I SHALL DESTROY ALL THE CIVILIZED PLANETS
(this variant previously published at http://lorddicely.blogspot.co.uk/2014/03/lord-of-ringsnazgul...)
Dear friends, in my last post I laid out my case for Lord of the Rings: Nazgul. Today, I suggest a way to make an unfairly maligned game better still. It does, however, require a rather special item; the cube tower from a copy of Wallenstein (or, failing that, Wallenstein's Japanese retheme, Shogun; not to be confused with the Milton Bradley game Shogun, now known as Ikusa, which gave Lord of the Rings: Nazgul its auction mechanic).
Essentially, this variant simply switches the cup and its cube-drawing mechanic with the more exciting tower-drop of Wallenstein. Not only is this mechanic more physically compelling, but also allows faster combat and greater potential for unexpected outcomes.
Play the game exactly as usual, with the following changes:
Optionally at setup, seed the tower with a few Free Peoples Armies (returning any that fall through to the supply). I would suggest 2-3 per difficulty level you are playing at above Easy. This will have a small effect in adjusting starting difficulty.
In general, battles are treated normally, except that the entire location is determined at once using the cube tower, and cubes stay in the tower between rounds (rather than the cup being emptied again).
As normal, all players present at a location decide how many troops they will commit to the ensuing battle. These cubes are taken from the players' army trackers (following normal limits according to current Nazgul level). Players must always commit their Nazgul cube, if they have it. Select cubes for the opposition as normal (i.e. leave Free Peoples Armies and Hero trackers where they are, and pick a number of cubes equal to the respective positions on the track). Select Heroes using cards as normal, and remove cubes of Free Peoples Armies if the total Terror of Nazgul present is greater than Valor of the Heroes.
Now, instead of placing cubes in the cup, throw all cubes into the tower. Thus, in this variant, draw limits mean nothing, and contributing Nazgul fight simultaneously. Cubes which fall through to the tray are treated as if they had been pulled from the cup. Follow damage assignment as normal with these cubes.
If some Nazgul cubes become stuck in the tower (and they probably will sooner or later), then some Nazgul will not be available to be returned to players. Those cubes which do fall through and are present belong to the players in the battle according to this turn's play order; i.e. if the second and third player this round have contributed to the battle, but only one Nazgul cube has fallen through the tray, then it belongs to the second player. The Witch Lord takes lowest priority. Cubes stuck in the tower thematically represent Nazgul and monster packs drawn away on other minor tasks at the bidding of their dark lord, and will return at some unexpected moment to take the heroes by surprise. Just because a player is without their cube, that does not prevent them sending their armies to a location to battle as normal; the only restriction is that they won't be able to enter a Nazgul cube into the battle.
If there are more Nazgul cubes present than players (which is entirely possible, particularly when there are Nazgul cubes stuck in the tower from previous battles but only a single Nazgul in the current battle), then the extra Nazgul cubes belong to whoever is at the battle but currently without their personal Nazgul cube; again, if more than one player qualifies, then precedence follows the current turn order. For instance, in a four-player game where players who are currently first and third in the turn order are without their Nazgul cubes, a single excess Nazgul cube belongs to the player first in the turn order. The third player will have to wait a little longer for their cube to re-enter play. If there are more Nazgul cubes that cube-requiring players present at that battle, then the extra cube(s) belong to those not at the battle in turn order priority; these have sneakily sent their forces to one battle but made a surprise appearance at this one (thus reclaiming some of the glory they will have lost while sojourning in the tower). Again, the Witch Lord takes lowest priority. A player entering the battle as an extra Nazgul cube contributes battle damage as normal, and receives favor as normal (despite not having sent any armies). Thus those who lose their Nazgul cube, and hence have been at a disadvantage, will have some of that disadvantage repaid when they return. If all players have their cubes, then the extra cube represents the return of the Witch Lord, who will now be available again.
More player armies may leave the tower than entered it; these contribute their damage as normal, and also become available if they survive; thus it is possible to end a battle with more forces than you started with (as forces which had previously gone AWOL make surprise attacks on the field of battle). If more cubes of the "good guys" fall out then went in, then that's fine too. Damage is given to Free Peoples Armies as normal (i.e. on the track on the board); extra "good guy" cubes do not need to be killed (but do contribute their damage to the Nazgul forces).
If more Heroes fall out of the tower then went in (and hence there are more Hero cubes than cards), then you must provide further Hero cards (from hand or from the deck). These Heroes are immediately added to the battle; their Valor has no effect, but Hero Calls still function as normal and can draw one more Hero to the battle. As with extra Free Peoples Armies, these extra heroes do not affect the number needed to defeat the area (Hero cubes are still tracked on the location track), but do contribute their damage, and priority order for taking damage follows the normal rules combining all Heroes present.
Once the damage done by both sides has been calculated from the cubes present, Hero/Free Peoples Army tracks are reduced as normal; slain player army cubes are returned to the supply. Favour and VPs are split among all contributing Nazgul irrespective of their level of contribution (rounding up if uneven, as normal), though they must have contributed at least one cube to the battle (which may include their own Nazgul cube).
Nazgul cubes are returned to their owners, as indicated above. Surviving player armies are placed back on player tracks. If more than one player has contributed to the battle, cubes are divided evenly between contributors; first split Orcs, then Trolls, then Mumakil. Do not round up; only the cubes surviving are available. Players may negotiate, with all final decisions being made by the contributor who is nearest the beginning of the current turn order; however, no player can have more than one cube than the worst-off player. Once one player has a cube, they may not take a second until all players present have received at least one, and so forth.
In case of game effects which cause redraw actions: pick up any cubes which are in the tray, and throw them back into the tower, thus redoing the “draw”.
By comparison to the standard game rules:
- Battles move faster as there is no draw limit; I initially thought this would make the game easier for the players, but...
- Nazgul do tend to spend some time in the tower (and the Witch Lord will frequently be unavailable); with the addition of the surprise Heroes, these changes more than compensate for the quicker battle resolution.
- Generally, this variant is "swingier" and more random, and also I would say is more difficult.
So there you have it. If you are lucky enough to have access to both a cube tower and a copy of Lord of the Rings: Nazgul, have at it, and see if you find it improves the game as much as I have.