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How To Play War Of The Ring (Part 3)

Updated on November 20, 2014
Lorien threatened by troops in Dol Guldur
Lorien threatened by troops in Dol Guldur | Source

How To Play WOTR - Part 3: Battles

As you might imagine, War of the Ring includes plenty of battles.

On the face of it, the combat system looks similar to Risk.

Both players get to roll ordinary six-sided dice to decide the casualties and then move on.

However, there's more to it than that, and the similarities to Risk end there!

You'll find that the mechanics lift it above the likes of its simpler brethren and it all adds to the flavour and atmosphere of the game.

Read on to find out more.

Image credit: all photos mine, unless otherwise stated.

WOTR on Amazon

Ares Games War of The Ring 2nd Edition
Ares Games War of The Ring 2nd Edition

Lots of lovely battles ...and hidden movement.


How Battles Work In War Of The Ring

At its simplest, the number of army units in a battle = the number of dice you get to roll, up to a maximum of 5.

You get a "hit" on a roll of '5' or '6' BUT:

  • If you have leaders or characters with the army, you can re-roll as many 'misses' as you have leaders/characters
  • The players can play cards to alter the results
  • If the defender is in a fortification, the attacker only hits on a '6' in the first round
  • Defenders in strongholds have extra protection (see below)

Both players take casualties by removing regular troops, or exchanging Elites with regulars from the reinforcements.

Players keep going until the attacker decides otherwise, the defender retreats, or someone runs out of armies.

Helm's Deep Under Siege
Helm's Deep Under Siege | Source


If the defender is under siege in a stronghold, it becomes even tougher:

  • The attacker only hits on a '6' (in any round), while the defender hits on a '5' or '6' as normal
  • Only one round of combat can happen, unless the attacker voluntarily reduces an Elite unit to a regular troop to start another round
  • The attacker can keep going as long as he has Elites to spare, but the defender can never retreat

These simple rules really keep to the spirit of Lord of the Rings.

Towns like Dale, and fortifications like Osgiliath, fall relatively easily.

However, sieges of Minas Tirith and Helm's Deep take on an epic air as the struggle continues from one game turn to the next!

Rule Clarification

When an army is attacked in a region containing a stronghold, the defending player can choose to:

  • Fight a 'normal' field battle (outside the stronghold)
  • Withdraw into the stronghold

If they opt to withdraw into the stronghold, then the defenders are moved into the relevant stronghold box on the left side of the map and the attacking armies are moved into the region.

The stronghold is now 'under siege' and that action is now over, with no combat dice having been rolled.

Play then continues with the next action die as normal.

Note that the attacker could use the next army die to attack the stronghold again and this time, combat will ensue.

Tip: The Free Peoples player can use this as a delaying tactic, by building up enough armies in the region to defend and then just withdrawing into the stronghold when attacked.

The only caveat to this, is to beware if you have a character such as Gandalf or Aragorn present (see my notes below on involving characters in battle).

Tip: Remember that stacking limits are only 5 armies in a stronghold, rather than the 10 usually allowed in a region.

Any excess are immediately removed from the board, but in this case can go back into the reinforcements and hence, can be mustered again.

Photo, above: The fortifications at the Ford's of Isen have been taken and Helm's Deep is under siege. (The defending armies have been moved to the Helm's Deep Stronghold box on the left hand side of the board.)

Tip: The Shadow player event card "Grond - Hammer of the Underworld" allows 3 turns of combat against a stronghold, instead of the usual 1. Pull this out at the right time and the Free Peoples player will be quaking in their boots!

War of the Ring Second Edition - Lords of Middle Earth Expansion
War of the Ring Second Edition - Lords of Middle Earth Expansion

The official expansion pack for WOTR, with some interesting variations, plus yet more figures.

A small army at Osgiliath is all that stands between the forces of Mordor (right) and the fortress city of Minas Tirith (left)
A small army at Osgiliath is all that stands between the forces of Mordor (right) and the fortress city of Minas Tirith (left) | Source

WOTR Battle Choices

Most of the strategy of War of the Ring is played out in the large scale, 'grand scheme' of things.

In other words strategy happens on the main map: where you will strike next, how you can keep the Fellowship moving, etc.

However, once in a battle you may have some tough choices to make, so it's good to be prepared.

For example:

  • Whether or not to play a battle event card, and when.
  • How many rounds of combat to push the attack.
  • How many rounds to fight before making a tactical retreat.
  • Whether to involve Characters in battles or not.

Scouts Combat Card - allows to retreat or withdraw into a siege before combat dice are rolled.
Scouts Combat Card - allows to retreat or withdraw into a siege before combat dice are rolled. | Source

Pick A Combat Card, Any Combat Card

All event cards have 2 effects on them:

  • a strategy/character type option that can be played with an appropriate action die
  • a battle effect that can be played in 1 round of a battle.

You can only use one of these effects (so if you use it in battle, you lose the strategic effect, and vice versa) and battle cards are always discarded after that 1 round.

...So you have to make them count.

Here are some observations I have on their use:


The most powerful cards in battle are usually the most powerful cards in the strategy side too.

However, many strategy/character cards have pre-requisites to allow them to be played.

Therefore, when I pick a card up, I check to see if I can use the strategy part in the current situation, or may be able to in the next couple of turns.

If so, then I try to keep it back if I can.

If not, then I make a mental note that it is now potential battle fodder.

A number of battle effects allow one player or the other to roll extra dice before/after battle, or re-use the results of dice that are rolled in the normal battle resolution.

This means that you need to consider the odds of the relevant numbers coming up, in this specific battle round.

Example: one of the Free Peoples battle cards is called "Confusion".

When this card is in play, any combat dice the Shadow player rolls with an unmodified '1' automatically become a hit against his own troops.

Now, obviously there is only a 1 in 6 chance of a given combat die coming up with a '1'.

It is therefore better to play Confusion in the first round or two of combat when there is a large Shadow army involved, in order to increase the likelihood of getting some of those extra hits.


Play cards when you can.

You can only hold 6 cards in your hand at any one time.

When you begin a new turn, you draw 2 cards and have to discard any excess immediately.

In turn (no pun intended), this also means that you can't hold onto cards for too long.

So, if you get a decent card whose strategy/character pre-requisite won't come into effect for several turns, then definitely consider using it as a battle card instead (unless it is too good an opportunity to pass up).

Keep Companions with the Ring Bearer as long as you can, but cut them loose when the right opportunity (or emergency) presents itself!

Character Cards (back) - Guess who?
Character Cards (back) - Guess who? | Source

Involving Characters In Battles

Most Characters have special abilities which can be really useful in War of the Ring battles.

This makes it important to have the right Character, in the right place, at the right time.

However, it is generally a much harder choice for the Free Peoples player then the Shadow.

This is because most of the FP characters (called "Companions") have abilities that are really useful when they are still in the Fellowship.

Even if they don't have a useful Fellowship ability, they can still absorb corruption damage from the Hunt.

They may die as a result, but at least they go down having protected the Ring Bearer!

Once they have left the Fellowship, they can never return, so you better have a good idea of what you want to do with them.

Strange as it may sound though, this does have the effect of re-creating something of the atmosphere from the books:

You usually want to keep the Companions with the Ring Bearer as long as you can, but cut them loose when the right opportunity (or emergency) presents itself.

Once you do so, they can be really helpful.

For example, Aragorn allows you to re-roll 2 missed die rolls in battle, due to his superior leadership.

The Shadow player has an easier time of things because his 3 Characters (called "Minions") are brought on at specific points in the game and have specific rules associated with them.

Saruman can't move away from Orthanc anyway, so he is really there to provide an extra Action die.

He can use his special ability to make the Isengard troops more powerful.

The Witch King of Angmar is there to trounce the enemy, so you will want to involve him in battle as soon as he comes into play.

The Mouth of Sauron comes on quite late in the game, so again it is a no brainer to get him into the thick of things.

Photo: Gandalf and Strider Character cards, showing their "Captain of the West" combat ability.
Photo: Gandalf and Strider Character cards, showing their "Captain of the West" combat ability.

Effect On Action Dice

Watch out for Characters who give you an extra Action die and make sure you look after them.

These are all 3 of the Shadow Minions, plus Gandalf the White and Aragorn - Heir to Isildur.

If any of these Characters are lost, then you also lose the Action die on the next turn.

Therefore pick your battles wisely.

For the Shadow, this is usually a simple choice because you have overwhelming force of numbers to keep things in your favour.

However, don't get complacent, as it is also easy to overplay your hand and assume that the Witch King is invincible (hmm, sound familiar?).

For the Free Peoples, Gimli, Legolas and Boromir can be good choices to send to war, depending on the event cards you hold.

Their "Captain of the West" ability allows them to act as both an army, adding 1 to the combat strength (the number of dice rolled), and as a leader (they still give you another leader re-roll).

This can make a huge difference to any size army.

Just remember that if you back them and their army into a stronghold under siege, then they cannot leave unless the siege is lifted.

...Which doesn't happen very often, so it could be "bye bye" to them!

Gandalf and Strider/Aragorn are also powerful Characters to use in battle, but are much more precious.

Just remember to pick your fights very carefully and you'll be ok.

What are your thoughts about battles in War of the Ring?

Do you have a favourite strategy or card you love to use in battle?

Then let us know, below.

© 2013 Tim Bader


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