Apr 24, 2017

Let's Play Star Trek: Frontiers

We've tremendously enjoyed the Lord of the Rings living card game because of its co-operative nature. Therefore, whenever we set out to expand our game repertoire, co-operative games are very much a priority. One game that jumped out at us by combining co-op with a theme we enjoy was Mage Knight in space, aka Star Trek: Frontiers. It seemed a bit on the expensive side, but luckily, I popped into Science Fiction Bokhandeln in Stockholm and found it was a lot cheaper on that side of the pond. Even better, by the time we got there to pick up a copy, not only was it on sale, but the sale was on sale and we grabbed one for an absolute pittance.


First, a serious complaint: how can WizKids not manage to get card backs printed properly? The basic crew deck cards have no less than four clearly distinguishable hues.

The advanced crew deck comes in two:

Worst of all, the ship deck cards come in two radically different shades of blue.

Yes, those cards are meant to be shuffled together. Honestly, this is unacceptable. So if you're going to get this game, make sure to budget for card sleeves as well. You'll need some transparent ones for the two-sided cards, but most importantly, something for the ship deck cards to hide the glaring differences in color.

Other than the card backs, the game components are of decent quality. I'm not too thrilled about the card art; using screenshots from the various Trek series is fine, but the choices are often rather uninspiring. The ship decks are largely made up of exterior shots of the ship in question, which isn't really very evocative of, well, anything. There's a million different counters, which I kind of like, but sadly they're so small that it can take some squinting to figure out which symbols and numbers are on them. The map pieces are made of a pleasantly sturdy cardboard, but the color scheme is very drab, which also occasionally makes it difficult to tell the map symbols from each other. Especially the recruitment symbols on the crew cards can be really hard to decipher. So play this in a well-lit space!


The other bad news is that at first glance, the game is simply overwhelming. There are approximately three billion counters and several piles of cards, and the setup instructions alone are enough to cause acute despair in someone who plays War of the Ring for fun. It also doesn't help that the rulebooks are quite poorly thought out. What all this adds up to is to make the game somewhat difficult to approach, not least because until you actually sit down and play it, it's extraordinarily difficult to get any grasp of how anything works.

Also, be warned: the game takes up a lot of space. Especially with multiple players, think War of the Ring. Below is a four-player game set up on a dinner table that seats six, where we've previously played two simultaneous games of Blood Bowl.

However, it's all worth the trouble, because the game is very good. Set in Next Generation times, the premise is that a stable wormhole into a new sector of space has been found, and the Federation and the Klingons are scrambling to get a foothold in the region. Each player picks a starship and sets off to explore a randomly generated map. The victory conditions vary by scenario, with both co-operative and competitive options, but in the tutorial, the goal is simply to gain the most experience.

We actually tried to play this on the boat back from Stockholm, but there was such a heavy sea that we got too seasick! A second attempt on land was more succesful: my partner picked the Enterprise, while I was delighted to find that I could play as the Duras sisters, Lursa and B'Etor.

Each player has their own starship and their ship deck, a deck of cards that are used to move around, fight and interact with planets, outposts and whatnot. As the game progresses, you get to add various new cards to your deck, and also acquire additional abilities by recruiting crew members. Gathering experience levels up your captain, which lets you get more cards and recruit more crew.

Below, the last turn of our first game: while the Enterprise was busy blowing up yet another Romulan warbird, Lursa and B'Etor and their unlikely crew (foreground) found the Borg cube we were looking for.

As my partner points out, the card only says "Riker", so we don't actually know which Riker it is! Given that Lursa and B'Etor recruited him from a Dominion starbase they assaulted, I like to think it was Thomas Riker on some particularly unfortunate escapade.

Here's a shot from our second game:

The map tile closest to the camera is the starting tile, with the wormhole where everybody starts, and the map stretching out from there. This was a full four-player game, so if you look closely, you can see General Martok's battle cruiser on the left, and the USS Defiant between the Enterprise and the Duras sisters' warbird. This time, General Martok, scourge of the Romulans, was victorious.


Once you get the hang of it, the gameplay is simply great fun. We're looking forward to getting more games in over the summer, and there's even an expansion coming out next fall! For the moment, though, based on our initial experiences, we highly recommend Star Trek: Frontiers.

Apr 17, 2017

Team Yankee: Where on earth is the Soviet artillery?

I picked up the rulebook for Team Yankee on a lark over the winter break. Based on the novel of the same name, it's a miniature game that depicts combat between Soviet and American forces in a World War III being fought in Germany. Given the choice of those two sides, I'd definitely be inclined to pick the Soviets - if not for one major problem: artillery.

In Team Yankee, each Soviet battalion gets one battery of 2S1 122mm self-propelled howitzers, and you can also select one battery of divisional artillery, also 2S1s. Were you to select a division's worth of troops, you'd end up with 17 batteries, 102 guns in total, and the single divisional BM-21 rocket launcher battery.

As FM 100-2-3 The Soviet Army: Troops, Organization and Equipment (pdf) tells us, a Soviet tank division mustered four battalions of 2S1 122mm self-propelled howitzers, one per regiment, and an artillery regiment with two 2S3 (152mm) battalions and a rocket launcher battalion. That's a total of 72 2S1s, 36 2S3s and 18 BM-21 rocket launchers (FM 100-2-3, 4-13). In terms of raw numbers, then, Team Yankee is close to the organic tube artillery held by a Soviet tank division, but the 152mm guns of the divisional artillery have been replaced by 122mm ones. With only a single battery present, two thirds of the division's rocket launchers are missing.

There are two problems with this. First, this is a highly counterintuitive way to handle Soviet artillery. As Chris Bellamy (Red God of War: Soviet Artillery and Rocket Forces. Brassey's Defence Publishers, London, 1986) reminds us, the basic Soviet fire unit was the battalion, not the battery (185-190). Divisional artillery in tank and motor rifle divisions was grouped into battalions at regiment level, not penny-packeted to the battalions, which would have been a decidedly un-Soviet thing to do. Motor rifle battalions did have an organic mortar battery, which is missing from Team Yankee. Individual artillery batteries charging around with battalions was not Soviet practice.

Also, what we've looked at so far is just the organic artillery, i.e. the artillery units permanently attached to the division. Team Yankee is set in West Germany, which would have been the crucible of any NATO-Soviet shooting war. There's just no way that a first-line Soviet division would be participating in an offensive in the key theater of operations with just its organic artillery. Bellamy estimates (194-197) that a division advancing along a main axis would be supported by or even allocated artillery from both the Army and Front level; in his hypothetical example, two battalions of 152mm SP or towed guns from the Army, and three battalions of SP guns, self-propelled mortars, 203mm guns and heavy rocket launchers from the Front, for a total of over 300 equipments. In other words, support from higher echelons would more than triple the artillery strength of a front-line division along a major axis of advance, purely in terms of numbers of equipment; because some of the higher-level artillery is heavier, the increase in firepower is actually even larger. To take a World War I comparison, Bellamy estimates that the artillery fire in support of a Soviet breakthrough would have been six times more intense than the initial German bombardment at Verdun.

The heavy breakthrough battle is a special case, though. The scenarios of Team Yankee are set in a more fluid post-breakthrough environment where NATO forces are conducting a mobile defence, and are apparently able to engage the Soviets in smaller engagements. In a sense, then, the whole premise of the game is that NATO strategy has been succesful, and the Soviets have failed to overcome their defences through mass and tempo. However, how would Soviet artillery have been deployed in mobile operations? According to Bellamy (199-200), while artillery control would have been heavily centralized during the breakthrough battle, during the exploitation phase afterward, artillery battalions would be allocated to forward maneuver battalions. In this special case, it might have been possible for individual artillery batteries to be allocated to companies, but at battalion level, a forward tank or motor-rifle battalion would certainly have been supported by an artillery battalion. Existing tactical protocols for meeting engagements, a form of battle the Soviets would have actively sought, deal with an artillery battery attached to the company forming the march security element, with the rest of the maneuver and artillery battalions close behind.

In both the heavy breakthrough battle and subsequent engagements, then, we would expect to see a Soviet maneuver battalion supported by at least a battalion of artillery, if not more. Using the Team Yankee formation charts, the first battalion-level formation would be supported by at most two batteries of SP guns. Adding a second battalion only raises this number to three, meaning that a two-battalion force would only have half the minimum number of artillery support we'd expect to find. Admittedly, the rules make it possible to select "companies" which are actually barely platoons, but at this point the nomenclature and organization become thoroughly confused. An easy solution would be to increase both the battalion- and division-level artillery, and include equipment like the 2S4 Tyulpan 240mm self-propelled mortar, or even the 203mm 2S7 Pion.

Perhaps the most pointed example of the neglect, if not even disdain, the designers have for Soviet doctrine, is the scenario on pages 108-109, called "the Battle for Hill 214". The scenario depicts a Soviet motor-rifle battalion, reinforced by a handful of tanks but with no indirect fire support whatsoever, assaulting a US mechanized battlegroup in prepared positions over open ground. From the Soviet point of view, such an operation would be inconceivable, and the circumstances in which it would come about are exceedingly difficult to envision.


Unfortunately, this neglect of artillery has more or less put me off trying the game, along with the price of the miniatures; at our friendly local gaming store, the 2S1 SP guns set you back 10€ each. One look at the prices for the Team Yankee models, which I didn't by any means think are all that unreasonable, forcefully reminded me of how cheap living card games are! But at the end of the day, while I was hoping for a combined arms battle on the Inner German Frontier, my impression is that this is a system more geared toward charging about in tanks. I'll probably take a look at the West Germany supplement, because if we're going to do Girls und Panzer, then why not go for a proper Panzer; however if they ever put out a rules supplement for the 1985 French army, I will definitely reconsider my decision to not get involved.

Apr 10, 2017

LotR LCG: The might of Gondor

"There is a great fleet drawing near to the mouths of Anduin, manned by the corsairs of Umbar in the South. They have long ceased to fear the might of Gondor, and they have allied them with the Enemy, and now make a heavy stroke in his cause."
- Beregond, in the Lord of the Rings, book V, chapter I

John Howe: Watchful Peace, 1990


As part of my project to put together a series of thematic decks that can work together, I created a Leadership/Tactics/Outlands Gondor deck. Here it is in its original form:

50 cards; 29 Leadership, 11 Tactics, 3 Spirit, 3 Lore, 3 Neutral; 32 allies, 8 attachments, 9 events. Starting threat 29.

Hirluin the Fair
Prince Imrahil

Allies: 32 (17/6/3/3/3)
Forlong (TDF) x2
Veteran of Osgiliath (EfMG) x3
Guard of the Citadel x3
Errand-rider (HoN) x3
Squire of the Citadel (TBoG) x3
Warrior of Lossarnach (TSF) x3
Gondorian Spearman x3
Knights of the Swan (TSF) x3
Envoy of Pelargir (HoN) x3
Anfalas Herdsman (TSF) x3
Ethir Swordsman (TSF) x3

Attachments: 9 (4/5)
Visionary Leadership (TMV) x2
Sword of Morthond (AoO) x2
Citadel Plate x2
Captain of Gondor (TAC) x2
Gondorian Shield (TSF)

Events: 9
For Gondor! x3
Valiant Sacrifice x3
Wealth of Gondor (HoN) x3


I tried this out solo, and it turned out to be fun enough that I decided to take this seriously, and actually try to build a somewhat functional Gondor deck. This involved trying some new attachments, and stealing the Sneak Attacks and Gandalfs from my brother-in-law's Dwarf deck. The occasionally strange numbers of cards are because the other copies are in use elsewhere in our decks.

53 cards; 32 Leadership, 13 Tactics, 3 Spirit, 3 Lore, 2 Neutral; 30 allies, 17 attachments, 5 events, 1 side quest. Starting threat 29.

Hirluin the Fair (TSF)
Prince Imrahil (AJtR)
Beregond (HoN)

Allies: 30 (13/9/2/3/3)
Faramir x2
Forlong (TDF) x2
Veteran of Osgiliath (EfMG) x3
Warrior of Lossarnach (TSF) x3
Errand-rider (HoN) x3
Soldier of Dol Amroth (TCoC) x3
Defender of Rammas (HoN) x3
Knights of the Swan (TSF) x3
Gandalf (Core) x2
Anfalas Herdsman (TSF) x3
Ethir Swordsman (TSF) x3

Attachments: 17 (10/5/2)
Armored Destrier (TotD) x2
Steward of Gondor x2
Visionary Leadership (TMV) x2
In Service of the Steward (FotS)
Sword of Morthond (AoO)
Rod of the Steward (FotS) x2
Citadel Plate x2
Gondorian Shield (TSF)
Gondorian Fire (AoO) x2
Prince of Dol Amroth (TCoC) x2

Events: 5
For Gondor! x3
Sneak Attack x2

Side quests: 1
Send for Aid (TToR)

My brother's Leadership/Lore deck is around sideboard:
remove Faramir x2 and Steward of Gondor x2, add Envoy of Pelargir (HoN) x3


I took this version out for a couple of solo attempts at Journey Down the Anduin, but had some difficulty getting set up with such a high opening threat. We had a new player try it out, and it made a positive contribution. Still, though, even with Outlands, I'm not entirely happy with the way the deck works. Although Gondor decks have arguably been around since the core set, compared to other factions like dwarves, silvan elves or Dúnedain, say, there's just not a lot that makes them very unique. There really aren't many worthwhile cards that key off the Gondor trait, nor is there really a distinctive Gondor play style. Dúnedain decks like engaged enemies, hobbits have secrecy potential and voluntary engagement, silvan decks bounce allies in and out of play, and so on; while a Gondor deck has, well, a bunch of allies? A Gondor deck probably works best as a Leadership ally swarm - I tried one of those as well - but in that case there isn't really a very good argument for making it a specifically Gondor deck at all, because the Gondor synergies are so limited.

It's a little weird that a faction that's been around since the core set, had a deluxe box dedicated to it and has kept getting new cards still kind of doesn't really have an identity of its own in the game. I like Gondor, so I hope the designers can get around to creating a Gondor playstyle. Right now, Gondor decks still feel too generic for me to really be inspired to play them.


Meanwhile, my New Amazons deck has stayed the same, except for one change: I've ditched Éowyn's toys. While getting both Herugrim and Snowmane on her can be cool, with no way to search for them, it happens too rarely and, in fact, ends up having too little impact to justify taking up four card slots in a Spirit/Lore deck packed to the brim and over. I'd been using Elrond's Counsel as a replacement when Éowyn wasn't around, so I'll go with that for now. Even that isn't such an amazing card any more, though, with threat not being such a huge issue in many of the newer quests and making use of Keen as Lances. So when and if something more interesting shows up later in the Haradrim cycle, I can definitely try it.

55 cards; 33 Spirit, 18 Lore, 4 neutral; 21 allies, 11 attachments, 21 events, 2 side quests. Starting threat 28.

Arwen Undómiel (TDR)
Idraen (TTT)
Rossiel (EfMG)

Allies: 21 (16/4/1)
Jubayr (TM) x2
Northern Tracker x2
Súlien (TCoC) x2
Rhovanion Outrider (ToTD) x3
Bilbo Baggins (TRD)
Galadriel's Handmaiden (CS) x3
West Road Traveler (RtM) x3
Firyal (TM)
Warden of Healing (TLD) x3
Gandalf (OHaUH)

Attachments: 11 (7/4)
Unexpected Courage x2
Ancient Mathom (AJtR) x3
Light of Valinor (FoS) x2
A Burning Brand (CatC) x2
Cloak of Lórien (CS) x2

Events: 21 (9/9/3)
A Test of Will x3
Elven-light (TDR) x3
Elrond's Counsel (TWitW) x3
Leave No Trace (EfMG) x3
None Return (AtE) x3
Daeron's Runes (FoS) x3
Keen as Lances (EfMG) x3

Side quests:
Double Back (EfMG)
Scout Ahead (TWoE)

Apr 3, 2017

Let's Read Tolkien 31: Flight to the Ford

When Frodo came to himself he was still clutching the Ring desperately.

Frodo wakes up next to the fire at Weathertop. He's been stabbed in the shoulder by a Black Rider, and Strider is gone. The ranger soon returns, reporting that the hobbit-stabbers are nowhere to be found. He thinks they believe that Frodo will soon succumb to his wound and fall under their control. To stop this from happening, Strider goes off in search of herbs. He returns after dawn, when he and the hobbits find the detritus of battle around them: a slashed black cloak, and a notched knife whose blade evaporates in the sunlight. The sartorial damage is all Frodo inflicted; Strider finds further support for this in the fact that Frodo's dagger survived. This is actually interesting if you know what happens later, but for now, suffice to say that I'll be getting back to this in about 2020 or so.

Unaware of the future, Strider does what he can for Frodo. He sings a song over the hilt of the knife - a possible nod to Finnish healing magic there - and crushes a herb (athelas) in water and bathes Frodo's wound with it. It helps, but Frodo is still too weak to stand, let alone travel. However, that's exactly what they need to do.

They quickly decided to leave Weathertop as soon as possible. "I think now," said Strider, "that the enemy has been watching this place for some days. If Gandalf ever came here, then he must have been forced to ride away, and he will not return. In any case we are in great peril here after dark, since the attack of last night, and we can hardly meet greater danger wherever we go."

Now that he's accepted that he won't find Gandalf, Strider finally realizes the massive danger in hanging out in pretty much the only place where anyone could possibly think to look for them. And so Frodo is loaded onto the pony, everyone else takes their share of the dwindling supplies, and off they go. They quickly cross the Road and lose themselves from the Black Riders in the thickets and the pathless country beyond - which is where they should have been in the first place. They trudge through the wilderness for days, keeping nervous watch at night, but there's no sign of the Black Riders.

Eventually, with Frodo's condition getting worse, Strider leads the hobbits up a ridge where they can see the Road, and two rivers ahead. The nearest, the Hoarwell, is crossed by the Last Bridge, and beyond it, the Loudwater, which the Road crosses by the Ford of Bruinen. With no other ways across the rivers, Strider expects they must find the bridge held against them. He's wrong, though: the bridge is deserted. All they find is an elven jewel, seemingly dropped in the middle of the bridge. Strider interprets this as a token that they can safely pass the bridge, and they hurry across.

Beyond the Hoarwell, Strider leads the hobbits into the hills north of the Road. They have a very weary time of it, with provisions running low and rain pouring down, but there's still no sign of pursuit. They spend five days making their way through the rough hill country, and are ten days out from Weathertop. When there's a break in the weather, Strider climbs one of the hills to orient himself, and finds they've come too far north; they have to head south in order to make it to the Ford. As they start picking their way southward, they discover a path, which they follow. It leads to a cave fronted by a crude door, which is unanimously identified as an abandoned troll lair. They continue down the path, with Merry and Pippin ranging ahead - which sounds like a terrible idea, by the way - and Strider, Sam and Frodo following. Soon enough, the intrepid hobbit scouts come running back, having seen trolls in a clearing below. Strider picks up a stick and goes to take a look.

Sure enough, there are three trolls in a clearing in broad daylight. Strider walks up to one and breaks his stick over it. The hobbits are shocked into silence, but when nothing at all happens, Frodo bursts out laughing as he recognizes the scene. These are the very three trolls that Gandalf had fooled into arguing for so long over how to eat Thorin and company that the sun turned them to stone. The hobbits enjoy a cheerful lunch in the shadow of the petrified trolls, and Sam even busts out some freestyle rhyme about Tom Bombadil meeting a troll.

In the afternoon, they reach the Road, but as night is falling, they hear a horse coming up behind. Frodo and company scramble to hide in a bush, but when they hear a faint tinkling of bells, they conclude it's very unlikely to be a Black Rider. In fact, it's an Elf-lord, Glorfindel, from the house of Elrond. Gildor, who the hobbits met in chapter 3, had sent word to Rivendell that some hobbits were being chased by the Nine and Gandalf was missing, and Glorfindel and others had been sent out to find them. Anxious to get to Rivendell, Glorfindel has Frodo mount his horse and leads the company on a forced march east. He's confident that his horse Asfaloth can bear Frodo away from even the Black riders; Frodo protests, but Glorfindel reminds him that his friends will be in no danger if he isn't with them.

After two days of exhausting forced marching, the company reaches the Ford, but the Black Riders catch up to them there. Glorfindel sends his horse forward, and although Frodo is reluctant, the horse knows better and makes for the Ford. The Riders thunder past Strider and the others, and race to cut Frodo off from the Ford, but Asfaloth is too fast for them, and Frodo makes it across. The nine Black Riders seem reluctant to enter the water, and Frodo feels them commanding him to stop. He refuses, and with his sword drawn, orders them back to Mordor. The leader of the Riders raises his hand, and Frodo's sword snaps in two. The Black Riders ride into the ford, and as they do, a sudden flood rises, sweeping them away except for a few remaining ones, who are driven into the roaring waters by Glorfindel and the rest of the company with torches. As the Riders fall, Frodo loses consciousness and the chapter ends.


And with that, Book One of the Lord of the Rings comes to an end. It's been almost a year since I got started, so we'll be doing this for a while yet! In terms of form, this chapter is very similar to the previous one: Frodo and company have to set off into the wilderness, hampered by an unexpected burden; they have a miserable time of it, until they reach a landmark, where they're attacked by Black Riders and Frodo is knocked out.

Speaking of hobbit-stabbing ghosts, if I have opinions about Strider's choices along the road to Rivendell, the Black Riders come off worse. After they find Frodo at Bree, they let him vanish into the wilderness with Strider. When they get an unexpected opportunity at Weathertop, they're content to stab Frodo and then apparently completely lose his tail again. Strider may well be right in thinking that they believe Frodo must succumb to the wound, but still, it seems negligent to just leave him to his own devices and take some time off to wait. When Frodo resists, they're stuck with mounting an ambush at the Ford of Bruinen, where they're foiled by Glorfindel and the river. So while Strider may not have made the best choices, his opposite number, so to speak, clearly did worse.

In both cases, though, the failures are understandable in the context of the story. Strider seems to have been motivated by his desire to find Gandalf, while the Black Riders, if anything, were simply arrogant. This, at least, is the explanation we're given; at Bree, the Riders know exactly where the Ring is, but fail to take advantage of their position, with "all the long leagues of Eriador" to come. Of course, that doesn't work out because of Strider, and when they get their opportunity at Weathertop, they're so sure that their ingenious hobbit-stabbing ploy will work that they pull a disappearing act. I wonder where they went?

They may seem excessively incompetent villains, but their inability to finish the job and recover the Ring can also be seen as the first occurrence of a major theme of the Lord of the Rings: the failure of evil. The Black Riders fail because of their arrogance, or in other words, the mortal sin of pride. They're not the first to succumb to this - one recalls a boasting dragon inadvertently revealing his fatal weakness - and they won't be the last. Or maybe the Witch-king was a sadist and wanted to not only recover the Ring, but also transform Frodo into a wraith and subdue him to his will. I mean, I don't imagine you become Witch-king by being nice to people. Or maybe that's what Sauron told him to do. Whatever it was, it didn't work. This, if you like, is the Boëthian view of evil: ultimately, evil defeats itself. However, as Frodo's wound testifies, this by no means implies that it can't do terrible damage while failing, or that it doesn't need to be fought at all.

To move from wraiths to trolls, the encounter with the petrified remains of Bilbo's trollish escapade is a nice touch, and Sam's freestyle verse is one of my favorite pieces of Tolkien poetry. The only unfortunate thing about it is that, as the late Karen Wynn Fonstad demonstrated, there's really no way to square the travel times here: while Bilbo and the dwarves stumbled into the trolls almost immediately after crossing the Last Bridge, Strider and the hobbits spend almost six days wandering through the wilderness before they happen on the same clearing. Even with the injured Frodo, it beggars belief that Aragorn could get so thoroughly lost as to effectively lead them on a five-day loop that ends up back where they started. Frodo even recalls Bilbo's adventure when they cross the bridge.

If we really wanted to harmonize the two accounts, I suppose the likeliest explanation would be that Bilbo simply misremembered where the trolls' campsite was, and the account in the Lord of the Rings is correct. But I have yet to lose any sleep over this.

Finally, there's the matter of Glorfindel. Originally, there were two elves called Glorfindel: one a High Elf who fell in battle with a Balrog while escaping Gondolin, the other another high elf by the same name who belonged to Elrond's household. Apparently Tolkien later became dissatisfied with the idea of two elves having the same name, and came up with the idea that Glorfindel had, in fact, been killed by the Balrog, but was sent back from the Halls of Mandos for, um, reasons. Frankly, it makes no sense whatsoever, and actually cheapens the tale of Lúthien: only she could move Mandos to pity, except then there was that other time they also sent a dude back. The idea that the two Glorfindels are the same is an unpublished nonsense retcon, and it should be cheerfully ignored.

On the whole, this is quite a dramatic chapter; the desperate struggle to get to Rivendell before Frodo succumbs to his wound is conveyed well, and the moment of levity with the trolls breaks up the rising tension effectively before the dramatic finale with the Black Riders. It's a bit of a deus ex machina ending, but Frodo's brave resistance still makes it a pretty good scene.


That was Book One, then! We've gone from a hobbit birthday-party to a harrowing near escape from the Black Riders at a flooding ford. After the birthday-party and its aftermath, this has more or less been a travelogue through Tolkien's Middle-earth, with the Old Forest, the Barrow-downs and the wastes of Eriador, punctuated by the occasional pleasant interlude of some fairly genteel middle-class recreation. The story has constantly been moving in both space and scope: we started in a hobbit-hole and ended up with an Elf-lord and the Witch-king at the gates of Rivendell. I don't know, I must've read this a couple of dozen times by now, and I still enjoy it.

Next time, book two!