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Subject: Free People Strategy Guide rss

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Dave J McWeasely
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This is an introduction to playing the Free People for the in basic War of the Ring. The Free People are very difficult to play well initially, and the choices can be overwhelming. If you're feeling overwhelmed, then this article is for your relief.

Chapter 1: How to Win

Prepare in secret for a big push, hiding your intentions from the Shadow player, and then pouncing at the last moment!

You win either by destroying the One Ring or by capturing two Shadow strongholds. In my experience, you can't really choose how you're going to win, you try to pursue both options efficiently, and later if the clouds clear on one path or the other you commit and hope for a breakthrough!

"But why can't I just pick either Military or Ring early and go solely for that? Won't that be more efficient?"

Surprisingly, no! It won't be more efficient.

Take the example of separating all companions from the Fellowship and pursuing a military victory fairly early. If the Shadow sees a corrupted fellowship with zero companions parked near the Misty Mountains, he's not going to bother allocating eyes to the hunt pool. He's going to bend his entire will to military might, because he knows the ring can't make it to the cracks without corrupting itself to death. That means he allocates 0 eyes to the hunt pool, effectively giving him an extra die per turn. Also, the Witch King is free to redraw powerful military cards and recycle fellowship corruption cards for battle effects. Also, if you do succeed in capturing one of his strongholds, he can afford to drop everything and throw orcs at you until he retakes it. If the game goes to turn 20, he doesn't mind at all. He has all the time in the world!

The other example is completely ignoring the military defense and moving with the ring at maximum speed. Various rules mechanics make this very damaging for the fellowship, since multiple moves in a turn are almost certain to lead to drawn tiles. A competent Witch King can simply redraw character cards and the fellowship will bleed itself white by the time it gets to Mordor.

The middle road means the shadow has to split the difference too. This hurts him more than you. If you have a medium ring threat, the shadow has to put at least one eye in the hunt pool, meaning that if you do succeed in nabbing one of his strongholds, he can't necessarily drop everything to smoke you out. Also, the Witch King should probably be redrawing character cards come turn 4 on, which weakens his military machine, making it easier for you draw the game out more turns, making fellowship movement safer...

Chapter 2: Care and Feeding of your Dice

Action dice are the primary resource in the game. If you don't get more than four, fast, you will lose. You'll just be too exhausted to take advantage of opportunities as the game creates them.

So you have to memorise the ways to get your 5th, and preferably 6th die.

The 5th die usually comes from Gandalf. I wrote a little poem to help you remember the heuristic for using Gandalf the Grey:


See Gandalf.
See Gandalf Die.
Die, Gandalf, Die!
Die-duh-die-Die-die!

First aid for you?
NO CAN DO!


Move the Gandalf-guided fellowship as fast as possible, especially if the hunt pool is intimidating. If you're not rolling enough character action die results, now might be a good time to spend your first elven ring. After that, a Will of the West should come along sooner or later, and you can stand up Gandalf the White in Fangorn. Good work!

The 6th die is harder to get, and therefore less lucritive. You have to get Strider to a major Gondor settlement, and you have to do it without using a crippling number of your valuable character dice. Usually that means the Fellowship is on the eaves of Lorien, and you separate him with a card like There and Back Again, played on a Palantir. Depending on the game length it may not be worth it as early as turn 4 or it may as late as turn 8.

Now to talk about how to spend the dice:

Character: 33% of your dice will be character dice. They should virtually all go to moving the fellowship. I'll talk about the rare occasions when you shouldn't in its own chapter below.

Muster: Preferably mustering a FP nation that is in play. That means the nation is at war, with hostile armies actively tearing up its lawn. Musters in this situation will pay efficiently in shredding SP armies. Failing that either muster a strategic nation down the political track, or play a reinforcement card.

Army/Muster: same as muster, but they can also be used to annoy the shadow by moving armies defensively or even threatening cheap attacks on Shadow victory points.

Event: Using these to draw a card is lame. So you want to play a card. Particularly, you use cards with event dice to move/separate companions. Also, if you have an in play nation, you'll want to use all your musters on that, while your reinforcement cards for irrelevant nations wait for a spare event die.

Will of the West: If you can promote G or A for the extra die, do it. If you have a very efficient option, take it. Otherwise push the fellowship forward.

Elven Rings: Use them when they turn a very inefficient action die into a very efficient action die. And be mindful that an elven ring in Sauron's possession roughly halves your chances of sucker-punch military victory.

Chapter 3: Companions to the Fellowship

Gandalf and Aragorn generate dice, and so have already been covered.

Boromir, Legolas, and Gimli are all almost identical. They soak decent corruption, and nicely help small armies in the field. You should keep them in the fellowship and use them to absorb corruption with one exception, see below.

Merry and Pippin have a kind of limited reincarnation ability like Gandalf, so they should be saved until last and then sacrificed to absorb corruption.

Gollum is the best guide, and the only way to reliably move through Mordor quickly. You'll want to hit Mordor with 0 corruption and Gollum as guide, preferably with a pair of healing cards squirrelled away in your hand.

Strider is an interesting guide, he can move the fellowship almost as fast as gollum, but at the cost of crippling the military defense. The military defense is already crippled by the political track. No sense in compounding it further in your first couple games. Ideally he should leave to become Aragorn, or failing that he should guide as long as possible then fall on a '3' tile.

Chapter 4: When NOT to Move the Fellowship

Outside Mordor: Move at least once per turn. Because it's hard to roll a '6', the shadow has a poor chance to hunt you even with many dice in the hunt pool.

You choose not to move the fellowship a second time if you're facing an almost-certain tile draw and waiting will make it better! If you've already moved this turn against 3 dice, and Gandalf is gone, well, no sense in being a damned fool about it. Can you move some companions or armies or play a card with your leftover swords?

Other times, time isn't going to fix the problem. Usually this is being revealed in Moria or some other situation with lots of rerolls. Unfortunately you have to grit your teeth and push though, because otherwise you're giving up the ring game entirely.

Inside Mordor: With Gollum, go slow if there are more than three dice in the pool and drawing the eye would severely cripple your chances of winning.

Chapter 5: Fellowship Routes from Rivendell to Mordor

It may be helpful to open the map in another window: http://www.bggfiles.com/bggimages/pic58943.jpg

There are only two routes that are worthwhile.

One goes through Moria, then makes a diagonal line over the map to Mordor. This one passes within one space of Lorien and of Minas Tirith. This is a ten-move route, and should be taken when available.

The other goes through High Pass, then Old Forest Road, then comes within 1 of Woodland Realm and Dale, then doglegs south through the Rhovinions to Mordor. It is length 11. Take this when the Moria route would clearly force you to draw a tile above and beyond the one necessary to kill Gandalf.

Chapter 6: Defensive Military Theory

The purpose of your military is to play for time, and force Sauron to take risks. Force him to take enough risks, and later or sooner he'll get burned.

Most defensive victories are broken sieges, where the Shadow has paid to marshal and move a force to one of your strongholds, only to run out of troops and have to bring in reinforcements, or even better give up all together. The latter leaves you with a nation in play, and with regional military superiority. Then it's time to think about committing to military victory.

How to achieve a broken siege? Well you have to chew up an unexpectedly large number of Shadow armies. The best way to do that is to have five army units and 2-4 leaders packed into each of your strongholds before they come under siege, and then tempt the Shadow to try to take them anyway. Keep in mind, this is just the ideal, you'll not achieve it in practice. Each extra hit point of army you can squirrel into a stronghold will take out geometrically more enemies than the one before it. For this reason if you can get 5 armies in, get whanged on for a while, then play the stronghold reinforcement card, the result may very well be a broken siege.

If you're new to estimating probabilities in this game, and you don't have a good feel for, say, whether three besieged elites + leader can hold off nine orcs and five Nazgul, you should play around with the Siege Simulator web application at http://www.osaurus.us/~dm/wotr/siege.html until you can guess the major trends.

If a companion would make the difference between defeat and a broken siege, it is often worth separating a new one (typically with Gwaihir the Windlord or We Prove the Swifter, since they go through siege lines), and even using a precious character result. This is because a broken siege costs the Shadow a handfull of dice, which is often more valuable to you than the corruption absorption of the character. If you can do it, you probably should do it.

Chapter 7: Defense Nation by Nation

It may be helpful to open the map in another window: http://www.bggfiles.com/bggimages/pic58943.jpg

Gondor

Gondor contains two strongholds with one city between them. Minas Tirith is the most interesing stronghold on the board, since it shares a postal code with about 20 slavering Mordor orcs, but can be quite strongly defended via the following trick: On an early turn, spend one die to muster Gondor one step towards war. When Sauron angles for Minas Tirith, he'll have to attack your small garrison in Osgiliath first. If the garrison survives, retreat it someplace annoying. In any case, Gondor is now at War, and you then use the very next action die to recruit an elite into Minas Tirith. A compotent Shadow will put you under siege directly after that; however, that already makes the magical 5 army units. Further, two of them are Elites, and you have a leader. Dice can be fickle, but it's a fairly common occurence for that two-die stronghold to hold out against 15 orcs.

The city of Pelargir provides a similar tripwire defence for the stronghold Dol Amroth. Unfortunately, there is a Shadow strategy card called The Corsairs of Umbar. It lets the Southrons teleport an army directly from Umbar to a coastal Gondor region, usually Dol Amroth. If you see a sudden and inscrutable build up in Umbar, then Sauron either is holding this card, or bluffing you. In either case, if Gondor is in play, look to the defense of Dol Amroth.

Rohan

Because of the complexities of the Ent cards, Rohan is by far the most subtle FP nation.

Rohan mainly has to worry about Orthanc invading Helm's Deep or Edoras. The small force at the Fords of Isen should ideally find a way into Helm's Deep, rather than the historical result of being killed in the initial attack. But if Helm's Deep does fall, Rohan often can still achieve greatness because the Shadow leaves another Rohan settlement in play. This leads to an unchecked military buildup in Rohan teamed with the combat effects on the Ent cards - the result is explosively dangerous to the Shadow. See the next chapter for a more precise definition of "unchecked military buildup".

The three Ent cards: Treebeard, Entmoot, and Hurons, are unfortunately quite complicated, and you must master them in order to properly defend Rohan. They let you damage enemy armies in the Orthanc region, and if the army is wiped out, so is Saruman! This means the Shadow loses his extra action die, and that Isengard elites lose their leadership. Early in the game, the Shadow won't want this, and won't have enough Isengard troops to both invade Rohan and garrison Isengard, so if you manage to post Gandalf in Fangorn, this should be sufficient to stave off an attack. Carefully examining the card text, you'll notice that if you have Gandalf in Fangorn you can play an extra character card after playing an ent card. This means that if you have all three ent cards in hand, you can conceivably wipe out 9 armies in Orthanc in a single action (4.5 is the average). There are lots of little nuances in the wording of the Ent cards I'm glossing over here, so try to read it carefully to yourself once per turn, if Rohan is at all in play.

The Dwarfs

The dwarfs have one major responsibility: Defend Edoras. Unfortunately, they start out politically hogtied, so this is hard. Try to get the Iron Hills dwarf to Edoras, and if possible retreat the Dale guys in with Scouts. Mainly, though, in play dwarfs are seen with a card that puts them to war: Book of Mazarbul. Other than getting lucky with that, Erebor is basically indefensible against a compotent Shadow. The good news is that after it falls, the remaining Dwarf muster bag can be dedicated to defending The Gray Havens way over on the west side of the map.

The North
The north has a huge muster bag - as big as Gondor or Rohan. Yet their capital of Dale is indefensible. Their other city, The Shire, is often so far away as to be bypassed. That makes them an almost entirely offensive force that the shadow must react to. This means the modern Shadow players don't attack the North until the endgame. So much for the North.

The Elven Triple Whammie

Elves are sitting on the most victory points, and there's one maneuver that can truly defraud you of them. If you never muster the elves towards war, a careful Shadow can put three of the four Elven strongholds under siege without you being able to muster any of them. Thus they're all under-defended and defeatable by even the most modest Shadow armies. The Shadow can take his time and reduce them one at a time, for a total of six victory points, without any real risk of other nations going to war. This is known (to me, anyway) as the Elven Triple Whammie.

If you think you're going to get Triple Whammied, you may have to muster the elves once or twice down the political track, so that (combined with the political ramifications of putting the other strongholds in siege) the last stronghold will get a chance to muster before going under siege.

Lastly, never put more than two elven regulars in any one stronghold. Because of counter mix problems, that will mean other strongholds won't have enough regulars to bust down elites. Elves have enough problems without a hit killing a full-blown elite for free.

Chapter 8: The Unchecked Military Buildup

I defined a Free nation as in play if it has the ability to muster new units. Sometimes the Shadow will allow a Free nation to remain in play for over a turn. If all the requirements are filled (muster bag full, lots of muster dice, etc) the result is an unchecked Free military buildup. In the endgame these rouge armies are very flexible, as they can usually liberate Free victory points, or take the offensive to Shadow strongholds. They stack well with Gandalf or other companions. Create unchecked military buildups whenever possible, they're much superior to mustering a peaceful nation towards war.

Unchecked military buildups are particularly good in towns and cities, since they can be left undefended without losing inordinate victory points.

Chapter 9: When to Commit Militarily

The one turn grab: You drop whatever you're doing and decide to pursue a military victory when you can see how to get and hold four Shadow victory points. If you need companions from the fellowship, take 'em. If you need character dice, take 'em. The idea is to go from 0 to Win before the Shadow can react. Typically that's when you've got 5-6 active dice, and the Shadow rolled lots of Eyes or Events, and so is basically sitting out the turn. Or maybe your opponent overcommitted to an attack and the dice burned him. Whatever the reason, he's been caught off-balance and you're ready to win now.

The Two Turn Grab: Okay, sometimes you do have to split military victory over two turns, but in these cases you are very dependant on the second turn shadow roll being bad. It helps if you've assassinated a minion or two. It also helps if they have no Elven Rings. You have to be in such a strong position at the end of the first turn, that you can withstand counter attacks on both your armies, even in the face of SP cardplay. Good luck.

The Grab and Lurk: If your ring game is going well, sometimes you can get a Shadow stronghold and the Shadow doesn't have time to get it back. Obviously, this is great, since it means you're effectively not having to "commit" at all. Its rare to capture the initiative this thoroughly though.

Chapter 10: When to Commit Fellowship

Ideally the Fellowship just needs to spend 15 character action dice to win the game. Realistically its more like 25 dice. In truth, the strategy I've counciled up until last chapter is already "committed" to the Ring. There's not much more you can do.

Chapter 11: How to Die, Kicking and Screaming

If you're losing militarily, put all your effort into not losing this turn. Sometimes you can liberate Pelargir or Lorien to stay in the game another turn. Sometimes the dice just go sour on the SP. Make him roll those dice as much as you can, you've got nothing to lose.

Chapter 12: The Cards

One problem is that you have these event cards, that seem like they could be important, but you don't know how important they might turn out to be, because you've never played before!

Most of them just aren't that transcendentally great. Use them if they're convenient, if not, burn them as combat fodder or just discard them when you go above the hand limit.

The fact of the matter is, there are only five game-transforming cards the Free player has to know about:

The three Ent cards have been covered in the Rohan section.

The Corsairs of Umbar has been covered in the Gondor section.

Dead Men of Dunharrow teleports Strider/Aragorn from Rohan to (usually) Pelargir, routs any Shadow army there, then gives Strider a mini-army of his own. What this means is, even if Gondor has been completely ground under the boot of Mordor, Strider can still liberate a coronation point and get his extra die. It also can serve to relieve a close siege of Minas Tirith or Dol Amroth.

There are Muster Cards, one for each of your strongholds. These give you an elite and a little something extra. Ideally they should be used to reinforce a close siege, breaking it. If that doesn't turn out (and it seldom does), play them when you have a spare event die, or for combat effect.

Of the Other Cards, it's important to note that six of them let you move or separate companions and achieve some other effect. For example Book of Mazarbul moves companions and gets the Dwarfs to war. Don't be over-awed by the titular purpose of the card. 67% of the time it is more efficient to play them just to manipulate companions using an event die, and the extra effect goes to waste. Such are the vagaries of war.

After playing a couple times, memorise all the cards. Yes, I'm serious. Once you've read the books or seen the movies, it is not as hard as you think, because you already have the mental hooks to hang them on. Veldrin has written some good articles that provide yet another way to learn them: http://fantasyflightgames.com/wotrarticlesfpcards.html http://fantasyflightgames.com/wotrarticlesshadowcards.html . If you have the cards memorised, you don't need to lug a magnifying glass to every game to read the tiny print.


It is certainly hard deciding between the combat effects and the event effects of cards. Try to weigh the benefits of each type of play, and keep in mind that you generally don't have to pay a die to use the battle effect (the Shadow pays it for you). All this can take some time. You need not apologize for that. Everyone was overwhelmed by their choices the first time they played. The good news is it gets better with experience. The great news is: you'll probably never be underwhelmed by choices! That's what makes this such a replayable game.

Chapter 13: The Road Goes Ever On
This guide is just an introduction to Free strategy. Therefore it is conservative, trying to find the strategy the designers built into the game. There are certainly other ploys and tricks that are fun to try and even might work, for example a strategy exists of seperating all companions early then going for a quick military victory with the Elves. Another one is keeping Strider with the fellowship until the cracks of Doom. These are not covered. They are, however, a lot of fun. Also, trying to find your own strategies is a mighty fun part of the game.

Conclusion:
Push the Fellowship. Build up nations that are in play. Wait for your chance. Bluff. Then swing for the fences. Good Luck!

_________________________________________________________

And now everyone gets to point out the things I missed or am doing wrong. That's the benefit I get to writing the article. Post refinements below. I reserve the right to edit the original post to incoroprate your ideas.

The raw post text is at http://www.osaurus.us/~dm/wotr/fpguide.txt .
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Ira Fay
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Great article! Thanks for posting!
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Kevin Ruhland
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You always make good articles and sessions, keep it up

My only offering is I like to move the Minith Tiris garrason forward to Ithilan (sp) so the shadow has one round of bleeding while rolling 6s, then retreat to Minith. It accomplishes the same thing, but allows you to then muster where ever if the battle goes well or add a leader.
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Adrian B
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Great guide, thanks.
I think you may have made a typo with the Dwarfs as I don't see how they can defend Edoras.
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Robert Beaudoin
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Yeah, I think he meant Erebor. And thank you very much for your very useful guide! I'm looking forward to my first game of WotR (I recently bought the game (french version), and I'm waiting for the occasion to introduce my gaming partners to the game)!

Good work!
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Nathan Johnson
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"The other goes through High Pass, then Old Forest Road, then comes within 1 of Woodland Realm and Dale, then doglegs south through the Rhovinions to Mordor. It is length 11. "

Good guide. But, unless i am reading the map wrong you can't jumpr from Old Forest Road to Northern Rhovanion. This would make this trek 12.
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Nathan Johnson
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My bad, sorry, just checked again...it is clear on the real map but the web map doesn't show the border.

sorry...
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Randall Silver
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Thanks for the advice! I put some of your ideas to use (not all of them, since I'm fairly new), and I managed to win with the Free Peoples.
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Dave J McWeasely
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Thank you for choosing:
McWeasely's
1000s of One Rings Served.
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The Grouch
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Excellent article, but map link is broken - may have been a victim of the image server rehost.
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Jordan Elton
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Gret article! Thanks a ton!
Do you have this article updated for the expansion? Please do so if you don't!
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Brian Peters
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As someone who's recently badly lost a game as the Free People, this provided some interesting things to think about. Thanks!

I did have one big question though:
What's up with the putting units into Strongholds before they are under siege? Is that really legal? And if so, does it mean you can have 10 units in the main region and 5 in the Stronghold?
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Kevin Chapman
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fnord3125 wrote:
What's up with the putting units into Strongholds before they are under siege? Is that really legal? And if so, does it mean you can have 10 units in the main region and 5 in the Stronghold?
He's talking about having units in the Stronghold Region. The only time units are actually considered to be in the Stronghold itself is when it is under siege. The maximum number of units the owning side can have in a Stronghold Region is five when it's under siege and ten when it's not.
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Dan Fielding
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I don't understand what you mean by the Witch King "recycling" cards. Is that something from the Expansion? Does your article relate to the basic gome or the Expansion rules (in which case it should be under that fora...)

Although the rules are so badly organized, I could be missing something.
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Dan Fielding
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The idea is to go from 0 to Win before the Shadow can react. Typically that's when you've got 5-6 active dice, and the Shadow rolled lots of Eyes or Events, and so is basically sitting out the turn.
>

The rules don't say that you get to examine the other player's dice. That's not the way we have been playing. Is "open information" important to the FP chances of winning?
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Ken
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Quote:
Because it's hard to roll a '6', the shadow has a poor chance to hunt you even with many dice in the hunt pool.

It doesn't hurt to know the odds, though.

When you move the Fellowship the first time, the odds of being discovered based on the number of dice in the hunt pool are:

Dice/% Discovery
1/16.67
2/30.56
3/42.13
4/51.77
5/59.81
6/66.51
7/72.09

So if there are 4 dice in the pool, it's a coin flip that you'll be found. The second move is obviously more dangerous:

Dice/% Discovery
1/33.33
2/55.56
3/70.37
4/80.25
5/86.83
6/91.22
7/94.15

So only take that second shot when you're sure you can take the hit coming from the hunt (or you want to be found - like getting Gandalf killed).
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Dave J McWeasely
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Gronak wrote:
I don't understand what you mean by the Witch King "recycling" cards. Is that something from the Expansion?
Check out the Witch King's "sorcerer" ability, on his character card: In the first round of any combat in which the WK is present and you play a combat card, draw a card.

Thus the WK has a lot of crunch power. He can wade in and drop avalanches of combat cards on the Free People, not to mention trade weak cards for strong cards.

Gronak wrote:
McWeasely wrote:

The idea is to go from 0 to Win before the Shadow can react. Typically that's when you've got 5-6 active dice, and the Shadow rolled lots of Eyes or Events, and so is basically sitting out the turn.


The rules don't say that you get to examine the other player's dice. That's not the way we have been playing. Is "open information" important to the FP chances of winning?
The rules don't say that, huh? Well that is definitely the way everyone plays. Like in a 20-person tournament with 3 continents represented, no one raised this objection. I'd say it's absolutely key to the way the game is played.
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Calavera Despierta
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Gronak wrote:
The rules don't say that you get to examine the other player's dice.

Not that you yourself would cheat, but it seems to me that if the dice are not rolled PUBLICLY and then spent in full view of one's opponent, cheating could occur. "Oh, oops yeah, this is definitely a muster" or "Oh look, four more die for the hunt pool!"

So no, the rules do not specifically state that an opponent gets to "examine the dice," because it's implied in the fact that the rules DO state that both players roll their dice on the board SIMULTANEOUSLY and PUBLICLY.

I gotta be honest, are you joking around here? Because there are a TON of rules that you could easily get wrong playing this game, but this does not seem like one of them.
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Adam vanLangenberg
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Awesome post, thanks!

Also, both the map image and link to the siege simulator are broken.
 
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Ralf Schemmann
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vanadamme wrote:
Also, both the map image and link to the siege simulator are broken.

That's not a surprise in a post that is 6.5 years old.
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John Jersey
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vanadamme wrote:
Awesome post, thanks!

Also, both the map image and link to the siege simulator are broken.

There is a great map image with all the tracks to the crack of doom in the War of the Ring Strategy 101 #4 The Quest of the Fellowship under the files section here: http://www.boardgamegeek.com/filepage/75350/war-of-the-ring-...
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