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Subject: Things I Wish I Had Known rss

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Jeremy Yoder
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My Review's Perspective

I don't review games after one play as it's difficult to give an accurate assessment. Yet I'm doing so here, given I will most likely never play it again. (It's been 6 months since then.) As a result, this isn't meant to be a full-blown comprehensive look at the game, but a review for those in the same boat I used to be, which is, "Do I buy this or not?" especially given the price tag. Sadly, this is the first game in the BGG's top 20 that I didn't care for, though I can see why some would.



I felt compelled to write this review amidst all the gushing reviews here on BGG. Because in a way, I really felt blind-sided by this game. I had read the reviews, and now in retrospect, while I did not find any of them misleading, there are several things I wish I'd have know before investing so much money and time to better understand what I was getting into.

So what are you getting into? A lot. And by that I mean a lot of rules, card text, subrules, rules exceptions, etc. That's not to say it's insurmountable, but I'm not convinced the climb is worth the effort, given it resulted in a lack of "fun factor" for me and the guy I played it with. Maybe people just like the mechanics -- I know I enjoy some of them -- but the whole didn't sit well with me, even though I really didn't want that to be the case.

Anyway, on to the guts of my review...


General Overview

This game is big with an almost epic feel to it. The closest I've come to a game with so many different components and elements is Axis & Allies from way back in college. In A&A there's a big map, lot of units, and variety in units as each type does its own special thing. A&A was a huge step from the Risk days I had growing up. As with most games, I read the instructions for A&A, and while large in scope, I grasped the ideas, explained it to others, and we were off and running, all the while ignoring our studies.

Like A&A, WotR is big. In fact, the map is so large they split it in two. It's a bit bland in regard to color, but still looks attractive. The game has lots of units, with many sharing similar abilities. The majority are different types of regular units and elite units for each of the 8 nations. (For instance, orcs and cave trolls, respectively, for Sauron.)

Each nation also has leaders, which are straightforward in usage. But then you have special leaders like the Nazgul. Then you have several companions for the ring that may come into play, each with their own card containing a fair amount of text. Sauron also has 3 special leaders (minions) that may come into play, each with their own card. Each of these characters not only acts as a leader, but has their own special abilities. And let's not forget that the Witch King (one of the Sauron minions) and the normal Nazgul leaders all fall under the category of "Nazgul", giving them certain shared abilities.

Ugh.

Now is all this impossible to keep straight? No, but it's cumbersome and downright awkward to read a card with a fair amount of text to understand all the pros and cons in order to know when they can enter play and how to best use them, which after a while starts to feel like homework -- something I definitely do not care for in a game. Honestly, I enjoy special rules and exceptions when they are fairly limited. They give a game spice. But this game takes it to an extreme.


Components

That brings me to the color scheme of the pieces and the board. All regular and elite units of the 3 Sauron nations are red, while those of the 5 Free People nations are some kind of "baby blue" color, making distinguishing between your own unit types and nationality rather difficult, all of which takes more time to assess. (Companions and Minions are silver.)



I would have preferred different shades of color for each nation, with similar shades for each of the two sides. For instance, black, dark gray, and dark blue for Sauron, and brighter shades for the Free People, such as yellow, orange, red, green, and white. And for each of the nations, have leaders identified with something extra. Of course, production costs played into only using 4 basic colors (good units, bad units, leaders, companions/minions). Therefore, I can understand why they were forced into such a limitation, so it's really not a big deal. However...

Why, oh why, did they have to make the nation map colors as they did? To identify countries (which for some are in multiple places on the board and not lumped together) they drew thin colored lines like blue, yellow, green, etc. around the usual black boundaries. When I pointed this out to my game buddy, he frowned, stood from his chair, bent down over the board, peered closely to where I was pointing and muttered, "You've got to be kidding."

I truly don't see why they couldn't have shaded the initial nation territories so the map could be taken in at a glance like in other territory games. Nothing extreme -- just a light shading, which I also would have found more attractive and broken up the fairly bland landscape. My guess is they wanted the map to look like a large piece of parchment (which in and of itself certainly looks nice) but it comes at too high of a cost as it seems they forgot this is primarily meant to be a game rather than a museum piece.



I admit the colors for units and countries are not impossible to learn. While I'd much rather be able to identify everything at a glance, with time you can learn the terrain, units, etc, but all this detracts from getting things rolling, making the already high learning curve higher. I don't want to have to worry about something so simple as borders and units when there's already enough to consider. Like I said earlier, I can understand a production issue with the units, but I doubt color on the map would have changed the cost much, if at all. So in my book, increasing the potential aesthetic appeal at the cost of game play is a negative, and in the end actually detracts from the aesthetic appeal.

Compare it with the LOTR Risk map below. Sure, you could say it's a bit gaudy, bright, and cartoony. But it's functional. No one asks where Mirkwood starts and ends or has to squint to see its borders. Light country shading in WotR would not only make it more functional, but in my opinion, add to its beauty, and all without taking it to the extreme of a map like LOTR Risk.



All this is not to say the components are poorly crafted, because they aren't. In fact, all the pieces, as well as the artwork on the board and cards, are excellent. And think about it -- how cool is it that there are 34 uniquely molded units! But for me that wasn't enough as I felt annoyed at having to work at taking in the board, when all I wanted to do was strategize, learn the game, and play it.


Is It Just Me?

To be clear, I am not saying to avoid this game. Obviously it appeals to many, which I'd guess lean more toward war gamers because of all the rules. But that's not quite accurate because WotR is not as dense as many of those. Still, I didn't realize just how dense this game was before I purchased it, which is primarily what I want to pass on in my review. So if that appeals to you, then dive it. Yet to me, that explains why I see so many auctions of this game on eBay saying, "Only played once!" as I'm guessing many feel overwhelmed, even though they probably want to like it.

And all this is very interesting to me because I'm not opposed to a lot of rules or reading card text or randomness in my games. In fact, BattleLore may be my favorite game and it has all of those components. If I remember correctly, it has a 80 page rulebook I combed through word by word, so I thought I could easily handle WotR's 20 page manual, but I was quite naive at all the intricacies lurking between the lines.


What I Love

The best part to me is the action dice. Each player rolls several of them, which dictate the types of actions you can perform as you each go back and forth on your turns. I love this mechanic. It's essentially a blending of luck and strategy -- you can't control what you roll, but afterwards, you choose which dice action to use and how to use it.



Honestly, I thought this mechanic could redeem the whole game for me, but it wasn't to be. Previous points I've mentioned kind of put a damper on the whole. (One might say like a long shadow from the East.) It's like when Frodo and Sam see the flowery crown growing on the fallen statue king's head; the action dice were the hopeful mechanic for me, yet all the rules and subrules overwhelmed its glory as I was forced to trudge on.

I also like how combat works, with strongholds, elite units, leaders, and even sieges, where it feels like a massive battle is taking place over an extended amount of time. Especially when in the midst of it all the Fellowship is pushing toward Mordor with the burden of the ring, which Sauron is trying to hunt down and corrupt the ring-bearer.

All this together feels very LotR-ish, granting each side the ability to play out "What If" scenarios in Tolkien's world. (In fact, as I wrote this section, I got excited about wanting to play the game again as it all sounds like great fun!) But then I'm reminded of all the card text and the intricacies and rule exceptions, and I fizzle again.


Replayability?

I've only played once, so I can't comment on replayability. However, I have to admit that it feels somewhat limited as the Free Peoples (not sure about Sauron) but without multiple plays I cannot say one way or the other. So why bring it up?

Mainly to pass on what I've gleaned from other comments here. And that is, from what I've gathered, even some of those who love the game seem to imply that while their overall strategic "best options" may feel limited, the random elements help to offset this. And adding the expansion helps to offset it even more. (As I understand it, "replayability" has been somewhat of a debate in this game, but I've no desire to weigh in on it or hammer it out here.)

I will say in favor of the game that in addition to destroying the ring (Free People win) or destroying the Fellowship (Sauron win) both sides can also win militarily, which is an excellent element the designers added by making each side able to win two different ways between two asymmetric sides. You have to admire that.


Learning Curve vs Randomness

The game essentially comes down to dice rolling and tile drawing. (Like many similar games, right?) So it seems strange to me that I somewhat mind them here, though I usually love such gaming elements. So what's my problem?

My best guess is for the amount of work I have already given (and still need to give) into truly learning this game, I guess I expect the outcome to hinge more on my tactical decisions than on such random factors. Again, I don't generally mind such mechanics, but something about the weight of the ring... er... I mean the rules... kept me from enjoying them. Though like anything, I'm guessing it would turn around if I continued to pour my time and effort into the game.


The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

The Good: Great artwork, nice-looking components and map, very strongly tied theme to LotR. At first glance, you think, "What's not to like? I'm going to love this!"

The Bad: For a game with so many rules, it feels a bit more random than expected. Lack of color on both the map and units. (Uncertain about replayability; others have expressed it's lacking while others swear it has tons, so dig elsewhere.)

The Ugly: Rules, exceptions to rules, and rule details for individual units. Lots of card text. Learning and teaching this game are a huge undertaking: Risk is to A&A as A&A is to WotR.


BGG Ranking

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so some of my "bad" or "ugly" may be "good" for you and vice versa. And though I'm in the minority on the game with its high ranking, I wonder if many, like me, simply haven't rated it because they don't know how. I still haven't rated it because there's a lot I like (action dice, battles, immersive LotR experience) yet the whole left me with a headache... literally... after reading the directions twice, asking questions here, trying to explain it to another gamer, and still feeling lost.

I really wanted to like this game, but didn't primarily because of the high learning curve and the overall lack of fun we had. I'm sure it'd be more fun if I would learn all the ins and outs of it (and memorized the important card text for companions and minions). However, the gamer I played with doesn't want to try again as it left him with misgivings. And I've no desire to teach someone else until they first read the 20-page, small font, rulebook.


Too Much Theme?

Q: How can a game have too much theme?
A: If it values theme over gameplay.

I've never felt that about a game until WotR. One example element I previously mentioned is the map's look versus its practicality. (At least until you become familiar with the game.)

Another instance is the Free People countries have their own emblem chits and chart to one side of the board that tracks two traits for each country: Activation and if they're "At War". I'll not go into how these change/progress. I admit it's a clever dynamic that's not difficult to grasp and ties very closely to the LotR story. But at the same time it has an awkward feel to it, that yet again hampers smooth game play. Now I can see some players loving it because it's very similar to the LotR story as you play "What If" in this world... but I wonder at what cost as it felt like more of a hassle for what it offers. (In the image below, they're part of the upper-right edge of the board.)



I'm not a wargamer and I didn't think I would have to be to enjoy this game. And truth to tell, you don't have to be a wargamer, but it has that overall feel to it far more than I expected with all the rules. Combat-wise, I didn't mind it in regards to attacking, defending, sieges, etc, but too many other elements felt fiddly to me, whether its being mindful of leaders, Nazguls, companions, card text, country's activations, etc.

Now I could see someone considering/buying this game because of my review as they might think "Hmm. What he says is negative is something I see as a positive." And that's fine. If so, then my review succeeded in relating the game. I'm simply disappointed that it's ultimately not my cup of tea, and I thought it might be the same for others thinking about this game.

To quote a Kevin James monologue in regards to water-skiing: "It's a lot of work for not that much fun." That's how I felt about WotR. Yet obviously there are people who love to water-ski, so different strokes for different folks. I just wish I could have dipped my toe into someone else's copy before I grabbed the rope and yelled "Go!" only to find myself drug face first through the water with my shorts wrapped around my ankles.


Conclusion

For some, this game is worth the learning curve, just as it's worth it to many to climb Mt. Everest. However, given the amount of dedication it would demand, I've no desire to attempt Mt. Everest. (And I feel no shame in admitting that, and I would hope others don't think I should.) Yes, those who have climbed Mt. Everest say I'm missing an incredible view... but on the flip side, many have died in the attempt.

Anyway, to each their own. I can understand the appeal of "The War of the Ring" for some. So again, I'm not saying to avoid this game. I just wanted to share my thoughts, even though I thought this was a "can't miss" game for me. (I love LOTR, some randomness and strategy, and some meaty rules.) I also felt it was important to give a differing opinion from the rabid fans here, who I assume, given their devotion, must routinely offer up small animal sacrifices to this game.

To newcomers, keep my one-play review in perspective. I'm only writing it now because I am not planning on playing it again. (In fact, I became one of those people who sold it on ebay that said, "Only played once!") My intent was simply to convey "Things I Wish I Had Known" before I bought such an expensive game. And if those things don't deter you, then by all means have at it.


P.S. Age of Conan

On a side note to those who agree with my review (or to those riding the fence) I'm keeping a close eye on the upcoming Age of Conan by the same designers. I admit I'm hoping for WotR-lite type of game. So far as I understand it, it will also be immersive, loyal to the subject matter, have action dice, and fewer rules (or at least fewer exceptions to rules *fingers crossed*) resulting in a lower learning curve. It will also accommodate more than two players, which is a bonus. So I'm holding my breath... and best of all, the final map will have color as the image below shows!



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Walter Hunt
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A great review, though I find the game compelling - and compared to the days of hex and counter a huge leap. In particular, this trumps the old SPI game because there's a way for Sauron to win other than preventing the Fellowship from playing "wing the Ring" as we used to say.

The area in which I strongly agree is the figures in the game - I think anyone who plays the game at all regularly has to pimp the figures in some way (painting or labeling in some way) just to tell the damn things apart.

Still, this is a definitive response to people who complain about "stapled on theme". I've been a LotR fan for 40+ years, and the amount of theme detail is huge and extremely compelling. I guess that's why it stays in my collection. I'm sorry it was unable to remain in yours. I hope people with contrary opinions take the time to read your exceptionally detailed review before registering their disagreement.
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brian
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Excellent review and echoes some of my feelings on the game as well. I am willing to try again and make it work but it just didn't grab me like I expected it to.
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Christian Grundner
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Thank you for this great review.

I agree on almost all points with it! I did try to play (or at least start) quite a few games of WotR.

Most games ended at some point in the middle because of a few throws of dice preferred one player and destroying all strategy the other player attempted.

If I´m investing the time and energy to learn rules that complex then i expect to be rewarded with something where i can put more strategy in than playing risk.

One tip. Try the original War of the Ring if you can find it. That game clearly was the mold the new game was formed in but with a more distinct division between the "hero game" and the "war game".

It is lacking the elegant action dice. in that game the fellowship player has unlimited actions in his turn (as long as every unit only moved once) while the dark player was limited with his attention. And the fellowship spawned markers for rumors to mask their progress.

While definitely more of a wargame than the new WotR at least you got rewarded with much less of a luck factor.

try it
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Chris
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Great writeup. No question this game requires effort (or work, depending on your point of view).

JYoder wrote:
those who have climbed Mt. Everest say I'm missing an incredible view... but on the flip side, many have died in the attempt.


Guffaw!
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Dan Freedman
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The game does have a lot of rules to digest. It would be difficult for anyone to pick up the rulebook and get them all right on the first play. Hopefully they'll get most of them right so as not to impact playability. I read the rulebook and taught it in my first game. I initially rated the game at a 7...because it ran very long and we spent a lot of time trying to figure it out. I still liked it, but wasn't 100% sold on it. Once I got the rules down, I realized how fantastic the game is and my rating slowly rose up to a 10 (I'm stingy w/them). Everyone I've taught the game to has really enjoyed it and wanted to play again.

Bottom line, if someone wants to enjoy the "view from Everest" without having to risk the climb, they are best served by learning the game from an experienced player.
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The Grouch
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You may have been better off trying the basic "quick start" rules first. IIRC (and it's been a while), this ignores the text on the cards and lets you spend the cards during Palantir actions to take character, army or muster actions, depending on the symbol on the card. It also simplifies the Hunt as well. It may have given you a chance to get your arms around the basic mechanics before being daunted by the entire depth and breadth of the game.
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Magic Pink
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I disagree with a lot of what you said but that's just based on my preference. This is still a great review.

Totally agree that the map needs colors and that the figures should have been different shades tho. Yeah, it would have looked garish but it would have helped playability a ton.
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Joel K
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This is an exceptionally valuable review, in combination with your game ratings. People who like the same kinds of games you do but are on the fence about WOTR should read this, especially in light of FFG's recent price hikes. It's not a game to be buying without being pretty sure it's a good fit for you.

New players are likely to be hindered by the shambolic rulebook. The rules are ultimately not that difficult, but the structure and presentation makes learning them unnecessarily laborious. Unfortunately, I don't think this is good game to sit down and play in earnest the very first time you break it out. A no-stakes, experimental learning session helps a bunch.

I definitely agree with your usability concerns. Everyone is used to John Howe-style LOTR art I guess, but I can envision a much better map (Mark Mahaffey, are you listening? ) distinguishing national boundaries more clearly. The font size on the cards irks me, but I get by.

Notwithstanding all of that, this is one of my all-time favorite games. Your comments are fair and well-considered. I don't think it's a problem that you only played it once before writing this, because you clearly gave thought to the basis for your disappointment. Some people think you have to play something a couple times before having an opinion, some people can just quickly do the mental calculus to realize it's not worth more of their time (I'm the latter).

Great contribution!
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Peter Hansell
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Right off the bat I really like this game so it was good to see a critical review. I remember the first game being a complete blur of rules and card confusion. Luckily my opponent goaded me into another game and it was off to the races from there.

It may appear that there are few strategic options but for us the replayability has been quite high. I think that is because you cannot fight everywhere and you have to spend your action dice where you think you can gain an advantage. Combined with the cards it creates a different experience every game.

The best part about this game is that we have come down to extremely close games on about 75% of the plays. When I say close I mean maybe 1 or 2 action dice between victory for the fellowship and victory for the side of darkness. This always amazes me in a game that is asymetrical and has so many systems. I find it very well balance.

I think you really can't get this one on the first go but by the third game you will really love it.

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Was George Orwell an Optimist?
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I won't join the 'great review' chorus, but I do think it was well written and as good as could be expected from somebody who plays once and won't do so again.

Nobody should buy this game unless they plan to play at least three times, regardless of how it goes in the first outing. The game has enough complexity that everybody flounders in their first attempt. Generally it's about the 3rd play where things come together, and you start playing the game rather than having it play you.

The comment about the dice and cards determining the outcome more than your skill underscores this. You don't have any skill the first time you play, so naturally it feels that way. As you play more, and understand what's happening better, you will be able to employ risk management just as in other games with random elements. Over time you will find that the stronger player wins most games, a clear indicator that skill predominates. Of course, if you quit after one play you'll never reach that point.

The question of whether this is a wargamer's game is a good one. WotR players require a certain level of tolerance for complexity and detail in a game, and wargamers (at least the hex and counter kind) have this in abundance. Players who only enjoy quick, clean games will not find that in WotR.

Thanks for taking the time to write your review. I hope that the game percolates in the back of your mind, and draws you back for another attempt. Should that happen, you might yet be drawn in.
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EJ Holleman
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Same feeling here as the OP.
The minute I saw this game, I bought it, without reading anything but the back of the box. Being a big LOTR fan, I figured it would be a game I would really really like.

So I read the rules many times, set up the game, and it just didn't grab me! I couldn't believe that this game couldn't be more satisfying to me.
I painted the figures (just one colour, nothing fancy), I downloaded tons of Player aids, played the game solo a bit, tried it with friends, but it didn't work for me....

I really like the card text, the Fellowship-mini's, the art, the board (although I can see its problems), but I haven't enjoyed this game.... it's a real shame.

There is another problem: being the big LOTR fan I am, I can't seem to get myself to selling this game.... Strange, isn't it?
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Christopher Lawrence
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Sphere wrote:

Nobody should buy this game unless they plan to play at least three times, regardless of how it goes in the first outing.


I would think that could apply to most, if not all, game purchases. Then again, I don't follow that advice even for ridiculously expensive miniatures games. shake
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John W
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Excellent review.

I can't remember seeing a better first-play review than this, and WotR is one of those games that DOES warrant a 1st-play review (since it is prohibitively difficult and demanding of investment of time).

This review is an important heads-up/warning to people thinking of buying or playing it without investing significant efforts to the attempt(s).
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Colin Hunter
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I can definitely appreciate why you found this hard to learn. Wargames as a while have a steep learning curve, while I don't feel this particularly hard, it is more a matter of perspective I guess so I can see your point.

Quote:
he Bad: For a game with so many rules, it feels a bit more random than expected. Lack of color on both the map and units. (Uncertain about replayability; others have expressed it's lacking while others swear it has tons, so dig elsewhere.)
WotR can indeed be random, but I suspect it far less than you realize, there is a great deal of skill to this game (that is why they have tournaments of it I suspect and the same people generally win). Luck has nothing really to do with how often it occurs, but how decisive it is in the game. I suspect multiple plays and an appreciation for the strategy involved might alter this view, but hell WotR as you mention is not for everyone and I wouldn't suggest that you keep playing a game you don't like either. I just think it is worth pointing out that this isn't the sort of thing you can probably determine after a single play is all.

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Yoki Erdtman
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Sphere wrote:
Nobody should buy this game unless they plan to play at least three times, regardless of how it goes in the first outing. The game has enough complexity that everybody flounders in their first attempt. Generally it's about the 3rd play where things come together, and you start playing the game rather than having it play you.

The comment about the dice and cards determining the outcome more than your skill underscores this. You don't have any skill the first time you play, so naturally it feels that way. As you play more, and understand what's happening better, you will be able to employ risk management just as in other games with random elements. Over time you will find that the stronger player wins most games, a clear indicator that skill predominates. Of course, if you quit after one play you'll never reach that point.

I completely agree with this, and wanted to point out to the OP that the same goes for Age of Conan: The Strategy Board Game, while a lot simpler (according to the designers, I haven't played WotR yet myself) than WotR, it still takes about three plays for you to get the strategy.

In a funny way this review is actually pushing me off the fence, and making up my mind that this really is a game for me.
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Einmal ist keinmal
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Thanks for sharing your thoughts, even if it was after only one play. Kudos for emphasizing that point up front and reminding us again towards the end of the review. In that case, there is certainly nothing bad about offering a "premature" review.

Even though I don't share your overall opinion of the game, I do think you make good points about some of the faults of the game (map region distinction, unit distinction, namely). Luckily for me, the enjoyment of the game outweighs those.

Like it was stated above, the best thing to do is learn from someone already very comfortable with the game. I realize this isn't always possible, and in fact, is not how I learned. I read the rules several times, read strategy articles, and played a few practice turns before I even attempted to teach this game. In all cases, the game went smoothly (although in one case, it dragged way too long).

It's really important, I think, to have the most experienced player controlling the Fellowship/Free Peoples. In the one case where the game took too long, the newer player tried using the FP, and completely abandoned moving the FSP. Now, perhaps some of the delay was caused by me not capitalizing on that and sending the Shadow quickly enough to win militarily, but it became a war of attrition--well, attrition for the FP, and just time for me to muster enough to take him out. We called it after it was apparent, but it wasn't the most rewarding game I played of WotR.

Now, most games last in the 3-4 hour range, and that includes set-up as well as rules explanation (for first timers).

And btw, I'm not a wargamer, but I can see the connection with wargames here. I don't think the rules are any more complex than, say, Arkham Horror--and I think (because of the theme/intuitiveness) even easier than Die Macher.

Here is what I said about the rules in my review: http://www.boardgamegeek.com/thread/324417
Quote:
Rules
The rules are about 20 pages long. The rules have lots of visuals describing the pieces as well as the cards and symbols. However, it’s not the best when it comes to organization, especially when trying to flip through to look up a rule you can’t quite remember. Some of the rules can seem a bit detailed as well, such as when to advance a nation on the political track and where you can and can’t muster new units.

I should also mention the thick FAQ for this game (and a small amount of errata). With rules of this complexity and all the various Event cards, it is understandable to have some questionable situations.

New players should be prepared to make several mistakes the first few times playing. Instead of flipping through the rules to look up every question, it’s recommended to just keep track of the issue, play on, and look it up later in order to play it correct the next time.


And what I think about who would enjoy this game and who wouldn't:
Quote:
Will You Like It?
So, just because I like it, does it necessarily mean you will?

If you enjoy the theme and enjoy the complexity of epic-level games, then this game will interest you. You must have a friend who is willing to sit for a 4-hour game. I think this is the type of game that is best owned by those who plan on playing it frequently. The level of complexity, while not difficult once you've played a game or two, is enough to warrant a good deal of dedication to the game. Therefore, if you think you may only get to play it once or twice, then it's best not to bother with this one.


Anyways, nice review--good to hear opposing viewpoints.
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Superb review!! This is my favourite game of all time (for 2 players), yet I agree with nearly everything you wrote. In particular, everything about this game's visuals seems determined to confound the first-time player - from the monochromatic figures, to the map regions that are too small to fit the figures, to the barely discernible nation borders, to the Settlement symbols and region names that fade into the board background, to the bizarre nation symbols on the political track, to the minuscule card text that requires a magnifying glass, to the terribly organized rulebook.

In fact, prior to my first game, I spent an entire summer reading and re-reading and re-re-reading the rulebook and FAQ, spray-painting all my figures (including gluing nickels onto the bases of the Nazgul), and creating various player aids, rules summaries, etc. The 13th reply in this thread... http://www.boardgamegeek.com/thread/328833 ...gives a helpful list of everything I did to make this game more playable.

But for me, all those hours of preparation were worth it!
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I think it's important for everyone to realize something about this game:

The initial playtest version was much, MUCH, MUCH simpler. There were still a lot of cards, and there was the hunt, and elites, and some other stuff (and of course the action dice), but the designers responded to play-balance problems uncovered in playtesting with MORE RULES.

The hunt is far, FAR more fiddly and intricate than it was initially.

Fellowship movement is more complex now

Many cards were added to tweak balance.

The way the hunt tiles work was made more cumbersome

The guide rules to the fellowship were lengthened

Minions were made more complex to generate/muster

And on and on it goes.

Basically, NOTHING was streamlined during playtest. Lots of stuff was added, thrown in to combat perceived balance problems, so it ended up being like a pendulum that was swinging more and more wildly out of control, needed stronger and more intricate intervention each time to nudge it back in the other direction.

It's a real shame, because I thought the initial playtest copy was GREAT. It just needed a few (non-rules-adding) tweaks for game balance and it would've been all set. Instead, the playtesters and designers got sucked into adding more and more chrome and rules exceptions to handle balance problems, so the whole thing grew way out of hand. And no one recognized it because they were, after all, just tiny incremental changes that the playtesters and designers hardly noticed, being so familiar with the "core" game.

If this were released with the initial playtest rules & components*, I'd buy it in a heartbeat. As it is, it's a bloated clunker that suffocates any fun it generates under its own weight. A very avoidable shame.

yuk

* EDIT: by playtest components I mean professionally produced versions of the playtest components. Not the actual print/play components themselves, of course.
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ejh231171 wrote:
Same feeling here as the OP.
The minute I saw this game, I bought it, without reading anything but the back of the box. Being a big LOTR fan, I figured it would be a game I would really really like. -snip-



I too am a big LOTR fan. It's my favorite thematic gaming. And I do have this game courtesy of a fine friend of mine but like Holleman, "it just doesn't grab me." And I've read the rules pulled out the board and looked it over centimeter by centimeter (as I love maps too!).

Now (confession time), I'm a "former" wargamer. I played in hexes and counters and tables (oh my) and I really don't want to go back there. I'm much happier (given my limited board game play time) playing accessible games that give you a decent play session the first time out. I appreciate George Fagin's opinion on the "3rd Play" notion and I believe that probably applies to games with a certain (higher) level of complexity. And it would seem that WOTR seems to fall into this category.

But don't be fooled people of limited time (and people with a light case of ADHD), this game requires some supreme gaming attention and dedication and is not for the weak (or light) of heart




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"almost" epic? WTF?

Anyway, the skill element actually is more important than random chance, but it would take a deeper understanding of the game to realize that, probably. It does have way too complicated rules (see the errata), and you do have to paint the figures, and get the expansion. And occasionally sacrifice a goat or two.
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I understand this review, and, as others do, I agree with some of the problems you mentioned. However, where I disagree is in your assessment of it not being worth the climb. (It's not Mt. Everest. It won't kill you )

Based upon what I read here, before my first play I painted the bases of all the minis to their Nation color. (It took me an hour) So I never actually dealt with that problem.

The issue of identifying the Nations very quickly becomes a non-issue as after the first (or maybe second) play you know precisely where the borders are.

As you noted theme is awesome and very well implemented. Every game is a story. And as for replayabilty let me tell you after 13 games every one of them has been vastly different.

I appreciate your candor in this review, and maybe it is not for everybody. I mean, I know that I am biased bacause I love this game, but it saddens me to think that someone is missing out because of the quite normal difficulties during the first play.

I just think that someone reading this review should recognize that this is a game where the first play is always a learning game. It should be played that way.

This is a rule heavy game. So on your first couple of games guess the rules where you have questions and figure out after its over whether you were right for next game. (Heck, I did that in my last game for one small rule question.) After all, you should be having fun while you're playing and not constantly looking up rules.

Do this and the game really comes together so nicely.

-One Wolf

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Tom

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In Wotr the national borders don't really matter as much as a game like AA. You only need to know when you cross a border, that triggers results in the game. You don't really need to see the nations very clearly. Now, the settlements, OK those can be a pain to see.

I'm sorry you didn't like the game, but you didn't really give it a chance. Maybe BGG needs a learning curve rating; "Game requires X amount of plays to learn" This would inform those who are only willing to try a game once before making a judgment on it.

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I at one time could have written this review. I tried on 3 occasions to play this game (twice solitaire just to learn the rules) and each time there were so many questions I/we gave up. In fact I put it up for trade at the BGGCON math trade. My 13 year old son Matt didn't want me to but I kept telling him we couldn't even make it through the rules. He begged me to try one last time. Ok, I did.

And I am so glad I did. It was a great experience! Absolutely loved it once we got through the learning curve. It's as if the game just came alive. I decided not to trade it and look forward to playing it again!

Now as far as the components... I would almost fail this game.

I know it's beautiful and all but c'mon - I need a magnifying glass to read most of the cards without straining. The card font in by far the smallest I have ever seen on any cards in any game.

The pieces also fail - they simply look too much alike. Why wasn''t a color scheme used to separate the armies? Horrible decision.

The board also fails - it's hard to tell the lands apart without paying very close attention to the board. The risk board with its colors would have been much better. (I wonder if it would work with this game?)

So my advice would be go through the rules thoroughly and its 15 page FAQ attachment on this site. Then maybe you will like it. However I would definitly understand anyone giving up on this game. I almost did - but I am glad I didn't.

Final thoughts - this game is dying for a complete makeover in the reprint department - bigger type on cards, different peices (even different colored cubes would be better) and a different board.
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Mike McDonald
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I love this game, its one of my favorite two player games. However as noted everything in the review is accurate. The pieces are a little fiddly and there are a lot of rules. I never thought I would love a LOTR boardgame as much as I loved the original 'War of the Ring' boardgame (I came this close to winning as Sauruman in the three player variant!) but I truly love this game. While skill and strategy play a definate part the game is balanced so every time I've played it at least its always been close. I admit I've never seen a fellowship military victory, buts its been close a few times and I'm compelled to say when I play I always try for one. In addition I just want to say this is one of the best talkbacks I've seen about a dissenting view on a boardgame. No flamewars, no insults, just acknowledging the posters points and admitting the game isn't for everyone.
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