The preview of War of the Ring - The Card Game was a big success at #UKGE2022: the special event on Saturday afternoon was very popular and to allow more people to play the prototype of the game, it was repeated on the Sunday.
We were very lucky to get a press invite to come and preview the game.
We were welcomed by Roberto Di Meglio, Ares Games' Director of Production and co-designer and developer of the War of the Ring game series and were very quickly seated to do our preview. It was myself and Samwise from team #DOALG that attended, and we also brought our very good friend Richard Caves from Paper Boat Games (https://paperboatgames.com/) to take a look at this new addition to an already popular line-up in the War Of The Ring range.
The game is played either 2-player or 4-player (two teams, one for the hordes of Sauron and Saruman, the other playing the free folk of Middle Earth over a series of nine rounds). There were three of us, so we were teamed up with a lovely young lady who had already done a preview and was more than happy to join us to make up the fourth player.
The game is comprised of four pre-constructed decks. During gameplay, the Free Peoples will be using their pre-constructed decks of cards to secure their lands against the forces of evil ,whilst also completing the quest of The Ringbearer and getting the One Ring to Mount Doom.
The Shadow player is seeking to corrupt Frodo on his quest and separate him from his companions, all the while threatening the lands of Gondor, Rohan and beyond, drawing attention away from the plight of the Hobbit.
So this new game has some mechanical similarities to Quartermaster General 1914 from the same publisher. Whilst it doesn't have a board, War of the Ring - The Card Game uses locations / battlegrounds that help tell the iconic tale of The Lord Of The Rings. These battlegrounds remind me of the locations from the Decipher TCG)
As you can see (thanks Ares Games for these images), the cards for the game look pretty amazing. Over 70% of the artwork is new for War of the Ring - TCG and the iconography is clean and clear and has clear locations where they appear (can be played).
Rounds end when the players all pass and then control of the Path and Strongholds are figured out. The fun twist here is that you're playing as a team so cards in one deck might only benefit your friend. To that end, you'll need to plan and scheme between yourselves as to the best way to approach each of the rounds. You'll also have to make some hard choices as, you bring cards into play by spending other cards from your hand. I do like this!
This card game format for War Of The Ring has some obvious benefits in that it takes way less time to play compared to the board game. Ninety to 120 minutes seems like a while but I reckon that game time will decrease rapidly once you're aware of the mechanics (let's face it learning always adds 30 mins or so). You're still in for the long haul though.
Samwise (DOALG)- Final thoughts.
I enjoyed the demo experience greatly. Initially I felt that there was quite a lot to learn and keep track of, however I do feel that overall it is simple enough that after a few rounds or playthroughs it'll be rather intuitive. Especially as we didn't have a printed rules for reference. The use of pre-constructed decks is a big hit for me as I've never been one to build my own from scratch for games such as Magic The Gathering or Star Wars Destinies. Don't get me wrong I like these games but spending time learning the ins and outs to only be destroyed by an opponent that has spent more on boosters or has better construction skills is disheartening.
Anyway, back to the topic at hand. I also enjoyed the level of immersion in the Tolkien world and feel that this was partly achieved by having four players who worked in teams but with limited collaboration. Having two players could be less immersive in my opinion, however I am glad that 2-player mode is available. When playing teams you play diagonally from your partner and have to rely heavily on communication and memory regarding their actions (and to a slightly lesser extent your opponents) as whilst the cards are very pretty they are not easily viewed across the table.
The area that this game has a slight bump in the road is timeline 'errors' or breaks. For example, you can deploy Gandalf The White without first using The Grey. Furthermore, battlegrounds are randomly drawn and the Battle of Helm's Deep can happen after the Battle of the Pelennor Fields or before the Ring bearer's journey even reaches Rivendell. While this is a little jarring, it can be shrugged off as an alternative timeliness or minor skirmishes at these locations before the famous showdowns. Besides, there is the possibility this could be house rule fixed or tweaked by Ares between now and final release.
Richard Caves (Paperboat Games) - Final thoughts.
Starting with a hand of orc armies and named Nazgûl, I felt instantly in character as the Dark Lord Sauron. I enjoyed the tense rounds, trying to figure out how to mess up my opponents’ precision card counting while setting aside the right assets to succeed later on.
The immersion was occasionally broken, however, by wrinkles in the theme, graphic design and gameplay. Why are the hobbits moving on rails from Hobbiton to Bree, while an epic battle is already unfolding in Isengard? My ally plays Saruman’s Staff — yay! — but I find myself peering over the table to read tiny rule text and counterintuitive symbology. And I can’t help them defend Orthanc as my factions are excluded from this battle, one of many times my agency felt artificially limited.
Despite these small flaws, there were frequent moments of dramatic tension and emergent story. Best of all, the game is easy to pick up, while the nuances of how specific cards interact will no doubt reward repeat play.
Mr Chris - Founder - Final thoughts
I for one had a really positive experience with it. I was such a massive fan of the original Decipher Lord of the Rings CCG back in the day, I had to come and take a look at this. I like the idea of pre-constructed decks which makes it a level playing field. Look out for our review when Ares send over our review copy.
A special thanks to Andrea from Ares Games for inviting us in the first place. Pre orders are now open on the Ares website for this here, and you can even check our the official released rules now available here too