War Of The Ring.
The board of this game is so big that audible gasps come from anyone who sees it emerge from the box. Expect more gasps as you shovel out the hundreds of cards and components. The amazement quickly tails off into some form of shock as you and your compadre realise that you have no idea how to play this game and won’t understand how to play this game for the next few hours.
I’m the kind of person that loves complex games. I see them as a challenge, a mountain to be climbed. I find that the more complex the game is, the more time I’m willing to spend getting to grips with it. It’s a value proposition as well as a preference.
Well, War Of The Ring provides complexity in spades. Of the five or so (3+ hour long) games I’ve played of this, the first two were basically write-offs as one player made some serious mistake that crippled their chances for the rest of the game, it’s not really the game’s fault, just the nature of playing something with so many (metaphorical) moving parts.
The story is as old as time at this point. One player takes on the role of Sauron and his limitless hordes while the other picks up the tattered banners of the free peoples, attempting to give Frodo and the boys time to trek half way across the world to chuck the infernal jewellery into the volcano and save the world.
What this translates to is the Sauron player grinning with glee as his orcs pop up every turn and constantly flow over the board towards the scant strongholds of elves and men. As the good player, you find yourself glaring out from just above your excessive hand of action cards as you frantically try to juggle all the different mechanics (diplomacy, moving the fellowship, separating your heroes, recruiting troops and many, many more) to try and get any edge you can against the forces of evil.
As the good player, you’ll lose a lot until you get the hang of managing everything, and at the end of every game, the Sauron player will look at you with some small pity in their eyes and ask “Do you want to play evil next game?” and you will sit up straight, puff your chest out and defiantly say “Hell no. Set up the board again, damn it.”
I think that is all that needs to be said.
Escape From Colditz.
In every gaming group, you will find one person who just loves being the authoritarian. Whether they always DM your games of D&D, play The Emperor in Dune every time or cackle with glee and search your pack without fail in Sheriff Of Nottingham.
This game is tailor made for these people, as one player actually plays as a group of dastardly Nazis hell bent on keeping the noble allied soldiers locked up tight inside Colditz Castle. The others play different nationalities of POW, all trying to evade the guards and escape from their prison.
This is sort of a worker placement game with movement, item collection and capturing mechanics. The German player gets a ton of pawns to patrol the gorgeously designed map of the castle grounds. There are rules that determine in which places the POWs pawns can be seen to be escaping, captured and sent to the “cooler”, to have the items they have collected taken off them and spat out into the central courtyard, to try and try again.
The items are used in specific places to cut through wire fences, descend towers through windows and aid you on the way to Switzerland when you make good your escape. This portion of the game is quite amazing, and you really do see your plan unfold as you evade and befuddle the German player and the game inevitably always ends in a madcap chase, as the German sends all his guards after you as you make your mad dash to one of the few escape points at the edge of the map.
One strange downside is that if you’re playing with more than two people, the POWs can’t work together (explained in the game as that they all speak different languages. A bit lame if you ask me.) So you sort of become a bit competitive about who’s going to try their plan next, but instead of ruining the feel, it just makes things funnier, as one player’s escape plan failing could provide you just the opportunity you need to see yours succeed.
This game always ends with one player swearing angrily at another.
We’re ending on a light note here as Space Hulk. While doling out heaps of punishment upon the loser, it is at least set against a backdrop of Grim Darkness. Nobody is the hero in the Warhammer 40k universe, so you can both laugh heartily as the horrible alien devourers rip your authoritarian Imperial oppressors to pieces.
So yes, one side will play the noble Terminators, who are attempting to secure sites of strategic importance aboard the moon-sized accumulations of ancient spaceships that float eerily throughout space. Apparently, these Space Hulks are always infested with ravenous horrors from another galaxy as the other player plays the hordes of Genestealers, whose objectives, while ephemeral, seem to revolve around trying to hug the Terminators to death.
This is another boardgame where you really get what you pay for. The massive box opens up and the thick cardboard tiles of the modular board almost jump out at you the box is so full. You get proper 40k models as well, including exclusive sculpts of the Blood Angel Terminators, Genestealers and the massive Broodlord.
When laboriously setting up one of the many scenarios in the thick book, you will be surprised at how long it takes and how big the boards get as you place tile after tile in an expanding maze of tunnels and corridors.
You will silently hope that you have all the right pieces for the map. But after the anxiety and half the night pass by, you can finally get to playing. You take your gun-toting superhumans and set them plodding along the ship’s decks, while the genestealer player places “blips”, counters representing an unknown number of aliens, at the edges of the board, usually inbetween the imperial player and their objective.
I do have some misgivings about this game, while the value proposition is good; I mean this box is packed full of gorgeousness, every game can sort of end up the same, with your terminators trapped in a room, hoping the other player runs out of genestealers before you succumb to their rending claws.
At the end you will both be exhausted and the winning player will shrug, smile and ask for another game. The other will then wipe the stress-sweat from their brow and politely decline.