I wonder if we’ll ever be put into songs or tales.
Is War of the Ring still the best tabletop game of all time? After this last game, I still think so!
There are hundreds of games in my collection, but there really is nothing like War of the Ring by Ares Games. This bone fide classic always delivers the goods, and an amazing game yesterday inspired me enough to write a little article about it.
I had a brand new opponent yesterday: Dylan, who is new to the game. I set up my beloved Collector’s Edition, which fills a 6′ x 4′ table, and refreshed my knowledge of the rules by reading through my rules summary. To my delight Dylan had spent several hours reading the rules and watching playthroughs on YouTube, so he arrived fully prepared for the experience and we didn’t have to waste any time with long-winded instructions. Which was particularly good as one’s first game of WotR can be a little daunting. The rules themselves are quite complex, but there are scores of fiddly things to remember: whether crucial little rule exceptions, abilities on character cards, or just keeping track of just the right time to play a particular event card.
Thankfully my opponent had most of this down pat, and not only that, he took on the Fellowship side, which involves even more rules covering things like moving the Fellowship, separating Companions at crucial times, and heading into Mordor. And it wasn’t long before I realised that this would be no ‘teaching’ game. My opponent put me on the back foot right from the start and kept me there throughout the 5 1/2 hour playing time!
I went for a classic opening and massed my forces to attack Minas Tirith. The city is always such a tempting target at the beginning of the game, and I have a bad habit of committing my forces before I’ve mustered enough of them to reinforce defeat. This time was no exception! Dylan separated Gandalf, Legolas and Gimli from the Fellowship and raced south, quickly converting Gandalf to Gandalf the White and putting him in Minas Tirith. With the Leadership of my Nazgul negated by Gandalf, my first attack on the city was repulsed and I turned to more tempting targets.
Bringing up the Southrons & Easterlings from Harad, I quickly took Pelagir, but Dol Amroth, as always, was a tougher nut to crack, being as it is so far from reinforcements. I gathered another Southrons & Easterlings force to the north to threaten Dale, Erebor and the Woodland Realms and keep Dylan distracted. And I was pleased to note that with all his mustering in Gondor and defensiveness, he was neglecting the movement of the Fellowship. Surely this would be a quick and easy victory?
Dale and the Woodland Realm fell relatively quickly with the help of reinforcement from Dol Guldur and some excellent rolls (possibly my only good dice rolling all game), and victory was starting to look a lot more likely. All I needed was to take the relatively undefended three points on offer in Rohan to win the game!
Then the worm turned. To my horror, Dylan played a Dead Men of Dunharrow card and placed Strider and Gimli in Pelargir, which I had left poorly defended while I reinforced my attack on Dol Amroth. With their ghostly reinforcements and two elite Elven units from the play of Cirdan’s Ships, my hold of Minas Tirith was threatened, which was defended by only two elite Sauron units! The re-taking of Minas Tirith is every Shadow player’s nightmare, and it wasn’t long before Dylan achieved it. I took Dol Amroth and got Pelargir back, but the jewel in the crown of my conquests had been snatched out of my hands!
It was time to start mustering in Minas Morgul and build up a sizable army again. In the meantime, I swept out of Orthanc and took a very lightly defended Helm’s Deep, aided by a Wormtongue card which stopped Rohan from becoming active on the Political track as I marched over the border. Charging past Edoras (now too heavily defended) with an army of uruk-hai and wargs, I headed for Gondor. Too late! Dylan played the dreaded Paths of the Woses card and reinforced Minas Tirith with the Rohan troops from Edoras! Disgusted, I grabbed the single victory point Edoras offered and continued to the main event.
By this time of course, Frodo, Sam and Gollum were on the Mordor track and heading inexorably for the Crack of Doom – but the Ring-bearer’s corruption level was creeping ever higher, after having being harried with such cards as Cruel Weather and Orc Patrols on their journey. Dylan was burning Elven Rings to keep the Ringbearers moving, which in turn gave me plenty of opportunity to prepare my attack. Gimli emerged from Minas Tirith with some Gondor regulars, wittled down my approaching Isengard army by a couple of units, and returned for the final defense with Strider. I brought up more forces from the south and completely surrounded the city.
And finally the tension reached breaking point. The Ringbearers were two steps from the Crack of Doom and two points away from a game-losing corruption of twelve when I launched my final attack on Minas Tirith. I threw everything I had at it but the dice just weren’t on my side and my combination of Combat cards just wasn’t good enough. Surely, there is nothing more frustrating than not being able to roll those sixes when you need them and watching your army being whittled away with each round of combat. I was one point away from victory and after two field battles and two siege battles, I had to give up the assault and rely on the corruption of the Ring. Strider, Gimili and the remaining five Gondor regulars cheered from the walls …
With the Ring-bearer’s last push to destroy the Ring, I had one more draw from the Hunt pool. I needed a tile with a corruption of two or higher (or an Eye) to win. Surely the odds were in my favour? Surely, after almost six hours and all that effort, I could stop Frodo and spread a dark Shadow over the lands of Middle-Earth? Both of us had long since been on our feet. Victory for one of us was at hand … I shook the black bag thoroughly, reached in, drew a tile and placed it on the table facedown. Dylan reached over, turned over the tile and revealed …
… a one.
I’d lost. The Ring was destroyed. Dylan extended his arms to the heavens, winner of his first game of War of the Ring – I hung my head in abject despair! What a game!
Dylan’s notes on the game
Wow. That was an epic first game. Just under 6 hours of strategic fun. Such a good game!
I was very excited to give this game a go, especially knowing that I’d be playing with the Collector’s Edition! Knowing how long the game would be I didn’t want to spend the whole time learning rules and working out what various characters did. So I prepared by watching how-to-play videos, battle reports and reading a few 101 strategy guides, as well as going thoroughly through the Universal Head rules summaries. This was all time well spent because when I came to the table I felt confident that I could sit down and play, only having to check minor rule points as we went.
So the game experience… this is instantly a favourite game for me. Every mechanic in the game feels necessary, nicely designed and thematically spot-on. Although we played for nearly 6 hours it was gripping, strategic and fun for the entire time, and with an incredible ending! I loved the cinematic stories that developed throughout the game as certain characters played crucial roles based on my own decisions. Also, while I had so many choices on any given turn, it never felt overwhelming and when I faced a tough decision I just went with the one that drove the story in the direction that I wanted it to go. I have never played a game that married strategy and story so well. It was a very memorable experience. In fact as soon as I got home I had to write down a summary of the game as it had played out.
I’m looking forward to playing this game a LOT more.