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Lord of the Rings: The Confrontation Deluxe Edition Review

Well, this is my second review for BGG as I try to acquire GG for an avatar and more microbadges. Anyway, on to the review. I won’t be covering all the rules because Tom Vasel has already done this better then I could possibly hope to. I will be discussing the options available and my thoughts on game play.

In a nutshell, this is the best two player game I have ever played. I have owned this game about 3 months and I have easily played it 50 times which is quite a feat considering what little gaming time I am able to muster. What makes this game so great? You have; the quick setup, quick play – we typically play on my lunch hour where we get in two games where the players switch sides after the first game, small amount of room needed (although this element is stronger in the original game), excellent balance (more on this later), and high degree of replayability due to multiple options and strategies. I am also very partial to the theme, I’m not a big LOTR fan but fantasy is probably my favorite theme. I know others have stated that the theme is pasted on but I didn’t get that feeling at all here, I feel that the game is rich with theme.

A quick word on the mechanics of the game and then on to the differences. The game plays somewhat like Stratego in that an opponent's playing pieces can not be seen until they meet in the same board location. Each side has 9 different characters. Each character has a special ability printed on their character card as well as a strength value. The special abilities alter the rules somehow. A character can only move one space forward unless their special ability says otherwise. When characters meet in the same board location the characters are revealed to each other and the text is reviewed to see if one character defeats another. If nothing changes from the character text battle takes place by each character playing one of 9 cards they have in their hand. The cards have either a strength value or a special text. Text (i.e. retreat, ignore opponent’s strength etc…) is resolved first and if both characters are still in the same area any applicable strength cards played are added to the strength value of the character. Lower total value character is removed. In case of a tie both characters die.
(We’ve always played the magic card where before flipping the cards over the magic card player declares his card and what he is replacing it with – I have recently read on the geek where this may be wrong and the correct way is to see the opponent’s card and then declare the substitution card which would make the magic card very powerful – but both sides have them so I guess it’s okay)

The Confrontation Deluxe Edition offers a variety of options for play. The original game is the most balanced. In the original game the dark characters are much, much stronger than the light characters. The light side has a number of characters that can instantly kill one certain dark character. If the light side can use this ability multiple times they are doing well. The light characters can win through sacrifice, so dark player if you’re losing your characters at a rate of one to one with the light side, you’re losing! The light player can win by one method – get Frodo into Mordor. The dark player can win by killing Frodo or getting 3 dark characters into the shire. I have never seen the dark player get three characters into the shire in the classic game so it seems best to concentrate on killing that pesky hobbit. Elliott and I have played this so many times, each of us taking different sides and the wins are pretty much balanced for the dark and light side – a balanced game.

The classic game also includes two special cards for each side. The light has Shadowfax which basically allows you to move an additional space. I used to save Shadowfax until the end to race Frodo into Mordor but lately I have been using Shadowfax to jet an instant kill character to his opponent. It guarantees you can make that character’s ability useful. The other light card is Gandalf The White which allows you to bring dead Gandalf back to life in a certain location if it is open – this takes the place of your regular turn. The dark player has the Palantir which allows the dark player to see (reveal what characters) are in a specific board location. The other dark player card is Recall to Mordor which allows the dark player to bring a character from anywhere on the board back to Mordor – this takes the place of a regular turn. This card is very useful for bringing Saruman back after he has cut a bloody swath down the side of the board.

In the variant game some of the characters for each side change but all their abilities change. The variant game is supposed to represent the light side fighting back against the dark side so the strengths are much more equal. I find the variant game to be slightly out of balance with the light having a small advantage. The light side can form a wedge with Sam, Aragorn, Gollum and Gandalf that is pretty much unbeatable. If you switch Gollum with Sam when Gollum is attacked Sam’s strength is equal to that of his attacker which Gandalf then boosts. An Elven cloak insures victory for the light side. To make matters worse for the dark side when Frodo dies Sam becomes the new ring bearer. So now the dark player has to kill Frodo and Sam. The dark player can also win by getting the Witch King into the shire instead of three characters but the Witch King is weak and has no special abilities.

There are two new special cards for the players. The light side has A King Revealed (AKR) which replace the light side regular turn. AKR has the light player reveal Aragorn to force the dark player to move a specific playing piece (not character) on the dark player’s turn. This is great in the draft game (below) for getting that d**n Balrog off the tunnel. The other light card is Gwaihir The Windlord (GTW). GTW enables the light player to instantly retreat after the characters are revealed. This card makes the light side too powerful! It’s too darn hard to kill Gandalf already and when you carefully work Saruman (instant Gandalf kill) to Gandalf’s space only to have Gandalf instantly retreat sideways to where it’s impossible to get to him. I feel this card further tips the balance to the light side. The dark player gets the Dark Of Mordor which allows the dark player an additional move of a different character into an empty space (meh). The other card is the Crebain Of Dunland which the dark player uses in place of his regular turn. The Crebain lets the dark player identify a light side playing piece. That playing piece is revealed to the dark player for the remainder of the game. When we first started playing we thought the dark player could identify a character (show me Gandalf!) and this card seemed a decent counter to GTW. Later we learned on BGG that it’s playing piece. This card is not so great anymore.

The Deluxe Edition has classic game and variant characters printed back to back so players can also play an amalgam of the two games. To do this each player secretly decides which character he is going to use and then slides the character into a base. After all 9 characters per side are chosen the players let each other know what characters they are using through the use of supplied tokens. More variety that increases the replayability.

There is also another variation which is the same as the draft game only the players don’t let the other player know who they have chosen. Imagine the light player’s surprise when a boosted Treebeard makes it into Fangorn only to be lumberjacked by classic Orcs that instantly kill when they attack. We always play the “blind” draft now.

One other game variation I would like to try is for each player to secretly pick two special cards. These are kept secret from the other player until played. I think this would be a neat little variation.

So, to summarize, in this edition you get: the classic game, the classic game with special cards, the variant game, the variant game with special cards, the draft game (with or without special cards) and the “blind” draft game (with or without special cards), and possibly the special card draft game. That’s a lot of variety for a little game.

I rate this game a 9, try it – you’ll like it

* edited for typo
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