Author: Richard Berg

Publisher: SPI 1977

Awards: none



Back in 1977 Simulations Publications Inc created one of its most outstanding games, a conflict simulation game based on J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings. WAR OF THE RING begins with the formation of the Fellowship of the Ring at Rivendell, where the Council of Elrond determines that Frodo Baggins and his companions must travel to Mordor, the lair of Sauron, the Dark Lord. They must make their way, avoiding the nine dreaded Nazgul, vast armies of orcs, trolls, and evil beings to destroy the One Ring. On side of the Fellowship stands the Alliance of the Good People - severely outnumbered but ready to face the ultimate enemy in military conflict and hoping to distract enough of his forces to allow the Ringbearer to complete his difficult task.


WAR OF THE RING is played on a big map of Tolkien's Middle Earth across which playing pieces move through a hexagonal grid. Individuals and armies are present in the game, and nearly all the characters of the books have their own special functions. In dark places like Moria, Sauron may have his most hideous creatures waiting for the Ringbearer, but the player of the Fellowship may also visit other places where he may find objects which might prove helpful. Simple probability charts reveal the outcome of combat and various game functions. Combat takes place on two levels; individual combat, which is carried out through the use of individual capabilities on the character cards; and army combat, which allows players to engage in pitched battles and sieges. Finally, event cards introduce even more of the story from the book, and so you can become witness of the famous March of the Ents and many other sights…

Due to the large number of armies present (there are 400 playing pieces included), there is ample room for strategy, and even the Dwarves from the Lonely Mountain or the Elves of Mirkwood may play their role in the game. The game is suitable for 2 or 3 players, with the 3rd player taking up the role of Saruman which otherwise is also assigned to Sauron.


Not available in stores for long years, this game truly captures the spirit of Tolkien's great Lord of the Rings. Quite a few different games were released over the years, but this game by SPI definately is one of the best games ever created based on the famous books.

I must also mention that the the game is really Two-Games-in-One. You can play a simpler version of the game with only the Fellowship of the Ring and the Nazgul involved. Here the armies of each side are left out, but it´s quite nice to play because it makes an interesting, not too long (ca. 1 h) and too complex adaption of "the Fellowship Scenario" (similar to ICE´s "Fellowship of the Ring", but easier.). In the complex Campaign Game, most of the rules of the basic game are used, but here much more importance is given on the tactical element of armies. Each player has many troops of his side, and the Fellowship Player has not only the goal of getting to Mount Doom, but also must prevent a tactical victory of Sauron by defending the Western Capitals. The Campaign Game has a length of about 3 h, but it isn´t too complex (for a Cosim). SPI gave the game a Complexity Rating of "Moderate", and I can confirm this evaluation.

The game actually was available in two versions, a normal version and also a Designer's Edition, featuring a mounted gameboard. Also, two different types of boxes were sold: a gree one showing Gandalf in Battle with the Balrog and a white box showing artwork from the Bakshi-movie. Finally, the game was also sold as Middle Earth - The Ring Triology, which contained in one box the two supplemantal games Sauron and Gondor.

The Text from the box:

GAME DESCRIPTION: War of the Ring basically is a two-Player game concerning the struggle between Sauron (the Dark Lord) and the Free Peoples of Middle Earth at the end of the Third Age, as recounted in J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings. The Dark Power Player controls the forces of Sauron and his allies, and the Fellowship Player is in command of the coalition of Elves, Dwarves, Men, and Hobbits opposing the Dark Lord. Each Player can move and direct in combat the pieces representing the individual characters who took part in the struggle. The Dark Power Player can win either by actually gaining control of Middle Earth by force of arms or by seizing the Ruling Ring, thereby attaining sufficient power to assure the supremacy of the will of Sauron. The Fellowship Player wins by preventing this, either by thwarting Sauron's designs on the field of battle or by destroying the Dark Lord's Ruling Ring, and thus, his basis of power. As the game begins, the Ring has come into the possession of Frodo, a Hobbit. In order to destroy it, one of the Fellowship Player's characters must carry it into the heart of Mordor, Sauron's land, and cast it into the Crack of Doom.

THE COURSE OF THE GAME: This game is a simulation of fictional events. It is played on a map showing the entire area of Middle Earth over which the War of the Ring raged in the Third Age. A grid of hexagons is superimposed over the terrain to regulate movement in much the same manner as the squares to on a chess board.

The pieces in the game represent the various military units and characters who played a role in Tolkien's fantasy war. The large numbers on the pieces indicate the relative strengths and abilities of these units. Each player maneuvers his pieces on the map in turn; then the units of both side may engage in battle when they occupy the same hex. The total relative strengths of the involved units are compared, along with various modifications for terrain and special character abilities, and the players consult the appropriate tables to determine the outcome in terms of casualties to either side. The game proceeds in this manner for a specified number of game turns as the Players try to achieve the objectives set forth in the rules. No prior knowledge of Middle Earth or military tactics is required to play the game - just a little ingenuity and common sense.

DESIGNER'S NOTES: As expected there are a number of problems in doing a "simulation" on a well known story. When creating a simulation on historical subject matter one can check his facts and figures through various primary and secondary sources to reconstruct the course of the conflict and even hypothesize alternative courses of strategy and outcomes. In constructing a simulation on Lord of the Rings it becomes obvious that Tolkien's novel, or for that matter any novel, addresses itself to a continuous story line with only hints of possible alternative outcomes. Proceeding on that line of though we had to postulate what could happen and give the players the option of exploring the various paths of alternate actions. Would you really want the Balrog to appear consistently in Moria? That latitude was taken to insure that the game becomes a game not just a reply of the book.

Lord of the rings is distinguished by the fact that it is not only widely read but almost committed to memory by many Tolkien devotees. Obviously many trained eyes would be scrutinizing the game for flaws and so the research was of paramount importance. Again we ran into the problem that there is only one book - LOTR, but fortunately we did run across tow important secondary sources that were extremely helpful: 'The Guide to Middle Earth' and 'The Tolkien Companion', both of which are a type of encyclopedic glossaries of the Tolkien works.

The essence of the book is in its characters and we had to integrate as many of them as possible, but we also knew that not all would make it without cluttering up the game. Our regrets to Radagast the Brown, Ghanburighan, Treebeard, etc. Since the characters would be the focal point of the game, it was an obvious decision from the start to individualize the characters, giving them all their attributes so that we could develop the character confrontations, the classic ones and the "what would happen if" ones (Aragorn vs. Balrog, etc.).

The power of the author in a novel is supreme, for he can create disasters for his protagonists and just as suddenly deliver them from the jaws of certain death. That power had to be transmitted into the game in order for players to relive all of the excitement and drama of the story. This has been conveyed through the use of the Event Cards. But it was left in the hand of the Players to use them judiciously throughout the game to help themselves or to harry their opponents. The Event Cards rely heavily on the adventures and escapades that are sprinkled through the course of the overall story. The Misty Mountain Passes, Boromir's attempt to Seize the Ring, the Ents, the Dead Men of Dunharrow - all have an important role in the story, and their place in the game had to be secured. Again latitude was taken both in the incorporation of additional events and the timing of the play of the events. This was done for play value. The recurring thought was not to make the game a carbon copy of the book, otherwise it would not become a game nor a true simulation where various strategies or options could be taken. And again that was the intention - create the framework of Tolkien and allow the Players to follow the book exactly (or as closely as possible - like any historical simulation) but also to explore the alternatives.

NUMBER OF PLAYERS AND AGE RANGE: 2 or 3 Players, 12 years through adult.

AVERAGE PLAYING TIME: 1.0 to 3.5 hours.

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Copyright © 2006 Frank Schulte-Kulkmann, Essen, Germany