***SPOILERS after this point! You have been warned!****
While the Men, Elves, and Dwarves assemble their forces, Azog the Orc General constructs a wooden signal tower on top of a nearby highpoint called Ravenhill. Somehow, no one from the other three armies notices this. The tower is installed with an elaborate system of pulleys and flags that can display several different commands to Azog's troops and is visible throughout the entire battle-space. Azog sends the signal to attack but his army is nowhere to be seen. Suddenly, several gigantic earthworms rise out of the earth like a scene from 'Dune'. They retreat back into the dirt leaving large tunnels from which the evil army emerges. Our fourth army has arrived.
SBG: Yowza! I did not see that coming. Did anyone expect the giant worms from Dune to show up in Middle Earth!? GW has nothing in their range of products for the worms. So, what can we do with these things? Well, they serve a strategic purpose by allowing large numbers of troops to move underground and undetected. Sounds like the worms are purely a support unit for transportation only and not useful in direct combat. Perhaps, adding the worms to an army would simply allow the army to have hidden deployment until Azog gives the signal. That could create some some interesting tactical situations.
WotR: Same as SBG. The signal tower would be a nice scenery piece. But, command and control is not an issue in this game.
BoFA: Same as with SBG, but in this game, command and control can be an issue. Perhaps the evil armies are limited in command points and the signal tower will provide an extended command range for Azog.
Hordes of the Things (HotT): New Optional Rule: The Signal Tower, add 1 AP to the General unit, could provide one automatic PiP for the army.
The Grand battle begins! Thorin and his closest friends find some rams to ride into battle. No explanation is given for the presence of the rams nor is explanation given to why Dain chose to ride a pig instead of a ram. The Evil army is truly multi-cultural and includes Orcs from Dol Guldor, Orcs from the fortress of Gundabad, fully armored Goblin mercenaries from the Misty Mountains, many Wargs and Warg-Riders, and a swarm of large bats. There are also trolls which have been trained and equipped for specific purposes. Some carry catapults on their backs, including the catapult crews. Some are armed with spiked metal gauntlets to sweep out the enemy ranks. One silly troll had a huge stone wedge attached to its head and shoulders. This troll ran at full speed and head first into the outer walls of the city of Dale, thus breaking a large hole in the wall and knocking itself unconcious as well.
Has anyone else noticed that the Trolls of all types are fighting in broad daylight? Maybe that will get explained in the extended special Blu-Ray edition, or maybe not.
SBG: No Ram-mounted Dwarves have been produced as of yet. Here's to hoping! The movie does show a wide array of Troll Special Forces. Who knew these buggers were so versatile? I doubt GW will produce the Trolls in any large quantities but it might happen. I think the best option will be to purchase extra sets of Tom, Bert, and Bill and kit-bash them. The Troll-mounted catapults could be really interesting as they could be fired then moved quickly to another location as needed.
WotR: This game could really take advantage of a Dwarf cavalry. Also of good use would be the Trolls specialized for siege battles.
BoFA: BoFA has an dwarf army unit but nothing to simulate the Company of Thorin. I think they would be done best as some kind of elite Ram riding units. But, I haven't seem any 10mm Ram rider figs anywhere. There seems to be a debate as to whether Dwarves would have archer units or not. I'm in the pro-archer camp since no army is complete without some type of ranged attack units. The Trolls could also be used as specialized siege weapons and would be much cheaper to kit-bash at 10mm than at 28mm. Many of the units that aren't represented in the original BoFA box set could be assembled using Pendraken figs.
The battle continues until Radagast the Brown arrives with the fifth army, a squadron of giant eagles and astride his own eagle. Beorn arrives riding an eagle as well. But Beorn, leaps off the eagle, free falls for a moment, then transforms into the great bear in mid-air. The bear lands on a column of orcs and viciously defeats them.
Biblo Baggins is knocked unconsious late in the battle which differs greatly from the book. Thorin and Azog fight it out to the death on top of a frozen waterfall in a brilliantly choreographed fight sequence. Legolas defeats Bolg and in the process breaks several laws of physics with his acrobatic fighting style. But have we not come to expect that from Legolas on screen?
For the Tolkien purists out there, the same characters who perish in the book version of the battle will perish in the film version. Some of the wonderful dialogue make it on the film unchanged as well.
SBG: The source book includes a profile for Radagast riding an Eagle, which usually means GW will produce a model for it. Beorn's mid-air transformation was probably done to convince the younger audience that Beorn can do anything The Hulk can do. However, the rules say that Beorn will still take damage from a fall even in bear form.
WotR: Same as SBG.
BoFA: A Beorn in bear form model is included with the box set. But Radagast is not described anywhere in the rules. Gandalf's stats could be substituted for Radagast.
Others have discussed the Battle of Five Armies as a miniature wargame. I found a Pre-Jacksonian source about the Battles of Middle Earth by Merlin Douglas Larsen. These were published in some older issues of Miniature Wargames magazine but Larsen has posted them on his website Tolkien's Middle-Earth Battles. He has a specific BoFA review here. He has a good map of the battlefield and the rule set he references is The Art of War which Larsen is the author.
As a movie, I thought The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies was wonderfully entertaining and action-packed. The movie was 144 minutes long but it never felt that long in the theater. I recommend this movie to anyone who enjoys fantasy-adventure stories. Additionally, it should provide plenty of inspiration for your fantasy-themed gaming for a very long time.