War of the Ring (SPI game)

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War of the Ring is a wargame based on J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, published by Simulations Publications, Inc. (SPI) in the United States in 1977. It was the first wargame to cover the entire conflict depicted in the story (starting from the Fellowship's departure from Rivendell), as opposed to a single battle from it. The game was primarily intended to be played by two players, with the Fellowship player taking the side of the Free Peoples of Middle-earth and the Dark Power player controlling the forces of Sauron and his subordinates. The published game also had abbreviated rules for a three-player version with one player taking the role of Saruman; a fuller version of these rules was printed in issue #37 of Moves magazine.

Like most SPI wargames, it is played on a map with a hex grid imposed upon it to regulate movement, using small cardboard counters to represent the units. There are also many cards with data on characters, monsters, and magic items, as well as playable events from the story and a deck to regulate Sauron's searches for the Fellowship.

The game can be played in one of two modes. The simpler is the Character Game, which covers only the quest by the Fellowship to destroy the One Ring. In the Character Game the only units controlled by each player are, for the Fellowship player, the members of the Fellowship, and for the Dark Power player, the nine Nazgûl, Saruman, the Mouth of Sauron, and possibly Gollum (should he manage to acquire the Ring). The Fellowship player attempts to transport the Ring to Mount Doom, while the Dark Power player attempts to locate the Fellowship, seize the Ring, and take it to Barad-dur. The Dark Power also has the option of winning a military victory, played out by moving Nazgûl to various important Fellowship-controlled fortresses and rolling dice see if they are captured (an abstract way of playing out the military campaigns of the war).

The more complex mode of play is the Campaign Game, which adds in army units for both sides as well as other characters from the story who were involved in the military campaigns. An odds-ratio combat system is used to play out combat between armies. Players can win with their Ring-based objective from the Character game or by capturing a specified list of objectives with their armies.

Characters in the game are rated for their abilities in individual combat, magic, army leadership, endurance, and resistance to the lure of the Ring. The latter rating determines the difficulty they have of voluntarily removing the Ring once they put it on; they gain various benefits by wearing it, but if they do so for too many turns, they become a "semi-Ringwraith" under Dark Power control.

To simulate Sauron's conflicting needs of searching for the Ring versus directing his armies, the Dark Power player is given a variable number of "Shadow Points" each turn, which they spend to perform various activities. Among these is searching for the Fellowship; although the hex locations of various Fellowship members are known, their identity is not (their counters are kept upside-down), and Sauron must perform search actions with Nazgûl or orcs to identify the characters, and to spot them so they can be fought or captured. Which areas of the map can be searched, and with what forces, is controlled by a small deck of cards.

Although the game was popular in its day, and won the Charles S. Roberts Award for Best Fantasy Board Game of 1977,[1] it has been criticized for having an optimal strategy for the Dark Power player. Since the only realistically achievable way for the Fellowship player to win is to destroy the Ring, the Dark Power player can simply stack all nine Nazgûl on Mount Doom, attempt to spot the Fellowship when it enters the hex (with a good chance of success), and if successful, conduct a series of individual combats to attempt to take the Ring. The Dark Power player has a greater chance of taking the ring this way than by engaging the Fellowship with fewer Nazgûl, as they would have to using the normal search mechanism. As a result, the design has been faulted for having the entire game be decided by an enormous brawl atop Mount Doom.


  1. ^ "Charles S. Roberts Awards Winners (1977)". Academy of Adventure Gaming Arts & Design. Archived from the original on 2008-05-07. Retrieved 2008-08-16. 

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