2-4 players, Competitive, Epic Strategy Ring-Bearing
Designers: Roberto Di Meglio, Marco Maggi, Francesco Nepitello
Artwork: John Howe, Fabio Maiorana
Publisher: Ares Games
Overview of Gameplay
War of the Ring. A name that will haunt your dreams as you will spend many a night thinking about it, plotting how you could have done things a bit differently than before. In War of the Ring 2 players (or 4 if playing teams) battle each other, one becoming the forces of Sauron and the other becoming the fellowship and the forces of the Free Peoples of Middle Earth. To win this epic game the Shadow forces (Sauron and co.) must either attain 10 VP’s by capturing cities and Strongholds scattered about Middle Earth OR fully corrupt the ring bearers. On the Free Peoples side they must either attain a measly 4 VP’s by capturing enemy strongholds or destroy the ring in the volcano that is Mount Doom.
To do any of those things each player will roll specific dice adorned with icons for different actions. What you roll for that round are what actions you can perform. After each player has performed their actions there is a bit of a cleanup phase collecting dice and drawing a new card which can be used during play or battle. There is so much more to the game than what I just listed but that is the basic idea of a round. It sounds simple but it is much more complex than you would think…..and that unfortunately is a bit of a downside for me.
Perhaps I was spoiled on Star Wars: Rebellion and its fairly easy to play and streamlined system. But for me War of the Ring is just a tiny bit TOO complicated for my taste. I mean it sounds simple on paper, draw a card, roll the dice, do the actions on the dice, rinse repeat. But the game is so much more thought provoking in the flesh. Those dice you roll, there are so many actions to choose from which for a first time player is overwhelming and can create extreme analysis paralysis. Luckily there are a couple full page reference guides to show exactly what each icon does. Even then, these are full page guides with lots to read and usually with multiple options for each action.
A typical turn for the Free Peoples could go like this: Roll dice, ok so I can Muster some troops or play a card from my hand or move the fellowship. Of course you will end up doing all three actions during the round back and forth between the Shadow player so right off it’s just, which action do I do first. Well, hmmmm ok let’s Muster……..well there are a couple things I can do when I muster. Do I move the political track for a specific nation down a notch or can I bring troops to the board? These kind of decisions happen with every action. Playing a card isn’t as simple as playing a card. You have to really put some thought into where and how and IF you can even play the card based on the current board state. There are also TWO actions on one side of the dice for both players so you have even more options at your disposal.
And this isn’t even going into all the very specific rules surrounding movement for both the fellowship and troops in general and other random things such as combat. The game is VERY deep. I don’t consider this a bad thing especially with this type of board game however it’s JUST over how deep I personally want a game to be.
The game board is fantastic…and huge. There are two boards that you unfold and lay out and push together to make up a giant map of middle earth and being a Lord of the Rings fan I was thrilled when I laid it out. The funny thing is even though it is huge, it’s still too small to hold everything and play without moving stuff around to see specific location names. You have SO MANY miniatures just starting out on the board that they will cover up the location name printed on the board and you will find yourself lost at times trying to find specific places mentioned on a card you can play. Now I think this issue could be easily solved if they would have just printed a tiny map on the cards with a dot for the location, kinda like Star Wars Rebellion did.
The components are pretty good overall. Although my copy was missing the entirety of Sarumans troops I sent an email to Ares Games and they mailed me the replacements at no charge. Took about a week to get them in but I was very impressed with their customer service. Huge Kudos to them. The game comes with a little over 200 Minis! That’s nuts but I mean you are playing an epic game here and just like the movies they went all out. So the mini quality is decent, nothing blowing my mind here but they look fine. My biggest gripe with them is the fact that there are multiple completely different nations that each player uses all on the board at the beginning and the minis are only two colors. Red for the Shadow player and Blue for the Free Peoples player. Now I like how they are colored that way but what I don’t like is that they are all so very similar looking on the board. Looking up close you can see differences between the different nations horsemen for example but when you start mixing these armies up later in the game you have to be very careful not to kill off a different nations units. Because for the Free Peoples when a unit dies, it’s out of the game forever. I ended up painting just the base for each nation on both sides of the fence to easily differentiate the nations but also leave the base color to show the difference on the board of the Shadow and the Free Peoples total military strength.
The dice you roll for actions are VERY nice quality. They have a nice blue and red hue to them respectively and the icons on them look great for the theme of the game. HOWEVER the dice included for the combat are pathetic when compared to everything else. So during combat each player can roll up to 5 dice corresponding to their number of units in the battle. You compare what’s rolled to your opponent and units die etc etc. The game comes with just 5 mini sized white dice. I mean the most basic things you have ever seen, ESPECIALLY when compared to the amazing action dice. Not only that but just 5, so in a bigger battle one player has to roll then remember what they have rolled then the other player rolls then figure out the conclusion. And god forbid your rolls end up mixing and you don’t know who rolled what. Now I know this all sounds silly as these things are very minor, but to me having an epic game like this AT LEAST give each player enough dice for themselves. I ended up buying some really nice looking blue and red normal sized dice to match the color scheme from the awesome action dice. Also enough for each player to have 5 which solves every minor issue I mentioned above. Not only that but just having the nicer dice makes the combat feel more alive to me, makes it MEAN something when rolling the dice together so when they mix up we can easily tell who lives and who survives. It’s almost like the dice are the warriors battling.
Moving on, I really love the cards. Each player has a couple decks to draw from and the cards have a very nice quality feel to them and they are tarot sized which I just love. Makes them feel powerful in the hand as opposed to smaller cards so when you slap one down on the board it’s like a hammer coming down upon the ring of power itself.
I really like the box! It’s not super massive like I would expect from a game of this size. The insert fits everything nicely with spots for all the cards and minis although I would suggest getting some bags to bag up the minis individually by nation. The boards and manuals sit on top of everything keeping all the things snug so when storing, everything stays where it’s supposed to. The box fits easily into my Kallax shelf as well so all in all a very nice presentation here.
Visual Appeal /Theme
The theme of a game is undoubtedly my favorite thing about board games in general and this one is no slouch in the theme department. Lord of the Rings theme pouring out all over the place at every turn and I especially like the artwork they used for the card backs depicting the special characters in the game such as the fellowship and the Shadow characters like the Witch King. The map of Middle Earth looks great represented on the huge board and the way the cards work is outstanding. The specific titles of each card are well placed and fans of the source material will undoubtedly recognize them.
I didn’t have many issues with the rulebook to be honest. That said I have to reference it quite a bit but not because it is poorly written. There are many complexities in this game and you will be super hard pressed to remember everything. With that said, going back and finding specific things in the rulebook was pretty easy with the exception of a couple thing like the movement aspect of the nazgul and how they work with armies being heroes without other units with them…..this specific thing….I KNOW I read it somewhere but going back to find it to confirm was a struggle. Couldn’t figure out if it was in the chapter for combat or movement. This was a strange one specifically because the nazgul in particular can interact with not only the regular armies but they have a rule set just interacting with the ring bearers and the fellowship themselves. The thing is, this is pretty normal throughout the entire game with everything. There seems to always be a rule set for everything but then another rule set on how everything interacts with something else and the rules are completely different.
So although I do think this games rulebook is pretty good explaining the game, I think it would be very hard indeed to make a rulebook that simplifies this game just because there are SO many moving parts to every moving part.
Table Talk/Fun Factor
There is a good amount of table talk held within even though you are directly competing against another player. I haven’t played a 4 player teams game so I cannot comment on that but I would suspect the table talk would just increase when played that way. When played 1 vs 1 I found myself talking over situations with the opposing player, not so much like what I was going to do but more like AFTER I do something we would talk about it. The game is a master at creating interesting discussion of the gameplay and situations like the close battle we just had because of a series of bad or good rolls or how the card one of us played during the battle very went far in swaying the outcome. Heck even when not in battles, the general movement of the fellowship and if the Shadow player is successful on the hunt…or not. The after talk when things occur is glorious.
Because of this I found myself having a really good time playing. Especially if both players are Lord of the Rings fans you both can really get sucked into the theme and gameplay. It’s not the most fun game I have played however. I know I have made the comparison a couple times already but I did find myself enjoying the general gameplay of Star Wars Rebellion a bit more even though I prefer the Lord of the Rings theme over the Star Wars theme. Both games are extremely similar in the gameplay department with War of the Ring being a bit more complex of a game. This will be a boon for some craving the complexity but for me it brings the score down a bit.
Optimal Player Count/Replayability
Not having played the 4 player teams game I cannot effectively comment on that count. From what I have read 2 players team up to control the Free Peoples side and 2 players team up to control the Shadow side. I’ll be honest and I don’t really have a desire to play that mode, it sounds like it would be just a little too much. So my vote goes to the 2 player 1 vs 1 style.
Replayability is overall pretty good. I mean you will never see ALL the cards from both decks on each side in a single game before it ends so you can expect each new game to hold some surprises on card draws and specific actions. The dice rolls although random will always allude to specific actions to take, the replayability mostly comes from what you can do during those rounds based on what you roll. Because of this you can never really “plan ahead” or formulate an ultimate strategy in the game. You always have to make the best of the actions that you roll. This gives a kind of “luck” aspect to the rounds to change them up every time you play as well although zooming out a bit the turns will seem similar every time. Like as the Free Peoples, the fellowship ALWAYS starts in Rivendell and all the different nations have the same starting location every game. The same goes for the Shadow player, there is no variable setup as it would throw off the beautiful balance of the game.
Positive Final Thoughts
It might have sounded like there was a lot I didn’t like about the game but honestly this is still a great game. The theme is amazing and works very well with the gameplay. I absolutely love the way the game has the magical effect of creating discussion around it long after you even finished playing. Even though the decisions you make are somewhat railroaded by the action dice, YOU have to decide the best way to utilize them. And these choices are what define the game and what creates these interesting discussions long after.
Negative Final Thoughts
The game was just too complex for my taste and just barely. I know how to play it but there are just a few too many moving parts for it to really climb the ranks of my all-time favorites. It really straddles the line of fun complex/unfun complex. This of course is a matter of personal taste and I wouldn’t turn down a play of this game…..although if I had the option of playing this or Star Wars Rebellion, I would choose the latter.