Lord of the Rings: The Confrontation Review

 

Everybody knows about this one, right? Frodo and the fellowship want to get to Mordor. Throw the one ring into Mount Doom. Sauron will do anything to prevent that. He wants the ring back.
Overview:
What you get for your money:
A small board with a map of Middle Earth, 9 white and 9 dark stands with 18 character tiles, 9 for the dark and 9 for the white player. 9 cards for each player and 2 optional special cards for each player too. And, of course, the rules.
How do you play the game:
This is an asymmetrical two player, yes, Stratego-like  game. One player plays on the Fellowship’s side and the other controls the minions of Sauron.
The 9 characters of each player have a different special ability and a battle strength (a number). Each player also has 9 (different) cards, some with numbers, some with text, an action.
The board shows 16 regions in Middle Earth, 6 on the ‘good’ side with The Shire as a home base and 6 on the ‘evil’ side with Mordor as their home base. In between there is a four region long mountain range, with the Mines of Moria located in one area. The river Anduin is running through the ‘evil’ players side and there are more familiar location on the map.
Players put four of their characters at their home base and one in every other region, on their side. The other player, initially, has no clue where an opponent’s character is located, he only sees the back of the stands. The battle begins! In your turn a player must move one character forwards one region and if he encounters an enemy he must fight. Every player shows their character, character abilities are dealt with and if there is no winner, a hand card is played,  face down. You can play a numbered card, to add these to you battle strength or you play a text card with a special actions on it. The loosing piece is discarded and the played cards are discarded too.
The game goes on until Frodo arrives in Mordor, the Fellowship player wins, or Frodo is killed by Sauron’s forces or three of his minions are in the Shire, the dark player wins.
Review:
Theme
This game is pretty thematic, as far as that is possible in a small game like this. Frodos adventures are epic and this game doesn’t feel epic, but it’s the details that makes this game a solid Lord of the Rings game.
The fact that Sam is stronger when he is near Frodo and he fights in his place if he wants to. Borimir sacrifices himself, he kills instantly but he dies doing so. The Balrog is strong, but even stronger in Moria. The Nazgul can attack a region far away by flying. The fact that the Fellowship can travel along the Anduin river is a nice detail. There is more, but I stop here.
Gameplay
It’s Stratego, but only in appearance. First of all, the players have different goals. Secondly, players have different characters, with different abilities and different strengths. Thirdly, players have different movement rules, the Fellowship can travel through Moria and along the river Anduin, the dark player cannot. Fourthly, the outcome of a confrontation isn’t as obvious as in Statego, because of the cards you can and must play. You, the dark player, have a strength of 2 (Warg) and the other player a strength of 3 (Gimli). He might play a numbered card, then, to win, you have to play a higher numbered card, but what if he plays a text card (“The numbered card of the dark player has no effect”), then you’ve wasted a valuable card. Do you really want to win? Maybe you should cut your losses.  
The rules are fairly easy. The game plays quickly. But it’s still strategic and has a nice deduction element.  During the first half of the game, bluffing is also very important. Luring your opponent to a certain region, letting him think he can fight an easy battle.
The two sides feel balanced and both have an equal winning chance.
There are two special cards for every player and you can implement them in the game if you want to.  The white player can call Gandalf back if he was defeated earlier (Gandalf the White) or move one piece extra during a turn (Shadowfax). The dark player can recall a minion back to Mordor or reveal all white pieces in a single region (Palantir). The game doesn’t need these cards it just delays the end of the game.
The Deluxe edition from Fantasy Flight has more characters from the books and more special cards, so you can change it up a bit. I haven’t played that edition, because I already own the basic version, so I can’t really tell you anything about these characters and how they play.
Looks
The game looks very basic. Nothing special. The board is really the only thing (visually) that brings a Middle Earth flavour and it looks good. The cards are very simple and the character pieces are too. It’s not very bad, just slightly boring (I’m talking about the cards and pieces). I would like, at least, more different illustrations.
The Deluxe edition looks better. The cards and the character pieces are more beautiful and there’s more attention to detail.
Quality of the components
Everything is fine. Nice plastic stands, cards are OK, the board is small, but fine. Moving on..
Fun
I’ve played this game 16 times in 2013 and I really like this game. It’s fast, easy and fun. The bluffing part is nice, you can really surprise your opponent. Trying to guess what he is going to do and where his characters are is interesting . Combining new information with your strategy and choose the best path to Mordor (or Frodo and the Shire). That’s just fun.
The player cards can mix things up. A lot of tactical decisions in a short playing time. The two sides play very different, so one time you can be good and the next evil as can be.
The Confrontation brings this epic story to a tiny board. The mechanisms bring more than enough Lord of the Rings flavour for this kind of (small) game.
It could be better and more fun, more ‘immersive’ with more and more different illustrations. The Deluxe edition has that, but it will cost you twice as much. Your choice.
The theme brings something extra to the table. I think I would not find it as fun if it was just a an abstract game with only black and white pieces.
Lord of the Rings: the Confrontation: one of the better small two player games out there.

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