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War Of The Ring Board Game Review
War of the Ring is the Best Lord Of the Rings Themed Board Game Ever!
In War of the Ring, by Ares Games, 2-4 players fight for supremacy in the best Lord of the Rings themed board game to date.
You'll have to balance your resources carefully, think about your strategy and react to those of your opponent.
As the Fellowship player, you will use well known characters such as Gandalf and Strider to rouse the armies of the Free Peoples.
Can you hold the Shadow back long enough to throw the ring into Mount Doom?
As the Shadow player, you will dominate with your military forces but don't get big headed!
Spend too much time manoeuvring your armies and your precious ring may slip through your grip.
In this article, I will review the War of the Ring Second Edition game and explain what makes it so great.
I will show you some of the components and aspects of game play that make it both interesting, thought provoking and exciting!
Are you ready to wage war in Middle Earth?
All pictures taken by me, unless stated otherwise.
War of the Ring: One Board Game To Rule Them All
In my previous article Why I Love Lord Of The Rings, I talked about several board games that are based on Lord of the Rings.
There are some really good ones out there (including one I play regularly), but War of the Ring beats them all, as far as I am concerned.
If you look up reviews of War Of The Ring (WOTR) on or AmazonBoard Game Geek, you will see comments like:
- "LOTR in a box"
- "Dripping with theme"
- and they would be right!
The map may look a bit like Risk, but that's where the similarity ends.
Middel Earth At Epic Scale
I don't know how they did it in one game.
The designers have managed to capture both the epic scale and grandeur of Middle Earth at war, and the crucial role that individual characters had on the turn of events.
You can almost hear Gandalf saying, "I come to you at the turning of the tide..."
The design of the game and the victory conditions mean that each side plays very differently:
The Fellowship player needs to get the ring to Mount Doom, or conquer 4 victory points worth of enemy settlements (towns, cities or strongholds) - not as easy as it sounds.
The Shadow player needs to collect 10 victory points through conquest, or to corrupt the ring bearer through the ring before he makes it to the mountain.
The "ring" victory conditions are instantaneous, but the victory points are only checked at the end of each turn.
This means it is entirely possible for Sauron to conquer the last Free Peoples stronghold, only to have the win snatched from his grasp in the last Fellowship player move!
Some clever (but simple) and unique mechanics are used to represent the hidden movement of the fellowship, and determine what you can do each turn.
The sense of sneaking about with the fellowship, while trying to hold off the enemy is just right, but you still have a few tricks up your sleeve so it doesn't all go Sauron's way.
As the Shadow, it's easy to feel invincible and go out all guns (or should that be Orcs?) blazing.
You can also move your armies and Nazgul in such as way as to corrupt the ring bearer while in the pursuit of your military strategy
...or watch as the Fellowship performs a slam dunk of the ring, right under your nose.
As a 'standalone' game, without the LOTR trappings it would still be a good game, but with the theme being part and parcel of the complete package, it is amazing.
In short, if you like board games and Lord of the Rings, I can't recommend this game enough.
It's given me some valuable time with my son too.
Read on to find out more about what makes this game special.
What's In The Box?
Inside the game you get:
- Massive 70x100cm game board
- 205 plastic figures
- 16 action dice
- 5 combat dice
- 76 cardboard counters
- 110 event and character cards
- Game rules
- 2 player aids folders
WOTR: The Quality
When you first get the War of the Ring game in your hot, sweaty hands, the first thing you will notice is that it is heavy!
There is a lot in the War of the Ring box and the good news is that not only is there quantity, but it's all high quality too.
When you open it up, you will find that it is absolutely stuffed full, with the game board, rulebook and player aid charts sitting on top.
The thing is, when you look at any of the components, they are all top notch.
From the game board to the cardboard counters, the whole thing looks and feels great.
The beautiful artwork is plastered across the rulebook, not just the event cards used in the game.
This even extends to the player aid charts, which really adds to the feeling of being in Middle Earth.
The only minor exception (and it is a very minor nit-pick) is that the figures are made of a soft plastic, which means that you may find one or two of the figures have bent spears.
However, this has no impact on gameplay and you won't notice it at all when you set up the game to play for the first time.
I have read comments from players of the first edition that the dice aren't quite as nice in this one, but I can't say it bothered me.
Arise, arise, Riders of Theoden! Fell deeds awake: fire and slaughter! Spears shall be shaken, Shields shall be splintered, a sword-day, a red day, ere the sun rises! Ride now, ride now! Ride to Gondor! Death! Death! Death! Forth Eorlingas— Theoden to his great army, courtesy of Lord of the Rings Wiki
The Asymmetry ("Victory! We have victory!")
Aspects Of The Game
As mentioned above, the victory conditions in WOTR are different for each player.
In addition to that, each player has access to a very different set of characters (each with their own special abilities) and event cards.
This means that you have to get into the 'mind' of either the Free Peoples, or Sauron in order to make the best choices.
You'll therefore have a very different experience, depending on which side you choose.
Compare this to a game like Risk (dare I say, Lord of the Rings Risk?) where essentially it plays and feels the same for every player.
The WOTR Game Board and Map
The board in War of the Ring is made up of two large (thick), folding cardboard sections.
Correction: once you've unfolded it and put the two sections side by side, the board is HUGE!
It takes up most of our dining room table ...and our table, while not massive, is not exactly small either.
The map is clearly laid out and brightly coloured, so it is easy to see where things are:
Regions, towns, cities and strongholds, as well as black lined "no go" areas are all clearly defined.
This is a very good thing, as it ensures that there are no misunderstandings interpreting the rules during game play (strongholds are easier to defend than cities, for example).
There are various tracks included on the board, so you can see at any time:
- how far the fellowship has moved
- how much corruption the ring bearers have taken
- how close to being "at war" each nation is
Even with all that on the board, you will still need some space around it to keep all your reinforcements!
So you're going to need a lot of space for this game, although you could of course, set it up on the floor.
Picture: A closer view of the figures.
The armies of Sauron in Mordor/Harad are to the right
The Free Peoples armies are on the defence on Roham and Gondor, on the left.
The Figures and Counters
Quality AND quantity is the order of the day here.
As stated in the intro, you get 205 (yes, 205!) plastic figures to represent the characters and armies.
There are blue figures to represent the armies of the Free peoples, red figures for the armies of the Shadow, grey figures for leaders, and silver figures for Characters (such as Gandalf).
Regular armies are represented as foot soldiers, while "elite" units are cavalry: either on horse back for Free Peoples, or Wargs and Oliphaunts for Saruman/Easterlings, respectively.
They are all individually sculpted to represent the different nations.
For example, Gondor soldiers have long thin shields and "Gondor-style" helms, while Rohan troops have a smaller, round shield.
Dwarves look like, well dwarves and Elves are ...you get the idea.
You also get a number of counters that go on the different tracks on the board and show things like which player has control of different settlements.
Now they could have gone with cardboard counters throughout and ditched the figures.
This would have made it more like a traditional war game and one could argue, save some money on the retail price into the bargain.
However, there would have been an awful lot of them and to my mind, the game would not look nearly as good as it does.
More to the point, I think that being a Lord of the Rings game, having figures plays straight into the theme in a way that bits of card just never could.
There has been mild criticism of both 1st and 2nd editions of the game that the colours of the figures and the designs on the political counters make them difficult to distinguish from each other.
This is particularly important for the Fellowship player because each individual nation has to be "at war" before it can muster new units or move armies across the borders of other nations.
Many owners have resorted to painting the figures, or the bases to make this easier.
But how does this work in practice?
Having played through the game a couple of times now, I kind of take the point as far as the Gondor and Rohan troops are concerned: they are adjacent to each other on the board and unfortunately, are the most alike of all the nations.
However, I have only made a couple of mistakes so far, both quickly corrected and certainly nothing game breaking.
Oddly enough one was between the elves and "North" men, which are much easier to tell apart.
I am therefore withholding judgement for the moment until I have played it through a few more times.
Picture: Back of the Free Peoples' Character cards, including the Fellowship card (representing Frodo and Sam, together).
Much of the theme/flavour of War of the Ring comes from the numerous cards and the effect they have.
There are character cards and event cards.
The rulebook recommends that you read through the character cards before you play the game for the first time and I would too.
They represent the important characters for each side:
- Saruman, the Witch King of Angmar and the Mouth of Sauron for the Shadow player (called Minions in the game).
- All the heroes of the Fellowship for the Free Peoples player (called Companions), including "improved" versions of Gandalf and Strider.
Each character has special abilities of his own and sometimes pre-requisites for entering play.
One of the key things is that most of these characters give the player an extra Action die (see below) when they enter play.
This is important because it means you get extra options and 'moves' each turn.
The Event cards are further split into a Character desk and a Strategy deck and you get one of each type every turn.
They introduce events and characters that were in the books, or "what if?" situations which could have happened, if Tolkien was so inclined when he was writing.
The important thing to realise is that the cards (both character cards and event cards) can override the rulebook unless the rules specifically say otherwise.
Normally, new armies can't be mustered into a stronghold that is under siege by the enemy, but some event cards can override this, often at important moments!
Picture: Free Peoples action dice for this turn.
They have rolled:
- 2 Character (Sword icon) dice
- 1 Event (Palantir icon)
- 1 Army/Muster (Banner/Helmet) die.
The Action Dice
War of the Ring uses a set of "Action dice" to determine the actions available to the players during each game turn.
This is the single most unique aspect of the game and probably sounds really weird to someone who has never played it before!
This is an overview of how it works:
- The Shadow player has red dice (naturally), while the Free peoples player has blue dice and both sets are slightly different.
- The dice have icons on them representing different types of actions you can take.
- The Shadow player allocates one or more dice to the hunt (see below) and then both players roll the remaining action dice together at the same time.
- Starting with the Free peoples player, they take it in turns to take an action, using up one die each time.
- Once all the dice are used up, that's the end of the turn.
The actions allow you to do things like move or hide the fellowship, move or attack with armies, muster new units, play or pick up an event card, or move counters along the political track to get nations closer towards being at war.
Flexible Or Limiting?
The idea of using Action dice may sound like you are really limited as to what you can do, but the reality is that there are lots of different choices you can make.
The way I think of it, it works kind of like resources you might get in a strategy video game.
What you can do is based on the resources you have available so it's up to you to make the most of them!
It also means there is very little "down time" as both players are involved from start to finish of each game turn.
You get a great feeling of acting and reacting to each other's moves that you wouldn't get with a traditional turn based game.
Many traditional games, such as chess or draughts always set up the same way, and often have a conventional set of opening moves.
Not so with War of the Ring.
Despite initial game setup staying the same, the combination of action dice, event cards and possible strategies ensures that every game is different right from the start.
War Of The Ring On Amazon
For those of you needing to use the Amazon UK store, then here is the link:
The base game described in this article.
All the Lord of the Rings goodness you could want in a board game.
The Fellowship And The Hunt For The Ring
Since a "ring" victory is the best option for the Free Peoples player, what happens to the Fellowship is of crucial importance.
The game includes an ingenious system to simulate the hidden movement of the ring bearer and the efforts of Sauron to try to find it.
The rulebook puts these into separate sections for the sake of clarity, but they are really two halves of the same coin.
The way it works is like this:
The Fellowship is represented on the map by a figure of the ring bearers - if you look closely, you can see that it shows Frodo and Sam together.
The location of the Fellowship figure on the map is considered to be the last known position of the Fellowship, while the fellowship progress marker shows how far they have moved on the Fellowship Track (at the top of the game board).
- When the Fellowship is moved, the figure on the map stays where it is, but the fellowship marker is moved one step along the Fellowship track.
- Each time the Fellowship moves, the Shadow player attempts to hunt for the ring.
- If the Shadow player is successful in the hunt, then he draws a tile from a cup which can damage (corrupt) and/or reveal the fellowship.
- If the Shadow player "misses" then play continues as normal.
- Each time the Fellowship attempts to move in the same game turn, the Hunt becomes more dangerous!
If the Fellowship is revealed, it must be hidden again before it can move and the Shadow can play some nasty event cards before that happens.
If the progress counter has gone far enough, then the Fellowship player may declare a new position for the ring bearer.
He might do this in order to move them to Lorien where a point of corruption can be healed.
They will then be safe ...for the moment.
It therefore becomes a tension-filled game of cat and mouse as the Free Peoples players tries to move the Fellowship as fast as possible, without getting caught!
Not that it's easy for the Shadow player either: he has to decide how many Action dice to put into the Hunt each game turn.
Too little effort, and he may give the Fellowship free reign to move about unhindered; too much, then the Free Peoples player might not move the Fellowship at all, thus wasting all those Action dice....
Expansion pack for the 2nd edition WOTR game.
If you have played the base game but are hungry for more, this pack introduces more figures, cards and scenarios.
It even includes separate figures for Gandalf the White and Aragorn - Heir to Isildur (in the base game you just put a marker under their "standard" figure).
2nd Edition base game required to play.
***Is not compatible with the older 1st edition of WOTR***
The Rules Of War Of The Ring
By now, you're either saying "yay, this looks just my kind of thing", or you may be thinking that there's no way you could ever learn to play it.
Well, I will say it right now: It is a complex game, but it isn't complicated.
What do I mean by that?
There are many different aspects to the game and make no mistake, the first time through the rule book may worry the casual player.
It's 48 pages long, although at least some of that is artwork!
The first couple of sections (up to about page 17) describe the board and components, before giving a nice step-by-step of how to set up the game.
So once you have gone through this the first couple of times, you won't really need to refer back to these sections unless you are setting up a new game again.
The rest of the rulebook is fairly meaty and I have to be honest, may take a few readings to fully get your head round how the different aspects work.
However, each of these aspects of the game actually play very simply and interlock with the other aspects in a very logical and intuitive way.
For example, the Fellowship player has limited armies: once they are destroyed, they are eliminated from the game.
The Shadow player, has unlimited armies in that destroyed units can be mustered again.
The way the game handles this, is to get you to put all the Fellowship armies around the board at the start of the game.
From there, the armies get mustered onto the board and once eliminated, are placed back in the box as they are finished with. Simple!
In other words, it's the breadth of options that makes it seem complex, the mechanics are simple.
Does that mean it's not for you if you are a casual gamer?
I would recommend that you view the first game as a learning exercise and refer to the rules as you go.
Either that, or get someone who already knows the game to teach you.
Like many card games, after the first hand you'll be thinking "that was easier than I thought".
If you've never played anything more complex than Monopoly then you may struggle, but then, if my 11 year old son can do it, perhaps you can too?
If you would like to know more or you already have the game, then I have started a new series How To Play War Of The Ring, including discussions on strategy and tactics!
Special box for keeping your second edition cards in perfect nick.
Non-essential, but fun!
What Could Be Better? - Improvements
You will have guessed by now that I really like this game!
I will be writing a series on how to play it, including the strategy and tactics you can use to win (see links below).
However, nothing is perfect and there are one or two things that I think could be improved in this edition.
I have already mentioned the figures being the same colour and the potential for confusion between different nations for the same player.
Other minor issues are as follows.
Please understand that these really are nit-picks, but I record them here for those who want to know.
- There could be more combat dice.
There are only 5 combat dice in the box.
However, each player can have up to 5 dice in combat and they are supposed to roll them at the same time.
You can always add your own, of course.
- The Combat dice (ordinary 6 sided dice) could be a little bit bigger.
Doesn't bother me at all, but might bother some players.
- The Action Dice have "gold" paint on the sides for the icons.
Some of the dice look like this paint might not be applied fully, although I haven't lost any yet.
- The political counters have nice designs but aren't that easy to distinguish in your first couple of games.
- Oh, and one last thing to do with the plastic tray in the bottom of the box (and this really is very, very nit-picky!):
This holds all the cards, figures and counters when you are not playing.
It's certainly solid enough and has plenty of space, but it has 2 large spaces on either side to hold the figures.
I would have preferred it if they had been broken up into several sections, 1 for each nation.
That way, the figures would be easier to sort and ever so slightly quicker to set up!
For more information on War of the Ring, try out these sites.
- War of the Ring Second Edition | Ares Games
Ares Games site for the Second Edition War of the Ring game, as described in this article. They subtitle it "Epic Battles in the Land of Middle Earth"
- War of the Ring Line | Ares Games
Ares Games' site for the War of the Ring line of related products.
- War of the Ring EU
Great fan website, written by one of the play testers of both the original and the second edition game. There is a great overview of the game as well as discussions about the differences between the first and second editions.
- War of the Ring (second edition) | Board Game | BoardGameGeek
Board Game Geek has all kinds of information about War of the Ring, including a Q&A forum, cheat sheets, comment and discussion. From the site: In War of the Ring, one player takes control of the Free Peoples (FP), the other player controls Shado
- War of the Ring Second Edition (English Rules) | Ares Games
If you are curious about the game but want to know more about what you are getting into, then you can download the rules from here! It's a free PDF file.
- Der Ringkrieg
A War of the Ring fan site for German readers. Even if you can't read German (like me), there are some pictures of some very nicely painted figures from the game!
- How To Play War Of The Ring
Start of a series on how to play the game, with thoughts on strategy.
Inside the Box: War of the Ring
This is a great YouTube video by CoolStuffInc, showing the different components in the game.
It includes some good close-ups of the figures, cards and the various tracks around the board.
In the opening sequence, you can clearly see the different figures, including the leaders (in grey), such as the Nazgul on the right hand side.
Have you played War of the Ring?
Did you think it was great too, or just "meh"?
Perhaps it was a wonderful experience of Middle Earth or maybe it was just too long?
Let us know your opinion in the comments!
© 2013 Tim Bader