The skeleton bounces down the well, rattling and crashing as it falls. The fellowship holds their breath and there's a stillness in the silence. Then the drums begin and the echoes of footsteps throughout the corridors. The fellowship brace and soon the goblins arrive and the battle begins.
Twenty years ago, in December 2001, Peter Jacksons' The Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring hit cinemas, and the release of The Fellowship of the Ring boxed set from Games Workshop coincided with this. In the twenty years since, along with another five movies, Games Workshop has kept the battles in Middle Earth going with regular supplements and rules updates, which saw a large overhaul and combing of all previous releases into the Middle Earth Strategy Battle Game (ME SBG) in 2018 with the release of the Battle of Pelennor Fields boxed set. Now, with the anniversary looming, along with the upcoming holiday season, which is an incredible time for family gaming, GW has released a brand new adventure game, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring - Battle in Balin’s Tomb. In this review, we'll have a look at the box contents and rules, discuss who the game is for, and look at how you can take it further into a full tabletop wargame.
The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring – Battle in Balin’s Tomb is a Middle Earth adventure game, packaged as a board game, but with wargaming miniatures. The box contains twenty-two miniatures in total, the nine members of the fellowship of the ring, twelve goblins, and a large cave troll. All of the miniatures come in plastic sprues, which they need to be removed from before use, but most of them are single piece, and the few that aren't, only have a one part that push-fits, so no glue is required. We used a small bit of plastic glue on the bases, for a firm fit, but most slot in firmly enough to not require glue. The only multi-part miniature is the cave troll, and that fits together very easily and acts as a great introduction to the hobby side of putting miniatures together.
The rest of the components consist of a board, showing Balin's Tomb where the battle takes place, a few tokens, some dice, character cards, goblin reinforcement cards, a very thematic plastic One Ring that acts as the turn marker, and a small rulebook. The cards are larger than regular playing cards and include clear writing and well-presented easy to read graphics. Everything about the components is simple, straightforward, and clear. The eight-page rulebook consists of only four pages for rules, and most of that is large illustrated examples of the rules, for which the rules themselves are incredibly simple.
Games take place over twelve turns, with one player taking the role of the goblins, and the other as the combined fellowship. Each turn, players activate all of the miniatures, who can either attack and move, or move and attack. Character's move stats show how many squares they can move on the board, and their attack and defense stats show a number of colored dice, which is how many dice they roll in attack and defense. Each dice has a number of swords and shields on them, and each sword rolled is a wound unless stopped by a shield, which makes combat very quick and accessible.
The fellowship blue dice also have a One Ring symbol, and the goblin's red dice have the Eye of Sauron. When one of these symbols is rolled, the player can choose to make it any other symbol on their dice. The Fellowship player can also use the One RIng symbol to activate the special abilities listed on their character cards, abilities like Frodo using the One Ring to ignore damage and move up to three squares, or Legolas being able to make an additional attack that turn.
As well as their One Ring abilities, each member of the Fellowship, and the three different types of goblins and the troll, also have other thematic abilities to make them stand out. Gimli ignores the first point of damage in each attack, and the shield-armed goblins can reroll a dice in defense.
The only complexity in Battle in Balin’s Tomb is line of sight, and it's explained well, and clearly. Pillars and the Cave Troll block line of sight to all other characters, and the Balin's Tomb squares and other characters all block line of sight to hobbits and goblins. At the end of each round, players draw an increasing number of cards from the goblin deck, to represent the noise of the battle drawing in reinforcements, and at the end of twelve rounds, the fellowship player wins if they have three figures remaining, including Frodo, and the goblin player wins if there are less than three remaining.
For anyone looking for a little more difficulty, each side also has five challenges they can try and achieve. The game also works well with one player controlling the goblins, and several other players (up to nine if you have them) each controlling one of the Fellowship. It is of course compulsory to shout lines from the movies for the characters you're controlling if that's how you play.
Games of Battle in Balin’s Tomb are incredibly simple and fun. Each character feels thematically unique and the game captures the action from that scene in the movie. It's incredibly entry-level friendly and acts as a perfect bridge game from board games to wargames. Lord of the Rings fans whatever their experience level will find a fun and easy-going game, and anyone looking to find an introduction to wargaming will find the perfect package, which leads us perfectly onto expanding from Battle in Balin’s Tomb.
The miniatures in Battle in Balin’s Tomb are the same scale (25mm) as those used in the Middle Earth Strategy Battle Game, so a single purchase of the Rules Manual, along with a measuring tool and some six-sided dice lets you get straight into the full wargame with the miniatures in the box. You could even use the Balin's Tomb board to reenact the battle with the full rules and character stats or pick up more miniatures to play any battle you wanted.
The Bottom Line
The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring – Battle in Balin’s Tomb is a fun, entry-level friendly, and rewarding board game that's perfect for long time fans of the franchise, anyone looking for an entry-level miniatures game or board game to wargame bridge game, or anyone looking for an easy way into the full Middle Earth Strategy Battle Game. While it's not marketed as a wargame starter set, adding in the full ME SBG rules manual gives this product a huge range of expansion, even if only using the miniatures in the box to start with. The miniatures are easy to put together, a great introduction to the hobby, and the rules are simple enough to let you focus on the action, and relive the cinematic moments. Each character is uniquely thematic, without being too complicated, and the game can be played with two players, one controlling each side or up to eight additional players, each controlling one or a small group of the fellowship, or splitting the goblins. It's a great celebration of the franchise and a fantastic introduction to the world of Middle Earth miniatures battles.
Get This Game If:
- You're a Lord of the Rings fan.
- You want a fantastic entry-level miniatures game.
- You want a great way to celebrate the 20th anniversary during the holiday season.
- You want an excuse to climb on the table and shout 'There is one Dwarf yet in Moria who still draws breath!'
Avoid This Game If:
- You really don't want to put miniatures together, no matter how easy it is.
The copy of The Lord of the Rings Battle in Balin’s Tomb used to produce this review was provided by Games Workshop.