After reading numerous reviews on the War of the Ring, I decided I really wanted it. I loved the books, so I was already sold on the theme. I know people who also love the story. The mechanics intrigued me. The style was impressive. Kudos to Ares Games on the second edition. It also seemed like a long game that would be hard to get to the table.
I talked my wife into trying this game. She even read most of the rulebook, which is fairly intense (48 heavily illustrated pages). We played the game last week in around 4.5-5 hours over the course of three nights. This included a 3 hour session to start (including more than a couple rule lookups on my part), We left it out on our dining table between game sessions.
Rohan fell in the early going. Saruman used his voice (and generous muster action dice) to raise a massive army of Wargs and Uruk-Hai. The invasion was swift, and Helm’s Deep fell before Edoras learned that it was at war. Edoras fell next. “Tom Bombadil” defended the Shire.
My wife was starting to run into a combo of good reinforcement cards and action dice that allowed her to strengthen the Elven nation and Gondor even before they went to war. Gandalf emerged in Fangorn forest. Aragorn left the fellowship for Gondor. Pippin was seperated by a successful hunt, but met back up with Aragorn in Minas Tirith.
Gondor could finally declare war when the Witchking attacked Osgiliath. In the same turn, an army from Moria and Dol Gulder under the leadership of two ringwraiths converged on the realm of Lorien, laying siege. Massive Dark Forces marched on Gondor from the Black Gate, Minas Morgul, and Harad. Peligir was abandoned in the face of Oliphants. Aragorn made a tactical withdrawal to Dol Amroth just before the Witchking laid siege to Minas Tirith. I played the “Folly of Denethor” on the table to prevent my wife from playing cards in battle for the duration of the siege. On my next action I used the card “Grond, Hammer of the Underworld.” The forces of Mordor bled (I needed all three rounds from Grond), but the city fell. Not really surprising that the defenses wilted after their King abandoned them . . . I guess he did leave Pippin and Denethor behind to die heriocally.
Gandalf did little to aid the Free peoples. He did send Treebeard to war, but the poor Ents were repulsed by a fully garrisoned Orthanc. I attribute this to a beginner playing the Free Peoples. Gandalf would have been very useful for negating my Nazgul swarm as it went from citadel to citadel. It was the safe play. By keeping him out of the fight, my wife was protecting that precious extra action die. Companions without armies cannot be harmed.
She played a “Power too Great” to shield the elves, but I paid the high cost to discard this effect (a die and 2 cards!) The Nazgul descended on Lorien and cast “Dreadful Spells” to soften (2 hits) the defense. After a few assaults were beaten back, the “Black Breath” brought Lord Celeborn to his knees during the final assault. 7 VP (10 VP for a shadow win) Gandalf was still smoking his pipe in Fanghorn. Treebeard was probably “entertaining” him with some anecdote about the Entwives.
The Witchking then took a few Nazgul with him to take the lead of my hopefully game winning offensive in the north. The “Hordes from the East” had arrived, and I had an army where I needed it. We burned Dale, and moved on the Woodland Realm, laying siege. Everything was going well, but I was beginning to feel nervous about the ring. There were reports of spies from Minas Morgul. My eye(s) turned to Mordor, where fate of Middle Earth would be decided.
The Fellowship was moved very quickly from the start. My wife was rolling two or three character dice per turn. I was terrible with hunt rolls and tile pulls. Each movement in a single turn is progressively more dangerous. Even as the rolls became better than 50/50 I failed to reveal the fellowship. (Stupid blind wraiths!) Even my play of the Balrog was unable to stop the Fellowship, though Gandalf did not make it to Lorien as my wife used him as a meat shield for a “3” hunt tile pull for the Balrog.
The Fellowship continued to make good pace despite more successful hunts. Merry was taken alive and when the fellowship was revealed in North Ithilen. My wife thought she had made it to Minas Morgul and was thwarted by “Cruel Weather” which found the Fellowship backtracking to Osgiliath which was teeming with Nazgul and Orcs. This bought me at least one additional turn for my campaigns against the elves.
By the time the passed through Minas Morgul; Gimli, Legolas and Boromir still protected Frodo and Sam. Not good. The good part was that the large fellowship allowed for better hunt damage. I was maxing out my die allotment (one for each companion). In Mordor (on the Mordor track), a hunt tile is pulled every move (no more rolling). I had added some powerful tiles to the mix, but none were being pulled. There were a lot of deadly tiles. An eye, for example would have done 4-5 damage on these moves. Gimli died in Mordor, but I was failing to draw eye tiles! I was not drawing stop tiles either.
Then my wife advanced the ring two times each turn of the last two turns in Mordor. I finally hit her with one of the deadly stop tiles, but she used her on the table fellowship card “Mithril Coat and Sting” which allowed her to make me pull a replacement tile. The replacement tile caused only ONE damage. The fellowships corruption was at 9 (12 is the limit at which Frodo claims the ring for himself). Boromir and Legolas high fived amidst the lava before the eagles swooped down to the rescue. I lost.
I had 9 VPs at game end, and the siege on the woodland realm was going well. My wife did not do anything offensive as the Free Peoples. She dedicated herself to the fellowship. I feel like it will be more typical for the free peoples to pay more attention to an active defense. It was brutal (and apparently common) of me to descend on Rohan before we had really done anything. I think that I should have reacted more to the rapid advance of the ring bearers.
We had a lot of fun and we learned a lot from this play. In fact, we had a second game played within a week. The BGG posters are awesome at responding to rules clarifications too.