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War of the Ring card game releasing in 2021 - first gameplay details revealed

Created with focus on multiplayer in mind.

A card game spin-off from epic Lord the Rings board game War of the Ring is due to be released next year, Dicebreaker can reveal.

First released in 2004, War of the Ring follows the complete timeline of JRR Tolkien’s trilogy of fantasy novels, from the opening of The Fellowship of the Ring to the end of Return of the King. One player controls the Fellowship as they make their way to Mordor in an effort to destroy the One Ring, as well as the allied Free Peoples as they oppose the armies of Sauron and Saruman. Their opponent leads the Shadow forces as they attempt to hunt for the ringbearer and overtake Middle-earth. A second edition of the board game was released by publisher Ares Games in 2012.

In 2017, Hunt for the Ring, a spiritual prequel set entirely during the opening of Fellowship, was released; a hidden-movement game, it sees one player flee the Ringwraiths while the Nazgûl player attempts to catch Frodo and his hobbit companions. The game could be played as a prequel to War of the Ring, with the outcome of the first game determining the starting setup of the latter.

The card game is said to be faithful to War of the Ring, with cards replacing the management of dice.

Designed by Ian Brody, the upcoming War of the Ring card game will see up to four players control one or more of the factions seen in War of the Ring, including elves, Rohan and Saruman’s forces from Isengard. War of the Ring co-creator and director of production at Ares Games Roberto Di Meglio told Dicebreaker that the player count could be potentially expanded to six. Each player-controlled force is represented by a unique deck of cards, which Di Meglio said would “reproduce the strengths and weaknesses of the specific factions”.

The card game is set during the same period as War of the Ring and Hunt for the Ring, with the Fellowship setting out from the Shire and the eponymous battle for Middle-earth yet to begin. Unlike Hunt for the Ring’s integration with War of the Ring, the card game will be entirely standalone, with no compatibility with either of the previous games in the series.

Each turn, the Fellowship of the Ring advances along a track called the Path of the Fellowship. The track is described as being semi-randomly generated, but will remain consistent with the timeline and geographical movement of the original story.

Cover image for YouTube video

Players will use their hand of cards to aid or hinder the Fellowship, while also attacking or defending battleground cards revealed each round. Players can place cards into their reserve to save them for future turns.

“A great deal of care has been taken to make sure the theme is preserved, both in the way the card effects are designed and in the way they interact with the Path and the Battlegrounds,” Di Meglio said. “You cannot have a Isengard army showing up to attack Dol Amroth or use Elves to defend Pelargir, and you won't have a Balrog showing up on the Crack of Doom. That said, there is enough flexibility in the way you can play your cards to make the game development look like a believable 'what-if’ and not to be straitjacketed by the storyline.”

Di Meglio said that the cards function in a similar way to dice in War of the Ring, with players forced to manage their limited available resources carefully to achieve victory over their opponents.

“We really wanted the designer - Ian Brody - to take into account what makes War of the Ring the game it is and try to translate, as much as possible, this spirit into a multiplayer card game,” he said. “For example, the duality of being forced to choose whether to focus your actions on the Fellowship or the War [and] the feeling of the Free People to be ‘overwhelmed’ by the Shadow, but with the ability to turn the tide thanks to the amazing characters [they] can field, like Aragorn or Gandalf.”

Unlike Hunt for the Ring, the War of the Ring card game will not have any integration with the original board game.

The War of the Ring card game has been designed as a multiplayer experience first, according to Di Meglio, compared to the common perception of War of the Ring as a two-player game despite supporting up to four players. Other stated aims with the design were to offer a simplified and more accessible experience in terms of the card game’s size and price, while retaining the praised thematic immersion of the full board game.

“We wanted it to have the proper ‘vibes’ to be a War of the Ring-line game, not just a generic Lord of the Rings game,” Di Meglio said. “Overall, we think that the game is very different from any other LOTR game designed until now, but with enough similarities to War of the Ring to be a hit with players of that game - as we've seen from the reactions of our veteran playtesters.”

The War of the Ring card game has been in development for five years, having originally been proposed by designer Brody as a card-driven Lord of the Rings board game similar to his celebrated World War II strategy title Quartermaster General. A playable prototype for that idea was dropped after a year due to being too similar to the original game, with the project turned into a full multiplayer card game that has seen “many iterations of the game design and thousand of hours in playtesting” over three years, according to Di Meglio. The War of the Ring card game’s gameplay design has now been finalised.

The card game will be set at the beginning of Fellowship of the Ring before war breaks out.

Although exact plans for the game’s release are yet to be confirmed, Di Meglio said that Ares Games is targeting a release before the end of 2021. The publisher is also considering a Kickstarter for the game, although Di Meglio added “it’s a little early to say for sure” whether it will come straight to retail. A price around $50 is expected.

Speaking to the future of the War of the Ring series beyond the upcoming card game, Di Meglio revealed hopes to bring back The Battle of Five Armies, the out-of-print spiritual spin-off based on War of the Ring set during the conclusion of The Hobbit. Expansions for both War of the Ring and Hunt for the Ring, Kings of Middle-earth and Light and Shadow, respectively, are also in the works and expected for release in 2021 and an unannounced date.

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War of the Ring (Second Edition)

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About the Author
Matt Jarvis avatar

Matt Jarvis


After starting his career writing about music, films and video games for various places, Matt spent many years as a technology, PC and video game journalist before writing about tabletop games as the editor of Tabletop Gaming magazine. He joined Dicebreaker as editor-in-chief in 2019, and has been trying to convince the rest of the team to play Diplomacy since.