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).