I love games, which should go without saying since I spent 11 years working for a fantastic toy soldier company called Games Workshop. Video games, word games, card games, board games; I like games. I am a big fan of function over form, and fun over detail, but I am also a sucker for innovative visual design and good production values.
So it was that I found myself purchasing Fantasy Flight Games' "War of the Ring" over three years ago. I had seen previews for the game at www.theminiaturespage.com and www.boardgamegeek.com, and was immediately drawn to the artwork done by John Howe, my favourite Tolkien artist. Imagine my joy when I discovered he not only painted the box cover,but all the artwork on the cards, character portraits, and did the character/ creature designs for the huge assortment of plastic pieces that made up the various fighting forces of Middle-Earth.
I've set the game up on a few different occasions now, but only played it for the first time last night with my friend Mike Totman. As it is a game best suited to two players (although it is possible to play with three or four), there usually aren't that many opportunities to bring it out, as it takes the better part of an hour just to get it unpacked and set up, then 3+ hours to play. Usually these sort of gaming outings are the province of the various miniature games I play, most notably Warhammer 40,000. But when Mike turned out to be the only taker of an impromptu invitation to Saturday night gaming, I suggested it as an option, and he went for it. Mike has fond memories of the old SPI Wargames 'War of the Ring' from the 1970s, another game more commonly examined than actually played.
An intricate set-up process followed by the digestion of a 21 page rulebook meant it was getting late by the time the Fellowship crept out of Rivendell. (Actually, Gimli left a little early to go rouse the Dwarves to war, in sharp contrast to his stalwart hobbit defense in the book; the Nine (er, I mean, Eight) Walkers ended up cooling their heels until turn 2 due to a 'whoops' on my part.) We wrapped it up about half past two in the morning with the Boromir-led Fellowship (!) trying vainly to elude the Lidless Eye outside of Lorien, Strider dead at the hands of the denizens of Dol Guldur and two Nazgul, and forces of the Shadow in both Helm's Deep and Minas Tirith. Although I submitted to Mike as having the superior position when we wrapped up, his victory was by no means a foregone conclusion. An elegant game design meant that as long as I could keep a modicum of pressure on his foul armies, there was always a chance for The Ringbearers to slip into Mordor and destroy the One Ring. I would have to characterize that chance as 'slim' (like, Kate Moss slim), but hey, never count yourself out as long as there are still dice involved, right?
Another friend of mine is, without a doubt, the biggest fan of Lord of the Rings I know personally, and he has asked me about this game on many occasions. I know it bothered him as much if not more than me that this great looking game, which, as it happens, also has a tremendously innovative and well balanced set of mechanics, was languishing on my bookshelf. It was with him in mind that we snapped the following picture around 1:00 in the morning, with battle now fully joined and the two of us enjoying a glass of Jamesons while we plotted our strategies and marshaled our forces. In the tradition of grognards and beardy git wargamers of days past, we did our level best to look as though we were not really enjoying ourselves; after all, these sorts of games are serious business and not intended for children! But truth be told, between the good time we were having, my delight in all the toys in the box, and the thought of Mike P. seeing this picture, I just couldn't pull it off.