Game Buzz – The Lord of the Rings: Nazgul

It’s hard to believe that it’s been over ten years since the first Lord of the Rings movie came out.  Now, with The Hobbit coming out this Christmas, we’re all set to get a slew of LOTR related merchandise.  Like this:

image by BGG user W Eric Martin

The Lord of the Rings: Nazgul is the latest game from WizKids and designers Charlie Tyson and Bryan Kinsella.  The game, which is for 3-5 players aged 14 and up and takes two hours to play, turns typical Tolkien games on their ear by putting you in the role of one of the Ringwraiths pursuing the One Ring.  So, rather than trying to destroy the Ring, you are trying to take it from those smelly hobbits and bring it back to your master.  It’s semi-cooperative in that you will all lose should the Fellowship succeed in destroying the Ring; however, there can be only one winner.

The game comes with a board that shows a few different pieces of information – the three campaigns that must be completed (defeat Rohan, conquer Gondor, capture the Ring-bearer), the four stages involved in each campaign, and a Fellowship track that shows the hobbits’ progress.  You also get a One Ring token (used on the Fellowship track), a combat cup, 138 battle cubes (representing the Free Peoples, Heroes, Orcs, Mûmakil, and Trolls), 70 Sauron’s Favor cubes, 45 cards of power, 51 Hero cards, 55 Quest cards, 20 Secret Quest cards, 5 turn order markers, 12 complete/wall markers, 30 VP counters, 5 bidding charts and player screens, a Witch-King token, and 5 Nazgul figures.  The Nazgul are Clix figures, meaning that their bases can be adjusted to show your current abilities – specifically the amount of damage you cause in battle the maximimum number of armies you can commit to battle, your level, the number of Free Peoples Armies you can paralyze with fear before a battle, and the maximum number of combat cubes you can pull from the cup during battle.

At the start of the game, you will choose a level of difficulty.  This determines how many quest cards are drawn per round, and how many stages begin the game completed.  Each player gets a Nazgul figure, a bidding chart, a player screen, a number of favor cubes and cards of power based on the number of players, as well as three secret quest cards (you keep two of them).

LOTR: Nazgul is played over three chapters, each of which is divided into three rounds.  Each round has two phases: the Favor phase and the Campaign phase.

The FAVOR PHASE has four steps:

  • Gain Favor and Hero information: Each player takes two favor cubes and a hero card.  You don’t get favor cubes in the first round.
  • Reveal Quests: Turn over quest cards based on the level of difficulty.  Events are resolved immediately, while Free Peoples Armies and Heroes get cubes added to them based on the type.
  • Bid Favor: Behind your screen, you’ll bid your favor on different things.  You can bid any number of favor, and any that you don’t use rolls over to the next round.  Anything you do bid will be discarded.
  • Resolve Bids: Reveal your bids, and each box is resolved in order.  Ties are broken by playing higher ranked Hero cards, or by a random draw if no one wants to play a Hero card.
    • Cards of Power: The winner draws three cards of power and keeps two.  Second place draws two cards and keeps one.  Anyone else who bid gets one card of power.
    • Sauron’s Favor/Turn Order: The winner takes all favor in the Sauron’s Favor box, determines turn order in the campaign phase, and may replace one of their secret quest cards.  Ties can’t be broken for this one by a random draw – if Hero cards aren’t used to break the tie, turn order remains the same as in the previous round.
    • The Witch-king: The winner gains control of the Witch-king token, which is essentially an extra Nazgul to use.  You can’t use this one during the first round on hard difficulty.
    • Saruman’s Aid: The winner gets three Hero cards and can keep one face down.  It must be used during the campaign phase, or it is discarded.
    • Gain Clix: The winner can add two Clix to their Nazgul.  All other players who bid gain one Clix.
    • Gain Forces: All players who bid here can use the favor bid to purchase additional creatures on their force tracks – Orcs, Trolls, and Mûmakil.

The CAMPAIGN PHASE has two steps:

  • Deployment: In turn order, each player sends their Nazgul to one of the three campaigns, or to a face-up quest card.  If a player controls the Witch-king, it is deployed as well.  It can either go to the same place your Nazgul goes, or somewhere else.
  • Resolution: In turn order, resolve the location you went to.  Multiple Nazgul in one area resolve their actions simultaneously.  Most of them are battles, and battles have three steps:
    • Preparation: Each Hero cube must be assigned a hero card, either from in front of the Nazgul player, from the Hero pool, or randomly from the deck.  The player who took Saruman’s aid can play their Hero card, even if not involved.  You’ll then decide what forces you will bring with you – one Nazgul cube (automatically), and forces up to your army rating.  Force cubes come from the supply, and are not deducted from your bid sheet unless killed.  Orcs have damage and health of 1, Trolls and Mûmakil have 2.  Some Heroes have special abilities that go into effect here, and Nazgul can use their terror rating to paralyze Free Peoples.  Any remaining cubes – Heroes, Free Peoples, Nazgul, Forces – go in the cup.
    • Combat: Pull a number of cubes up to your tactics rating.  You only get one shot.  If you pull Nazgul or Forces cubes, the defenders are damaged.  If you pull Heroes or Free Peoples, you are damaged.  You may choose to retreat before pulling cubes (it costs you 2 VP), but each Nazgul only gets one chance to pull cubes, unless abilities allow you to do more.
    • The Aftermath: If all defending Heroes and Armies are destroyed, the quest of campaign stage is completed.  If any defenders remain, you have failed.  All Nazgul who participated in the battle may earn favor.

If you have completed all final stages of the three campaigns, add up your points from chips, slain heroes, and secret quests.  The player with the most wins.  If the One Ring reaches the end of the Fellowship track, everyone loses.

I had my eye on this one because of the unique look at the LOTR franchise.  Rather than playing good guys fighting evil, or maybe having one player as Sauron and some good guys, everyone is evil.  It seems to make sense that it’s only semi-cooperative – I don’t know if I’d trust the other Ringwraiths either.  You can certainly play is fully cooperatively, but I think the semi-cooperative nature makes it more interesting.  It seems to be more of a movie tie-in than a literary tie-in, for what that’s worth.  The auction mechanism seems out of place to me, but that’s probably my own bias against auctions.  Combat seems very luck-based as you’ve only got one chance to pull cubes from a cup that may or may not be good for you.  It seems like a big strategy is to stack the odds in your favor, but that won’t always work.  That’s one of my frustrations with Thebes, which has a similar pulling mechanism in play.  I’m also thinking to a recent game Bryan Kinsella codesigned – the Hunger Games District 12 game – and the endgame tribute draw.

There seems like some interesting things to explore here, though I’m sure that I won’t be racing out to grab a copy.  It has a nice twist on a theme, but the auctions and combat are holding me back from wanting it for my own collection.  That being said, I’m sure I’ll give it a try if I get a chance.  Thanks for reading!

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