I hadn’t played this particular configuration of Lord or the Rings (Knizia) in quite some time and had forgotten how cool it is. It’s interesting to have players on both sides for a change, and it’s also interesting that Sauron’s position (which I was playing) is so much different from the Hobbits’. You have to choose between building up your own position (by moving the Rider to get more Nazgul cards) and actively attacking the fellowship. When attacking, you have some choices of which types of resources to try and drain, and the choice of when to use the Nazgul cards is both difficult and critical. This latter area is where I made my main errors this game – there are so many powerful Nazgul cards, the temptation is to save them until you can administer a real killing blow, but it’s hard to set up anything that is quite that devastating, so you need to be judicious. Saving a bunch until the end will leave you without enough time to play them, many of them are better early than late, and it seems hard to set up any kind of “combination” action anyway.
We had the full compliment of 6 players and started Sauron on 15, as I always do when using the Sauron expansion, and I had a very tough time of it. The Fellowship traipsed through Moria and Helm’s Deep with hardly ever a bad tile draw, and so the situation was not looking promising (for Sauron) going into Shelob’s Lair. Even unleashing the Nazgul was not enough to make things close, and the Fellowship won handily with 86 points.
I thoroughly enjoyed this game, even though it wasn’t that close, and even though the lack of any die rolls (triggering Sauron’s “full” turns) left me idle at times; the Sauron position is still very interesting. Plus, as Americans I think we’ve been trained to believe that good theme is actions cards with thematic-sounding text (see Munchkin or House on the Hill), but Lord of the Rings certainly proves the bankruptcy of that idea – despite being pretty “abstract”, it certainly has a great feel to it.
Getting soundly thrashed left me with a burning desire to play again, as well as to break out Friends and Foes. It also challenged my assumptions that the Sauron expansion set makes it extremely hard for the Fellowship; it’s no cake walk, but I’ve always aimed for the maximum number of hobbits (5) and started Sauron at 15. I think 4 hobbits would be fine and 3 probably would have some chance, and with 5 it might even be worth considering starting Sauron on 12, at least if your players are mostly reasonably experienced.