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War of the Ring: The Card Game

War of the Ring (Ares Games) is a board war game based on J R R Tolkien's Lord of the Rings. It's an epic-scale game played with minis on a sprawling map where the Free Peoples (hobbits, humans, elves, dwarves et al) are ultimately at war with the 'Shadow Armies' of Sauron and his minions. War of the Ring: The Card Game covers the same ground, and is similarly a battle between the Free Peoples and the Shadow but tho' the theme and premise are the same, War of the Ring: The Card Game is a very different game.

War of the Ring: The Card Game can be played as a two-player or even as a three-player game, but it is designed ideally to be played as a team game by four players, with the two Free Peoples players representing Frodo and Aragorn, and their two opposing Shadow players representing the Witch-King and Saruman. Each player has their own deck of cards. For each of the nine rounds of the game, players will reveal and vie for control of one of three possible Paths, and victory in those Battlegrounds that get revealed. Among the icons on each card will be an indication of its faction, and you can only play a card to a Battleground if its faction is one of those listed on that Battleground. When a team wins a Path or Battleground it scores the indicated number of victory points. Ultimately the game will be won by the team with the most points, but the game can end early if either team racks up a lead over the other of 10 or more points.

The cards represent characters, armies, items and events from the Lord of the Rings books, and they'll remind you of the cards you might expect to find in an LCG ('Living Card game') or CCG (Collectible Card Game), but there's no need here to mither over hard-to-find 'chase cards': all the cards you need to play the game come in the box (tho' there's still room for expansions...) At the start, players each draw seven cards from their individual deck and they choose two to 'cycle'. That means they are immediately discarded, tho' it's referred to as cycling because you'll expect your discard pile to be recycled as a draw pile perhaps twice during the course of the game, so cycled cards should eventually return to your hand.

You need to get used to the 'cycling' because it's the core mechanic for playing your cards: whenever you play a card, you must cycle another card to your discard pile. If you are left with just one card in your hand, you'll have to 'forsake' a card. Cards are forsaken for other reasons too. The critical thing to note tho' is that these cards are taken out of the game; they don't recycle so you won't be seeing them again. You might well think of this game as not so much a 'deck builder' as a 'deck dismantler': you'll end the game with a notably thinner deck than you had at the outset.

With a limited hand of cards and the need to cycle one to your discard pile for each card you play, you will soon be faced with some painful choices. Some discards are easy: many of the cards can only be used to best effect in specifically numbered rounds of the game or in Battlegrounds that have yet to be activated so they are obvious candidates for recycling. All the cards have their strengths and benefits tho' so your choice of which to discard is often an agonising one. It's a mechanic that the designer Ian Brody has finely honed over the course of his various iterations of Quartermaster General (PSC/Ares Games). Players have similar choices to make over where to play their cards: do you enter the fray on the Path or the Battlefield, or do you play a card to your Reserve: your face-up tableau from where you can play the card on a later turn but which in the meantime may give you a Reserve ability or power.

This is very much a strategy game where the effectiveness of your hand management will determine how well you optimise the use of the cards you have at your disposal. There's inevitably a degree of luck in the game but, unlike most card games, you are quite literally managing your deck rather than merely being at the mercy of random card draws. It's an elegant design that plays differently depending on which Paths emerge but it is always immersive and highly evocative, bringing to life scenes that players will recognise from the books and movies. Despite the asymmetry of the various decks, it's impressive that the game always feels well balanced overall, even if there are some Paths and Battlegrounds that you may well find it prudent to cede to your opponents...

War of the Ring: The Card Game may play very differently from Ares' similarly named board game but it is no less epic: a full game played over the nine rounds can easily run to 2-3 hours. Happily, Ian Brody has designed some variants that offer a shorter playing time. The rulebook includes a Fellowship of the Ring variant that's played over six rounds and Ian Brody has designed a three-round Two Towers scenario that you can download from BoardGameGeek.

Ares have an Against the Shadow expansion due out later this year. It replaces the Shadow cards in the core game so that they can be played as an automata so you can play solitaire or as a cooperative two-player game as the Free Peoples. We'll feature Against the Shadow on Board's Eye View as soon as we can get our hands on a copy.

#WaroftheRing #cardgame #AresGames #FreePeoples #Shadow #Sauron #Saruman #Frodo #Aragorn #WitchKing #IanBrody #teamgame #handmanagement #LordoftheRings #FellowshipoftheRing #TwoTowers #strategygame

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