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TThe Lords of the Rings Boardgame:
Friends & Foes and Sauron Expansions

Reviewed by Nigel Buckle, copyright ©2002

Edited by Suzanne Campbell for The Guild Companion

This article revisits The Lord of the Rings Boardgame (see my review in the November 2000 issue and the first revisit in the February 2001 issue). In this article I will first review the 2 expansions now available for the game, Friends & Foes ($21.95 US, 17.99 UK) and Sauron ($24.95 US, 19.99 UK), then give some suggestions on modifying the game. I'll assume you know about the original game; if you do not then first read the two articles mentioned above.

Friends & Foes

This is an expansion to the Lord of the Rings Boardgame, so you'd only want to consider this if you owned the original game. In the box you get:

1 scenario board (printed with Bree scenario on one side, Isengard on the other)

21 Feature Cards (including Tom Bombadil and Strider, 3 new Gandalf powers and 1 additional card for each Hobbit)

30 Foes (including the Barrow Wight, Cave Troll and Orcs)

2 stickers (to add the additional locations to the master board of the original game)

The path the fellowship now takes on the master board is: Shire, Bree (new), Rivendell, Moria, Lothlorien, Isengard (new), Helms Deep, Shelob's Lair, Mordor.

The feature cards in the expansion are used on the 2 new scenario boards.

The biggest addition is the Foes - now the military struggle from Lord of the Rings is represented in the game. These are depicted through a new deck of cards and are placed in front of the main board (the Foe line) when the company draws certain event tiles (whenever the Activity tile is drawn as the first tile), or if the 'discard' symbol appears - now instead of discarding cards you reveal additional foes. If at the end of any hobbit's turn there are 8 (or more) foes in the line then the game ends immediately with Sauron gaining a military victory. Of course there are ways to remove the Foes - the new feature cards give options to defeat Foes (including a new Gandalf card) and each Foe also has the condition needed to defeat it on the card. These conditions vary but typically the active player has to discard tokens, shields or cards or roll the die. In the original game you could either play cards, or draw cards, or heal - now you can also choose to not play cards and defeat the last Foe drawn. The game also gives the fellowship another option to win - defeat all 30 Foes and the Free-peoples manage to vanquish Sauron with a military victory!

It initially appears the expansion will add considerably to the time the game takes, because of the additional boards - but now it's possible for the fellowship to skip over certain boards. If no foes are present after completing the Bree board, then the fellowship can miss out Moria (and Lothlorien); if no foes are present after Isengard (or certain conditions are met during the Isengard scenario) then Helms Deep can be missed. Finally Shelob's Lair can be avoided as well - although it is not possible to skip all three.

If you liked the original game then chances are you will like this expansion - as it fills in parts of the story missing from the original game and gives you some much needed variety (you can play all the boards or try to skip past some). However it seems to actually make the game easier to win, not by making it easier to get to Mordor and destroying the ring, but by giving the option to defeat all the foes for a military victory. In the majority of the games I've played using just this expansion the fellowship wins have been as military victories (often as soon as Helms Deep if not before) - personally this just doesn't feel right from a Lord of the Rings theme.

In summary, if you liked the original but either found it a trifle to hard to beat or want some variety then you probably want to buy this expansion. If on the other hand you didn't like the original game then there is not much changed in this expansion to tempt you.

 

Sauron

This is the second expansion to the Lord of the Rings Boardgame, so you'd only want to consider this if you owned the original game, although you do not need the first expansion; it can be used in conjunction with it. In the box you get:

A set of new event tiles (called Dark Events)

A small set of event tiles (the Sauron expansion)

Feature Cards - a deck for 'Sauron' and a deck of Nazgul, along with additional Gandalf and hobbit cards and new resource cards

Resource Chits (to play on the scenario board)

A cloth bag (embossed with an 'Eye') for the tiles

A black rider figure

For those of you with limited storage space, it's possible to toss out the original plastic storage tray of the original game and fit all the components from the original game and both expansions in the one box.

This is expansion is similar to the first, and it feels like an advanced version of the original game.

There are new blue cards that can be used by any hobbit - one can be used to swap the ring bearer in mid-scenario and the other to push Sauron back a few spaces on the corruption line.

The bag is a welcome addition - although it could do with being a little bigger, once all the new tiles are added there is not much room to mix the tiles up.

The new dark events have a dark grey background (so you can choose to remove them to play the original game) and introduce a new rule that you can choose to ignore the first tile drawn (but must accept the next one) - which helps when those sundial events seem destined to come out in a clump.

 

The new tile mix definitely makes the game tougher, and the rules even suggest you just try this advanced rule on its own with the main game, before trying to incorporate it into either of the expansion sets - but it does bring in an element of choice, in an area that was very luck orientated previously.

The main part of this expansion is the addition of the capability for one player to play Sauron (taking the game to a 6 player maximum). You get a deck of cards for Sauron, a deck of Nazgul cards, and a Sauron card to identify who's playing Sauron and summarise what Sauron can do each turn. Additionally there is a new Gandalf card and a modified card for 'Forsight' necessary when using the bag to draw tiles, a new and much needed ability for each hobbit and finally a set of feature tokens and associated cards.

These 12 feature tokens get added 4 per scenario to the activity lines of the first 3 scenario boards you play. If you rush along the main line you'll miss out on the benefits of collecting these tokens.

Gandalf also has a new skill to slow down or push back the Black Rider.

The Sauron player wins by stopping the fellowship from winning - and the earlier this can be achieved the greater the win for Sauron. Rather than getting a turn along with the hobbits, Sauron is activated (with limited powers) each turn and with full power when a die roll is required (instead of rolling the die, i.e. when a black square symbol is encountered on the board or card or tile).

Sauron has a hand of Sauron cards that have a variety of game symbols on them at the start of each turn Sauron can either play a card on the active hobbit, and the hobbit has to choose to apply the effect of one of the symbols (such as stepping into the dark, moving the black rider or discarding a life token), or discarding any unwanted Sauron cards and refreshing Sauron's hand to 6 cards. [This tactic is often taken early in the game as Sauron only starts with 2 cards]

The Nazgul cards are similar (although there are only 9 of these - obviously - and this deck does not get replenished), but as well as an action against the current player, there is also an event which the entire party can combine to defeat, such as 'discard 5 fighting cards'. Sauron can only choose to play a Nazgul when activated at the start of a hobbit's turn - and you get a new Nazgul for each new scenario board, so an obvious tactic is to hold the Nazgul in reserve until later in the game when you can unleash them for devastating effect.

If a black square (die symbol) is encountered Sauron is activated for full effect, which means no Nazgul card can be played, but ALL the symbols on the Sauron card that is played must be applied (rather than the hobbit player choosing just one). Of course the new tiles include some black squares ...

Finally, there is the Black Rider. This figure starts on the '15' square on the master board and is moved by playing Sauron (and Nazgul) cards that have a symbol of a horses' head. The Black Rider travels along the track towards the hobbits until it reaches the ring-bearer, at which point it turns and travels back in the direction of Mordor. If the Black Rider makes it to the ring bearer, then Sauron gets activated (for full effect) and can draw an additional Nazgul card; if the rider then makes it back to Mordor before the end of the scenario, Sauron wins.

So how does the expansion play? Hard. I've yet to see a fellowship victory destroying the ring - the only victories have been military victories (eliminating all the foes). Having the resource counters on the optional activity lines means you need to spend a bit longer on these lines to pick up the resources necessary to withstand Sauron. Rather than simply being at the mercy of the dice as to what fate befalls your hobbits, you are now at the will of another player who can see exactly what resources you have such as shields, life tokens, or only a few remaining cards and play cards accordingly. It is quite easy for Sauron to single out a particular hobbit (other than Sam) to unload the nastier cards upon (and use the other hobbit turns to draw cards).

The Black Rider also becomes a dangerous hazard as you approach the end of the game, although giving Sauron an additional Nazgul card is bad enough.

If you like the fact this game is co-operative, this has now all changed with a group playing against a single player, and it's highly likely the single player will 'win', the only question is by how much. For some groups this may be the modification needed to make the game a firm favourite. If, however, you disliked the luck element then not much has changed there.

Personally I think this expansion has shifted the balance a little too far to the benefit of Sauron. In the games we played there was a rush to claim Sauron as it was seen as the most enjoyable role in the game (and not just because it's likely you're going to win). For that reason I have the most enjoyable games when playing 2 player - one player controlling 4 hobbits (with 4 hands of cards) and one player being Sauron.

Additionally it still seems the most likely way the fellowship can win is by defeating the foes - giving a military victory, which just seems 'wrong' to me from the theme of Lord of the Rings, this isn't the second age of Middle Earth with the last Alliance at full strength!

In summary, approach this expansion with caution - it changes the way the game is played much more dramatically than the previous one, some players will like the changes, some will not. On the plus side you can choose to add parts of the expansion (such as the events) rather than all of it.

 

Modifications

Any changes to a game are really down to the players - but I've found the following to help improve our enjoyment of this game (assuming you are using all the expansions):

  • Remove all the new dark 'sundial' tokens; add 2 back to the bag at the start of each scenario following the first. [This makes the boards progressively harder as it is more likely sundials will get drawn on later boards]
  • When all Foes are defeated, Sauron shuffles the discarded Foes and draws 6 replacements (in effect there are now 36 foes to defeat). [This makes it harder for the fellowship to gain a military victory, if you still find this is happening too often allow Sauron to select the 6 foes instead!]
  • Sauron only starts with one Nazgul card (instead of 2). [The Nazgul cards are very powerful; limiting them to one per board (unless Sauron saves them up) is a big help. It also gives the Sauron player more of a challenge]

 

For players with questions about this game there is a dedicated Yahoo discussion group:

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/LOTRboardgame/

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