Moshe Callen
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μῆνιν ἄειδε θεὰ Πηληϊάδεω Ἀχιλῆος/ οὐλομένην, ἣ μυρί᾽ Ἀχαιοῖς ἄλγε᾽ ἔθηκε,/...
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This is the third is a series of reviews treating the Risk-series of games in a manner similarly to the way I've treated traditional game families. The first treated the classic game and the second Castle Risk.
1. Introduction

First, a general explanation of this series of reviews: I own almost all the games in the Risk series and have been a fan for years; my first Geeklist is proof of this. Those few I don't own so far don't appeal to me for my own reasons. Usually, I tend to review traditional abstract games, especially game families, and what most fascinates me is the way relatively subtle variations can shade in from one game to another and yet the games are markedly different. What the Risk series of games all share is the central mechanism of how combat is conducted and resolved. Yet the games are extremely different. These are not Risk variants any more than Chess is a variant of Go but the games are definitely related.

Risk: The Lord of the Rings Trilogy Edition combines Risk: The Lord of the Rings and its expansion Risk: The Lord of the Rings Expansion Set (incl. Siege of Minas Tirith game) in a single box. I'll explain shortly why I think this a good thing. For the moment I wish to set the background for my acquaintance with the works of Tolkien and how I ended up buying this game. In my family, the novel The Lord of the Rings--and yes, it's a single novel published originally in three separately titled volumes-- is a book we've all read and re-read many times over, usually after first reading The Hobbit. I happen also to be fond of Tolkien's other works, especially Farmer Giles of Ham, but I generally am less fond of those Christopher Tolkien published in his father's name after the latter death. Moreover, since I took a degree in philology myself, I can appreciate Tolkien as a scholar and how that influenced his work, but I still remember and can connect with the way I enjoyed reading the books for the first time the summer I was ten.

When the movies on which this game is primarily based came out, I therefore went and saw them although i don't normally watch movies. I was more horrified with the movies' treatment of the story with each successive move and would go so far as calling them a travesty. The director changed major elements of plot for no good reason, made Merry and Pippin into blithering idiots rather than naive young hobbits and the orcs in the films are certainly not creatures whose ancestors were elves twisted by the first Dark Lord. The only good things I've aware of that came out of these movies are single volume editions of the novel and this game.

At the time the previous game came out, I hesitated to buy it. Money was tight and I at first thought this was just Risk played on a different board--not something worth a purchase in my mind. Yet even that tempted me. Then it disappeared from shelves and I figured I'd missed my chance. That was when this game appeared. At the time, I did not realize it was actually a similar but different game and I'm now happy I did hesitate at first. When this one came out I did not hesitate in the least but read the blurb on the back of the box which quickly made me realize this was much more than Risk re-themed.

This brings me to the seemingly odd title of this review. What got my attention so that I decided I had to buy this game lies in the substantially different nature of the strategy of the game. When played the way the game seems designed to be played-- as Good vs. Evil-- this game centers about the fellowship-- appropriately represented by a ring-- as it moves along the path to Mordor and the ring's destruction. Good just has to get the ring to Mount Doom to win, but Evil has to either take over all of Middle-Earth or capture the ring. The larger board makes conquering all of Middle-Earth in time nigh to impossible so that in practice Evil must capture the ring. This makes the territory wherever the ring happens to be the focus of the game for both sides. As that territory changes so does the game's focus. The ring is like the player with the ball rushing toward the goal in a football game. His team-mates try to surround him in such a manner so that he can reach the goal while being blocked from the interference of players on the other team. This is a classic running block played by Good while Evil has to stop get to the ring at all costs and to keep doing so until probabilities take over and Evil captures the ring. So, it's well-themed and the theme is central to the game but more importantly the nature of the game is very interesting in and of itself.

2. Components

The board can be seen below to the left

contrasted to the previous version's board to the right; The map is more distorted to fit the board than is the case in War of the Ring but the board is smaller than in the latter. (Apart from theme, the two games bear no resemblance though-- nor are they meant to.) A close-up of units and the ring can be seen here.
Good army pieces come in yellow and green, Evil army pieces in red and black. The shields act as leaders and notably my set came with a spare leader in each color. Even the dice are nicely black for the attacker, red for the defender, although some sets have the opposite coloring of dice.

Finally, the game has two sets of cards- territory cards

and adventure cards.

The game even has excellent storage.


3. Rules sketch

The rules booklet is written in such a manner as to not just suggest but say outright that the game canbe played in any of three ways. One can simply play classic Risk on a Middle-Earth board. One can play for points every player for himself. Lastly, one can play the game as teams of two, Good vs. Evil. The problem with playing classic Risk on this board is that supposedly one ignores bridges and mountain ranks when one does so, but if one does then boundaries are not clear. Otherwise it works fine and I have once or twice played this way (just to do it) but I find I have to accept mountains as barriers and bridges as the only links across rivers to do so. Playing for points can be problematic because not only does one get into issues of players having unequal numbers of turns potentially but also in my opinion players will not have equal opportunity to get points. For example, the player who starts with the majority control of Mordor among the Evil players will have a much easier time getting points than the other Evil player will. Where the game shines is played in teams with team victory or defeat: Good vs. Evil.

The ring representing the fellowship starts in the Shire. At the end of each player's turn, the ring advances one territory along a path marked on the board from the Shire to Mount Doom. Some territories show a die meaning that one must roll a certain number or higher to move the ring along and some of the adventure cards allow one to either delay or move along the ring. Fundamentally the ring acts as a timer to the game. The game will last no longer than the ring takes to move along its pre-appointed path from beginning to end. Good wins only when the ring is destroyed, although in principle if Good conquered all Middle-Earth this would happen automatically. Evil wins either by capturing the ring or in principle by conquering all Middle-Earth. In the original version of this game [as opposed to the trilogy version] the board was smaller. Admittedly, the ring travelled slightly less far as well but in that version conquering the entire board in time was much more likely. I have never seen a game won that way for this edition, although once or twice it came close. What this means is that to win Evil has to capture the ring.

The way the ring is captured is as follows. On an Evil player's turn, at the end of his turn, if Evil controls the territory where the ring is, the player rolls a pair of dice to see if the ring is captured. One must roll as 12 on apair of six-sided dice to capture the ring in principle, but having control of the territory's entire region and/or having a leader in the territory where the ring is will each add one to the number rolled. So, if Evil controls the entire region and has a leader where the ring is, a roll of 10m 11 or 12 will win the game. Therefore what Evil has to do is to keep taking the territories where the ring is and where it will be in order to let statistics take over; given enough rolls, Evil will eventually capture the ring. So, Good has to follow the ring along its path and keep taking the areas where the ring is and where it's going to be. If Evil can't roll to try and capture the ring, Evil can't win. So, Good has the task of protecting a moving target that is headed into the home territory of Evil.

Combat is basically conducted by the characteristic mechanism of Risk games; players roll dice and compare high and next-high rolls. Army placement is largely like classic Risk but areas marked as strongholds on the board get an extra army each turn (as well as modifying defense rolls) and sets of territory cards do not change in value as the game progresses. One get also gain armies or do other things in the game like modify die rolls or delay or advance the ring by playing adventure cards. These are obtained when one conquers a territory marked as a site of power using a leader. Leaders are the shield-like pieces which move like armies but do not count as armies; they act as die modifiers. Die modification is basic in that each element just adds one to one's high die roll.

4. Final comments on game-play

One of the things that I like about this game's design is that the optimal strategy for Evil really is to concentrate on conquering Gondor, Rohan and the Brown Lands areas-- albeit not to the total exclusion of areas to the north. These represent the areas from Moria onward in the path of the ring and enough territories are involved that if Evil controls these regions sheer probabilities will make Evil win. This fits very much in the nature of the Lord of the Rings. It's a case where the theme fits well.

Good has to counter this strategy by defending Gondor, Rohan and the Brown Lands especially-- and by attacking Mordor. Yet fittingly victory is only obtained by destruction of the ring, not by conquest. So, although theme by itself is no reason to buy a game, I can appreciate the way this game's theme complements it as a game.

As a game, this one s fascinating because one has to attack or defend a moving target-- and to keep doing so until one achieves victory. Godo just has to hold on and survive without letting the ring be captured, but that is much more easily said than done.
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Mark Johnson
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“Brothers, oh brothers, my days here are done, the Dornishman’s taken my life, But what does it matter, for all men must die, and I’ve tasted the Dornishman’s wife!”
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This was my favorite version of Risk. This is especially so, because I use the black Nazgul rider miniatures in place of the Nazgul miniatures included War of the Ring, since they don't have as much of a tendency to fall over. laugh

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Even though I swore I'd never play Risk again I was coaxed into a game of this one evening and I had a terrific time. I agree with pretty much all you say about why it's worth owning... which is why I got a copy the day after I first played it.

As I pare my game collection down to managable size this particular game is never even considered for sale or trade. It's a keeper.
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Derek Anderson
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Ennis
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There is nothing better than playing board games with my 4 sons!
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I agree... I have recently been streamlining my gaming collection and just can't bring myself to get rid of any copies of Risk!

D.
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David F
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I've never actually tried the Team variant, since it didn't sound balanced to me. Is it?

I've just played free-for-all with the new rules, and found it satisfying enough.

I wish the pieces in War of the Ring were differentiated by color; Risk: LotR does such a great job with this.
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Richard Young
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I too put myself in the company of those who swore they would never play classic Risk ever again. And that is still true; but firstly, I saw Risk:2210 and was extremely impressed to find they fixed just about everything that I disliked about the classic version. Gone were the wrist wracking dice-fests that characterized the end-game where increasingly enormous armies attacked each other in a seemilngly endless battle of attrition - two pieces at a time; and, pretty much gone was the "last man standing" approach to play.

Next, I discovered Lord of the Rings Risk and I have to tell you I never would never have given it a look were it not for Risk:2210. I was similarly impressed by the thematic remake that has been ably described in this review. I have no hesitation in recommending either game as a highly entertaining alternative "gateway" that classic Risk was for many of us.

(On the other hand, I cannot say the same for Risk: Godstorm - which I have termed a "Risk too far")
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Moshe Callen
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ἄνδρα μοι ἔννεπε, μοῦσα, πολύτροπον, ὃς μάλα πολλὰ/ πλάγχθη, ἐπεὶ Τροίης ἱερὸν πτολίεθρον ἔπερσεν./...
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μῆνιν ἄειδε θεὰ Πηληϊάδεω Ἀχιλῆος/ οὐλομένην, ἣ μυρί᾽ Ἀχαιοῖς ἄλγε᾽ ἔθηκε,/...
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selwyth wrote:
I've never actually tried the Team variant, since it didn't sound balanced to me. Is it?

I've just played free-for-all with the new rules, and found it satisfying enough.

I wish the pieces in War of the Ring were differentiated by color; Risk: LotR does such a great job with this.
In my experience team play is the most balanced way to play this. The two sides have directly opposite goals and alternate play. The balance is ideal.
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Ian McCarthy
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I agree that this game is a very interesting variant of Risk, mostly for the reasons that you have outlined so well in your review. But, I have owned both versions and I prefer the original version over the Trilogy edition.

The original version has a shorter ring track that helps to keep this game to an acceptable time frame. Also, the trilogy edition has that bottom section of the board that is basically a big Australia for the Evil player(s). It may make sense thematically, but in essence it robs the game of quite a bit of balance and interest.

Still, both editions are good games. If you own the original edition, I believe you can still get the expansion parts directly from Hasbro for a reasonable price. Personally, I wish they would have released the expansion set with the Minas Tirith board and the cool different minis here in the States. At least then I could hope to find it in a thrift store someday.

Also, if you need extra rings or are missing the ring from this game, they're 5 bucks each from the parts section of Hasbro's website.
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Feb 2013 update
the new standard LOR risk is now identical to the 'trilogy edition' with Mordor etc now on the map. £28 amazon and Co.
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Derek H
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willsargent wrote:
Feb 2013 update
the new standard LOR risk is now identical to the 'trilogy edition' with Mordor etc now on the map. £28 amazon and Co.
What exactly is "standard" LOR Risk? Which game is that here on BGG? How can be exactly the same as this one?
 
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Steven Strayer
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What exactly is "standard" LOTR Risk? Which game is that here on BGG? How can be exactly the same as this one?
There were two versions of LotR Risk that were released... in 2002 LotR Risk: Conquest of Middle Earth was released, which basically covered the first two books (Fellowship of the Ring and The Two Towers), but did not cover the third book Return of the King... the map of this version does NOT include the lands of Gondor, Mordor or the Harad... many consider this version both inferior and a money-grab by Hasbro, though some seem to like it because it is seen by some as the "more balanced" version because it lacks Mordor and the Harad which do act like an evil version of Australia (from classic Risk).

The BGG listing for this version is at: https://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/4324/risk-lord-rings

The second version of LotR Risk was released in 2003 and is known as LotR Risk: The Trilogy Edition... this version is the one listed in this review, and it is seen by most as the "complete" version of LotR Risk as it covers all three books, including Return of the King and includes the full map of Middle Earth, including Gondor, Mordor and the Harad. The Trilogy Edition includes EVERYTHING that was in the 2002 version, plus more (mostly the enlarged map, but also some more defined rules).

The BGG listing for the trilogy edtion is at: https://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/8107/risk-lord-rings-tri...

Hope that clarifies your question (if a few years too late).
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Reinhard S.
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whac3 wrote:




The ring representing the fellowship starts in the Shire.
...


The way the ring is captured is as follows. On an Evil player's turn, at the end of his turn, if Evil controls the territory where the ring is, the player rolls a pair of dice to see if the ring is captured. One must roll as 12 on apair of six-sided dice to capture the ring in principle, but having control of the territory's entire region and/or having a leader in the territory where the ring is will each add one to the number rolled.
So, if Evil controls the entire region and has a leader where the ring is, a roll of 10m 11 or 12 will win the game.

...

The underlined Phrase is important, but not quite clear here.

The "Evil Controls Region +1 Bonus" does only apply, if ONE EVIL PLAYER (the one rolling the dice) controls the Region, the same concerning an EVIL LEADER in the Ring psace.

Perhaps it would be more fitting the theme, if a Region controlled partly by EVIL RED and partly by EVIL BLACK would generate that +1 Bonus too. But perhaps this "sole possesion" was included in the rule on purpose to Show, that the EVIL Gusy sometimes may hinder each other, while strifing for sole control of a Region...

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Reinhard S.
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Eeeville wrote:
This was my favorite version of Risk. This is especially so, because I use the black Nazgul rider miniatures in place of the Nazgul miniatures included War of the Ring, since they don't have as much of a tendency to fall over. laugh

Unfortunately the black riders are a bit TOO small imo for use with War of th Ring

Reinhard
 
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Reinhard Sabel wrote:
Eeeville wrote:
This was my favorite version of Risk. This is especially so, because I use the black Nazgul rider miniatures in place of the Nazgul miniatures included War of the Ring, since they don't have as much of a tendency to fall over. laugh

Unfortunately the black riders are a bit TOO small imo for use with War of th Ring

Reinhard
The reprint War of the Ring (Second Edition) fixed the toppling problem...
 
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Moshe Callen
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ἄνδρα μοι ἔννεπε, μοῦσα, πολύτροπον, ὃς μάλα πολλὰ/ πλάγχθη, ἐπεὶ Τροίης ἱερὸν πτολίεθρον ἔπερσεν./...
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μῆνιν ἄειδε θεὰ Πηληϊάδεω Ἀχιλῆος/ οὐλομένην, ἣ μυρί᾽ Ἀχαιοῖς ἄλγε᾽ ἔθηκε,/...
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Reinhard Sabel wrote:
whac3 wrote:




The ring representing the fellowship starts in the Shire.
...


The way the ring is captured is as follows. On an Evil player's turn, at the end of his turn, if Evil controls the territory where the ring is, the player rolls a pair of dice to see if the ring is captured. One must roll as 12 on apair of six-sided dice to capture the ring in principle, but having control of the territory's entire region and/or having a leader in the territory where the ring is will each add one to the number rolled.
So, if Evil controls the entire region and has a leader where the ring is, a roll of 10m 11 or 12 will win the game.

...

The underlined Phrase is important, but not quite clear here.

The "Evil Controls Region +1 Bonus" does only apply, if ONE EVIL PLAYER (the one rolling the dice) controls the Region, the same concerning an EVIL LEADER in the Ring psace.

Perhaps it would be more fitting the theme, if a Region controlled partly by EVIL RED and partly by EVIL BLACK would generate that +1 Bonus too. But perhaps this "sole possesion" was included in the rule on purpose to Show, that the EVIL Gusy sometimes may hinder each other, while strifing for sole control of a Region...

If I left out the part about sole possession in my review, that is an oversight. It thematically fits as the forces of Sauron and of Saruman were not entirely allies.
 
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