Opening the box may be rather overwhelming initially, with over 200 plastic miniatures,
over 100 cards, 16 Action Dice, a sheet of markers, and a 48 page rulebook.
Fear not! Here are are a few pointers.
As with any other game you need to focus on the victory conditions. Essentially for the Free Peoples (FP)
player this is to destroy the Ring and for the Shadow player to capture the Cities and Strongholds of the
Let us have a brief overview of the game:
The FP player starts with the Fellowship, including all the Compaions and the Ring-bearers (Frodo & Sam).
Each Companion has a Level and a Leadership rating and may have special abilities. Keeping individuals within
the Fellowship will help protect the Ring-bearers but they are also needed elsewhere to rally the Free Peoples
and lead their armies against the Enemy. One of the many difficult choices that this game offers.
The Shadow's Minions (the Witch-king, hte Black Captain, Saruman and the Mouth of Sauron) are similar but need to be recruited.
Split into two decks – Character and Strategy. These can make or break your day. Start with two and gain two each turn plus extra ones from abilities and Action dice.
Each card has both an Event and a Combat effect. The Character cards often help or hinder the Fellwoship whilst
the Strategy cards have military effects. Your strategy can easily dictated by the Event cards you draw and hold.
For instance, "Denethor's Folly" will encourage an early assault on Minas Tirith or "Durin's Bane” on Lorien for the Shadow whereas "Faramir’s Rangers"
will provide reinforcements for the FP in Osgilath if played early, but may be useless later in the game.
The dilemmas here are which to keep and which to discard, since you may never hold more than six cards in your hand at any time.
Several of the good Strategy cards on both sides are also linked to strong Combat effects – decisions, decisions!
Both players have access to the same kind of troops - the fundamental difference is that the FP player's forces are lost forever when eliminated whereas the Shadow ones return to the reinforcement pool. Units come in three flavours – Regular Army units, Elite Army units, which are downgraded to Regulars when hit, and Leaders. None of the nations are at war at the start of the game and they need to be activated (for the FP) and mobilised (by the Action dice and Event cards). Reinforcements can only be mustered if a nation is at war (unless card mediated) and only in Settlements belonging to that nation. So no recruiting in enemy regions. This is important because although the Shadow armies are infinite they do take some time to re-form if disaster strikes. Also the FP player can almost reach parity in forces if allowed to increase his armies unimpeded. This does assume each nation is already at war which is difficult to achieve on the FP side. Army limits are ten per region and five inside besieged Strongholds. You may never roll more than five dice (normal – six sided) in combat and hits are usually 5 or 6 except in Cities and Protections (Fords of Isen and Osgiliath), which are 6 for the first round and Strongholds which are always 6. Much of the Shadow strategy is related to wearing down FP Strongholds. Here Combat effects on the Event cards are crucial, especially those like "Deadly Strife" which adds +2 to both sides dice rolls. Others eliminate Shadow units to give an advantage in combat but this can be very effective in causing an Shadow army to disappear! Combat misses can be re-rolled using Leaders and some of the cards help here too. One cunning Shadow strategy is to always concentrate the Nazgûl (the Shadow Leaders), who can fly anywhere, at every important site of conflict. Even better if the Witch-king is there too as his Leadership equals two re-rolls.
Four for the FP player, seven for the Shadow player. Aragorn and Gandalf the White provide extra dice as do all the Shadow Minions. Each Action die icon can usually be used in more than one way. The Muster icon, for example, may be used to move a nation towards war, provide reinforcements if at war, permit a Strategy Event card to be played, or can bring a Shadow Minion into play.
The Character icon for the FP player may be used to move the Fellowship, to hide them, to play a Character Event card or to move an army with a Leader. Obviously having more dice magnify the possibilities. Equally, not rolling the icons you need has the potential to seriously impair your game plan although with each icon having multiple uses this has less impact than might first appear. Two icons warrant special mention. The Will of the West stands in for any other FP icon and is also needed to promote Strider or Gandalf the Grey to their stronger versions. Each Eye icon transforms into a Hunt die which is used to Hunt the Fellowship.
The Elven Rings
Three of these belong to the FP player who can use one per turn to change an action icon to anything else (apart from the Will of the West).
Once used, the Elven Ring is taken by the Shadow player who can do much the same with it.
Each Character icon on the FP player's Action dice allows one move by the Fellowship but the more you move each turn the more hazardous it becomes due to the Hunt.
Movement is tracked on the Fellowship Progress Track and this translates into a position on the board only if the Fellowship is declared or revealed.
The further the Fellowship moves on the track the greater distance Companions can be located if separated from the Fellowship.
The quickest route from Rivendell to Mordor is ten regions, but this passes through Moria. The danger of this is that if the Fellowship is revealed by a
HHunt tile or Event card entering, being found in, or exiting Moria. If that happens an extra hunt tile is drawn. The main alternative routes are either over the High Pass, and through the Goblin Gate, or south via Isengard and the Gap of Rohan. Both routes amount to twelve regions.
Each Eye icon becomes a Hunt die and several can be allocated by the Shadow player prior to his main roll. The first time the Fellowship moves in a turn it is potentially found by rolling a "6" on any of the Hunt dice (as many D6s as there are Eye dice in the Hunt box),
the second time a "5" or "6" and so on. If a hit is scored then a Hunt tile is drawn. These Hunt tiles are placed in a bag at the beginning of the game
and drawn as needed. They range from "0" to "3", with a number of them bearing Eyes and Revealed icons. Various Free Peoples Character Event cards protect the Fellowship while the Shadow player can use several of his Character Event cards to attack the Fellowship.
Revealing & Declaring
If a Revealed icon appears then the Fellowship has been found and must show itself on the board. It cannot move again until it is
hidden and is much more vulnerable to Shadow Character Event cards. A declaring Fellowship is placed on the board but not revealed and is normally positioned
in a friendly City or Stronghold where it can Heal one corruption point. A revealed Fellowship cannot be positioned in a friendly City or Stronghold.
The Fellowship must declare in Mordor after reaching one of the two entrances (Minas Morgul or Morannon). The Hunt now moves up a gear. All the Eye Tiles
are placed back into the Hunt pool together with any Special Hunt tiles activated by Event cards earlier in the game (e.g. "Phial of Galadriel" and "Shelob's Lair").
Each time the Fellowship moves inside Mordor a Hunt tile is drawn and the result carried out - an Eye can be particularly nasty as it causes damage/corruption
equal to the number of Hunt dice in the Hunt Box.
Written by Steve Owen (First Edition playtester) & edited by Kristofer Bengtsson