Saturday, 14 March 2009

Risk: Lord of the Rings Trilogy Edition

Han was back in town on a short business trip, and he came to play on 7 Mar 2009. We played Risk: Lord of the Rings Trilogy Edition.

I think there are two versions of this game, and the one we played was the newer and more complex version. I'm not sure whether there are multiple rulesets. In the game we played, the good guys can win by delivering the One Ring to Mount Doom, and the bad guys can win by capturing the Ring. There is a ring in the game (nice gold coloured, with elven writing, very much like in the movie) representing the fellowship of the ring. It travels from The Shire to Mount Doom, a distance of 18 territories. The fellowship moves after every player's turn, but in some territories, a die needs to be rolled to decide whether it moves or not. Whenever the ring stops in a territory controlled by the bad guys, the bad guys can try to capture the ring by rolling 12 with 2 dice (or as low as 10 if certain conditions are met). So the good guys and the bad guys need to fight over the territories in the fellowship's path. That one of the main differences from regular Risk.

Then there are event / objective cards. You get to draw one at the end of your turn if during your turn you have captured a special territory. Some of these cards must be played immediately (and they don't always benefit you). Some of these are one-time special power cards, and can be played at your conveniece. Some are objectives that if you fulfill, give you some benefits.

And there are leaders. You get two at the start of the game. They give you a bonus in battle (add 1 to your highest die roll), and they are needed to fulfill objectives. If you lose all your leaders, you get a free one at the end of your turn. Some territories have strongholds. They give you a free soldier at the start of your turn, and when defending, you can add 1 to your highest die roll.

And that's about all the differences from the standard game. The rest is mostly like standard Risk.

The game can accommodate up to 4 players. Since we played a 2-player game, some territories are randomly designated as neutral territories, each defended by 2 neutral soldiers. The good guys (me) and bad guys (Han) get assigned some fixed territories at the start. Of course, it wouldn't be very true to the story if the good guys control Mordor at the start of the game, or the bad guys The Shire. For the remaining unclaimed territories, the players take turns to claim them.

This was around the start of the game. Green were mine (good guys), black were Han's (bad guys), and red were neutral. Most of the pre-determined territories for the good guys are on the western half of the board, and those for the bad guys are on the eastern and southern parts of the board.

The card backs of the two types of cards. The ones on the left are event / objective / special power cards. The ones on the right are territory cards.

The pieces for the good guys. The eagle represents 5 soldiers, the rider of Rohan 3 soldiers, the elven archer 1 soldier.

The bad guys - orc = 1 soldier, black rider = 3 soldiers, orc shield = leader.

The game has lots of die-rolling. I played it the same way I played Risk: Star Wars Original Trilogy Edition. I just attacked as much as I could to claim as many territories as possible on my turn, leaving my soldiers very very thinly spread, and knowing that my borders would be easily broken through, and that it would be hard to hold on to any control over any region (i.e. continent) until the start of my next turn. Because reinforcements are received at the start of your turn, you can always easily amass troops in one territory to break through your enemy's border.

I played the good guys, and in the first few rounds of the game I managed to control more territories than Han. That created a momentum that was hard for Han to reverse, because controlling more territories means getting more reinforcements, which in turn helps in conquering even more territories. I was also lucky to be able to get an extra reinforcement card early, and I had collected 3 eagle (the best type) reinforcement cards relatively early and used them to get 10 troops. The armies of the humans and elves spread across Middle Earth like they were the evil empire or the hordes of orcs. On Han's turns, he employed a similar tactic - attacking as much as possible and breaking through as many region controls as possible.

It was only Round 2 or 3, and I thought the momentum was well on my side to win the game by conquest. Then I drew an event card which gave the bad guys 10 free troops in one of their strongholds in Mordor. Oops... my previous conquest path stopped exactly in the territory next to that stronghold. If I had taken the stronghold, Han would not have received these 10 free troops. On Han's turn he made good use of these troops and launched a successful counter attack, leaving a swath of destruction. There are two such powerful event cards in the game, and the other one is for the good guys (getting 10 free troops in Minas Tirith if the good guys are holding it). It's a big dose of luck, and it is also thematic.

In the end, even that powerful event could not fully reverse the momentum that the good guys had. Han conceded defeat in I think Round 5 or 6, when he found that the reinforcements that he was getting was just too little, and he didn't have any good cards on hand that were helpful. So, the armies of the elves and humans had worn down the hordes of orcs and Uruk Hais and goblins and oliphaunts. And the fellowship of the ring was still leisurely strolling along the tourist trek. I guess in our version of the story the stars were the crazy battlefield commanders and not the lazy hobbits.

I think the game is still very much like Risk, but with enough differences to make things interesting. There is a lot of luck, so I would only play this with a light-hearted mindset. I think the game may be more interesting and slightly less "lucky" with more players. One thing that is more interesting are the rivers, bridges and mountain ridges that prevent / allow movement between territories. I'm not sure whether movement is really more restricted than Risk or these are just cosmetic, but my gut feel is Risk LOTR's movement between territories is more restricted.


mrt181 said...

cool, i just bought the expansion of the German version to complete my lotr risk.

i can't really understand the hatred risk gets in some places. it is a game to be played with friends and a beer crate (or two)

Hiew Chok Sien said...

What does the German expansion add? I wasn't aware there was an expansion. I only knew there were two versions of Risk LOTR, and I think the one I played was the newer version with a bigger board.

Actually I don't think Risk is a very good game. When I first played it many years ago, it was something new and interesting because I had never played anything like it. Now that I am exposed to many more games, I see its many weaknesses.

The good thing about Risk LOTR is it builds on top of the familiar Risk system, making it easier for non-gamers to learn, and there are enough differences to make it interesting even for people who are no longer interested in basic Risk. I am no longer interested to play Risk again, but I don't mind playing Risk LOTR again, just not too frequently.

mrt181 said...

The German expansion just completes the German basic game - it makes it equal to the trilogy edition plus a smaller board that gives you the ability to play the Siege of Minas Tirith [GameID=8504].

Risk Deluxe and the other variants (2210, Godstorm) are way better than standard risk.

it has to be played with 4 or more players and with 1 or 2 beer crates to be enjoyable.

it is not a good game but still fun once the group is a little bit drunk and swears to crush each other in the game or to break someones nose if you attack him (not really, just for the fun of it).

Hiew Chok Sien said...

Thanks for the explanation. I had a look at the board of the earlier version of Risk LOTR on BGG, and comparing them, I'd say the later version is much more interesting.

I definitely agree that Risk LOTR can be a lot of fun if played with the right mood.

Cecrow said...

The two Star Wars editions of Risk have proven to be very good as well, especially Original Trilogy. The Transformers edition however ... not so much. We used to play LOTR Risk more frequently before we discovered War of the Ring. Even still, it's a lighter game than WotR and a straightforward beat-em-up; sometimes that's all our gaming mood calls for.

Notso said...

I am surprised you liked the LOTR that much. I have it, and I love the map, but I fear the special game/mode that comes with it. I have heard it is too random and that the 2 sides ability to win (from the start) is too unbalanced. So, I always just play Risk on that board with a few house rules to change it up slightly.

Hiew Chok Sien said...

Maybe it's because I won... :-)

Jokes aside, I may have sounded more enthusiastic about the game that I actually was. I think it's a light beat-up-your-buddies game which can be fun if you are in the right mood to play it. But not something I feel the need to own or need to play frequently.

I didn't feel the game in unbalanced though, looking at the starting setup. Which side is deemed to have an advantage? I'd agree there is a fair bit of luck, from the cards and the dice, but the starting setup didn't seem unbalanced to me.

Notso said...

First I would like to say, I agree that it needs to be a game players take "lightly". I find it is difficult for those I play with to take it that way, though, because the theme of the game doesn't lend itself that way. For example, it is a lot easier to take a game with humor (like maybe Ninja Burger, which I have yet to play but looks funny) lightly than a game that has a serious combat theme.

Anyway, in terms of the unbalance, I think the problem comes in the bad guys being able to roll to capture the ring. There needs to be a different mechanic for that I think. Otherwise, it is easy for the bad guys to win with one lucky roll whereas the good guys have to plod through the whole track and just hope the lucky roll doesn't occur. I realize they made it a roll that doesn't have a high probablility (like 2 6s) to address that, but I am not sure it quite works. It shouldn't be so easy for a person to win with just one roll. I realize that you can just try to not allow the bad guys to take the territory in the first place, but I don't think that is enough for the good guys. I guess what it gets down to is my original complaint that it has just a little too much randomness; it is too hard for someone to win just by good play (especially the good guys since they can't end the game in one roll like the bad guys can).

Hiew Chok Sien said...

Notso, I understand what you mean now. Indeed the "roll 12 (or 11, or 10)" to capture the ring is a very luck-heavy component that is advantageous to the evil forces. It can be very unsatisfying if the good guys play well, but lose the game because the bad guys rolled a lucky 12. The good guys can and should try to control and protect the path of the fellowship, which I think is an interesting aspect of the game that the capture ring mechanism forces on them. Similarly the bad guys should try control the path. So I see some good in this capture ring mechanism, just that the "roll 12" part may not be the best approach. A not-so-perfect means to an end. Like most parts of the game, this is yet another luck element.

I guess it didn't feel like a big problem to me because my game ended quite quickly and we never got to a point when the bad guys had a chance to roll the dice to try to capture the ring.