First Edition Playtester Interview

First I would like to introduce myself, my name is Kristofer and I was one of the playtesters for this great game. I have been involved in the creation of the game since January 2004 when I contacted Nexus and asked if I could help playtest this new game they where developing.

The game was playtested quite extensively and this contributed greatly to the quality of the finished product. I asked some of my fellow playtesters to answer a few questions about how they became involved and what their feelings and thoughts where during the playtesting and what they thought once the game was released.

The playtesters that participated in the interview were Steve Owen, Andy Daglish and Douglas Silfen (you can find their names along with mine on the last page of the rule book under contributing playtesters).

On to the interview...

Kristofer: To start off perhaps we could say something of ourselves, where we are from, how old we are, any previous experiences in playtesting games and so on.

I am 27 and live in southern Sweden, I have been working as a teacher since 2001 and as a history teacher I have developed an educational game about the Scramble for Africa in which the players take the roles of the European colonizers/exploiters. When it comes to games I am a big fan of the Princes of Florence/Traders of Genoa genre.

Steve: I am a Consultant Physician specializing in Respiratory Medicine. I trained at Cambridge and now work in North Cheshire. I am 40 something and would like to retire as soon as possible to get to grips with my game collection, which is in excess of 3000! I have a playtester credit for For the People although did little work on it.

Andy: I am 42, I am essentially an invalid, and I was born at the exact center of the Call of Cthulhu map at Apponaug, R.I., but have lived in England all my life. I began playing wargames when I was eight years old, but I was not very impressed with any games until the release of Squad Leader and Kingmaker in 1977. I began testing ASL in 1985 because I was concerned about how the Japanese would be portrayed in the game, and eventually we did the last three Avalon Hill ASL modules. I feel that Code of Bushido is the best Avalon Hill product known to myself. After that we tested several of the Avalon Hill card series games, and also an early version of Tigris and Euphrates as well as a number of other projects. We began playing German family games in 1989.

Douglas: I'm 40 years old and I teach World History at various junior colleges in southern California. I hold a Masters degree in History. I am originally from New York where I lived until I was 14. Then I lived in Florida and went to college in Wisconsin and lived back again in NY before moving to Southern California in 1994. I've helped to test only one other game called Crusader Rex from Columbia Block Games that is not yet released. However, I've played various boardgames throughout the years of my life and used to make homemade games for our family.

Kristofer: I found out about the development of the game when following the thread of the old SPI War of the Ring game at Consimworld. How did you first learn of the development of the War of the Ring game?

Andy: Mike Siggins reported on Consimworld that Charles Vasey had mentioned that Nexus were going to do a game titled War of the Ring.

Steve: I also followed the thread on Consimworld.

Douglas: I can't remember for sure. I believe I saw the thread at Consimworld when looking at the fantasy forum for Wizard Kings (Columbia Block Games).

Kristofer: How and when did you become involved in the playtesting of the game?

Andy: : I told Steve Owen, who contacted Nexus and played the test several times without telling me! I then requested my own test kit.

Steve: Roberto di Meglio of Nexus Games called for playtesters on Consimworld and I volunteered. I have been a longstanding fan of Tolkien and have read the book at least seven times. The films I am rather less impressed by but still have the full collection in extended form.

Douglas: I either saw that they wanted beta testers or took it upon myself to mail Nexus in Italy to ask if they would like help testing their game. I have always been a great fan of all the works of Tolkien, especially his books on Middle-Earth.

Kristofer: I came into the playtesting a bit later than you guys and the first version I received looked very impressive. I can recall several areas of the rules that had already reached its final form. What was your first impression of the playtest version of the game?

Steve: Great design, the first playtest took nearly five hours but provided lots of fun. First few games were played with Andy Ogden but then Andrew Daglish learned about it! Played many games with Andrew and also several four-player versions with the rest of our regular gaming group.

Andy: It was an unusually powerful but raw design.

Douglas: Very positive. I thought it had just about everything that every previous game that dealt with the subject lacked. The only thing I didn't like was the lack of named leaders for the western lands. Something I still wish they would have made, but I understand the cost restraints in making a mold for each and every individual leader.

Kristofer: As the game evolved towards its final form did you feel it changing for the better or not, why?

Steve: The game had gone through a significant amount of evolution before we had contact with it. We were keen to test the game system to its limits, fine tune the game balance and rationalize the card mix. Roberto di Meglio felt the Free Peoples were favored from the beginning but I perfected a Shadow strategy early on, which involved just the activation of Sauron’s forces and a pre-emptive strike on Lorien. This almost guaranteed victory. The main change as a result of this was the initial activation of the Elves. Various other changes were made and then we felt that the Shadow couldn’t win, the pendulum had swung too far! Changes were made to the cards that we were unhappy about which prompted further changes.

Around this time the designers made a radical change to the Hunt system that we were very wary of initially but gradually accepted it. Eventually we were quite satisfied, with just a few niggles!

Andy: The game was obviously improving but some problems remained. Steve and I played one four-player and several two-player games every week for many months, and in this way we gained the necessary understanding of this design in order that we could make useful contributions. Over the years I have found that the best testing is done on the best designs, and also, paradoxically, on the most complete designs. I think as a test group we need a design such as War of the Ring in order to deploy our abilities to the fullest.

Douglas: Yes, of course it did. The game became more balanced and relied less on the Shadow Player and more on both players as equals in their decisions. I felt the game relied too much on the Shadow Player at first and then too much on the Fellowship Player later on, but it was balanced nicely in the end.

Kristofer: As the game came closer to its final form many of our suggestions where incorporated or discarded, did you feel that you made a difference in the process of perfecting the game?

Douglas: I felt I had something to do with the option of having the Fellowship a party of just 3 (Sam, Frodo, and Gollum) rather than a large one. At first it seemed it was much better to have more Companions remaining in the Fellowship. I brought this up many times and the game was changed by the designers to allow more benefits from going into Mordor with just Gollum and no other Companions. I also feel that my constant request to make the distance between Mordor and the Dwarven Lands less, may have something to do with the final game having one less region in this area, thus making the distance shorter.

Steve: We played a lot of games (over 50 times), which helped to give us a reasonable perspective on the development process although it was a joint enterprise with the other playtesters and the designers were very receptive (normally!)

Andy: The test was easier because the problems to be solved were clear, and we all tended to agree about what required modification. Answering this type of question is what we do best.

Kristofer: Playtesting games can often be tedious work since you after a while become fed up with the game and the test sessions become less interesting. However, I think that testing this game actually became more fun as the game evolved into better and better versions. Was this also true for you when testing the game?

Steve: We enjoyed every game we playtested, although some of them were incredibly frustrating!

Andy: Yes, because of the strength of the design, because it was book-based and because it was Tolkien, and also because the game underwent development during testing that continuously evolved a different playing experience. But if a test becomes boring this means that no further testing is necessary, though of course testers will not always recommend publication.

Douglas: Yes!

Kristofer: As I received my complimentary copy of the game I felt overwhelmed, the artwork and the detail of the miniatures where above my hopes. What was your feeling towards the final product once you opened it for the first time?

Steve: Joy and despair! Pleasure that the game had actually been published and at the quality of the components but disappointment at the tiny font size on some of the cards. I also had a squashed Gimli but this was swiftly rectified.

Andy: I had some concerns about the nature of the physical production, but these were not entirely unexpected.

Kristofer: Did this change as you played it for the first time?

Andy: I thought some aspects of the map's graphic design, such as the Mordor Track, were particularly well portrayed, but also that certain other areas of the map should have benefited from a similar level of care.

Steve: The font size became less of an issue with magnifying glasses and such and we enjoyed playing the game, as always.

Kristofer: As I have played several games on the finished version I have come to like the game even more. What do you think of the finished version today?

Steve: My feelings haven’t changed towards it other than realizing that painting the pieces is unnecessary and my second copy lies idle as a consequence. Despite the minor flaws I believe it to be a magnificent achievement

Andy: I would not say War of the Ring is the best wargame ever published but it is hard to think of one with a similar range and magnitude of strengths. It is the sort of game I wanted to play again repeatedly, even after testing had finished.

Douglas: I thought everything was wonderfully done except that I might have gone with a more colorful board. All in all, however, I was very very pleased indeed.

Kristofer: Before we end the interview is there anything else you would like to add?

Steve: I enjoyed playtesting the game a lot and would like to thank the designers (two of whom I was fortunate enough to meet in Venice on a visit) and my fellow playtesters.

Andy: Nexus tended to make all the changes we requested, which was very kind. However we were not closely involved with what was happening inside Nexus itself and I feel its always best to have as open a discussion as possible. The War of the Ring test was characterized by the unusual situation of a company new to board wargame production dealing with an extremely powerful design as their first such project, and doing so in a foreign language. The situation was unusual for these reasons but the success of the result is hard to deny.

Douglas: Just that I enjoyed participating in this greatly with everyone and felt that the folks in Italy were super responsive to us testers, more than I could have imagined.

Kristofer: Thank you for participating in this interview.

Steve: My pleasure.

Andy: At your service!

Douglas: You’re welcome.

Please note that the images on this page are a preview of Art by John Howe from "War of the Ring" a game published by Nexus Editrice under license from Sophisticated Games and Tolkien Enterprises.

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.