I seem to be playing War of the Ring mainly with 3 players of late – 3 recent games. There always seem to be a couple people interested in playing, and the 3-player rules aren’t too bad (I wouldn’t play with 4; the downtime for the Fellowship players would be too high). Here’s the problem, though: the bad guys never win the three player scenario. In fact, they’ve never really been terribly close. If the Fellowship guns it for Mordor, the bad guys are barely even organized before the Ring gets disposed of. Counting the Mumakil as leaders is simply inadequate compensation for the significant restrictions on how the bad guys are able to use their dice. Next time we play, we’ll give the Shadow Player some additional boost, perhaps an extra die (the one from The Mouth) at start.
But this begs the larger question: does Sauron have any hope at all in the game at any number of players? As I’ve played more, many elements of the game have simply been falling away. For example, we’ve discovered it’s virtually never a good idea to split off any companions from the Fellowship (except Gandalf, via his first death); the benefits of activations and easier diplomacy are simply far too marginal and the costs in spent dice far to high compared with a rapid trek to Mordor, which will win you the game outright. Likewise as the Fellowship players have realized the way to victory is through rapid Fellowship movement, most all Shadow Player options can be eliminated as simply impractical, leaving only the rapid attack on Rohan/Gondor and Lorien. The number of action cards that are at all interesting to each side has plummeted as most are too weak and are realized to be a distraction from the only real way the players have to win the game.
So Sauron must play a much tighter game than the Fellowship to have any chance at all. All the Fellowship player has to do is push the Fellowship at every opportunity. Sauron has to precisely muster the right forces, get them moving at exactly the right time to have enough guys to win but not muster so many guys they’ll take too long getting there. They’ve got to use their Nazgul precisely to delay the Fellowship. And they’ve got to cycle Character cards aggressively using the Witch-King, because so few Strategy cards are worth anything after the first few turns and the only way they’ll hinder the Fellowship is to get the few cards that help in this.
So I dunno. It’s a decently fun game, but as the reasonable options have been narrowing, my enthusiasm has been waning significantly. Most good wargames have a progression of widening options: the game is complicated so you don’t really know what to do the first time, so you go with a “historical” strategy, but as you play more and understand the nuances of the game, you try different things, some of which work, and new strategies develop. War of the Ring simply hasn’t developed. The relatively obvious strategy for the Fellowship is to move as fast as possible to Mordor; we’ve yet to figure out how Sauron can do anything to force any kind of reaction from the good guys, and the game seems hugely constrained by this as it forces Sauron down a specific path. Not too promising as an indicator of whether War of the Ring will still be on my shelf in 6 months.