Staff member Tookish sent in this great review of the Manual from the Games Workshop FOTR Starter set. I also recieved review copies of Games Workshop’s products, and should have a review up soon (If you live in South-Eastern Connecticut, are a big miniatures gamer, and want to help; drop me a line.) Now for Tookish’s review:

Games Workshop Product Review: The Manual

Tookish here. The good folks at Games Workshop have sent us a taste of the future! As we’ve reported, their soon-to-be-released first wave of miniatures are incredible, with character and costume details that are not only true to the Jackson LotR, but in their own right, outstanding. I spent some time reading the instruction manual that accompanies the first set of miniatures, which included dozens of Moria orcs, Elf warriors, and the Fellowship.

The manual itself reflects the professional quality of this product. Visually, it’s full of FotR film images, from characters to armies, a beautiful map of Middle-earth, pictures of game play and scenarios, elvish language text, and more. In addition to the directions and rules, written content includes LotR quotes, character, plot, and location details relevant to the game, charts and maps, and at least half a dozen movie spoilers! I won’t spill them all, but one example is that Moria orcs have bows, which can also be used as stabbing weapons. I believe the text is translated (probably from German) and this does result in some occasionally awkward phraseology, but pains are taken to detail necessary information in a clear and concise manner.

The manual is aimed at two audiences: first time gamers and old salts. For the newbie gamer, directions focus on basic game play and getting started. The experienced gamer will appreciate deeper nuances which reflect more ‘reality’ of individual behaviors and the way that events might unfold if played out by themselves in the story. The book introduces the general game’s concepts, continues with rules about movement, combat, etc., then articulates detailed information about character abilities. Game play is divided into scenarios that reflect actual story events: Ringwraiths stalk at Weathertop; Gandalf and Saruman contest; orcs and a cave troll attack in Moria. There are also scenarios for scores or hundreds of combatants for minor skirmishes and major battles, including in the Last Alliance of Elves and Men and (I’m sure what will be) the War of the Ring conflicts.

The brains behind this creation have really thought through the many subtleties that would influence the outcome of events in Middle-earth, from distinguishing character abilities to remaining true to plot points and situational realities. Hobbits are resistant to magic but can’t move as quickly as humans; Ringwraiths are able to see Frodo with the Ring on while others cannot; Boromir’s horn impacts friend and foe. It’s up to gamers to determine if they will pick and choose from scenarios or chronologically follow the events of the story, but certain significant events cannot be avoided or circumvented. Special locations and circumstances also influence character actions and abilities to impact the results of play.

I’m a fifth grade school teacher, much of my curriculum is based on The Hobbit — and thought I’d have my students try the game. They were thoroughly excited, and after I handed it over, spent every minute of their free time getting to know it. These ten-year-olds were able to digest the manual (with some minor occasional help), set up scenarios, and play full games in short order. Before I knew it I had piles of dead orcs and elves on my hands… and loads of happy students eager for more. Now I’ve got to have my peers give it a whirl…

If you’re ten or eleventy-one, you’ll find this Games Workshop product is a pleaser. The fun of seeing Middle-earth come to life, interacting with events and characters, and playing through the story line just rocks according to my students. The manual takes both the first time gamer and seasoned campaigner through directions in a way that enables play and experience to come quickly, captivating players not unlike the spell woven by Tolkien himself. As the essential handbook to questing through Middle-earth, the Lord of the Rings Games Workshop Manual is a guide that will see you through.