Lord of the Rings: Sauron
English language edition
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The second expansion for The Lord of the Rings board game adds a whole new dimension to the game play. With the Sauron expansion, the fellowship of Hobbits are no longer competing solely against the game and its boards. In Sauron, one player takes on the role of the dark lord and seeks to thwart the fellowship's crucial mission.
The dark figure of a black rider joins the eye of Sauron on the master board, racing towards the fellowship with the help of new cards that are the domain of the dark lord alone. Now when the fellowship discusses plans of how to pass the next board or event and compare resources, the dark lord is listening, and using that knowledge against them!
If Reiner Knizia's Lord of the Rings board game set a new standard in co-operative gameplay while also giving us a great Lord of the Rings game and a unique and enjoyable gaming experience -- and it did do all of these things -- what would an expansion that converted one of the players into the Opponent do to the game?
It made it even more terrifying!
I can't say enough good about this series of games. True, the base game gets fairly easy with repeated plays (but surely you've picked up the incredible Friends & Foes expansion by now haven't you?) but even the base game holds up very well to repeated plays. Tough decisions bring up heated discussion about what cards to use and when to use them.
But what if by talking about your cards, the game could overhear you? What if Sauron could listen in and try and deduce the weaknesses of the different member of the Fellowship and exploit them?
Well, now he can. Now one player taked the role of the Dark One and tries to bring to the soujourn of the Fellowship to a quick and brutal end. Whereas in the original game, players often faced the dreaded 'roll of the Sauron die', now instead they must face 'Sauron' in the form of a player who has a two different decks of cards that he tries to use to exploit the Fellowship.
Sauron is equipped with a Black Rider piece that goes onto the corruption track at the furthest space (15), and he also has in front of him a small deck of Nazgul cards (extremely powerful action cards that cause mush grief) and a larger deck of Sauron cards (which depict 1, 2, or 3 consequences including a new consequence which allows the Black Rider piece to move on the corruption track.) Throw in 4 more 'bad' tiles into the bag, and the Fellowship is in for some trouble.
At the beginning of a turn a player must face Sauron. Sauron may play either a Sauron card, or a Nazgul card (if he has any face up at that time), or he may draw another Sauron card to his hand. If he plays a Nazgul card, the Fellowship is in trouble! If he plays the Sauron card, the target hobbit chooses one of the consequences to bear. If he draws a card, the hobbit breathes a sigh of relief...for now.
But if a player encounters the always dreadful black square, now instead of rolling the die, he must face Sauron. Sauron may either restock his hand to 6 cards, or play a Sauron card, onmly this time the hobbit must bear all the consequences on the card!
The strategy of Sauron is interesting as he 'eavesdrops' on the conversation of the hobbits trying to get a feel for which cards would devestate which players the most. If Sauron can, he wants to use many of his powerful Nazgul cards. But those are hard for him to come by. He gets one at the beginning of each board, and one each time he reaches the Ring-Bearer on the corruption track (which is only possible once per board). So the counterstrategy of the hobbits is to try and frustrate the Black Riders. For if Sauron can get the Black Riders to the Ring Bearer, Sauron gets a card and the Black Riders turn around to face Mordor. And if Sauron can return the Black Riders to Mordor before the hobbits finish the scenario, Sauron wins the game! Dark fiend!
The Fellowship has some new tricks up their sleeve though. 4 special help tokens get put on the secondary tracks of the first 3 boards, so when a hobbit reach the appropriate space he gets the normal reward as well as the bonus. And players also get one very powerful special action card to use once during a game to help keep Sauron at bay. Make no mistake though, With Sauron listening to everything you say, the game becomes a lot more nerve-wracking and a lot more challenging.
The addition of Sauron brings new challenges to the hobbits. Do they try and slow the Black Riders to prevent a new Nazgul card being supplied to Sauron? If they spend too much time fighting the Black Riders they might become overply distracted and make poor time on the scenario board. How much should they reveal when discussing their cards? What consequence should they take when Sauron plays a card against them? Tense decisions abound.
This expansion also includes two 'micro-expansions': one a 13-tile 'blcak tile' expansion, and the other two very powerful special cards for the fellowship to use with no cost (unlike Gandalf cards). The black tiles double the amount of bad tiles, but allow players to reject a tile they don't like with the condition being they must act on the next one drawn. It adds a lot of randomness to the game, and bad streaks of luck abound. The 2 card expansion makes life a little easier on the hobbits.
Honestly, when I heard about this expansion, it sounded lame: convert a co-op game back into a competitive one? And the contents are a small pile of cards, a small pile of tiles, and a black cloth bag to draw tiles out of. A rip off, I said to myself. But you know what? This expansion is wonderful. It's adds a new dimension to the game, new strategies, more tension, increased difficulty -- and it's all very much worth it.
Worth it? Well, Lord of the Rings isn't like any other book, and this game isn't like any other game. It is unique, incredibly well thought out, appeals to many people because of the co-operation and discussion, it has great theme integration, and it is wonderfully rendered by Tolkein artist John Howe. Sure, by the time you buy the base game and both the Friend & Foes expansion and this, the Sauron expansion, you will have shelled out a pretty penny. But keep it in good shape and see if you still aren't playing it 30 years from now. A wonderful experience.
LotR the board game, on its own, is a fascinating form of solitaire. The artwork is lovely. The play is novel. Really, though, it's solitaire. One player who knows the game well enough can simply instruct the other players in what to do, and if you have players with differing levels of experience in the game, this is what tends to happen.
The Sauron expansion fixes this. Now, the more the fellowship discusses how to solve the game, the more their opposition knows how to stop them. You get a lot of bluff and counterbluff, and if playing vs Sauron as a die was challenging before, it's terrifying now. LotR on its own I would have called a 3.5 star game. Throw the Sauron expansion on, and it becomes a classic.
This expansion is not for the faint of heart, but it is for anyone who wants a fun challenge to add to an already rocking game.
The new difficulty of playing against an actual player, as well as the game system, is a worthy addition to the quest.
It doesn't change what the fellowship has to do, but it does affect how you do it. Strategies that once worked now fall by the wayside as you try to stay alive to complete your quest.
You still work as a team, but now darkness can listen in on your huddle.
I cannot emphasize how much my friends and I love this game. Just when it seems you've mastered it, a new challenge like this comes along and a game you thought you knew becomes more complex and interesting...and fun.
Experience players take note: THIS IS FOR YOU!
Inexperienced players: Start at the beginning, but this will change the way you game forever.
This is the gold standard of gaming at it's best.
Reiner Knizia started by convincingly translating the grand design of Tolkien's novel into a board game in which players cooperate to defeat the Dark Lord. The Friends & Foes expansion offers both sides additional ways to win.
The Sauron expansion sees one player assume the role of the Dark Lord against the others. He is assisted by a deck of belligerent cards and a Dark Rider. The steed outpaces the slow but implacable Sauron on the path toward the Hobbits. The Rider unleashes Sauron's wrath by reaching the Ring Bearer and, after immediately changing direction, wins for Sauron by returning to Mordor before the end of the current scenario.
Knizia's epic continues to offer more heart-pounding adventures for the Fellowship--and for the discerning gamer.