Monday, 13 December 2004

War of the Ring

Our brief states that [TTM](/snv/ttm) is a blog about miniature wargames, with the occasional other form of gaming sneaking in. This post is one of those occasional ones on other forms of gaming -- boardgaming in the case at hand (although to be fair, the game has Tiny Plastic Men. And Elephants. And Orcs. Trolls. Hobbitses. And ... oh, never mind). The game in question is [War of the Ring](http://www.boardgamegeek.com/game/9609), a board game which Alan and myself have played a few times now.

WotR is a game on, amazingly, the War of the Ring in Middle Earth. It is a game that encompasses the entirety of the events in the final year of the Third Age, with both the Quest of the Fellowship to destroy the One Ring and the global war featured in the game. It features a Good and an Evil (Free Peoples and Shadow) player, controlling armies of Men, Elves, Orcs and whatnot, with the FP player simultaneously trying to move the Fellowship to Mordor to cast the Ring in the Mountain of Doom.

There are a basic four victory conditions in the game: two for each side. The FP player can either gather up 4 points worth of Shadow strongholds (e.g. Moria and Dol Guldur) or destroy the Ring. The Shadow player needs to conquer 10 points in FP strongholds (this might seem disparate, but the Shadow armies are much larger and much easier reinforced than the FP armies) or push the fellowship to 12 points in corruption, leading Frodo to claim the Ring for himself and loosing the game for the FP player. The game is driven by 'action dice' and event cards, and the tactics involve using these essentially random factors within a strategic framework (the 'master plan').

What makes the game a real hit, is a combination two factors: the razor like game balance and the sheer endlessness of different strategies to play. The game balance is very well done, with many games hingeing on the roll of a die or the drawing of a single damage chit. It is absolutely mind boggling to imagine to amount of playtesting that must have gone into making a game with so many variables teeter on so fine an edge in play balance. Very well done.

The second great point about this game is the variety. As in [Axis & Allies](http://www.wizards.com/default.asp?x=ah/prod/axis), you can try out a virtually infinite plethora of different strategies. As A&A, the game also has a certain chaos quality to it: given two games with the same players playing the same general strategies, the two games can differ radically, depending on a single die result or event card draw early in the game.

These two factors together make this one of the best boardgames ever, and combined with the setting amidst the epic struggles of Middle Earth this means that we will play this game for years to come.

Now let's just hope noone gets tempted to paint the playing pieces. :)

4 comments:

  1. I've also played WotR a few times already, and also tremendously enjoyed it.
    It seems however that the learning curve is situated on the side of the Free People. The early games were usually easily won by Sauron and his allies, but after a few games, the Free People seem to discover better tactics and actually succeed in getting the fellowship into Mordor.
    The last game I played was indeed a close affair: there was one action die difference between the victory conditions of both sides.
    W.r.t. painting: look on boardgamegeek.com. Some people have indeed painted the miniatures. One of things I was planning to do was to paint the bases of the figures in their different country colors, since it is too difficult to distinguish them when setting up the game.

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  2. the WotR box has been watching my every move from a corner of my living room for some weeks now. Must find the time to study the rules, my precious...

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  3. This is definitely the best board game around IMHO. Each game tells its own story, and there's a lot of variety. And the games are often extremely tense and a close finish.
    I think that the Shadow Player (SP) can easily be fooled into thinking that he (it?) has it easy. Masses of troops, which can be replenished, nazgul that can swoop into combats and even sieges, giving very useful bonuses. But in fact, if the Free People player (FP) plays well, combining military threat against Mt Gundabad and Dol Guldur with advancing the Fellowship then he can suddenly transform a terrible looking situation into a win.
    One rule clarification for those who play the game - the FP can win by capturing 2 strongholds or 1 stronghold plus the two cities (Angmar and one down Umbar way). This is mentioned in the official FAQ.
    I played the FP against Bart on Sunday, and (with some luck) won some stunning military battles (sweeping manoeuvres, Aragorn catching oliphants in a pocket or should I say in his pocketses ? Actually I rolled 5 times 6 to massacre an army of Southrons). But I was never quite bold enough to go for the whole military victory. The problem is that while you can assemble a big army, you can't afford to lose it (besieging a stronghold for example). That Free Peoples military victory is so elusive. Instead you have to destroy the ring by hurling it into Mt Doom. What a waste.

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  4. It is the underlying quality of the design rather than our subsequent testing which is responsible for the nature of the game, as testing tends to address specific issues. However, its true, we are wonderful people :)
    Alan is right about FP victories. Because you'll never get to Far Harad, I'd suggest changing the town in South Rhun to a city. Its unlikely you'll get this one either, but there is a small chance occasionally . This renders the 1VP for Angmar meaningful, which it is not otherwise, and so encourages strikes north from the Shire.
    Also I'd eliminate besieged characters in lost sieges, as in field battles. This is not the designers intent, but I feel this does not add anything to the game and possibly detracts from it. Rules such as this that the designers intended were not tested by us, since we assumed consistency with general boardwargaming principles and played accordingly.

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