Ares games is a company responsible for the much-loved miniatures game War of the Ring, and it is from this company that The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies comes. This miniatures game takes a narrower scope than War of the Ring as instead of focusing on an entire war it allows players to steer the course of the titular battle between the Dwarves of Dain Ironfoot, the Elvenking, and the Men of the Lake on one side and Bolg's hordes of Goblins, Wolves, and Bats on the other. This standalone game is a 2-player experience based on the rules of War of the Ring but with an expanded ruleset, with this and its contents reviewed in this short article.
There's nothing quite like a bit of fantastical twist to take a strategy board game to the next level, and this is exactly what you'll get with The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies strategy game. The events that you'll take control of in this game are based on the closing sections of J.R.R. Tolkien's sublime novel that shares the same name, with the game board representing the Eastern and Southern sections of the Lonely Mountain as well as the surrounding areas. Here you will get to steer the course of the battle between two leaders and their respective followers: Bard the Bowman and Bolg, son of Azog. This short review covers what you get with the game as well as the nature and outcome of its rules.
Overview of the Game
At its most basic, The Battle of Five Armies is best described as a fantasy battle game that is strongly recommended for 2 players only; it runs for around 1.5 to 2 hours of gaming time and takes players back to the crescendo of Tolkien's 'The Hobbit' novel. This game comes from Ares Games, the producers of one of the most successful LOTR-based board games in the form of War of the Ring.
To give you an overview of the framework, The Battle of Five Armies has one of the two players control the armies of the Free People (comprised of Dwarves, Elves, and Humans if you're not an avid LOTR/Hobbit fan who knows these things) whilst the remaining player will assume control of the Orcs and Wargs that comprise the Shadow Armies.
While both teams rely on roughly the same (and rather simple) mechanics, as pointed out by rebel-games.com the player controlling the Shadow Armies has a slightly different focus: they have to aim to control as many settlements as they can whilst the player controlling armies of the Free People must aim to hold out for as long as possible. The ruleset is simply an expansion of the rules which govern gameplay in War of the Ring, with each turn being dictated by a roll of the action dice. Troop management, leader control, story cards, and battle scenes form the backbone of the game's multiple phases of gameplay.
Contents of the Box
Image courtesy of boardgamequest.com
This being a standalone game, you will find all of the components required to get playing immediately. Of these components, one of the most impressive are the miniatures pieces each player is allotted in order to represent their forces on the game board. All the miniatures are made from durable plastic and are plain in appearance; they would be perfect for someone looking to invest a significant amount of time into painting them.
In the box you also get all of the essentials that allow you to immediately set up and play: custom dice, various tokens, action cards, the story, and of course the game board. Unfortunately it's a little annoying that there are only enough battle dice for one player to roll at a time, but this is a minor flaw in an otherwise rather complete and content-filled set.
Rules and Gameplay
The rules are fairly similar to Ares Games' War of the Ring game with a few tweaks, though the resulting gameplay is quite different because here we are dealing with a single battle whereas War of the Ring covers an entire war. The game moves forward by playing consecutive rounds, each made up of 6 phases of gameplay.
Action dice and two cards are collected during the first phase, which is the recovery phase. The second phase is General's Activation, which entails the Free Peoples' army player choosing which of their generals will be activated. Third up is the Fate phase, which involves using the so-called Fate Track at the bottom of the game board - this should be thought of as the timer of the game since if this track reaches 15 the Free People's player wins automatically. Phase 4 is the Shadow Leadership phase and phase 5 is the Action Round, which involves all of the combat and movement. Phase 6 is just a sort of sweep-up phase that rounds of each round nicely.
As far as the outcome of the rules go, gameplay is quite swift when compared with other miniatures games such as War of the Ring. The game moves on very quickly and the phases move smoothly, creating a sense of momentum. The gap between the playing styles of each player mean that it is an asymmetrical game: the evil side must attempt to conquer whilst the good players are essentially holding off opposing forces. It creates a real sense of what the actual battle in The Battle of Five Armies plays out like.
In all, Battle of Five Armies table top game is ideal for the novice player as it's a standalone unit that can be played, start to finish, straight from the box, and in under 2 hours. Its pace is quicker than one would expect from a miniatures game, almost moving at the pace of some higher tempo medieval-style battle games, but still offering a reasonable level of complexity.