Wednesday, October 06, 2004

Review: War of the Ring

War of the Ring is the latest game from Fantasy Flight.

As of this writing, I've only played a single game (but see below) and this game DEFINITELY requires more than one playing before I'll feel comfortable writing a real review so this is really just a first impression and I'll try and keep it brief.

My first impression with the box contents was: "Wow! There's a ton of stuff in this heavy box! And it's really pretty!" The production values are incredible. This is a huge epic of a game that is filled with over 200 miniatures and a gigantic board whose main feature is a lavishly illustrated map of Tolkien's Middle Earth. The figures are absolutely gorgeous. I only wish they'd used hard plastic like Days of Wonder uses in their games instead of this softer stuff. But that's a very minor gripe.

The other minor gripe I have with the figures is that it can be rather difficult to tell them apart. Not impossible but difficult. I plan to solve that problem by color coding the figures' bases so I can quickly tell one nation's armies from the next. The Shadow armies are all red and the Free People's armies are all blue, so that's not a problem, but it can be pretty hard to tell at a glance which soldiers are Rohan's and which are Gondor's.

Compared to some, this is not a simple game. The rules are relatively complicated and the way they are written in the rulebook makes them seem even more so. While the rulebook is clearly written, it's a bit on the long side. The authors have divided the rulebook up into clear sections and they have made a point of carefully spelling out every little nuance that might apply to each of them. The result is that you often have the same rule repeated in several sections. This makes the rules a bit longer than most people might feel comfortable with. Once you actually get in there and start playing the game and you start to become familiar with how things fit together it all makes sense and it actually becomes very easy to play, but at first it seems pretty daunting. You may need to read the rules several times before you feel ready to play the game. There is a "quick start" version of the game which some may find useful but frankly the real game is much more satisfying and I'd recommend that most experienced gamers just dive right in. You may wrestle with the rules a bit at first but it shouldn't take long to figure it out.

This is also a pretty long game. The first time you play it you'll probably want to set aside at least five hours because it takes a while to get the board set up and go over all the rules and the game itself is probably going to take well over three hours. Our first session lasted well over four hours including the setup time. But I would expect subsequent playings to go much faster and while it was long, it was never dull.

It's too early for me to say how balanced the game is but if our game was any indication, it's very well balanced. In our game, Sauron was one turn away from a military conquest before I managed to throw the One Ring in Mount Doom. It could have very easily gone the other way.

I especially liked how well it captures the feel of the trilogy. The objectives and capabilities of the Shadow Forces are very different from those of the Free Peoples. Sauron's got an endless supply of military troops and it makes the Fellowship's position feel truly helpless against his might. In our game I felt like I was desperately clinging to my last strongholds, playing for time in the hope that Frodo would succeed in the nick of time.

Finally, the game is advertised as being for 2-4 players. While it's true this game can be played with three or four players, it's really best with two.

So to sum up:

Long Game (over 3 hours not counting the rather lengthy setup).
Best for 2 players but not bad with 3 or 4.
Lovely bits!
Rules are a bit daunting at first but just dive in and you'll get it.
Seems really well balanced.
Really captures the feel of Tolkien's epic.
Loads of fun! Can't wait to play it again!


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