War of the Ring
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The War of the Ring board game is a grand strategic simulation of Tolkien's Lord of the Rings trilogy.
While the Fellowship of the Ring advances towards Mordor, the Dark Lord Sauron tries to find the location of the Ring-bearer, and unleashes his armies against the last strongholds of the Free Peoples.
Faithful to the epic flavor of the books, characters and strongholds play a major role in the flow of the game and represent the main focus of the action. A simple and fun, dice-based, resource management mechanism is used to determine the various types of action possible for each player. Smooth, original mechanics have been devised to handle the hidden movement of the Fellowship and the Hunt for the Ring.
This enormous game includes a gameboard depicting a large color map of Middle Earth; 200+ plastic figures representing the Armies and Characters of the War of the Ring, including the Nazgl, each member of the Fellowship of the Ring, Shadow Army units, Free People Army and Leader units and Minions of the Shadow; 135 die-cut cardboard counters; 100+ cards for Events and Characters; and over 20 dice!
Is this game worth buying? Is there a reason not to buy this game? How does this game rate compared to others by complexity or time factor? I hope to answer these simple questions at the end of my impression of War of the Ring.
First, I must state that I was very thrilled when I first read about this game. I was very tired of the Risk-ee hype eaters offered up by Hasbro gang. I am not knocking these games, for in some ways they actually mimic each other on a basic level that War of the Ring even uses. I think for children, the "Risk Rings" games are a nice introduction to the genre of wargaming. I must say however, I am not a very big fan of the Risk battle system. I am therefore not a fan of all the games that use this system either... and there are way too many. This alone makes War of the Rings stand out among the competitors (a new battle system).
War of the Rings, on its best note, gives the player a real feeling of desperation from both sides of the fence. For the Shadow, there is a constant clicking of the "Ring Time Bomb" moving forward in an attempt to blow the top off of Mount Doom. For the beleaguered people of Middle Earth, there is a gut-wrenching feeling of the many many sacrifices needed to get the fellowship to Mount Doom. And, somewhere in between, there is the struggle which is the heart of War of the Ring (the actual War).
The game requires one to commit resources to two different goals. Win the War or Get/Destroy the Ring. It is very hard to move one goal ahead without hindering the other. Fortunately, the game mechanics can force a player to go in a less predictable direction for better or worse. Quite often the player controls the weighty decisions fully, but on other occasions things can slip away (including ringbearers, nazghuls and a future king).
Overall, the Shadow player drives forth like an invincible juggernaut while the People of Middle Earth stand like pins in a bowling alley. There is no one that can stop the Shadow from his lofty targets. The Free People of Middle Earth delay, fight and die. It would seem nothing can stop the Shadow forces from winning the game except this small tugging that grows stronger every step the Fellowship moves to Mordor.
Beware to a Free People's player that stands up against the forces of Sauron and Saruman on the battlefield. In capable hands of a Shadow player, the forces of Evil will make short work of very defiant large army.
Though both forces can get reinforcements from their "pools", only the forces of Shadow get to put their recently fallen back into their "pool" to be used once more. The Free People have a finite pool for their forces, and once that pool is empty, the country is exhausted with no hope of maintaining a war of long attrition.
A player that plays War of the Ring will learn after a few games that there are cards that can put the fear of Gandalf back into the Shadow player. However, these conditional cards can be weathered if the Shadow player proceeds more cautiously.
In many games that I played, it seemed that the Fellowship was an excellent bargaining chip for the Free People in conducting a better positioned war. The Fellowship's vicinity to victory dictates the strategy and desperation of the Shadow's final moves. In essence, the Fellowship's progress determines the level of risk that the Shadow player must take. Sometimes the Shadow player will make attacks that are not in his favor, but if he or she doesn't make those attacks he or she will lose anyway. A Felllowship in Mordor makes the Shadow player rush his game, while a Fellowship still muddling in Lothlorien leaves the Shadow player ample time to muster overwhelming forces.
Is this game worth buying?
You betcha, but it is for players who like wargames and Lord of the Rings.
Is there a reason not to buy this game?
Despite what previous people have said about the plastic miniatures, I found my first impression to be not so much in love with them. Though they are detailed, the 3-4 colors that these miniatures came as are not very helpful other than telling the difference between bad guy color and good guy color. I found it hard to look at, and I decided to paint them all. After painting them (and the pneumonia that I suffered from breathing that crap) I can fully say I am floored by the excellent detail they have (which only painting could bring out). I do recommend painting them, but not to the detail that I did (if you do it yourself). If you do want all the finery to show through, I would pay someone else to do it if you make 60k or more a year. Why that number? I figure that anyone who made less would save money doing it themselves, and anyone who made more should not suffer the damned lessons that I endured.
The game is a 3-4 hour wargame, but is easy to set up if you have your minis painted. The length of the game is no problem for me, and I do believe this isn't a problem for most boardgamers.
If you don't have that kind of time... probably don't buy it. If you are squeamish to spend so much time seeing that the figures get painted (however you do it), I can firmly say it is worth the cost. I figure 800 dollars is a fair price to have these miniatures painted by a professional. As I said before, if you can do it yourself, then you will learn over time just how 800 dollars figures into my 60k theory.
The Complexity of the Game?
In my opinion, this game has a lot of facets to know all at once. These facets are all necessary to play the game. Quickly after the first game, I found that I was doing very little referencing. My idea of a complex game is one that requires me to look at combat tables, random effects, range of unit, provisional turns, etc. War of the Ring pretty much has everything on the board. So, once you learn the mechanics and rules, you are pretty much looking to the rulebook for special case questions. Naturally, once all those questions are answered, the games move faster each time.
There is a learning game one can "quick play", but I find that these quick play games have you learning a game wrongly. When you have to play the real game finally, you must throw out some of the quick play rules that you learned. You basically developed some bad rules habits (which you will confuse with the real game) in your haste to play a half-baked version of the game you really want to play.
Compared to my favorite games:
Some games get unbelievable hype before they come out, especially if they are about a popular subject or theme. War of the Ring got more hype than any game in recent memory. Playtesters howled its praises; and once the game came out, it slowly grew in popularity until it reached its current spot of #3 on the top rated games at BoardGameGeek, with over 100 people giving it the perfect “10” rating. I was intrigued, not just because I was a fan of the books and movies, but because of the massive amount of plastic pieces that came in the box. The game just exuded the “cool” factor, and I was eager to get my hands on a copy.
Now that I have a copy, I can state that the hype was not unjustified. While not a “10”, I rate the game a “9.5” as it’s near perfect. The theme is evident throughout the game, and the designers have managed to present us with a fair, balanced, fun game. As of this writing, there are at least fifteen reviews on the internet, so I’m not going to focus on rules of this game (all twenty-three pages of them). Instead, you can find out the details of the game from another review - I’ll just focus on my thoughts of the game...
1.) Miniatures: My, how Fantasy Flight Games just keeps getting better. From no miniatures in Twilight Imperium I, to the terrible plastic miniatures in Twilight Imperium II, to the marvelous, soft plastic miniatures in this game, the amount of miniatures is staggering, rivaling that of an Eagle game; and the detail on them is very well done. If you head to the internet, you’ll find tons of articles and pictures detailing how to paint them. I’m afraid that my skills are sorely lacking in this regard, but that doesn’t sadden me; because even in their unpainted form, the miniatures still look great on the board. The game provides counters to use if the miniatures crowd up too much room on the board, but I’ve only used them in one situation; because the miniatures provide such a wonderful visual of how the game is progressing.
2.) Dice: I have found the dice system absolutely incredible. From the dark side having an overwhelming amount of dice, showing their sheer physical dominance, to the makeup of the dice the light side has more versatility but has a harder time getting their armies to move. Having the Dark side sacrifice a number of their dice to put them in the “Hunt for the Ring” box is very thematic. Yes, as Sauron you want that ring; but if you waste too many resources chasing it, you won’t put enough pressure on the good forces. Meanwhile, the Light side must agonizingly decide just how many dice to devote to moving the Ring and how many to move those crucial companions.
3.) Companions and Minions: I seriously think that in a game, the less experienced player should play the Dark Side. This is because while the evil player certainly has a lot of decisions to make, they aren’t as difficult as the forces of good. Hardest of these decisions are the companions. Leaving a lot of companions with the party means that the hobbits are less susceptible to the ring and helps absorb damage from the dark side. At the same time, keeping too many companions allows the Shadow to send greater hunting parties, and sending the companions away from the party can crucially help the light side - especially Gandalf and Strider, as they can “morph” into their more powerful counterparts. The extra dice they provide are SO crucial to the Free People. Knowing where to send the companions (should Gimli activate the dwarven nation?) is crucial, but the choice to split them off from the party is agonizing. This doesn’t belittle the Evil Player’s choice of when to reveal the Witch King. Sure, the guy is massively powerful, but he activates all the good nations. Reveal him too early, and you hurt yourself. Reveal him too late, and he doesn’t do much good.
4.) Political System: This is another tremendous mechanic. I really enjoy how the Dwarves and northern armies are basically out of the game, unless the Light player goes to extreme ends to get them involved. The Shadow player has crucial decisions in the beginning of the game. Does he attack Gondor, Rohan, or both? It’s probably best to only attack one nation, as the chance of the Free People spending precious actions to get the other in the war is fairly small. Yet unless Gondor and Rohan unite, they will be eventually swept away in a tide of Orcs. If the Shadow player refrains from attacking too many players, they can keep some of the nations out of war for a good part of the game, tying up many crucial units. At the same time, it would be useful if the Free People could get the Elves into battle quickly, in order to allow their strong forces to stem the flood of evil. As the Free People player, it can be frustrating (true to theme) that they have so many pieces on the board yet can only use a fraction of them. I love the thematic flavor of this (even while complaining about it during the game.)
5.) Chit Pool: More games should involve a chit pool - Air Barons does it, as well as a few other games, and it just makes things a little more exciting than merely rolling the die. The fact that each player can add tiles both helpful and destructive to the pool makes the Hunt for the Ring that much more interesting.
6.) Hunt for the Ring: This is a huge part of the game, as the Free People’s only real viable strategy is to get that ring into Mount Doom. Sometimes the good guys can get so caught up in defending their bases (and it really cannot be ignored) that the ring can sit still; but it must keep moving, or all is lost! The hidden movement track is a unique mechanic that allows players to not have to spend precious time tracking where the hobbits are moving via pencil and paper. It also allows the good guys to have a bit more leeway as to where they send the hobbits. True to the book - going over the mountains at the beginning is easier but longer, while going through Moria is quick and deadly. The Shadow player can divert Nazgul to hunt for the ring; but their use in battle is extreme, and shifting them away can cause some of his battles to drag on longer than they should.
7.) Cards: The cards allow the game to have more thematic flavor than a simple war game would, introducing elements like the Ents, Shelob, Tom Bombadil, to the game, where miniatures for these folk would have just gotten too cumbersome. The card’s usage accurately reflects the theme of the book, in my opinion, and playing the right card at the right time can drastically effect the game. The cards also have a dual-use, where players can use them in battle. This causes a player to choose between the usefulness of the card as an event, or the help it would do them in battle. My only complaint about the game actually comes from the cards. A player who has played the game has a leg up on those who haven’t, simply due to the knowledge of what’s on the cards. For example, if a Shadow player doesn’t know anything about the Ent cards, they might leave Saruman undefended, assuming that the Light forces are too weak to break through. The Ent cards could then wipe out Saruman, hurting the Dark player considerably. If I’m the Shadow player, however, I know these cards exist and will make sure that Saruman is NEVER left undefended. This probably means that the first game of any player is going to be a learning game.
8.) Battles: The battle system, while interesting, isn’t anything spectacular, but it works. It allows for a maximum of five dice to be rolled at a time, and the leaders play a powerful role. At the same time, the siege system is much more interesting. It allows the Free People to hole up in a secure spot but forces them to just sit there, taking hits until they are wiped out or rescued (highly unlikely).
9.) Victory Conditions: The game is like a complicated race. The Shadow is racing to destroy as many Light Strongholds as they can, while the Light side is struggling to get the Ring in Mount Doom. The Light side military victory (while non-thematic) is practically impossible, but they must do their best with their forces to tie up the Shadow player as long as possible. It’s all a race with that accursed ring!
10.) Rules: The rulebook is very detailed and long; but after a careful reading or two, the game is fairly simple. At the same time, the game does take a while to explain; even when I explained it the third time to a group, it still took me twenty to thirty minutes before they had a general idea of what was going on. There are PILES of helpful downloads on the internet; and I recommend finding a good one, because you will find yourself referencing it a lot. Everything on the board is fairly clear; but some things like the symbols on the tokens on the political track aren’t labeled, and only a Tolkien fanatic would know what they stood for.
11.) Artwork: A quick note on the artwork - it’s beautiful and very true to the spirit of the books. From the hefty box, to the rulebook, to the huge game board, to the little tokens - everything looks and feels Tolkien.
12.) Fun Factor and Time: The game is a LOT of fun, especially if you’re a Tolkien fan. Games come down to the wire; one of my games ended as the hobbits teetered on the edge of Mount Doom about to cast the ring in. The game is lengthy, running three to four hours; but it’s an involving game, and watching the events unfold is interesting. The game follows the general path of the book, but there’s enough deviation for the replayability factor to be high. It’s a tremendous two-player game (works well with four) and satisfies even a war-game hater like me.
If you like Tolkien, light war games, or just good games in general, then this is one for you. Yes, it’s long and fairly complicated, but the experiences it will provide are worth it. I know it’s not for everyone; many folk who prefer light, fluffy games will be overwhelmed by this heavy, heavy game. Yet if you have any interest at all, pick it up; it certainly will provide one with enough fantasy war to last a long time. This, in my opinion, is the definitive Lord of the Rings game. Knizia’s is fun and interesting; but to get the full experience of the books, look no further - the superlative game has arrived.
“Real men play board games.”
I've played War of the Ring twice now, and I'll add my thoughts to those contributed below. First, this game can be played as a multiplayer, but the simple truth is that it is much better - and quicker - as a two player game. Also, plan to spend the day with the game the first time you play it, it will set you back five to six hours. Having said that, the second play clocked in right at three hours and therefore I anticipate it being a 2 1/2 to 3 hour game for EXPERIENCED players, as advertised. The mechanics are actually very straightforward once you are used to them, but there is a lot of dice rolling to be done and players will often ponder a moment or two before deciding their next action.
Concerning the game itself, there are so many choices to make but they all fall into two basic categories - moving the fellowship to Mordor and the military battle for Middle Earth. The designers did a fabulous job with this, a player who neglects either will pay dearly if their opponent senses the lack of balance. For the Free Peoples, it is possible to win a military victory by taking a few key strategic sites (more likely earlier than later in the game). But this is difficult to do if the Dark Servants see this coming. Delivering the Ring to Mordor appears to be (believe it or not) the simpler of the two tasks. For the Dark Servants military victory will be had, the question is how long will it take before the forces of good are overwhelmed. The Dark Servants must also actively hunt for the ring, for if they don't Frodo will be in Mordor before the military campaigns have run long enough to engulf the remaining Free armies. It is also posible, though quite difficult, for the ring to corrupt the ring-bearer (and the forces of Sauron play a role in this) and thus claim a victory for Sauron in this fashion, but the military path is the more straightforward of the two.
Sound like the books? The designers have done a great job of matching the story to the game. This game is similar to other card- driven wargames, but delivering The Ring adds an element and a strategy that completetly separates it from other games. And unlike other seemingly interminable wargames (I love East Front for example, but I do have a wife and two kids....), this game can be completed in a long evening if two players know what they are doing. As mentioned before, if you are just starting out with it try the game on a Saturday. If time is an issue or you just want to get a feel for the game opening the box on a weeknight will work. Once you are beyond the learning curve I think you will find it is an outstanding, and quick for games of its type, two player game. Highly recommended for wargamers, not recommended for non-wargamers.