I played my first game of WoME yesterday. Just for good measure, we also tossed in LoME. It was a FULL table. We were able to get the kids and the baby (the same baby who decided to stop my only unfinished game of War of the Ring by causing my wife to go in to labor almost 5 months ago https://boardgamegeek.com/thread/1571009/wife-went-labor-dur...) to bed. My wife is a bit more familiar with the Shadow player so after explaining to her the basic mechanics of the new shadow factions, and turning on the Lord of the Rings soundtrack, Frodo and Sam and company set off.
The fellowship was quick to move. But Sauron was vigilant and quickly discovered the fellowship. With a hint of regret at exposing the halflings to the wrath of the darkest mind on Middle Earth, Gandalf sacrificed himself on the borders of Rivendell and with his last breath told Frodo to hold on to hope.
Saruman sealed himself in his indestructable tower and sent his emissaries to stir up long buried hatred in the Dunlendings. But Gandalf's task in Middle Earth was not over. He himself visited Fangorn forest and revealed a talent no one had seen before. Talking in Entish, he joined the Ent Moot and convinced the Ents to rally to the aid of all peace lovers before there were none left. Then he left Treebeard in charge before heading off to Minis Tirith.
Meanwhile it appeared that Gandalf's duel with the Balrog was a stalemate as the Balrog also appeared. Gimli was disheartened with Gandalf's disappearance. He asked permission to take leave of the fellowship go to the Prancing Pony, which was having a buy 100 get 100 free ale sale. Strider allowed him to go on the condition that he hold a meeting in Prancing Pony with the Dunedain to prepare them for war. After giving Gimli permission to leave, Strider himself set off for Dol Amroth to receive his kingdom, skirting Isengard to the West. Boromir was briefly in charge of the fellowship before the Lure of The Ring took him. Legolas then led the fellowship over the high pass.
Sauron and the Elves both went to war and began mustering their military might with Galadrial forsaking Elrond's advice and revealing herself to the dark lord, trying to distract him from Frodo. Sauron countered by sending his Black Captain to lead his hordes of orcs in an assault on Minis Tirith. Strider arrived at Dol Amroth to receive his kingdom, but alas, it was short-lived. Corsairs from Umbar showed up at dawn the next day with 6 thousand troops and Nazgul flying overhead. Aragorn's late night seemed to zap his fighting spirit and the kingdom fell. Aragorn did, however, make the history books as the shortest reigning Gondor king.
The ents and dunlendings contributed to making Rohan and Isengard a hot bed of activity. Dunlendings led an Isengard army into Helm's Deep. Though it had been reinforced from Edoras and the Rohirrim, they made short work of the stronghold, even with Eagles turning up at the last minute to give aid. The ents had managed to slow down their march across the Fords of Isen, but couldn't stop them entirely. Most men would have said they had failed, but Treebeard replied, “Don't be hasty!!”
Saruman wasn't finished. He wanted all of Rohan as a consolation prize for missing out on the ring. His greed proved to be his downfall. He sent most of his forces from Helm's Deep to take Theoden's empty throne room. One lone calvary troop resisted him. But it was enough. After one short battle, the calvary slipped right past the Warg riders and galloped off back toward Helm's Deep. The ent's wiped out 75% of the Wargs which chased them, proving to be an effective rearguard. Treebeard's booming cries of rage could be heard echoing all the way to Gondor.
After a brief rest in Dale, Frodo and Sam made use of Swift Boats to cross the lake near laketown and begin the Southward trek toward Mordor. Soon an eagle unexpectedly landed next to them and offered to take them part of the way. Sam was hesitant, claiming “If hobbits were meant to fly in the air, we would have wings. It just 'aint natural.” Smeagol was also not easy to convince, but in the end they were too tired to march on that night and decided to take a nap while the eagle did the heavy lifting.
Galadrial flexed her might in easily repelling a combined attack from Moria forces led by the Balrog and Dol Goldur forces led by the Black Captain. During the battle she found an opportunity to kill one of the minions of Sauron and remembering the prophecy about the Black Captain felled him without a second thought. But she had used her ring too often. Her power would diminish. Elrond would then step in with his ring, but who could know how long Elrond could resist the same fate?
Without the Black Captain doubt began to creep in to the forces of evil. Attacks became disorganized. Desperation took hold. Saruman allied with more wild men and Moria orcs to launch a very hasty attack on the Shire and Grey Havens. Nazgul flew back and forth as if the very whip of Sauron was behind them. Indeed this newfound desperation and “wildness” was effective as the hobbits in the Shire and soon the remaining Elves in the Grey Havens offered only a token resistance. The shadow began to cover middle earth. But Gandalf would not let the men of Minis Tirith give in to despair. He single-handedly defeated three separate enemies and corsairs which had sailed from Dol Amroth and Pelagir. Resistance could only be continued for so long and not a minute went by without Gandalf thinking of Frodo and inwardly willing him forward to Mordor.
Frodo and Sam soldiered on, but not without a cost. First Legolas, and then Merry and Pippen sacrificed themselves when surprise patrols took them unaware. Frodo snuck through a vast army and entered Mordor by the black gate. Something alerted Sauron who focused all his attention on finding the ring. It dominated all his waking thoughts, and he never slept. Prudence would have demanded that Frodo wait until his attention was drawn elsewhere, but Smeagol deviously convinced him to go forward. In one abhorrent moment Frodo almost gave in to the temptation to keep the ring for himself (taking 6 corruption in one shot). But hobbits would prove even more resilient than Gandalf gave them credit for. Frodo recovered after a tiny bit of Athelas was used, which Sam miraculously was able to forage from the very slopes of Mt. Doom. Following Sam's advice they continued their trek, but this time a bit more slowly. Searching for any hint of hope which could restore Frodo, Frodo, Sam, and Smeagol made it to the very brink of the abyss. Frodo didn't know if he could make it. Not even the wise could say (10 corruption). He did have Mithril Coat and Sting, but it proved unnecessary. While Frodo lay on the ground gasping, visions of the Shire floated in front of his eyes. He thought of the green fields. He thought of Gandalf's fireworks. And mostly he thought of Bag End. With one last effort he ripped off the ring, yelled “For the Shire!!” and chucked it in to the abyss.
It was a four hour game, full of game changing moments. WoME certainly offers more strategic depth and a lot of interesting choices. There is also potential for more areas of the map to be involved. And perhaps most important, it was fun.