Father and son review. Here is a review of Sauron written by my son followed by a few comments of my own.
Sauron SPI 1977
Sauron simulates one of the key battles that takes place in the history of Tolkien's Lord of the Rings. It simulates the battle outside of the Morannon, the Black Gate of Mordor, where the last alliance of Elves, Men and Dwarves fought against the forces of Sauron. The game simulates a pitched battle and not a siege. However, Sauron is the defender. Whilst it is possible to have some fun with the game, the victory conditions are terrible. Hence, Sauron if played without houserules is to be played lightheartedly.
The Sauron player starts with only a few goblin archers and some wargs. The Westernesse player, howeve begins with all of his Dwarven and Human units. In addition, the rest of the Last Alliance army, the Elves, arrives on the second turn. Sauron's forces arrive gradually; his entire army isn't present until turn twelve. This as stated in the rulebook is for gameplay reasons. On the second turn the alliance will outnumber Sauron 5 to 1.
Sauron is a very tactical game with little strategy. Winning is about being efficent, the correct employment of terrain and figuring out the best way to kill the enemy. The only decision needed is the usual 'shall I attack' first decision.
Each individual unit has three characteristics: morale, armour and attack. The first two being for primarily defence purposes. There are many different combinations in this game. Shadow units are on average weaker.
The Sauron player as you might expect controls a force of orcs, goblins, wargs and trolls. However, the only 'evil' units which possess any unique abilities are the slaves. Slaves possess incredible attacking power but are trivially killed when defending. They may also form phalanxes; the Sauron player may stack two slaves together make a phalanx. They are then much better in defence, hence creating an incredibly powerful fighting unit, but they are very slow. They add some interest to game as they are very hard for the alliance player to deal with.
The alliance player controls a large variety of human units, a large number of elves with little variety and three identical dwarven units. Several units have unique features among the alliance forces. Dwarves have strong attack and defence qualities, and must immediately attack any orc/troll unit nearby. Elves can shoot further than other units. All alliance units may stack to form elite formations with the help of a leader.
Leaders play an important role in this game. The most common result of combat is disruption which renders units useless until they are rallied by a character. Characters are Sauron, Ringwraith, Gorgol(invented by spi), Cirdan, Elendil, Gil-Galad, Isildur, Anarion and Baldrim(invented). There are six 'good' characters but only the three 'evil' characters. It is important for both players especially Sauron to position his leaders correctly to rally as many disrupted units as possible. Magic Weapons are an interesting point in the game. Magic weapons greatly enhance the abilities of characters possessing them and the unit the owner is stacked with. The magic weapons are Narsil, the sword of Elendil, and Aiglos, spear of Gil-Galad.
Combat has some oddities. Since Sauron is a hex wargame on a small scale, combat is down to a unit to unit level. However, in each individual combat only the attacking units can do any damage. Whilst this works perfectly well for gameplay reasons, when you think about it is slightly odd. Archery is conducted exactly the same way as melee with archers having a range of two, three for elves, hexes. The characters commanding the armies may also engage in combat. Although it is optional; character combat can have decisive results; the loss of Sauron prevents the victory of the Sauron player. Leader combat overall, is not very thematic. It is impossible for Sauron to kill or even wound Elendil while he is stacked with Narsil, likewise with Gil-Galad and Aiglos. However, it is possible for them to wound him.
Magic prevents the total destruction of Sauron's army. Spells are done in the SPI tradition of spells with magic point costs. Sauron has variety of spells he can cast. However, I will only go into the spells regarding the Beast of Mordor, a designer's invention, in this review. Sauron may conjure the beast with a large number of magic points. The beast is a very strong unit though it has some downsides. Foremost of these is using the beast for attacking requires more magic points as does moving at a fast pace. Another disadvantage is if that beast is slain the Sauron player gains many demoralisation points (see below). The main point of the beast is the 'death breath' abilty. The Sauron player may once per game use the beast to automatically kill units in the five hexes in front of it. However, this costs about half of Sauron's magic points!
Demoralisation happens when the losses of one of the players accumulates to a certain number of points. Demoralisation has several effects: it prevents victory; it prevents units of low morale attacking and for the alliance player only it gives demoralised units with high morale an incredible combat advantage. Obviously, the first point has the biggest effect. Once demoralised is impossible to be 'undemoralised'.
Victory conditions ruin this game. All Sauron has to do to win is remain undemoralised. This is trivially accomplished. All he has to do is never move his reinforcements out of Mordor as the loss of his original forces is not enough to demoralise him. However, to make the game interesting the Sauron player will generally move out his reinforcements. If both players are demoralised, the game is draw and this is the usual outcome. The Alliance player has a small chance of victory, however. There are several victory points rules, if one of the players remains undemoralised to see the scale of his victory, whether tactical or decisive. However, as the game is usually a draw, they are rarely used. The victory conditions suggest that the game was poorly tested.
Overall, Sauron is flawed but does some have interest. Sauron was purchasable by itself or with the Middle Earth package (Gondor, Sauron and War of the Ring).
Explores the battle quite well. Disappointingly, Sauron cannot kill Elendil and Gil-Galad.
Victory Conditions: 0/10
Comments by father
Sauron is a tactical hex wargame from the 70s with the usual features of that era; i.e. small square card-board counters, movement points, zones of control, disruption, stacking limits, rallying and demoralization. I got my first copy around 1980 and was disappointed with it at the time. It does not improve with age. The rules do not appear to have been carefully checked. For example, there are units that ship with the game but are not listed in the forces and reinforcements section. It is not clear from the way the rules are written whether you have to take your reinforcements or can simply leave them off board. My lawyerly reading of the rules is the latter case. If so, Sauron has a trivial victory by leaving them off board. If the former, Sauron almost always gets demoralised and therefore cannot win. Most games end in a draw with both sides demoralised. The companion game, Gondor, was always more fun and I'd play it long before a game of Sauron.