Sunday, August 10, 2014

AAR: The Spiders of Mirkwood, LEGO Hobbit style

I teach camp classes at a private school over the summer.  Nothing earth-shattering, but I try to incorporate war gaming as much as possible into my camp classes.  

As the title says, I had the opportunity to create a LEGO: Hobbit course, with a healthy dose of gaming included.  I basically had the students for five days, about 2.5 hours a day.  These students ranged from going into 1st grade all the way to entering 4th grade.

I broke the Hobbit into three "scenarios".  Each very different than the last and incorporating different gaming elements into the course.  This post will focus in the first scenario,"The Flight from Mirkwood" (aka, how Bilbo saved the Dwarfs' bacon).

If you aren't familiar with The Hobbit, there is a part in the book where the dwarfs are captured by giant spiders.  Bilbo was off cheating Gollum out of his "Precious" ring (which we all know is the reason for the Lord of the Rings) and soon discovers his friends' fate.  He frees them, but they are unarmed and groggy from spider venom.  He basically has to perform a rear-guard action to ensure his comrades escape safely (they don't really, but that's another part of the tale).

For our game, I used a bit of war gaming schema (prior knowledge) and utilized elements from the wonderful (and defunct) Leading Edge Games game, Aliens.  Yes, the movie that pitted Colonial Marines against everyone's favorite acid-blooded, hive-minded aliens.  In this instance, I used the game's first scenario, Reactor Room.  In the movie, this is where the marines make initial contact with the aliens.  They don't have their normal armaments and have to rely mainly on inferior weaponry to survive.  In the Aliens game, this scene is played with the marines starting on one side of the map and simply try to get to the far side of said map.  The aliens randomly drop in and cause all sorts of chaos.  That is what I recreated in this scenario.

Materials/Prep:  I gridded a sheet of green craft paper with 1" squares.  While I was gridding, I had the students take flat, square LEGO bases and make six clusters of "trees" and "bushes".  When all that was completed, I placed the clusters at six points on the map.  Voila!  Instant spider nests!  The players are based on flat 2x3 bricks, with green, yellow and red 1x2 bricks stacked behind them to represent their three life points.  I like using these colors, as they are a very visual way to represent health status.  Green= healthy, yellow = hurt and red = almost out of the game.  I used cheap rubber spiders for the beasts.  Colorful, vicious-looking and again, cheap.  Since spiders only have one life point, I didn't base them.

Rules:  The dwarfs have two actions each, Bilbo has three.  With an action, a player can move or attack.  A move is one space, so a character can't move quickly!  Combat is simple as well.  Opponents have to be adjacent to be attacked in melee.  A 'hit' is on a 4-6 on a d6 (six-sided die) with Bilbo's sword, Sting.  Spiders hit on a 5-6 and dwarfs hit on a 6.  

Two spiders are deployed each turn.  To do so, roll a d6 and place a spider on the edge of the corresponding den.  Repeat this process for the second spider.  Spiders have four actions, meaning they are faster than the dwarfs and hobbit.  They attack as described above, but always go for the closest target.  They also have a web shooting ability that disables their target.  To make this attack, the spider has to be within four spaces and rolls a d6.  If it rolls a 5 or 6, it has potentially webbed the target.  The target does get a chance to avoid the web by rolling a 6 on a d6.  If not, then he's stuck in that spot.  On subsequent turns, the player can try to free himself from the web, but not attack or move.  To do so, he has to roll a 5 or 6 on a d6.  If a spider webs a player, it can then drag him off to be feasted upon later!  One last rule for Bilbo was the use of his newly-stolen ring.  If he wears it, spiders will ignore him.  If he attacks with it on, then they can locate him on a roll of 6 on a d6. 

Here it is in an easier to read format:

Dwarf - Actions: 2; Move: 1 space/action; Combat: 6 on a d6
Bilbo - Actions: 3; Move 1 space/action; Combat: 4-6 on a d6; can become invisible
Spider - Actions: 4; Move 1 space/action; Combat: 5-6 on a d6; can shoot webs

The Game:  I had the dwarfs cluster in the middle of an open area.  My assistant played Bilbo and I played as the spiders.  I made it clear to the students that their goal was simply to get off the edge of the map as quickly as possible and that Bilbo was their best bet for killing spiders.

Starting board
A closer view of the start
A spider den
Another one...
The game very smoothly.  There were the players that tried to veer off, but under my heavy recommendation, returned to the group.  The spiders closed in quickly.  Bilbo dispatched several and was able to keep the rear section relatively free of danger. 

They're closing in!
 The "squeeze" in the middle of the board proved difficult for the group.  The spiders didn't have far to move after deployment and thus attacked the dwarfs quickly.  In the picture below, you can see one dwarf on the ground.  That indicates he was webbed.  Bombur is in the rear of the group and in real trouble.

I made the rule that if you were in combat with a spider, you could attempt to flee, but the creature would get a free attack.  Since the characters only had three life points, it was an agonizing decision for the players.  They wound up duking it out with the arachnids and ganged up effectively.

How will we ever escape?!

The scenario ended with everyone making it out except Bombur.  He lagged behind the rest and was recaptured.   Bilbo simply made himself invisible and waltzed off the game board. 

Almost out of the woods!
By the end of the scenario, the students were ready to whomp some spiders and save Bombur.  We didn't have enough time left in the day to run the scenario again, so I went back to the Aliens game and pulled out another scenario for us to play: Saving Newt (in this case, Bombur). 

In this scenario, the dwarfs were able to recover their weapons and head back into Mirkwood to save their friend, Bombur.  I gave them the choice of ranged and melee weapons.  They hit on a 5-6 with either, but the bows could hit up to four squares away.

Mean-looking, aren't they?

I then laid out eight spider dens and secretly selected one to contain Bombur.  A den held between 1-6 spiders (a single die roll).  The players entered from where the orange die is resting on the map below.

Shhh, don't tell the players, but Bombur's in the top middle den.
The spiders stay in their dens until they have line of sight with the group and I roll the appropriate number for activation.  In the first round that the spiders can see the group, it is a 6.  Round two, 5-6.  Round 3, 4-6.  You get the idea.

One den cleansed.
Vengeful dwarfs, gearing up to kill some spiders!

In an ironic twist, the gang totally ignored and bypassed the den that held Bombur!  I mean they literally ran right past it!  They were halfway across the map when I had to call the game.  However, the goal was accomplished.  The students, assistant and I had a great time!

Next up: The Battle of Laketown.

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