War of the Ring (board game)

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Box Art for War of the Ring, 1st edition (2004)

War of the Ring is a strategy board game by Roberto Di Meglio, Marco Maggi and Francesco Nepitello, first produced by Nexus Editrice (Italy) and currently published by Ares Games.

Since its first print-run it has been produced in many languages: Fantasy Flight Games published the English edition. It was released in 2004. An expansion called Battles of the Third Age was released in 2006 and a Collector's Edition in 2010 (with both the base game and expansion materials, hand-painted miniatures, a leather-bound rulebook, and corrected and clarified rules and cards). The Fantasy Flight edition of both the base game and expansion are currently out of print. A new 2nd Edition, published by Ares Games, has been published in 2011 as well as an expansion entitled 'Lords of Middle Earth'.


  • One Rulebook to Rule them All
  • One simplified rulebook called "The War of the Ring Begins Here" (only in the First Edition)
  • The game board depicting a large map of Middle-earth (in two sections)
  • The Player Aids folder
  • 10 red Shadow Action Dice
  • 6 blue Free Peoples Action Dice
  • 5 white six-sided Combat Dice
  • 204 plastic figures representing the Armies and Characters of The War of the Ring (205 in the Second Edition, with the addition of Gollum)
  • 137 cardboard counters
  • 96 Event Cards (divided into 4 decks of 24 cards each)
  • 14 Character Cards (10 Free People Characters, 3 Shadow Characters, Gollum)


War of the Ring is a 2-player game that takes approximately 3 hours, though there are variant rules for 3 or 4 players where one or both sides play as a team. The game concerns the War of the Ring starting from the Fellowship's forming in Rivendell. One player controls the Shadow Peoples and tries to conquer Middle-earth or to corrupt the Fellowship's Ringbearer. The other player controls the Free Peoples and tries to hold back the Shadow long enough to move the Fellowship into Mount Doom and destroy the Ring. A Free Peoples military victory is also possible, but the Shadow's power is overwhelming.

The board depicts northwestern Middle-earth, divided into territories. Some lands form nations while broad swatches sit unclaimed. The Free Peoples are the nations of Gondor and Rohan, the Elves (Rivendell, Lórien, the Woodland Realm, and the Gray Havens), the Dwarves (the settlements in Erebor, the Iron Hills and the Blue Mountains) and "The North" (the men of Dale, Carrock, and Bree, and the hobbits of the Shire). The Shadow Peoples are Sauron (Mordor, Moria, Angmar and Dol Guldur), Isengard, and the combined Southrons and Easterlings.

Setting up the game is the same every time. Each player has two decks of event cards that need to be shuffled and placed on the board. The Fellowship starts in Rivendell with all companions in the party and the party being led by Gandalf the Grey. Armies are distributed throughout the board as described in the manual. The Free Peoples player starts with the three Elven rings on their side of the board. A marker indicating how far the Fellowship has moved since it was last revealed starts at 0 as well as the corruption counter. Each nation starts with a marker on the political track with Sauron and Isengard one step from going to war and the Southrons and Easterlings two steps from war. Gondor is two steps from going to war and the rest are three steps. All Free Peoples but the Elves must also be "activated," making them aware of the rising threat. This requires a visit from a Fellowship member or a gross insult, such as a Shadow invasion or the return of the Witch-king.

The Free Peoples player starts with four action dice and the Shadow Armies player starts with seven.

Each turn of the game has six phases.

Event Phase: In this phase each player draws two cards, one from each of their event card decks. Each player is limited to six cards in their hand at any given time so they must discard if pushed over.

Fellowship Phase: This phase applies to the Free Peoples. If the fellowship is in either Minas Morgul or Morannon then the player must declare it and move the Fellowship into the final Mordor track. Otherwise, the player can declare where the Fellowship is, may heal the Fellowship, may change the Fellowship guide, or may do nothing. If they declare the Fellowship's location the counter for how far they've moved is reset to zero and the player may place the Fellowship token in a region on the board that many spaces away from the last location. If the Fellowship ends up in the stronghold for a Free Peoples nation then that nation is activated on the political track if it isn't already. If the user heals the Fellowship, they must be declared in a city or stronghold and one point of corruption is removed. If the player changes the guide of the Fellowship, they must pick between their companion characters with the highest levels as indicated on their cards.

Hunt Allocation Phase: This phase applies to the Shadow Armies. The player may put any number of action dice up to the amount of companions in the Fellowship in the Hunt for the Ring box on the gameboard. These will be used to hunt for the ring if the Free Peoples player chooses to move the Fellowship.

Action Roll Phase: Both players roll their action dice. If the Free Peoples have Gandalf the White or Aragorn in play they may roll an extra dice for each. If the Shadow Armies have the Witch-king, Saruman, or the Mouth of Sauron in play they may roll an extra dice for each. All Shadow Army rolls that end up with Sauron's eye must be placed in the Hunt for the Ring box.

Action Resolution Phase: In this phase players take turns using action dice starting with the Free Peoples player. If a player has less action dice left than the other player they may pass. There are six different symbols that come up for each player:

  • Army: Move up to two different armies to adjacent territories, attack a territory, conduct a siege, or play an Army event card
  • Character: Move or attack an adjacent region with an army that contains a leader or character, play a Character event card, or use one of the army's special abilities. The Free Peoples may flip the fellowship counter to hidden if it is visible, move the Fellowship (which initiates a hunt), separate a companion or group of companions from the fellowship and move them an amount equal to the fellowship counter plus the highest level of the characters leaving, or move all companions on the board. The Shadow Armies player may move all Nazgûl anywhere on the board except a Free Peoples stronghold not under siege.
  • Muster: Move a nation forward on the political track (they cannot go to war unless they are activated), if a nation is at war units can be recruited. When recruiting the player can choose to get two regular units, two leader units, a regular unit and a leader unit, a character (if all necessary requirements are met), or an elite unit. When recruiting two units they must be placed in different settlements.
  • Event: Draw an Event card from either pile or play any Event card
  • Army/Muster: Pick either Army or Muster as the action
  • Will of the West: (Free Peoples only) Can be any other action or used for special cards

Victory Check Phase: Players win in this order:

  • Corruption counter reaches 12, the Shadow Armies win
  • Fellowship reaches Crack of Doom, the Free Peoples win
  • Shadow Armies control 10 victory points worth of Free Peoples settlements, the Shadow Armies win
  • Free Peoples control 4 victory points worth of Shadow Armies settlements, the Free Peoples win


The First Edition of the game has extensive errata.

The Second Edition is almost free from errata as the rule book and Event Cards were re-written to cover all the errata from the First Edition.

War of the Ring has been mildly criticized for shipping all the Free Peoples' armies as blue and all the Shadow armies as red when the sides have five and three different nations, respectively, with different pieces. The armies become difficult to distinguish at a distance. Distinguishing between nations is particularly important for their more esoteric and powerful abilities. For instance, the "Devilry of Orthanc" card can only be played if there are Isengard units present at a siege. Each nation does have a specific color on the map:

  • Gondor: Blue
  • Rohan: Dark Green
  • Elves: Light Green
  • Dwarves: Brown
  • Northmen: Light Blue
  • Sauron: Red
  • Isengard: Yellow
  • Southrons and Easterlings: Orange

Some players paint their pieces, or at least their bases, to match the color of their nations.


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