At the beginning of the game the Shadow is positioned to immediately strike at Rohan and with little effort from the enemy’s side both Gondor and the DEW-line (Dale, Erebor, and the Woodland Realm) can come under attack quite early in the game. These areas must be defended to buy Frodo enough time to succeed in his quest to destroy the One Ring. As the Free Peoples player you are immediately at a disadvantage in the military part of the game, you must quickly decide how to use your starting Armies in the best possible way to hinder the Shadow from picking on you where you are the weakest. In this article we will highlight the moves available to you at the beginning of the game; all in an attempt to strengthen your defenses against the coming storm. 


Saruman and the forces of Isengard are positioned to strike at the Fords of Isen right from the start, all they need are one or two muster dice; one to bring Isengard to war and one to muster Saruman, and with him the superior leadership of Isengard Elite units. By the time this is done you should have decided how to best defend your borders against the forces of the White Hand. If you have enough Army Action Die results to move the units from Edoras to Helm’s Deep this might be worth the investment since Edoras is worth one Victory point less than Helm’s Deep and the Stronghold is much easier to defend.

Another possible defensive precaution you can take is to send the lone Regular unit that begins the game in Helm’s Deep to reinforce the Fords of Isen. Since the Fords of Isen is a Fortification the Shadow will only hit you on sixes in the first round of combat and the extra attack provided by your unit from Helm’s Deep might prove important. After the first round of combat any surviving forces should retreat to Helm’s Deep.

You could also decide to abandon the Fords of Isen and move your Army into Helm’s Deep before Isengard attacks. This gives you an Army that can survive for some time inside the walls of Helm’s Deep and it also leaves you the force at Edoras to do with as you see fit. This is a bit risky though since the activation of Rohan will take longer unless you use Muster dice to advance on the Political track.

Click to Zoom


Between Gondor and Mordor lies the now ruined city of Osgiliath, a mere shadow of its former self. This Fortification should not be abandoned since it lies outside the borders of Gondor and the Shadow will not activate Gondor unless they are forced to attack a Gondor Army there. As a Fortification Osgiliath provides the same protection as a Stronghold in the first round of combat you might as well move Army units to reinforce the garrison. As the Shadow Armies attack from Mordor you then fight one round of combat before retreating to Minas Tirith.

This strategy has its drawbacks; the Shadow player might use the Harad Armies to attack Pelargir and then head to Minas Tirith from the south. If he does, your attempt to reinforce Osgiliath has now forced you to use another Action Die to move the units back to cover Minas Tirith, unless you manage to Muster there through other means.

Click to Zoom

Dale, Erebor, and the Woodland Realm

In the northeast you must try to buy yourself enough time when the Shadow strikes to allow you to Muster additional units if you want to avoid being steamrolled. Moving units to block the route to your Settlements is an excellent way to reach this goal.

Moving the Dwarven Regular unit from the Iron Hills to the Vale of the Carnen to block a possible approach from the Southron and Easterling Armies from Rhûn might hasten your endeavour to get the Dwarven nation to war as the Shadow will activate the Dwarven nation when they attack through the Vale of the Carnen on their way to Dale. The risk with this early move is that it will allow the Southron and Easterling Army to head straight into the Iron Hills and capture the Dwarven town there, and then the road will be open for an assault on Erebor. This will however also activate the Dwarves as soon as the Iron Hills are captured.

The second, and more viable, strategy around the DEW-line is sending the North Regular Army unit from Carrock to the Old Forest Road, from where it can reinforce Dale or retreat into Dale or the Woodland Realm if it survives an attack from a Shadow Army approaching from the south (remember that this attack will also activate the North nation). If you are lucky enough to be able to play the Event Card “Grimbeorn the Old, son of Beorn” to reinforce the Army in Carrock before this move the Dew-line’s defenses are bolstered substantially.

Click to Zoom

Closing Comments

These different strategies, to defend your Settlements with your initial Armies, all depend on your ability to move Armies. This is dependent on the precious Action dice and it is therefore impossible to cover all options we have discussed. Often you are forced to abandon one area to move in another. When deciding which theatre to concentrate on you must carefully consider the options for the Shadow, what actions can he take this turn? Has he committed to any area by playing Muster Event Cards or moving Armies? If you still feel unable to decide where to commit your resources the one move that is recommended above all others is the move from Carrock to the Old Forest Road. This move helps set up a perimeter defense of both Dale and the Woodland Realm, as well as help the Fellowship if they should opt for the Old Forest Road route after passing through the Goblin's Gate region.

Written by Kristofer Bengtsson

Tags: , ,