I want to get something off my chest. I’ve never played Stratego. It’s a game I heard a lot about, my friends have played it, my mom has played it, and I’ve heard from several individuals that it’s the game that got them into the tabletop gaming hobby. Sadly I was never given the opportunity to get a game in of Stratego. So when I say that Lord of the Rings: The Confrontation is like Stratego, it’s mostly based off of what I’ve heard. That being said, Lord of the Rings: The Confrontation is still a fantastic 2-player game and I recommend you give it a look.
When I was getting into the hobby I remember coming across this game time and again at my FLGS. It was a decent sized box, not too large, and the price tag was fair but I remember passing it up a couple of times. I think I was overly ambitious, looking for those 3-6 hour slug fest epic games that I thought made up a majority of the hobby. Then a few months in I decided to dive in and picked it up, punched out the pieces, and played with a friend of mine that evening. Man was I glad I did so. Lord of the Rings: The Confrontation is an excellent two-player game that caters to newcomers in the hobby, non-hobby enthusiasts, LOTR fans and possibly even fans of Stratego (please see above paragraph).
The version I picked up was actually a newer Edition (seen in the featured image). This edition came out in 2005 but is based off a version released in the not far off 2002. At that time it was designed by Reiner Knizia (Ra, Tigris & Euphretes) who designed another LOTR themed game in 2000. Then in 2005 Fantasy Flight released the Deluxe Version adding new rules and variants with help from Eric Lang and Christian T. Peterson along with new artwork and components, called the Variant Rules. It’s worth noting that the 2005 version contains the classic rules/components as well, making it a great bang for your buck.
Despite the fact that I find a lot of Lord of the Rings themed games to be rules heavy (trying to get as close to the theme as possible) the Classic Rules of this game, at least, are quite simple and whichever version you play the premise is quite simple. The Fellowship player is trying to get Frodo to Mount Doom and the Sauron player is trying to eliminate Frodo/or get two Sauron characters into the Shire.
The first thing a player does on their turn is move a character. To do this they take one of their pieces and move them one space using a few restrictions: They cannot move sideways unless stated otherwise and cannot move into a region at max occupancy indicated by the number of pips (The Shire for instance has four while Eregion has two). The other thing a player may do is battle. If a piece moves into a region occupied by an opponents piece then a battle occurs. Both players reveal their piece and the battle begins.
Characters involved in a battle are revealed to their respective opponents. In the long run the higher number (the base number is indicated on the character card) between the two pieces wins the battle and the loser is discarded. However there is a lot that goes on once two characters are revealed. When this happens the inherent ability of the characters trigger before any further action is taken. The Fellowship player gets to resolve their ability first followed by the Sauron character. This makes for a wonderful balance as the Sauron player typically starts with much higher base numbers but the Fellowship player has characters that can defeat certain Sauron characters should they meet in battle (Legolas defeats the Flying Nazgul, Gimli Defeats the Orcs, etc). If the Sauron character survives then their ability triggers. If both characters are still standing after the abilities trigger then one last phase begins.
Each player has a hand of cards and though they are very similar, they are just different enough. Like the character pieces, the Fellowship player’s cards rely more on tricks then strength. Of their 9 cards, the Fellowship player has 5 strength cards (ranging from 1-5) which can add to the character’s strength and 4 Text Cards. These text cards have special abilities that can drastically alter how a battle would’ve gone. The Sauron character also has 9 cards, 6 of them are strength (giving them not only one extra strength card but one with a higher value of 6) and 3 of them are Text Cards. Interestingly enough, though the Sauron player has less Text Cards it is their Text cards that will trigger first, followed by any Fellowship text card if any. If a Strength Card was played then that card would trigger and add it’s number to the overall strength value of the character. After all of that if both characters are still standing then the higher strength wins.
Play continues like this with each player taking turns moving and possibly battling until either their respective objective is met or if they are the last player standing.
I normally don’t cover components but I will quickly do so here. This game doesn’t necessarily have the best components but for the price you pay I think it could’ve been a lot worse. Each player gets plastic stands that hold their character tiles, one side showing the tile and the other showing their emblem (Tree of Gondor/Eye of Sauron). The board is also pretty to look at. Though it is square and essentially made up of 16 rather large spaces, and could have been quite abstract, it is amazing how close to the actual layout of Middle Earth it is. If I’m not wracking my brain trying to work out my next move during my opponent’s turn I tend to find myself staring at the various regions, noticing small easter eggs for fans like Shelob’s Lair, Bag End, Rivendell, etc.
The cards are of decent stock and the artwork is beautiful mostly across the board. Fans of other Fantasy Flight LOTR games will notice some of the artwork makes a repeat appearance here but depending on your love of particular pieces this could be a positive rather than a negative. Again, for as cheap as this game is I think the components are quite good.
Yet another category that I normally wouldn’t separate but given that this blog is based on another LOTR themed game, I figured it would be almost necessary to include a brief section on the matter. The theme comes out in almost every aspect of the game, and this is just in the classic version alone. On the board there are spaces that break the normal movement restrictions. Normally a character cannot move sideways but if they are on a space bordering the River Anduin then that player may move their piece sideways. Coming from the Fellowship side, a character can bypass the middle mountain regions by passing through Moria. This leads into the next level of theme, which is in the characters themselves. Legolas can defeat the Winged Nazgul, for instance, while on the Sauron side the Balrog can kill any character that moves through Moria if the Balrog is there.
I won’t go into every detail but pretty much every character is thematically appropriate in the Classic Version, though not as clearly thematic in the Variant version. There are still plenty of thematic wins in the Variant version though, like Treebeard’s buff while in Fangorn or Wormtongue who, despite the fact that he has -1 strength, can retreat backwards even if defeated.
I love 2-player games with a surprising amount of depth, and this game is no exception. I find myself continually fascinated by the asymmetrical strength between the two factions. The Fellowship player is weaker but can take out particular enemies with ease, while the Sauron player has raw might. The Fellowship player has more tricks up their sleeves with their combat cards but the Sauron player gets to trigger theirs first. Similarly the Sauron player has to get either two characters across the board or kill Frodo, while the Fellowship player simply has to get Frodo to Mordor. It’s very chess like and yet despite its depth, can be played in about 20 minutes.
I will point out, even though it’s near the end of the review, that I have yet to play the Variant version, which contains new characters or alters the abilities of old ones. Even so, nothing seems to be lost upon looking over the components, only gained.
Whether you’re a fan of two player games or just a Lord of the Rings fan this game should be a win to most people. Stripping away the theme (which could deter some unfortunately) this game has a great amount of strategy and bluffing that some non-gamers would find very interesting (though they may shy away from the new Variant stuff). Regardless… with it being small, quick, and relatively cheap I think this game would make a great addition to anyone’s collection and I highly recommend it!
-The Secondhand Took
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