The Lord of the Rings is one of the biggest IPs to have ever existed, so it’s not too much of a shock that a huge number of games have been created based on it. Whether it’s the video games of the PS2-era that showed off some movie-like style, or the tabletop RPGs that started out in the 80s, almost every possible genre of games has had a LOTR skin stretched over the top at one time or another. When it comes to fantasy epics, the genre of tabletop gaming that in some ways makes the most sense for these big, sweeping adventures is the miniature wargame. After all, what could be more exciting than re-creating some of the iconic battles from the books or movies? That is where War of the Ring: Second Edition comes in. The original version of the game launched back in 2009, but now it’s time to see if the second edition still stands the test of time.
One of the most significant factors at play in War of the Ring: Second Edition is its sheer scope. The map covers most of Middle-Earth, including regions some fans won’t be familiar with. You also have various factions at play on both sides of the battle, and these factions are represented by over 200 hundred miniatures. As you can probably imagine, this means that both setting the game up and learning all of the rules and mechanics that govern it is quite an undertaking. It can take upwards of an hour to set the game up when you first attempt it, which isn’t aided by how similar some of the miniatures can look.
Each side of the war has several factions, but these factions generally are only separated by the physical differences in the models, making it challenging to immediately tell at first glance which units belong in which spaces. Over time it is something you can get used to, but it really does make getting the game out, and convincing your friends to wait for you while you set it up, more of a challenge than it needed to be. Still, on the plus side, this means you won’t miss the convenience of color-coded models if you decide to paint them, but it’s still worth bearing in mind if you’re the sort of person who enjoys small quality-of-life design decisions.
That aside, War of the Ring: Second Edition does at least live up to the grand scale that it purports to have. Almost every facet of the trilogy of fantasy books that this game is based on has been represented in some form. There are mechanics governing the corruption of the ring bearer, as well as how many members of the fellowship still remain. There are mechanics that cover how far the fellowship has moved in hiding and those that allow the shadow player to hunt them down and reveal them. Of course, some mechanics govern war between the various armies, but there’s also a political track that shows you how willing some countries are to declare war on Sauron.
How Does War of the Ring: Second Edition Implement The Source Material Into Its Mechanics?
For a The Lord of the Rings fan, it really is a treat. You can really get deep into the game, going over every little detail as you play. This is especially true for the event cards both players get throughout a game. These cards feature special events that can occur throughout the battle for the ring, and many of them are taken directly from the books, or at least make heavy reference to them. If you’re already in love with these stories, it can be an insanely fun evening re-imagining what would have happened if Rohan had gone to war with Saruman sooner, or if the rangers of the North had swept across the landscape destroying Sauron's armies. That’s where the true strength of this game lies.
Where does the weakness in the game lie? Well, mostly in just how obtuse and fiddly it’ll probably feel to anyone who isn’t into wargames or The Lord of the Rings. Hell, even some hardcore The Lord of the Rings fans will probably be turned off by knowing how long it takes to set up the game, and how hard it can be to decipher exactly what is going on with the rules. There were several times during my first few runs with the game where I had to double or triple check the rulebook because something hadn’t been explained overly clearly, and that’s a massive shame. If the rules were just a tiny bit easier to understand and explain to others so many more people could enjoy this game because once you’ve got used to it, it’s not actually all that complex.
How Do Turns Work In War of the Ring: Second Edition?
Each turn in War of the Ring: Second Edition is broken up into phases, as you probably expected. Generally, players draw event cards each turn, then roll and use action dice to perform various actions, such as moving their armies or playing from their hand of event cards. A lot of the peripheral systems, such as tracking the ring bearer’s corruption or who is in the group, are taken care of by the board itself, and very quickly become second nature once you’re a few rounds in. It can feel like a slow start, but everyone who I played this with had really gotten into it by the fourth or fifth turn. However, the fact that they had to force themselves (reads: the fact that I had to force them) to play until they got into it isn’t going to win any hearts amongst more casual fans of the stories or genre as a whole.
There’s also a few more notes with the miniatures too. While the sculpting is pretty top-notch and has a distinct feel that makes this game seem like it’s chasing the design of the books rather than any films or other games, the actual material has let the miniatures down a bit. The plastic used is just a bit soft, which has left certain extremities to become warped or otherwise damaged. It’s not a big deal and you can totally straighten it back out again, but chances are that each time you open the box your archers are going to have flaccid bows again. It’s probably a symptom of having so many miniatures in a single game, but it’s still a bit of a shame for the sculptors who designed them.
What are our final thoughts on War of the Ring: Second Edition?
While the game is certainly a challenge when it comes to setting up and initially learning the rules, there is a lot to recommend here. For fans of epic wargames or The Lord of the Rings, this game allows you to re-live the struggle between the free people and the shadow time and time again. While it’s unlikely to make any fans of casual gamers, it’s worth your time for any hardcore fans who think they could do it better than Sauron did. That said, there’s no shame if the sheer table space and number of miniatures included makes you dry heave a little in panic. This game won’t be for everyone.
Should I Buy War of the Ring: Second Edition?
If you’re a hardcore megafan of The Lord of the Rings, or just want a complex fantasy wargame to wrap your head around, this is easily the product for you. However, anyone not willing to put a considerable amount of time into learning rules and set up for a huge game should probably look elsewhere for their entertainment.
The copy of War of the Ring: Second Edition used in this review was provided by the publisher.