And so, my second outing in the board game War of the Ring (WotR) playing as the leader of the Free Peoples. Not a great result – I admitted defeat with James as the Shadow player on 7 of his required 10 VPs from taking Free Peoples’ settlements, and with the Fellowship a scant 4 steps (out of maybe 18) from their start in Rivendell and with 8 of the 12 corruption points it would take to turn them to the dark side.
James analysed his first few event cards with precision, and started out with a swift push from Mount Gundabad into Rivendell, taking it in short order with a mean combination of cards and dice. This nearly saw the early removal of the Witch King, soon after his early appearance on the board, but didn’t (see below). Meanwhile, I attempted to get the Fellowship well on their way, but they were immediately both Hunted and Revealed. This unfortunately set the tone of the game – only one siege that James set took any length of time to take, the rest falling to a veritable cascade of 6s rolled, and of the 4 moves the Fellowship made, they were Hunted and Revealed every time, 3 by the dice and 1 by a card.
With the Fellowship in such dire straits it was imperative that I should at least threaten militarily, and so when James left Dol Guldur with only 1 defender in order to smite Lorien (which was the one siege that took longer than one or two actions), I attacked with Legolas and his brethren from the Woodland Realm. This also foreshadowed future events, since they failed to take it in 3 attacks, sufficient time for James to bring up reinforcements from Mordor way and then to whittle my troops down. I took Dol Guldur but far too late and with only 1 remaining unit, which then perished ignominiously immediately on the return of the home guard from their successful razing of Lorien.
And so it went. Dol Guldur was my only (nominally) successful siege, although tactically it did not in the end help, since it was immediately indefensible. The other sieges resembled waves breaking on rocks, so swiftly did my troops succumb while making so little impact on the defenders.
Gandalf the Grey played little part other than getting Pippin (back) into Rivendell in time for the siege, with the hope of using a card to slay a minion (the Witch King) using a successful Leadership reroll, which characteristically was not, in fact, successful. Can’t complain too much about that, it was only a 50% shot, but it did form part of a broader pattern. It did allow me to bring on Gandalf the White in Fangorn, where he lurked for the rest of the game, doing me little good apart from keeping his extra dice, but also meaning that James, having recruited all his very powerful Isengard elites in Orthanc, never used them for fear of losing Saruman to Ent event cards. This was a very real possibility since I hung onto two of them!
Late on, there was a brief ray of hope. James scented victory and, slightly imprudently, vacated Minas Morgul completely with a view to sweeping through Gondor, supported by the Southrons who had already taken Pelargir. I had built up an impressively hard army in Minas Tirith and had then moved them to Osgiliath, led by Aragorn and Boromir, where they were poised to strike either South or East, or, less plausibly, North. I had also retained a card allowing me double movement with an army, with no combat allowed. I struggled to restrain my glee as I played the card, neatly sidestepped the equally impressive army in South Ithilien, and strolled through the open gates to take possession of Minas Morgul. This was a complete turnaround – I had 8 units, 2 of them elites, 2 leaders plus the 2 companions in possession of 2 of the required 4 VPs, and with another pair of strongholds (2 VPs each) within 2 spaces. James moved his force of Easterlings into Morannon, hoping to whittle my attacking force down should it make it to Gorgoroth. Nonetheless this was the only game in town for me, so I attacked his small bunch of regulars in Gorgoroth to leave me in striking distance of both strongholds. In one of the few rolls that went in my favour, I took all 5 with a single attack (no fortification there, so rolling 5s was sufficient) and faced a difficult decision – how to split the army? Minas Morgul was sure to be re-attacked by the hordes in South Ithilien, but I also needed to be able to take Barad-dûr. I settled for leaving 4 regulars in Minas Morgul, since they only needed to survive one action from James, sending 2 regulars and 2 elites (to allow for siege continuation) plus the companions to finish off the couple of regulars remaining in Barad-dûr. Unfortunately, the pattern of siege warfare continued, and James immediately retook Minas Morgul with a roll of three 6s and a card giving an extra hit. At that point, with no VPs and neither a military prospect nor any hope for the Fellowship (only 4 spaces along, 8 corruption and no chance of safe havens on their route), I ceded victory to the Shadow.
So, after 4 games of WotR, 2 as the Shadow and 2 as the Free Peoples, what do I think? Well, all 4 games have gone to the Shadow, and that’s even with me making many mistakes as the Shadow, so it would appear to be easier for the Shadow than the Free Peoples. I’ve found it frustrating a lot of the time, and difficult to keep tabs at all times on all the things I should, but I’ve never been bored, always totally engaged. As with all dice games, sometimes the dice can overturn the best-laid plans, and I guess I’ll just have to learn to be more sanguine about that. Certainly James played it well, most of the time using cards to maximum effect and disguising his intentions enough to keep me guessing, while inexorably piling on the military pressure and keeping the Fellowship to an intermittent creep. I just mourn the loss of the game we’d have had with different dice!