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Subject: A Fighting Chance >> WotR Review rss

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Jay Little
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War of the Ring >> A Fighting Chance

After taking some flak from some fellow BGGers and my face-to-face gaming buddies on having panned War of the Ring after only two aborted playings, I agreed to play a complete game with an experienced player, hoping that having someone teaching the rules as we go, rather than struggling to teach the rules myself (as a newbie, to another newbie) would help things considerably.

My previous two attempts bogged down after only 1 or 2 turns, as the dense rules, poor examples and exception-riddled conditions scared off potential opponents. So Michael Silbey (armadi) and I squared off for a game of War of the Ring, completing setup as Michael finished going over some last minute rules. I had read the rules several times and had myriad player aids and references, but felt that there was always something missing so it was worth the refresher.

However, after the game (detailed in a separate session report) I am convinced that War of the Ring is a game I will never enjoy. It may have a rich theme by virtue of the event cards, but the sheer number of special exceptions, nested conditional requirements for certain actions and the various streams of luck kept me from ever feeling that I was playing the game -- it felt more that the game was playing me, and I was merely a spectator.

Complexity/Conditional Requirements: What do I mean by nested conditional requirements? Let's take a look at a specific event card -- the Last Battle. To play the card, you need to fulfill these requirements: "Play only if ARAGORN or GANDALF THE WHITE is with a Free Peoples Army in South or North Ithilien, Dagorlad or a Region in Mordor"

So this means you need to already have this card in hand and that you need to have already "upgraded" Strider to Aragorn or Gandalf the Grey to Gandalf the White and gotten them into the right location on previous turns by virtue of the right dice and have the right dice on hand to activate the event now. And then you need to be comfortable enough with the entire game balance and structure to be able to evaluate the relative worth of this card compared to using the die you're going to activate the card with for some other function.

Gut Feelings: The overall feelings during each of my games were frustration, detachment and boredom. The rules are overly complex and riddled with special exceptions and unusual conditions that make full comprehension of the game an arduous task. On the first play, it felt impossible for me to compare the relative worth of actions -- instead of actions feeling equally important, none of my actions seemed that important, and it was incredibly difficult to know what I should be doing and where I should focus my efforts.

For maximum enjoyment of War of the Ring, I feel that players need to devote 4-5 playings to get a real feel for the rules, gameplay elements and event cards. At roughly 3 hours per game (setup included), I can't imagine the 10-15 hour investment being worth while -- not when there are so many cleaner, more elegant games of conflict on the same scale competing for my game time.

Omniscience: I still stand by an earlier assertion that War of the Ring requires players to possess a degree omniscience. To be competitive in such a game, a player needs to know every card, tile, nuance or aspect of the game even before the very first playing. Not knowing the value or function of each element can severely hamper one's ability to play competitively. Note, this is different from merely knowing the rules -- understanding the rules is crucial. But the values, impact and effects of mechanics and game elements governed by those rules is a different facet to game comprehension. In War of the Ring, this is especially true for the Event cards, which vary wildly in value and function.

Luck: Luck/randomness plays a significant factor in War of the Ring. While it can certainly be overcome with strong strategy and decision making (by experienced players), I think it's inaccurate and misleading to state that War of the Ring has very little luck to it.

I felt that my turns were incredibly limited by numerous points of luck -- the roll of the action dice, the roll of the combat dice, which hunt tiles were drawn, which event cards I drew, and then the cascading luck effects from the various event card actions. Or that any real planning was far too easily undermined by good cards (and good card play) by my opponent. I can't count how many times I thought I had a good plan or made a good decision, only to have it literally countered or undone by a single action by my opponent.

Previous Rating: 6.5
Revised Rating: 3.5

The Final Verdict: A mish mosh of fairly good (production quality) and very bad (everything else). Very strong theme, excellent looking components (which don't fit on the board, by the way, and make identifying borders and regions nigh impossible). But the complex, arduous gameplay greatly detracts from the experience.

I haven't felt so uninvolved, bored and disinterested in my role in a game since playing Tenjo or Risk: Godstorm. Decisions are not very compelling, the exception-riddled rules are confounding, and the gameplay bogs down into a herky-jerky pace that really squeezes any enjoyment out of this. I never need (or want) to suffer through this again.

That said, for gamers with fewer gaming alternatives competing for limited playtime, and willing to invest a good deal of time into the game to familiarize themselves with all the nuances, I can see how this game could have some long term appeal. But with so many far more balanced, streamlined, cleanly written and strategically compelling war-themed games competing for my time, I can't imagine ever gettng a return on my investment on War of the Ring.

By comparison, here are several war-themed games I feel are easier to learn/teach, feel comfortable with the decisions for and have a lower barrier to entry than War of the Ring: Game of Thrones, Wallenstein, Twilight Imperium, Hammer of the Scots, History of the World, Thunder's Edge, Axis & Allies: D-Day, Hannibal: Rome versus Carthage.
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Jay Moore
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Awesome! I love it that Michael taught it to you, and your rating went DOWN. HA! I have to wonder if there's a bit of self-fulfilling prophecy here....

I'm subscribing to this thread so I can watch the inevitable swarm of WoTR lovers come flocking to its aid. Like the Riders of Rohan coming to the defense of Minas Tirith in its darkest hour, so too will War of the Rings players come galloping in to attempt to save Gandalf et al. (But only if they happen to have the right card in hand, of course.)

Nice review, Ynnen, and I'm always glad to see a negative review pop of a game that's almost universally popular. The opposition must always be heard.
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Jay Little
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Michael is an excellent opponent, something that may not have been clear in my session report or review. And hopefully he can attest that I really gave the game a fair shake, despite my frustrations. Michael did a great job explaining the options available, and answered questions that came up regarding the timing of events or the relative value of different courses of action.

But I think that was also part of the problem. Having to field/funnel all these questions was frustrating. I'm a pretty savvy gamer with a wide gaming background and a fairly broad experience base to draw from, and War of the Ring completely confounded me with exceptions. I found myself completely unable to compare the relative values of actions. And I can't imagine how that would feel for novices who don't have an experienced player to refer to.

And perhaps the greatest source of frustration, echoed in our game but also in many conversations with fellow BGGers who have far more War of the Ring games played under their belt, has to do with game elements that seem completely unrelated to the game itself.

I'm most flabbergasted by the fact that a good 1/3 of the map seems irrelevant -- why have Dwarf units, period? Why have 10 regions in the upper left hand portion of the map with 1 or 2 units sprinkled around them? If a typical game lasts 10 rounds, with an average of 5 dice per round thrown, is it worth spending a good 1/4 to 1/5 of your total actions for the entire game activating those nationalities and maneuvering/combining troops so they can actually be brought to bear in the "meat" of the map? If that's not a viable/valuable use of actions, why even have it in the game?

The little inconsistencies and quirks like that are what really frustrated me, especially in light of the frequent and vocal arguments arguments that the game is elegant, streamlined and balanced. Having cards, units and positions in the game that have no appreciable impact, or are clearly less valuable than other options throughout the course of gameplay seems counter to elegance, streamlinedness and balance.

I'll concede that the enjoyment of WotR will improve with experience by the players involved, and with their willingness to "lose themselves" into the virtual story that the event cards and actions purport to unfold. But all that was lost behind clutter and confusion, for me. And certainly not worth the cost ($$ and time) required to reach that point.
 
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Matthew M
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ynnen wrote:

Complexity/Conditional Requirements: What do I mean by nested conditional requirements? Let's take a look at a specific event card -- the Last Battle. To play the card, you need to fulfill these requirements: "Play only if ARAGORN or GANDALF THE WHITE is with a Free Peoples Army in South or North Ithilien, Dagorlad or a Region in Mordor"

So this means you need to already have this card in hand and that you need to have already "upgraded" Strider to Aragorn or Gandalf the Grey to Gandalf the White and gotten them into the right location on previous turns by virtue of the right dice and have the right dice on hand to activate the event now. And then you need to be comfortable enough with the entire game balance and structure to be able to evaluate the relative worth of this card compared to using the die you're going to activate the card with for some other function.


Well thought out review with well qualified conclusions. But allow me to pick nits here

This is probably the card with the most pre-requisites that must be met before it can be played. And in the case of this card, at least, it is very much because the card is just that powerful when played. I had first-hand experience of this in my last game and its effects were devastating.

That's it Good to know what you like and what you don't. I commend you for giving it a second chance.

-MMM
 
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Jay Little
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Touche, Octavian... The Last Battle does indeed seem to be the most demanding card in terms of conditional requirements. But it's still a good example of how some of the events and game components can be rather intimidating to new players. And also how experienced players have a sizable advantage over newbies -- further slanting the enjoyment curve away from me.

If Player A, a seasoned player, understands the importance of The Final Battle, and is aware of the conditions required, he can start out the game already gearing up to a card he knows he may come across later, while a neophyte has no such advance knowledge, and must flounder about trying to make sense out of the huge range of event conditions, effects and values.

That sort of situation would be one of the main things I think goes into the "barrier to entry" or "comprehension threshold" concepts I refer to in reviews or session reports. The game asks a lot from first time players, and if that first time playing is especially frustrating or disappointing, the barrier may prove too high to warrant subsequent playings and fully appreciate any nuance or depth that might exist.

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Matthew M
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ynnen wrote:

If Player A, a seasoned player, understands the importance of The Final Battle, and is aware of the conditions required, he can start out the game already gearing up to a card he knows he may come across later, while a neophyte has no such advance knowledge, and must flounder about trying to make sense out of the huge range of event conditions, effects and values.


Though true, isn't it also true that in games that aren't outright luck the experienced player should have an advantage over a first time player? Now certainly WotR isn't as elegant as, say, Go is at creating this depth, but it still doesn't make it any more of a flaw IMO. An experienced player will trounce a newbie in WotR, and that is just.

Further, it isn't many games before players of WotR learn that it's generally a good thing to get Strider promoted to Aragorn, so the game actively encourages players to do half the work towards meeting the requirments of that card already.

-MMM
 
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Jay Little
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I guess my point is that a veteran benefits from having knowledge of both optimum short- and long-term events and concepts, by virtue of experience/memory and not necessarily creativity or superior strategy.

On the other hand, while playing other games which benefit experienced players, I still felt that a good grasp of core strategies and concepts could help me maximize a current action/turn without jeopardizing my long term goals. I don't feel that way whatsoever with War of the Ring. Perhaps it's not an easy concept to convey, but that's the best I can do right now..!
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Ken B.
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MUKid wrote:

I'm subscribing to this thread so I can watch the inevitable swarm of WoTR lovers come flocking to its aid. Like the Riders of Rohan coming to the defense of Minas Tirith in its darkest hour, so too will War of the Rings players come galloping in to attempt to save Gandalf et al. (But only if they happen to have the right card in hand, of course.)

Nice review, Ynnen, and I'm always glad to see a negative review pop of a game that's almost universally popular. The opposition must always be heard.




Well...considering many, many people have stated they aren't particularly fond of WotR, I think the opposition is already well heard.



I'm sorry you didn't like it, Jason. But everyone is entitled to their opinion. I understand some of your criticisms, but some of the things you view as negatives I see as positives.


And it's not like fans of War of the Ring coming to its defense is particularly unique to WotR. Go hit up the Puerto Rico, Euphrat and Tigris, heck ANY game's forums and post a negative opinion or review. You'll see how quickly you get swarmed with people refuting your review or insulting you.


(I did a review for Battlecards that was negative, and I quickly received a PM indicating why I was wrong...I didn't even know that game had any fans).



The good news is that there are plenty of board games for everyone to try and enjoy....and it's pointless for fans of board games to fight over "which one is the best!??"


It's cool that you even gave it another shot, though sounds like the people who were egging you on to do it maybe wish they'd kept their mouths shut. laugh
 
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Jay Moore
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franklincobb wrote:

The good news is that there are plenty of board games for everyone to try and enjoy....and it's pointless for fans of board games to fight over "which one is the best!??"


Nonsense! If I didn't have BGG to keep me occupied arguing about which games are best, what would I do at work all day?

I mean, of course it's pointless. Yet it's entertaining nonetheless. Sort of like The Runaway Bride.
 
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Rusty McFisticuffs
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franklincobb wrote:
but some of the things you view as negatives I see as positives.


As a person who wants to like this game, this was the most interesting point to me; which were they? Also, does his estimate of "4-5 playings for maximum enjoyment" seem right to you?
 
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Michael Tagge
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ynnen, Some people like some games and dislike others and that is just the way that it is. Based on some of your great geeklists you have a wide selection of good games that you like. It has been said before on BGG, but I still disagree that War of the Ring plays you instead of you playing it. Much of that feeling can come from the competitiveness of your opponent. It is the exact same way with competitive chess for example, at high levels the first fifteen moves are going with set plays by previous masters. A more relaxed, friendly game will let you experiment. My last game I had a choice to push the fellowship three time the first turn (for example the game playing me) but instead I ran Strider to become king and incited the dwarves to way with the book of Marzubel evenually taking Mordor with a dwarven host (led by Gimli) all the while talking about retaking their homes, Gandalf the grey never died and I had a ring victory a turn before a shadow military victory would have occured.

Also the restrictive event cards generally have battle actions that are the opposite of the requirements, like Wizards Staff only applies if Gandalf is the the fellowship; it's battle effect only applies if Gandalf is in battle.

Sorry you didn't like it, but there are too many great games out there to be playing one you don't like.
 
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Jay Moore
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kuhrusty wrote:
As a person who wants to like this game, this was the most interesting point to me; which were they? Also, does his estimate of "4-5 playings for maximum enjoyment" seem right to you?


Hi, Rusty. Even though you didn't address this question to me, I'd like to chime in. I am a liker of the game, and I have enjoyed the several times I've played since the beginning. I think that Jason illuminated one important point (among others) which is that it's really best if you play with players of equal skill. The problem with knowing what some of the cards do and what might be coming up later is a real one, if one person knows the game well and the other person does not. If you're both newbies to the game, then this isn't really such an issue.
 
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Ken B.
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kuhrusty wrote:
franklincobb wrote:
but some of the things you view as negatives I see as positives.


As a person who wants to like this game, this was the most interesting point to me; which were they? Also, does his estimate of "4-5 playings for maximum enjoyment" seem right to you?



Well, we enjoyed it from the very first game, but we were both new, so we were learning it together. I had spent two weeks prior to that first game memorizing and studying the rules. I also printed out all of the important Geek aids. We were primed and ready to play, but I did have a gut feeling the game might bomb.


However, we couldn't believe how much the game had to offer, and how it played out like a novel or movie. Plus all of the things you could do...yes, it was overwhelming, but there were so many options! Keep Gandalf as the guide? Send companions to the winds to activate all the nations of Middle-Earth? And which way should the Fellowship go to reach Mordor? How should each precious dice be spent? When would be a good time to use this awesome battle card? Where was my opponent threatening me? How could I anticipate and best deal with those threats?


I'll go into some of his negatives in more detail:


Complexity/Conditional Requirements:


I enjoy the complexity. Too many games spend all of their energy on making complex battle systems and the rest of the game is very thin. In WotR, there is so much going on you will be grateful the combat system is so much simpler. Yes, the game is complex, and there is much to learn, but learning the system and the game is its own reward.

The Conditional requirements force choice. Most cards have two uses. Should you use the less powerful but easier to play text, or should you strive to meet the requirements and get a very powerful effect? Those with the most restricting play text are also some of the most powerful.



Gut Feelings: Well, Jason was bored, but I had gut feelings of trepidation on my next move, how my next few turns were going to play out, how I could best use the dice I was dealt for the turn, when I should use the Elven Rings, if I was splitting off companions too soon (or too early), if I should actually try and attack a Shadow stronghold that looked ridiculously weak or continue to brace myself for an inevitable assault, how I could use Gandalf to shadow the Witch-King as best as possible, how on earth I was going to get Aragorn out of a siege I ended up stranding him in (and Gandalf arrived with an army just in time--that was freakin' amazing!)

I love LOTR, and I felt like I was writing the novel myself with the help of my opponent, as he tried to cover Middle-Earth in darkness. And the path to Mordor never felt more dangerous and alien as the game mechanics shifted, and it got VERY dangerous for the Fellowship. Not that they'd had a cakewalk before with armies and Nazgul hounding their path, and when they'd had to suffer a few successful hunts...


Omniscience: I feel that you should be rewarded for having played the game and knowing what to watch out for. How is this any different than a Puerto Rico pro knowing how to script out those first few turns? In WotR, you don't have to have knowledge of EVERY event, just a few key ones. And truthfully the only one that is disastrous not to know is the Ents cards which can kill an unsuspecting Saruman. Before I ever played a game with another new player, I would show them these cards so they were aware of them.


Luck: I prefer my games to have luck in them. Otherwise it gets static and boring. It forces you to deal in the best possible way with what fate has dealt you this turn. These rolls, these cards, these tiles...they make sure that every game plays differently. You can't just blindly run the Fellowship, because the dice might betray you. How do you react when you get a wrench in your plans?

Plus, this is very much true to the game itself. The Fellowship needs to progress but there is no opportunity--the path is too dangerous at the moment. (Lack of Character dice). Aragorn could call on the power of the Elves to help clear the way, but use of this Magic attracts the attention of Sauron (as the Sauron player uses his newfound Elven ring to convert a die into an Eye for the Hunt). As his eye sweeps the land looking for his ring, Frodo nearly places the ring on in a fit of temptation before Merry and Pippin create a diversion. "Go! Run!" they yell, and Frodo and company depart, wondering if they will ever see their friends again...




Plus, the length of play...you just don't get games this involved and with this level of complexity that play inside of 3-4 hours. Most 'bigger' games take much, much longer than this! To a euro, sure, this game seems long, but compared to most Grognardish games....this one is very manageable and easy to work into the gaming schedule.


I am biased, but I wasn't until I tried it. For a LOTR fan who enjoys games a little on the complex side, it's as if this product were designed with me in mind.

I understand that this won't be the case for everyone, though, so you'll never catch me insulting anyone over their opinion, which is just as valid as my own.
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Mike Silbey
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It is now twice that ynnen's ratings have fallen for a well-respected game after playing with me (the other game was Hannibal).

For the record, I like WotR but feel it could use more interesting decisions. Hopefully the expansion will fix that.

Ynnen definitely gave the game a fair shake.

 
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Jack Wraith
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franklincobb wrote:
The Conditional requirements force choice. Most cards have two uses. Should you use the less powerful but easier to play text, or should you strive to meet the requirements and get a very powerful effect? Those with the most restricting play text are also some of the most powerful.


This is key, and one of the reasons that I like WotR and The Hellgame: every card has two uses, one major, one minor. It's a constant weighing of options, wanting to reserve certain cards until you meet the conditions but knowing that you'll need the combat ability to have a chance in that next fight, that makes card play really interesting in those two games. Also, even if you can't ever meet the major conditions of cards like The Last Battle, you can still get combat use out of them, most of the time.

I can't count the number of times we've been playing The Hellgame and I've been holding a special card in my hand that will do something hideous to an opponent, but suddenly I NEED to pass down a few slots to make said card go off at the right time... but I can't use the same card twice! Some people find that kind of decision/conflict frustrating. I find that it defines 'replayability' in many ways.
 
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Pierce Ostrander III
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Quote:
Also, does his estimate of "4-5 playings for maximum enjoyment" seem right to you?


Not for me... I loved the game after the first play, enjoyed it through the 3rd and 4th and then as it's shortcomings became more apparent my rating took a nose-dive. My issues with the game are entirely different than Jasons and can be read alongside my rating on the game page and on other posts.



 
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Sean McCarthy
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Finally, a good negative review of this game! Yes, War of the Ring has a big learning curve.

I also experienced the multitude of unevaluable options in my first games, but I did not mind as much as you. I think that WotR is not so much a calculational game, but a game that you play (primarily) by feel, and in the first few games, just trying to do reasonable strategies that kind of follow the books worked out well for me.

As for the experienced opponent thing... let's just say I've lost two times to first- and second-time players, who had never even heard of the game until I verbally explained the rules to them. Maybe I'm just a great teacher.
 
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Dave J McWeasely
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Quote:
Omniscience: I still stand by an earlier assertion that War of the Ring requires players to possess a degree omniscience. To be competitive in such a game, a player needs to know every card, tile, nuance or aspect of the game even before the very first playing. Not knowing the value or function of each element can severely hamper one's ability to play competitively. Note, this is different from merely knowing the rules -- understanding the rules is crucial. But the values, impact and effects of mechanics and game elements governed by those rules is a different facet to game comprehension. In War of the Ring, this is especially true for the Event cards, which vary wildly in value and function.

I'm not sure the event cards vary wildly in value in general. I am sure that there is an optimal order to draw them in.
I am sure that all good players have them memorized, but frankly, that's fine. Back when I played semi-competitive Magic the Gathering, it would be unthinkable to play the game seriously without having all 500 cards cards memorized - they were essentially an appendix to the rulebook. Same with WotR, only less so - only 160 cards or so.
 
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Jay Little
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MrWeasely wrote:
Back when I played semi-competitive Magic the Gathering, it would be unthinkable to play the game seriously without having all 500 cards cards memorized - they were essentially an appendix to the rulebook. Same with WotR, only less so - only 160 cards or so.


I think this also speaks to one of my problems with the game. Given the sheer amount of prep time I invested -- reading the rules several times, printing out several player aids, sifting through all the pieces... It reached a point where it was no longer a game or fun for me, but it became a chore.

While I usually enjoy breaking out a game, reading through the rules and sifting through cards, the lack of context for the value of these bits/actions/events, and the sheer number of exceptions and conditions quickly moved this beyond fun exploration and daydreaming to tedious homework.

 
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Andy Daglish
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I did not think this was a good negative review eg. I get conflicting signals from "I'm a pretty savvy gamer with a wide gaming background and a fairly broad experience base to draw from" and the recommendations of "a lower barrier to entry".

I agree with most of Jason's observations, because, as as another has stated, these are the same reasons why the game is good. Therefore the conclusions drawn from them may be being perverted by another influence.

"What do I mean by nested conditional requirements?"
Lets apply that one to Paths of Glory. The Bolshevik Revolution and American entry essentially never happen and have horribly complex "nested conditional requirements". So by the same token this game is no good either, but then everyone been playing it continuously for the last few years [admittedly with the set-up in the Players Guide].
When playing Hannibal very many times in the summer of 96, the infrequency of a successful play of the Sicilian Grain event was remarkable to me, but I wouldn't have thought this happenstance had any significance whatever regarding the quality of the design.

When you go for any job interview, all they want to know is can you do the job and are you willing to do the job. Ability to play WotR can't be at issue here [us being amazing bright chaps], but the game does seem to kick the crap out of "willingness". The Last Battle event is rarely played [House of Stewards perhaps rarer still], but when it is played it can return a winning SA situation to razor-edge balance, which is where the great majority of games end. This is a brilliant design outcome, and it is more brilliant still that the Last Battle event comprises such a small part of this. The film and book ended close too, but the makers could do as they pleased. The game does it almost every time despite two players who are certainly not trying to produce this result deliberately.

In short, if you see it through to the end, you probably have a 50% chance of winning. But if you leave before then, and I think this is the reality this review is expressing, then you have no chance.

PS: the north-west problem is solved by returning significance to Angmar's single VP by moving the SA city in Far Harad, whose lack of Tolkien-esque justification may be singular in this game, to South Rhun. As with Last Battle, this will rebalance 2% of games but will keep the Easterlings honest in all of them.

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Thomas Eager
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sauron As one of the aforementioned "flak-firers", I feel obligated to respond here. I'm glad you gave it another chance, Jason. I'll take this through using your own headings.

RULES COMPLEXITY: Overall, I just don't see it! Squad Leader and most "simulation" wargames (even minis games) are an entire order of magnitude BEYOND the difficulties of the WotR's rules. ASL, Star Fleet Battles and their ilk, THOSE are steep learning curves. The mechanics of WotR aren't NEARLY so fiddly. After just two plays, I felt I had a pretty good grasp on how to best to exploit the choices I was presented with.

CONDITIONAL REQUIREMENTS (I split these up because they are seperate issues, IMO): The fact that the Event cards have conditional requirements is undeniable. However, the designers ALSO give players an "out" i.e. players may use EITHER the Event effect OR the Combat Card effect. Taking your example of "The Last Battle", if you were in no position to utilize its Event effect, you then have two choices.
1) Use its Combat Card effect instead (in this case it's "Daylight" a NON-conditional effect, I might add--The SP rolls only three dice in the combat; considering that the FP will almost ALWAYS be outnumbered, this effect is pretty potent)! or
2) When your hand size max's out, you have an obvious discard. In my experience (10 plays now), I think you'll find that BOTH players will end up using the vast majority of Event cards as the Combat Effects, with only a few played as their Event effect. In some cases, this MAY be a result of its' "conditional requirement", but USUALLY it's more about wise hand-management.
In a two-player game, if one has more than four cards in one's hand, it behooves the player to find a way to utilize at least two (prior to drawing two more the following turn), since an Event discarded is simply wasted (sorry if I'm stating the obvious here) .

GUT FEELINGS: Of course I can't presume to judge what you were "feeling" during the game. The game IS challenging, but I LIKE that about it; admittedly I have a fondness for "brain-burners". The agony of choice is often a big attraction for me in games.
"Special exceptions" or "Contradictions" to the rules? Ummmm...there aren't any that I'm aware of, I'm guessing you are referring to the cards again here and your "conditional requirements".
Judging the "relative worth" of actions is, IMO, the MAIN challenge the game presents to players. The player that can best gauge how to exploit their Action Dice each turn will likely win the game. To me, this "feels" similar to the challenges posed by role-selection games like Citadels, Meuterer, and PR.

OMNISCIENCE: This is an opinion I do not share. I have ten plays now, and while I DO know several of the card-effects now, this is more a result of having been on the "receiving end" of said event than any conscious effort on my part to memorize the cards. There is simply no need--the card's effects (and conditions, if any) are clearly spelled out in the card's text.

LUCK: It IS present, no question. I can only re-state (again!) that there is a major difference between games which contain luck elements and games which are luck-DETERMINED. There's a fairly sizable luck element in Samurai too, Jason, a game you rate a perfect 10 (MY rating is right up there too). But even you state the luck elements can be overcome through superior play, and therein lies the difference between the two-types. I've won my last two
games of Pirate's Cove (a game I consider luck-determined), but HOW did I win? With the Consort card--this kind of "cheapened" the victory for me, frankly, and my rating dropped appropriately.

PRODUCTION: An absolutely GORGEOUS game, IMHO--the big beautiful board, the well-detailed minis, the LAVISH illustrations, Hell, even the Fellowship COUNTERS are pretty! I consider WotR one of the most beautiful games in my (fairly modest) collection.

I can only conclude by saying that I wish I had been present to "whisper advice" in your ear--very sorry you didn't enjoy it, but should we ever run across one another at a Con, you've got an open invitation to give it another go. I AM a Tolkien fan, but don't consider myself a true "Tolkien-fanatic" (I've never been able to slog all the way through "The Silmarillion" for example) but I've tried just about every Tolkien-themed game ever produced, and WotR is the unquestionably my favorite--THIS is the one I've been questing after all these years.
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I'd like to clarify a few things before we go further..

I greatly enjoy playing War of the Ring.

I don't hold it against people, if they do not enjoy playing WotR.

I believe a lot of the points in the initial review are the very reasons many people would enjoy a game.

However, I know those same points are often the very reasons that people may get turned-off this game.

Hence, although I think the first reviewer is sending mixed signals, I believe his points, for not liking the game, are justifiable.

Now since this thread is in the Reviews section, my responses to each quote will be made with the undecided viewer in mind.

And how each quote would likely be taken by the savvy viewer.

Just so no one would get side-tracked by the seemingly flamewar nature these topics occasionally turn into.





MUKid wrote:
Awesome! I love it that Michael taught it to you, and your rating went DOWN. HA! I have to wonder if there's a bit of self-fulfilling prophecy here....

As a viewer, this type of response always clues me in to the fact that although negative feedbacks are welcome, this negative one from this user should be taken with a grain of salt.

As the above gloating shows, the user clearly has personal interest in seeing a game 'fall' from its percieved high perch.

And often, I've seen such 'interests' cloud judgements.

It is thus natural to take such feedbacks with a grain of salt. But not to completely ignore it.

The user's feedback is still useful, but its bias is now out in the open for everyone to see. And to lump alongside the bias of positive feedbacks from a game's fans.

Quite different from the negative feedbacks of casual gamers who then move on away from something they don't enjoy.

They have no agenda. And I often feel I'm getting an honest perspective from them.





MUKid wrote:
I'm subscribing to this thread so I can watch the inevitable swarm of WoTR lovers come flocking to its aid.

Don't forget the popcorn.





MUKid wrote:
Nice review, Ynnen, and I'm always glad to see a negative review pop of a game that's almost universally popular.

That could almost be construed as a compliment.

You should ask yourself: why is this bad crappy game 'universally popular'?

Also, I don't consider a review 'nice' simply because its views agrees with me. I've seen negative reviews of WotR that I consider excellent.

I thought the first reviewer's points were sometimes contradictory.

Another user who think badly of WotR: Sailing Geek, at least posts consistent reasoning.

That, I do not find in the first review.





Octavian wrote:
ynnen wrote:
Let's take a look at a specific event card - the Last Battle.

This is probably the card with the most pre-requisites that must be met before it can be played.

My initial sense when the reviewer went specific about cards, was he just drew one out of the hat to show the average complexity he wished to convey.

Reading it a second time, showed that he never said he's taking one at random.

Just to clear it with casual viewers, the card 'picked' is one I have never used. It is rarely used due to the reviewer's point in the first place: its requirements.

However, every other card (including his pick: for battle effects) has proved most useful many times, since the requirements often aren't that steep at all.

As can be seen, the card 'picked' is far from a representative sampling of all the deck's 'nested conditional requirements'.

It was a hand-picked card chosen to exaggerate a point.

The reviewer was not wrong to do this. Just as I'm not in the wrong for setting the record straight.





ynnen wrote:
The Last Battle does indeed seem to be the most demanding card in terms of conditional requirements.

But it's still a good example of how some of the events and game components can be rather intimidating to new players.

You admit it is the most demanding card compared to all the rest in the deck. Yet you proceed to call it a good example.

In a good review, the critic would show a card as an example and the rest in the deck would turn out to be just as complex or even more so than the one shown.

I would not consider myself getting all the info when I am shown a very simple card and the rest on the deck turns out to be unanimously more complex than the simple one shown.

Which is what the critic is doing here.

The reviewer seem to be grasping for reasons to show that this game can be intimidating to new players. Due to the fact that fans themselves do not deny that it can be intimidating.

Let's make this easy: WotR is not your typical eurogame, it can be intimidating to new players.

There. Easy.

No need to show the most unrepresentative sample in the lot.

If the review was aimed at preventing casual lite gamers from touching WotR, then the italicized statement above should suffice.

But if it was aimed at convincing people, who are into heavier fare, from touching this game, then a card example would indeed be necessary.

But unfortunately, in this case, the sample is flawed.





ynnen wrote:
experienced players have a sizable advantage over newbies - further slanting the enjoyment curve away from me.

In light of how you consider yourself 'a pretty savvy gamer with a wide gaming background and a fairly broad experience base to draw from'.

I'm surprised you list this as a negative.

In all my experience, heavy gamers usually prefer the more skilled player to have an advantage. Not a guarantuee (boring), but an advantage (rewarding).

It is usually those not savvy enough about what constitutes good game design, who prefer heavy luck factors to even the playing field.

Which brings us to your next contradiction:

ynnen wrote:
Luck/randomness plays a significant factor in War of the Ring. While it can certainly be overcome with strong strategy and decision making (by experienced players)...

One moment you tell us that newbies have no chance against veterans because of the sizable advantage.

The next moment you tell us that veterans don't have enough advantage against newbies because of the significant luck factor.

Seems to me like you're getting exactly what many wargamers want.

Enough advantage to reward skill and experience, and enough randomness to make the outcome unpredictable and give newbies a fighting chance.

That you dislike the game: is valid.

That you dislike the game because of the contradicting reasons above, makes your judgement: suspect.





ynnen wrote:
The game asks a lot from first time players, and if that first time playing is especially frustrating or disappointing, the barrier may prove too high to warrant subsequent playings and fully appreciate any nuance or depth that might exist.

I fully agree with this.

And the way the manual was designed doesn't help either.





ynnen wrote:
the lack of context for the value of these bits/actions/events... ...moved this beyond fun exploration and daydreaming to tedious homework.

Context and value.

That, this game has plenty.

In fact, that's part of its appeal. There are many repercussions to choices that you take.

Weighing those repercussions against each other, gives you the value each choice will cost. And that, there, makes for some fun dilemmas.

The value is in the context. And the context is in the repercussions.

However, I hear what you're saying. There isn't a numerical value for everything. The costs are abstract.

And I know exactly how you feel about WotR. (though for another very popular Top 5 game)

Once you don't 'get it', there is nothing you can do. It's not your fault the game simply isn't to your taste.

I think you gave this game more than a good try. Simply because you wanted to like it.

In the end, it wasn't meant to be. So I got to hand you mad props for trying.





aforandy wrote:
I did not think this was a good negative review eg. I get conflicting signals...

Ditto.





aforandy wrote:
I agree with most of Jason's observations, because, as as another has stated, these are the same reasons why the game is good. Therefore the conclusions drawn from them may be being perverted by another influence.

Exactly.





aforandy wrote:
In short, if you see it through to the end, you probably have a 50% chance of winning. But if you leave before then, and I think this is the reality this review is expressing, then you have no chance.

I almost missed that, but very perceptive. Agreed.




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Armadi wrote:
It is now twice that ynnen's ratings have fallen for a well-respected game after playing with me (the other game was Hannibal).

Interesting. I had a gut feeling about your game before I reached this comment.

Not to impune your methods. I think you gave him a decent game, and he still didn't like it. He's been a good sport, so kudos to him.

So I'll go with how I do things in my group.

I've realized for a while now that making other people win goes a long way to making them like a game.

But with a few caveats:

They have to work for the win.

The game has to be good in the first place.

They're the type who likes this type of game to begin with.

I've seen many people from other game groups, who typically likes one type of game, be turned off by another game of the same type that is just as good as the previous.

All because of bad experience during the first few plays.

Keeping that in mind.

This is how I go about introducing this game to new players.

I make sure to explain the game in broad strategic outlines that make for interesting talk, rather than minute tactical moves which can be dry and too much info for someone new.

I give grand visuals of how their little moves early on might affect the later stages of the game. Basically anything that would get them into the groove.

And once we're down to end-game, I'll pump up the thrill by explaining the down-to-the-wire repercussions of their few remaining moves in the last turn.

Invariably, they've always won. But the game is such, that we all felt like it was a close run thing. (even on those times where it wasn't)

People I've introduced to the game always enjoyed it.

The trick is to know people. To know how to analyze people.

There are people who would've loved this game, but got turned off by issues others mentioned.

There are also people who just aren't into this type of gaming no matter what. And that's normal.

The trick is to know the difference, and to only convert the former.

Onced I've hooked them onto the game, the real game of skill begins. As an added bonus, I never lack for playing partners or opponents.

Disclaimer: this is Not a lite game, and no matter how good a teacher you are, you'll never convince people who aren't into this.




 
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Indiana wrote:
As can be seen, the card 'picked' is far from a representative sampling of all the deck's 'nested conditional requirements'.

It was a hand-picked card chosen to exaggerate a point.

The reviewer was not wrong to do this. Just as I'm not in the wrong for setting the record straight.


Well, just going through the FP character deck, the cards which I would describe as having complex conditionals (e.g. you need Strider/Aragorn in a certain area, and an army containing a Regular unit needs to be with him, and you need an unused Elite for that army in your pool, and you want room for two cards in your hand) are The Grey Company, There and Back Again, The Ents Awake (x2), Challenge of the King, Dead Men of Dunharrow, House of the Stewards, and maybe The Eagles are Coming. That's a third of the deck! I'm not sure how many of those you'd call "nested," but of those, his choice seems representative to me...

And to me, a claim like "this game can be intimidating" is easier to evaluate when it's accompanied by an example, because it lets me know whether the reviewer & I are intimidated by the same things. If he just uses italics instead of supporting evidence, it's not a very useful review!
 
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I wrote:
the cards which I would describe as having complex conditionals


Well, some of those aren't actually that complex. Like Challenge of the King, what was I thinking.
 
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