It all began on a cold German evening, on the road back to Italy after the Big Show. While driving a car drinking beer or playing games are not really an option, so as it happens, we started to talk, and the talk between me, Francesco and Marco that evening turned to what the future of War of the Ring would be.

The game was out of market since several months, except for the release of the Collector’s Edition – which received rave reviews, but was in many ways a different beast than the “normal” game, and our publisher was looking forward to release a new edition.

How much should the game change? The old saying “if it’s not broken, don’t fix it” was lingering in the air as we discussed how the game could be improved. Since the very first release in 2004, there was a lot of debate on the game, first and foremost about game balance, and “always winning” strategies.

Were such problems a reality? Over time, the debate was swinging between “the Free Peoples always win” to “the Shadow always wins” and back again. Strategies impossible to defeat were replaced by another new strategy impossible to defeat. In the end, it looked like the game was overall balanced, fun, and had thousands of fans – how could we really improve it?

Looking deeper, there were definitely things that a lot of people wanted, but most of them were more at the level of the physical contents, things such as color of the figures, card font size and game board colors. Things which our publisher should take note of, but not really involving us that much as designers.

From a game design point of view, we had already improved the game when revising the rules and cards for the Collector’s Edition, didn’t we?

But soon, the debate started to take new turns and twists. What if Gandalf the Grey did not work anymore the way it used to? What if we were to change the powers of the Witch-King? Did we really like that you could win the War by sprinting to Erebor with the Shadow Armies, or raiding Moria with Rivendell’s Elves?

When we designed the game, we had in mind a certain balance – War of the Ring should allow to create each time a new re-telling of the story which could be a reasonably likely “what-if” and a lot of design concepts were introduced in order to prevent a single winning strategy to emerge. The goal was almost perfectly achieved, but it was clear that – at least in high level, tournament play – certain strategies had a distinct advantage over the other ones, and often such strategies were “extreme” ones, quite divergent from the story. Granted that the game worked well enough, in terms of game balance and diversity, for all the people who only played it as an occasional past time, there was for sure the possibility of improving it at the “master” level of gameplay .

We also realized that certain areas of the rules created a lot of questions and were not very consistent – so another goal of the Second Edition was definitely to improve those rules, so that newcomers to the game could have the learning curve a little smoother than before.

The direction was clear... But how to get there?

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