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Subject: A Critical Review of a Game I Love rss

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Jeffrey Smith
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Bel Air
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As the title says, I really enjoy this game. I've played just about ten games so far including several solo plays (playing both sides) and the flow of the game has been different each time. Like its big brother, War of the Ring, this game tells a great story. Every time I finish playing both games there is this sense of "wow, that was something special" and I always look forward to playing again.

But enough of the gushing. I promised a critical review, so let me get to it.

COMPONENTS:
I don't really have much to say here that is critical. The minis are great (although having been spoiled by my WotR Collector's Edition I think I am going to have to paint them.) Still there are a few nits to pick.

The cards are back to the small size used in the first edition of WotR. Everything is pretty easy to read, but having gotten used to the Tarot sized cards this feels like a bit of a skimp. The Character Cards on the other hand are a very nice size.

The cardboard counters are very nice quality, but I am definitely not a fan of the triangles. The damage tokens, Beorn's wrath tokens, Biblo's Ring tokens, and Bolg's body guard tokens are all triangular. At first this looks very cool, but in practice the shape is a pain in terms of handling and stacking. This is especially an issue with the damage tokens as these end up strewn about the board as the armies engage with one another.

The map is beautiful but again I'm spoiled by the larger size of the WotR map. However, since armies are limited to 5 units per region the only time things get cluttered is when the various counters start accumulating.

Still, all in all the components are very nice and the game looks great on the table.

RULES:
The rules are written very clearly and apart from a few confusions regarding the Goblin Mustering Areas and the Mountain Passes (which have been answered in the Rules Forum), I was able to find answers to my questions quickly in the first few games.

I will say that even though I am quite familiar with the rules of WotR, there is quite a bit of new stuff going on in this game and I was surprised by a steeper learning curve than I expected. But most everything was pretty clear by the end of my second game. So other than a warning that this game is not, in my opinion, lighter than WotR, I have nothing bad to say about the rules.

GAMEPLAY:
The box says that playing time is 60+ minutes. Ummm, I would add a couple more plus signs to that. I suppose if the Free People player plays very poorly or has extremely bad luck the game could end in an hour or even less, but we have never managed to break the two hour mark, and many games have been coming in at around 2.5 hours. Meanwhile, WotR advertises a playing time of 3 hours, and that is pretty close to the time most of our games run, with maybe 3.5 hours being the longest. I definitely do not mind playing Bo5A for 2.5 hours, I enjoy every minute of it, but if you are really looking for a game that hits the 60-90 minute mark I'm not sure this is it.

The mechanics of the game all come together beautifully and present each player with tough decisions each turn. One complaint I have seen some make about WotR is that there is too much luck, or at least too much randomness. I certainly understand why some may feel this way. After all, you have randomly drawn cards, randomly drawn corruption tiles, randomly determined actions you may take each turn, and lots of dice rolling for combat. To be clear, I have no problem with this aspect of WotR. However, if you didn't like the randomness of that game, I think you will REALLY hate the randomness of Bo5A.

A very important part of this game is the Fate Track. In my experience so far the Fate Tiles play perhaps the biggest role in determining who will win, or at least who will have an easier road to victory. As the Shadow Player I have won about four games, and as the Free People I have lost about 2 games where the Fate Tiles drawn were almost all 1's & 2's. The game I just finished this evening (playing solo) I drew four 1's, two 2's, and only one 3, plus I was able to play the card "Ill Chance" which moves the Fate Track backward one space! The game ending up being very exciting at the end, but I know that if the Eagles had shown up one turn earlier the Free People would have won. So again, if you are the type of gamer who would be frustrated by the fact that despite your brilliant tactics you lost the game because of what tiles were randomly drawn out of a bag, this may not be the game for you.

The last area of criticism is that this game often feels a bit fiddly, and by that I mean fiddling around with all the bits and moving pieces. Combat in WotR always seemed very clean and fast paced. Even battles that would go on for several rounds could be played out pretty quickly. Both sides roll their dice, maybe play a combat card, units are removed on hits (generally a 5 or 6), then rinse and repeat until one side wins the battle. In Bo5A combat is much more detailed, as it should be for a game on this scale. But the increased detail comes with an increase in fiddliness.

At the beginning of a battle you check for terrain superiority which gives one player an extra card. The each player creates a combat deck consisting of all of their current event cards plus the maneuver cards for the units involved in the combat. Each round of combat both players play a card from this combat deck, then roll the appropriate number of dice based on combat strength. However, you often roll both black and white dice based on which maneuver card you play. As with WotR you generally inflict damage on your opponent with a roll of 5 or 6 (not always), but instead of simply removing a figure for each hit, you now place damage tokens, those fiddly triangular damage tokens. At the end of each round if the number of damage tokens exceeds the number of units, then units must be eliminated, typically at a ratio of one unit per two tokens. What this means is that there are often as many as 5-8 damage tokens sitting next to your army at the end of a combat round; tokens that don't stack very easily. On top of that there may be several leader tokens and maybe even a shadow control token in the space. Things can get messy in a hurry. Ah, and I almost forgot that if you are fighting for a fortification area, there may also be a pile of damage tokens that specifically show that the fortification has been "broken." Oh, and there may also be unit muster tokens in the space as well. So as I said, things can get pretty fiddly, especially when you add in the characters, and the bats, and the eagles.

So with all of this whining and complaining why do I love this game? Because it is FUN! Can luck play a big factor in determining the outcome? Yep. Does the game take more than twice as long to play as indicated on the box? Yep. Can all the pieces needed to track everything get a little cluttered and fiddly? Absolutely. And if those things really bother you then maybe this isn't the right game for you.

On the other hand, the game play is incredibly immersive. The theme really shines through whatever clutter and hassle there may be. As for randomness, the most important mechanic of the game is called a Fate Track! For crying out loud, of course luck is important! It is tied directly to the theme of the game. And it works beautifully.

So in the end, despite the criticisms, I really like this game. The only thing I may end up doing is getting some red and blue mini poker chips to use as replacements the damage tokens. That way they will stack easily and it will be much harder to accidently confuse which tokens go with which army. I'll still use the originals to mark fortification damage.

I've rated my WotR:CE a perfect 10. It is truly the "precious" of my game collections not only because it is so special, but because it is my all time favorite game. How does Bo5A compare? It's pretty close. I think right now I'd rate it as a solid 9. I do wish the combat was somehow a little cleaner, and I would love to be able to get the playing time down to the 90 minute mark. But every game I've played so far has been a great experience and I feel confident this will be a favorite of mine for long time.
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Christopher Hill
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Nice review, Jeff!

I like the idea of the damage tokens, but you are right, they are not a good shape for stacking. We use a die to mark the damage on the fortifications. When it reaches the limit we remove the die to show the fort is broken.
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Jeffrey Smith
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Bel Air
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kinga1965 wrote:
Nice review, Jeff!

I like the idea of the damage tokens, but you are right, they are not a good shape for stacking. We use a die to mark the damage on the fortifications. When it reaches the limit we remove the die to show the fort is broken.
Dice! Why didn't I think of that? I've been using dice as army strength tokens for a game I've been developing.



Red and blue 10mm dice would work well for the army damage, and maybe black or grey dice for fortification damage. Great idea, thank you!
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Raf B
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jbbnbsmith wrote:
The only thing I may end up doing is getting some red and blue mini poker chips to use as replacements the damage tokens. That way they will stack easily and it will be much harder to accidently confuse which tokens go with which army. I'll still use the originals to mark fortification damage.

I use US pennies to mark damage to Shadow armies (the newer pennies even have shields on one side) and dimes to mark damage to Free Peoples armies. There is something nice about using metal bits, and it helps differentiate them from leadership and recruitment tokens.

I'm trying out using the triangles to mark fortification STRENGTH, removing them as they are destroyed.* It's a little counter-intuitive, but something about the gray triangles suggests barricades of stone...

[*Edit: I lifted this from an idea that came up in the playtest. Had it been implemented with the existing counter mix it would have generated significant confusion to use the same tokens to signify damage to troops and also the integrity of fortifications.]
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Jeffrey Smith
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Rafamir wrote:


I'm trying out using the triangles to mark fortification STRENGTH, removing them as they are destroyed. It's a little counter-intuitive, but something about the gray triangles suggests barricades of stone...
I really like that idea as well. To me it does seem more intuitive to remove something as a fortification loses its strength. I like using the triangles for the fortifications since the space is triangular. This is how I will do it.
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Tim Royal
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jbbnbsmith wrote:
Rafamir wrote:


I'm trying out using the triangles to mark fortification STRENGTH, removing them as they are destroyed. It's a little counter-intuitive, but something about the gray triangles suggests barricades of stone...
I really like that idea as well. To me it does seem more intuitive to remove something as a fortification loses its strength. I like using the triangles for the fortifications since the space is triangular. This is how I will do it.


Yes, good idea.

I can't agree more with the reviewer than I already do. It is, in fact, a solid, non-dislodgeable 10.
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Doug Adams
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Good read! Mine is broken out and set up ready to go.

I've already replaced the damage counters with cubes. The dice for fortifications are a great idea.
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