I am in constant search for the Holy Grail of Board Games. That game that will appeal to the casual player, drip with theme, be endlessly replayable, and will be continually rewarding. Legendary games meet all of the criteria, great games meet some, good games probably meet two, and bad games meet none. War of the Ring- Second Edition is a great game.
I have owned War of the Ring since about 2004. I have never played it until this weekend. It is a giant box that goes with me wherever I live. I have gone a decade without ever playing the game. Some of you probably see this as a problem- Why spend money on something you never actually get to play? Why bother with lugging around ten pounds of board and plastic that actually better represents a paperweight than an actual living breathing game? What benefit is there of having a game in your collection that the people in your life have no interest in? I am constantly asking myself these questions. I have got rid of games in the past. I don’t hold onto things I have no intention of ever playing again. I used to have a copy of Memoir ’44, I sold off my X-Wing miniatures, and I’ve moved several Warhammer Armies out of my house. I’m not REALLY a hoarder. So why hold onto something like War of the Ring?
Well, to me, War of the Ring isn’t really about the game. War of the Ring is about being unreasonable. There are other larger, more unreasonable games- but War of the Ring is pretty unreasonable. It asks you to read a 50 page rulebook. Sure, when you finally get the rules it’s not at all that complicated. It asks you to spend 30 minutes setting it all up. It asks you for countless hours of your life to be able to get the full experience. It demands about 24 square feet of space to play. These are unreasonable requests. When people would ask me about playing board games, I’d bring out War of the Ring just to show them how huge it is. I had no idea how to play it, it just represented expansiveness in my mind- it was the game that showed how huge board games could be. They didn’t have to be confined to old ideas about property trading and random movement on a square, they could be about distilling a whole series of book into one experience.
War of the Ring is THE Lord of the Rings game. It is everything about the books. It has everything from the books. Tom Bombadil makes an appearance! Sure, the cards don’t instruct you to sing a song and smoke some pipe weed, but the adventure is in there, the war is in there, and most important of all- both sides of the board FEEL desperate- there’s a desperation in knowing that your good guy armies aren’t coming back as reinforcements as they die in battle, and there’s a desperation in knowing that you can’t really stop the Fellowship from getting to the crack of doom unless you direct your giant sky eye away from the battles raging across middle earth.
Talking about how this game plays is pretty pointless. Every single turn sees Sauron having to decide how many of his limited dice he will direct towards looking for the ring, and how many he will direct to seeking battle. The good guys have a similar decision, but don’t have to commit before the turn begins- they have to decide how many dice will be used to move Frodo towards mount doom, and how many will be used to bring on reinforcements and move armies. At one point in my game, my opponent seemed frustrated. I asked him if he thought that he was losing the game- he said that yes he did. I told him that I also felt like I was losing- such was number and difficulty of the decisions that needed to be made, and the desperation of knowing that you didn’t have enough resources to do everything you needed to do.
Instead of taking you through the rules, I’m going to highlight some of the narrative elements of the game that we played.
- Early on, as the Fellowship passed through Lorien, Legolas broke off from the fellowship to join his Elvish brothers in defending Lorien from the armies of Sauron led by the Witch King of Angmar. The Seige of Lorien lasted a long time, but eventually Legolas’ army was successful in beating back the hordes of darkness when the Witch King turned his attention elsewhere.
- Gimli was able to alert the Men of the North that the great evil was approaching, and then had absolutely no success in raising a Dwarf army. I could picture Gimli desperately trying to muster Dwarves to no avail. Gimli’s story was tragic.
- Merry and Pippin were separated from the Fellowship and mostly hung around near Fangorn Forest chilling out with the Ents for the rest of the war. Merry never got a chance to become a hero in Gondor.
- Boromir and Aragorn separated from the Fellowship to ride to Minis Tirith to rouse Gondor. They would raise a great army in Minis Tirith- an army that would eventually defend against countless advancing orcs.
- Edoras, Rider of Rohan, was able to draw off the main host of Orthanc and lead them away from Saruman’s Tower. While this was happening, Gandalf the White appeared in Fangorn and raised the Ents to destroy Saruman’s Tower. Gandalf and the army of Helm’s Deep rode to the defence of Minis Tirith.
- With a massive army of Men amassed in Minas Tirith, Gandalf, Boromir and Aragorn were able to fight back the orcs led by the Mouth of Sauron. At the same time, Sam and Frodo finally arrived at the Crack of Doom. Just as Frodo was about to throw the ring into the fire, he was killed by the Great Daemon protecting the Chasm. It turned out that Sauron had covered all his bases.
So after 4 hours of back and forth gaming, countless battles and cards being played, the game came down to Frodo, at the crack of doom, being foiled by Sauron. Middle Earth plunged into darkness and the good guys were left mostly to die. At the end of it, I realized I was in a daze. So much energy had been put into the game that I felt drained.
Do I recommend this game? Yes. The second edition came out a few years ago and the board is nice and colourful, there are tons of miniatures and the cards are all awesome. My one wish is that I could play it more often, but that only goes to show you how much I like this game.
Interested in buying War of the Ring, 2nd Edition? You can buy it now from 401 Games!!