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This is going to be a multi-faceted strategy guide covering the entirety of this game and all its variants. Each main segment will be its own post. If you have any direct additions you think would be helpful for future posts or edits you feel should be made to this post, please feel free to message me directly.

The most important over-arching concept is that LOTRC is a game of COMPLETE information, but not PERFECT information. Each side knows, at all times, what cards and pieces the opponent has, but not where each piece currently is on the board. In simple terms, you will always know what you know, and what you don't.

LOTRC, in its essence, is a game of understanding strengths. Each side, Light and Shadow, has a unique strength gleaned from their cards' abilities. The player who best utilizes these strengths will, on the whole, be victorious. Each side also has obvious weaknesses, but though these must be kept in the mind, trying to cover and overcome these weaknesses is not the best and most reliable path to consistent victory. Adding the optional power cards from the variant in can alter this a bit, but this will be covered when those cards are discussed specifically. For now, let's look at each sides general strengths and weaknesses, and how these can be used to achieve the win condition for each.

The Light Side -
Win Conditions:
1. Get Frodo to Mordor
2. Eliminate all enemy forces.

The Light Side has two profoundly interesting advantages - Mobility and Fear. Mobility is the obvious one. Frodo, Pippin, and Aragorn can attack or retreat in special ways, and this allows a more thorough command of the board. The goal is not to outfight the Shadow, but to outmaneuver them. Various movement abilities allow the Light to scout effectively, figuring out where certain Shadow pieces are and thus avoiding them, setting up an opening for Frodo to make that last dash to Mordor and win the game.

Their second advantage is that of Fear. It is always harrowing for the Shadow to attack a light side piece. Gimli, Legolas, and Merry instantly kill a certain piece. Boromir is effectively a mobile land mine, ready to explode aside from against the Warg. On top of that, Noble Sacrifice, though costly, always keeps the opponent on edge, wondering when it will be used. It can be countered with Eye of Sauron, but that too is a gamble. The Shadow has a variety of brutal warriors, but they are far from invincible. The Orcs may be devastating, but if one dwarf in Moria still draws breath, each attack is a risk.

Numerically, the Light Side is very weak. Gandalf (5) and Aragorn (4) are the biggest hitters, but even with the strongest card, they can only manage a 10 and a 9, respectively. Getting into a street fight won't end well. Can the game be won by eliminating all enemy players? Mathematically, yes - but don't bet the farm on it. Keep moving, attack and retreat, draw the enemy out, and set up that sprint to Mount Doom.

The Shadow Side -
Win Conditions:
1. Get 3 Shadow Characters in the Shire
2. Eliminate Frodo

The Shadow seeks one thing - death. They are designed and built to destroy. Their advantage lies wholly in their strength and ability to attack at almost any time and anywhere on the map. On top of that, the overall power for the Shadow towers above the Light, with Shelob, Balrog and Witch King all being able to go to 11 with the strongest Strength Card! The Cave Troll, though unable to be powered up or defended with a Text Card, can only be overcome with Gandalf and the +5, or fought to a fatal stalemate with Aragorn and the +5. The Shadow player hits like a train.......but isn't as strong in the character power department.

Each power of the Shadow seems almost broken, but careful reading shows major weaknesses. The Orcs can defeat the first character they fight...if they attack. The Flying Nazgul can attack a character anywhere on the board...if they're alone. The Black Rider can move any number of spaces forward...but only to attack. The Balrog instantly defeats any character...if he's in a certain spot and the Fellowship uses the special path, which they don't have to, and probably won't if they see someone sitting there. Their movement is extremely restricted as well. The Shadow Retreat card allows the to retreat sideways, which means it is useless in the mountains. That single card is the ONLY way the Shadow can retreat, and it is unavailable in 4 spaces on the board - mind you, a board made up of only 16. On 25% of the board, when the Shadow attacks, if the Light stands their ground, it's to the death. This is also true of combat in Shire or Mordor, but this would be a rare occurence, so rare to be not practical to discuss in depth at this time.

The two most mobile characters of the Shadow, the Flying Nazgul and the Black Rider, don't really have abilities that help achieve the first victory condition, as both require movement to end in attacks. As said, attacks are pretty much all or nothing. Shelob, a tank in her own right, isn't all that helpful either, as when she pulls off a win, she goes back to Gondor - do not pass Bree, do not collect a bag of Old Toby. On top of that, if the Light manages to take down a good number of the Shadow forces, they may not have enough units to send 3 to the Shire and still mount a valid defense of Mordor against those nasty little hobbitses.

The second victory condition is the one on which the Shadow should focus. When approaching the other win condition of the Shadow - Eliminate Frodo - certain character powers do become much more useful, but still not overpowering or impossible to counter. Shelob, as said, is not useful for invading the Shire, but does work as a powerful wall. She is able to defend Gondor after any victory, effectively cutting off 50% of the path to victory for the Light. The Flying Nazgul is capable of striking at any piece which may look like it's trying to slip through.

The Light side Basic Strategy

The best chance the Light has at victory is getting Frodo to Mount Doom. With their movement abilities and more effective Retreat card, coupled with the fear of offense inherent in a Shadow attack, the goal is to try to distract the Shadow player long enough to give them the slip. Sending Legolas forward, pretending he may be Frodo, will often prompt a Flying Nazgul attack. Keeping some pieces in the mountains, especially the walking nuclear strike that is Boromir, keeps a psychological pressure on the Shadow player - they have to move forward, so they must either go through the funnel created or risk destruction at the hands of an instant kill opponent. If the Shadow player is aggressive, and baits the Light player into an all-out war, it's going to be a blood bath.

The Shadow side Basic Strategy

The goal should be hunting and killing Frodo. The win condition of invading the Shire is difficult, not helped by Shadow side powers, and should only be done should the opportunity arise, though this will often happen by particularly poor play of the Light. Play defensive and set a few pieces on the Light side of the board to make sure you always have a foothold through the mountains. Four pieces need to be committed to defense - one each in Gondor and Dagorlad to protect Mordor, and one in at least two of the Light side areas that border the mountains, allowing a clear path of travel. The rest are hunters, keeping pressure on the Light side to force them to reveal Frodo through their actions. Do not let the Light side have the psychological upper hand, and trust in a cohesive defense to keep the Ringbearer from dropping the magic McGuffin into the drink. If the Light side can force the Shadow to play "follow the leader" with movement abilites, the game is over. The game is seek and destroy, not tag.

Let's ask the $64,000 question - is one side intrinsically better? In the Classic Game with no extra power cards, the sides are clearly asymmetrical, but neither truly has a universal edge. It really depends on keeping one's own passions in check and capitalizing on their sides advantage. The Shadow player must be a tad defensive, keeping a solid wall around Mordor, while still making sure to utilize attack-based powers. The Light side needs to be deceptive, forcing the Shadow to think that every time a character steps forward they will meet their nemesis. Keeping in the proper mindset is the key to victory.

Thank you for reading!

Coming up - Part 2: Classic Game w/ Power Cards

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AxonDomini
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Quote:
Shelob, a tank in her own right, isn't all that helpful either, as when she pulls off a win, she goes back to Gondor - do not pass Bree, do not collect a bag of Old Toby.


I found this perspective surprising. Shelob is one of the dark player's best characters, in my opinion, precisely BECAUSE of her ability. In LotR:Confrontation, the farther forward a player's pieces are the less potential they have as they are able to influence/threaten smaller and smaller portions of the board. Being able to move all the way back to Gondor after a win, just one space in front of Mordor, is extremely helpful! From that position, there are only three spaces on the board Shelob cannot influence whereas from Rohan, just one space forward, that number doubles to six. Given the light side's relative weakness in strength it's also not too hard to use that power unless the light player is willing to burn a high power card or a Noble Sacrifice.

Being forced to move forward in the game is one of the great stratgic tensions of its design as every step forward means you're cutting off options and reducing influence. Hence, any ability that grants backward movement is extremely potent. Shelob is amazing!
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Pedro Pereira
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Quote:
The Shadow Side -
Win Conditions:
1. Get 3 Shadow Characters in the Shire
2. Eliminate all enemy forces


Also it is sufficient for the Shadow side to eliminate Frodo to win the game. If the fellowship needs Frodo to reach Mordor to win, by default eliminating Frodo wins the Shadow player the game, which is why Frodo's strafing is awesome.
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Josef S
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Jeff - you are absolutely correct, backwards movement is a blessing. I was only commenting on her power in relation to the win condition of getting 3 Shadow units in the Shire. Shelob is a wall to protect Mordor, and an effective one at that. This will be expanded on more when I do a piece by piece overview.

Pedro - very true. I will correct that soon, when I have the time to expand on it fully. Yes, their 3rd win condition is to successfully defeat Frodo. That's the problem of writing this at 11 pm. My fault, a foolish oversight, and it will be corrected.

Thank you both for your help! It is truly appreciated.
 
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RoguesRefuge wrote:
Jeff - you are absolutely correct, backwards movement is a blessing. I was only commenting on her power in relation to the win condition of getting 3 Shadow units in the Shire. Shelob is a wall to protect Mordor, and an effective one at that. This will be expanded on more when I do a piece by piece overview.

Pedro - very true. I will correct that soon, when I have the time to expand on it fully. Yes, their 3rd win condition is to successfully defeat Frodo. That's the problem of writing this at 11 pm. My fault, a foolish oversight, and it will be corrected.

Thank you both for your help! It is truly appreciated.


Hi Jeff,

just to clarify, there is no third win condition. The condition to eliminate all of the Fellow Ship would theoretically only apply if Frodo was the last one to be eliminated. But ultimately it all comes down to eliminating Frodo...
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Josef S
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Haha, not building confidence in my strategy guide, am I? Clearly I need some shut eye. Interestingly enough, when the Light side loses, Frodo generally has been the last piece taken.
 
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RoguesRefuge wrote:
Their movement is extremely restricted as well. The Shadow Retreat card allows the to retreat sideways, which means it is useless in the mountains. That single card is the ONLY way the Shadow can retreat, and it is unavailable in 4 spaces on the board - mind you, a board made up of only 16. On 25% of the board, when the Shadow attacks, if the Light stands their ground, it's to the death.

Strictly, retreat sideways is unavailable in 6 spaces on the board: the four mountains, the Shire, and Mordor. This doesn't affect your point much (it's virtually impossible for the Sauron player to attack into Mordor, for example), but it's more like 5 out of 15 attackable spaces—33% instead of the 25% you indicated.

(When I say virtually impossible for Sauron to attack Mordor, the only corner case is if a non-Frodo Fellowship character is alone in Mordor, they can be attacked by the Flying Nazgul. I have never seen anything like this come close to happening.)
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Max DuBoff
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Nice article! Definitely raises some interesting points.

A couple comments:

RoguesRefuge wrote:
Jeff - you are absolutely correct, backwards movement is a blessing. I was only commenting on her power in relation to the win condition of getting 3 Shadow units in the Shire. Shelob is a wall to protect Mordor, and an effective one at that. This will be expanded on more when I do a piece by piece overview.

It's worth noting, however, that in the majority of cases Dark should not aim to get three characters in the Shire. Killing Frodo is the prime directive, and the other win condition is usually just worth taking if the opportunity arises.

RoguesRefuge wrote:
Haha, not building confidence in my strategy guide, am I? Clearly I need some shut eye. Interestingly enough, when the Light side loses, Frodo generally has been the last piece taken.

I'm not sure this is correct. Even if that's the case in the majority of games, however, it glosses over a lot of subtlety about hoe to use Frodo effectively.
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Josef S
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Max - for my last point in my response, I meant that as in most games I've personally played, when Frodo is lost, he's the last piece to fall. I'm sure this doesn't happen in most players' games.
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There we go - changes made. I think I hit all the points I missed earlier.
 
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AxonDomini
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RoguesRefuge wrote:
Jeff - you are absolutely correct, backwards movement is a blessing. I was only commenting on her power in relation to the win condition of getting 3 Shadow units in the Shire. Shelob is a wall to protect Mordor, and an effective one at that. This will be expanded on more when I do a piece by piece overview.


Point taken. Of course, by being a wall Shelob does buy you some time to get three pieces in the Shire, so in that sense she is quite helpful!

That said, I do agree with Max that this victory condition is the edge case for the classic setup. Killing Frodo is a far more viable strategy. Three in the Shire is more of a happy accident when it happens. sauron

EDIT: Which, I note, you point out quite clearly in your OP.
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