Dan Cordz
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Hi everyone, this is my first review for the Geek, so your constructive criticism would be much appreciated. Enjoy!

Board Game Name: War of the Ring 2nd Edition
Publisher: Ares Games
Approximate Retail Price: $70.00


Board Game + Tolkien = Heavy Box Stuffed with Pure Epicness


I read The Hobbit at age eight. Next I tackled The Lord of the Rings at age twelve. I’m proud to say that I only watch the special extended editions of all three excellent movies. I think it’s safe to say that I love The Lord of the Rings almost as much as I love board games. Which explains why, when I first heard of a Lord of the Rings-themed board game over a year ago I immediately went to the publisher’s website to see how much a copy would cost. Imagine my despair, dear readers, as I discovered that “War of the Ring” was long out of print and no longer available through game stores. But wait, ebay still offered hope. I did a quick ebay search and immediately knew exactly how Frodo felt as he watched Gandalf sliding down into the abyss within the mines of Moria. The least expensive copy of “War of the Ring” cost over $150. Dejected, I resigned myself to the fact that I would never play this game. But like the arrival of daylight at Helm’s Deep, last year Ares Games announced that they would be reprinting what they called “the greatest board game based on THE LORD OF THE RINGS™ ever created!” After preordering the game late last year for the slightly more reasonable price of $90.00, my precious finally arrived and over the past year I have been able to play this three-hour monster of a game enough times for me to give it an accurate review. But did this expensive game live up to the Caradhras-like height of my expectations?

“War of the Ring” is a large area control game, similar to games like “Risk” or “Axis and Allies.” One player takes control of the Free Peoples of Middle Earth, while the other assumes command of the Shadow Armies attempting to extend the dominion of Sauron over all the land. The actual rules to “War of the Ring” are very complex, so in this review I will only give a brief overview of the game’s mechanics.

A unique mechanic which makes each game of “War of the Ring” different is the use of action dice. At the beginning of a round, both players roll a handful of action dice which, depending on what side they land on, allow players to either move armies, play event cards, recruit units, or move specific characters around the board. Whereas games of “Axis & Allies” can lack re-playability when players tend to make the same opening moves at the beginning of every game, “War of the Ring” forces players to make the best use of whatever actions they roll each round.

In order to win, the Shadow player must capture five of the Free Peoples’ strongholds. This is done through combat, which is relatively simple. Each player rolls one die for each regular or elite unit he controls, up to a maximum of five dice, and for each result of five or higher he destroys one enemy unit. Leader units do not participate directly in combat but allow players to re-roll dice, while elite units require two hits to kill instead of one.

While the Shadow gobbles up strongholds left and right, the Free Peoples have a secret weapon moving slowly toward Mordor. Each turn, the Free Peoples player can use action dice showing a character symbol to move the fellowship one territory on the board. However, there is a chance that the fellowship will suffer corruption, which is determined by drawing a random cardboard “hunt tile” from a bag. Each tile deals up to three corruption and may slow the fellowship’s progress. If the fellowship’s corruption level reaches twelve, the Free Peoples lose. Furthermore, if the Free Peoples attempt to move the fellowship more than once per round, the likelihood of suffering corruption increases. However, as soon as the fellowship reaches Mount Doom with less than twelve corruption, the Free Peoples immediately win.

For me, these asymmetrical victory conditions make the endgame of “War of the Ring” shine. Both the Free Peoples and the Shadow can have victory nearly within their grasp, when one side finally beats the other by the slimmest of margins. This type of barn-burner ending is somewhat rare in board games, especially war games such as “Risk” or “Axis & Allies” in which one team usually steamrolls the others into the ground by the game’s end.

The addition of heroes to “War of the Ring” also distinguishes it from other games of its type. “War of the Ring” comes with plastic miniatures representing every member of the fellowship, each of which can be separated from the fellowship to act as extremely powerful leaders for their team’s armies. However, most of the time Frodo’s companions meet their end by sacrificing their lives to reduce the corruption taken by the fellowship.

Complementing these solid mechanics, the production quality of “War of the Ring” is simply fantastic. The Elves, North, Rohan, Gondor, Dwarves, Mordor, Isengard, and Southron troops are all represented by 204 beautiful plastic figures. The map is absolutely humongous, spanning an area of 41” by 54” and is extremely accurate in its depiction of Middle Earth. John Howe, who also worked on the Lord of the Rings movies, painted all of the artwork for this game, giving “War of the Ring” a distinctly “Tolkien-esque” feel.

My favorite part of “War of the Ring” regards the amazing amount of thematic flavor packed into the game. When playing “War of the Ring,” you feel fully immersed in Tolkien’s world. If Gandalf the Grey dies, you can revive him as the much more powerful Gandalf the White. The first time that Merry or Pippin dies, they “escape” and get an extra life. As the Shadow, you can bring in the devastating Witch King and laugh at the Free Peoples’ puny attempts at defense. Moreover, the event cards cover various aspects from the book, with cards featuring “The Dead Men of Dunharrow” and “The Power of Tom Bombadil.” These elements bring out the true essence of Tolkien’s classic trilogy, creating a rich board gaming experience unlike any other.

Despite how much I love this game, I must say that it’s certainly not for everyone. The forty-eight page rulebook will deter many. However, it is excellently written and not too difficult to understand. Also, the three-hour playing length can make it somewhat difficult to find a block of time large enough to devote to finishing an entire game. Finally, “War of the Ring” has a significant luck factor that could prove frustrating to many. In addition to the normal randomness resulting from dice-driven combat, the hunt tile drawing system for determining corruption can make the players, especially inexperienced ones, feel as if they don’t have enough control over the game’s outcome. During the final turns of the game, a single random hunt tile draw can spell either victory or defeat for the fellowship. This is not to say that the luck cannot be mitigated. Players do have control over how many risks they want to take, and while too much luck in a game usually repulses me, I actually enjoy the amount of uncertainty and tension inherent in “War of the Ring.”

Looking past these few flaws, however, “War of the Ring” is the best board game for any Tolkien fan who also enjoys games in the tradition of “Risk” and “Axis & Allies.” In my opinion, “War of the Ring” surpasses each of the aforementioned games both in thematic flavor as well as in component quality and game mechanics. In spite of this game’s steep price-tag, the 6.3 pounds of pure epicness contained inside is well worth the cost.

Game Components Quality: 9/10
Game Mechanics: 8.5/10
Bargain Factor: 9/10
Special Thematic Awesomeness Factor: 20/10
Overall Recommendation: 10/10
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Stephen Sanders
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Henderson
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DNA results:Scottish, Dutch, English, Irish, German, French, Iberian Peninsula = 100% American!
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I realy think you have hit the nail on the head with my own experiences with the first edition. It is an excellent heavy game beyond comparison, which I traded away but hope to add to the collection again in its second revision. Thanks for the update.
 
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Jim Hansen
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Nice review, I think you captured the game well! For future reviews, you might want to add headers and bold text with shorter paragraphs. That would make it easier to read.
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Barry Roy
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Great game. However, it is next to impossible to find somebody willing to play. Anybody out there interested in playing?
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Dan Cordz
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BarryRoy wrote:
Great game. However, it is next to impossible to find somebody willing to play. Anybody out there interested in playing?


I know exactly what you mean, which is a real shame. I've heard that there's an online client that works pretty well, and while I've never used it myself, I'd love to give it a try with someone sometime.
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John Jersey
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Great review of the truly epic game that is War of the Ring! I too read The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings at a similar age as you and it changed my life.

I am lucky to have a friend that's as into LotR too so we occasionally have the time get this one out. I just got the expansion and the Treebeard promo so I can't wait to play with those added in!

Edit: spelling
 
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Dan Cordz
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Hey everyone, thanks so much for your comments! I'm glad you enjoyed my review. I'd appreciate any tips of as I'm saving up to buy an avatar. I'm a pretty new user to bgg, so I'm not sure if this goes against bgg etiquette or not, but if it is just ignore this message and tell me so that I don't make the same mistake again!

Thanks!
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Jeremy Cooper
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This review told me everything I needed to know in two words "Risk" and "heavy". I have the lighter Conquest of Nerath, an easier game to bring to the table and, of course, set in a similar fantasy world. Also, I have limited shelf space, so I think Nerath will be the only Risk-style game in my collection. Thanks for saving me space and money, although I would have nobody to play it with regardless.cool
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Paul Henni
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Nice review, have some gold
 
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Glenn Darrin
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Jez2k wrote:
This review told me everything I needed to know in two words "Risk" and "heavy". I have the lighter Conquest of Nerath, an easier game to bring to the table and, of course, set in a similar fantasy world. Also, I have limited shelf space, so I think Nerath will be the only Risk-style game in my collection. Thanks for saving me space and money, although I would have nobody to play it with regardless.cool


While I agree with you that Nerath would be a much easier game to bring to the table, I have to say that for a game like War of the Ring, you MAKE room on your shelf.

I just purchased the game knowing that it's going to be a rare event indeed to get the opportunity to actually play it. And with the way I read a rulebook, who knows how long that's going to take. But for me, it's extremely worth it. Even if I can only play a couple times a year, it'll be an experience that carries on in memories for a long time. It's much like Twilight Imperium in that sense. Except even WotR doesn't come very close to the playing time of TI.
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