Monday, 8 April 2013

Playing 'The War of the Ring' boardgame

Now you have seen the tiny representatives from the Free Peoples of the Middle Earth and their Shadow counterparts, it's time to learn how to play.

The game is pretty complex, I must say. It's not the kind of game you learn to play in ten minutes. Once you get the rules it comes easier and faster, but the first steps need some attention on your part.

The first thing is, of course, deployment. The rulebook states where do the armies begin and their composition.

All the painting work was worth it just for this photo
The Free Peoples must ensure Frodo and Sam can reach Mordor and the Orodruin, containing the Hordes of the Shadow. Alternatively they can try capturing at least two Strongholds of the Shadow, but (as you will see here), that will be a rough task.
The servants of Sauron must try to conquer Middle Earth, capturing Cities and Strongholds of the Free Peoples. Each Stronghold grants two points, each city, one. At least ten points are needed to achieve victory. Alternatively, the Shadow player can expect that Frodo would eventually succumb to the lure of the One Ring, giving Sauron the final victory that way. Let's get into (a few) details:

The Fellowship of the Ring is represented by Frodo and Sam (since having the minis of the whole Fellowship in the same place would collapse the tiles). They begin their journey at Rivendell.

The road goes ever on and on...
All the armies begin the game in their respective settlements, i.e., there will be Gondorians in Minas Tirith, Elves in Rivendell and Mirkwood, Dwarves in Erebor, Rohirrim in Edoras and Helm's Deep... And Haradrim in Umbar and Harad, Uruk-Hai in Orthanc, Orcs in Mordor, Dol Guldur and Gundabad...
Then you say 'Hey, this is just playing Risk in Middle Earth!' But believe me, it is not.
First of all, the factions are not at war, that will eventually come up when playing. The Free Peoples begin 'inactive' (but the Elves, always vigilant against the Shadow), and the actions during the game will make the factions approach to war (there is a marker for that on the board). Of course, not being at war limits your options when moving, attacking and doing everything. That's what diplomacy means!

Each turn is divided in several phases. In the first phase, both players draw two event cards from their respective decks: one is a 'character card' and the other is a 'strategy card'. They will bear different effects during the game, such as reinforcing the power of a character present in a battle or allowing an increased rate of reinforcements. A player can never hold more than six cards, so it is important to decide wich ones to keep and which ones to discard.

The second phase is intended to allow the Fellowship acting. Their journey will be hidden for Sauron unless he manages to discover and hunt them. But the secretive pathway involves the danger of the corruptive presence of the Ring, which will utterly overwhelm Frodo. That's why the Fellowship can use this phase to declare openly their presence in a friendly place to make the Ring bearer recover for a while. But then Sauron will have an accurate idea of where to look for his lost ring...

During the third phase both players roll their special dice ('Action dice', allowing different possibilities: character action, army action, muster action or use of an event card; Free Peoples dice have a 'will of the West' action that allows changing it into any other result. Shadow dice have a 'hunt' action, but we will get into that in a moment...)

Character, Army, Army or Muster, Event Card, Will of the West/Hunt
Then they act according to the dice. In our game, the Free Peoples decided to move the Fellowship (secretly, remember. A marker shows how much have they advanced, though the Frodo & Sam mini remains in the last known position, Rivendell in this case) and break it, making besides all the Companions revealed (no need for that, but we did it anyway). The Shadow armies begun to threaten peace alongside Middle Earth...

The White Hand crosses the Fords of Isen towards poorly defended Helm's Deep
The use of Character/Strategy cards can be a little bit confusing the first time, but it's all a matter of time until you get used to them.

Our heroes to the rescue! In the meantime, the Nazgûl have devastated Edoras, bringing Rohan inevitabily to war.
That's it, the Nazgûl used their cards and took over Edoras and the Hall of Meduseld. Open war!

Meanwhile, near the Anduin...
Sauron begins the hunt for the Ring. The Shadow player will have as many attempts for it as 'Eye' results he got rolling the action dice. To reinforce that, he previously might have decided not to roll all of the dice, but reserving a number of them for this purpose. Those spare dice count as automatic 'Eye' results.
Rolling as many D6s as Eye results will determine the success of the hunt. That would inflict Frodo 'corruption points' (he has a maximum of 12) and might get him discovered. Fortunately, the breaking of the Fellowship meant that Gollum was leading Frodo and Sam now, so it was pretty hard to find them. Otherwise, the Dark Lord had most probably located the Preciousss...

So the dynamics of the game were more or less this way. We made lots of mistakes, for sure, as the rules need to be read (and played) twice or thrice until you get all the details. We noticed we were doing some things wrong (specially the use of characters and army leaders), but for sure there were some other things that went unnoticed to us.

It still was great fun. The forces of Darkness summoned more fiendish troops on Dol Guldur and they begun to spread the Shadow all over. A powerful army left the once Necromancer fortress and headed the march towards Lórien...

I'm pretty sure this wasn't in the books...
In the meanwhile, we battled for Helm's Deep!
The Free Peoples player used Character Actions to turn Strider into Aragorn, son of Arathorn, and the Grey Pilgrim into Gandalf the White. Oh, my! We need proper minis to depict that!

Look to my coming, at first light, on the fifth day. At dawn, look to the East...
Due to the overwhelming superiority of the Dark armies, the Rohirrim and Characters decided to make a stand in the stronghold rather than presenting an open field fight. The siege of Helm's Deep had begun...

Darkness definitely invaded Caras Galadhon. No power in Middle Earth could stop the servants of evil...

I'm afraid you can imagine the result of this battle...

Next turn had some surprises for us. Thanks to the Character cards, the Rohirrim held Helm's Deep, scattering the White Hand's minions. They even decided to retaliate and cross the Fords of Isen marching towards Orthanc.

Anyone missing Treebeard?
But... unexpected result! (We probably did something wrong here) The fierce battle ended in total mutual annihilation!

Brrharroom!
If any experienced player can tell me if we solved this out right or wrong, I'd be thankful :). A Leader/Character within an Army can only stand on the board as long as the Army stands; if the Army is destroyed, the Leader/Character is lost with it. So, both armies attacking at the same time (at least we did it that way) destroyed each other, Characters and Leaders included.

Well, anyway, it was time to add some more emotion. The Dark forces called for some help (not that they needed it, given that they were conquering Middle Earth, but they did it no matter what). The Witch King appeared on the board.

At Dol Guldur. At least we respected that part of the fluff
That automatically turned all the Free Peoples nations into 'active', giving them more freedom of action. The Witch King's menace cannot be taken lightly!
With Lórien lost (as you can see in the pic above), Boromir, the Halflings and some Elves tried to siege the Necromancer's Stronghold.

I wanted to go south to defend Minas Tirith, what the f*** am I doing here with these pointy eared guys?
But all the efforts were in vain, as the power of Shadow (and fortunate event cards) was much greater. At this moment we definitely confirmed that the strategy of the game (for the good guys) should center in taking the Ring to Mount Doom, as the Dark Armies were totally overwhelming and the Free Peoples could only try to hold them, but never prevail.

Yup, look at me, I'm a black metal rockstar
From the South, a new menace emerged. The Shadow Armies player used Event Cards to move some Haradrim from Umbar...
Port of the Corsairs
To Dol Amroth:
Is Imrahil at home?
The defenders could do nothing but perish after a siege. That made the Shadow have conquered two Free People's Strongholds (Lórien and Dol Amroth), which gave two victory points each, and Edoras, giving another point. 5 points out of 10 to achieve victory...
In addition, due to the Hunt for the Ring, poor Frodo was up to eight corruption points by now (out of twelve!). He would have to declare himself (and Sam) in a friendly city and try to recover some points. That is made automatically, recovering one point per turn, but requires the Ring bearer declaring himself at open sight.

The Dark Lord strategy was clear: just conquer Middle Earth, depriving Free Peoples of any support (or space, or life, or anything). So the massive assault on Mirkwood begun...

No room for so many invaders!
With the expected massacre result. Another Stronghold, another two victory points. Afterwards, the City of Dale was the next one to fall under the Shadow. Finally, the hordes under the Witch King's command sieged Erebor.

Please, let me pose for the photo
Dwarves tried it. They really tried. They decimated the Dark Army and stood near to absolutely destroying it (including the Witch King and a Nazgûl). But in the end they were totally overwhelmed, and the last fortress did not resist the siege.
 
No dragon here...
That was the end of the game. The Shadow player achieved the ten victory points goal. Besides, Frodo had nine corruption points at that moment, being dangerously near from losing himself.

So we got some conclusions: the Ring must travel right to Mordor trying to go unnoticed. There is no point in trying to resist the Shadow armies, as they will prevail sooner or later. Besides, the Fellowship must break up at some moment, as Gollum is a more discreet guide who allows the Ring to be hidden in a much more efficient way. Apart from that, the abilities of the Companions can be appreciated when reinforcing an army, specially when Strider and Gandalf the Grey become Aragorn and Gandalf the White. In other words, the game is designed to follow the story on the books.

The event cards are a little bit complex to use, as there are sooo many options, but it's all a matter of practice, as everything. They really add so much richness and depth!
We didn't use the Elven Rings, but it might have been fun. Neither we had the opportunity of seeing Frodo and Sam climbing the Orodruin up, that's a shame too.

We have to try playing again with these ideas in mind and see what happens then. But on the whole I must say that I enjoyed the game a lot, totally worth it. Give it a try and tell me your experiences!

4 comments:

  1. It looks like a so difficult game, but undoubtedly very amazing and that puts you in the world of the Middle Earth. And certainly, to play with your painting miniatures is wonderful.

    Great, great job.

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  2. Thanks, pal! Well, most probably not that difficult, it's just me, I'm too lazy for new rules, hehehe.
    I'm glad you like it! :)

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  3. I'm happy to see the end of your Lotr project, great paint.

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  4. Thank you! It's been some work on the whole, but once you have all on the table you can't but say it's been worth of it!

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