As I had a chance to say in several interviews about the genesis of "War of the Ring", I used to play Richard Berg’s “War of the Ring” game published by SPI when I was a boy. At the time I quite liked the game, but there were certain aspects of it which I strongly disliked, as I thought (and think) that they were not a good simulation of the books. One of them was definitely the way Gandalf was dealt with in the game. In that game, you just wanted to get rid of the Grey as fast as possible, to replace him with the White. How could this be considered a good simulation of the grief and sorrow about the loss of Mithrandir, no matter if he were able to come back in a more powerful incarnation?

When we set pen to create our version of War of the Ring, we wanted to avoid this situation as much as we could. There was no doubt that when Gandalf appears again after his fall in Moria, he’s more powerful than before. So this should be reflected in the game play, and it’s impossible that a player will not prefer a more powerful Gandalf to a weaker one. So, we decided to make the return of Gandalf conditional to an event which is out of control of the Free Peoples player – the roll of a Will of the West results on the action dice. In this way, you may have quite a price to pay to lose the Gray – the White could not return for several turns, and so the loss of Gandalf the Gray might indeed become something to be sorry about…

While this rule for surely makes the choice of losing Gandalf slightly less a no-brainer than it was in SPI’s game, still for experienced players losing Gandalf to your first “big” Hunt tile is pretty much a mandatory choice, and getting the 5th action die that The White brings to play a necessity.

So one of the goals in creating the Second Edition was to go back to our initial goal and try to create a real possibility that Gandalf the Grey could have an use in the game beyond self-sacrifice to protect the Ring-bearer.

Gandalf The Grey

Gandalf The Grey

We experienced several different versions of Gandalf’s powers as the Guide, based around its “magic” – the capability of manipulating Event cards. On top of improving the ability to make it more usable, we also considered other way to increase Gandalf’s powers, such as extending the Free People’s card hand; we also considered that the presence of Gandalf as the Guide could force the Shadow to allocate dice to the Hunt, representing the worries of Sauron about the possibility that the Ring could fall in the hands of his most stalwart opponent in the Third Age of Middle-Earth.

The key idea behind all these different versions was that if the Grey was a stronger Guide of the Fellowship, it could be a good choice for the Free Peoples player to keep him in play longer.

Balancing these changes indeed proved quite difficult, because an unexpected risk was waiting for us – making the Free Peoples Military Victory too easy!

We never expected, when designing the game, that the so-called “FPMV” would become a path of choice at the highest levels of mastery of WOTR. The FPMV, in our mind, was to be a threat to Sauron in order to behave in a logical manner and preventing him to go out in a crazy, all-out attack; and a funny “what-if” which could happen from time to time. In WOTR First Edition, however, experienced players who don’t care about risking their success in the randomness inherent to the Quest of the Ring, have taken to using the military victory as a ‘standard’ approach to the game.

All the different versions of Gandalf had to face a key problem – when you are pursuing a Free People Military Victory, you are not going to move the Fellowship, but you still have the Guide and his powers. So when it finally looked like that we had got his power about right, it emerged as a real possibility that the Free Peoples player could keep the Fellowship unmoving in Rivendell, with Gandalf as the Guide (the “General Gandalf”, or “Rivendell’s Free Peoples HQ” strategy!) . The Free Peoples player would then use his card-drawing power to fuel the Free People’s military assault (Free Peoples’ combat card effects in the Character Event deck are pretty cool!).

In the end, we had to tone down Gandalf’s power a little bit, while making him still quite stronger and more useful than before. Now, Gandalf’s power as a Guide is:

Guide. After you use an Event Action Die to play an Event card, you may immediately draw an Event card from the deck matching the type of that card.

Now, you are more flexible in the way you can use Gandalf. His wisdom may now be useful to improve the flow of Strategy Events as well as the Character Events; on top of that, his power comes into the game more often than before.

Still, we’re sure that in most games, Gandalf’s fate will be, as it befits him, to fall and raise again as The White Rider… But wise Free Peoples player will find that his new Guide power may be put to good use in the early game and that keeping him going may sometime prove to be a winning choice, rather than let him follow his fateful road too soon! And as a collateral side effect, his power now is symmetrical to the new power that the Witch-King got… for quite the opposite reason, as we will find out in the next article!

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