June 30, 2006

Battles of the Third Age: The Battle of Gondor 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 epic gameplay of the original 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.

For the second part of our two-week series we'll look into the gameplay and features of the Battle of Gondor portion of the expansion, the setting for the climactic (and largest) battle of the Lord of the Rings trilogy - Minas Tirith.

Nowhere to hide

While The Battle of Rohan is a war between Shadow and Light strongholds and the territories between, the Battle of Gondor is all about the side of Light holding-up within stronghold city of Minas Tirith for as long as possible. If the Minas Tirith falls, the game is over. GondorMap.6.30.06.JPG The city and outer defenses act as the centerpiece of the map (image to the right), with the overextended river fort Osgilitoth kissing the slopes of Mordor, as if asking to be smacked in the face. The close proximity of the front lines causes things to heat-up very, very quickly.

Which way to Minas Tirith?
We detailed Strongholds in the Battle of Rohan preview article, but let's briefly recap and add a few things. There are two strongholds in the Batlte of Gondor - the city of Minas Tirith and it's fortress gatehouse Cair Andros, and both have innate Protection Values that absorb the damage dealt by the besieger. A successful attack hit (6) from beyond the walls of a protected stronghold will not damage the troops within, but instead the damage degrades the stronghold's protection value. Any absorbed damage is permanent, and the stronghold becomes "breached" once the protection value is exhausted. To dd girth to the stronghold of Minas Tirith, the designers have given the city three separate entry points which are accessed from various regions on the map. Breaching one of these walls doesn't cause the other two entry points to fall. This multiple protection value mechanic provides the city with some major beefitude, especially considering that the Shadow is already forced to spread-out his attack across multiple territories to adhere to the unit stack rules.

Fetchez la vache!
Minas Tirith isn't this unbreakable beast, however. SiegeTower.6.30.06.JPG The Shadow player can use his industrial talent (muster dice) to construct two types of siege engines in any of the territories close to the stronghold's wall. A siege tower can launch a one-time attack that ignores the stronghold's protection value ( attackers hit on a roll of 5 ). Also, up to five stone-hucking trebuchets can be built in zones further away from the wall, and an Action die launches all trebuchets in unison to damage troops within the stronghold. Alternatively, the trebuchets can target the stronghold's walls to whittle away the fortress' protection values, and breach the defenses once and for all. Both types of siege engines are tools, not units, so they don't count toward the stacking limit.

So you want to join the Army?
Not so fast. Unlike the original War of the Ring Scenario, you can't just hand-pick and place a tailored army from the spawn pool. Oh no. To simulate the disorganized drafting of men as both sides rush to put armies onto the battle field the Battle of Gondor disconnects army recruitment into multiple phases that include random-draw elements. Players spend Muster dice on recruitment tokens, which are randomly placed face-down into recruitment zones on the eastern and western stretches of the board. Each recruitment token has a hidden value that represents a particular number of troops. The number is revealed and units are place only when certain hero characters come in to play (which happens at certain points on Fate track). When Imrahil enters play (Fate 3), four Gondor tokens are flipped, the numbers tallied, and the corresponding number of troops are placed in the Gondor spawn area to the south and west. When Théoden enters play (Fate 8) all of the Rohan recruitment tiles are flipped and units are placed in the Rhoan spawn area to the northwest , and when Aragorn enters play ( Fate 12 ) all of the Gondor tiles are flipped, and units placed in the Gondor area once again. The coupling of recruitment to the arrival of heroes creates multiple waves of reinforcements arriving in the nick of time to keep the Shadow army at bay for just a few more turns. Once all three of these heroes are in play that the Muster dice can be used to flip and newly placed recruitment tiles.

The Shadow Commander in Chief
WitchKing.6.30.06.JPGChecking in for the Shadow CinC in the Battle of Gondor is the Witch King. Like Sauromon in the Battle of Rohan, the Witch King can rule from three separate thrones on the game board. The first is centered around drawing cards, the second allows the Witch King to swoop-down and lead troops on the game board, and the third is used for recruitmenting orcs into the army. In all cases the Shadow player can place Nazgul on the board each turn, which are used to pester and degrade enemy armies.

The Witch King himself (err. itself?) has some innate powers beyond those granted to to him by the Commander in Chief role. With the Witch King in play, the Shadow player can spend a Character die result to: flip over and existing recruitment tokens and place units; add more face-down recruitment tokens to the Evil Men and Mordor Recruitment areas; make three army rallying actions on the game board; or he can move 4 different armies at once. Quite the powerful little beasty, this guy.

If the Witch King should happen to meet an untimely demise in battle, then his lieutenant Gothmog takes the banner. If Gothmog falls, then the Light player wins the game and everyone can go home happy.

Now if that's not enough new gamingness for you in just one expansion, then you're seriously projecting some inadequacy issues. One of these battles has enough new content and strategy to warrant an expansion, but the Battles of the Third age has two such battles. Each offers quite a unique series of events and tactical flexibility that they're both highily replayable.

The War of the Ring [Amazon,Funagain] expansion Battles of the Third Age [Funagain] is available in stores now. And uh, if you liked the original game, then what we definitely recommend that you pick up this expansion.

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Posted by Critical Gamers Staff at June 30, 2006 2:15 PM

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