June 22, 2006

Battles of the Third Age: The Battle of Rohan Details

BattlesThirdAge.3.2.06.gifThe first expansion to highly successful
War of the Ring[Amazon,Funagain] strategy board game is now in stores. Battles of Third Age [Funagain] contains adjustments to the original epic gameplay of the War of the Ring grand strategy game, and adds two smaller conflicts to the mix: The Battle of Rohan and the Battle of Gondor. The expansion includes new unique pieces for each of these battles, new game boards, and a slew of new game mechanics.

As part of a two week series we'll look into the features of the two new battles contained within the expansion. This week we'll kick it off by taking a close look at the rolling plains of Rohan, the gorgeous vacation lands of Middle Earth nestled between the feet of two mountain ranges, and capped by a forest where the trees come alive and beat the living snot out of you. We recommend traveller's insurance.

So what's new? In short - A lot.

The Map
The new rendering of Middle Earth's Rohan lives up to the original board's depth and color. Just click the image to the right and you'll see what we're talking about. In the upper left corner stands the Shadow stronghold of Orthanac, staring down upon the Rohan capital city of Edoras in the board's lower right. Helms Deep acts as a potential strategic climax, resting in a shallow cove of rock on the southern edge of the board, smack-dab in between the two main cities of the game.

One BattleOfRohanMap.6.21.06.JPGglance at the board shows that even though these are "smaller" battles when compared to the original epic War of the Ring, the new boards still contain a ton of spaces to march troops through and fight over. These battles aren't the single chicken scratch fights of Helms Deep, but the large battles with smaller skirmishes and city sieges. The number of spaces and the starting zones of influence create a great potential for some great ebb and flow moments to occur as armies raid, conquer, and then retreat to more defensible terrain.

The Rohan map sports three Strongholds: Orthanc, Edoras, and the Hornburg. Troops within these strongholds receive +1 to their combat strength, and have a defensive value of 6 (the attacker must roll a six to hit 'em). Also, each stronghold has an innate Protection Value that absorbs the damage dealt by the attacker. A successful attack hit (6) from beyond the walls during the preliminary phase of a siege won't damage the troops within the stronghold, but instead degrades the stronghold's protection value. Any absorbed damage is permanent. The stronghold becomes "breached" once the protection value is exhausted. From then-on the units within have a defense of 5 instead of six, but still get the +1 combat bonus. This is to simulate the fact that attacking troops have to funnel through breached walls and stand exposed within the stronghold interior as the defender stands organized in familiar terrain and continues to fire at the aggressor from atop the stronghold walls. This seem like a great addition to the standard siege mechanic from the original War of the Ring - not only is the attacker at a disadvantage throughout the duration of the siege, but the stronghold protection values keep the attacker away until they've amassed enough of a force to make an attack worthwhile.

G..G..Grima.. Wa. Wo.. WormtongueThat jerk Grima owes me money
The Battle of Rohan contains a new set of Event cards, the Grima cards, which give the Shadow player a stealthy dimension to their tactics. The Grima cards are removed from play as soon as Théoden enters the game for the good guys, or if the Edoras stronghold falls into the hands of the Shadow, in which case Grima is rendered useless.

Hail to Saruman
Another new game mechanic is the "Shadow Commander in Chief", a role that is played by Saruman in the Battle of Rohan. Unlike the other heros of the game, Saruman is assumed to always command his forces from within his tower of Orthanc. Adjacet to the tower on the board is a a mini box that contains three interior rooms of the tower: The Palantír Room, The Balcony, and The Pits. At the beginning of each turn the Shadow player can position Saruman in one of these rooms, granting the player the ability to draw more Grima cards, recruit leaders, or mass new troops each turn, respectively.

Saruman's presence as the Commander in Chief also means that the Shadow player can spend Character die rolls (rolled in the game's action phase) in new ways which manipulate troops on the main map. The options include speeding multiple armies one space into adjacent empty terrain, or rallying troops, or recruiting more armies. Sounds pretty darn powerful -- and it's not as though the Shadow player lacked dice advantages in the original War of the Ring. We're surprised to see refinements to the system that make the Shadow player even more of a die manipulating jerk-hole. We'll keep a suspicious eye open to see how this advantage plays-out in practice.

No Fate but what we make
As a balance to the Shadow Commander and Chief, the side of Light has a new Fate track that replaces the Fellowship track in the original game. The fate track advances as the side of Light draws fate tiles (ah, this time the good guys get to draw!). As the fate reaches various thresholds, new hero characters come into play for the good guys, including: Éomer, Aragaon, Gandalf and Treebeard. And If the fate track reaches a value of 18 at any moment (it starts at zero), then it's lights-out and game over for the Shadow.

TreeBeard.6.21.06.jpgLet's go drinking in the Entwood
Finally, rounding out the new Rohan game elements is the forest of ents, the Entwood. This living obsticle starts in the region of Derndingle to the north, and grows one in ent population whenever the Fate counter increases by one (if Treebeard is in play then two ents are added for every fate increase instead).

The entwood serves as a slow moving meat blender for the side of Light, thrashing anything in its way into a deep, deep sleep. It can never be attacked either! The entwood starts up in the corner as is easily avoidable at first, and thus not a very effective tool. In order to maneuver it into a better position, the light player spends rally dice to move one ent out of the entwood and into an adjacent empty territory. To move it further, the side of Light spends another rally die roll, pulls another ent out of the entwood pool, and places it into another empty space adjacent to the first ent. Slowly the entwood snakes its way across the board. When the 'entacle (yes, we're proud of that one) reaches an enemy army, then all of the remaining ents in Derndingle get a chance to finally knock together a few orcish heads.

To attack, the entwood consumes (kills off) one ent standing in Derdingle (the ent goes back into the spawn pool), and in return the Light player get's an attack roll on a 5 or a 6 on any enemy army adjacent to the entacle. If the entwood pool ever empties then all of the ents in the 'entacle meet up in one space and form a new entwood. From that point on any ent created by drawing Fate tiles is placed in this new location.

Man, this seems like a very well-flavored new element that adds an exciting inevitability to the game. The march of large armies on a war march across the map is one thing, but an industructable forest of angy trees shuffling toward a Shadow stronghold certainly adds pressure to the air. Good stuff.

Next week we'll take a close look at the other battle included in the new War of the Ring Battles of the Third Age expansion - the Battle of Gondor.

The War of the Ring [Amazon,Funagain] expansion Battles of the Third Age [Funagain] is available in stores now.

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Posted by Critical Gamers Staff at June 22, 2006 10:42 AM

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