Sunday, August 25, 2002

Lord of the Rings: The Confrontation

I was recently in St. Louis, and decided to stop by a local game
store, "The Fantasy Shop", which I had seen mentioned on r.g.b. It
turned out to be heavily weighted towards comics and RPGs, but with a
handful of German-style games. It also turned out that luck was with
us and the store was having a "Moonlight Madness" sale that night from
11pm-1am and everything was 20% off. One of the things I decided to
pick up was the new Knizia Lord of the Rings game for two players.

I've played it a few times now and am very pleased with it. In basic
mechanics, it is not unlike Stratego with the addition of special
powers and cards which change the effectiveness of some of the units.
There are many special powers to keep track of, but after an initial
play the powers are reasonably easy to keep track of.

Another key feature of the game is that with a few exceptions, pieces
only ever move forward, which in addition to pushing the game to
conclusion and avoiding stalemates, introduces some very interesting
tactical choices. Often, a players best move would be to do nothing
or move a piece backward.

The result is a game with a opportunity for careful strategizing,
bluffing, and long term planning. It further has the quality that a
single fatal error can easily cost you the game, but those errors are
easy to avoid, in your next game, giving a steady improvement in one's
skill. Further, it appears that doing well at the game relies heavily
upon recognizing when your opponent has made an error (not always
obvious) and successfully capitalizing on it (not always easy).

It is possible that with enough plays it will reduce to a simple
bluffing and luck game, but I expect it will hold up for quite some
time to some varied strategies. With novices, I think the light
player has a bit of an advantage, but am not sure that will be
sustainable with experienced players.

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