Wargame Wednesday: SPI’s War of the Ring

Wednesday , 9, January 2019 2 Comments

When reading Morgan’s post on J.R.R. Tolkien’s birthday I was reminded of an old favorite, SPI’s War of the Ring. Alas, my copy is MIA due to a nomadic life and used copies fetch a pretty price online so I cannot give a detailed game overview.

Basically, it was two games in one.  The main game could be played as a character game only (get the ring to Mt Doom) or the campaign game in which armies were added providing players with a strategic backdrop to the Fellowship’s quest.

This was a board game so the game designer had an issue with the Dark Power player able to see the Fellowship’s counters on the board.  Instead of going with a blind search system like the search for carriers in the old Avalon Hill Midway game the designer created a system in which the Fellowship player placed the character counters face down.  In order to locate the ring bearer, the Dark Power player needed to move units (usually Nazgul but also bands of orcs) to one of the stacks of Fellowship characters and conduct a search.  What made it harder than simply moving towards a stack of counters on the map board was the Dark Power player had to expend valuable Shadow Points in order to do so. If the Fellowship split the party it was that much harder for the Dark Power player to succeed.

Of course, the system could be gamed.  The Dark Power player could keep all the Nazgul waiting at Mt Doom for the ring bearer or the Fellowship Player could “obtain a Cowardly Draw” in the character game by splitting into nine one character stacks and running them in random directions. In house rules were needed. This is a game that would be greatly enhanced by a computer or online version.  God knows who has the game rights now, Hasbro?

Here is an excellent article over at Armchair General Magazine on the history of Middle Earth games.

During a recent dive into the old S&T back issues which included Move magazine I came across an article by David A. Smith titled, In Character. Attitudes, Advice and Options in War of the Ring.

For fun, I’ll list some of David’s advice and suggested strategies for playing the character and campaign games.

General Strategy in the Character Game

“The Fellowship Player’s primary objective is to get as many of his characters into Mordor as possible. (This is also a difference from the book, where the objective of the Fellowship was to be as active as possible outside Mordor…). The more characters in Mordor, “the greater the chance that one of them (player characters) will be able to deliver the mail (as it were)”.  En route, the Fellowship player would strive to delay as long as possible revealing the location of the hobbits and usually split the hobbits between two parties.  The more player parties the more the Dark Power player has to expend energy, Nazgul and Shadow Points, especially Shadow Points as “Sauron is strangled in his ability to do anything: there are hobbits to torture, Nazgul to direct, Orcs which must be whipped into battle frenzy”.

If the Ringbearer is captured he can immediately escape by using the ring but becomes visible to the Nazgul, who may then challenge him to individual combat. Once the ring is used the Ringbearer suffers Ring fatigue.  At a certain point the Ringbearer is at risk of becoming a Ringwraith. Smith advises that if the Ringbearer is captured, it is best not to use the ring to escape until actually inside Mordor, as close to Mt Doom as possible.



Fellowship Player:

  • The “Boromir Attempts to Seize the Ring” card will come into the hands of the Dark Power player about one-third of the time.
  • There is a mithril mail coat available, usually worn by Frodo. Combat defending against Boromir or even the Nazgul is not hopeless with this protection.
  • Even Gandalf can become the Ringbearer.  Smith offers an optional rule that the Ring can only be passed to another hobbit.

Dark Power Player:

  • The Dark Power Player should keep both Saruman (in the two player game) and the Mouth of Sauron constantly on the move, as they do not require Shadow Points.
  • It is much better to use Orc bands for searching than Nazgul, since they may capture.
  • Be careful of leaving Mount Doom garrisoned when you bring back a hobbit. He might be the Ringbearer and use the Ring to escape.

Saruman Player:

  • The Saruman Player should be a person of evil mind who doesn’t mind losing if he can mess up someone else’s party: the sort of person who would get satisfaction out of enslaving the Shire.
  • With little chance to win he should attack Helm’s Deep as soon as he mobilizes and keep slamming, unless he has a chance to play the Summon Gandalf card.
  • The Saruman Player does best to act opportunistically, striving to make deals to the benefit of both players as much as possible.
  • Cultivate trust by keeping his promises, for the prime beneficiary of deals is Saruman.



  • John E. Boyle says:

    I remember enjoying that game immensely, but I have no idea where my copy is now either.

  • Ostar says:

    I also remember this game fondly. I managed to pull out a Fellowship Military victory once, by lucky use of card play (Ents, Army of the Dead).

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