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WAR OF THE RING 2ND EDITION Some of you may feel that a review of War of The Ring 2nd edition [from now on standard abbreviation...

WAR OF THE RING 2nd Edition WAR OF THE RING 2nd Edition

WAR OF THE RING 2nd Edition

WAR OF THE RING 2nd Edition



Some of you may feel that a review of War of The Ring 2nd edition [from now on standard abbreviation WOTR] is a little unnecessary, but that was what I was  asked to undertake, before moving on to the expansion WOTR: Warriors of Middle-Earth.

In many ways, this request was like one I had back in the 90s when I was reviewing for the magazine, Games Monthly.  That was to tackle the original basic Squad Leader many years after it had been published and a whole raft of expansions had rolled out too.  I approached that with considerable trepidation expecting legions of devotees to be scrutinising in minute detail, looking for the slightest error or view contrary to their liking and with guns loaded and ready.

Still, I'm alive to tell the tale and ready to try my hand at WOTR.  After all, what's to fear this time, except for the odd orc, neurotic necromancer, irate dwarf or The Eye of Sauron. [Cue sound of reverberating thunder and sinister, mocking laugh.]

So, here goes!  Is there anyone other than babes in arms and very small children who do not have some good idea of the full story, if not from the real source Tolkien's classic trilogy, The Lord of The Rings, then at least from Peter Jackson's equally epic cinematic version?  My first encounter was back in 1965 aged 15!

Packing that narrative into a single game has been an equally monumental achievement and I defy anyone to refute WOTR's success. [vicious, nail-studded, orc club narrowly misses my skull - alright there's always someone out there won't agree!] 

So, it's dive in there with the playing board, a map of Middle-Earth.  Why the map? Well, partly because I'm fascinated by 'em, even down to reproducing by hand a vast  copy of the one from The Hobbit way back in my student days to hang on my wall!  But mainly because it's fantastic and the 2nd edition has tweaked and improved the original edition's one.  In fact, this board is in the main a scaled-down version of the Collector's Edition version.

I suspect that the map is the key aspect that will draw conflicting opinions between this second edition and the first edition.  I say this because I am myself torn between aspects of the two.  Though the original map's strong ochre colouring looks more like a Middle-Earth where Sauron has won, making me think of a post-apocalyptic desert, it does pack a strong, dramatic punch.  On balance, I prefer the new map [you might just have spotted the word "improved" |I slipped in earlier]. 

The predominantly verdant land with its dark green woods and now much more strongly contrasting region of Mordor seems a more accurate depiction.  The mountains stand out more and the various regions are better delineated and so easier to spot during game play.  My only wish is that Mordor had been made even grimmer and louring in its shading!

A series of boxes run down the left edge providing useful placement areas for besieged armies and, next to them, three, larger, very helpful holding boxes to accommodate sizable forces on the map.  This always tend to be a benefit in any game and especially WOTR with its huge supply of plastic figures, which grows even bigger with the expansion that I'll be reviewing soon!

The areas for holding the various key decks of cards are essentially identical to the original, but enlarged to take the new tarot-sized cards - love those.  A victory point track has been added at the bottom - useful, but always a target I've found for stray elbows and sleeves. [Not to mention those dice throwers who must insist on rolling them on or towards the game board.  Pet peeve of mine!]

The tarot-sized cards are superb.

On to those many, many plastic figures.  I look with deep envy at the glorious painted ones in on-line images and with even more envy at the set a fellow gamer plays with at conventions I attend.  I know it took him hours and nearly finished him off.

The Good

The Bad

And The Fellowship
[a little evil has crept in too, spot Saruman,
the Witch-king & The Mouth of Sauron]

I know that mine will never get quite the treatment I'd love to bestow on them.  Ultimately, my intention is to separate the various nations/races by colour [e.g. elves in green] to add to ease of play and spend some time on the special figures like those of the  Fellowship and, of course, Gollum.

Here he is! Dominating the Fellowship cards.
with apologies to James Cagney

The last selection of figures in light grey plastic are the Leaders of the various nations/races and Shadow leaders, such as the Nazgul.

Generally the casting is good, with decent depth of detail, but fairly soft plastic so that spears, bows, lances [and other long, sharp pointy things] tend to wilt and wobble.  Nothing that the old hot water bath and then into very cold water won't literally straighten out!  I have had a few problems distinguishing the regular warriors of Gondor and Rohan - there is a difference in size and which side their spears and shields are positioned, but on the board they become harder to distinguish.  I can also sometimes confuse the different mounted Leaders.  Both are minor issues and will soon be dealt with by the basic paint job I intend to give the different races/nations.

All in all, when on the board, even in this most basic form without any paint, they still look an impressive sight.

The opening set-up.

Here once more you can also see the new size and quality of the Character and Event cards for both sides.  As before, the game can be played as a two player or four player working in teams of two and I must confess to much preferring to play two-player.  However, this is very much a personal choice, mainly because I only tend to like such teaming of players on one side when there can still only be one winner.  So, Wars of The Roses by Z-man Games and Ragnar Brothers' Promised Land are both games I hugely enjoy, whereas WOTR is definitely a 2 player for my money!

All the counters and markers are of very sturdy cardboard and I particularly like the new square Army markers [which replace the former, smaller round ones] inscribed with elven script that can be used to replace large numbers of units that are then placed in the Army Holding boxes on the map.  Beside the few physical changes, overall there have been very limited minor changes and additions to the rules - why change what was very good in the first place?

Much to my surprise the one factor that has had some complaints are the Action dice - too light, not clear enough, being the main ones - and complaints about the ordinary six-sided dice too.  As the latter past complaints seem to bear no relationship to the dice that came with my review copy, either they have been changed because of the complaints or I was just plain lucky.  They are plain simple basic D6s!  Should there be any problem with the ones you get in your game, most gamers usually have a huge stock of dice that they can swop in at the drop of a hat.  Any issues with the Action dice seem purely to be a question of personal aesthetics, not a certifiable factual problem.  To trot out one of my favourite French phrases : chacun a son gout!

To your taste or not?  Just don't put them in your mouth to find out.

With the rule book I do not intend to go into great detail discussing the actual rules, as there are so many forums and videos that take you through them in great detail.  Safe to say, as a component the rules book itself, it is an all-round delight.  The tactile quality of the substantial, smooth, glossy pages makes it a pleasure just to hold in your hand.  Good sized print, well laid out on the page, effective use of bold for emphasis, additional artwork just for atmosphere and above all everything clearly and well explained. 

Though at the end of the rules, there is a full-page of what is headed as a "Summary", this is a little misleading.  It is not a summary as such, but simply a sequential index of the rules. In other words, it's not an index where you can look up a rule in alphabetical order.  To find what you want to look up, you need to know which section of the rule book to find it in or at the worst skim through the whole page to locate it.  As WOTR has a substantial number of rules, for a gamer approaching these rules for the first time, it's not the most useful format.

The front cover of the rule book.

As a lover of the Tolkien novels and, I've got to say the Peter Jackson films too, this is the game interpretation for me.  I have tried a number of the card approximations of the game, but none achieves the all-encompassing nature of this game.  Two reasons I suspect influence me - one I am first and foremost a board wargamer and second, a pure card version of a game, I fear, will never wholly satisfy me. 

Above all I find that WOTR is the only game that successfully and smoothly integrates the combination of armies manoeuvring and fighting with the singularity of the quest to destroy the One Ring.  Many years ago SPI attempted this with what was for its time an incredible product, but also a massive, unwieldy monster that was only partially successful.

What is it in WOTR that achieves this success?   For me, it is the perfect mixture of the following vital elements.  Conventional area movement, combat and sieges.  Character figures with functions that inevitably mirror the break-up of the Fellowship as individuals need to be sent to rouse the Free Peoples and bring them in to the war.  The separate journey of the Ring-Bearers with its hidden element and the accompanying Hunt for the Ring.  Just as in the books the One Ring binds them all, so  in the game the Action dice brings together all these elements.  The limitations and uncertainty of these Action dice and what potential Actions can be taken that turn combine with the Event cards that each offer a dual choice. This makes for the variety and multiplicity of choices in a game that I value highly in any game of substantial weight and is central to my enjoyment in playing the game.

It is a long game, but one that rewards the time you spend on it.  Should you want a similar experience, but a shorter one there is always The Battle of Five Armies to fall back on.  This is an excellent game using most of the elements found in WOTR, but just like reading The Hobbit is a lesser experience than reading the whole trilogy of The Lord of The Rings, so is The Battle of Five Armies in relation to playing WOTR a fine, but lesser challenge.

To conclude, I feel I must use the game's full title again to do it full justice.  WAR OF THE RING stands out, not just as the best evocation and recreation of the original work of literature it is founded on, but one of the best [I would claim the best] among the many games that have attempted to take a different genre and reproduce it in game form.

 [pub. Ares Games]


  1. De gustibus non est disputandum

    I am a firm aficionado of theis game. I bought the First Edition and expansions, then painted ALL the figures, so that put me off buying the Second Edition outright. I did, however, buy the upgrade kit. I would love to be able to buy the Collector's Edition Board on its own.

    You article is so good, that I am pulling the game out this weekend and having a go at it again, so now I've got some bedtime reading to do to refresh my memory of the rules.

    Thank you for a great article,

    Jim O'Neill

  2. Many thanks, Jim, for your kind comment and pleased I sparked you to get back to the game board with it.. I enjoy reviewing, but writing about WOTR was both the easiest and the most enjoyable of the many that I've written. Look out in a week or two [I hope] for my take on the expansion WOTR: Warriors of Middle-Earth.

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