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Thursday, September 08, 2005

Introductions and Initial Thoughts on WotR - Rick

Hello all! I feel honored to have been invited to join you. As it happens, the invitation comes in the midst of a discussion of one of my most recent and, for now, favorite game experiences...WotR. Before launching into some opening salvos regarding that, I should introduce myself.

1) I Am Canadian! (oops, sorry about that)
2) I am not that Rick Young (of EE fame...sorry about that too)
3) I am a mature gamer (read "old fart") who cut his teeth on the AH early classics (no apology for that)
4) I have maintained an avid interest in our hobby throughout my career and have had many a good discussion regarding it over the years but am new to the explosion of venues for wider discussion such as BGG, the Blogs, etc. It seems only recently I discovered the Geek and the ripples are expanding exponentially from there (this will be to explain why I may come out with things that many of you will have seen, heard, read or said, often before, as though it were a new revelation)
5) I have concluded, on balance, that the current "Euro" phenomina has breathed new life into the strategy board game niche that I was beginning to have great concern for...
6) I love games, gaming and gamers (in general...not to say I don't also have some pet peeves)

That said, what about War of the Ring?

At the risk of repeating what I have already shared on the Geek, I believe this to be a towering achievement! I have always been a solid JRRT fan, but not a rabid fanatic. Let's just say that I'm pretty familar with the back-story. The captured imagination that goes with being a fan can be an advantage and an impediment. Renderings of the Middle Earth universe, in whatever form, runs the risk of offending what the imagination has created in each of our minds. So, my impressions come with that as backdrop. Overall, this game satisfies everything I imagine a game on this theme should be, after many other earlier disappointments. In some ways it reminds me of the 1977 SPI release of the same name, but this is so very much better in all respects.

First the map board: mounted (hello GMT) and absolutely beautiful. It is what my mind sees when I recall The Map. I will grant all the criticisms it alone has garnered in terms of markings, borders, size of areas, etc.; but, as far as I'm concerned, it all still works. It wouldn't be The Map and answer some of the critiques without being, say, twice as large as it is. It already stretches the capability of my dining room table. I find the unit replacement counters work just fine and I like them better than the tiny poker chips employed by Axis and Allies. As for the markings, and border areas, colors and so on...it only took a couple of playings before that became second nature.

The Figs: I love them...even the Nazgul! Especially the "pewter" ones. I don't find them to be indistinguishable at all, I don't feel I have to paint even the bases (I'm not into painting miniatures), and, again, one playing was all I needed to be happily familiar with all of them. Once the figs have been sorted and bagged, along with the other bits, I'm rubbing my hands together in anticipation...

The Setup: I don't find it a particular burden. Wallenstein has been mentioned by way of comparison, and frankly, I still struggle more with the pre-drawn setup for the different player numbers in that than I do with WotR. Besides, WotR is an epic and setting up for it should feel like you are getting ready for just that! Gamers are great for coming up with helpful player aids...they are out there...get one that works for you if that's what you feel you need.

The Cards: Event/Battle card design is a separate discussion in itself. It is not an easy task to design these sorts of decks without drawing a lot of criticism but as far as I'm concerned, the decks in this game are as well done as anywhere I've seen. Along with the dice, they help shape and drive the action and, in general, do what these things do best which is to force players to think strategically rather than just manage an operational level war game. Moreover, they aid, as do all the other components, in capturing and maintaining the theme. I do wish that a slightly larger font could have been chosen for the cards however (note point three of my intro).

The Play: Is the thing! I had intial concern that the game would quickly end up playing you rather than the other way around. There are enough games out there that, once the voyage of discovery has been sailed, end up largely playing themselves. History of the World, played by a number of equally experienced players, is just one example. Detailed discussions of strategy and tactics I will pass over for now, but after playing this game a fair bit I come away with even more admiration for the thought, effort and design subtlety that results in leading the player to follow the story arc. A seamless and rewarding blend of a character game with an strategic/operational level war game, the task of managing your dice, cards, and resources (characters and forces) to do what you soon learn you have to do still provides an fully satisfying array of decisions and moments of tension and suspence.

It remains my favorite two-player game and has the highest rating I've given a game to date (9). Thanks for reading this far.