War of the Ring has achieved quite the legendary status since its debut. It’s without a doubt an epic 1v1 experience, but not entirely epic in good ways. The setup is epic, the teach is epic-er, and the playtime is epic-er-er. With a total playtime of four to five hours, two players who adore War of the Ring might play only a few times a year. Good luck convincing someone to play if you don’t have a friendly adversary already. Also, War of the Ring doesn’t play as well with four players, to such an extent that War of the Ring is largely considered as strictly a two player game.
In comes War of the Ring Card Game, which I had the fortune of demoing at this year’s Gen Con. Much about the card game stays true to the original. Each player, or team, represents the Shadow or the Free Peoples. The free peoples wish to withstand the Shadow’s armies and safely journey the ring to Mt. Doom. The Shadow seeks to corrupt the ring bearer and militarily overwhelm the Free Peoples. The card game lasts about an hour, pretty long for a card game but much shorter than its predecessor.
Player’s draw cards depending on their side and, fittingly, the Shadow always draws more. On their turn, players may play a card to the current battle or path, or to their own reserve. With each card played they must discard one card from their hand. Battles and paths come out in linear fashion and only cards which meet their requirements can be played on them. Thematically, this makes a lot of sense. The treents can’t defend Minas Tirith and Shelob can’t ensnare Frodo fresh out of the Shire. This thematic limitation translated smoothly to gameplay. Players must balance saving cards for the right time and throwing everything they have at each battle or path.
Juicier yet, cards played to battles and paths are eliminated from the game, with a few exceptions. Players may find themselves playing a card they rather would have saved because their opponent withstood their attack better than expected. Each player also has a ring of power, which can be flipped to draw three cards. One card is kept, one discarded, and one eliminated. War of the Ring Card Game manages to maintain many beloved aspects of its predecessor yet played in one fourth the time. I have high hopes it will be the accessible yet still epic experience it promises to be.