War of the Ring
A surprise call late Saturday night by Mike opened the possibility of playing War of the Ring on Sunday. I quickly erased everything on my busy schedule (actually I had nothing else to do whatsoever) and wrote in WAR OF THE RING with a thick, black magic marker. I stared at the words in awe as if Death himself had spoken them.
Sunday morning, we spent about 90 minutes setting up the game and going over the rules. We weren't sure that we would be able to finish in one day, so we setup the game on his beautiful Subbuteo table. This gave us plenty of room for all the extra stuff, and allowed us to stand at the table as we planned our evil--and I suppose good--plots.
We weren't in any particular rush, ate a bit, and stopped a few times to lookup rules and check the FAQ. With all that, my first game played in about 6 hours. Just to be extra geeky, Mike downloaded the LotR soundtrack on his laptop and we listened to that while playing.
War of the Ring is basically a simple wargame with some alternate victory conditions. It is not card-driven as BGG suggests. Cards modify game states, affect combat, and create events. Your choices are driven by die rolls. At the start of each round, both players roll a number of dice. At the beginning of the game, this is 7 for the Shadow player and 4 for the Free People player, and can be increased up to 10 and 6 respectively.
One result of a die roll is an Army action, which lets you move 2 Armies or make a single attack into an adjacent region. Combat is simple. Both the attacker and defender roll a die for each Unit (Elite or Regular) present up to a maximum of 5 dice. For each friendly Leader (Leader figure, Companion, Minion, Nazgul) present, a player may re-roll a die. Rolls of 5-6 are hits. Each hit removes a Regular Unit or reduces an Elite Unit to a Regular Unit.
This process is repeated until the attacker decides to stop, the defender is eliminated, or the defender chooses to retreat. Before each set of die rolls, each player may play one card to affect the current round of combat. There are defensive benefits to being in a Stronghold, a City, or a Fortification. The Shadow wins if it can take 10 points worth of regions. The Free People win with only 4. Strongholds are worth 2, and Cities are worth 1.
Getting new Units onto the board is done using a Muster die roll. You can only do this in friendly regions with Strongholds, Cities, or Towns, and only if the Nation in question is "At War". This status is obtained by moving a counter for each nation along a political track. Muster rolls, special card events, and being attacked are the normal ways to bring a nation closer to it.
The Fellowship itself starts in Rivendell and moves across the map in secret. Each time you use a die roll to move them, you advance a counter that shows how far away from your last known location you are, but not where. Each time you are revealed by the Shadow player's action (or choose to reveal yourself), you must place the Fellowship figure on a region no more spaces away from its last known position than the counter indicates. This is similar to an old space wargame from 1972 called 4000 AD.
The Shadow player can set aside a number of dice (rather than roll them) for The Hunt. Each time the Fellowship moves, a number of normal d6's is rolled equal to the number of Hunt dice. Any 6's rolled means the Fellowship has been found, and a tile is drawn from a bag to indicate how much Corruption is taken. If the Fellowship reaches 12 Corruption, they succumb to The Ring and lose the game. There are a couple of unpleasant ways to prevent being found.
And, of course, despite the miltary situation, the Free People win if The Ring is destroyed.
The Design and Theme
This is really quite a nice piece of work. The map, the units, the actions, the events, and the choices are all evocative of the story. You can choose to follow similar paths and plots, or make your own. If Sauron concentrates all his will on finding The Ring (ie uses his dice mostly for The Hunt), then he sacrifices many military options, and vice versa.
I am a little confused about the Fellowship movement. I don't see why you would ever take any path but the one through Moria. Since nothing can interact with you at all (other than Corruption), why would you ever take a longer route? Perhaps I missed a rule or some nuance in my first play.
That being said, I found myself almost ignoring the Fellowship, reacting more to my opponent's military moves. In fact, in that regard, it had an almost Twilight Struggle feel to it.
The physical design is a big issue. The image above shows the actual set I played with. Each nation's pieces have been spray-painted the same color as their map border. This is crucial to effective play, and even with that, there are some difficulties.
Some of the map locations are way too small for the number of pieces that would be typically placed in them. Cities, Towns, and Forts are poorly differentiated and don't stand out enough on the board. There are also many other size issues, like information counters and text on cards.
In one section of the rules, it implies that all Strongholds, Cities, Towns, and Fortifications are Settlements. Then in another it says, "Fortifications or Settlements", while in another it says, "Stronghold or Settlement". The good news is that this is one of the few ambiguities.
Physical Design: B
Play: B+ (very tentative)
War of the Ring image by msherwoo