War of the Ring – The Card Game has received a lot of praise since its release at Essen last year, earning the approval of strategy gamers and Tolkien fans alike, and it has been nominated for several awards, like BGG’s Golden Geek and Dice Tower Awards. If you haven’t heard of it yet, War of the Ring - The Card Game was inspired by the best-selling and award-winning War of the Ring board game. War of the Ring - The Card Game immerses players in the quest of The Lord of the Rings. The game allows them to explore their own version of the trilogy, using uniquely designed card decks representing the strengths and weaknesses of the peoples and characters who fought in the War of the Ring.

Against the Shadow: solo/cooperative expansion for War of the Ring - The Card Game.

The game offers complex strategic choices combined with a commitment to the theme. However, if you are a gamer looking for a solo or cooperative experience, you may have felt a bit left out. War of the Ring - The Card Game is directly interactive; most of your gameplay is competitively enmeshed with that of the other player(s), making it difficult to enjoy without an opponent.

Solo and cooperative tabletop gaming has become more and more popular over the last few years, and not just because of the pandemic. But not every game out of the box is perfect at every player count, and rather than offer an inferior version of the game, the designer and publisher have decided to create a tailor-made expansion to allow solo and cooperative gaming.

How to solve this design challenge? Introducing Against the Shadow, an expansion that enables players to experience the adventure alone or cooperatively with a friend. The player(s) control the Free Peoples, using the normal rules and cards included in War of the Ring - The Card Game. Automated “bot” players control the Shadow decks, which entirely replace the cards included in the core set. The new decks have been tailored for solo/cooperative play.

By completely replacing the Shadow cards for solitaire and cooperative play, players spend their time playing their own game, not working out the “bot” (aka “automa”) mechanics. You will likely put aside the streamlined flow chart after a few minutes of play, it’s that straightforward.

The human player can determine the outcome of a Shadow card, like Gríma Wormtongue.

One interesting new feature is the keyword “choose,” which allows the human player to determine the outcome of a Shadow card, like Gríma Wormtongue. While none of the choices offered are good, you, the human player is given an opportunity to make the decision that hurts you least, effectively converting the time spent on the bot’s activity into your own gameplay.

The Against the Shadow expansion is designed to be played with any and all of the scenarios for War of the Ring - The Card Game. When playing cooperatively with a friend, you will play the Trilogy scenario, originally designed for four players. Solo, you can play the Trilogy scenario two handed, or any of the other scenarios with just one Free Peoples player, including the bonus scenarios the designer has posted online.

The rules changes are fairly minor, and are largely summarized by the included player aids. Two difficulty levels are provided, as some of the changes are in favor of the Shadow “bot” players (like the Shadow doesn’t cycle a card to play a card). If you haven’t played War of the Ring - The Card Game prior to attempting this expansion, you might want to give yourself a break and try it on standard mode before attempting challenging mode!

This expansion provides a different challenge from the regular game, but if you are seeking an immersive Tolkien experience to play alone, or with a friend, you need look no further than War of the Ring - The Card Game - Against the Shadow.

* This article was originally published by Game Trade Magazine, issue 282 (August 2023).

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