So began a battle that none had expected; and it was called the Battle of Five Armies, and it was very terrible. Upon one side were the Goblins and the wild Wolves, and upon the other were Elves and Men and Dwarves. -The Hobbit, 17: The Clouds Burst
There are a few perks working at a game distributor for a gamer such as me, Friday was one of those days. Ian, our Director of Organized Play, walks into my office with a copy of The Battle of Five Armies in his hands. Drops the game box on my desk and says, “Play this game.” Pity me, right? HA! Much like Thorin Oakenshield in the Misty Mountain, I barricade myself in my office to protect my newly acquired treasure. I send off a Raven (a text, humor me) to my friend Tad and ask if he wants to grab some Dim Sum and play on Saturday. With the fate of the Free People set, we determine the outcome of, The Battle of Five Armies.
Ares Games, publisher of the incredibly popular War of the Ring, has brought us a board game of one of the greatest moments in the entire Middle-Earth saga. Taking place during the epic battle at the foot of the Misty Mountain, just after Bard the Bowman brought down the dragon Smaug, the players take on the roles of either the armies of the Free People or the hording Shadow army. Players will order troops to form armies, control powerful characters that can turn the tide of battle, play Story and Event cards to achieve tactical supremacy or advance your armies at the enemy, seizing their Territories. There are several end game conditions for The Battle of Five Armies, something I really liked, as it kept a heavy amount of pressure during the game. With that being said, let’s take a look as we fight it out.
Combos, check. Soda, check. Pizza ordered, check. FIGHT!
Setting up the game is quite easy and has a very easy to follow guide with pictures. From there, it’s all up to the players on how to react to the events and enemy armies. There are many components to the game and several decks that both players have access to, so try to play on a larger table if you can. Most importantly, be sure to leave room for snacks.
Right out of the gate, things are looking up for me. I choose 3 Leadership tokens and Tad flipped all 3 Fate tiles, ending on a 3. This gave me access to Bilbo immediately, if I so choose to bring him out. With neither of us really knowing how the game plays out, we both drew from our knowledge of the books. He began to Muster his forces, getting some really lucky recruitment tokens of all double Orcs. I also start to Muster my forces, filling up some of my outer ranks, with the hopes to push them forward.
I make my first mistake. The setup of the game gives me 2 Lake-of-the-Men figures right on the Ford border of the Broken Lands and the Valley. I look at what is coming and think, there is no way I can stop his Shadow army with my small force. I chose to pull those units back to reinforce The Ruins of Dale instead of advancing what units I had in Dale to reinforce the bordering Ford territory. Why is this important? Because when the Shadow player has any army in the Valley territory, Bolg, Son of Azog, General of the Shadow army comes on to the field. I did not know (forgot, doh!) about that. With the help of the Great Bats, that is just what he did on turn 1. Let me tell you something about those bats, I hate them.
I then move some of my characters around, advancing the threat of Gandalf to Dale, Dain to the northern mountains and Thranduil to Fallen Bridge. Without playing before, I was overly cautious about the Goblin advance through the mountain pass and started to position to bolster those Regions.
So, yeah…this was first of many brutal turns for the Ruins of Dale. The Shadow army advanced into Dale where we both had an equal amount of combat, I had Terrain Superiority, so I was able to draw a bonus Event card. I have a good deal of Lake-of-the-Men units in there and play their Maneuver card, which grants me an extra damage if I make a hit with my black dice. I do very minimal damage to him, but he unloads on me with the help from his Great Bats. After a few rounds of combat the Ruins of Dale are crawling with 3 units of Orcs. Did I mention I hate those bats?
Ok, I got this. I only lost Dale at the top of turn 2, ugg. I have been using some General abilities in tandem to add a Recruitment token to Camp with Dain and flipping that token with Bard. I look to the small force I have sitting in Camp, which now has 2 Veteran Dwarfs and begin the advance with them across the Ford to retake Dale. I do manage to retake Dale with two rounds of combat thanks to the might of my Veterans maneuver ability of adding damage and removing enemy Leadership tokens. (Leadership tokens allow a player to re-roll dice)
We both finish up the turn by reinforcing key locations. I move my northern mountain pass force over to assist in the upcoming onslaught of Bolg. He moves his army containing Bolg into position to sweep right through my northern territories. This is looking bad but I am quite hopeful in my defenses and Recruitment abilities.
Every turn so far, I am choosing to use 3 leadership tokens, which lets Tad choose 3 Fate tiles. I do this in hopes that I can really push the Fate tracker up and unlock my Characters. This turn, I unlock Thorin Oakenshield but unfortunately do not roll any Character dice to bring him on to the field. On the plus side, I drew a Story card that allows me to move Beorn down one on the Fate track, closer to unlocking him. I just hope I last long enough to bring him into the battle and turn the tide of the mounting Goblin forces.
The Eastern Spur is under heavy attack this round as Bolg and his army advance towards my Settlement, worth 2 points to him if captured, needing only 10 to win. I do have a couple Event cards that may help me, a 3 strength Fortification for the territory and he has to fight up a Slope, which requires all 6’s on turn 1. Not to mention the leadership of both Bard and Dain. He does have a nasty Story card to play on me though, Howling Orcs. This makes it so I cannot play any Dwarf or Man Maneuver cards, awesome. I have taken little to no damage though in this exchange and rolled good enough to stack his damage to the max. Now, my chosen Event Card takes effect, Dense Fog and ends the combat immediately. Hopefully, I have bought myself some time and can launch a counter assault from another force. Wish in one hand and…well, you know. Oh look, some bats…
Taking a second wind, the Great Bats maneuver Bolg’s unit up into an adjacent Mountain territory, taking away one of my much needed defenses. Bolg crashes into Eastern Spur and shatters my Fortifications and does just enough damage to me that I lose several units and ultimately, Dain and Bard fall at the Eastern Spur. Again, bats. Hate them.
The Ruins of Dale however, are beginning to become my shining beacon as Gandalf and Bilbo both arrive to support the Free People armies there. Gandalf comes ready for battle and unleashes a Concentrated Blast at Bolg’s army in the Eastern Spur. I manage to do 4 damage and Tad sheepishly exclaims, “You won. You killed Bolg.” Don’t worry, its short lived, “Oh, wait a minute. He had a bodyguard!” This token absorbs ALL damage from one attack and is then removed from the game. To the darkness of despair I return.
Shake it off. Top of a new turn, things aren’t looking too great for me, but we’re going to change that.
The Fate token is revealed and I move the marker up and release Thorin Oakenshield on to the board. When he comes on the board, the Free Peoples player puts a handful of recruitment tokens on the board. Perfect timing for me, I need the warm bodies all across the board. Do you hear that…?
Soooo, Goblins. The walls in the mountain pass come crashing down under the weight of the Goblin forces that have been building behind them. I begin to position Thranduil and his elves to hold against the Goblins coming from the western mountain pass.
To top it off, another army is starting to form and come south around Eastern Spur. Now the tip of the spear, a full Shadow army advances into Dale. Thanks to Bilbo and his ring powers, I negate some of the damage but it was not enough. Learning from Eastern Spur, I give in and retreat from Dale with Gandalf and a couple units with full damage.
With Dale lost yet again, the tides of war are not in my favor. Bilbo has disappeared during the battle at Dale. Bard and Dain have fallen at the hands of Bolg in Eastern Spur. Gandalf is on the run towards the safety of Camp. But, all hope is not lost. With some newly recruited units comes Dain, who thanks to a Story card, did not in fact fall at Eastern Spur. Gandalf and Dain bring their forces together and go reclaim the Ruins of Dale yet once again for the army of the Free Peoples.
You know what would be really good right about now? Eagles. And I am only 2 spaces away on the Fate track to get them. Like their Eyrie on the Misty Mountain, they are out of reach and I am 1 space short of getting help from the Eagles.
Without the help from the Eagles this turn, I am fairly certain my end is near. I still have a chance though and if by some miracle I can get both the Eagles and Beorn on the board next turn, I will have more than a chance.
My ranks in the middle of the map are thin and the Shadow army takes full advantage of that. Through the use of the Great Bats, they manage to move their army across several spaces and seize Camp from the small remaining force I had there. You would think I would have learned by now about these bats…nope.
The western mountain pass bursts to life with the rampaging Goblin forces. Thranduil advances on to the Goblins but I chose quite poorly and attacked up a slope, instead of staying on the Mountain territory flank of the Goblins only entrance. This cost me dearly, losing Thranduil to the hands of common Goblins. Fallen Bridge now had nothing to protect it from the Shadow forces surely coming straight for them.
This is the moment. This is my darkest hour. This is when the tide will turn. (Spoiler Alert: It does not.)
Even at this point, I had hope. The Eagles, I was for sure to get the Eagles this turn and with the help of a Story card, Beorn was going to be out on the field. I move the fate track up and fill the Eagles Eyrie with the Lord of the Eagles and a single Eagle. Looking at the board, my greatest threats are in the mountain territories, which is where the Eagles do their work. Here is my chance to come back. I roll my activation dice and get not a single dice I needed to give the Eagles the proper commands to move out and attack. Here’s where I forgot, I also needed to have the Eagles LAST turn to give the Lord a token to move them out, ugg. Furthermore, Tad rolls his dice and gets ALL the same dice, Muster/Ally, which gives him a lot of move and attack options. It sets in; there is nothing I can do to stop this.
The Shadow force that was sitting in Camp, I set my sights there and try to dwindle them down with a few units made up of some stragglers and a unit from Dale. I manage to do some damage and cost him a unit but they still prevail. His sights were set elsewhere than just trying to take Dale or the Front Gate, which if taken is an automatic win for him.
Here come those Great Bats again and help swoop his army from Camp all the way down to Lower Slopes which he takes with great ease. The Goblin army from the mountain pass, head south and wipe out the remaining Elves at Ravenhill, claiming that settlement. This now gives Tad at least 10 points to win the game if I cannot take back some of those settlements by the end of the round.
Beorn? OH $#!@!!! I forgot about him, ugg. Out of sheer frustration I use my last 2 dice and bring Beorn out on to the field and do nothing with him. I just wanted to bring him on the field. Somehow that was supposed to make me feel better…it didn’t.
That was rough. I did not lose this game on turn 6. No, I lost this game on turn 1 when I did not guard the ford out front of the Ruins of Dale. I was playing wrong from the moment we started and never really could recover. Tad had me on my heels every turn and just out played me every round. My dice rolls were not always in my favor. His dice rolls were more in his favor than mine were. We both had a couple key Event/Story cards played, but he had one that easily helped him take Eastern Spur, which was the key battle in this game.
I had a brutal game and left feeling like I, Mike, was beaten. That does not always happen with board games. Typically, you play them, win or lose; you don’t really feel like YOU have been in a fight. I felt like I lost. I felt every loss on the map, every miniature removed; every damage token had more weight than just the cardboard it was printed on. That does not always happen with board games and that visceral loss in the pit of my stomach is what is eating at me to play The Battle of Five Armies again.