterling pikes with black guard. This is the wrong way to customize because you loose theme.
5. Squad based organization for force selection would have been the solution to keep the cinematic appearance with skirmishing models, maintain theme consistency of your force, and expedite combat.

You asked what is the problem with sbg. I think I've offered solutions not just listed the problems.

Tim Kulinski said...

@ Fracas - Well I am glad you got a group of players going and you do not dilike the game.

Now my original question was What does it take to get people to play LotRSBG? So since I am not GW, I cannot fix any of the issues you mention, I just what does it take to get people to play.

All games have certain issues that turn folks off to it, I know that LotR has some as well. But I can overlook these issues (much like I do with 40K & FoW) and it still is a good game. And since I am not Games Workshop, I can't fix the problems either, I just have to live with them.

The only way to fix them would be to write your own set of rules (which I did called Legends of the High Seas).

So forgetting about the faults of the game, how do we get more people to play?

fracas said...

There is only so much we as the gamers can do. We accept the faults of the game as is and keep playing it. Gaming in public will get people interested to look more. They look at the models and the fluff and decide whether it is for them or not. This we cannot influence much and this is the first step of the buy in. But for most it isn't hard to go to the next step and buy the rules. For some the shortcomings will be obvious and their interest ends. For others they will buy in and start playing. Then the rules will determine whether they stick with the game or not. There is the buy in and then there is the retention.
Meaning there is only so much we as players can do, the rest is up to the game designer.

Buhallin said...

Well, after this discussion I decided to go ahead and pick up the main book. We'll see how it goes. If it doesn't work out... well, it won't be the first bunch of GW models gathering dust on my shelves :)

I will disagree with fracas on at lease one of his points, however - the issue of customization and the impact of its absence. If you look at the non-GW mini games which have been growing over recent years - Privateer's games and Malifaux make the best examples - they have zero customization of the type he describes. So the lack of it isn't truly an impediment, either to the quality of a game or getting people (in general) to try it.

Andrew said...

I say part of the problem is LOTR's restrictions on personal creative expression. With GW's other games I'm always impressed with players' customization of their minis: using bitz, sculpting additions to the models, unique color schemes. LOTR armies all tend to look pretty much the same. The beauty of fantasy is that you can make your guys look however you want. With GW's LOTR you're forced to go along with one guy's vision of Middle Earth (PJ). Sure, historical minis are forced to look a certain way, but history bufs enjoy knowing and painting the correct uniforms. I want my LOTR minis to look the way I pictured the characters when reading the books. So, my forces are made up of Vendel, Grenadier, and a mix of other minis. That excludes me from official in-store or tournament games.

Jerry said...

I can't add much more to the discussion than what has already been said. Tim got me hooked on this game, and now it's really the only one I play. I love the simplicity of it, but the complexity of these small battles.

I will say, the one thing that does bother me is that it is a rules set stuck in Middle Earth. You can't add much more to it than what is in Tolkein's world already. It's still pretty good as it is, but I would love to see it extended to a broader fantasy base.

But the original question is "what does it take to get more people to play." I my opinion, it takes people seeing the game played and knowing there are regular people to play with and that you like these people. So it might be easier if new players come in with a friend.

Ultimately, I think people who are not Tolkein fans might also have a bias toward the game. Let's face it, if you're not into the lore, most of the armies look like regular dudes in different armor. There's really not a lot of variety for these people to attract them. Someone, if forget how, told me that all LotR armies look like the same models in different colored clothes. There's something to that, I suppose.