By Andrew Colman
The 2017 Australian Middle Earth Masters are almost upon us, and as the incumbent title holder for the past year, I thought it would be good to blog my adventures at Masters this year. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t looking to win back to back, but that’s only a part of the appeal. We have an excellent Hobbit SBG community that gets together to play toy soldiers and enjoy each other’s company. It’s marvellous how you can be friends with people you may have only seen face to face half a dozen times or less.
So what army do I plan to bring? Originally I was tossing up whether to bring this ‘anti-meta’ Gondor list themed around the White Council aiding a kingly Denethor in his prime (tying in the idea that this is when both Saruman and Denethor may have just begun using their Palantirs in the pride before the fall) :
Saruman the Wise
Galadriel, Lady of Light
12 Fountain Court Guard- Shield
Beregond (Convert as Irolas, Denethors assistant)
12 Fountain Court Guard- Shield
Damrod (Thorongil conversion?)
8 Citadel Guard – Longbow
2 Citadel Guard – Horse
Lobelia Sackville Baggins (Convert up a young Boromir).
The basic principle was to have an answer to the things you will most likely see in top table armies (Magic, Fell Beasts, Strength 4, Terror, low defence number spamming, shooting) that I’d most likely be facing while having a omnipotent late game with an army that has bodyguard, aura of command (which will also stop Denethor going mad), 12 inch stand fasts as well as the Lobelia plus Galadriel terror combo. This is a very intimidating synergy build I’m quite proud of, and you may see me bring something like it at some point in the future. But it’s a force that while potent, is influenced by what other people could bring, rather than what I want to bring and is a fairly static indomitable shield wall. I want to bring an assertive, aggressive playstyle to Masters that puts the pressure on and forces your opponent to react.
I looked at the missions again, and why I was so successful with my knights last year. The supremely well designed Masters Missions all demand that you have mobility, the ability to capture objectives which usually means numerical pressure, a good versatile leader and a good late game considering they all end at 25%.
A few minor changes to the missions and the potential for a protest march if I brought the Knights again meant I’m bringing something else. So I went from one extreme of army style to the other, but valuing at the exact same principles we touched in doing so. Which means we go down, down, down into Goblintown. I’ve played a lot of variants of Goblintown at this stage, and own far too many of the dear little cockroaches. They probably see me as Sid from Toy Story with the amount of conversions I’ve done for them to create some aesthetic and tactical variety from event to event.
The theme for this particular army comes from a LOTR video game titled War in the North. The story behind it is inspired by the unexplored conflicts in Northern Eriador during the War of the Ring.
The grunt enemies you encounter early on are, you guessed it, goblins in loincloths, whilst the primary antagonist is a Black Numenorean named Agandaur, with a core retinue of Black Numenorean followers.
Throughout the course of the game he is tasked with rising an army of Orcs and Goblins, rides a fell beast and makes extensive use of magic. Sounds quite like something up the wheelhouse of a certain Dark Marshal. I’ve not listed him as the leader of the army for a couple of reasons. The first is purely a competitive one, it makes deciding target priorities for my opponent a real headache (do you deal with the ringwraith on fellbeast or direct it towards the tanky Goblin King who is very difficult to get leader points off?). The second is that this is still a Goblintown army with the Mordor contingent as auxiliary support, and not putting the Goblin King as the general of a Goblintown army simply feels wrong.
It’s now on its 3rd or 4th email submission as I kept shuffling numbers and points around until I was happy, but the list I’ll bring to Masters 2017 is:
Warband 1: (Leader)
(Tharzug) The Goblin King
Moria Goblin Shaman
1 Moria Goblin – Spear
Goblin Mercenary Captain
6 Goblin Mercenaries
(Agandaur) The Dark Marshal – Fell Beast
1 Morannon Orc – Spear
8 Black Numenoreans – 1 Warhorn
This is an army that embodies pressure. It’s a ticking time bomb that demands a response and provokes mistakes. The Mercenaries and the Scribe combined with the warhorn create a constant stream of models that can appear anywhere on the board, granting so many of the checklist points we need to win the Masters scenarios. As mobile as you can get considering they can appear from any point, you’ll be outnumbering your opponent with Goblintown, you can very comfortably capture objectives and the Goblin King is an exceptional leader with a 40k esque stacking 3+, 4+, 5+ save between blubber, fate and fury. You also have a decent late game considering you can be reduced to 25% and still outnumber your opponent and clinch those all important objectives. If you don’t break until late in the piece you can also snowball your growing numbers advantage to overwhelm your opponent.
The Black Numenoreans are a tool to mitigate some of the weaknesses of Goblintown with their low defense and low fight value and provide a terror causing frontline that will also be very useful in the end game. The Dark Marshal will get the full value out of the banner range with this many models to benefit from it, while also being an answer to enemy fell beasts (F6!) and dangerous heroes. Because he is not my leader, it enables me to take risks and be aggressive with him, which is what we want at a Masters event. Having a second monster is great for hurl combos as well.
Anecdotally, this will be the first tournament of the many I’ve attended that I will be bringing the power pick that is a named wraith on Fell Beast. Considering the amount I’ve faced and brought down, I’ve more or less learned how to use them by proxy of being on the receiving end and knowing what shuts them down. Their recent nerf in the FAQ’s that stops them from being one shot machines when rending enemy heroes soothed some of my previous qualms about taking these point efficient nasties.
This will be the last time I bring Goblintown for the foreseeable future as it will be the 6th event I’ve brought them along (2 wins and a podium for them thus far) before they join the Knights in semi-retirement. I have some serious shenanigans planned for some of the missions, which I won’t share just yet to keep the surprise, but suffice to say they should provide people with some wonderful headaches.
It’s unreasonable to rank yourself so I’m not going to put myself anywhere. I do want to point however that I have again avoided having to play Jeremy Shannon. Jeremy is the creator of the Green Dragon Podcast and has been playing the game since its inception, and he owns every model in the range. Needless to say he’s pretty damn good. With one exception in the last game of an event that had no relevance due to the scoring system, by some quirk of fate Jeremy and I have never played each other despite sitting next to each other on the scoreboards across many an event. Jeremy can’t make it to Masters this year, so I’ll just facetiously claim it’s because he doesn’t want to have to finally play me.
My top 3 are:
1: David Leonard: Mr Leonard was my pre-tournament pick to win last year, finishing with more points than the winner of the previous two years, and finished 2nd only because some jerk also won 6 games, just by a bigger total margin. He thoroughly trounced me with a crushing loss in our last game at Silmarili. Melbourne’s best hope for their first big interstate win since Masters in 2015
2: Lachlan Rigg: The Men of the West (WA) have made an impact since they arrived at Masters last year with powerful armies and very good players, with Locky leading the charge. He won Clash this year, and undoubtedly has a target on my head after knocking him off the podium by a single point after our game in the final round of Masters last year. Looking forward to a potential rematch.
3 Matthew Todd: Another veteran player coming off a high with a long coming win at Silmarilli earlier this year. Is this the Toddles renaissance? Time will tell, but Matt has been on my shortlist of players at every tournament for a long time, and this one is no different.
Dark Horse – Joshua Colman: Fellow Fallen team mate, a great sportsman and painter as well. His army is top secret TM. It is wonderfully themed and utterly ridiculous, but incredibly potent if he plays it well.
I am of course doing a disservice to all the other excellent players who will be there and consequently wipe the table against me for not mentioning them, but there are only so many spaces on a podium!
Addendum: I wrote this up, but waited for the group draw before publishing this – the 2nd, 3rd and 4th place getters of last year are in the same group, which has my 1st and 2nd picks for this year! Group of Death indeed. I’m sticking with my picks, but there may be some very close games on day 1 in that group, with Corey Leslie playing an all-powerful kingmaker role. They may potentially knock each other out of contention by denying each other points, but if that happens I’m sure they can catch up on day 2 with more forgiving matchups.
My own group has Tim Wraight, Joshua Colman and Nick Beattie.
Joshua Colman and I will be indulging in some kinslaying (apt as we are also both Elf fans) being drawn against each other. From memory we have a 2-1 record in my favour so a good opportunity for him to level the score, especially considering the horrific damage his army can inflict to my Goblins in any given turn. I’ve had the pleasure of playing Tim a few times as well, and he often brings powerful centrepieces to his armies (Treebeard with an all Ent army, Gwaihir and Eagles, King Elessar and SMAUG! to name a few) so I’ll undoubtedly need to be prepared to deal with something big and scary. I’ve never met Nick, a newcomer to the hobby, (it’s also always great to play against new opponents and meet new people), but from what I understand he is a war gaming veteran who’s picked up the game very quickly under the wings of Jeremy Shannon (if the painting and conversion pieces Nick’s shared are any indication he’s already far better than me in that department). I underestimate him at my own peril!
I’d be remiss before ending this to give a quick shout out for Hobbitcon, being run early September here in Sydney. Helmed by myself, Ian Underwood and Adam Jenkinson, we’ve created a large collection of new points match scenarios to play over the weekend.
Come along and enjoy the fun!