I recently got a chance to play the recently released second edition of War of the Ring. While this is not a review—I’d hate to base my opinions of a game on a single play, especially a game as epic as this—I thought I’d share a little on what went down. If you’re a Lord of the Rings fan, if you’re interested in the game but not sure if it’s worth your money, or if you know you will never be able to fit this into your gaming budget (whether of time or money), read on, friend! Allow me to share the wonder with you.
War of the Ring is, as you may have guessed, a board game based on the epic conflict between the forces of good and evil as told in The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien. The excruciatingly large board is about twice the size of most game boards; in fact, it is made up of two boards that you stick together. Apparently the game’s producers couldn’t get it down to one board and still be able to fold it up and fit it in the box.
The board is a map of Middle-Earth, divided into various regions and sections—from very recognizable places like the Shire, Rivendell, Moria, and Minas Tirith, to places only the most hardcore LOTR fans would know about.
Rather than go into too much detail on the rules, how it’s played, how this works and that works, how long the setup lasted (it was long), I’ll just tell the story as it unfolded. And a slight background.
The game starts just as the Fellowship of the Ring is about to leave Rivendell. On the side of evil (or whatever it’s called in the game), Saruman, Sauron, and the Easterlings are trying to either corrupt the Fellowship completely before it arrives or conquer 10 points worth of strongholds. (Cities are worth 1 pt, Fortresses worth 2, being respectably harder to conquer.) Meanwhile, the Free Peoples (Elves, Dwarves, Rohan, Gondor, and Men of the North) must either conquer 4 pts worth of enemy strongholds (a distinctly challenging feat) or move the Fellowship all the way into Mordor until they reach Mount Doom and destroy the One Ring.
Aside from the obvious Fellowship difference, the two sides are asymmetrical. While the Free Peoples have cards that make them a little bit better at conflict (and will spend more time staying in their Fortresses which are easier to defend), they have limited resources—a unit that is killed goes back into the box. On the other hand, the forces of Saruman and Sauron are great in number. While they spend more time invading (without the protection of a fortress), their cards don’t boost them as much. However, a unit killed goes back into the reinforcement pool, meaning it can be brought out again. They can throw themselves violently against the Free Peoples and wear down their forces bit by bit. And once they get a foothold, they can conquer pretty easily while the Free Peoples’ armies are stretched thin. In addition, they have more actions each turn (and if they don’t, it’s because a lot of energy is going into searching for the Fellowship, which makes it really dangerous for the fellowship to move).
Anyways, to the game. Things started off a little slow—not in a bad way, more like a tense standoff. Blake built up huge armies for Sauron, and the Easterlings, under Bryan’s control, also gathered. The cards I started off with were primarily military, so I sent Gandalf off to rouse the men of the North to war. Then I sent Gimli and Boromir to get the Dwarves, and they ended up staying far north to defend against an invasion of Orcs.
Pippin split off and headed for Fangorn, waiting for Gandalf’s instructions. Gandalf, after alerting the North, headed down to help defend Helm’s Deep against an incursion from Saruman. Unfortunately, Helm’s Deep fell, and Gandalf along with it.
Strider and Legolas soon abandoned the Fellowship as well to fortify another city in Rohan, but when the Easterlings invaded Peleor, Strider revealed himself as Aragorn and took Legolas, along with the Army of the Dead, to fend them off. In the chaos, the Easterlings and an army of Sauron’s ended up damaging each other, giving Minas Tirith some breathing room from an invasion. (Phew!)
Gandalf returned as Gandalf the White, appearing in Fangorn to incite the Ents against Saruman. It was an epic battle, but the Ents were just shy of completely demolishing Saruman. (In retrospect, I failed to utilize a key game element that would have allowed them to finish the job and eliminate Saruman, but… oh well. Live and learn.) After that, Gandalf and Pippin headed to Lorien, where another large army of Sauron’s was building up for an invasion.
Through an effective use of cards, Aragorn, Legolas, and Meriadoc managed to help save Minas Tirith from a huge opposing army. At least for a while. The Fellowship, now consisting only of Frodo, Sam, and Gollum, slowly worked their way into Mordor. Step by step, they made their way unseen—facing corruption from the ring bit by bit. Armies pressed in on all sides; the Shire was conquered by Saruman, the Grey Havens held for a while but ran out of troops, and Saruman’s forces were closing in. Lorien was under heavy assault, just barely beating back the invasion. Minas Tirith held strong as well, but it was only a matter of time…
Fortunately, the Fellowship pulled through. Though Rohan was completely eradicated by Saruman, none of the original Fellowship fell. (Although man, did I try to kill Boromir. He stayed strong, though, and managed to survive the entire game with everyone else.) The ring was destroyed, leaving the Free Peoples victorious!
A lot more detailed actions occurred in this approximately three-hours- long game, but you get the idea. We made our own story—something that was definitely LOTR flavored—and even some recognizable events happened, like raising the Ents against Saruman (even though that failed) or Saruman’s taking over the Shire. Aragorn brought the pain with the Army of the Dead and proceeded to smash some baddies to pieces with it. Then you have Boromir surviving and travelling with Gimli to recruit the Dwarves…
But there are some great mechanics there. The cards gave us just enough story to let our imaginations fill the gaps; and even though many of events are directly tied to what happened in the books, the specific events and characters that trigger them serve to weave an entirely new tale. It’s zany to have characters do unexpected things, or to break away from the plot in unexpected and fun ways. Rohan… completely eliminated? But the game allows you to tell your own story, a story that feels cohesive and exciting. As a Free Peoples player you feel the overwhelming power of the enemy; as Sauron or Saruman, you frantically throw your armies against the Free Peoples as the Fellowship nears Mount Doom. It’s exciting, it’s fun, and it’s Lord of the Rings. Awesome.
Here are a bunch more pictures from the game for you to enjoy (click a thumbnail to view a larger version):