Thursday, July 16, 2015

Much more than Middle-earth Risk

War of the Ring is exactly the game I was hoping it would be. I was looking for something a bit more connected to the story of Lord of the Rings than just a Middle-earth re-skinning of Risk, and that is certainly what I got.

At its most simplified, War of the Ring is a Risk-style area control game, with the primary game play consisting of armies moving around the board conquering territory, with battles resolved by rolling dice and the side with the numerical advantage being given more dice to roll. However, the game designers have added a number of elements that help bring the game in line with the material it is based on.

The most obvious of these is Frodo's journey to deliver the One Ring to Mount Doom. The Free Peoples player (War of the Ring is primarily a two-player game) can choose to devote resources to moving Frodo and the Fellowship closer to Mordor, and can win the game by successfully destroying the Ring. Moving Frodo exposes him to discovery and possible corruption, and the more he moves in a single turn, the more likely he is to be discovered. Needless to say, if Frodo is completely corrupted by the Ring, the Sauron player wins.

A major story element in Lord of the Rings is the reluctance of the men of Gondor and Rohan to join in the fight against Sauron, and the game reflects this by way of a political track which traces how close the various cultures of Middle-earth are to declaring open war. The Sauron player can take advantage of this by avoiding open battle for the first few turns of the game while he gets his forces in a more advantageous position, much as Sauron does in the book. The Free Peoples player can try to galvanize Gondor, Rohan, and even the dwarves of the north into action more quickly by sending characters such as Aragorn or Gandalf to inspire the people.

A danger with games like this is that they will become repetitive, with the same strategies winning every time, but War of the Ring overcomes this by way of the action dice. At the start of each round, players roll a number of dice printed with different symbols representing possible actions such as army movement, political maneuvering, or character action. Since the number and types of actions available are different from turn to turn, players are forced to think on their feet, revising their strategy based on what actions are available each turn.

The game does a great job of rising above being merely a bunch of miniatures on a map, putting the players into the epic story. As the Free Peoples player, you'll agonize at the indifference of the dwarves as Sauron's armies roll over Rohan and Gondor. As the Sauron player, you'll wonder how close Frodo is to Mordor, even while cackling with glee as orcs swarm out of Mirkwood to overrun the elves where they thought they were safe.

Rating: 5 (out of 5) Much more than just Middle-earth Risk, War of the Ring is truly an epic game that mirrors the action of Tolkien's classic.

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