War of the Ring (second edition) is the one game I seem to never get tired of, I've been playing it regularly over the past half a year and I cannot wait to put it again on my gaming table. It has slowly made me addicted and the more I play, the more possibilities I see, more strategic decisions and more fun. So, let's take a look at the strategy, mostly from the point of view of the "good player", the guy fighting against Sauron.
I will once again assume that you know at least the basics of the game and after this very short introduction I will skip straight to the heavy stuff. So, the armies are set up, the two players are facing each other and ... here it goes.
The first few turns
For the Shadow the strategy is simple... always keep a few dice in the hunt pool, otherwise the fellowship might move too easily. Then move your nation to war as soon as possible. Why? Well, as Shadow you want to have as many action dice as possible, so you need to bring your leaders and therefore your dice in play. So, there's a double advantage in advancing your nations to war. Ideally, by round 4 you should already have two leaders in play and two extra action dice.
How about the good guys? This is when it get a bit more complicated. It's important to make a decision in the beginning and choose which leader will guide the fellowship. You will also need at least one extra action die to keep your game rolling. I personally prefer Gandalf at first, so I can constantly refresh my hand of cards using his special ability. As soon as the fellowship has come close enough to Rohan, I prefer to deploy Gandalf in Helm's Deep so Rohan has a fighting chance against Saruman and his constant flow or armies. As soon as Aragorn is the guide, I make sure I use his special ability and hide the fellowship using any die.
General strategy - moving the fellowship
I guess that's not rocket science, but it's worth mentioning... every time the Shadow player has very few or no dice in the hunt pool, do everything you can to move the fellowship. Even sacrificing victory points is acceptable. My personal rule is to use the rings (the ones which allow changing one die) only for this purpose.
As long as the Shadow has one die in the hunt pool, I would move the fellowship up to three times. If there are two dice in the pool, I would move it twice and with 3-4 dice I would only move once per turn. With 5+ dice in the hunt pool, I would only move the fellowship at most once and only if there are no conditions for re-rolls.
The next question is which path should the fellowship take to Mordor? There's debate here, but I would go with the obvious, the shortest path. Only in case there's a special card on the table which brings one additional hunt tile in Moria I would consider going around. But that happens very rarely before the fellowship passes Moria. For the exact path, simply count the regions.
Defense vs. attack
If the Shadow player is inexperienced, he might just provide the opportunity for a swift military victory, in th end four points seem like a bargain. Well, that's only the case of an inexperienced player. Aiming for a military victory against the shadow is not really a choice against someone who does know and understand the game. So, I will start from this premise.
Defense is the way to go. Force the Shadow to spend as many actions as possible to attack and make the attacks as futile as you can. Prepare your defense in a city or stronghold, retreat in the next one (e.g. from Osgiliath to Minas Tirith) and then finally retreat in siege. Defending in siege is by far the most effective way to avoid losing you hard acquired troops. There's a drawback, you won't get to recruit and it's simply a matter of time before you'll be conquered. That's not a problem as long as you follow your long term goal and move the fellowship further.
When you "plan" your opponent's VP, count wisely and make him spend actions and troops. If you have a stronghold with only 2-3 units and you survive the initial attack, retreat immediately in siege. This might cost another action die and maybe even one elite unit. Plan at least three strongholds which you will not lose. Not soon, not ever. It's easy to count the number of VP. If you can defend everything but 7 of them, you're in an ideal situation, because you have an out. Losing one more stronghold will still allow you to continue. In the worst case scenario, you must defend everything but 9 VP.
There will also be moments when you'll have the opportunity to be on the offensive. Don't be afraid to lose a few units if that means chasing a weaker enemy away. Remember, every more of the Shadow costs action dice and with less action dice, you will have less worries with the hunt pool.
Another interesting choice when defending is to combine armies of different free peoples. When you're attacked you'll get to activate/move towards war more than one nation, hence spend less action dice for this purpose. Keeping exactly one nation out of war is also sound strategy. I will let you know figure out why.
Playing cards in combat
There will be a moment in your game when you will have your hand full of cards and wonder "why haven't I spent more in combat?". Don't worry just yet, you might have made the right choice.
I would divide the cards according to their combat requirements in:
- cards which require a companion
- cards which require a leader
- and cards without requirement
Before you play a card in battle, take a good look at the rest of it. If the effect of the card has become superfluous or it brings minimal advantage, save it for battle. For example, there will be cards which require you to have a companion in a location. If that companion is already dead... well, you get the point. Also, there are cards which allow you to move nations on the political track which will prove ineffective towards the end of the game. Save all these cards for battle.
If you have chosen to go with the "destroy the ring" strategy, definitely you want to play the cards which will add the "good corruption" tiles to the game (0, -1 and -2 corruption). They may very well be the difference between winning and losing on the Mordor track.
With the same strategy, you will most likely want to use your action dice to move the fellowship as much as possible, but the same dice may be used to play cards. Those cards are better candidates for spending in battle.
One of the (probably many) keys to victory is to know the cards so you know what to expect, especially after half of the game.
The Mordor track
To have a decent chance to win, when you start you climb on the Mordor track your corruption should be 5 or less. This depends, of course, on the hunt tiles still in the game, but this is a general guideline.
In my opinion, Gollum is the best guide on the Mordor track. First, if Gollum guides your fellowship, the other companion have died or left the fellowship, serving other purposes.That means that your corruption is low. Also, there are cards which work better with Gollum.
When you choose to climb (by spending the appropriate action die) make sure that you won't lose at once. Keep track of the "eye" hunt tiles, on the Mordor track they're the most destructive. Assuming N is the probability of drawing an "eye" and D is the number of dice in the hunt pool, you will have an average chance of getting NxD. If this number added to your corruption will increase it to 12 or more, it's not the best moment to move the fellowship. There's an even better way to see how you're doing. If you know every hunt tile in the game, sum them up. Every "eye" is equal to the number of dice in the hunt pool. Divide then the total by the number of hunt tiles and you get an average. That's how much corruption you "hope" to get the next time you move the fellowship.
The Shadow - divide et impera
For the Shadow, the strategy is slightly simpler. Don't leave the hunt pool empty, that will allow massive movement for the fellowship without consequences. With that covered, bring your leaders in the game, starting with Saruman. He's very effective at recruiting and you can put a lot of pressure on Rohan without attacking.
When you decide to attack, make sure that you have enough action dice which allow army movement. Then chose a target stronghold and take it in one turn (ideal case) or force it into siege (this way you don't have to fear reinforcements almost at all). It's easy to move the Nazguls, so make use of them in every battle, the leader re-roll is crucial.
What to attack first? That depends a lot on your cards, but Gondor is usually a safe bet. First of all, it's the closest to your massive starting armies and it offer half the points for victory. This way you don't help the free peoples to progress on the political trap and it's quite easy to deal with one nation. Once Gondor is "taken care of", use Saruman's wolf riders to conquer Helm's Deep while moving your armies north of Gondor. With his speed of making elite units, Saruman's troops should have almost no problem in defeating Gondor.