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Friday, September 09, 2005

Musings on...WotR

I consider WotR to be one of the "pearls" of my collection; it's a gorgeous game I like a lot and will play almost anytime. That said, I must acknowledge that I AM a Tolkien fan, and as such have played just about every game that deals with Middle Earth, from SPI's War of The Ring to the dreadful Hobbit. Part of the reason that I like WotR so much is that, FINALLY, here is a game that gets it right.
The designers have done an outstanding job of realizing the nuances and major "historical" events of the Trilogy. Probably my favorite aspect of the game is the remarkable way the event cards allow players to create a new story with each play! I've had games as the FP where Aragorn led a glorious charge through Orthanc and the rest of Isengard and up to Moria, culminating in a Free Peoples' military victory, and I've also had games where an uncrowned Strider spent the whole game drunk in Bree! Since players will likely use most of the Event Cards for their combat effects, those cards played as Events usually have a significant impact on the game, and consequently serve to craft and mold the "story" of that game.
Complaints about excessive "fiddly-ness" or complexity, frankly I just don't understand (or agree with). As a grognard of the "old school" (cut my teeth on Afrika Korps and its ilk), I'm used to games of greivous complexity and endless exceptions, neither of which are present in the relatively simple rules of WotR IMO. The game is fairly deep, though, and will require a couple of plays to get all the mechanics meshing smoothly, as well as attaining a good grasp of how best to utilize one's Action Dice. One quibble I have (which is likely adding to some peoples' confusion) is the quite unnecessary inclusion of the "Basic" game rules. The "basic" game is so different that I don't think it really helps players grasp the diverse mechanics of the Advanced Game.
I also do not agree with comments stating that the FP has few choices with regards to gameplay--it might seem that way after just a few plays, especially if the FP player has utilized the so-called "Fellowship Blitz" to ride hell-bent for Mordor. But my advice for players seeking a Free Peoples' military victory is to recall the adage of Robert E. Lee--"The best defense is a good offense." Consider abandoning "surrounded" strongholds (such as Lorien) and counterstriking with your still-intact army--after all, the shadow needs 10 points of strongholds to win--the Free Peoples only need 4. If the Shadow player has left his stronghold thinly defended--charge down and grab it! Moria and Dol Guldur are the most obvious targets, but as the FP, I have also seized Orthanc, Minas Morgul and Mount Gundabad. It CAN be done, I assure you.
I think Steve makes a great point that WotR has provoked such hostility because of theme--the designers are treading on "sacred ground" in a sense. But as someone who has literally searched for decades for a great game with a Middle Earth theme, I feel comfortable saying that WotR IS that game--THIS is the one I've been waiting for!