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Thursday, September 08, 2005

War of the Ring - Theme and Following the Story


Well, I better start by saying that War of the Ring has been my favorite game since about two months after it came out. Throughout this time, I've enjoyed playing it repeatedly, and indeed have also signed up to playtest the expansion (which I have also enjoyed immensely).

Coming a bit late to the conversation, I think many of the relevant points have already been covered. I just want to say a bit about theme in War of the Ring, and why it's a good story-telling game.

I think War of the Ring has a great balance between forcing people to follow the story, and giving players freedom of strategic choice. It doesn't, in fact, force much of anything. here are the mandatory "choices":

1. The Fellowship needs to bring the ring to mount doom.

2. The Shadow needs to corrupt the Fellowship and conquer Free Peoples nations.

3. Both sides need to bring their great leaders - Gandalf the White, Saruman and the Witch-King - into play.

That's really it - just a couple requirements set forth by the victory conditions and some bonus action dice. You're not forced to do anything else, though it often makes strategic sense to do things that happened in the story. Minas Tirith is an excellent location to conquer, not because the rules say so, but because it's strategically located.

Throughout the game, there are many situations where it makes sense to follow a similar path as the forces in the book, but it's not because the designers want to give you brownie points for replicating the story - it's because the designers have replicated the situation that decisions in the story were based on. Anyone who has tried to make a game based on a story should know that this is a pretty big accomplishment.

Another commendable aspect of the game is the restraint the designers showed when it comes to special abilities. I swear, if I had made the game, there would be different figures for each Free Peoples leader - Faramir, Eowyn, Cirdan etc. - and each of them would have a unique special ability.

Instead, the game as printed has a marvelous sense of perspective. In the books, the story was experienced by hobbits, and so the individual people around them took on great significance, while far-off wars were ignored. In War of the Ring, it's a much more epic point of view, and everything is on a different scale.

Look, you can see all of Middle-Earth from up here. Over there is Gondor, and here is Thranduil's Woodland Realm. Both are woefully under-defended. See here - it's the Fellowship! Can you tell which one is Boromir? I can't. He's one of those three, but honestly he looks just like Legolas and Gimli from up here. In the grand scheme of things, it's pretty irrelevant, isn't it?

Indeed it is, and that's what I mean by restraint on the part of the designers - the level of detail is appropriate. There are only two kinds of troops - regular and elite. All the wonderful qualities of our heroes are represented by a simple "1 leadership". In my opinion, this game has just enough rules to fit the story and situation, with hardly any unnecessary chrome.