Todd (Sam), Tim S. (Pippin), and I (Frodo) tried our hand at Lord of the Rings. We had each only played once before in a five player game that we won easily with Sauron starting on 15, so we decided to start him on 12 this time. Our general strategy was to let Sam take as many die rolls as possible, such as the two on Moria's main track. This worked out as planned, but he may have taken too many rolls. We rushed up the fighting track as fast as we could, so we didn't have very many life tokens at the end of Moria. Luckily, we only faced the first two events. Sadly, this would be the last of the good luck for the journey. Sam ended Moria already on the '5' spot on the corruption track, and since there was a tie on Rings, he also became the ring-bearer for Helm's Deep.
In Helm's Deep, we wanted to try to bust up the Friendship track so that we could enlist the aid of the Riders of Rohan (and get Theoden, Shadowfax, and Eomer), and make the second event a good one. The tiles spake otherwise. Actually, they *screamed* otherwise. By the time the sixth unavoidable event tile was revealed, we had barely moved on any track at all. We did scrape together enough shields to call on Gandalf for his Magic, thereby avoiding the "Orcs conquer Helm's Deep" event, which on the good/bad scale is, yep, bad. Wow, that was a beating. We used the Athelas weed on Pippin to keep him from sprinting three steps towards Sauron. Thankfully, Sam could hand the ring to Pippin while he was still standing, but that was the only thing we had that resembled good news as we made our way towards Shelob's Lair.
Shelob's Lair was, well, how do you say, oh yeah, bad. We again ended the scenario by suffering all six events. At least we had a little more time than in Helm's Deep, collecting a bunch of shields and a few life tokens. Unfortunately, by the time Shelob attacked us (the sixth event), we knew that Frodo would be the ring-bearer through Mordor, but Pippin was the most pure. Poor Sam was doomed as he only had one life token and was only two spaces from the evil eye of Sauron. We decided that we wouldn't spend any resources trying to save Sam, so he fed Frodo his Lembas Bread before single-handedly defeating Shelob! He discarded all seven fighting symbols to save Frodo and Pippin, even knowing he was about to be overcome anyway. Wow, the real Sam would have been proud.
Frodo took the ring from Pippin and got ready for the long trek through Mordor, starting only two spots from Sauron, and immediately moving next to Sauron. It really didn't look possible to make it all the way to Mount Doom. That Travelling line is eternal. We used Mithril and Belt to get through two of Frodo's die rolls, and yet still needed Gandalf's Healing to keep hope alive. Neither of us had any Travelling cards left, so we were hoping to get the help of Ghan and others before more events came to pass. We did get to use Ghan to keep moving, and drew a couple of Travelling tiles as well. We managed to each get Heart and Sun tokens just before the Battle of Pelennor Fields and Mouth of Sauron events took place, keeping us narrowly alive. It seemed Frodo was one spot from Sauron for dozens of tile draws. Pippin used his Phial to keep Frodo from drawing when we knew bad tiles had to be coming. At the time that we were about to be Surrounded by Dark Forces, we were still five steps from Mount Doom. We didn't have seven cards between us. We didn't even have four cards between us. On goes the Ring. Frodo takes a deep breath and rolls... one dot. That would have been enough for Sauron to win, but Pippin whipped out the Elessar to save Frodo and keep him alive by the narrowest of margins. We got to move three spots while invisible, enough to let Gandalf's Guidance get us to the lip of the volcano. Pippin was still four spots from Sauron, but we had used *all* of our resources. Pippin didn't even have two cards to rub together, so his die roll for the '60' spot could have done him in then and there. The eye of Sauron would have ended it for all of us, as Frodo and the Ring were mere millimeters from Sauron. Instead he rolled three dots, and joined Frodo nose-to-nose with Sauron. It felt like a miracle that we even got this far. It was time to dunk the Ring.
Pippin made the first attempt. Only the blank would do it, anything else and he goes down swinging. He rolled one dot and is overcome. It's all up to Frodo at this point, as it should be I suppose. Frodo muttered "But It's mine..." under his breath. Uh-oh, that's not good. He rolls one dot also. The Ring remains undunked. All is lost.
It couldn't have been closer. If Sauron had started one more spot back, or we had saved one point of corruption from Frodo OR Pippin anywhere along the way, we would have won. Aaargh!! This was an amazingly tight game. We ended with no resources except three cards and two shields between us. After taking such a beating in Helm's Deep and Shelob's Lair, it looked utterly impossible to make it to the end of Mordor. But somehow two of us did, and we each had a chance to throw the Ring in. Fantastic game.
Final Score: 60
By the way, if any Lord of the Rings veterans are reading this, can you tell me your thoughts on making additional Preparations in Bag End? Do you do it or not? It seems that taking a three-dot would be devastating. In the two-player game you may need to risk it simply to introduce more cards into the game because you start with so few, but with three players or more the choice is much tougher.
Thanks for reading,
8/8 FREE, PROTECTED
Great effort, and thanks for the report! Very entertaining to read. I was pulling for you the whole way
As for you question about the additional preparations, it is always contingent on what you have in hand already and what situation you are going into (playing with F&F will give you different decision outcomes than the base game).
Something to think about when making any decision in the game is that one space of corruption relative to Sauron is roughly equal to two hobbit cards (since you can recover either of those with one action). So the die roll (in the base game) can be converted entirely into relative steps - 0, 1, 1 (discard two cards), 2, 3, and X (the number of players, for when the Eye is rolled - which is equivalent to all players taking a step forward).
Figuring out the average die result gives us the following:
2 players - 1.5 steps
3 players - 1.67 steps
4 players - 1.83 steps
5 players - 2 steps
Since you get 4 cards back in return for the die roll, and 4 cards are roughtly equivalent to 2 steps, it would seem to be beneficial in most cases and a wash at worst.
But remember that these percentages are over the course of all LotR games you play - on average you will be slightly benefited from taking the extra cards. However on any one given die roll the chance of coming out ahead is 50% (rolling the blank, single step, or two cards). The odds of coming out even in anything but a two player game is 17%, and there is a 33% chance of getting the short end of the deal.
So in summary, in two player games always always make preparations. Two hobbits are always going to find themselves short in those resources and will need the extra cards. In three and four player games the extra preparations will usually be beneficial in helping to balance the hands of some players - if there are no needs to address you might consider passing on the option. Five players should rarely opt to take the extra cards.
And as noted earlier, all this changes with Friends and Foes.