Despite all of the hullabaloo over pricing, I did pick up a copy of both the Hobbit starter set, book and a few minis over the weekend and took a bit of time out from my Epic scale winter challenge to pick over them. Overall, I found the quality of the miniatures to be truly exceptional, albeit with a few points you might want to consider when assembling them. Before I get into the meat of it though, I want to add the following caveat just to manage readers expectations. I will not be focusing on the price, or what I feel are the merits or de-merits of Games Workshop’s ticket price for entry into the Middle Earth Strategy Battle system as part of this post. I think there are plenty of blogs and websites that have articulated displeasure, some more forcibly than others and my own discontent with some of the product pricing I touched on a few days back. So, for the purpose of this post I am going to solely focus on the quality of the contents themselves, as ultimately that is what is more important to me as a gamer/collector.
Gandalf, Bilbo, Thorin’s Company and the hordes of the Goblin King. Without doubt the stars of the starter set and hopefully an indication of the attention to detail and quality of miniatures to come, because these miniatures are simply gorgeous. There is a level of refinement to the detail and dynamic posing of Thorin and the Dwarves that really does them proud. For me the end result completely justifies Games Workshop’s continued faith in Alan and Michael Perry for delivering on the Tolkien licence time and time again. The marketing blurb talks about capturing the actors likeness in each model and the precision tooling being required to produce it in gaming scale, but actually you really can quite believe it. The Perry’s did a sterling job in my opinion with the first Lord of the Rings miniature line, in particular the hero miniatures. With the Hobbit however, GW have entirely eclipsed their previous efforts. This is even more impressive because I always felt the metal originals were far superior to the plastic versions in the ‘Mines of Moria’ starter set. For the Hobbit, plastic is king, no argument from me.
With that level of refinement however comes a few additional challenges, namely cleaning and assembly. In line with most of the previous Middle Earth plastics sets, the majority of the miniatures keep it simple and are either single piece or contain a separate arm(s). Their positioning on the frame is also well thought out to keep contact points to a minimum and reduce the amount of cleaning required. For the set I had at least, the amount of flash to clean away was virtually nil making these some of the cleanest models I have ever assembled. The flip-side however, is the weapons and detailing are also incredibly thin and lifelike in places, or even just tiny. In particular Bilbo’s sword arm holding Sting, Ori’s catapult hand and the Goblin Scribe’s suspended seat are very delicate and require a deft touch with the tip of a fresh scalpel blade to clean up where they are clipped from the frame.
Dwalin and Oin also have a more unusual design to their two handed components in that they are a single piece including both hands, the weapon and the back section to the torso. These are assembled by slipping the entire part over their head and easing the back section into place at an angle beneath the shoulder blades. Again, this requires a bit of a delicate, but firm push to engage the two parts. Somewhat nerve-wracking considering how thin and delicate the weapon hafts are. Firm but gentle pressure from the back of the model is the trick and under no circumstances mistake the section of plastic between the arms as waste sprue to be clipped off, as I nearly did exactly that myself. Fortunately another study of the provided assembly instructions stopped me from making what could have been a frustrating and costly mistake.
The name of the game here is patience, and a bit of forward planning if you want to get the most out of these miniatures and frankly the end result is worthy of the effort in my humble opinion.
The rest of the starter box contents is pretty much as expected. A couple of frames of the same plastic scenery you get in the Goblin Town Expansion set; roughly half if I am not mistaken and consisting of the main platform frame (twice) as opposed to the walkway frame. This is nice enough and obviously the highly modular nature of it means if can be used in a variety of ways. From a purely personal perspective I don’t find it as exciting as the Osgiliath Ruins set and at twice the cost (dammit, I swore I wouldn’t go there!) even less attractive. Unlike Osgiliath in which just a single set can make a nice centrepiece ruins for a game, the Goblin Town platforms I reckon really need lots to come alive, so I ‘do‘ think in this instance price is going to be a prohibitive factor. On the sole basis of the parts though, it’s a pretty nice set and I can see more uses for it in conjunction with some home-brewed scenery as opposed to just plonking it down on a table as is. This is something I may well explore at a later date when I come to actually think about painting the Goblin Town denizens.
There were a few accusations being levelled at GW just prior to release, that the Starter Set did not contain everything you needed to play and you had to buy the Hardback Rulebook as well. Well, I’m sorry, but that’s just plain Troll dung. As a Starter Set it contains everything required to play Escape from Goblin Town using the strategy battle rules, and probably a reasonable introduction to gaming across Middle Earth overall
Other than the two opposing forces in miniatures and some terrain to fight over/around, there are the usual accoutrements such as dice, rules and even a plastic measuring tool. Not quite as ornate as the type in Dreadfleet, but I appreciate the thought behind including it. The rulebook is of the A5 compact sized variety and for my ageing eyesight a royal pain in the arse to read. I am sure it saves a few trees here and there for which the Ents are probably grateful, however I miss the full format softback rulebook that came in the three Lord of the Rings starter sets. The Hobbit-sized rulebook does seem to contain all of the core strategy battle rules, so alongside the additional primer booklet which also contains all of the miniature profiles and the scenarios it most certainly does contain everything you need to play the game. Everything except one thing that is…
Points costs for the miniatures in the box.
It is this I suspect which has more than ruffled a few feathers of existing Lord of the Rings gamers and I have to say I entirely agree. To say you cannot play the Starter Set without buying the Hardback Rulebook is simply not true. However if you want to continue to play the Strategy Battle Game for scenarios beyond what is in the box, or with the existing expanded Middle Earth range you are going to need one of the addition Source Books. Where this really stings is if you are an existing Strategy Battle gamer and want to update your rules to the current version and include Thorin’s party or the Goblin Kings forces in your games. For that you will need to buy both the Starter Set for the minis and Hardback rulebook for the points costs. If like me you have already invested in all of the source books to keep the range up to date then this does rather stink. So much for “One rulebook to rule them all” philosophy, which is a great shame as the Lord of the Rings Hardback was a really nice publication quality wise in my opinion.
To keep this balanced the hardback rulebook is a nice book, but isn’t in my view anywhere near as polished or well presented as the book it has replaced: The Lord of Rings hardback rulebook. The rules may have been revised and updated, but the quality of the book overall is a retrograde step backwards in my view. Nothing wrong with the print quality, it is entirely down to the carving out of the other races into the rather limp Source Books last year where the rot started. If you are new to the game, great, you only need to buy the source book you are interested in. For long time collectors like myself it is not as impressive or welcome a move.
On the plus side, if you have invested in both, the Starter Set rulebook is a very convenient size to slip into your army case for reference, negating the need to haul a hefty hardback around. So it’s far from redundant.
Packing it all up.
I have to confess to being a bit of a branded gaming aids victim. It is a guilty pleasure and I’m sure lots of serious grown up wargamers beetle their brows at spending good miniature money on such frivolities as branded boxes and faux ammo-pack dice tins. For me it’s all part of the fun of the gaming experience however, so I shamelessly picked up one of the Limited Edition Hobbit figure cases at the same time as the game. I have to say, it’s not at all shabby either. Although I was dubious about the amount of storage space I would lose from the top tray being custom cut for the boxed contents, it’s surprisingly spacious. probably more down to the Goblins fitting two to a tray easily. Yes, the three Trolls do go in as well if you should decide to get them and they fit a lot easier than would outwardly appear considering how much they stick up out of the trays (Tom and his friends are pretty huge I have to say, making the Mordor Trolls look distinctly puny by comparison). The primary reason for assembling everything over the weekend was so I could get rid of the packaging and pack everything into that case. Space in the workshop is getting to be a premium again as I do tend to spread out when painting and this just helped keep things manageable.
It is a question of scale.
Other than how nice the miniatures were, the one other thing that did stand out to me was the size of some of them, and by that I don’t mean the Trolls. Thorin and Dwalin in particular are, well, to put it bluntly not exactly vertically challenged. In fact, they are pretty darned human sized in stature. This came as a bit of a shock to me and was probably the most unexpected part of unexpected journey. Obviously I haven’t seen the film yet, but as the Perry twins have always been quite meticulous regarding such details, I see no reason not to assume they have the scale right. That would suggest Peter Jackson has portrayed the Dwarves as far more varied in stature than perhaps I expected. Either that, or GW has had to make some sacrifices on scale accuracy in order to capture the detail we see.
Personally, I believe it to be the former as not all the Dwarves are as tall as Thorin and Dwalin, such as Ori and Gloin for example which are more what we have come to expect from the Lord of the Rings range. If that is true and Jackson has portrayed far more variety in the physical attributes of the Dwarves as a race, then I have newfound respect for his adaptation of Tolkien and equally as much for the Perry’s for such accuracy in their designs. If anything, this has excited me the most about the miniatures and am loving that extra element of character it is bringing to the game.
So overall, I like it. There is certainly no dispute from me about the quality of the Starter Set contents as a whole. I have a few niggles about the printed material, but that’s about it. The Limited Edition set does also include an allegedly unique version of Radagast, which I have not shown here. There are plenty of far superior images of the painted version on the Games Workshop website and I can confirm it is a highly detailed and dynamic miniature. Almost too dynamic the amount of base detail he is scampering over. Should be a real joy to paint. I did pick up a couple of extras including the aforementioned Trolls and a Finecast Bolg. Despite the well documented horrors of Finecast, I have to be honest and say the copy of Bolg I got was nigh on flawless and is an obsoletely stunningly model. One of the highlights of the Hobbit release in my opinion and a sculpting triumph. The rest, such as the Fell Warg Riders and White Council I drew the line at. Mostly to do with the cost versus the content value in my eyes (sorry, did it again!), but also because I am not sold on the look of either. Possibly once I have seen the film I may better understand the look of those Orcs, but for now I’m sticking with the Goblins.
That about wraps up the Middle Earth stuff for now. I don’t have any plans to get them on the painting station this side of 2013, so apologies if that’s what you are looking for. For now my calendar is full of Epic Ultramarines, which the next update will be about and the newly released Dreadball for a bit of Xmas sports fun. With that, I will leave you with a teaser as they are all the fashion now apparently of the next month or two’s likely updates. In part at least.
Until next time, have a great week.