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Subject: Saruman wins - yes, really! rss

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Bruce Walton
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A couple of months ago, I was sitting in a pub an old friend of mine, reminiscing about board gaming in the good old days. "I remember spending whole days playing SPI's War of the Ring" he mused as he sipped his beer. So did I. As it happened, we had a fellow gamer sitting at the table who likes his Tolkein, but is lucky enough to be too young to remember "the good old days" and he was curious about this gaming antique of which we spoke. So it was that for the first time in about 25 years, I sat down to play my venerable copy of SPI's War Of The Ring.

I enthusiastically prepared a variant of the hidden movement system designed to accomodate the three player campaign scenario, and we also agreed a few rules improvements. These mainly made event card play more interesting and fixed the game's obvious known issues, but we also tried to improve Saruman's chances a bit. Quite a bit, as it turned out. If anybody's interested, I might post the variant we played here.

As the Fellowship, I decided to split three ways: Aragorn (with Anduril), Gimli, Frodo and Sam set off to Moria; Gandalf (with Glamdring) , Boromir and Pippin headed for the Gap of Rohan, planning to activate Gondor and Rohan as soon as possible; while Legolas and Merry did a 'dummy run' to make the most of hidden movement by confusing my opponents. However, a Nazgul search spotted a hobbit on turn 2, mobilising Sauron. To make things worse, the Balrog turned up in Moria and killed Aragorn soblue , although Gimli managed to recover Anduril and finish it off. Gandalf hastily rushed across to accompany the ring while the others dashed south. Meanwhile Sauron, hampered by a series of low Shadow Point rolls, began the laborious process of getting his army into place, while Saruman launched a successful Blitzkrieg on Helm's Deep.

After healing Gimli, Sam detached from the Ringbearer party to head for Thranduil (I was still looking for Elven Rope), while Gandalf, Gimli and Frodo headed south. At this point, things began to get a bit wierd. Saruman drew a Hand Orc search card for the first time in the game, correctly positioned the orc search zone in Fangorn, made his search roll and then all three capture rolls. The Ring was in his grasp. One attempt to Sieze the Ring later, Frodo was reduced to a sorcerouis smear on the grass and Saruman headed back to Isengard. Gandalf escaped, caught up and tried to Sieze the Ring back - gallantly failing but inflicting four wounds on the perfidious wizard, who ended up with Glamdring (as no Fellowship characters were in the hex at the time, and we'd added a rule allowing Saruman to use certain magic items blush ). Meanwhile the Rohirrim had been driven out of Edoras, so Saruman had victory in sight.

Suddenly, the invasion of Gondor had become a side issue. Saruman cunningly played the Gondor Mobilises event to draw Sauron into a lengthy war and thereby delay him from intervening in Rohan. Boromir and one turn's worth of reinforcements managed to get to Minas Tirith just before it was attacked, but despite my pleas Sauron pressed his attack, leaving Faramir and all the M+2 Gondor reinforcements stranded south of Minas Tirith. To add insult to injury, Boromir got killed in the first assault (you may have realised by now that this was not a game where the dice fell kindly for me, and even worse was to come ...)

Meanwhile, Saruman had got back to Isengard, where the Lord of the Nazgul jumped him and successfully managed to Seize the Ring. Gandalf the White was still some distance away, so you'd have thought that was that. Not So. The original rules allow Saruman to resurrect himself in Isengard, and one of the rule modifications we'd introduced made his resurrected self a bit beefier (C3 M2 E5 Sorcery A). Consequently all Saruman had to do was wake up in the Ring phase, get Glamdring back from that vile quisling Nazgul #9 who had gone over to his side and was keeping it for him, then in his player turn (going first was very useful here) jump the wounded LotN and finish him off. Saruman was in the driving seat again.

Finally, a military challenge arrived in Rohan. Gothmog and a stack of Haradrim cavalry besieged Isengard, while Eomer and a joint Rohan/Gondor taskforce recaptured Edoras and had a go at Helm's Deep. When Saruman emerged to get Edoras back, he was jumped by Gandalf the White - but once more he prevailed in a Sieze the Ring attempt. Even Gollum had a go, but when the smoke cleared Saruman was wounded but triumphant again.

Eventually all 8 surviving Nazgul defected, and when a weary Fellowship stack retreated from Helms Deep they were destroyed at Edoras, with both Eomer and Theoden perishing to k results. Sauron had finally taken Minas Tirith after a long and bloody (and in my view rather unnecessary) siege, but without a leader (after Gothmog defected and with the Mouth tied up besieging Dol Amroth) he was powerless to take any of the three Rohan objectives back.

After nine brutal hours and nineteen turns, Saruman had done it - he was the master of Middle Earth!
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Brett Christensen
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That'll teach you to beef up Saruman. Thanks for the report, sounds like a fun 9 hours to me.
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Rob Rob
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jocky wrote:
If anybody's interested, I might post the variant we played here.

Consider me interested!meeple
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Bruce Walton
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Cool

Essentially there were five kinds of change in our variant:

1) Tweaking the hidden movement rules published in Moves magazine to suit the three player game (allowing for Saruman knowing different things to Sauron, presence of army units etc.)

2) Fixing the known issues (Sauron stacking Mordor knee high in Nazgul and orcs, strange character combats due to the 'one at a time' rule)

3) Making some improvements to game play (more dynamic card play, allowing people other than Boromir to Seize the Ring etc ..)

4) Giving Saruman a fighting chance (and yes I know it serves me right cry)

5) Adding a few 'what if' options (definitely optional as some of them would be controversial among Tolkein geeks e.g. possible circumstances in which Galadriel might have moved out of Lothlorien)

My overriding philosophy was to do nothing which would change either the physical components or the feel of the game.

I'll post further in the Variants forum ...
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Richard Hands
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mothertruckin wrote:
That'll teach you to beef up Saruman. Thanks for the report, sounds like a fun 9 hours to me.


It did seem to fly by. I played the victorious Saruman, and both Bruce (Fellowship) and Andy (Sauron) were very unlucky at key moments. I also had to do a lot of stirring (including forcing a mobilisation of Gondor) to prevent Sauron and the Fellowship trusting each other enough to properly coordinate against me, as well as using Saruman's mental challenges to drain Shadow Points and slow down Sauron's military steamroller, and the timing of the Lord of the Nazgul's ring snatch was very unfortunate - he didn't have enough Shadow Points to get home - otherwise that would have been game over and a Sauron victory. I am pleased to have won the only Saruman victory I have ever seen in all my years of playing WOTR, though!

In a couple of weeks' time the nostalgia continues with Freedom in the Galaxy...
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Bruce Walton
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Humble_Scribe wrote:
I also had to do a lot of stirring (including forcing a mobilisation of Gondor) to prevent Sauron and the Fellowship trusting each other enough to properly coordinate against me


We nearly struck a deal swapping Minas Tirith for Dol Guldur, but he wouldn't bite

Humble_Scribe wrote:
as well as using Saruman's mental challenges to drain Shadow Points and slow down Sauron's military steamroller, and the timing of the Lord of the Nazgul's ring snatch was very unfortunate - he didn't have enough Shadow Points to get home


Oh yes, forgot about all those mind challenges. That really slowed Andy down, definitely a good tactic.

I forget - could Andy have waited for his next player turn to Seize the Ring with the LotN, or did he have to go for it them because you were about to win? It's all a bit of a blur ...

Humble_Scribe wrote:
In a couple of weeks' time the nostalgia continues with Freedom in the Galaxy...


Bring it on! My turn to choose sides though ...
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Richard Hands
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jocky wrote:
I forget - could Andy have waited for his next player turn to Seize the Ring with the LotN, or did he have to go for it them because you were about to win? It's all a bit of a blur ...


He could have waited, but I would have regenerated endurance during the upcoming Ring phase, being back in Isengard. I also suspect he, like me (and even you, for a moment!) thought Gandalf the White was about to suddenly appear and run off with the Ring.

jocky wrote:
Bring it on! My turn to choose sides though ...


Fair enough. Either side is fun.
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Christian Shelton
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Thanks for bringing back memories of this. My dad had a copy when I was growing up and we played it a few times. I had forgotten some of the details of play, which your description brought back.
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Andrew H
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I was the rather frustrated Sauron.

I hugely enjoyed the game - my first time (I'm addicted to the more recent War of the Ring but had been keen to try the old one out since I heard about it) - but was a bit disappointed at how rubbish the Nazgul were in combat (apart from the Witch King/LotN).

The politics created by Saruman finding the Ring were a lot of fun. The map makes it very hard for Sauron and the Free Peoples to make a deal and Saruman's playing of the Gondor mobilises card was the decisive moment of the game.

I still think that the resurrected Saruman was a bit too tough, especially as he was able to go straight back into combat with a wounded Witch King. However, it was enormously entertaining and thanks to my friends for showing me an old classic.

I managed to get my revenge in a game of the newer version, in which curiously Aragorn also fell to the Balrog early on! Though Saruman escaped my wrath...
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Rob Johnson
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What is a "resurrected" Saruman?
 
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Bruce Walton
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A "resurrected Saruman" is Saruman after he has died, then returned to life at Isengard. As I wrote in the original session report, "The original rules allow Saruman to resurrect himself in Isengard, and one of the rule modifications we'd introduced made his resurrected self a bit beefier (C3 M2 E5 Sorcery A). " It was this beefed-up resurrected Saruman who came back to life and beat up the LotN, and then (with +2 morale for wearing The Ring) also beat up Gandalf the White.
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Rob Johnson
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That would be a sight to see- Saruman thumping Morgul! Saruman would have been most pleased with himself for such a deed, since the LotN probably kept his Master's "ally" under an insulting iron scrutiny........

(Tolkien scholars have theorized that Morgul was the LotN's name from the time of the Black Numenoreans. It cannot have been his original Numenorean name, so he must have renamed himself. It means nothing in Quenya or Sindarin, I don't think)
 
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Bruce Walton
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Morgul means Black/Dark Wraith in Sindarin, so it could be a post-transformation nickname but couldn't be his original name. Personally I prefer calling him Angmar (Witch King of ...). But yes, I'm sure Saruman enjoyed every minute of his revenge!
 
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