After buying nearly a complete set of Battlelore 1st edition, I found that the 2nd Edition is much more in line with what I hoped to get out of the game. Some of the improvements: * Better use of the dice. The color system made little sense in 1st ed, as each color was only on one face anyway (at least Battles of Westeros made better use of the colors on its d8s). The 2nd edition dice are much better use of those 6 faces. * Objective-based point system feels much better to me than the kill-based VPs of 1st ed. * Random scenario setup with army mustering is much cleaner and variable than the 1st edition, even with the somewhat kludgy Call to Arms expansion. * Full-on fantasy setting is more cohesive than the historic/fantasy hybrid of 1st ed. * I REALLY prefer the new new unit system of just having all the unit stats on the single card. The colors/weapon based system in 1st edition meant you had to cross reference 2 or 3 different cards to figure out movement and attacks. Once you added in the expansions, the whole thing became very unwieldy.
As a downside, the game really should have included boards and markers to track lore and VPs. The token-based system is needlessly fiddly. I think I may whip up my own, likely ugly but functional, score tracks.
Overall, I like this game a bunch, and it is even more fun than I expected! A light wargame should be easy to pick up and play, and this fits the bill much better than 1st ed. If I decide to go for a purer C&C experience, I will pick up ancients.
UPDATE Jan 2014: Loving the game. I am appreciating the mustering phase. The units each have their specialties, and tailoring your lineup to the specific scenario combinations is a fun challenge. With an expansion or two to ensure continued variety, this could become a 10. I would especially like to see a better campaign system. Also, they need to sell dice packs (they really should have included more dice in the box).
SPARKS: Each character has something that they are GOOD at, that suggests a strategy, but the player interaction and events mix things up so much that you have to be creative while you stay focused on your goal.
Each item I have played this so far, I have immediately wanted to replay as THAT character. This is really like 4 games in one as far as the enjoyment of discovery. This game actually made me wish there were fewer games in the world so that this could get played more in my group. I also wish there was a good way to play 2 player!
Takes CitOW to a 10! I find the new cards to be better balanced and more fun to play with. The Chaos cards are more subtle, but still as thematic for each character. Conversely, the upgrades are now somewhat more powerful and all are useful now. Basically the more powerful effects have been shifted from the Chaos cards to the upgrades, which I think works better from fairness and game pacing standpoints.
SPARKS: * This game generates exciting narrative like to other. The characters' abilities and stats are remarkably well-tuned to the archetypes they represent and enforce the storytelling aspect of the game. You can't help but picture each of these individuals and their actions in your head as the game plays. This is much different from many similar games where the characters come off mainly as a collection of stats. * Every set of characters is a puzzle to figure out. The key to the game is figuring out how to best use your team against the opponent's team. It is a race to match your strengths vs. their weaknesses. Characters are just durable enough - they are hard to kill, but not too hard. * Despite the many things that are going on and the high level of flavor that is maintained, the rules are quite streamlined. * I love the challenge roll resolution table with color vs. color and the varying degrees of success and failure. * Combat is just a means to an end. Yes, you need to fight, but mainly you do so to further your ability to efficiently challenge the labyrinths. There is a greater purpose to your combat tactics.
I dig this game. The biggest problem is that there is a LOT going on. This is definitely a game that gets much better with familiarity, but you'll need to be a true gamegeek to break through. This is the game that pushed my wife a little too far. UPDATE: My wife tried it again, this time with 3 platters and 6 characters each, and she liked it (and, not coincidentally, she creamed me)! UPDATE UPDATE: The game offers so much tactical depth and variety that it has become a favorite. Best setup: 3 platters, 8 characters, 2.5 hours.
Update July 2012: After a few nights of 3 platter games, we finally tried a four platter, 10 character game. I thought that it would be cool to get in some more of the extra adventure keys. The game went OK, but I think we really prefer the tighter experience of the 3 platter, 8 character setup. Having more keys available didn't really add that much. I think in the future we'll just use 3 platters and draw one of the extra adventure keys at random.
I've had some of my best group gaming experiences ever with this game. An added layer of complexity is that you need to do well without appearing to do too well. The shrewdest deal maker often finds themselves boxed out by the end of the game! I like to play so that the ONLY thing that can be bargained for is investor use. Other cards must be played so as to maximize the value of your investors. Also, subcontracts made for each investor are binding and cannot be altered unless the boss is changed or an investor is sent away. This keeps the game moving along and the negotiations fierce.
Update May 2011 So I have tried Intrigue, Mall of Horror, Lifeboats, and Chinatown and still find this to be my favorite pure negotiation game. I love the way your cards give you hidden leverage in the negotiations, a factor missing in these other games.
Update December 2014 As the years pass, my appreciation for Sackson's games only increases. His designs are pure, focused, and bring the spark that makes them FUN. My kids ar enow 7 and 9, and we just played it with them for the first time. They played very well, the game was close, and we had an awesome time together. Thank you Mr. Sackson!
Rating raised to a 10. I'm finding so many former favorites diminished in my eyes when I pull them down lately, but this one holds up and is unmatched in the genre.
First impressions: I think the language neutrality of the cards was a mistake on his one. Some text (even the name of the buildng!) would have been very helpful. After playing: This is a quintessential Euro. To me, it feels a lot like a game of Caylus played just on the favors track, with a card draft thrown in. My wife and I like it a lot, and games so far have been very close. However, I wonder if it's even possible to far too far behind, as most moves are worth almost the same. The victory seems to go to the one who is able to squeeze out those 2 or 3 extra points somewhere along the way. I like the constant pressure exerted by the rat track.
UPDATE: Still enjoying the game after putting it away for a while. Yes, the game is hella processional, but it massages some part of my brain in happy way. I think it is the amplifying payouts for each sector - nothing like seeing an investment pay off.
After some more plays, I'm bumping this one to a 10! Ra is an outstanding game, and my favorite Knizia auction. I really enjoy the bidding for lots mechanism, as it means you're never bidding on quite the same thing from game to game. I love the amount of control you can wield over the other players through strategic calling of Ra and well placed bids (Ra would be an excellent tutorial on the importance of position for poker players). You are definitely directly challenging your opponents, and yet because of the bidding mechanism, it doesn't feel as confrontational as it is (people feel as though they've screwed themselves when you manage to back them into a corner). The game is very quick for one with so much open information. Ra's surprisingly good with 2 players using the variant posted here.
THE SPARK: No other game I have played lets you force tough decisions on your opponents like this one. It is delicious
UPDATE Sept2012: Played this again after a long respite. The shine has not diminished one bit. 10!!!
I'd call WOTR a cross between Risk, the LotR Boardgame, and Star Wars: Queen's Gambit. Overall, it most closely resembles the last of those. QG is also an asymmetrical wargame where one side applies overwhelming force while the other attempts to stall long enough to complete their side quest. QG also limits your available actions each turn, but uses cards rather than dice. My wife and I really enjoy QG, but WotR is a richer, more rewarding experience.
The game is all about playing well to maximize your odds of winning the race through Mordor. The fact that you can play very well yet still lose due to bad Mordor tile draws is a plus for me, not a detriment. After all, if the endgame is determined before the end, why bother playing it through at all? However, skillful play definitely dramatically increases your odds of ultimately winning. Sometimes as the FP especially I feel like the Hunt in Mordor was tragically unfair, but upon retrospection I realize that I should have spent longer healing before plunging into Mordor. The luxury to do that, is of course provided by doing well on the military front. I really love the interaction of the military and the hunt for the ring components of the game.
I still find this game to be a new challenge each time, as the players must shape their strategies around the cards they have available, and I've not yet come close to exhausting the interesting combinations that can arise.
Plus, my wife loves the game.
I think I would be willing to pay for a fully painted set of miniatures on this one!
A few drawbacks - the die rolling here is generally exciting and fair overall. However, as with any game with dice, a string of outlier rolls can tip the game. Also, I did not find this to be playable out of the box - I had to take quite a bit of time to color the bases of the figures. The map is also a bit hard to manage sometimes, and the cardboard counter to replace the figures don't work really well. This might be inevitable, however, as I suppose the map couldn't be much bigger, and I wouldn't want smaller miniatures (or would I? Actually smaller miniatures that came in distinct colors for each nation would have been fine with me!)
Overall, my wife and I always look forward to playing this and will center weekend afternoons around it. We have managed to play games of this in under 2 hours, but in general you should allow 3-4.
UPDATE May 2011: I toyed with giving this game a 10 for a while, but in the end can't do it for two reasons. 1) It is too fiddly - I still need to hit the rulebook and FAQ every game. 2) It is either has too much of the game outcome dependent on luck, or it needs to be shorter. Don't get me wrong, thing is an great epic game, but isn't perfect. The Collector's Edition is truly beautiful as well (although I could have done without the huge, fragile wooden box).
UPDATE UPDATE (5 whole days later): Screw it, WotR is a 10. This is one of those rare games that gives me a visceral excitement n my gut just at the thought of playing it. The game may not be perfect, but love ain't always easy.