Lord of the Rings hasn’t come out as much recently as it did in the first couple years after its release; the high score sheet in my box indicates I’ve played only 3 times this year, and only a total of 7 times with the Sauron expansion (I don’t recall ever playing with anyone else’s copy, so that sounds about right for total plays). The total play count, though, is now up to about 40, with the Friends and Foes expansion getting somewhat short shrift (only 5 plays, and no combined Sauron/Friends & Foes games). Anyway. Kim got to play Sauron this time, while Milton, Linda, Jeff, Roger, and I were the good guys. Things were looking good through Moria, which we managed to escape with minimal pain, but then things proceeded to get ugly in Helm’s Deep as Linda pulled 7 bad tiles in a row, including some 4 (I think) events. This, combined with some timely Nazgul play by Kim, hammered us badly. We then got whacked almost immediately in Shelob’s lair, for a total score of 41 points, lowest ever (on my sheet anyway) for a Sauron game. We bought Gollum, which I think was our big mistake – we then lost players on the very next even to a lack of shields, which was bad.
Wizard then came out again, a standby when we have 6 and only an hour or so. We played with blind bidding (using the version of the game that comes with the bidding wheels), a variant I didn’t take to initially but that has grown on me. With open bidding, the bid comes out “even” often, but with the blind bidding you can get some tricky situations, especially in the middle game. On balance I’d rather have been playing Die Sieben Siegel, just because we play Wizard so much, but its weakness is that it only goes up to 5.
Last was Global Powers, another new small-press game from Essen that is basically another area-control game, but it’s got lots of interesting thematic stuff that you can do once you control an area – grow the economy, buy military, go to war with your neighbors, lobby the UN, etc. The rules for this game are a bit dicey (even in the German … they seem to contradict themselves on when you have a Coalition Government and when to use the tie-breaker rules). The game was fun in principle, but had a few flaws. Firstly, the game time estimate on the box is ah, well, not entirely accurate. It says 45min to 2hr, but our 5-player game took over 2 hours to play only 2 turns, out of a maximum possible 4 turns (although turns will get significantly shorter as the game goes on, as players lose politicians from the game each turn). I can’t see much way to get the game down to 45 minutes. Secondly, there is an issue with virtual player elimination. If you get to the point that you don’t control a government anywhere, you may be completely hosed as virtually every game action requires you to control a government somewhere. It may also be too expensive to bring politicians on to the board; again, you can’t do it without controlling a government somewhere, and it’s rather expensive even then, so it might lead to being a bit hard to alter your current situation.
Still, all this being said, this still is a very flavorful game with a lot of interesting choices. I liked the event cards, which seemed powerful and dramatic, but not overly so once you knew what was out there. The threat of military action seems to drive a lot of the game, and I liked how that whole system worked. So both Kim and I thought it would be good for another go (others at the table were not so inclined; Milton gave it a thumbs down, although Roger liked it). If the playing time could be brought down to 2 hours or less by familiarity (a possibility), it still has a chance to be a pretty decent game; but the jury is still out.