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Ken B.
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War of the Ring--A Review






"War of the Ring" published by Fantasy Flight Games is a game depicting the struggle between the Free Peoples of Middle Earth and the evil Sauron who wishes to enslave and rule the land. The game essentially covers the events from the depature of the Fellowship from Rivendell to the climactic journey through the dark lands of Mordor by Sam and Frodo in an attempt to destroy the One Ring and rid Middle Earth of the influence of Sauron forever.

To that end, the game covers these events very well, but also allows for plenty of "what if" situations as well as deviations from the traditional narrative of the books. What if Sauron had struck quickly at Minas Tirith, before the Free Peoples could shore up their defenses there? What if Helm's Deep had fallen? What if the Fellowship had followed another path into the lands of Mordor? What if the Fellowship had never split? All of these things and more can and often do happen during a game. While the game stays very true to the spirit of the books, things can certainly turn out very differently than you'd expect.



Components

The first thing that you'll notice when you open the box is the ridiculous number of miniatures included with the game. The number and quality of them hearkens back to old school Milton Bradley titles such as Samurai Swords, Fortress America, and Axis and Allies, but even then this outdoes those titles in every way.





A view of what's inside




The board is a large two-part mounted affair and is a map of Middle-Earth, divided into different regions and sections. All of the important locations from the books are here, from the haven of Lothlorien to the Cracks of Doom itself.






An overview of the map with the armies ready for action



How do you play?

One player takes on the role of the Free Peoples and his or her opponent takes on the role of the forces of Sauron. The game provides rules also for up to four players to play, with each player splitting the roles of the various nations between them.

There are multiple paths to victory for each side. Sauron can win one of two ways--by either corrupting the Ringbearer (and claiming the ring for his own) or by capturing 10 victory points worth of cities and towns on the map. Each city and settlement of the Free Peoples that is worth victory points are marked on the map, with each city being worth 2 VP and each settlement being worth 1.

It is important for the Shadow not to get too focused on pursuing one path to victory; if he turns too much attention to the ring, his military might can be thwarted by the Free Peoples; likewise, if he spends too much of his resources on trying to destroy the Free Peoples nations, the Ringbearer will slip through his clutches and destroy the One Ring.

Those are essentially the two victory conditions for the Free Peoples--the FP player wins instantly if the Ringbearer can reach Mount Doom without being corrupted, therefore destroying the ring forever. However, the FP nations can also rise up to overthrow Sauron's oppressive yoke and can win militarily by capturing only four VP worth of Shadow strongholds. Since Sauron is so strong militarily, this is much harder than it sounds...but Sauron still needs to be aware of the threat so that victory isn't stolen from him.


So how do the two players pursue these goals? War of the Ring uses a clever action dice system where each player throws his or her action dice at the start of the turn. Each face represents potential actions that the player can take for the turn.





A view of the action dice



Instead of players taking entire turns, the turn is threaded between the two players. The player who has the most action dice available must act first, and cannot pass while he has more dice than his opponent. Then his opponent is free to respond by using one of his dice, or passing if possible.


Each facing has multiple potential units. For example, one of the facings is a "Character" result, and for the Free Peoples this can be used to advance the Fellowship, split off from the Fellowship and/or move any or all of the Companions who have separated from the Fellowship, move an army led by a Companion, and more. Once this choice is made and the action is carried out, then the die is set aside, to be re-rolled and used again next turn.


The Shadow has a natural advantage at the start of the game, having seven action dice at his disposal as opposed to only four for the Free Peoples. This means that the Shadown player will have more resources to bring to bear against the FP player. Thankfully, the nations of Middle-Earth are not alone in their struggle. All of the companions from the Fellowship are represented by their own miniature. While they begin the game in the company of Frodo and Sam (represented together on one miniature, and who will always remain with the ring), they can and often will depart from the Fellowship to help the various nations of Middle-Earth against the Shadow.





A view of some of the Companion miniatures



One of the ways they can help them is by "activating" the various nations. Much like in the books, initially the various nations of the Free Peoples (Dwarves, the North, Elves, Gondor, and Rohan) are not interested in war with Sauron, and many do not even perceive him as a true threat. To represent this, there is a political track on the board with each nations propensity for war tracked by a counter. At the beginning, only the elves are "active", perceiving Sauron and his true threat to Middle-Earth.

Nations cannot bring in new troops until they have been activated. This means that if they continue to sit unaware, the Shadow will be able to move in and crush them. With the help of the various companions however, they can learn of the impending danger of Sauron and begin mobilizing their troops to resist him.


However, the Companions also present a very real benefit to staying with Sam and Frodo. The Fellowship uses a clever hidden movement system to depict where they are in Middle-Earth. Whenever the Fellowship moves, a counter is advanced to show how far they have moved from their "last known location", which is where the Sam/Frodo mini resides. However, the faster they move, the larger the danger. Each time they move during a turn, the Shadow gets a chance to "hunt" them by rolling six-sided dice equal to the number in the Hunt Pool. For each time they move, the dice used to move them is shifted into the Hunt Pool, increasing the danger this turn for the next move. The Shadow Player may increase his odds by devoting some of his action dice at the beginning of the turn directly to the Hunt Pool, and any "Eye" results that come up during his roll are also placed there.

When the Shadow rolls, all they need is one "six" result to have successfully hunted the companions. When this happens, a tile is drawn from a bag showing the results of the hunt. Many of them feature a number, showing how much corruption that the Fellowship faces. This can be seen as Frodo feeling tempted to use the ring to escape danger or the spirit of the Fellowship being worn down from constant attack. Normally, the corruption level is advanced by the number shown on the tile. If the Corruption level reaches a certain level, Frodo is lost forever and the Shadow Player wins.

However, a companion may "sacrifice" themselves, absorbing corruption equal to their leadership rating. Usually, these companions are lost forever, but as you know, some of them have a pesky way of coming back.

If all the companions leave the fellowship, Gollum enters play and becomes their guide. He can help them be extra sneaky, but you never know if you can trust ol' "Slippery as Fishes".

This leads to the most important ability of two of the companions--Gandalf and Aragorn. At the beginning of the game, they are Gandalf the Grey and Strider, and their abilities are focused on moving the fellowship efficiently and in Strider's case very quietly.

However, if Gandalf perishes, or certain other conditions are met, he can become "Gandalf the White", powerful bane of the Nazgul. Likewise, if Strider leaves the Fellowship and reaches Minas Tirith, he can be crowned King and becomes his Aragorn persona. What is most important about these two incarnations of these two characters is that they provide an additional action dice. This is crucial in allowing the FP player more options. You have to be careful, though--if either of them die in combat, you will lose the die they provide for the rest of the game.

The Free Peoples aren't alone in having champions to aid their cause--there are miniatures representing Saruman, The Witch King, and the Mouth of Sauron. They likewise have conditions or drawbacks for being brought into play--for example, if the Witch King is brought into play all Free People's nations become active, as that sort of threat is far too great to ignore.






The treacherous Saruman plots his next move




Combat


Combat is an important part of War of the Ring, and thankfully since there is so much else going on, the combat system itself is streamlined and simplified. Each side merely tosses six-siders equal to their number of troops, and results of fives or sixes is a "hit". Each hit is removed from each side on a 1-for-1 basis.

There are more powerful versions of troops called "Elites" who can suffer a hit and instead of being removed get downgraded into a regular troop.

The reason that Elites are key is because during combat at a Stronghold, the defender is able to retreat inside. However, there is a limit of five troops in a Stronghold. Elites allow you
to "cheat" this by having more possible hits that you can take before you are wiped out.

This is called "siege", and is often a situation the Free Peoples player will find himself in. While under Siege, no new troops can be mustered there and all they can do is weather the storm outside as the Shadow player heaves himself against the walls of the Stronghold. There is a defensive advantage in that only "6" rolls will hit armies in a Stronghold, but since the sieging player is free to bring in fresh troops while the defending player cannot, time is not on the side of those who are walled inside.

Think of the dire situation facing those in Helm's Deep in The Two Towers, and you'll have an idea.





The legions of Shadow grow larger



Just like that scene, the FP can send armies--sometimes led by companions--to attack and try to drive back the siege. Copmanions are useful because they provide Leadership. Leadership allows you to re-roll a number of dice during battle equal to your total leadership. The Shadow Player can likewise utilize Leadership, as his Nazgul have it, including the Witch King who has *3* Leadership. That's where Gandalf the White truly shines--not only does he provide 3 Leadership, he negates the Leadership of all Nazgul present in the battle. Unfortunately, he can only be one place at once...


It's not just up to the dice. Each player has two decks from which to draw cards. Each card is dual purposed--they can be played as Events by using the appropriate action die, or they can be used for a combat effect in battle. Once used they are gone forever, and many of them have powerful effects when used either way so you have to make tough decisions in that regard. Cards played as events for both sides can do many things, including harassing the Fellowship, providing fast movement for Aragorn as he takes the Paths of the Dead, nestling Grima in Theoden's ear so that he is slothful and the nation of Rohan unable to respond to the impending attack, to placing Hunt tiles into the bag that help or hurt the Fellowship. Combat effects of these cards include bonuses to rolls, reducing the number of attack dice your opponent gets to roll, and even cancelling the effects of a combat card played by your opponent.


If the defending player falls in battle at a Stronghold, the attacker can take control of it and score the Victory Points for it. Again, 10 VP for the Shadow will win, but only 4 VP for the Fellowship. It is important to note that in combat, the Shadow players troops are placed back in the reinforcement pool, but for the Free Peoples, their troops go to the Dead pile, making their resources finite. Therefore, the FP can ill-afford to get into a war of attrition with the Shadow, and this is what makes actually claiming Shadow strongholds all the more difficult.

It is in the Ring that the Free Peoples will put their hopes, hoping to hold out against the might of Sauron long enough for the quest to succeed. Frodo will be embattle by corruption along the way, but thankfully he has his friends to help him, and he can also seek refuge in the Strongholds of the Free Peoples to rest and heal some of his corruption.






Pure eye candy...



Will Frodo succeed? Will Sauron reclaim his Ring and enslave Middle-Earth in a second darkness? War of the Ring puts the story in the players' hands, to find out for themselves.





My Thoughts: War of the Ring is an incredible game that beautifully encaptures the entire Lord of the Rings saga. Lavishly produced, both the components and gameplay will put you in Tolkien's world. You will feel the plight of the Ringbearer as the Orc Patrols draw ever nearer, you will feel the hopelessness of the Rohan people as they cower in Helm's Deep, you will cackle with glee as The White City falls beneath your onslaught, and you will feel Sauron's paranoia as his eye desparately sweeps the land looking for the Ring that rightfully belongs to him.

There are some very slight knocks to the game, depending on your point of view. One, it is a long game, usually clocking in between 3 and 4 hours. However, it would be difficult to cover the scope of a game like this in less time that that, and this manages to pack in as much of an epic feel as many even longer games do. Secondly, all units of each side are the same color, and this can make perceiving which unit is which on the board more difficult to do with a quick glance. This will pass after a few playings, and many players have taken to painting their units anyway. Lastly, the learning curve is a bit steep, and the rulebook in particular can be difficult to consult quickly. Thankfully, there are a ton of player aids out there, many of which can be found at right here on BoardGameGeek, and these will help you get up to speed relatively quickly.

Though I do understand a few of the complaints lodged against it, they are not sufficient to hinder my absolute enjoyment of the game. It is one of those games I wish I had even more time to play, and the game itself is incredibly fun to play. This game is a rare treat in that it so accurately captures its subject matter, and for any Tolkien fan this is pure nirvana. Great components, solid gameplay, amazing theme...for me, this one has it all.



VERDICT: (10.0/10.0)





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Ken B.
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elf.dog wrote:
Liked your review! Good read and great pictures!




Thanks! I can't take credit for the images--those are thanks to our fellow BGG denizens.
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James Christopher
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Possibly the best review of WotR I've seen so far. If I didn't have the game already, I'd run to buy it straight away!
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Rev. David Moore
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Re: Great Review...
Dear Fellow Ringer,
As stated: your Review was excellent. One small point, however, Gandalf doesn't have '3 Leadership', he has '3 movement.

His level is the number of spaces he can move himself - and other minions with him. The number below is the number of leader re-rolls he counts as. Of course, Gandalf the White also has 'Shadowfax', so he can move '4' if its just him and one 'Hobbit' riding with him.

As you can see, Aragorn has level 3 for movement and a '2' under it equating to '2 Leadership'. He gets two re-rolls, up to 5 max.

Great pics too, and like you said, you've GOT to get them a basic paint job. At least let the bases match the nation border colors.
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Tom Hancock
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Awesome review! Made me want to run out and purchase, and I already own a copy.
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Fabiano Saccol
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gosh. I was thinking about buying this, and got you made me rush to get a copy of it.

awesome review.
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Joshua Hysong
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Well, I was debating whether or not to get this game but after reading this I am going to order it online ASAP.

Thanks1
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Jeremy Shelton
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A fantastic review! I wish all reviews were like this one. I love the pics and your narrative style. I was on the fence about this game but your review gave me the confidence to pull the trigger. Thanks so much for the work you put into it!
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The Pillow Demon
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Awesome review - I'm definitely considering buying this game thanks to this piece of writing alone.
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Sean D.
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FFG should pay you money for putting together this review...
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Shane Larsen
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Ken, you're a very fluent writer. I get bored with most reviews of this detail. But you managed to make it entertaining and educational. Thanks for the time and effort you put in to this. I have put it on my Wishlist as a Must Have mostly because of this review.

Thanks again and keep up the good work!
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Jordan
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Sifulama wrote:
Dear Fellow Ringer,
As stated: your Review was excellent. One small point, however, Gandalf doesn't have '3 Leadership', he has '3 movement.

His level is the number of spaces he can move himself - and other minions with him. The number below is the number of leader re-rolls he counts as. Of course, Gandalf the White also has 'Shadowfax', so he can move '4' if its just him and one 'Hobbit' riding with him.

As you can see, Aragorn has level 3 for movement and a '2' under it equating to '2 Leadership'. He gets two re-rolls, up to 5 max.

Great pics too, and like you said, you've GOT to get them a basic paint job. At least let the bases match the nation border colors.

Another thing: The Witchking also only has 2 leadership, not 3.
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