Aug 2014: I've watched some playthrough videos, and this game looks really neat. I like the pacing of the pre-combat questing interleaved with a very interesting tactical battle system. The systems of Doomrock appear to be much more interesting than Pathfinder Card Game, and I'm hopeful that this game will have longevity for me where Pathfinder did not. This looks like a great solo game as well. I think this game deserves more attention than it is getting!
The $60 price tag feels at least $20 too high, but what the heck. If it's a as good as I hope, it will be worth it.
UPDATE Jan 2014: This is a damn fine game with a very original take on the card-driven fantasy genre. I love the combat tactical system, and it marries perfectly with the interesting but not overwrought adventuring phase. Important decisions face you at every turn. They could have called this game "A Million Ways to Die at Doomrock" but I really love the challenge the game presents. Yes, there is luck, but every time I've lost I've felt that I made critical errors that led to my downfall. You are not going to stride through to a win your first time through. You'll need to learn how to fight each enemy, and need to adapt every game as you bring in a different set of skills and abilities. It's a wonderful, flexible, challenging system, and I'm still enjoying it more with each play.
My initial hesitation at the price has evaporated. We, as gamers, should be willing to pay for good design as much as nice bits.
This is a great solo game, and also good for a group that knows how to closely cooperate. If you have alpha gamer problems, you should be steering away from co-ops anyway (and how empty does someone's life need to be that they feel the need to step on the fun of others to dominate a boardgame?)
UPDATE Jan 2015 (6 plays in) This game is just getting more fun. The encounters continue to be a great challenge, but I am also learning that the order in which you do things and the choices you make during questing phase are critical. Do you risk venturing forth with low HP? Do you focus or items or abilities? Do you take a less useful ability just for the stat to enable use of an epic item? Can you get a peek at the upcoming encounter and tune your adventuring around that?
I've raised my rating to a 9, and I see 10 as a possibility. This game is just a fantastic surprise. Tom Vasel, marnaudo, I love your videos, but I think you are misleading people away from this great game! Doomrock is a real challenge, but it feels so good when you when. The game has me totally geeking out, doing fist pumps whenever I am able to take an enemy down. Give this game a shot, people!
UPDATE Sep 2015 This game has become the standard by which I judge all new dungeon crawlers, and it leaves most of them wanting. Pathfinder, forget it. Mistfall? Too fiddly, somber, and dry in comparison. King's Armory? Well, I'm just not satisfied rolling dice to-hit at enemies any more. Doomrock's use of dice and abilities is just so much more interesting. Gloomhaven? Before Doomrock I might have jumped on it, but now I hesitate (although I do applaud its option for full-color standees rather than gray minis).
I consider this to be a medium weight game, but it still plays pretty easily and I don't find it dry at all. My wife also likes this game, I think largely because the bargain-hunter in her likes to set things up so she can build for free. Placing markers on built buildings really aids play.
This game has a lot of things wrong with it. It's random, you don't have much control, there's player elimination, it's unbalanced... But man, it is FUN. This is one of my favorite games for 5-7 players. It would be a decent even without the hidden roles, but having the "werewolf" element takes the game to a higher level.
This is an enoyable game that I should play more than I do. I like the poker-like nature of the formations. I enjoy it both with and without the tactics cards, but find it more exciting with the latter (be sure to remember the rule that you may only play 1 more Tactics card than your opponent has played!). BL is rather similar to Lost Cities in that you often face the prospect of chosing where you'll have to screw yourself. This one is more confrontational than LC though. UPDATE 5/2006 - after playing this regularly with my wife, I'm bumping my rating up to a 9! The tactics and depth are really starting to come through for us as we get better at the game. It often comes down to someone winning by a single turn. We are now very stingy with the use of tactics cards, as we don't want to let each other play them.
SPARKS: This game makes me feel like I have something clever to do every move. You have just enough information to consider: perfect information about the next turn, and some probabilities for the next. Very tactical in increments, but still requiring an overall strategic discipline.
This is a current lunchtime favorite. I find it incredibly dynamic for such a structured game. There are no bad cards, only bad timing. This game reminds me of Lost Cities in two regards: 1) it fundamentally involves assessing your ability to complete a series of numbers, and investing in that series accordingly, and 2) women routinely destroy me at it. I think that with a "nicer" theme, this game might be up there with Lost Cities as an extremely female-friendly game. But as for me, I still like the monsters.
This game looks like a wargame, and acts like a wargame, but the strategy is really in the bidding phase. As such, it was a much different game the second time we played than the first. The first was more about positioning and maneuvers. We laughed at that 10+ spot on the bidding track - who would bid that much? The second game was all about saving up the gold to grab the crucial god and/or creatures at just the right time to strike the deathblow, and we had bids around 20 gold. The tension was delicious.
This game is very good, and is one that will really shine with repeated play.
This is a great solo game. It is cinematic, your decisions matter but crazy stuff can happen, and it is capital F Fun. The heroes feel like distinct individuals and add so much wonderful flavor to every game. I take DotZ on every business trip that I can fit it (and I will neither confirm or deny that I've ever skipped part of a conference to play it).
I do have a couple minor complaints that have started to wear on me as I play more:
1) I'm not crazy about the foraging mechanism. Parking a guy on a resource cache and using an action every turn to roll a die in the hopes of maybe getting one supply or ammo is not terribly interesting. I much prefer the mission-based methods of getting supplies, and wish there were more of them, enough so that foraging would need be only a last resort.
2)I wish there were fewer special rules for the superzombies. Some of them, like the ones that get stronger when you flip them, or the just plain super strong ones, are no problem because everything you need is on the chit. Others, like the leapers, are a headache to deal with (especially because the name "leapers" doesn't really help you - why can they "leap" over catacombs in underground caves?). True, I can always just play without these guys, but I like the concept of superzombies pouring out of the catacombs. I just wish their implementation was more streamlined.
The rulebook is a challenge to get through the first time, but it is wonderful as a reference. I plowed through it, but if I had followed the recommended tutorial procedure I likely would have had an easier time. Once you get going, the rulebook is *great* because fiddly little rules are repeated in many places, so you are likely to find them no matter where you look. I can't overstate how much I appreciate this type of rulebook design. Give me a separate quick start book, but make the main rules good for in-play referencing! That being said, the game could really use a master cheat-sheet like the one promised for the Director's Cut expansion.
If you have played Dice Town and enjoy it, you really should get this expansion. It makes a very good game great.
The secondary prizes are nice all around, both because they give you a choice of actions and they minimize the times you get frozen out entirely.
On the other hand, the secondary rewards make it very hard to get to Dr. Badluck when you want him, so fortunately that is now an action you may chose at the general store. Even with just the base game it is hard to get to Badluck with lower numbers of players, so I think this was a needed fix.
The outlaws let you preset some of your roll, and add some nice strategy, and trying to capture them for rewards is just fun. I like the way they are all worth an odd amount of $ - this makes that odd dollar in your hand worth something in VP!
The gold cards give you a nice option when you limp into the gold mine with a single 9, and the alternate bank action helps keep a player from getting stuck with no money.
Overall, the expansion adds a lot of options and strategy and fits very nicely into the existing framework of the game. It is nice that these options where kept as a separate expansion, as I think the whole package would overwhelm many casual gamers.
This game captures the feel of the video game very well. There may be some balance issues, but the system is very ameable to house rules, so I see this as easily fixed. I actually enjoy the challenge of the initial scenarios - you just have to make sure the marine players understand they they are not supposed to succeed the first time through - they need to figure out the tricks! The single roll combat system is very well implemented. I think that DOOM and Descent have diferent priorities - DOOM is a much more intense experience, while Descent is more of an adventure.
UPDATE: July 2013. I purchased and played Descent 2nd Ed. I fully expected that it would replace DOOM for me. But you know what? I still think DOOM is the best iteration of the system. It gets you to the cool parts, namely tactics, upgrades, and dice chucking, with much less fuss. The DOOM levels are just the right length for a play session, whereas the shorty D2 levels involve a good amount of setup for a small amount of game. I did not find the "leveling up" of D2 to be all that engaging either - it just meant everyone can dish out and take more damage. Bigger numbers doesn't feel a whole lot like progression. For me, the variable upgrades in DOOM vs. the different monsters (+ expansion) give a better feeling of variety with less hassle. DOOM forever!
Duell is nearly perfect in its simplicity. The game has startling depth for such a simple set of rules and components. Successful play requires hand management, memory, tactics, and a healthy dose of bluffing. It manages to invoke the flow of an actual fencing match as well. The special round cards take the game to a new level, as each changes the rules only slightly, but each also requires you to rethink your strategy. The parts in the new edition are just the right production value: nice wood bits, attractive board, small box. Duell is easy to teach, a lot of fun to play, and is surprisingly satisfying.
UPDATE August 2013. This game is still amazing! I am very glad to have this edition, as I very much enjoy the "Olympiad" nature of the special cards.
Another great Cthulhu game from Fantasy Flight that lands somewhere between Mansions of Madness and Arkham Horror both in feel and in epicness. My favorite feature is the way the mysteries and research cards are different for each Ancient One, giving the whole game a slightly different flavor for each AO.
HOWEVER, all this talk about EH "replacing" Arkham Horror is poppycock. Poppycock, hooey and malarkey I say! EH is a tighter design than AH, but this also means the game is more constrained and presents fewer possibilities. It is not really all that less fiddly than AH either. Having to check every game component for reckoning effects makes the Mythos phase almost as much of a hassle as AH. The influence roll to get items can be just as frustrating as trying to get money to buy items in AH, maybe more so because you can't accumulate successes. Now you need to track damage on the monsters. I miss taking the multi-turn journeys through the other worlds. I also feel like EH splits your attention between tasks more than AH. You can't just focus on the gates, monsters, and occasional rumors like in AH. Now you have to deal with the mysteries as well. And getting across the board can take forevers. You can't just boost your speed and run for it like in AH.
I think that a lot of the flight to EH from AH comes from people who have overexpanded their AH and lost sanity points as a result. If you eat yourself sick at the buffet, that's not the buffet's fault, people!
I can see EH being a good option for those who are new to this genre. EH feels about like AH + the revised Dark Pharoah in complexity.
That being said, EH is a great game that reworks the AH premise into a more compact but also less epic format while incorporating some of the features from MoM. EH, AH, and MoM will all coexist happily on my shelf, and I am very picky about which games get to live on my shelf.
UPDATE Nov 2014: I've been really enjoying playing this solo. I can run 3 characters without trouble, but I'm finding the game very difficult I win this way. While clues are plentiful, "# investigators/2 (rounded up) = 2, which makes the mysteries tough. I'll try 2 characters next and see if I fare any better.
So much to do, but such limited actions. It seems that you need to come up with your overall strategy fairly quickly, but fully implementing it is likely to be tricky. You have to balance a lot of things while simultaneously focusing on a few. I can definitely feel the similarities to both Traders of Genoa and Jambo, but this game is in a class above those two (excellent) games.
This is the most exquisitely engineered game I have encountered. From the precisely measured game sequence for each player count down to the helpful tips on the backs of the cards, this game was clearly underwent exhaustive development and tuning.
I think I like Le Havre a little more than Agricola, largely because the game gives me more of a feeling of opportunity than desperation. However, this game is surely at its heart a grinding exercise in optimization, and the fundamental soullessness at its core will likely keep me from ever loving it. However, I can still enjoy it quite a bit.
My favorite feature is the way that the special buildings give each game its own set of scoring potentials, so that you need to be agile in your strategy.
Hollywood Blockbuster Uberplay edition: When I took out the counter sheets, I was surprised at how thin they were. They would be fine for a $20 small box game, but this is a $40 big box edition. Boo to Uberplay for cheaping out on the counters!
As for the gameplay, this game may replace Medici as my #2 auction game (with #1 being Ra). I love the dynamics of the economy - there seems to be just the right amount of money in the game. In this game, it is somewhat easier to evaluate the value of lots than is typical in Knizia auction games, and I enjoy that as a change of pace. I also like that you can look ahead to some degree.
UPDATE: OK, all that stuff about Hollywood Blockbuster being better than Medici was crazy talk, but HB is still very very good and much better themed.
I am really enjoying this game. Maybe the best of the Kosmos 2-player line? The card interactions are very well balanced, and the tactical play is exciting. Very well written rules.
UPDATE: I still like the game quite a bit, but my tolerance for luck seems to be diminishing slightly, and the cards you draw really play a big role in your success. You can mitigate this by various means, but they all have a cost, so getting lucky definitely helps.
UPDATE UPDATE: Despite what I said above, I'm starting to believe you largely make your own luck in this game. If you pick a strategy that doesn't match the cards you're getting, you're in trouble. If you're flexible and willing to spend some actions drawing cards, then you can usually stay in contention no matter what you get.
This game is a great way to get that Arkham fix in less time with much less rules burden. I love that really only the Keeper needs to have a firm grasp of the rules. The other players only have to deal with choosing from a few options, so the game can get underway very quickly, assuming that the setup has already been done. The scenario-based gameplay is a nice complement to the random experience of the full Arkham Horror game (or Betrayal at House on the Hill) and I will be lucky if I play it enough to get bored with the included scenarios.
Great game - one of my favorite Knizia auction games, second only to Ra. Medici has the advantage of being easier to explain than Ra. However, Medici feels somewhat lucky with only 3 players, making Ra especially preferred with that number. Medici is overall an excellent game, but the Rio Grande edition is U-G-L-Y and it's hard to correlate the goods pyramids with the cards.
UPDATE on the new Rio Grande 2006 edition: Thank goodness. Finally, a version of Medici that doesn't make me want to gouge my eyes out. I also like the change to tiles instead of cards. If only the little sacks actually fit on the pyramid steps, I would finally be satisfied with the production.
Fantasy Flight has set a fine example of how to do a reissue of a classic game. They give you not only a reprint of the original, but also an updated version of the game. The games are different enough that it is getting two games for the price of one.
The Classic version is a freewheeling family game.
The Standard version is much more challenging, longer game.
I think is important to realize that the two games are very different experiences meant for different kinds of game groups and are not just variants of each other. It is great that FFG game us two games for the price of one!
Well, none of us loved this game, but I think I liked it the most in my group. I think the game suffers somewhat from being rather procedural with substantial interruptions for mini-games, similar to Battlestar Galactica (another Corey Konieczka design). I think the combat in MEQ is substantially more interesting than the crisis resolution in BSG from a mechanistic viewpoint. However, it all adds up to feel like a bit of a slog.
I think I would be happy to play this game again, but I don't think I need to own it. As usually happens to me these days, it is the presence of another game in my collection that makes the decision easier. In this case, the other game is Fury of Dracula. That game has a similar feel in that one player is stringing trouble around a map to slow down a team of heroes. However, I think that FoD may be a cleaner design and adds the very enjoyable tension of the hide-and-seek, rather than depending on the plodding of the story markers down the track.
UPDATE: This game continues to be on my mind since my last play, and maybe I am not as done with it as I thought. I want to try it again! I think 2 player might be the best way to play it, as it lets both sides do their turns faster. That might help with the plodding and processional feel.
UPDATE UPDATE: Played it again 2 player, and I think I like it best that way - the snappy turns help alleviate the slogginess. This is a decent design, but it still leaves me vaguely unsatisfied. It is easy to make a single mistake or receive a defeat before the halfway point that pretty much decides the game. The last turn is often pointless. I think I could really like this game concept if it could somehow be tightened up and fit into 60-90 minutes. I can see how some might really like this game, but it is not a long-term keeper for me.
UPDATE 3: Dammit, I'm thinking about playing this game again already. Although I believe everything I said above, there is also something compelling about this game, I guess this one is a keeper for now after all.
UPDATE 4: Okay already, I do like it. Man, I've gone through a big arc on this one in a short time. Most of my concerns have gone away now that I have a better idea of what this game is and how you need to approach it. It is actually quite brilliant and very fun. I am glad I stuck with it! Now, my biggest problem with it is that I would love to see an expansion.
I now own the Olympus Omega Edition, after previously owning the Second Edition. The OE, especially with the Spirit and Hero cards definitely has a different feel, but it is one I enjoy. The OE has a slightly more exciting pace. The players will circle around each other for a while, then someone will make a vicious strike that suddenly achieves several feats and/or takes a couple cities and ends the game. This could also happen in 2nd Edition, but combos are even more potent in the OE due the the very powerful Spirit and Hero cards.
I also like the single-copy-of-each-card deck because it adds another layer of strategy. I know that if I have a card, my opponent doesn't and I also need to think about denial tactics for cards I don't want to fall into their hands.
Because the Spirits and Heroes are so strong, and due to the overall slimmer deck, I think the OE is at its best using one of the drafting variants. This is probably the sharpest evolution of the Omen design, requiring the most skill and providing the most intense battle of the wits. I'm not totally in love with either of the drafting options in the rulebook, but I have yet to find something better. The OE still plays fine if you just shuffle up and deal, but there will be more luck involved.
And the art....just amazing. The OE shows off the art better than ever before and really makes the old format look pretty shabby in comparison. I'd love to see this game done on tarot-sized cards just to get that art bigger. Favorite card art: Lady of Grace (gimme a poster!)
For me, this is 90% of the fun of Battlestar Galactica in 10% of the time. I'll take that deal!
My favorite thing about the new edition is that some of the cards are replaced with tokens. The original edition had too many types of cards floating around! I do miss the original's very small box, but the larger boards are nice to have.
UPDATE Jan 2013: I think this game is the pinnacle of the "traitor" genre. It cuts out all the crap and just delivers the fun in a tight little package.
The second edition vastly improved the game balance and progression. Now gold is in short supply and you need to be sure you are strong enough not only to win challenges but to take minimal damage doing so. Talisman will always have a place in my heart, but this is now my favorite RPG-type boardgame. I particularly like the 4 different encounter decks that allow you to take on greater challenges as you level up your character. This is my favorite epic dungeon crawl type game.
I initially passed this one over because I assumed it was probably just another crappy game trying to cash in on a movie license. The positive reviews made me take another look, and I'm glad I did. This is a very good, tense, but light wargame that essentially uses a Battle-Cry type system to conduct 3 battles at once. It sounds overwhelming, but really it works very well as the card draws limit your choices each turn. My wife loves this game! I'm especially impressed that the two sides are so well balanced even through they have completely different units and goals. The game progression may be somewhat too dependent on the randomness of the Anakin track, though.
This looks very cool, but I am leary of the costs to really get into it. Looks like if I bought 1 Y-wing and 1 Advanced TIE pack, the sides would still be equal. That still won't get me up to 100 point squad though! It would be really nice to have 2 of each ship type, with 2x that for standard TIE Fighters.
Ideal package: 2 Starter packs, 1 X-Wing, 2 Y-Wings, 1 TIE fighter, 2 TIE Advanced (=$110 CSI!)
If this were an $80 box with all the ships I'd ever need, I'd be more into it. Paying $10-15 per expansion ship is hard to swallow! At least the way it is, I can just buy the Starter pack and make sure I like it.
UPDATE: Ah, I know I'll love it. Big squad pre-ordered. Money can't buy me love, but it can buy Star Wars toys.
Lot of stuff going on here, even or a heavy Knizia. Played once, and I'd like to try it again. My game was with 5 players, and I wonder if it would be better with 4 - making connections seemed to be underpowered vs. goods.
UPDATE March 2014 After a couple years of playing "modern" Euros, returning to Taj Mahal helps me appreciate it for the masterpiece it is. This game takes you on a roller coaster where you feel alternatively powerful and near helpless, and riding out those waves is the key to success. The design is razor sharp, but also allows for creativity and brutal player interaction. Unlike a lot of the current crop of Eurogames, there is no rubber banding here. Players will likely not all finish within a few points of each other. If you mess up, you overextend, you miscalculate, you will be punished for it, and I miss that in my Eurogames! This should all rights be in the top 50.
The game feels remarkably open in that there are so many ways to approach it. Yet, you are guided by the need to bolster your lowest colors, so you have a good sense of purpose. This game just somehow feels transcendent to me. No other strategy board game I've played encourages creative play to this degree.
I resisted buying this for some, but I was a dummy. I think this game may be the pinnacle of the worker placement genre for me. It has many things I enjoy and nothing I don't:
* Variable starting resources that you can select based on initial board setup * Variable in-game goals (even more so when you add in the expansion) * Trade-off between cashing in now and waiting. * Quick turns * Game lasts long enough to bring plans to fruition, or even weather a mistake to tow (but not too long!) * Useful technology advancement * Area majority competition on the temples * Both specialization and diversification appear to be viable strategies if you remain focused on your objectives * Lots of things to do, lots of ways to do them, but only a few things give points * The gears eliminate a lot of error-prone manipulation of pieces * The expansion makes the game even more dynamic in very interesting ways * Corn
My rating takes the excellent expansion into account. Tribes & Prophecies injects a host of dynamic elements into the game, a rare accomplishment for games in this genre. I'd have to shave off a point or two without the expansion.
I am tempted to give this game + expansion a 10, but I can't yet bring myself to do so with a cube-trading game, no matter how excellent. However, I will easily call this game best-in-class (although Carson City might give it a run for its money after I've played that game some more).
This expansion does just what a good expansion should do: adds more variety and choices. I am especially impressed with the prophecies. They make it harder to do a certain action, and then reward (or punish) you based on how well you manage to do that action anyway.
The Quick Action tiles variant for two players tightens up the game nicely by putting more dummy workers on the board. Now blocking becomes more possible, and Start Player all the more valuable.
My hope for this game was that it would be a pleasant but still competitive experience, and I can say that Viticulture completely meets this expectation. At first, the gameplay seems a bit breezy, with the player-determined pace and the latitude offered by the grande worker. However, as you gain experience you realize that underneath it all, this is actually a fairly tight engine building game that rewards the player that can squeeze out one more point or avoid one wasted worker placement. I really like it!
The Tuscany expansions add a bit more complexity and a lot more variety. Many midweight worker placement games lack for both of these, so it is very nice to have these options. So far I have played with all the "Tier 1" additions, and I am especially looking forward to playing with the extended board and new structures.
On the topic of the "swingy" visitor cards, I actually consider this to be a good feature of the game. If all visitor cards are always good, then there is little risk in taking them, and thus there's not much a of a decision to be made. I like there is a bit of risk you will draw a dud, and I think this gives extra value to the spaces that let you draw more of these cards to increase your chances of getting something good.
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. Also, -0.5 points because you pretty much have to paint the figures some how to tell the armies apart. Couldn't they have molded in different color plastics?
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. Still minus half a point for making me paint all the minis just to play, though (Collector's Edition gets the full 10!)
Some of the base game expansion elements are great, while one or two are just OK. Overall, they make the game much less scripted and I will always use the expansion unless teaching someone new!
The great ones: Gladriel: In the base game, killing off Gandalf at the first opportunity is practically a non-choice. With Gladriel, you have some more options.
New Witch King: I like having this alternate Witch King that you can bring into play to harass the Fellowship without activating everybody, I do wish there was some way to switch him over to the fighty Witch King later in the game, though. This would also follow the books' narrative nicely.
Ents: It is nice to have these as figures on the board, as it adds a lot of interest to the action around the Fangorn/Orthanic region.
Dunlendings: These give Sauron something to do rather than just bang on Rohan for a while then get creamed by the Ents.
The good ones: Siege Towers: Give a little more options around siege combat, and a place to spend musters that might otherwise be wasted.
OK: Smeagol: Not really sure what he adds to gameplay. It is nice for the fellowship to have that extra harmless tile in the bag (kinda balanced by the new Witch King). I think his main purpose is to mix up the Fellowship and prevent the FP player from following the same companion strategy every time. His guide ability is strong, and if the SP can't kill him, will likely save the FP a turn on their trek to Mt. Doom (but if the SP does kill him, get a nice reward - the card that lets them redo a tile draw).
Corsairs: Move too slowly to be of much use. I wish there was a card or two that would shoot them up the coast so that you could use them to dump a bunch of Southrons in the Shire. UPDATE: I have to upgrade my opinion of the Corsairs after my last game. I planted one in Umbar and one in Dol Amoroth, and they were very helpful in helping me quickly shuttle Southron reinforcements into Gondor. They are a bit of an investment to get into place, but once established they are nice to have. Still wish they moved faster or there was a card like Ciridain's ships that would teleport them along the coast.
The stand-alone battle games are decent. They are a nice, more tactical version of the WotR combat system. However, for that type of tactical game there are others I prefer. I would rate the battle games a 7 (could possibly go to 8 with more plays).
This game sits in a very comfortable sweet spot between lightweight and heavier strategic games. Every time I play, I'm impressed by how differently the game can evolve and the number of viable strategies.