Well I finally taught my dad to play this game, and Tuesday night was our second game. He took the dark pieces this time, and for it being only his second game, his performance was astonishing.
I won't go into every detail of the game because it would simply take far too long. But here are the highlights of what happened.
Early in the game I advanced Frodo into Cardolan from the Shire and stationed him there with Sam, ready to spring a Sam Gamgee trap on at least one baddie. Sadly that never happened, but it has worked before. And as it happened, it was nearly the death of me.
While Frodo hung out on the southern side, my other forces went looking for trouble. Strangely, Boromir (!) was still alive at the end of the game - not once was he attacked, and didn't even move until I needed to use him to waste a move. I lost a good deal of my Fellowship pieces to sacrifices and outright losses, but a fair number of my dad's dark pieces were gone too. Eventually I ran into the following problem. Boromir and Gimli were sitting in Rhudaur. Merry was in Eregion. The Wargs, I knew, had occupied Enedwaith, and I was worried about them attacking Frodo/Sam. Saruman was sitting in Rohan, I knew, and the Witch King and the Cave Troll were in Fangorn. Frodo could not move into Eregion and then into the mountains, as he would quickly get trapped by either the Witch King or Troll. One piece from Fangorn went into Moria, and Merry guessed that it was the Witch King. It wasn't - the Cave Troll smashed him, as all I had was a 2 and an Elven Cloak left in hand. Now I really had to keep Boromir and Gimli moving, as the only hope was to vacate Rhudaur, move Frodo to Eregion, and retreat him to Rhudaur once attacked. But since it was Dad's move, the REAL Witch King went to the Misty Mountains, and the noose began to tighten. Sam went forward and got crushed by the Witch King, who then occupied Arthedain. Saruman went to Eregion. And now the situation was desperate... Frodo could neither move, nor could he retreat. Victory for my dad was nearly ensured.
BUT - now we got to take back our cards again! And with that element thrown back in, an attack by the Wargs was no longer a guaranteed defeat - just a coin toss. And as it turned out, I correctly guessed when the Wargs attacked that my dad would choose Eye of Sauron - I played 5, and beat the Wargs. Frodo scooted past Saruman, and eventually won.
I pointed out afterward that with the pieces situated as they were, my dad DID have a guaranteed victory - if he had attacked with Saruman. The Witch King cut off Frodo's retreat, and if Saruman declared no cards could be played, he would have won. But my dad chose not to do that because, being new, he thought that Frodo could retreat backwards as well as sideways... so he thought Frodo would just retreat to the Shire if he attacked with Saruman. Even if that had been the case, though, Frodo would have been dead on the next move, as another attack by Saruman or the Witch King would have cut Frodo off from retreat entirely.
Anyway, I count that game as a draw, not a win for me. I blundered badly, allowing Frodo to get so cornered and my other pieces in such disarray as to create blocks to Frodo's retreats, and the only reason my dad didn't win was because he didn't clearly understand Frodo's ability.
It's strange how much I love this game, given that I rarely ever win.