Gaming in Middle-earth
© Lotrscenerybuilder 2007
Collectors of Lord of the Rings miniatures might not realize this, but it is the scenery of Middle-earth that makes all those wonderful characters shine on the battlefield. Just imagine Ian McKellen, Orlando Bloom and Viggo Mortensen dressed up as Gandalf, Legolas and Aragorn playing their roles on a flowery tablecloth… for hours on end! Or, at best, imagine them fighting all those different battles - in Moria, at Amon Hen or on the Pelennor Fields - on the same sorry turf all over again. You wouldn't be entertained as much. Yet this is exactly what happens at the tabletop of many LOTR-gamers:
One Field to serve them all, One Field where to find them,
One Field to bring them all to, for whatever game you have in mind for them…
A cave-troll just doesn't look nearly half as mad if he isn't bouncing around in the cramped space of Balin's Tomb. And the King of the Dead really cuts a mournful figure once he's removed from his spectral mausoleum down under the Dwimorberg. Gaming on a faithfully reproduced piece of scenery of Middle-earth makes all the difference!
"I think I'm getting the hang of this!"
It is for this very reason that a few years ago we started to build our 3D-battlefields. At that time, we owned a small collection of Sabertooth Combat Hex miniatures. As a cave-troll and some Moria-Orcs were part of it, we opted for a Moria-set to start with. Fiddling around for a while with walls and hexes of MDF resulted in a model of the stairs of Durin's Causeway. Next, it was stunning to discover how much our game gained in reality by removing our heroes from the paper map to the stairway and have their scope limited to the confines of the actual steps. New rules for playing came into being of themselves. They were put to the test in our next building project: the Chamber of Mazarbul. By the time our Fellowship had fought its way across the Bridge of Khazad-dûm, we were utterly convinced by the efficacy of this kind of scenery.
"Fly, you fools!"
Enlightened, we informed Steve Horvath and the people of Sabertooth Games Inc. about our experiences bud sadly their Tradeable Miniatures Game (TMG) had come to an end (March 2006). We say sadly because, as far as we're concerned, their models stood out above all other comparable tabletop miniatures. Just take for example their awesome 'bigature' of the Balrog, towering above the 2 inches high regular models - it's easy to fall in love with this ugly big fellow!
Sabertooth's finest: the Flame of Ûdun
Ever since, we have designed and built new battlefields, ranging from Hobbiton in the Shire to Cirith Ungol in Mordor. Now, with the completion of The Watcher in the Water we have produced a playground by which, we think, we can elucidate our experience of gaming in Middle-earth.
Two down, six to go…
Firstly, we found out that the hexes on the ground do not disturb the 'natural look' of the landscape at all; on the contrary, we think that they add to the charm of the set in a positive way.
Secondly, our Sabertooth miniatures of the Fellowship flourish greatly amidst these murky waters and gloomy rocks. Environments like these are probably the best way to show these wonderful sculpted heroes to their full advantage. Of course, the same goes for your Lord of the Rings miniatures of Games Workshop, once you have them painted.
O.K. boys, say: "cheese"!
Thirdly, the nature of this particular piece of terrain, together with the character of the Watcher in the Water, gives cause - as it did for the Stairs of Durin - for the use of some very specific rules, which makes the game all the more interesting (fighting knee-deep in the water, for example, hampers a hero in such manner that his number of attacks is reduced by one at every turn).
Fourthly, be assured that during the length of the game - which only takes place on a 45 cm × 45 cm board - you are fully and wholly immersed in Peter Jackson's Middle-earth; what's more, there's even a serious risk of slowing-down your game considerably as there is so much beauty to look at!
Fifthly, this kind of scenery makes a fine-looking display for your miniatures once the battle is won - or lost (although dusting the lot keeps you busy for a while now and then…).
Our personal favourites: Grishnakh & Snaga
To this we add that we've spend many satisfying hours of drawing, sawing, cutting, polishing and gluing in our garage, knowing that with every completed scenery we were bringing another wonderful part of Tolkiens/Jacksons' world to our home.
On the other hand, without either the miniatures from Sabertooth Games or Games Workshop, our Middle-earth would have been fairly unpopulated as we aren't capable of sculpting miniatures that small. So, if you are interested in building LOTR scenery yourself, we recommend a visit to
As for the Tradeable Miniatures of Sabertooth Combat Hex, there's no harm in visiting http://www.sabertoothgames.com/lotrtmg but you won't find them there anymore; you'll have to try your luck at the eBay market.
…and some blokes to ruin them all…
(Yes, we built Mount Doom as well)
Lastly, we want to remind you to the fact that, although every piece of the portrayed scenery was produced by us, they were all built to the likeness of the original artwork of Weta Workshop in New Zealand. If you lose yourself in their work as much as we did, you truly start to appreciate the creativity of people like Alan Lee, John Howe, Richard Taylor, Grant Major, Alex Funke, John Baster, Mary Maclachlan, Paul Van Ommen and many, many others. Honour to them!