Monday, August 20, 2012

Gaming with Owen: War of the Ring

My son Owen and I have continued our series of plays, but this is the first time I've blogged about it. However, I hope to make "Gaming with Owen" a regular segment in this blog.

Right after WBC, Owen indicated to me that he wanted to play War of the Ring again. It was something of a revival of a game that Owen had cut his gaming teeth on. I was interested in teaching him Titan (because of the free-form nature of the WBC tournament, which would mean he could jump in at whatever time he pleased), but for some reason (maybe the 2nd edition "upgrade kit" I bought, maybe seeing others play it in open gaming), he was more interested in WotR. We decided to try out the new upgrade (but that meant no expansion! -- well, not yet). 

We also had to work this into a schedule involving a return to soccer and a return of the 9pm-11pm open gym sessions at his high school. Oh, and I'm back at work, too (for those of you not in the know, I'm a high school English teacher). So, while we were interested in playing right after we got back from WBC, we didn't actually end up playing until this past weekend.

We played two games of War of the Ring, one on Friday night and one on Saturday. Both were Shadow player wins, probably due to the inability to get the Fellowship up and going. When I defeated Owen as the Shadow player, it was a military victory, with orcs trundling out of Mount Gundabad to add Bree, The Shire (Shire...Baggins...) and the Grey Havens to the already taken lands in Gondor. When Owen won, it was due to Frodo succumbing to the One Ring's corruption at the foot of Mount Doom. Oh well. 

On my BGG profile, I have War of the Ring listed as my number two game (ASL is number one). I don't see it moving down any time soon. Our two plays were great and really highlighted the game's key positives for me.

First off, the action dice. I find dice in general problematic (look out, sounds like a blogging topic). They seem to add randomness and "spice" to games that would be decidedly uninteresting otherwise. Not so with War of the Ring. In general, you can use all of your action dice for something. The Shadow player may get a number of "Eye" results, crippling his armies, but this usually will slow down a Free Peoples player significantly in their quest to destroy the One Ring. The Free Peoples player may get too many military results, but the most militaristic result gives him the option of moving armies OR mustering more forces, which he is always in need of doing. Add to this the ability to add more dice and more actions to the game by meeting certain conditions and the adding of minions for the Shadow player and the adding of the more significant characters (Aragorn the Heir and Gandalf the White) for the Free People. 

Another factor limiting the wild randomness found in many other dice games is War of the Ring's inclusion of the Elven Rings. For each Elven Ring,  you can change the result of one action die. Carefully and strategically used, the Elven Rings can change disastrously bad rolls into tactical opportunities.

I think my favorite part of War of the Ring, though, is the two sided gameplay. The Free People play entirely differently than the Shadow. As Free People, you need to advance the Fellowship. As the Free People, you need to be careful with your troops because, if they die, they ain't comin' back. As the Shadow player, you need to be an offensive juggernaut, while protecting Sauron from those nasty Ents that can pop up.

The hand size limit is also an simple but interesting factor in the game. There is a "use it or lose it" feel to the card play many times (although, late in the game, I may come close to running out of cards). The cards can be used in two ways (as an event or as a combat card), and it can be a somewhat agonizing decision as to how to use them. Many times, the most useful combat card is also the most needed event in your hand (for instance, one for the Free People that allows you to force the redraw of a Hunt Tile, but also can be quite powerful if used appropriately in combat).

So the game plays out with you trying to:

1. Get the Fellowship to Mount Doom (or prevent that!).
2. Take Victory Point spaces while protecting your own.
3. Moving your nations up on the Political Track so that you can eventually build troops.
4. Manage your hand of cards (and manage your decks at some level - I hate to have the trek up Mt. Doom start without all of my special Hunt Tiles in play!).

The rules are so simple, yet I love the feel and play of the game. I've recently had something of a love affair with Middle Earth Quest, but Owen's insistence on playing War of the Ring recently has really reminded me of how superior a game it is.

Can't wait for the new expansion (Lords of Middle Earth). I would put it on my BGG Secret Santa list, but, come on, can I really wait that long??

Upcoming Topics: Titan, Dice and/or Randomness in games.

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