War of the Ring is one of my Top 30 Games of All Time. I’ve played it a fair bit over the years, mostly with my Boardgame Opinions compatriot Mark Windle, since he owns a copy. It’s a fantastic game in many ways.
A few years after the original release though, they announced a Collector’s Edition – a limited one-time-only print run with outstanding components (and a price to match). Ever since, I have dreamed of one day owning and playing a copy. After waiting many years, a recent windfall finally allowed my dream to come true…
In case you’re not familiar with it, War of the Ring is a two-player war game that attempts to capture the whole Lord of the Rings saga in one game. No other Lord of the Rings game (and I’ve played a lot of them) comes as close to capturing the spirit of the book as War of the Ring.
War is a prominent feature of the book: the armies of Saruman fighting against Rohan; the armies of Sauron fighting against Gondor; a united force of men and elves standing against the Lord of the Rings from ages past.
The game comes with armies upon armies of elves, men, dwarves, orcs, trolls – every race is represented. The Collector’s Edition provides trays and trays of fully painted miniatures, which is a feature I particularly appreciate as I love painted minis, but rarely have the time to paint them myself.
Much of the game is spent fighting in one corner of Middle Earth or another: massing troops, persuading factions to join your cause and laying siege to great strongholds. Combat is dice-based and fairly straightforward.
Throughout the book though, the story keeps returning to Frodo and his quest to destroy the One Ring. War of the Ring captures this aspect really well. The good player has to secretly move Frodo and the Fellowship of the Ring through the war-torn land in an attempt to get the ring to Mount Doom. Meanwhile, the dark player has to find the ring and corrupt the Fellowship.
There are two win conditions for each player. The good player can win a military victory by conquering enough strongholds or they can win by destroying the ring. The dark player can also win a military victory or they can win by corrupting the Fellowship beyond redemption.
I love the asymmetric nature of the game. The forces of darkness vastly outnumber the forces of good – and the dark player gets more actions than the good player. It feels grossly unfair! Despite the fact that the good player needs to conquer far fewer locations than the dark player for a military victory, it is much harder for the good player to win that way.
The Fellowship is key to the good player’s game (as it should be!). They don’t need to beat the forces of darkness in open war; they just need to hold them off long enough to give Frodo a chance to get the ring to Mordor and destroy it.
I love the action-selection system, which is done by rolling dice. Each face of the dice has a different action symbol on: one for recruiting, one for moving, one for attacking, etc. This provides for some really tricky decision making. You roll your dice at the start of the round and you might want to attack this round, but the dice you’ve rolled are much better for moving the fellowship. What should you do?
The system for moving the Fellowship is great as well. Each time you move the Fellowship, the dark player rolls a certain number of dice in an attempt to reveal the Fellowship’s location. The dark player can commit more dice to exposing the Fellowship at the start of the round, but then they have fewer dice for other actions.
Each time the Fellowship moves during the round though, the dark player gets to roll an extra dice when trying to expose them. It means the good player can’t move too quickly. “Slow and steady wins the race.” It provides lots of tension.
Exposing the Fellowship typically increases the corruption level of the party and frequently allows the dark player to play cards that make things even worse for them. The game has multi-use cards that can be used in battle, or used to provide other bonuses when recruiting, moving or corrupting the fellowship, for example. They provide another layer of tricky decision making. “This card would be great in battle, but now is the perfect time to use its other ability!”
And of course, the game comes with a host of familiar characters from Gandalf, Legolas and Gimli to Saruman and the Witch King. Characters can provide significant advantages during combat, but the more characters the good player keeps in the Fellowship, the more they can help the ring get to Mordor. Yet more difficult decisions.
Not only is it the ultimate Lord of the Rings package, it’s a fantastic game in its own right. I can’t recommend it highly enough if you like war games and are partial to the theme. So while the standard game is great, if there’s one game I’d want to bling out, it’s War of the Ring, and fortunately for me, the Collector’s Edition does exactly that, with bells on.
Apart from the painted miniatures, it has a huge board, lovely dice and cards, a nice felt bag for drawing corruption tiles and a box to die for. It looks like the biggest tome you’ve ever seen and fits all the contents perfectly. It also comes with a bunch of expansion content including Ents, ships and siege towers. I couldn’t be happier with it.
If you could buy a Collector’s Edition for any game in your collection, which game would it be?