Fords of Isen Turns 1 through 4

Fords of Isen Play Test


My gaming group decided to squeeze in some 25 mm Tolkien fantasy miniatures to go along with the usual Napoleonics, ancients, colonials, WWII, future fantasy and all the other various genres we have played over the years.  The games we play are really determined by whoever is willing to host and prepare the event.  When I get the time to do so, I’ve traditionally experimented with new rules sets, sometimes based on a favorite of the past.


This time, I had a request for minis with no look up charts.  This can easily be accommodated by use of a system using predefined unit ratings with a differential combat determination system.  Throw in some easy morale and scenario specific rules and you are ready to roll.


I knew that this particular system would have its detractors, since it required lots of dice; two per figure in combat or firing missiles, actually, as well as two on the defensive side to dodge, parry or shield against the attack.  I like using 2x six sided dice since I grew up playing old Avalon Hill and SPI games.


I tried to mitigate the hardship of massive dice rolling by going to my local hobby shop (GW in this case) and loading up on 6-siders of many color combinations so that an entire unit of 6 figures could roll for their attack and defense at once by use of corresponding colored and sized dice.  This worked pretty well in my book, but I am still waiting for the kvetching to come.


The scenario:  I borrowed much of the “historical” basis for this scenario from (once again) Mr. Larsen’s outstanding web site: where you can read about the particulars of the conflict, its outcome, how it fits into the War of the Ring and how it can be gamed in miniature.   


Fortunately, I had almost all the figures I wanted to game this scenario, only paining up about 20 more Heritage Elan Merch figures (circa 1979) in order to fill out an order of battle with 32 units of Rohirim (Eoreds) and 64 units of assorted bad guys.  The bad guys are mostly Uruk Hai, with some standard orcs, Dunlandings, and wargs for good measure.  I also had to build the Styrofoam and balsawood forts Rohan had built defending the fords on the west side.   


Here is the set up:




There is not a great deal of strategy in this game, Saruman has the most to think about, since he is on the attack and has to complete 2 of 3 objectives by turn 15:  Capture both of the forts and kill Theodred  (King Theoden’s only son).  Saruman also has to think about fording the river not at the actual ford (in my scenario) and fighting both the current and the forces of the Westmark – risky business but it can save time.  Rohan, on the other hand, has to hang on and delay the advance of Saruman’s army until Helm’s Deep can be fortified.


First 4 turns:


Most of the action so far is on the east side of the river.  The Riders of Rohan equipped with bows are taking a very deadly toll on Saruman’s light troops here.  The warg riders and Dunlanding Cavalry are getting hammered before they can even get into contact with the “straw heads.”  Some of the problem was maybe due to a poor initial deployment here, Alan (working Sarumans guys on this side of the river) thinks he should have put his archers in front and I think he is correct on that, as the Rohanese are using traditional horse archer tactics to great benefit.  On a rules note, I’m getting rid of opportunity fire as it confuses folks on movement impacts and is not needed with the ranges given.

wargs got shot up pretty bad!



Some 1/2 Orcs decide to run.  Spiked clubs really don’t instill a great deal of confidence in a half-orc, as say a pike does.


The few close actions that happen here are pretty disastrous for Saruman in the early going, but he has plenty more minions to join the fray later…


On the west side, the losses are pretty severe just due to Rohan’s archery alone, but at least the fist fort is under attack by turn 4, and Sarumans horde of archers are just getting into good position to lay down massive fire into the forts.



The way the scenario works, Saruman is at a big disadvantage until he can get some of this warriors into the forts, and then the odds become much more even.  But until he can get some units into the forts, losses are going to be very one sided.  So far 33 to 3 in favor of Rohan.


In any case, I took a simple set of rules (2 ½ pages) and came up with a good system IMO, although I certainly could have devised the game to run on units rolling 20 siders instead of buckets of 6-siders.  I hope to play more and maybe finish this battle this week. 

Some of Saruman’s brave dead (or Aruman, as they called him in the Bakshi movie so as to not cause confusion with Sauron).


I was planning on finishing up the game myself after the second round of play testing.  We completed another 4 turns, and the game could have gone either way, however, I have to admit the buckets of dice were holding things up at this scale, particulary the need to compare each pair (type) of dice with those rolled against them, in order to get a differentail.  So as far as the game ballance went, I think that worked out fine.  A better set up on the east side of the Isen for Saruman and the game would have been even more close.  By the end of the 8th turn, the first Rohirim fortress was heavily infested with Uruks, and a large group of 1/2 orc archers were formed up firing into the second fort.  Theodred’s  Eored was shot up pretty well, and had to retreat into the second fort (he was guarding the road leading to the eyelet in the middle of the Isen).  I was playing these troups, and should have retreated them earlier, the defense against archery fire being much superior within a fort.


This was the final situation in the first fort.  The Uruks infested half of it, and it was time to make a hasty retreat to the eyelet or the second fort.  Rather than play this battle out solo as originally planned, I think its time to reset and tweak the rules for faster combat resolution.  One idea I have is to use the random number generator on Excel.  That would make the "rolling" and comparing of the results super quick.  It would take some of the fun out of it, though, so I may just try reducing the dice to one pair per unit vs figure and do somthing about the results to account for the greater statistical variance.



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