When playing this game we have always completely randomized starting territories, except that we split strongholds evenly between us. The following might be more true when playing without the ring as well.

Looking at the board initially, I developed the opinion that controlling the south side of the board must be the strongest strategy. Holding Harad must be strong because you can start in one corner, work in a straight line, and only have to defend two territories, one of which is a stronghold. Holding Mordor must be overpowered since there are three strongholds, two of which are blocking the exits. Even Gondor looked like a good place to conquer since it holds many territories within it right in a row, hard to access from other countries.

I noticed an unexpected thing when I started playing with people: players who concentrate on the top of the map tend to win. Here’s what I think has been going on in my game sessions. The south part of the map becomes hotly contested because it looks very powerful, but more than that it looks important and is where the major battles in the movies happen. Players will sacrifice more units to one another in order to trade territories back and forth in this area. In addition, the border between Mordor and Gondor at Ithilien and Morgul Vale tends to be the site of a major stand off where large amounts of troops are accumulated just staring at each other. Morgul Vale automatically adds one troop each turn and starts to grow bloated with troops. Even if the player in Mordor has no intention of aggression against Gondor, the Gondor player feels threatened and tends to build up in Ithilien. Then you know what happens when two players stack up that many units right next to each other. Well, we’ve got them there, might as well have them fight! This process ties up valuable troops that could otherwise have been spent on the offensive elsewhere, and again it gives the southern players more of a reason to attack each other. The player who tries to start out in Harad has not done well in the games I’ve seen. Maybe they get caught up in the arms race right to their immediate north, maybe they struggle over Gondor and can’t gain much ground. That one’s harder to pinpoint.

On the other side of the board, the player starting in the northern, eastern side of the board seems to slowly thrive. As long as they don’t expand too quickly, don’t offend anyone by loud-mouthing, don’t claim any regions before they’re ready, what reason does anyone have for attacking them? If that player is already strong up there, why would I go up there? There’s few strongholds to conquer, nothing really happened there in the books. Then that player gets to quietly take one place at a time into rhovanion, which nobody ever seems to fight over anyway. The players in the northwest side of the board don’t seem to have quite the same luck. Maybe they end up being responsible for invading Gondor so that player doesn’t get the massive 7 bonus. Maybe someone from the south starts moving up the coast in the ships and harasses them that way.

At any rate, the strategy I have seen work for the most people is just to stay out of the drama going on in the south and slowly take territories that aren’t important to anyone else, that they won’t retaliate against you for, leaving two or three units in most of them to make yourself look extra unpleasant to attack. When they finally get wise to the fact that you own a third of the board and start to gang up on you, that’s when it’s time to make the leap and overextend yourself to try to take the weakest or closest player out of the game. At that point you hope that you’re strong enough to survive two on one, and you might be, because you haven’t been relying on a massive region bonus like Gondor which can be taken away from you in one swift stroke. Has anyone else seen this play out? If not, how do you make starting in the south work for you?

edit: added paragraphs
1 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Tyinsar -
Canada
Grande Prairie
Alberta
flag msg tools
Playing games
badge
Kilroy was here
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
Re: Focus on starting in the north or the south?
Grimlokk wrote:
...edit: added paragraphs
Thank you
2 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Moshe Callen
Israel
Jerusalem
flag msg tools
designer
ἄνδρα μοι ἔννεπε, μοῦσα, πολύτροπον, ὃς μάλα πολλὰ/ πλάγχθη, ἐπεὶ Τροίης ἱερὸν πτολίεθρον ἔπερσεν./...
badge
μῆνιν ἄειδε θεὰ Πηληϊάδεω Ἀχιλῆος/ οὐλομένην, ἣ μυρί᾽ Ἀχαιοῖς ἄλγε᾽ ἔθηκε,/...
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
Re: Focus on starting in the north or the south?
Yes, that's a good strategy. Look at my review; I discuss that in section 4.
1 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls