Tuesday, November 27, 2007

War of the Ring Strategy - Part III - House Rules / Variants

In this article I will detail the various changes that I have implemented as House Rules for the Base and Expansion Games. I will also point out why I implemented them and what areas they “fix” in the game (some are just added for fun/variety).

House Rules
South Rhun as a City

This is a fairly well known house rule that changes South Rhun from a Settlement into a City. It really only provides the FP with an opportunity to capture two SP cities for Military Victory (Angmar and South Rhun) since the other SP city is almost impossible to conquer (Far Harad).

Smeagol Tiles
Smeagol Tiles are treated like (0+reveal) tiles instead of (0) tiles. The second Smeagol Tile eliminates Smeagol but doesn’t trigger We Shall Get It!
These changes make Smeagol Tiles weaker and give the SP more opportunities to reveal the Fellowship.

Improved Ents
When the Ent faction is mustered place 1+h Ents in Fangorn where h is the number of Hobbits in Fangorn. If after an Ent attack, the defending Shadow army is completely eliminated, place the attacking Ent in the now-vacated region.
The first rule allows multiple Ents to be placed in Fangorn (as opposed to 1) and makes the Ents much more powerful. I really haven't playtested the first rule yet but it is a work in progress. The second rule prevents single regular units from stalling the Ents and allows the Ents the opportunity to have a real impact in the expansion.

Easterling Cavalry
These units are Elites that can only be mustered in North Rhun or South Rhun. In addition, Elephants can only be mustered in Umbar, Near Harad, and Far Harad. If using the Cavalry then replace the S&E Elite Elephant in South Rhun with an Easterling Cavalry unit.Easterling Cavalry are Elite units that have a Leadership of 1. However, they may not be reduced in order to continue a siege.

Black Uruks

Use a Muster Die to bring in the Black Uruk Faction

  • When the Black Uruk Faction is mustered, replace up to 10 Sauron Orcs in the supply with Black Uruks on a 1 for 1 basis (these Sauron Orcs are removed form the game) and place 1 Black Uruk from the supply in any Sauron Stronghold.
  • Black Uruks function like Sauron Regulars except that Event Cards cannot muster them.
  • Black Uruks act like Elites for the combat card We Come to Kill
  • Each Black Uruk sacrificed for Onslaught or Relentless Assault counts as two units.
  • If a siege involves equal siege engines on both sides and Black Uruks are in the attacking army, then the FP rolls a die. If the result is equal to or less than the number of Black Uruks in the Shadow Army then the FP may not sacrifice a trebuchet this round in order to gain siege superiority.

The Cavalry and Uruk rules allow players to use the other new pieces from the expansion and provide more variety in combat and strategies.

New Characters

Grima, the Wormtongue
(use a Marker in Edoras to represent Grima)

  • Movement 0, Leadership 0
  • Add 1 Die to the Shadow Action Pool.
  • If Isengard is not at War, SP may use a Muster die to place Grima in Edoras.
  • Theoden's Counselor - It costs the FP 1 Army/Muster die to advance Rohan on the political track (instead of just a Muster die).
  • Black Whispers - Rohan is only activated by companions or removing Grima. If the Grima Event card is in play then you may draw an event card whenever any Character dice are used to play an event.
  • If Helm's Deep or Edoras is attacked, Rohan goes to War, OR Gandalf the White moves to Edoras then Eliminate Grima from the game.
  • When Grima leaves the game, move Rohan to War, Muster a Rohan unit (Regular or Elite) in any Free Rohan settlement.

Grima is not considered a Minion for the purpose of playing Gandalf the White. While Saruman is in play, Grima does not add 1 die to the Shadow Action Pool.

Grima provides a consistent method for the Shadow to halt Rohan’s development. He also gives the SP an opportunity to get two action dice with the first two Musters (Balrog and Grima). He can only be mustered pre-Saruman so he cannot replace a lost Saruman Action die. He also slows down the Rohan politics and combines well with his card (if drawn). The primary drawback of Grima is that Gandalf the White can move to Edoras and get Rohan to War quickly along with a free unit.

Elrond, Lord of Rivendell
(Use a figure to represent Elrond in Rivendell)

  • Movement 0, Leadership 2
  • If Saruman is in play and neither Gandalf the White nor Galadriel are in play, use a Muster die to play Elrond in Rivendell.
  • Council of Elrond – Use an Elven Ring to change any action die into a Will of the West
  • Healing Guidance – Remove 1 Corruption by using a Will of the West AND 1 Elven Ring.
  • Elladan and Elrohir – Use a Will of the West to move an Elven unit (Regular or Elite) and an Elven Leader from Rivendell to the region with Strider/Aragorn. This unit can move into a stronghold under siege.
  • Wisdom of Elrond - Use a Will of the West to activate any Free People’s nation and advance it one step on the political track OR to advance two active nations, one step each, on the political track.

If Elrond AND Galadriel are in play, or have been in play, then the SP may muster the Mouth of Sauron with a Muster die.

Elrond is designed primarily as an alternative to Galadriel. One problem with the expansion is the focus on Lorien. Elrond allows Rivendell to draw some attention and also provides some interesting assistance to the Free Peoples player. He can help the Ringbearers with Healing Guidance, assist Strider/Aragorn by sending aid, activate and energize the FP nations with Wisdom of Elrond, and his Council ability allows the FP to get Will of the West when needed. He doesn’t add a FP action die though and if he and Galadriel are mustered then the SP gets to bring in the Mouth of Sauron early. Otherwise, Elrond is not a huge drawback, but many of his abilities require Elven Rings, which can be dangerous with the new and improved Witch King (see below).

Witch King (Chief of Ringwraiths)

  • Movement (Inf.), Leadership 2
  • Add 1 die to the Shadow Action Pool.
  • Play the Witch-king, Chief of the Ringwraiths in a Free Region with the Fellowship or in a region occupied by a Shadow Army, using a Muster die.
  • When the Witch-king, Chief of the Ringwraiths enters play, Muster 2 Nazgûl in any 2 Sauron Strongholds (1 in each).
  • Shadow of Despair - if the Witch-king is in play, each Nazgûl in the Region (including the Witch-king) grants one Hunt re-roll.
  • He Sees, He Knows - if the Fellowship is declared in a Region, which is not a Free Peoples Stronghold, you may immediately move the Witch King to the Region with the Fellowship.
  • Hound for the Dark Lord - When Witch-king, Chief of the Ringwraiths enters play, draw 3 Hunt tiles and choose 1 to be removed from the Game. This ability can be used again by discarding an Elven Ring and an Action die. Any Smeagol tiles drawn do not bring Smeagol into play AND they may be chosen as the tile removed.
  • The Ring draws them – If the Fellowship is revealed AND you play a character card with a Palantir action die result, then immediately draw a new Character card.

    This version of the Witch King makes him more tempting and useful in the Hunt than the published expansion WK. For starters, he can be mustered into a Shadow Army, which allows the SP to get the WK at any time (instead of only when the FSP is not in a FP Stronghold/City). He comes out with two Nazgul, which allows his hunting to be more effective without Sauron being at War (and is also like a free Muster). His card cycling ability is only useful when the FSP is revealed but this can be very useful in cycling Character cards and improving the Corruption strategy. Finally, his ability to use Elven Rings (and one time use when he enters play) allows the SP to remove some Hunt Tiles (including removing Smeagol!) but only out of a limited random pool. Overall, these improvements make the Chief a much more viable option for the SP and since he doesn’t automatically activate nations he offers a different feel to the game.

Event / Combat Card Modifications

These changes to cards are to improve event/combat card effects. The changes are underlined for each card.

Shadow Events Changes in BLUE
Flocks of Crebain
Play Table. SP gets one re-roll on all Hunt rolls. Discard "Flocks of Crebain" to add 1 to the Hunt Roll. Discard if FSP Declares in a FP City or Stronghold.
Return to Valinor
SP Control Elven Stronghold. For each Elven Stronghold not under siege: Roll 1 die for each Elven Unit hitting on 5+.
Denethor’s Folly
Minas Tirith under Siege. Play Table. Eliminate 1 FP Leader in MT. FP player can't use Combat Cards for MT battles or sacrifice Trebuchets. FP can discard using Will or any action die if Gandalf or Aragorn in MT.
FSP or FP Companion inside a Nation's Borders that is not "At War". Move Nation 1 step back on Political Track and the shadow player eliminates one Leader from that Nation.
Corsairs are upon us!
Move all ships. Move an Army from a Region with a Ship to a Region with a Ship. Move/Attack with that Army. FP cannot play a Card during 1st round of any ensuing battle. If FP withdraws into Stronghold, then SP gets 1 Free Siege Tower against that Stronghold.

Flocks of Crebain becomes much more powerful than it was previously. Return to Valinor is actually playable. Denethor's Folly impacts siege engines. Stormcrow allows SP to choose the casualty. Corsairs is useful again.

FP Events
Gwaihir, the Windlord
Move or Separate one or more Companions from the FSP as if they were level 4. They can move into or out of a Stronghold under siege.
The Last Battle
Aragorn or Gandalf the White with FP Army in S or N Ithilien, Dagorlad, or Mordor. Play Table. Action dice used to move the FSP are not placed in the Hunt Box. Elven Rings used by the FP are removed from the game. Discard this card as soon as a FP Army is not in one of the Regions above.
Threat to the Fiefs of the South
Southrons and Easterlings at War. Recruit 1 Gondor Regular in Pelagir, Lossarnach, and Lamedon. Roll a die for every Ship in a Gondor Region and remove it on 4+.
Wisdom of Elrond
Activate a Free Peoples nation and advance it on the political track OR advance two active Free Peoples nations on the political track.
The Eagles are Coming!
Companion in FP Army in or adjacent to Region with both an SP Army and Nazgul. Roll 1 die per Nazgul present (max 5) and eliminate one for every 5+. All other Nazgul in that Region move to Barad Dur. Witch King is unaffected by this card.
Mirror of Galadriel
Add a Will of the West action die to your available action dice. Also, if the Fellowship is in Lorien you may immediately heal one Corruption.
There is Another Way
Immediately heal on corruption. Then if Gollum, or Smeagol, is the guide, you may move or hide the Fellowship.

Big changes are in Wisdom of Elrond and re-design of Mirror or Galadriel. Mirror allows avoidance of turn stalls in some situations (greatly helping FP player).

FP Combat Effects
Daring Defiance
Companion in the Battle. Shadow player's combat card effect is cancelled. One Companion’s Leadership is forfeit for this battle round.
Among the Siege Engines
For each hit you score during your leader re-roll, you may eliminate one enemy siege engine (if one is present) in addition to your hit.
Last Defenses
FP Siege Engine in Battle. Treat Trebuchets as Regulars for this combat round.
It is a Gift
The defending or attacking Army is in the FSP Region. Add 1 to all dice on your Combat roll and Leader re-roll.

These changes allow the FP many more combat options and improve many combat effects that were never very helpful.

In Summary

These changes really provide a lot of interesting openings and help to make event/combat cards more interesting and decisions more meaningful. Hopefully, they add more variety and options to both sides while maintaining most of the game balance.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Session Reports Oct 2 - Nov 6

Oct 2
Steve's House.
Attendees (6): Steve, Warren, Sharon, Michael, Adam, and Troy

Discretion was an interesting game that was designed back in the late 70's. It has some clever mechanics involving how players place their developments but the game also has a ton of randomness. Players can try to prepare for it but sometimes a "death spiral" becomes inevitable and bankruptcy ensues.

We had a long game of discretion where only Sharon, Troy, and I remained until the end. Steve, Warren, and Adam went bankrupt through various means during the game. Sharon pulled away at the end and I was lucky to finish with any cash and avoid bankruptcy. Final scores: Sharon $5,850k; Troy $2,870k, and Michael $1,360k.

Oct 16
Our House.
Attendees (11): Sharon, Warren, Andy, David, Heather, Barbara, Chris, Michael, Troy, Matt, and Steve.

Pirate's Cove
Final: Sharon (44), Andy (36), David (23), and Warren (19).

Amun Re
Heather (49), Barbara (45), and Andrew (43)

Age of Empires III
This was my first time to play this highly rated game. It has worker placement like Caylus and area control plus some other elements that I had played before in various games all combined into one well-themed colonization game. I particularly likes the multiple strategies that the game offers allowing players to go for different VP elements. The game was a little lengthy but it was also was our first game and it kept me engaged throughout. I ended up following a heavy money strategy and leveraged my Sugar trade tiles to good effect, but ultimately it was Chris's exploration strategy that pulled out the victory.
Final Score: Chris (90), Michael (86), Matt (67), Troy(59), and Steve (44).

A close 5 player game of Caylus.
Final Scores: Andrew (68), Warren (59), Sharon (57), David (55), and Andy (49).

Oct 20
David's House.
David hosted a Saturday game day (with Halloween theme) that I was able to make and I brought my 6 yr old Matthew to attend. (He got to play boardgames and video games)
Attendees (9): Mary Ellen, David, Sharon, Troy, Michael, Cheryl, Warren, Andy, and Matthew

Cowboys: The Way of the Gun
This was a game that David wanted to try out. We played the OK Coral scenario. The game is interesting thematically and other scenarios probably flesh it out more. It attempts to re-create gun fight situations but ultimately is a dice rolling game with only a little strategy. On the other hand, it didn't take long and once familiar with the rules it might be a fun filler

Give Me the Brain
This is a light card game about Zombies running a fast food franchise and they only have one brain to use... humorous but only a filler. I was lucky to be sitting next to Mary Ellen when we switched hands and I was able to go out for the win.

Fearsome Floors
This is a humorous game where players try to get across the dungeon without getting eaten by the Monster. It requires luck and timing along with some logic skills to succeed. When Andy arrived he took over for Cheryl and together they were able to pull out the victory.

Last Night on Earth
This was another game that David wanted to get to the table and it fit in perfectly to close out the night of monster themed games. This one has a ton of theme and really plays like a "B" zombie flick. Players play various characters and pickup equipment and weapons to fight off a bunch of brain-eating zombies. We played the intro-scenario Kill the Zombies! and it was okay but the other scenarios looked to add a lot more to the game. It turned out that the heroes were able to kill 15 Zombies in time...

Oct 23
David's House
Attendees(6): Matt, Andy, Mary Ellen, David, Andrew, and Michael

Last Night on Earth x2
We played two more games of Last Night on Earth.
The first game was the Defend the Manor House scenario where the heroes tried to defend the house in the middle of the board from the invading zombies. Jake (played by Matt) tried to lure many of the zombies to him so he could blow them up with dynamite but he was able to kill many of them without blowing himself up, Sheriff Anderson (played by Andy) shot several zombies too, but ultimately the female characters (Becky, Jenny, and Sally) were zombie food and this was too much for the heroes.
The 2nd game was closer as the heroes tried to find the keys and gasoline to start an old pick-up truck and escape from the zombies. Johnny (Andy) and Father Joseph (me) killed 9 zombies combined but once again Becky, Sally, and Jenny got eaten by Zombies and Sheriff Anderson too. Even though Father Joseph, Jake, and Johnny were going to get away once 4 heroes fall to the zombies then it is a zombie victory.
The game was much more enjoyable with the scenarios since they added the "plot" to the game and made decisions seem more meaningful. All in all, a fun game with a great theme.

Oct 26
David's House
Attendees(2): David and Michael

Twilight Struggle
I went over to David's to play Twilight Struggle. Twilight Struggle is a card-driven game about the Cold War between the USA and Soviet Russia.
We got in most of one game and then completed most of a 2nd game. In both games one side got ahead and seemed to be in control of most of the board. We missed up several rules in the first game but it was a lot of fun. This game really forces players to make hard decisions to try an minimize the damage that their opponent will do to them. The theme is well crafted and the tactical decisions abound without feeling "stale" and without being simply a move/counter type of game. I would definitely play it again even though the game took us a lot of time to play (about 3+ hrs). In both games I played the US and David won game one while I won game two.

Oct 30
David's House
Attendees (7): David, Cheryl, Troy, Sharon, Adam, Warren, and Michael

Fury of Dracula
This was a game that I have wanted to play for some time. Andrew was unable to make it but he had just bought this game and loaned it to me so we could play it on Halloween Eve (thanks Andrew!). It is a great deduction/hunt game that oozes with theme. I played Dracula while Cheryl, Sharon, David, and Troy played the 4 hunters. Once they got on my trail, they were impossible to shake. I tried turning into a Wolf and was attacked by David (Van Helsing). He wounded me badly but I escaped out to Sea. Then I was hounded after arriving back on land but I got lucky with a trap. Nina (Troy) came after me but I had an event card that allowed my new vampire to automatically "bite" Nina and this gave me 2 pts toward victory! I had to only hold out for a few turns before my army of vampires became too strong for the humans to stop...bwha ha ha! Anyway, it was a fun game and I was very lucky to pull out the victory as the heroes seemed to have me cornered at every move. It seemed very difficult to get any hidden cards into the catacombs and I wasn't able to get even one during our first game.

Nov 6
Troy's House
Attendees (5): Troy, Michael, Steve, Andrew, and Adam

A humorous and light card game from Reiner Knizia. This game was okay but there are a lot of other card games that I would prefer. It is a light filler and it does this job well.
Scores (low is better): Troy (28), Michael (34), Adam (48), Andrew (74), and Steve (83).

Princes of Florence
I really want to get this one to the table more often. It has so many interesting elements and I haven't figured out the optimum strategy yet. In this one, I ended up with 3 builders and actually filled almost my whole board with tiles (something I hadn't done previously), however Andrew and Adam had superior strategies and they racked up bonus Prestige at the end.
Final Scores: Troy (42), Steve (44), Michael (53), Andrew (62), and Adam (63).

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

War of the Ring Strategy - Part II – The Expansion Game

In this article, I will discuss how the Twilight of the Third Age expansion affects the strategies and game-play of the standard game. I will discuss the added components and the value they bring to the game. Also, I will cover some of the issues that the expansion does not address effectively.


The Dunlendings are an interesting addition to the Isengard armies. Normally, Isengard was unable to conquer Rohan easily since the Isengard forces are generally split between Isengard and Dunland. Capturing Helm’s Deep is often easy but getting Edoras can be tricky and often an un-checked Rohan can develop quite a formidable army in Edoras. The Dunlendings allow the SP to Muster additional troops directly in Rohan and this “forward mustering” capability is offset by their relative weakness in combat. Clever maneuvering allows the SP to reduce this combat weakness by separating Dunlendings from each other so that each individual unit is like a Regular in combat. However, this takes some time to achieve. Finally, the Dunlendings provide a threat to bolster Dunland/Moria and strike Lorien/Rivendell/Shire. Overall, they are useful but not needed every game so I really like their design in the expansion.

Corsairs of Umbar
The Corsairs faction provides the SP with a more strategic method for attacking Dol Amroth. Now the SP can siege this Stronghold when needed without having to draw a particular card. This flexibility comes at a cost, since the time it takes to muster S&E to War and to muster/move the Corsairs takes quite a few actions. Also, the Corsairs do allow for an assault on the Gray Havens from the Sea and they provide the SP with an easy way to reinforce sieges via the ships. I personally think that they are a good addition, but I’m not a big fan of the Corsairs card or the fact that mustering the faction actually doesn’t provide any “military” units (only ships). They can be useful but often they are just not needed and unless SP rolls lots of early musters they often don’t see play.

Ents of Fangorn
This is the only faction for the FP. Now the Ents are not just a part of the Character deck for the FP and they can strike more than just Isengard. The Ents do require a character in Fangorn (often a Hobbit or GtW) and a valuable muster die. However, they now put an extra cost on Saruman’s Voice ability, which was a key method for Isengard to muster a quick and powerful army. The ability to have the Ents attack Isengard, or clear away units in Rohan, or even protect Lorien adds a lot of options to the FP. However, strategically placed Dunlendings can contain them and they often don’t roll enough hits to warrant the effort to bring them into the game. I think that the Ents are a neat addition to the game but I wish they were a little more effective (but not so good that you would always need to muster them).

Siege Engines
The siege engines (towers and trebuchets) add to the complexity of siege combat. They do help the SP utilize late game musters more effectively and they provide the FP with good use of muster dice for active nations (not at War). The superiority rules and combat effects are very tightly balanced and I’ve seen discussions that they favor both sides (which means that they are pretty useful). They can draw out sieges by allowing the FP to sacrifice them for superiority and then muster more or to end sieges when the SP can continue without having to reduce Elites. I personally like the rule that allows the active nations to muster Siege Engines since this was one point that I argued for heavily during playtesting. Originally, they were only for nations (at War) and this greatly hindered the FP’s use for them.

New Characters
The Balrog
The Balrog allows the SP to get an extra die with only 1 muster and to control when he shows up in Moria. Like the Corsairs, the Balrog is an improvement since he can now be mustered when strategically needed and is not dependent on drawing a card at the right time. Also, he comes along with an Elite so mustering him is even better. He can “kill” the FSP guide when an Eye is drawn (adding more flavor and theme to the game). His downside is that the Dwarves, Men, and especially Elves advance 1 step politically. This is a big help for the FP and keeps the Balrog from being a “no-brainer” decision. I really think that he was a good design element and wouldn’t change anything from the design.

Probably the change with the most impact was the addition of Galadriel. She provides the FP with a critical action die when mustered and allows Gandalf the Grey to truly shine as the guide of the Fellowship. Her abilities to remove Eye tiles with Elven Rings and to muster Elves even when under siege are both interesting and useful too. The requirements for obtaining Galadriel changed quite a bit in playtesting but I am happy with the final version that requires either the Elves or Sauron to be at War. This puts extra emphasis on mustering the Elves early (and the impact of the Balrog) and it delays Sauron (and the base game Witch King) from going to War until after the Elves are at War OR the SP is willing to allow Galadriel to enter play.
Galadriel addressed two of my concerns from the base game. Namely, she varies the possible FP strategies and SP opening moves while providing an action die without requiring a Will of the West dice result. This makes her the addition to the game critical and simply makes the game much better in multiple ways.

Witch King, Chief of the Ringwraiths
The new Witch King adds an interesting element to the game. He can be mustered when Sauron is not At War and therefore can come into play without brining Galadriel into the game directly. He allows for more Hunt Re-rolls with multiple Nazgul and he doesn’t activate all the FP nations when he enters play. He must, however, be mustered in the region with the Fellowship and so can only enter games where Rivendell has fallen or the FSP is revealed. His hunting abilities are useful but since he lacks the card drawing power of the original WK he is considerably weaker. Also, successful hunting is further weakened by Galadriel’s ability to remove Eyes and the addition of Smeagol (below). Finally, the new WK has no special abilities once the FSP is in Mordor, which further limits his effectiveness.
This character was the biggest disappointment for me as I tried to continually argue for him to be more interesting and comparable to the original WK. I wanted him to provide an interesting choice for the SP. The WK chosen should really impact the “feel” of the game and both should be viable with different strategies. Instead, I would never choose this version of the WK except for a casual game where I wanted to “explore” different options.

Smeagol was added to the expansion in order to do two things. First, the corruption damage was so tough in the base game that the Fellowship had to stay together just to absorb all the potential damage. This meant that there was little opportunity to explore separating companions to defend/activate the Free Peoples and the designers wanted more opportunity for this. Second, most if not all of the playtesters wanted the FP to have a way to avoid the turn stalls. Smeagol became the means to do just that. He went through many versions but the design to include him in the Hunt Pool (instead of as an FP action die choice) was very creative and meant that neither side could predict when he might show up (but they had some minor control over it).
I think that he adds a lot of interesting elements to the expansion and I was very pleased with the design when it was first given to us. However, over many games I think that he gives too much value to the FP and really limits the corruption opportunities unless they separate several companions.

Re-makes / New Cards
– These cards add nice value since they allow the FP to draw or play additional cards and don’t require Gandalf the White to be in Rohan/Fangorn to play.
Dunlendings – Okay effect.
Balrog – Often this is only used for combat but once in a while it allows the Balrog to venture forth and harass the FSP or lead a siege.
Corsairs – Strictly worse then the original surprise card. Would be much better if it actually helped the siege on Dol Amroth (95% of the time the target).
Wind from the West / Three Rings for Elven Kings / Rangers of the North – Great effects. Combat cards are okay but not used very often.
Threats to the Fiefs in the South – This card is useless unless Corsairs are in play and then only marginal.
Gates are Closed / Captain of Despair – Excellent event cards with great combat cards.
Deep Trenches and Great Engines – Very powerful card. Combat card is weak.
Shadow of Dol Goldur – Useful in some situations but weakest new SP event card.

To be continued in Part III House Rules / Variants.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

War of the Ring Strategy - Part 1 The Base Game

I will attempt to cover the basic strategy concepts and advanced strategies for the standard game of War of the Ring. Part 2 of this strategy series will cover the addition of the Expansion and its impact on strategies. Part 3 will cover my House Variants including why they were created and what strategic options they offer.
These articles will assume basic knowledge of the game mechanics and all of the various event/battle card effects. SP = Shadow Player and FP = Free People Player

Action Dice
The action dice are critical in the game for both sides. Getting additional action dice as quickly as possible is generally a good strategy.
SP Strategy: Getting Saruman and the Witch King into play quickly nets 2 more Action Dice for the rest of the game (barring some disaster). Usually the SP will spend his 1st Muster getting Isengard to War and 2nd Muster getting Saruman in play. The 3rd Muster gets Sauron to War and 4th Muster gets the Witch King (WK). There were some initial strategies that looked at holding back on bringing in the Minions (eliminating the possibility of Gandalf the White (GtW) coming into play) but serious players have dismissed them for a variety of reasons. Namely, the WK and Saruman have terrific abilities and leadership and drive key events plus giving up 2 Action dice to restrict the possibility of 1 Action dice is not worth the effort. Mouth of Sauron is usually only late in the game when the FSP is in Mordor so his benefits are limited to the end game.
FP Strategy: Getting GtW is very important but Strider/Aragorn is more of a dilemma. 4 Action Dice is usually not enough to give the FP a fighting chance. Gandalf the Grey is useful as Guide but GtW is powerful and gets a needed action die. The problem is getting GtG to “die” during the hunt and then get a Will of the West to bring out GtW. Timing is everything and sometimes Wills just won’t show up. Separating Strider early and getting Aragorn can cost several action dice and sometimes an Elven Ring (especially for 1st turn Aragorn). This is sometimes a good option against a Hunt Box loaded with Eyes since the FSP will not progress far on that turn anyway. Usually Strider will guide the fellowship for a while and then either fall in the hunt or separate to Gondor to become Aragorn (or sometimes to Rohan if Paths of the Dead is in-hand).

Hunt Dice
SP Strategy: A big decision for the SP is how many dice to allocate to the hunt each turn. Look at the 3 tables below they show the % of Hunt success based on the number of dice allocated and the number or re-rolls available.

This shows that with only 1 die in the hunt box (and No re-roll) the FSP can move twice with relative ease and only has a 50% chance of being hunted on a 3rd move. However, against 3 dice the first move gets hunted successfully 42% of the time and the 2nd move over 70%.
Another factor to keep in mind is that the Fellowship will only have about ½ of his total action dice available for moving/hiding the Fellowship (if he uses Wills as Character dice) unless he resorts to Elven Rings. This means that the first turn the FSP is going to average 2 moves and until the FP gets more Action dice this will be a constraint on the FSP’s progress.
As the SP you must always keep in mind that your primary goal (in most games) is to win a Military Victory before the Fellowship can reach Mt Doom. This means that you don’t have to corrupt the Fellowship entirely just delay their progress. At the same time, if you put too much effort into the Hunt then you won’t have Action Dice available to take further actions.
Taking all of this into account, the general consensus is 0-2 Hunt dice should be allocated each turn to the Hunt. More than 2 is overkill since you might roll even more Eyes and end up with a turn in which you can do very little with your Military. Let’s look at each option and when to use them.
2 Hunt Dice: This is a sound strategy for keeping a focus on the Hunt. First turn you are likely to roll 1 more Eye and have 3 in the Hunt, which will deter the FSP from going more than 2 spaces max (which means they won’t get to Moria). This is also useful when Strider is the guide since it reduces his ability to hide the Fellowship and move it quickly.
1 Hunt Die: This should be the norm for most SP players. It generally results in 2 Eyes and is safer than 0 Eyes but if the FP has 5-6 Action Dice then they can sometimes move quite effectively against only 1 Eye (assuming you don’t roll any more).
0 Hunt Dice: This should only be used in specific situations unless you are playing a Shadow Blitz strategy (like DEW North) and aren’t concerned about the Ring game. Other situations where 0 dice are good are in Turn Stall situations (discussed later) and when Strider is not the guide and the FSP is revealed (and the FP have 4 Action dice). In this case the FSP will progress 1 region on average so it isn’t a huge risk (plus you might roll a lot of Eyes). Finally, this strategy can work if you have the Lidless Eye event card too.
First Turn the SP needs Muster dice to get his Minions and more action dice so usually 1 Hunt Die is the preferred choice.
FP Strategy: The FP must decide how much to move against the dice in the Hunt Box. The Hunt Box is going to have 1-4 Eyes in most cases. The FP will only be able to move with Character Dice and WotW (Will of the West) dice unless he uses Elven Rings.
Against 1 die the FP should maximize the Fellowship’s movement and against 4 only 1 move is relatively safe (but there are times to double move against 4 Eyes also). The difficult decisions will be to move again against 2 or 3 Eyes in the Hunt box.
Let’s take a 1st turn example where the FP rolls 3 Character dice and the Hunt box has 2 Eyes. The first move has almost a 70% chance of success so they move. The 2nd move has just under 45% chance of success so the Shadow is likely to get at least one hit on either the 1st or 2nd move. If they do get a hit on the 2nd move then reveals become very important since 2 moves from Rivendell will determine which path the FSP is going to take (there are only 2 viable paths thru the Mtns – Moria or Goblin’s Gate). If for some reason the FSP avoids the first two hunts (or isn’t revealed) then a 3rd move is very dangerous since it has only 12.5% chance of success and a hunt tile could reveal them in Moria. Generally, a double move would be the best strategy in this situation but this can vary depending on the flow of the game.

Basic Shadow Tactical Objectives
The SP has a primary victory condition of 10 VPs of FP settlements and with a secondary objective of slowing the FSP progress in the ‘Ring’ portion of the game. There are 20 VPs available: 5 in Gondor, 5 in DEW (Dale, Erebor, Woodland Realm), 6 in other Elven strongholds, 3 in Rohan, and 1 in the Shire. The SP should attack areas that are not heavily defended and before FP nations get To War where they can muster troops to defend. Let’s look at each area from the SP’s perspective.
Gondor: Gondor is the closest FP nation to war at the start of the game. They also have the Osgiliath Fortification to help resist SP invaders and Dol Amroth takes time to reach and place under siege. However, the SP has Mordor and the Haradrim (S&E) that can strike Gondor with 3 large armies without mustering additional units. Gondor is often a target of the SP during the game and at a minimum Pelagir is a quick VP in the late game.
DEW: The DEW line is more divided (3 different nations) and easier to take before the FP can get nations to war and muster a defense. The SP can send the Dol Goldur Troops, the Easterlings, and even the Morannon army from Mordor (or sometimes a Mt Gundabad army) here. Usually the SP will take out the Dwarves first and then take Dale and finally Woodland Realm since this utilizes the Political Track to its fullest.
Elves: There are 8 VPs in just Elven Strongholds and the Elves have the least amount of reinforcements of all the FP nations. This makes them a good target for the Shadow except that the Elven strongholds are spread out across the board. Lorien can be taken by an army from Moria or Dol Goldur. Rivendell can be attacked by Moria, Mt Gundabad, or by units mustered through SP event cards. Woodland Realm can be hit during a DEW attack. The Gray Havens is rarely a target but a consolidated force from Moria and Dunland can sometimes take the Shire and Gray Havens.
Rohan: Usually Isengard can focus on Rohan. Helm’s Deep is an easy target early but failure to conquer all of Rohan can often lead to a large Rohan army in Edoras that can strike in Gondor or take back Helm’s Deep later in the game. Rohan is tricky and takes practice to conquer. Sometimes even an army from Dol Goldur can support Isengard in vanquishing Rohan and then together they can assault Gondor or Lorien.
The Shire: see Elves above as the Shire is only a late VP target and often in conjunction with an attempt at the Gray Havens.

This means that the SP must carefully consider where to send his armies. The Morannon army can go North to DEW or West to Gondor, the Moria army can go East against Lorien or West against Rivendell, Dol Goldur can help invade DEW, attack Lorien, support Rohan invasion, or even finish off Minas Tirith.

Turn Stalling
SP Strategy: Turn Stalling is a valuable SP tool. The only way for the FP to enter Mordor is for the FSP to declare on either Minas Morgul or the Morannon. This can only be achieved if the FSP can reach one of those strongholds AND if the FSP is hidden during the Fellowship Phase of a turn. Turn Stalling occurs when the SP plays a card that prevents one of these two requirements. The strategy is for the SP to use his last action die (either a Palantir or Character die) to play one of the turn stall event cards just before the FSP would be able to declare on their next turn. Event cards that can perform turn stalls: Cruel Weather, Nazgul Search, Foul Thing from the Deep, Isildur’s Bane, and Orc Patrol. Cruel Weather and Nazgul Search are the strongest options since they don’t rely on drawing a Reveal Hunt Tile. The effect of a Turn Stall is to give the SP a full turn to attack and work toward Military Victory without having to allocate any Eyes to the Hunt and without worrying about the FP moving the Ring closer to Mt Doom. This can be a huge advantage and sometimes it is possible to perform turn stalls for more than 1 turn, which is devastating to the FP’s chances.
FP Strategy: The FP player can take certain tactics to avoid turn stalls. The first is to try and get revealed on one of the Mordor Strongholds. This will cause them to draw an extra tile but if they can hide again then many cards cannot be played on them since they will no longer be on step 1 or higher of the Fellowship track. Another strategy to avoid Cruel Weather is to move an additional region if possible but this is an extreme counter to a card the SP may or may not have in hand. The best way to avoid a turn stall is to not be revealed and declare in Mordor directly from Rivendell or Lorien. The SP cannot play most Shadow Character cards while the FSP is in a Free Stronghold. This requires a lot of luck in hunt rolls and can be countered if the SP decides to besiege the stronghold in question.

Shadow Strategies in Depth
There are two primary strategies that players have been using as the SP. They both try to use the WK card cycling combat ability to draw through the event decks and get key event cards. One is called DEW North and the other is a Corruption strategy. The Shadow often dictates the pace of the game by implementing one of these strategies. The FP can pressure the SP by getting the Fellowship toward Mordor quickly (or by winning a crucial siege) but generally the SP dictates the overall scope.

DEW North
This strategy involves taking a 10pt army in Morannon and moving it North against the DEW line. Muster Isengard and Saruman and then get Mordor to War. Get the Witch King in play before attacking DEW and use his combat ability to cycle through SP event cards. Then Muster S&E if needed. Draw Strategy Cards since they provide you more units and movement options while also providing some of the best combat cards. Usually place 0 or 1 Eye in the Hunt. This strategy wants to hit the FP before he can get any defense mustered and quickly attain a Shadow MV. It doesn’t account for the Ring game because it tries to outrace the Fellowship. The goal here is 5pts from DEW + 5 pts from wherever FP is weaker (Lorien, Pelagir, Rohan, etc).
The FP will often try to sprint with Strider as guide and this type of game will be over quickly (one way or the other). The FP will often separate companions (usually with a card on a Palantir die result since Character dice are needed to move the FSP). The goal is to get these companions at key FP strongholds to resist/delay the SP military engine. One stronghold that resists can be critical by allowing Strider and the ring-bearers to reach Mt Doom in time.

This strategy also leverages the Witch King’s card cycling ability. As before, get Isengard to War and Saruman followed by Mordor and the Witch King. Early attacks on Gondor are useful since they allow frequent use of the WK ability. The goal is to cycle for character cards and use them to turn stall and corrupt the Fellowship. Typically placing more Eyes in the Hunt and using both armies and Nazgul to get hunt re-rolls. Thic can delay (reveals, stalls) and corrupt the Fellowship and force them to move slowly or even to stop and heal. The SP should also be working toward Military Victory and the corruption delays should allow the SP time to effectively complete this strategy. Corruption makes for a longer game but it can be as effective or more effective than the DEW North strategy.
Against this strategy the FP needs to keep companions to soak up corruption damage and try to muster a defense at the same time. Sometimes getting Aragorn is helpful while other times having him prevent three damage can be pivotal.

Both of theses strategies should be able to draw from 7-13 additional cards with the Witch King’s ability. This is a HUGE advantage for the SP and allows him to get turn stalls, dominate most combats, and really hammer the Fellowship. This brings me to my final take on the base game overall.

Issues with the Base Game
First of all, the base game of War of the Ring is an excellent game and I have played many tense and enjoyable games with it. The game design, flow of play, and the unbalanced forces dynamic are all wonderful and well thought out. The action dice mechanism forces different tactical decisions and it still allows for strategic play. The same can be said of the event/combat cards. However, there are a few areas where the original game could improve in my opinion.

Action Dice: It is crucial for both sides to improve their initial action dice situation as soon as possible. For the SP this means using the first four Muster dice to get Isengard to War, then Saruman, then Mordor to War, and then the Witch King. For the FP this means getting Gandalf the Grey hit by a tile and brought back as Gandalf the White and sometimes getting Aragorn too. This critical goal results in two issues. (1) The SP opening moves are very routine and repetitive. This is not a bad thing inherently since certain moves in Chess are good openings and others are not as optimal. However, it is a problem when there is only one valid/optimal opening regardless of which SP strategy chosen. This is only an issue for me because I would like more variety and options available to allow players to pursue and explore different early tactical moves. (2) The FP can’t roll a Will of the West to get Gandalf/Aragorn when needed. This is a thematic element of the game and certainly puts some risk in sacrificing Gandalf early. However, it can end the game if the SP is rolling 9 dice while the FP has only 4 dice and can’t get a Will of the West.

Turn Stalls: I don’t think that the designers intended the SP character cards to be used to stop the FSP on the brink of Mordor. This tactic alone can give the SP one or more “free turns”. The FP can try to avoid this but it is usually at a high cost. This combined with the Witch King’s ability to draw through the character deck allows turn stalls to be a significant weapon for the SP.

Game Balance: The base game certainly favors the Shadow Player and this is not necessarily a problem as it is certainly more thematic to have the SP win more than the FP. The problem is that after players are very experienced, the FP strategic choices are very limited and the FP player can only win about 30% of the games (given equivalent player experience). I would like more options for both sides and in particular more interesting and relevant choices for the FP.

To be continued in Part II The Expansion Game

Monday, September 24, 2007

Gaming Update and other stuff

I haven't posted any session reports recently since I've been either at my son Matthew's baseball games or on the beach (a much needed vacation). Also, I wanted to write down some thoughts on other articles for this site and playing games solitaire.

I've been writing some other reviews (in my spare time which seems less and less these days) and also drafting some strategy articles (in particular on War of the Ring). I will try and get these posted in the next few months. Also, I have kept a log of all games I've played this year and at the end of 2007 or early 2008 I'll review the results. (This log doesn't include the solo games I play -- see rest of this article below).

I also started playing in the first War of the Ring online tournament and it is a lot of fun. One of the playtesters for the expansion wrote a java program that allows two people to play against each other over the computer and it allows players from around the globe to play each other. I have done little in on-line gaming since I prefer face-to-face games but even though I love WotR it is hard to get it to the table (plus it is best as a two-player game). The program is fun for playing the game solo also since you can save the game and pick it up when you have time without leaving the big game out. I played a lot of solitaire games when playtesting the expansion and this program would have really helped speed those games up.

Speaking of playing games solitaire... I really enjoy this (maybe it is just me). My new "Big Game" purchase was World of Warcraft, the Boardgame and the first expansion for it. I played as 6 characters in the basic game to get the feel of the game and even though it took me most of a day to play it was a lot of fun. I like to learn a game thru solo play and then re-read the rules for any mistakes before I try and teach it to others. Even after this, I often miss-up some rules but it gives me a chance to understand the basics clearly and see the direction that the game can go. Other games I still enjoy solo...
  • To Court the King -- easy to play solitaire and very enjoyable to try multiple strategies.
  • Magic the Gathering -- seems like a difficult game to play solo but I use an old MS Access based program called Magic Suitcase to demo various deck designs against each other.
  • Puerto Rico -- I play this one using an MS Excel version of the game
  • Carcassone H&G -- okay this one is a stretch but sometimes I'm just bored and there is no one to play games with...
  • Lord of the Rings (Knizia co-op game) -- this one is quite fun trying to "beat the game" with any number of hobbits. It is a little harder to solo with the Sauron expansion but I like to try to win against the "Full game" (excluding the Battlefield expansion since I don't own it)
  • Marvel Heroes -- I enjoy this one solo especially with all my new heroes and villains

Another thing that I run into that is similar to playing solo is playing more than one player in some games. My wife, Barbara, and I do this quite often so that we can play 4-player games with only two people. Puerto Rico, Power Grid, Princes of Florence, Ticket to Ride, Ra, Tigris and Euphrates, Settlers, Amun Re, and Caylus have all been played by the two of us playing a 4 player game. This can get quite confusing in auctions (and trading) but we try to play both players to win and it allows us the chance to try unusual strategies quite easily. Hopefully, when the children get old enough for these games we will have family game night to get in these games with 4 people!

One other note: Please feel free to add comments, questions, or whatever to any of my posts. I am always interested in feedback from fellow gamers and blog readers.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Session Report September 4, 2007

Attendees(6): David, Mary Ellen, Sharon, Troy, Steve, and Michael

We met at David's after Memorial Day for Tuesday gaming.

David has really enjoyed this game and everyone except Troy had played before. We added the Queen to the standard 8 characters and it added a neat twist. I was robbed early and it took me a while to get going but I also wasn't a prime target so I was able to build up over time. Steve built 4 different Merchant buildings which made anyone taking the Merchant a target for the Thief and Assassin. David ended up going out and with 5 colors for both bonuses and this put him out of reach while the rest of us were within 5 pts of each other. Final: David (30), Mary Ellen (24), Steve (22), Michael (20), Troy (20), and Sharon (19).

Vegas Showdown
This was an Avalon Hill game with a lot of Euro mechanics and a solid American theme. It works very well and I think everyone would be willing to play it again after one game. The only problem was that most of us underestimated the income generation and overbid for many early tiles. Once again David was in a good position as he kept his money and was able to position himself to get both the coveted Dragon Room and 5 Star Steak House. Troy made a good late run and finished second followed by the rest of us. Final: David(75), Troy(53), Michael (46), Sharon (45), and Mary Ellen (43).

Friday, August 31, 2007

Session Report August 28, 2007

Attendees(10): Michael, Barbara, Warren, Sharon, David, Andy, Andrew, Steve, Troy, and Adam.

Adam must have dominated this quick game while they waited on others to join. Final: Adam(12), Steve (3), Sharon (Ocean).

Marvel Superheroes
I taught Andrew and Troy this game and David had only played once before. We had fun but I think that it suffers from some downtime (particularly with 4 players) and the game may play better as a 2 or 3 player game. It finished with Andrew and David tied for the win as they completed their headlines and bested their Mastermind Villains who were both attempting to complete their master plans. Final Scores: David(19), Andrew(19), Troy(17), and Michael(11).

Midieval Merchant
I don't know anything about this game except the final scores... Warren(54), Adam(45 w/8 city tiles), Sharon(45 w/6 city tiles), and Steve(24).

Wits and Wagers
Adam, Barbara, Warren, Andy, Sharon, and Steve played this quick party/trivia game. Barbara won on the final round with an "all in" wager.

Amun Re
We had a good late game of Amun Re. This is really a great game with 5 players. Barbara was able to complete 3 bonus cards on the final kingdom and this was critical in winning over Andrew who had played a solid game. Andy played it for the first time and did very well with all the auctions and decisions. Final Scores: Barbara(45), Andrew(38), Andy(30), Michael(28), and Sharon(26).

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Session Report August 21, 2007

Attendees (13): Michael, Warren, Sharon, Troy, Andrew, Chris, Jeremy, David, Adam, Eileen, Aaron, Danielle, and Joel.

Shadows Over Camelot
I have been wanting to play this one for some time and I finally read the rules and got it to the table this week. It is an interesting cooperative game where everyone works together to defeat the "game" but with a twist that one player "might" be a traitor. This element of doubt adds the tension to the game and keeps everyone guessing each other's ulterior motives.

The cast: King Arthur (Michael), Galahad, (Chris), Gawain (Jeremy), Tristan (Steve), Percival (David), and Palamedes (Warren) have gathered at the round table to decide how to fight the evil that is invading the land, and thus our epic tale begins...

The brave knights gathered their resources while evil began to act swiftly against the noble realm. No one ventured from Camelot and the fabled sword Excalibur was swiftly drifting away. King Arthur decided to use Clairvoyance to allow his knights time to respond to the evil tidings. Alas it was not enough, as before Tristan could react the fabled blade was lost forever and frozen in Oblivion. It was a sad day in Camelot as Evil began taking over and the Round table lost two swords to darkness. Percival was quick to blame Tristan for not taking a different response to the threat of evil and so the harmony of the knighthood was splintered.

Percival took action and ventured to search for the Holy Grail artifact. This was a daunting quest and he would need help from other knights to succeed. The Black Knight offered a challenge outside of Camelots gates and Sir Palamedes rode out to meet him and defend the realm. King Arthur remained in Camelot, but he supported Percival in his quest with information that led Percival ever closer to the Grail. Unfortunately, Despair began to fall upon Percival and the Quest appeared a daunting and futile effort.

Gawain also had left Camelot and he came upon Lancelot who had fled Camelot after his relationship with the Queen and his betrayal to the crown. Gawain was able to overcome Lancelot and secure his armor which would help the good knights thwart the daunting evil forces that were assaulting Camelot. Meanwhile, Tristan and Galahad teamed up to repel a Pict invasion. This was a heroic battle and Camelot gained much glory in this victory. Gawain's return and Palamedes victory over the Black Knight tilted the balance of Camelot's fate toward the forces of good (4 to 2).

Tristan went to support Percival in the Grail Quest while King Arthur went to repel the Saxon invasion. The Dark Forest delayed the search for the Grail even further and Devastating attacks from the shadows made the quest even more difficult. The siege around Camelot was gaining momentum and Gawain and Palamedes valiantly fought against the growing assault. The King repelled the Saxon invasion and this deed brought hope to the knights that indeed the Grail Quest was not in vain. However, the doubt regarding Tristan's loyalty to the realm had gnawed at Percival and he accused Tristan of disloyalty to the kingdom. Tristan defended his honor but the damage was done and the knights began to doubt each other (4 white to 3 black). To further complicate matters, the Black Knight was unchallenged and this dishonor drove more knights away from Camelot (4 to 4).

Tristan, Arthur, and Palamedes ventured to confront an evil dragon in the land while Galahad took up the Grail Quest with a renewed Percival. Gawain fought valiantly against the growing siege forces outside of Camelot. Galahad called on Merlin's assistance to further the Grail quest and the knights were hopeful that they would soon find the relic and redeem the kingdom. The Dragon was also slain by the 3 knights and they returned to Camelot to assist Gawain in it's defense (6 white to 4 black).

The fate of the kingdom was on a knife's edge. If there was a traitorous knight remaining then the kingdom may fall into shadow forever. The Grail quest was nearing completion, Camelot was about to be overcome by the relentless siege...and Galahad decided to come forward and accuse Percival of disloyalty. It all made sense that Percival had falesly accused Tristan and he had failed to complete the Grail quest. Percival was outraged and proved his loyalty to the kingdom but again the hopes of the kingdom were dwindling (5 black to 5 white).

Percival foresaw evil tidings coming and warned his fellow knights. Palamedes headed the warning and did not tempt fate. The King had a plan though...once again he looked into the future with Clairvoyance to give his comrades time to complete the Grail Quest. Galahad followed his King's lead but was shocked to find that Morgan le Fay had plotted the demise of the kingdom. Apparently, Morgana had desposed of her step-brother, King Arthur, and replaced him with a traitorous spy. Her magic enhanced the deception and this "King Arthur" had misled the chilvarous knights. He had appeared helpful throughout the game, but in the end his betrayal revealed a hidden army that reinforced the siege upon Camelot. The siege forces proved too much and they overwhelmed Camelot. The kingdom was lost to the shadow and swallowed by the Mists of Avalon...Now it is only a whispered legend of a noble sacrifice by the last of the Knights of the Round Table.

I really enjoyed playing this game and would definitely play it again. I think it is great with a large number of players as there is always something to do and it seems quite challenging with a Traitor.

Final Scores: Andrew (98), Sharon (82), Joel (78), and Troy (75).

Puerto Rico
Warren pulled out the victory with a dominant shipping strategy. He had 4 quarries, 4 corn, the harbor, wharf, and customs house. His win was never really in doubt once he got the wharf.
Final Scores: Warren (68), Michael (54), Andrew (52), Sharon (42), and Steve (38).

This looks like a very close finish between Adam and Danielle...
Final Scores: Adam ($464k), Danielle ($461k), Eileen ($395.2k), and Aaron ($277k).

That's Life
Final Scores: Eileen (19), Adam (12), Danielle (6), Troy (6), and Aaron (-15).

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Session Report August 15, 2007

Attendees (15): Sharon, Warren, Adam, Eileen, Tamara, Cindy, Marty, Troy, Cheryl, Andy, Michael, Andrew, Steve, Matt, and Jaimie

We gathered at Steve's house this week for gaming and fun. Cindy and Marty joined us again (they are out of town friends of Warren and Sharon) and we are always glad to welcome more gamers.

While waiting on everyone to arrive, I taught this light card game to Andrew and Steve. Adam arrived and joined in for a 4 player game. Zooloretto is the board game based on this card game that won the 2007 Spiel des Jahres. The card game is all about collecting sets of like colored cards to score points but only 3 colors score positive pts while the rest count against your score. Players can draw a card and add it to a set or they may take all the cards in a particular set. There are a number of sets equal to the number of players and each set can only hold 3 cards max. There are also some wild cards and +2 cards that score 2 extra points.
Final: Michael (37), Andrew (32), Steve (28), and Adam (24).

Nexus Ops
Andrew, Steve, and I played about 1 rd of Nexus Ops and taught Andrew how to play. Then Matt and Jaimie arrived and we decided to play Amun Re...

Amun Re
I have already given my review on this great Reiner Knizia game. We taught it to Matt and Jaimie and I think that they also enjoyed the game. I rarely get to play this with 5 and it was a very enjoyable game with a full compliment of players. I was able to generate a lot of income during the first kingdom but never scored any bonus power cards during the game. Andrew grabbed the early scoring lead and Steve was about 10pts behind after the first scoring. In the 2nd kingdom, I had 3 sets and was very close to majority on both sides but Steve and Andrew each managed to win a side. Matt and Andrew grabbed 2 temples each but Jaimie, Steve, and I all played -3 cards during the last sacrifice to keep the level at 2 in spite of a +6 shift from Matt and Andrew combined! Steve and Jaimie both scored several bonus power cards and when we were adding up money there was only a 5pt separation between first and last place. I finished with 33 gold and if it was enough for first then I might be able to pull out the win but Steve had 34 gold and coincidently so did Andrew. This moved Steve into 2nd place and only 1pt behind Andrew who won! Final: Andrew (44), Steve (43), Michael (37), Matt (34), and Jaimie (33).

For Sale
This is another light card game that I found amusing the one time I played it. Today it was Marty (74) proving the best real estate dealer followed by Adam (65), Andy (60), and Cheryl (57).

Notre Dame
This one hit the table again tonight. Troy won with 67 pts followed by Sharon (49), Eileen (40), Cindy (34), and Tamara (30).

This is a clever game fro Ystari. Troy again finished with a win. Finals: Troy (50), Cheryl (36), Andy (35), and Marty (21).

This is a classic Knizia auction game (that I haven't played yet). They had a full compliment of 6 players for this one. Final: Sharon (94), Adam (85), Warren (80), Tamara (72), Eileen (65), and Cindy (57).

To Court the King
This is a fun dice game often referred to as "Yahtzee with special powers". Many of the people in our game group have not liked it very much but I have found it to be very entertaining. Of course I like games with dice and enjoy manipulating the outcome that is so common in this game. My 5yr old also really enjoys rolling all the dice and after a few plays he 'gets' the basic strategies and can play competitively with the family. I was the only player who had played it previously and we used the "Weakened General" variant from Boardgamegeek. I will later give a thorough review on this game along with my adding dice to control varaint. Jaimie ended up impressing the King first (with 7 2's) and she got the Queen for the end-game roll-off. This allowed her to roll last and win all ties. Matt started the final round and impressed the King with 8 5's which was more than Andrew, Steve, or I could muster with all of the courtiers we had acquired. However, Jaimie was able to quickly accumulate her own set of 5's and with both the Astronomer and Magician she was able to roll 8 5's of her own and win the game!

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Session Report August 7, 2007

We met at David's house this Tuesday night for gaming.

Attendees (6): Matt, David, Troy, Steve, Michael, Andrew and Mary Ellen

Clash of the Gladiators

We started with this light dice game by Reiner Knizia. Everyone builds their gladiator teams and then try to wipe out everyone else. Gladiator teams consist of 4 gladiators. Dice are rolled for combat with a 1 in 6 chance of getting a full hit, 2 in 6 chance of getting a minor hit, and 3 in 6 chance of missing. Each team can roll 1 die + an extra die for each Sword gladiator on the team. Prong gladiators allow for re-rolls, shield gladiators block minor hits, spear gladiators allow teams to hit first, and net gladiators can cancel the effects of other gladiators that they are fighting. There are also animals that show up in the arena and players can control them when they are eliminated. One Point is awarded for each gladiator you defeat and two points for each animal.

Game 1: David (16), Troy (13), Matt (12), Mike (10), and Steve (10).
Game 2: Troy (19), Mike (18), Andrew (15), Steve (9), and David (9).

Ticket to Ride
Andrew and Mary Ellen played a quick train game of this while we were playing our first game of Clash of the Gladiators.

Andrew, David, Mary Ellen, and I played this interesting Bruno Faidutti game. Players select various roles each with their own special abilities. Roles chosen also determine turn order and there is a lot of guessing what roles other players select. No one has perfect information but everyone has limited amounts of information about what roles have or haven't been selected. Players are trying to build various districts within their cities to score victory points. Different characters allow players to earn more gold, destroy districts, assassinate other roles, and blow up other player's districts. It was a chaotic game with a lot of interesting decisions and I would definitely give this one another play.

Finals: Mary Ellen (28), Michael (25), Andrew (18), and David (16).

Friday, August 3, 2007

Session Report July 31, 2007

Attendees(7): Warren, Sharon, Michael, Barbara, Steve, Troy, David
We had a small group for gaming Tuesday night at our house.
This one has been played a few sessions in a row but I have yet to play it. This civilization game requires players to deliver 4 sacrifice tokens in order to win but there are lots of activities that you can do in order to build up the mana needed for the sacrifices. Sharon won (4) while Barbara (3), Troy (2), and Steve (2) finished behind her.
This is a short game (exactly 30 min) with a clever mechanic where everyone plays the game in "real time" and your actions are limited by sand timers and the time it takes them to "run out" so you can complete your actions. It is an interesting game that probably doesn't have deep replay value but it is light and quick and fun to play every once in a while. We only played the basic game so I'm sure the advanced rules add more depth and strategy to the game. However, since I made an illegal move about 5 min into our game (using the basic rules), I'll just stick to the basic game first... Anyway, we restarted the game and this time I played correctly. The basic strategy is to build up your resources and deliver them to the other player's stations to fulfill demand and score victory points. You can also add more technology to your station which allows you to produce more goods, transform goods, or add cities with large demands. The advantage of having lots of demands is that you receive some victory points for having demands that other players fulfill during the game. I was not able to deliver many goods during the game but I had the most demand and was fortunate that Warren was able to make a delivery as time expired to give me a 1pt victory while Warren and David finished tied for 2nd.

After Space Dealer, I taught David Elasund. This is an interesting game, in the Settlers genre, with some good strategic options but the actions during a turn are not intuitive and take some time to learn. You use Gold and Influence to build various buildings within Elasund, the First City of Catan. City Walls, the Chapel, and many production and Victory Point buildings are avaliable and 2 dice determine resource allocation. In this game 5's were popular and Warren ran away with a fistful of cards and never really was challenged. David made a run at the end and I actually lost several late VP's as Warren built a large building and removed one of mine that also had valuable trade VP's attached to it. Warren won (10), David was 2nd (7) and I finished with only (2).

This is our only copy of the Carcassone series and I am very happy with this game. It has a well balanced mix of tiles with an easier scoring mechanism than its predecessor. Heather joined the adults and played this one too. Final: Sharon (55), Barbara (53), Heather (47), Steve (27), and Troy (22).

Sharon (won) played this light dice game with Barbara (5) , Matthew (8), and Heather (16) to close out the evening.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Session Report July 24, 2007

Attendees (12): Warren, Sharon, Steve, Eileen, Adam, Joel, Andy, Troy, Tamara, Sarah (Tamara's daughter), Frederick, and Matt.

We gathered at Warren and Sharon's house for our weekly gaming fix.

Caylus Magna Carta
This was Caylus "the card game" and I was interested in trying it out. Matt, Sharon, and Troy had all played Caylus last week and we were all ready to give this version a go. It has most of the standard elements of Caylus but with some variations that make it a different game. One big advantage of the card game version is that it takes less time to play. We probably took longer since we all had to learn it from scratch but if you have played Caylus then most of this game will be easy to digest.
Since VP's are only calculated at the end the effect of placing workers on another player's building allows that player a small benefit. Another interesting twist is that the passing order determines both the order for moving the provost and the order for building in the Castle. In our game Deniers (money) were at a premium so Matt and I leveraged Sharon and Troy's Lawyer buildings to transform our buildings into Residences and earn additional income each round. Matt focused on grabbing VPs in the castle while I got a lot of Gold to use in Prestige buidlings. It was a close game but Matt held off Troy for the victory.
Final: Matt (36), Troy (32), Michael (29), and Sharon (26).

I enjoyed the game and would play it again but I still prefer the original. The advantages of a shorter game with different strategies make Caylus Magna Carta a game that I would enjoy playing when I'm in the mood for Caylus but don't have the time for the full game.

Around the World in 80 Days
They had a large 6 player race around the world and everyone finished in over 80 days! Tamara was the winner and Joel, Andy, Steve, Warren, and Sarah finished behind her.

Adam won against Eileen in this abstract tile placement game.

Adam won against Eileen and Frederick in this fun filler where players race to connect 5 cities the fastest. We have started teaching my 5 yr old this game and he is doing well at recognizing the cities based on the first few letters. In my opinion, this is still a great gateway game since there is no way to "mess up" an opponent and everyone has a decent chance at winning. It is still light but it can be very fun with kids (and it teaches them US geography).

Tamara, Warren, Matt, and Sarah played. Sarah finished in 2nd place while everyone else finished in a 3 way tie for first. This is another game that I enjoy playing with the kids. We use the Diamond Joe expansion to give the kids a slight benefit (handicap for us) so that games stay pretty close.

This was an interesting stock market game that Adam wanted to play. Dice rolls help determine which companies are doing well but players also get to place markers that can allow companies to grow and increase their stock values. Players can also place markers so that larger corporations can destroy smaller ones and reduce the value of the smaller company's stocks. This makes for an added twist where you want to invest in companies that are doing well but so does everyone else so there isn't much net benefit and the cost of getting in late is high. I think that Shark is an interesting game and I would be willing to try it again especially after we ironed out some of the rule questions thanks to Joel.
Final: Adam won with $676k, followed by Joel ($515k), Michael ($425k), and Eileen ($395k).

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Session Report July 17, 2007

Attendees (10): Matt, Jaimie, Warren, Sharon, Steve, David, Danielle, Troy, Barbara, and Michael
We gathered at our house for Tuesday night gaming.

Barbara, Jaimie, Matt, and David played a very fast game of Settlers. Apparently, 5 was a popular number on the dice and Matt had some good settlements on 5's...
Final: Matt 10, Barbara 7, David 4, and Jaimie 2.

I asked Sharon to bring it over so we could play this one again. Troy and Steve joined us for a 4 player game. I haven't really figured out which people to plan on hiring during the various days or how to incorporate them into a strategy but I've certainly got a grasp on the basic tactics. It seems that early plays on the bank and the one that gives you cubes can give you some early advantages and these cubes can be transfered to the Hospital or the Park later to control rats or provide more victory points. I'm not convinced that Notre Dame is worth the effort but if everyone passes it then one player stands to gain a lot. The region that accumulates victory points and the one that has the most options seem to be the least useful. The Park is very strong provided that you can maintain enough cubes, money, and rat control to reap its VP benefits.
This was Troy's first time playing it and he did very well. Troy got two influence markers in the Park on the first round and kept them there for the game. I was fortunate to rack up a bunch of late VPs with the VP region + Park and was able to squeek out the victory. Final: Michael 58, Troy 54, Steve 41, and Sharon 27.

Warren taught Daneille this game while they waited on Settlers and Notre Dame to finish.

Warren pulled out a victory in this amusing and clever card game. Final: Warren 85, Barbara 76, and Danielle 74.

David taught Matt and Jamie this game while they had a few minutes after their quick Settlers game. Scores: Matt 8, Jaimie 7, and David 5 (they didn't play a complete game just a few rounds).
Warren taught this one to Danielle and Steve, David, and Barbara joined them. They played it on the US board. This is one of my favorite games but I've played it quite a bit this year already. I am excited about the new deck of Power Plants that is coming out this fall as I have been very pleased with all the expansion boards and variants. This game was close and Warren pushed it to the end game a turn early in hopes of pulling out the victory, unfortunately for him Danielle had the cash to connect to more cities. Final: Daniell 14, Steve 13 ($16), Warren 13 ($14), Barbara 13 ($7), and David 9 with a lot of cash.

Troy had never played Caylus and so we played a 5 player game while the others played Power Grid. I went down the Money and VP track this time and built a lot in the Castle to earn even more favors. This was the only game I have played where every single space in the Castle was occupied at the end of the game. Also, Troy built 6 times in the castle on the final turn. Final Scores: Michael 75, Sharon 56, Troy 50, Jaimie 50, and Matt 47.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Session Report July 10, 2007

Attendees (15+4): Adam, Eileen, Warren, Sharon, Troy, Michael, Barbara, Steve, Andy, Tamara, David (Tamara's son), Aaron, Danielle, Chris, and Elaine (+4 children).

We had a full group over at the Madden's for Tuesday gaming. They had friends who are visiting from Michigan and came down for Gulf Games who decided to join us -- Chris and Elaine Lohroff and their two children. Tamara also brought her son David over so we had several new faces which is always great.

I arrived early and saw that Warren and Sharon had recently acquired a copy of Tempus and I was anxious to try it out. So I brought it down and began learning the rules in anticipation of playing it. I recruited Steve and Andy and after learning the basics we got Adam and Eileen to join us.

Tempus is an interesting civilization themed game. It is not extremely complicated but it has a very incremental feel to the turns. The game has a variable map so each game will have a different feel. Each round you have a certain number of actions you can perform and your 5 choices for each action are: Move, Have Babies, Have Ideas, Build Cities, and Have a Fight. Each of these choices can be impacted by your position on the progress chart. For example, at the start of the game moving allows you to move 1 piece-1 space, but by the end of the game you can move 3 pieces-up to 5 spaces each. A brief look at the actions:
Move: you can move x number of people, y spaces based on your progress level. Also, you can move from one space that is next to a lake to another space also next to a lake. Later in the game when you have shipbuilding you can move from a space adjacent to the sea to another space adjacent to the sea. This water movement counts for that pieces entire move for the action.
Have Babies: the phrasing of this action is humorous on its own. It allows you to place 1 or 2 (depending on progress level) new units in Grassland spaces where you have existing units so long as they don't exceed the stacking limit. Stacking limit starts at 2 and progresses up to 4.
Have Ideas: Draw 1 or 2 cards (depending on progress level). Your hand limit is initially 5 but eventually it will increase to 7 (again based on progress level). Cards can be played using their text during a player's turn or using the terrain on the card for combat and advancing progress so they are important.
Build cities: you can convert a pile of units into a city with a rating of 2-4 depending on the number of units in the stack being converted. Cities cannot be place in Mountain spaces and must not be built adjacent to another city. Cities are more defensible and allow for benefits on progress and VP's at the end of the game.
Have a Fight: This is an attack from one space into another space. Combat is resolved by the defender playing a number of cards face down and then the attacker playing some cards face up. Each unit in the battle counts as a point. Each card played by either player that matches the terrain of the defender counts as a point for that player. Each weapons card played adds 1 point and each fortification card played by the defender counts as 2 points. Highest total wins with the defender winning ties. The defender of a city gets the city number + his cards played AND he gets to determine the terrain before anyone plays cards which is a huge advantage. If the attacker wins then the defender loses all units there but if the defender wins then the attacker only loses 1 unit.

After everyone takes their turns then their is an opportunity for players to advance on the progress chart. The first thing done during this step is to move all players up to the lead player's position on the chart (so they "catch up" to the current technology). Then, starting with the start player, each player plays a number of cards face down. These are revealed simultaneously and each player totals their progress points with the highest player(s) advancing to the next level. Progress points are: 1 pt for each unit on a space that matches the terrain of the next level on the progress chart, 1 pt for each city (regardless of the number on it), 1 pt for each Education card played, and 1 pt for each card played that matches the terrain of the next progress level.

The progress level determines: how many units you can move, how far they can move, how many babies you can have, how many units you can stack in a space, how many idea cards you can draw, how many cards you can hold in your hand, whether you have sea movement or not, and how many actions you can take during your turn. Each step offers slight benefits in one or more areas so that leading players have a slight advantage for that round. It's nice to have the advantage but I don't think that they are all crucial to winning the game.

Play continues until someone advances to flight. At that point victory points are determined by adding up: 1 pt for all non-mountain spaces occupied by units, pts equal to the value for each city, and 3 pts for any player who achieved flight.

I am surprised that progress levels do not improve your ability to win battles (except indirectly by increasing your hand size or allowing you to draw more cards). Also, there is a rule that disallows attacking a player with units in only 3 spaces (not counting cities). I understand the logic in not allowing a player to be eliminated but this seems like an arbitrary way to do that. I would recommend a house rule that allows you to ALWAYS attack a player's cities and only attack their units if they occupy more than 3 spaces. This should limit the Turtling strategies.

The game ran a little long since we were all learning it (and I think we could reduce the time significantly if everyone knew the game). Adam proved the winner by holding onto his "peninsula" and racking up the victory points. Final: Adam (24), Andy (18), Michael (18), Steve (17), and Eileen (12). Overall, I enjoyed the game but I think it needs to last about 90 min instead of 180 min (hopefully it will be closer to the 90 min mark next time). I would like to try it again but it didn't hit the mark as much as I was hoping.

Chris won this one with 175, Elaine finished next with 173, followed by Sharon with 133.
Chris and Aaron won this one with 56 pts while Danielle and Elaine tied for second with Sharon and Barbara at 35 pts.

Troy proved the most successful explorer tonight. Final scores: Troy (108), Warren (93), Tamara (90), and David (87).

Danielle won this tile collection game with 14 pts followed by Sharon (11), Aaron (8), Elaine (8), Chris (7), and Barbara (5).
(the picture looks like a fight for the +7 tile! but it also shows too many pieces for a 5 player game -- I'm guessing this one lasted a while ;-)

Troy (69) proved the astute trader in Jambo against Warren (52)