Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Ambush at Sarn Ford: how it played

Regular visitors to this blog will already know about the scenario I wrote recently in a quiet moment of introspection, for the excellent miniatures game, Song of Blades & Heroes. Entitled 'Ambush At Sarn Ford', it deals with the ambush laid by the Dunedain rangers assigned by Gandalf and Aragon to guard the Shire during their absence.

According to The Unfinished Tales, the Nazgul approached the Shire from the south, aiming for Sarn Ford, the crossing of the River Brandywine into the South Farthing. A party of rangers laid an ambush there, hoping to prevent the Dark Riders from getting into the Shire. This little scenario depicts that ambush.

The road to Sarn Ford lies peaceful in the evening light.

Sebastian being on half term, we used the opportunity to give the scenario a test run. I played the Nazgul while Sebastian deployed his ambush. The Nazgul got to move first, and I set them off in line abreast, careful to give the Witch King scope to use his Leader ability and superior Quality (3+). Both he and one of the other Nazgul got a double move in early, which surprised my opponent, as they shot past some of his carefully laid ambush positions.

A ranger pops up and takes a shot as a Nazgul tries to sneak past.

However, the rangers were soon activating, although in the first turn few of them got to grips with the Ringwraiths. The Terror rule makes it hard to tackle them in melee, and Undead makes it hard to shoot them from a distance. In addition, the Free Disengage for wraiths made it essential that the rangers work together to stop them.

A spot of bother for the Witch King in the centre of the table.

I lost one Nazgul in just this way. A lucky shot brought him down, and Seb had one last Dunedain to activate. The blighter won two actions, crossed a field, and finished off the fallen Ringwraith.

What you don't want to see on a 3d6 Q4+ activation...

In the centre of the table, most of the rangers converged on the Witch King. I forgot completely that he could have used the Cry of the Nazgul special rule. Luckily, he was tough enough with Terror and Combat 4 to hold his own, knocking two Dunedain prone. He could have made a break for it then, but the activation dice chose that point to turn against me. The same went for the Nazgul out on the left, who had a clear run at the exit, but again fluffed his activation roll.

The Witch King puts down a Dunedain with his Morgul blade!

The rangers had a couple more opportunities to bring down the Witch King, but he slipped through their grasp, even putting one down temporarily with his Morgul Blade. He was the first Nazgul to escape, and the second followed soon after, granting victory to Sauron in this particular skirmish.

All in all, a very successful game, and easy to fit into the back end of an afternoon. It also helped to get His Nibs away from the Playstation and Oblivion (where he is in the process of joining the Thieves' Guild). I remain torn between this system and Games Workshop's Lord of the Rings skirmish game - both are great fun in their own ways.

Tactics wise, I tried to play a fairly conservative game, but was helped by the fact that I had to worry only about three, fairly powerful characters. Hence, I was activating with 2d6 most of the game, at least until I got within striking range of the far board edge, when I started gambling (and my luck began ebbing). Sebastian, on the other hand, was tempted into the beginner's error of going with 3d6 uniformly for his activations, and it did bite him in the butt a couple of times (although it also helped him to take down a Nazgul).

I think the key for the ranger player is to attack each Ringwraith in teams, allowing you to exploit any falls and move in for the kill. The evil player just has to keep his boys moving, and use that Cry of the Nazgul if things start getting difficult. I feel I got the balance right too - three is enough for the evil player. More Ringwraiths would unbalance the scenario in this system.


  1. It looks like the Nazgul have it a bit easier under these rules than they do in the official Lord of the Rings game. That, or your luck is better than mine!

  2. A close run thing, to be honest. If another Nazgul had been finished off, I'd have lost. The Witch King was that bit tougher, but Seb ganged up on him with four rangers and he still won through. Having said all that, your luck was abysmal last time we played LotR.