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Friday, September 09, 2005

Musings on the Ring

The strength of War of the Ring, for me, is its ability to play out the "what if"s of Tolkein. What if Boromir had returned to Minas Tirith in time to aid his father? What if Frodo hadn't broken the fellowship? What if Gondor had come to Rohan's aid instead of the other way around? Since this fictional world has meaning for me, it adds gravitas and storytelling to the games. Only the most "pure" gamer would say that theme has no impact on a game. This kind of thinking is an anathema to wargamers, otherwise you'd see very-well-designed games about the Crimean War outselling run-of-the-mill WWII and American Civil War games. It doesn't make sense to me either. Theme matters. If you don't like the theme of this game, then you should expect to have less fun relative to the most vocal fans.

In general I avoid Licensed products like the plague. Coming from a computer-gaming background, its been drilled into me time and again that licensed EQUALS shoddy. I only gave War of the Ring a look after much research and review-reading.

I've played the game about 30 times now. I think I mainly got invited to this party on the strength of my frequency-of-posting to the BGG WotR Forums. I'm still climbing up the learning curve. And not in a derogatory, "I can't read the cards they're too *#*&! small" kind of way, but in a "the possibilities are endless!" kind of way. Still certain patterns are appearing often enough that I no longer have to thrash through them every time. Occassionally, though, I fall "out of book" and have to think with my forebrain. Like the time my buddy failed in all his seiges, but had corrupted the pants off the fellowship on its final approach to Mordor. The FP had nothing left to muster, so it was only a matter of time, but it was going to be a LONG time: the SP barely had any military units left on the board. As Frodo I could go to Mordor with high corruption, or I could backtrack to Dale, heal up for a few turns, and then try a suicidal dash. Neither was a very good option, but I just didn't know how much time I'd have to work with. The SP only had four of his ten victory points, on turn 12 or so! George Bush would call that a "tough decision", and I had to mull it for a long time. Then well I recalled the feeling of when I was a new player, agonizing about splitting memebers off the fellowship. I had to make decisions without an accurate mental model of the ramifications, and frankly if you're having that feeling on the 15th play of a game, the game is doing something RIGHT.

It seems every time I play this game, I want to play it two more times to explore the options we could have taken if we'd made different choices.

The game doesn't appeal to many people I play games with. Some are put off by the rules. Others by the theme. Others by the time it takes. However, the people that like it tend to really like it. And really you only need to find one other preson in that category, and you're set for some serious fun.