Lord of the Rings: The Confrontation
A simple, yet deep, Stratego-like game based on the Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien.
Lord of the Rings has been very, very good to Reiner Knizia. First he put out the amazing Lord of the Rings, then two expansions for it, then the less than well received Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship: The Card Game, and now Lord of the Rings: The Confrontation. Interesting to note that while the Fellowship card game didn't make much of a splash, (perhaps due to the fact it was never published in English), it has been re-themed and reissued as King's Gate. So it couldn't have been a total stinker. This one hits the mark perfectly, a quick 2 player game with the Light player trying to get Frodo to Mordor, and the Dark player trying to kill Frodo or capture the Shire.
Jump to my opinions
LotR:TC is played on a square board, turned to make a diamond shape. On one side lies the Shire, and on the other, the dark of Mordor. Moving towards the middle of the board, there is an additional space added to each row, so that there are two regions in the second row, then three, and finally four mountain regions across the center. So from any given region on your side of the board, there are two regions you can move to. Once a unit has crossed the mountains, the inverse applies. The River Anduin allows the Light player to move sideways, and the Mines of Moria allow the Light player to move under the mountainous Moria region to Fanghorn from Eregion.
Each side has nine figures to place onto the board, and the characters they represent are hidden from the opponent, much like Stratego. Each unit has a strength value, and as in Stratego Legends, each character has a special power, which allows that unit to "break the rules" of the game in some way. The rules of the game are fairly straightforward. On your turn, you must move a character forward one space. There can be at most two units in any region, except for the Shire/Mordor which starts with 4, and for mountains, which can only hold one. If your move puts your unit into a region with an opponents unit(s), there will be a battle(s).
Battle is done by each player selecting a card and placing it face down in front of them. Cards are revealed and added to the value shown on the units involved. Low player is destroyed, and if there's a tie, both are destroyed. If there were two enemy characters, and the attacker didn't get eliminated in the first battle, there is another battle.
If Frodo enters Mordor, the Light player wins. If Frodo is defeated or if the Dark player gets three units into the Shire, the Dark player wins.
So that seems a little underwhelming doesn't it?
The characters and their special abilities are the first part of the game that makes it shine. First the good guys:
And now the bad guys:
In addition to the asymmetry of the characters special abilities, the strength values are very lopsided as well, with the Light characters ranging from 0 to 5, (0,1,1,2,3,3,4,5), and the Dark characters ranging from 2 to 9, (2,2,3,3,4,5,5,5,9). The flavor of Lord of the Rings is very present, as the Dark player seemingly has an overwhelming advantage, but the Light player has Gandalf and the slippery Frodo.
The Light player has five cards with a value of 1 to 5. The Dark player has six cards with a value of 1 to 6. In addition there are text cards that have special abilities. Both sides have a "Magic" card, that allows the player to replace the Magic card with a previously played card. Both have a "Retreat" card, allowing the Light player to retreat backwards and the Dark player to retreat sideways. The Light player has an "Elven Cloak" card, that negates the strength value of the Dark player's card, while the Dark player has an "Eye of Sauron" card that negates a Light player's text card. The Light player also has a "Noble Sacrifice" card that causes both characters to be defeated. Once again we see that the Dark player has more powerful strength cards, but the Light player has an extra text card.
Almost everything. The theme is as deeply woven into the game as any Knizia game I can think of. The uniqueness of each sides strengths and weaknesses is exactly right. Is that lone piece Frodo? Let's get the Flying Nazgul to find out. It's him the ringbearer, I've got him now. Oops, he just retreated sideways. I'll get him next turn. What do you mean Legolas just instantly defeated my Nazgul! There's a unit in Moria, shall I try to use the mines, or scout with Pippin? So the theme is there in spades. The forced forward movement means that the game can never stagnate, and presents numerous difficult choices. And Frodo's ability to retreat sideways means the battle is rarely lost, even when the Light side is down to just one or two characters. Plus it's an inexpensive game, and I think you will definitely get a good price/play value from it.
And once again, as we see in Through the Desert, we have a luckless game with very simple mechanics that plays quickly, and that has a great deal of depth.
Some have doubted the game's replayability and/or depth. Others have suggested that the element of bluffing that's present in the hidden pieces is vastly overrated, and that certain "bluffing moves" would be a bluff, but would also be suicidal, and therefore not really valid. I must admit, I haven't played enough times to find this to be an issue yet, and I'm enjoying it quite a lot. One thing to note on the replayability, is that there are another four cards included in the game. These variant cards give the Light player one free move, (Shadowfax), and resurrect Gandalf, (Gandalf the White), while the Dark player's allow a unit to be recalled to Mordor, (Recall to Mordor), and allow the Dark player to reveal the Light characters in a space, (Palantir). Each of these is a one-shot deal, but I would think that if you played enough of the basic game for it to get stale, including these would give you another bunch of plays before it got stale again. And given the game's low price, I think it's a winner.
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