Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Review - The Lord of the Rings: Nazgul

The Lord of the Rings: Nazgul


The Lord of the Rings: Nazgul
Published by WizKids Games
Designed by Bryan Kinsella and Charlie Tyson
For 3-5 players, aged 14 to adult

The Lord of the Rings: Nazgul
Well, this looks like a nice family-friendly game...


Being stubborn can be costly.

Recently, it cost me about £25, and approximately four hours of my life.

You see, I am a big The Lord of the Rings fan, so when I saw The Lord of the Rings: Nazgul in an online sale, I was immediately tempted. Of course, I had read the reviews on BoardGameGeek. I knew it was a very unpopular game. I knew the component quality was low. I knew the theme was not well implemented.

I knew.

But I'm stubborn. I did mention that, right?

I'm stubborn enough to convince myself that everybody else is wrong, just because I like the idea of something.

In this case, I convinced myself that everyone else was wrong about The Lord of the Rings: Nazgul, because I really, really wanted to like the game. I was enamoured by the concept of being one of the evil Nazgul, and plotting the downfall of the Free People of Middle Earth. I wanted this to be a great game.

As I was considering making the purchase, I reviewed what other people had said about the game. I had an argument against every complaint.

I told you, I'm stubborn.

"The theme doesn't work, because the Nazgul are backstabbing each other."

Yeah, okay. But with a bit of imagination you can overlook that sort of issue with the theme.

"The component quality is poor, the board is ugly, and the miniatures are impossible to tell apart."

Yeah, okay. But the miniatures look good, the board is functional enough, and the cards don't look that thin to me. And those little cubes are lovely.

The Lord of the Rings: Nazgul board
What a wonderfully thematic board... For a game about cleaning portholes.


"The competitive co-op rules don't work because if someone starts losing he or she can tank the game for everyone, ensuring there is no winner."

Yeah, okay. But that is a problem with the players, not the game. If everyone plays to win, it should be a lot of fun.

"The text on the cards is really small."

I have good eyes.

"The main cube drawing element for resolving combat is fiddly."

You're just being picky.

"The game doesn't have a lot of interesting decisions. You just do the same thing every turn."

Just shut up already. I'm buying it. All right? Shut up.

"There are spelling mistakes on the board!"

SHUT UP!

Yeah. I ignored all the warning signs. Somehow I managed to convince myself that I could see past the problems to find an unfairly overlooked core of delicious hobbit-murdering goodness... er... badness. I convinced myself that this was a great and misunderstood game.

Then the game arrived.

It is not a great and misunderstood game.

Reading the rules, and then setting up and playing the first game, old arguments came back to haunt me.

"The theme doesn't work, because the Nazgul are backstabbing each other."

You're right. The theme doesn't work. The Nazgul were loyal to Sauron, and worked only for his benefit. There was no in-fighting or petty politics. They were wraiths bound to a higher will. And the less said about Sam Gamgee leading an army of Free People to destroy the Witch King the better. This is just stupid.

You're ruining The Lord of the Rings.

"The component quality is poor, the board is ugly, and the miniatures are impossible to tell apart."

Yeah, you know what, the miniatures are hard to tell apart. It's confusing. And having half the information you need for your turn on the base of your characters (yay, Heroclix!) and half on cards and player aids in front of you is awkward. And yeah, the cards are thin, and the board is not only ugly, but incredibly confusing.

The Lord of the Rings: Nazgul pieces
Here they are... Tim, Jim, Tybalt, Archibald, and Louise.


Those cubes are lovely though. I like those a lot.

The Lord of the Rings: Nazgul cubes
One of my friends got really bored playing this game...


"The competitive co-op rules don't work because if someone starts losing he or she can tank the game for everyone, ensuring there is no winner."

That's true, but there is an even bigger problem with the comperoperative... competerative... comperative... comp-operative... Yeah, comp-operative, I like that one... There is an even bigger problem with the comp-operative rules, but I didn't notice it until my second game. At one point, I sent the Witch King along with another player to fight a battle. The other player received some wounds, and chose to allocate them to the Witch King.

"Ha ha!" my "friend" exclaimed. "Thus I have backstabbed you to save my own forces from harm. Stick that in your halfling pipe and smoke it."

Very good play.

Or it would have been if it hadn't resulted in the death of the Witch King, which resulted in the loss of the battle, which put us on the back foot for the rest of the game and pretty much guaranteed we could not win.

Well done. Very good play.

This is a massive flaw in a comp-operative game. If you focus too much on backstabbing the other players, you cannot hope to win. If you work together to win, the bidding section at the start of each turn (which is the most interesting bit) is almost entirely pointless, and the game becomes incredibly pedestrian. Either way, no-one is having any fun.

"The text on the cards is really small."

It is really small. And there is lots of it. And most of the power cards players have access to have multiple abilities to select from. Waiting for people to read through all the options to make any kind of decision is agonising.

"The main cube drawing element for resolving combat is fiddly."

Damn right it's fiddly. And it's pretty much 90 percent of the game. After bidding for various things, such as extra units and powers, each player allocates a Nazgul to a battle. You then resolve battles. This starts with a process of flipping hero cards until you have a certain number that all match the location where the battle is happening. These heroes have special powers. The powers are boring, and I cannot be bothered to explain them.

Having drawn the heroes, players need to count out all the Hero (white) and Free People (blue) cubes to go into a draw cup. The players then choose their forces (green, orange, and black cubes), and add those to the cup. Finally, each Nazgul present adds a cute little cube with a Fell Beast icon on it.

Working this out takes forever. People play powers to add or reduce the number of cubes, heroes add or reduce cubes, things slide up and down on tracks, players count cubes and then double check what they have. Painful.

And what happens with all these cubes?

The Lord of the Rings: Nazgul more cubes
The cubes aren't made of wood. Which is nice.


Each player reaches into the cup and draws a certain number. Enemy cubes drawn inflict wounds on the players, and player cubes inflict wounds on the Heroes and Free People. If the players kill all armies and heroes at a location, they win the battle.

If you think that sounds incredibly dull, then you're thinking right. It is monumentally dull. It feels more like playing with an abacus than allocating forces to a battle.

The most offensive thing of all is that this cube concept is the main bit of game. It is the thing that defines the game. And yet the cube-pulling could be replaced with a single die roll, with modifiers applied for enemy forces, heroes, allied forces, and special powers.

Of course, if you took away the cube-pulling, it would be far too obvious that there really isn't much of a game here. Every turn you would simply place your Nazgul on a battle space and then roll a dice. Which leads us nicely to...

"The game doesn't have a lot of interesting decisions. You just do the same thing every turn."

Yup. Every turn you bid, place your Nazgul on a space, and then faff around with some cubes. It is utterly dull.

"There are spelling mistakes on the board!"

Yes all right. I admit it. I tried to ignore all this, but I can't. Spelling mistakes! On the board! Come on, WizKids, you aren't even trying!

The Lord of the Rings: Nazgul spelling errors
"Strages?" Really?


This game is a disaster. It has the dubious honour of being one of the worst games I have ever had the misfortune to play. In fact, it is the only game I have ever played where every single attempt to play it ended with all the players agreeing to give up rather than finish.

In the first game, we threw in the towel after a few rounds because one of the players was having a truly awful time, and I kept fouling up rules. The second game we played almost to the end, but quit when we realised the death of the Witch King and too much backstabbing had left us in a position where we couldn't win no matter what we did (we just tallied up victory points at that point to determine a winner). In the third game, we attempted the full co-operative rules, which feel tacked on, and which remove the blind bidding (the most interesting bit in the whole game). That third game lasted one turn, at which point we all agreed the game should never hit the table again.

Okay, some people will say I'm being unfair being so negative after just three (aborted) plays. My counter is this: I tried to play the game three times, and three times everyone at the table decided to quit and play something else.

That, as far as I am concerned, tells me everything I need to know about this game. There is no way anyone could convince me to try it again.

After all, I'm stubborn.

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