Second Edition Designer Interview

As you may know the now classic and highly praised War of the Ring board game from 2004 is getting re-released in late 2011. The following interview is intended to give you a look into both the physical part of the upcoming 2nd Edition as well as a look into the decisions behind the revision.

Before we move on to the interview let me introduce myself and thank all those of you who contributed by sending questions to me or by posting on BoardGameGeek. My name is Kristofer Bengtsson and I am one of the play testers that have stuck with War of the Ring since its original play testing. I participated in the rewriting and editing of the rules and card texts for the Collector’s Edition, maintain a site dedicated to the game, and keep its FAQ up to date.

Now, without further ado:

Kristofer: First of all I would like to thank you on behalf of all the WotR players for doing this and begin by saying that the plan is to begin the interview in the abstract and move further and further towards the more concrete things about the revision.

Roberto: Thank you for doing this! Bring on the questions.

Kristofer: Roberto, what were the plans going into the revision, how much did you, Francesco, and Marco think needed changing, and how much did you end up changing?

Roberto: When we started to think about a second edition of War of the Ring, there was a significant amount of discussion in the design team about how much the game should change. From one side of the discussion, there was the viewpoint that "if it's not broken, don't fix it!" which, given the success of the 1st edition, had its merits. On the other hand, we thought that trying to improve the game was a very interesting challenge, and that the discussions that were generated in seven years could bring some useful feedback in that direction. We definitely agreed that there were ways to improve the game on a physical level – better cards, a better board - but the real discussion was, should the rules change? In the end, we agreed that we would like to experiment with some changes - which should not be so extensive to risk breaking the game which already made thousands of players happy, and that clearly had a very delicate balance, as we well knew since the time we were play-testing Twilight of the Third Age, eons ago! And we decided to involve some of the top WotR players in the world, which could bring us their vast experience in playing the game to assess the impact of these changes as much as possible before the game’s release.

Kristofer: Was it important to keep the changes to a minimum or was the game balance important enough to change “anything”?

Roberto: In the end, we all agreed that in case we were not able to reach a good consensus on the improvements of the changes, it was definitely a possibility not to change anything and just publish the game again with revised 1st edition rules (those from the Collector’s Edition), and improving the looks. But I am happy that we were able to find subtle ways to make the game better, while at the same time streamlining it just a little bit.

Kristofer: So, were there any ideas for the revision that you decide to cut before testing?

Roberto: Not really. Once we settled on the level of change we were looking for, it was pretty clear which were the areas of the game where we might try to bring improvements. I can't remember any idea discarded before the first playtest version.

Kristofer: This brings us to the point of the beginning of the testing of the revised edition. Could you describe how the play testers reacted to the changes?

Roberto: This is a very interesting question! We are talking about the best WotR players, so everybody had very strong opinions, and sometime it's difficult to argue with people with such a vast experience! However I think that, as designers, we have a better understanding, than most players, of the "inside" workings of the machinery. We had some testers whom at one point were shy of a small change, but later were proposing changes which would be world-shaking... It was very funny, in the end, even if sometimes it was difficult to keep the playtesting in its proper course, as there were several very creative and talented people in the mix!

Kristofer: Did you cut some changes that you really liked but that proved “bad” in testing, if so what?

Roberto: Yes, indeed. For example we had considered some changes to the topology of the board, but these were rejected for various reasons - it was difficult to understand if they improved the game, and they would have made the old boards (including the one from the Collector's Edition) obsolete. Other rules were rewritten a hundred times!

Kristofer: Did something you really liked in the “old” version of WotR get changed to enhance playability?

Roberto: I don't think so. The changes were more in the direction of actually making the game (which in high-level tournament play becomes something different from what we had in mind when we designed it) closer to our original intention. The key areas, as I see them, are to tone down the more "extreme" strategies, and to limit some "gamey" mechanics, such as the so-called "turn stalling".

Kristofer: OK, let us move towards the more specific questions regarding the actual rules and components of the revised edition. I am sure a complete list of game play changes will be released so those wanting to “upgrade” on their own could do that but could you comment on the basic changes?

Roberto: We will do more than that; we will make the 2nd edition rules completely downloadable. Just be patient for a few more days and you'll have them, as soon as our website is up. In the meantime, I can tell that changes include the setup of the Free Peoples, the abilities of Gandalf the Grey and the Witch-king, Hunt mechanics, the Hobbits, Gollum... and a few less-than-useful or too complex Event cards. Plus, we streamlined a few odd rules here and there, such as the way control or original ownership of a settlement relates to other rules. I hope I did not forget anything!

Kristofer: While on the subject, will the changes of the Event cards be made available as well?

Roberto: Yes, we will post the changes together with the rules changes, but will do more than that! We will actually make revised Event cards available for separate purchase, in the form of an Upgrade Kit.

Kristofer: Nice, we will come back to the Upgrade Kit later, but now we are getting to the questions most people have been enquiring about, will figures for Gollum, Aragorn, and Gandalf the White be included?

Roberto: We'll include the Gollum figure, but not different figures for Aragorn and Gandalf. We tried to stay away from adding components which increased the cost of the game without a real benefit to the players.

Kristofer: So, why Gollum?

Roberto: Mainly because he is useful to have as a visual reminder of his presence with the Ring-bearers, and from the point of view of the cost of the production, adding it had a negligible effect on the cost and would not delay the reprint. The same did not apply to Aragorn and Gandalf the White, which required completely new sculpts to be created.

Kristofer: Great, will there be different colors for the different nations in the revised edition?

Roberto: Unfortunately not. This is the only wish we could not make true. Different colors would bring the Suggested Retail Price of the game over US$100, and we don't think it was the right thing to do. The game is playable nonetheless, and there are hundreds of ways to paint the figures or the bases in different colors that would cost less to our customers than if we had done that.

Kristofer: Now we are heading towards the questions about how the revised edition will work with the Collector’s Edition as well as the Twilight of the Third Age expansion, and what will be in store for the future. And the first question is: What changes are there compared to the Collector’s Edition, is there a way to get an update for the Collector’s Edition?

Roberto: As I said before, all the changes modify only one game component; that is the Character and Event cards. For this reason, the Upgrade Kit will work perfectly well to upgrade the Collector’s Edition to 2nd edition as well as for the owners of the "normal" version of the 1st edition.

Kristofer: But this will only apply for the base game part of the Collector’s Edition, right?

Roberto: Yes. We should point out that the Revised Edition wasn't tested including any of the expansion elements, because we wanted to create the new version in a way that is balanced when played by itself. For this reason, adding elements from "Twilight" to a 2nd Edition game will probably create some imbalance in favor of the Free Peoples. You may try this as a sort of semi-official variant, but we are quite sure that when the time comes to expand the 2nd Edition, the rules and cards will not be exactly the same as those you find in the old expansion.

Kristofer: Do you think there is a risk that those of us who own the Expansion will feel cheated as it is incompatible with the Revised Edition (due to the card size)?

Roberto: This was impossible to solve, the choices were to forget about upgrading the cards or making the new edition not compatible with the old Expansion. And upgrading the cards was a priority for us. We are doing an upgrade kit that owners of the 1st Edition can purchase to become up to date, and I think that it's a possibility, if enough people are interested, that when we release a new Expansion using Ents, Corsairs and that stuff, that we might do an Upgrade Kit for Twilight of the Third Age as well. But anybody who already owns the Expansion is also an owner of the 1st Edition, so he may just continue to play them together! And the Expansion is out of stock now, so any new gamer coming to WotR will just need to wait until a "2nd Edition Expansion" comes in. So, I hope we did no wrong to anybody!

Kristofer: What can you tell me of the Upgrade Kit?

Roberto: It all started with the fact that, once the big, beautiful cards are sleeved, there was no way to make them fit in the box, which is already packed full to begin with! So we went to our good friend Seth, of Mayday Games - the guy who created the sleeves for the Collector's Edition - and asked him if we could create an item, together with him, to protect and store the cards. He provided the sleeves, we designed a beautiful card box, and our first War of the Ring accessory was created. Then, we realized that if we included the Event and Character decks inside the tin, and made it available for separate purchase, we would enable any 1st Edition owner to enjoy the full "2nd Edition Experience" without buying a new game, as the only things that change are in the rules and in the cards. So we went ahead with the concept, and the Upgrade Kit was born. With this kit, owners of the 1st Edition will get the card box, protectors, and cards, and start playing 2nd Edition WotR for the Suggested Retail Price of US$29.90. And the kit is nice enough to be sold at the retail level, not just online, so we don't need to leave out anybody in the distribution chain with this item.

Kristofer: Before we get to the questions about the future of War of the Ring I am sure a lot of people would like to know which languages this new Revised Edition will be available in.

Roberto: At the moment we are releasing it in English only. We hope to have all major languages available in spring 2012. We are quite sure about German, Spanish, and Italian. We hope to find a French partner as well, but at the moment there isn't one.

Kristofer: Will the Upgrade Kit also be available in these languages?

Roberto: Yes, that's our plan, but of course the final choice rests with each individual licensee.

Kristofer: So, about the future. What is the outlook for Battles of the Third Age? Any additional elements planned for the expansion?

Roberto: It's too early to say what will happen. Our opinion as designers is that the “Battles” game have not received enough attention being bundled with the "Twilight" Expansion, and they deserve to be published and developed as games in their own right. If our publisher shares the same opinion perhaps that could become a reality in the future, and that more battles could be added to "Rohan" and "Gondor"...

Kristofer: I like this question: Some time ago there were rumors about a scenario starting from the Falls of Rauros (The Breaking of the Fellowship) and others have created their own scenarios beginning from the Shire. Did you consider introducing any alternate setup or other variant for the revised edition or perhaps for a future expansion?

Roberto: This was briefly discussed, but in the end we decided not to try to include any such variant in the new edition. However, there was a "Breaking of the Fellowship" scenario that I designed a few years ago, that Kristofer Bengtsson helped to develop and playtest, which we will make available as a free download.

Kristofer: OK, last question: Assuming wear and tear wasn’t an issue, which would you rather play, the new edition or the Collector’s Edition?

Roberto: I would definitely play with the new cards! The rest does not change that much.... If I have a bigger table, the oversize CE board is great to have, but the 70 x 100 cm board of this edition is easier to get on most tables. So, I'd choose depending how big the table is!

Kristofer: That was the last of the questions, thank you very much for doing this!

Roberto: You are most welcome!

Please note that some of the images on this website are a preview of Art by John Howe from "War of the Ring"
a game published by Ares Games under license from Sophisticated Games and Middle-earth Enterprises.