Last Updated on August 26, 2022
War of the Ring is one of the finest examples of how an iconic story and setting can be implemented into a compelling war game. In the battle between Free People and the Shadow Armies, the players take control of the story told in the Lord of the Rings trilogy.
Join us as we explore why War of the Ring is one of the best thematic and mechanical war games ever made!
Brief Overview of War of the Ring
War of the Ring is one of the most popular games ever on BoardGameGeek, taking the #1 spot in the War category, #5 spot in the Thematic category, and #10 spot across all board games. This sets up some high expectations, but the game manages to deliver an extremely satisfying and complete experience.
The difficulty rating is very high and we’re going to touch upon the complexity of the game in great detail — this is certainly going to be one of the deciding factors in your purchase. As for the number of players, the box says 2 to 4, but this is really a 2-player game. Playtime is 3 to 4 hours depending on the player’s experience.
Unboxing War of the Ring
The massive game box contains the following pieces:
- 1 Rulebook
- 2 Pieces of the Game Board
- 2 Player Aids Folders
- 5 White Six-side Combat Dice
- 6 Blue Free Peoples Action Dice
- 10 Red Shadow Action Dice
- 14 Character Cards
- 96 Event Cards
- 81 Cardboard Encounters
- 205 Plastic Figures
Don’t let the list of components trick you into thinking that War of the Ring is a small game. The box is packed to the brim with game pieces, so let’s start from the top.
The box cover depicts the epic clash of Théoden with the Witch-king of Angmar, and the same art can be found on the massive, 48-page rulebook found at the top of the box, followed by two quick-reference player sheets.
The punchout pieces are quite small, but the designers place some very nice art on them. However, these pieces will cause a lot of issues during the gameplay — but we’ll address that later.
Middle-earth is a huge place, and War of the Ring takes that fact seriously. The map consists of two double-folded game boards that are merged on the table. You’ll need a lot of table space to accommodate this 27” x 40” board with all the additional components.
The 205 figures aren’t the most detailed out there, but there are a ton of variations between them. Fans of the universe will have no problems discerning the identity of the character based on the miniatures, and that’s more than you can expect from a game as reasonably priced as War of the Ring.
Aside from the custom sides, the dice are fairly standard. The event cards are text-heavy and feature tiny illustrations. Personally, I’d prefer if the illustrations were bigger, but I understand why the designers had to choose this approach.
From a materials standpoint, War of the Ring ticks all the boxes. The massive game board is certainly its best selling point in terms of components, but as a whole, there are a few things that need improvement. We’ll touch upon them in the Pros & Cons section.
How to Play War of the Ring
War of the Ring is one of the most complex board games I’ve had a chance to play, with hundreds of different terms, mechanics, and game elements. However, because of how the game is designed, the core mechanics can be explained fairly easily.
The setup is a significant part of the War of the Ring and can take a very long time. The game starts with a significant number of figures already distributed across the map — the Fellowship, Free Folk armies, and leaders, Gollum, the armies of Mordor among many others.
During this phase, the players will choose who is going to play the Free People, and who will control the Shadow Armies.
Usually, I’d leave the win conditions for the end, but in War of the Ring, you need to keep an eye on the trackers from the very start. The game is not symmetrical, and the victory conditions are different depending on which side you’re playing.
There are two militaries and two ring-based victory conditions:
- Shadow Armies win if the Ring-bearers have 12 or more Corruption points.
- Free People win if Ring-bearers reach the top of Mount Doom.
- Shadow Armies win if they control Free People settlements worth 10+ points.
- Free People win if they control Shadow settlements worth 4+ points.
The game of War of the Ring is a constant battle on two fronts. The forces of good must gather allies, defend and protect the Fellowship on its way, while the forces of evil try to conquer and hunt down the ring.
The Shadow player starts with more dice than the Free People player, but they must allocate some of their resources towards the hunt for the ring. The rest of the actions are determined through a roll of the dice for both players.
The available actions are:
- Character action
- Army action
- Muster action
- Event action
- Muster/Army action
- Special action
The players can choose how and when to utilize the actions, but they must use the ones the dice landed on. This eliminates one part of the analysis-paralysis syndrome and makes the game more fluid.
The massive game board has been crafted with an extraordinary dedication to the original content. However, it’s not just for show, and it represents the most important challenge you’ll face as the player — movement.
Getting the troops into the right position at the right time will be much more difficult than it sounds. The forces of evil can muster an infinite amount of orcs, but they’ll all start in the Mordor area and will take a lot of actions to bring towards the battle.
For the good guys, the long journey of the Fellowship is one problem, but the second is the finite number of warriors. When troops, leaders, or even key characters die, they’re gone for good.
The pool of troops for the Free People is constantly diminishing, and positioning the forces in strongholds or to protect the Fellowship is crucial to success.
Nations & Politics
There are so many things to cover in War of the Ring — a review thrice this size would only begin to scratch the surface. Out of everything that’s left, I feel like nations and politics are the most important mechanics to mention.
Just like in the books and the movies, the nations of the Middle Earth were extremely hesitant to enter the war against Sauron. In War of the Ring, Rohan, Gondor, Elves, Dwarves and the other nations will remain passive and not enter the ranks of the Free People’s army.
These nations will only join the cause once Sauron’s attacks force them into action, or the diplomatic actions of the Free People’s leaders convince them. With more allies, the Free People will be much stronger, but that’s why the Shadow player never goes for multiple targets.
Your First Game of War of the Ring
War of the Ring is a difficult game, and it can be very time-consuming. Don’t think that just because playtime is around 4 hours, you can start around 8 PM and knock it out by midnight.
First, there’s going through the rulebook — all 48 pages of it. I would advise that you don’t teach the other player yourself, so instead, have them learn the rules on their own.
Then we’ve got the setup, which can easily take an hour for your first time, as you won’t know where the regions are located on the map nor the exact miniatures you need to place there.
Now that you can finally start playing, there’s the biggest hurdle — mental effort. War of the Ring can be an extremely taxing game, especially for the first few rounds. Constantly flipping through the rules, thinking of your next move, and strategizing ahead will tire you out, so I’d recommend leaving the first game for a weekend afternoon, rather than a workday evening.
Pros & Cons
- The Best Board Game LotR Adaptation
- Extremely Deep Gameplay
- Infinite Replayability
Lord of the Rings has been blessed with one of the best movie trilogies, an RTS game in the Battle for the Middle Earth II, but also a board game with War of the Ring.
The designers behind War of the Ring must have spent an unreasonable amount of time on research because every single component is lore-accurate. Yes, you’ve got your Aragorn and Gandalf, but also the Phial of Galadriel, Horn of Gondor, and so many other items that were sprinkled throughout the story.
If you base your LotR knowledge on the movies alone, you might find yourself in deep water as War of the Ring significantly expands the scope of lore. Every region of the map has been named and is detailed enough that you can use it as a proper map and learn about Middle Earth.
Saying that a game has infinite replayability is a bit controversial, but I completely stand behind it with War of the Ring. The game starts off as this overly complex war game, but as you play and learn, you realize that it can be the game for you.
It has a competitive scene but even if you’re not interested in that, the amount of depth it has provides room for so many strategies. As each dice roll dictates your actions, it can shape how a certain game goes, and even if you play it with the same person dozens of times, it feels like it won’t become repetitive or played out.
- It’s a Heavy-Commitment Game
- Component Design Flaws
The strengths of War of the Ring are also the things that are going to deter a lot of players. This board game is definitely not for casual players or those who are just looking for a good Middle Earth adaptation.
War of the Ring is a hard game, and your first time with it won’t be very enjoyable. A lot approach this game with the wrong preconceptions, and never touch it after that first experience.
With WotR, you need to commit and play it several times to even begin to grasp the game concepts — only then will the game open up to you and show you all its potential.
The second point is more objective and has to do with the design of components. I’m all for thematically-appropriate components, but it’s a problem when they’re creating issues for the gameplay.
The regions of the map have names written on them, with some featuring stronghold icons. It looks good when the board is empty, but as it’s immediately flooded with miniatures, it becomes extremely difficult to keep track of the markings underneath.
An event card will tell you to do something at Anfalas, without any hints as to where this region is. Over time, you’ll memorize where the locations are, but in your first game, you’ll be roleplaying Sauron, and scouring the Middle-earth for those damned locations.
The diplomacy tracker is by far the worst offender. The tiny progression trackers feature intricate designs, which is great, but there’s no mention as to which nation they belong to. The great white tree on a shield is Gondor, but what’s the snake or this black burning ball? To find out, you’ll have to frequently open the rulebook.
Versions & Expansions
War of the Ring: Lords of Middle-earth
Lords of Middle-earth explores the alternate timelines that would happen if certain key situations turned out differently. The Balrog of Moria rises to attack the lands of the Free People, the Council of Elrond makes a different decision in regards to the Fellowship, these are only a couple of possibilities you can experience with the Lords of Middle-earth expansion.
The expansion adds new figures and rules for Galadriel, Elrond, Smeagol, Gothmog, and Balrog of Moria, along with the much-needed figures of Gandalf the White and Aragorn.War of the Ring: Lords of Middle-earth
War of the Ring: Warriors of Middle-earth
Warriors of Middle-earth expands the forces of both good and evil. The Ents, Dead Men of Dunharrow, Corsairs of Umbar, Wild Hillmen from Dunland, Giant Spiders, and Great Eagles all join the fray with new mechanisms, figures, and special abilities.
You still won’t be able to take Frodo to Mount Doom on the back of the Great Eagles, but this expansion will greatly increase the number of strategies and interesting situations, making it a worthy addition to the base game!War of the Ring: Warriors of Middle-earth
War of the Ring Review (TL;DR)
War of the Ring: Second Edition delivers a definitive Lord of the Rings experience in a war board game format. It’s exactly what the fans of the Silmarillion and Peter Jackson’s extended edition are looking for — an extremely deep, complex, and long game that draws you into the world and forces you to make difficult decisions to change the tide of the war.
As long as you’re ready for the effort and time commitment that WotR requires, I can see this game becoming your favorite competitive experience.
The shortest description I can give for War of the Ring would be: The game is intimidating but absolutely brilliant.
Even with the preparation I’ve put in, I was still overwhelmed by the sheer volume of rules, data, and different mechanics. This is common for a game of this type, but I just wasn’t expecting it from a LotR adaptation, which is a huge plus for the game.
Having played only a few sessions, I can clearly see the potential and appeal of this game. It’s the kind of game that you can’t stop thinking of for days after the session has ended — you’ll daydream about new strategies and some things will start to click.
If I had the time, I’m sure I’d play more of WotR, and that brings me to my final point. War of the Ring is very affordable for what it delivers, and it’s far from the financial investment that Twilight Imperium IV requires.
Even if you play a few games, you’ll be satisfied, but I think you should come into this game ready to commit to another person, and play it every so often just for the experience. The biggest hurdle of TI4 is the 8+ hour sessions and having to gather multiple players for it, but WotR is a 4-hour experience for two, which is far more manageable.
We hope you enjoyed our War of the Ring review! Have you tried this epic war game before? Drop a comment below and let us know what you think! We’d love to hear from you.