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Some issues with Sauron play


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#1 Casanunda

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Posted 23 August 2009 - 12:11 PM

 Just got through my first complete game, playing as that oh-so-nasty Maia Sauron, up against my 2 brothers representing the Free Peoples with an unlikely company of Elf and Dwarf.  Unfortunately those pitiful creatures managed to thwart the Ringwraiths in the finale and ****** victory away from me, but I had a blast nonetheless.  I did have some concerns with the gameplay, though, so I thought I might share my thoughts here so that I can get some feedback on them.

1)  Limit on Plot Cards

I lost even though the heroes managed to discard NOT ONE of my plots.  Now granted, I was one stinking spot away from the finale with my red marker while the heroes were 2 away with theirs, and my mission was "Red marker in stage 3", so I was awfully close to winning outright.  Nevertheless, the rules regarding plots and the advancement of the story markers seem they're a little off.  Every post that I have read suggesting strategies for the heroes indicates that they should get favor and kill plots.  This doesnt seem necessarily like the best way to win, in certain cases.  The initial plot that Sauron has only provides 1 "Story" per turn.  If this stays in play, the Sauron player has little chance of reaching his goal quickly enough.  By getting rid of it, the heroes could be doing Sauron a favour, since he would have to waste a turn getting rid of it anyways.  This seems contrary to the feel and story of the game.  The fact that Sauron is limited to 3 plots, and that he actually has to waste a turn to get of one, can lead to situations like this.  To compound this issue, there are more plots in the deck that only give 1 point per turn, and this just seems like a waste of a plot turn for Sauron; you're going to have to discard it at some point, which means you'll have to waste a turn discarding it.  Unless the heroes do something stupid like get rid of it.... 

2)  Accruing of "Story points" (spaces along the Story Track, one space= 1 Story Point)

This is somewhat of a subpoint of the above.  With the FP marker going up two spaces a turn, and Sauron having most likely up to 2 SP/turn for each marker eventually, it just seems like Sauron is always behind.  It's unlikely that you'll be able to get 2 plots into play on your first 2 full turns that give 2 SP/turn; a more likely scenario is 1 on the first turn, 1 on the 3rd turn.  With this scenario, barring the playment of Shadow cards, the earliest that Sauron could advance all the markers to the Darkness Falls space is turn 8.  Now keep in mind that's without the heroes getting rid of a single plot.  Granted, this assumes only 3 rests (I think) on the part of the heroes, but the fact that almost the best case scenario for Sauron leads to a victory a mere one turn before the hero marker hits the Finale seems to imply that a lot of things have to go right in order for the Sauron player to achieve an outright victory.  This seems also somewhat contrary to the theme; it's the SAURON player who is behind the 8 ball, who has to struggle to make things happen on time, and even then is hard-pressed to advance to the finale before the heroes.  It could be just my opinion, but it seems that it should be the heroes that are under this kind of pressure.

3)  The Finale

This honestly was the biggest disappoinment for me.  One hero against 8 of the Nine?  If anything can bring out my evil laugh, this is it.  But as soon as I read the rules (right before we actually fought), I realised that I really had very little chance.  The fact that the Ringwraiths have 9 health and the hero has a minimum of 25 makes this fight pretty one-sided.  Now granted, he has to beat me to win, but all it takes is one unblocked Attack of Opportunity and I really don't have a prayer.  That's 7 of my 9 health in one shot, with little to no drawback for the hero, since he really can completely disregard how much damage he takes.  I heavily outdamaged my brother in the finale, but it didnt matter; with only one card in my hand with a shield icon, there really was very little chance for me to survive.   I will admit that this won't always happen; I should have pulled more defensive cards, if everything was equal.  But it points out a very blatant flaw in this final battle.... I cant win by killing him, so defensive cards are really the only option.  It takes away a lot of the best parts of combat and makes only a single strategy viable.  This should never be the case, as far as I'm concerned.

Conclusion

Don't get me wrong, I loved playing, but as a guy who loves the intricacies of game mechanics, these points are going to nag at me, as they seem to bring out some deficiencies in the rules.  If there are any points that can be made contrary to what I've said, or some ways to alleviate these problems, then I would genuinely love to hear them.  



#2 markie7235

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Posted 24 August 2009 - 06:04 PM

Actually have to say out of 3 (maybe 4) games played now, Sauron has a HUGE advantage.

He takes some getting use to, but all the games I played, everyone made be Sauron. At first you feel horribly disadvantaged...I mean, the fellowship side simply has to block me, I have to do all the work. Where this may be true, I still have a lot of nasty tricks up my side. The Sauron action cards can be brutal if timed right. And if played right and protected, the plot cards can be hard to recover from unless you blaze in and take them out quick.

 

Some points from my experience as Sauron:

 

1. Don't forget, you can take more than one of a specific action a turn. You can do two actions of Influence, monster moves, etc

2. Drawing cards, though something I often over looked early on, can help you cycle to the plot cards you need. If you find yourself lacking the plot cards you need to further your mission OR to move your markers more than 1 a time, then you're obviously doing something wrong. Draw some cards, and cycle to what you need. The earlier, the better.

3. Monster movement...use it!!! So the first time I played this game, I rarely moved minions or monsters. Influence was my big focus. I got my butt whooped. I realized the most fun mechanic of the game, especially from Sauron's side, is combat. So putting out tons of monsters is a big help. Not only that, they help block and guard plots. Also, try and position your minions on top of key plot cards. Honestly, once the heros realize combat is weighted in their favor, they will take those plots out anyways, but using your minions makes them think twice and definitely makes it challenging.

4. Minions-> IMHO, Gothmog and Black Serpent are clearly the best two minions. Gothmog guards a plot well because he further causes risk trying to get to him. Black Serpent can move quickly, is probably the second toughest minion only to the Witch King, and his ability to throw out monsters wherever make him a very strategic minion. The Witch King, though strong, is practically useless. Unless the heros just don't pay attention, he comes out to late in the game to see any true play or combat. If you can plop him on top of a plot, great, but with only moving one space and coming out stage 3, I wouldn't count on him getting much use.

 

Sauron has a lot more control over his victory, where the heros are far more subject to luck and chance. This can be frustrating for some people (like my dad and brother), but actually fits the sides well. Sauron is a classic control style play and the heros are a "shear force" style of play.

 

I have not yet played as the heros, but for thos4e who can't seem to win with the heros, here's what I have observed:

 

1. Quests are good, but don't let them distract you. Eliminating plots is your key to success (that and your mission). Don't lose sight of your prize by chasing down quests unless it's on your way.

2. Interaction with Characters: Generally, unless it provies an item, strength, fortitude or agility, I would probably take the favor. Wisdom, though not useless, is not worth it, and training is good also, but same as wisdom.

3. When playing more than 2 people, you need to work together with the other heros. Everyone doing their own thing won't work. And if you think of it in the context of Middle Earth and LOTR, that's how the races got into trouble in the first place....they all were out for themselves and ignored the ever present and rising threat of Sauron.

4. Pay attention to what plots Sauron is playing. If you notice a lot of black marker ones, it's a likely (though not guaranteed) bet he has the mission based around the black story marker. A good Sauron player does everything for a reason, so even though the heros are not as strategy oriented, it still requires some thought into "Why did Sauron just do that".

5. The majority of plots focus on the lower half of Middle Earth. Sad but true. Mordor, Isengard, Minas Tirath, and the surrounding areas tend to be plot heavy. There are several that can be played on any area, but be wary of the southern board.

 

Hope this helps some players struggling with the game



#3 Casanunda

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Posted 24 August 2009 - 06:59 PM

 Thanks for the reply.  So in your experience as Sauron, how have you typically won?  Is it through advancement of a single marker to the Finale, or by reaching the Darkness Falls space?  How have the heroes approached the game typically when you have played?  Have they eliminated your plots early, or bided their time, built favor and completed quests?

Having thought about it a little more, I've boiled down my issues to 3 main points:

1)  I'd like to be able to discard a plot and play a new one in a single turn.  Then I can tell the heroes that no matter what, discarding a plot will set me back in my goals and not inadvertantly help me.

2)  The Darkness Falls space just seems too far down the track.  It takes a combined 30 SP to get there, compared to 18 for a single track.  That's too great a disparity, in my opinion.  I'd like to see it be dropped down at least one space, possibly two. 

3)  A different approach to the finale that allows me to actually kill the hero, not just survive the fight.

Note that points 2 and 3 are simply opening up all available strategies, not making things necessarily harder or easier for a particular side.   



#4 bulldoguk

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Posted 24 August 2009 - 09:06 PM

I have played 3 games now and really enjoyed every one of them,  all have been end to end stuff and very close!

Initially I was a little disappointed when I opened the box, seemed a little sparse for the money but having played if your a Tolkien fan the game play and atmosphere  blows you away

All 3 games I played as Sauron and won. They were really close games however and up to the second story stage the heroes were doing well and in front with their story marker, I was fully expecting to have my lidless fiery eye poked out with a large stick.  However once you get an appropriate 3rd plot card down and concentrate on a single marker you soon start to pull in front. Of course by this time I had barricaded my plots with monsters, minions and plenty of influence to instigate peril cards on their journey so they were just flailing about like headless chickens (which was fun to watch as my Evil side emerged)

The finale boiled down to Dwarf against the wraiths and I scraped by by the skin of my teeth due to the 3 point bonus applied because of the story markers final positions. I have to say it was a little strange that the players actually chose the little guy for the final battle considering the pointy eared one had hammered my ring wraiths on two occasions previously!

I think it's probably not an option to even consider being able to 'kill' a hero in the final battle as each player re-shuffles and starts with a full life pool. The final battle comes down to the cunning use of cards and is limited by strength (the dwarf had the highest strength at that point which is why he was probably chosen). I held on to power with only two life points left on the wraiths! It was all end to end stuff in the final turns, an event marker meant that my story marker was moving a total of 4 squares each turn,the heroes made a combined effort to clear this towards the end which meant the final battle really could go either way!

As markie said don't underestimate getting those shadow cards in your hands, Sauron is really up against it most of the game as he has a lot to do especially if you have the full contingent of 3 heroes in play, try and fill that shadow pool early and lay down influence, it can really slow the dwarf down early on with his low wisdom. equally don't forget about those monsters they can pick away at the heroes and every time one needs to rest that will move your lowest story marker up a square, indeed once my minions and monsters started doing their job the other markers started slowly and ominously approaching the the shadow plot marker which gave the heroes some real thinking to do on whether they could actually afford to rest!

As an alternative in the final battle on my next game we might actually try this. The heroes retain there finishing state so no cards are re-shuffled (possibly just the rest deck..see how things go). This would be fun as it might actually mean it's possible to defeat their chosen champion just to add insult to injury. might even try the finale against the witch king himself!

I think an expansion should definitely be on the cards with more encounters, items, characters and of course plot and shadow cards, this would just add more depth to an already fantastic game.



#5 markie7235

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Posted 25 August 2009 - 07:26 AM

I've won every game except the first as Sauron.

I've won by the Shadow Falls and by a single Marker.

Remember, focus on what your mission says also.

Depending on my mission is where I drive my focus for plots.

The biggest downfall of the Heros is being too divided. They need to work as a team. For people not familiar with cooperative games, they struggle with this concept. And since more so than a game like Arkham horror, strategy for the heros is huge. It's a BIG board, so divide and conquer can work, so long as you are all driving towards the mission and eliminating plots. The game moves fast, so ignoring the plots is not a good strategy (unlike Arkham Horror, where you can ignore the gates for a little while).

The only reason the heros beat me my first game is because they got a lot of cards that removed influence from my shadow pool, I underestimated drawing cards, and also ignored using monsters. IF you hold a hand of high influence plots and shadow cards and can't keep influence in your pool, then you are sunk. Getting a couple low cost plots out early is crucial. Also, keep your goals in mind when picking plot cards. I've also found in the shadow pool, after 6-8 influence, you really don't need anymore. The high cost actions for Sauron aren't worth wasting time building up 10-12 influence in your pool.

There's a lot in this game to distract both sides...Shadow Pool, Quests, Characters, etc.. You need to remember, if it doesn't further your mission and end goal, then you should probably ignore it unless it is on the way to getting somewhere else you need to be. Especially as a hero...You only draw so many cards a turn, so pissing away cards to move to useless locations just to do a quest is not smart (unless you are hurting for favor). I also don't recommend a dark path unless you really really need the favor. You'll end up burning the favor otherwise to get rid of the corruption card.

Also, read the FAQ FF released. If you are stuck, accepting the option of willing defeat to restore yourself to a Haven is a good option. Otherwise, you'll waste possibly 2+ turns just trying to get away and rest...and in this game, every turn counts. It really does play fast, so you can't throw away a single turn.



#6 Dam

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Posted 25 August 2009 - 07:46 AM

markie7235 said:

I've won every game except the first as Sauron.

I've won by the Shadow Falls and by a single Marker.

Remember, focus on what your mission says also.

Depending on my mission is where I drive my focus for plots.

That's nice and all, but doesn't always work. I got the "Black token to stage III" mission today, however, I never got to enjoy a Black token moving Plot long enough for it to even move the token once . Couldn't even play a Plot on the first allowable turn, despite drawing Plot cards on turn 1. Sure it cost the Heroes Favors, but still. First time I saw Eometh in action, man he can cover a lot of ground in a turn. Of course, game went to combat in the end, Heroes just didn't want to wimp out and squat in a Haven for the last turn, so Mouth of Sauron caught Eleanor, dropped a Corruption card on her and then a Shadow card dropped another, blowing the Hero Mission. That mission doesn't seem much fun, winning by wussing out .


"A dirty mind is its own reward."


#7 jhaelen

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Posted 26 April 2010 - 10:06 PM

I definitely agree with Casanunda. These observations are pretty close to my own. Imho, the Sauron player has to play really well to stand a chance of winning by completing his mission. In contrast the Hero players can often win quite easily even if they don't exactly know what they're doing. Most hero missions are also easier to accomplish than Sauron's _and_ Sauron has to really struggle to get ahead of the Heroes with his track markers.

After losing the first four games, I had come to the conclusion it was almost impossible to win as Sauron. But then I noticed we'd made two mistakes in those games:

- Sauron gets to draw X plot cards AND X shadow cards. For some reason we initially read this as an OR. This makes a lot of difference.

- Failing to defeat an enemy ends a Hero player's TURN. Again we somehow played this as ending a Hero's movement phase, which is slightly more beneficial for the Hero.

After playing correctly, Sauron's chances to win became noticably better, but Sauron still has to play quite well, while the Hero players have a much larger margin of error.



#8 Dam

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Posted 26 April 2010 - 11:49 PM

Hehe, jhaelen, most of the people, especially over on BGG are complaining Sauron wins most of the games and too easily. Sauron has a hefty lead in the win-loss over the Heroes in my 50 games as well.


"A dirty mind is its own reward."


#9 jhaelen

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Posted 27 April 2010 - 09:13 PM

Dam said:

 

Hehe, jhaelen, most of the people, especially over on BGG are complaining Sauron wins most of the games and too easily. Sauron has a hefty lead in the win-loss over the Heroes in my 50 games as well.

 

Yep, I noticed. I've read a few of the posts on BGG, too. One post in particular seemed to describe the game quite well. Both player sides go through certain stages as they're getting more experienced with the game.

 

My theory is something like this:

- If both the Hero players and the Sauron player are new to the game, the Heroes will most likely win.

- It's quite a learning curve for the Sauron player until he's figured out the best way to utilize the different tools available to him. At some point things will take a turn when the Hero players eventually start losing to the experienced Sauron player. This can be a bit surprising to the Hero players since they used to win so effortlessly. This is like a wake-up call for the Hero players, because they realize they will have to pay attention, too, to win.

- In the third and final stage with both the Hero players and the Sauron player being experienced, the game's probably balanced quite well. The major impact on overall difficulty will result from the varying difficulty of missions.

Like most players, I don't like the tie-breaker mechanism. It's based too much on chance for my taste and not a satisfying conclusion to a multi-hour game.

If I don't forget it, I'll post our game results so far. I've made notes right from the start to be able to get some statistics. As I mentioned, the initial results may be slightly skewed to favour the Hero players, since Sauron didn't get full use out of his Shadow / Plot cards.

Edit: Another thing that might work in the Hero players' favour in my case is that my circle of friends plays together very well. We've been playing cooperative games for years (boardgames and rpgs). Since I'm usually the DM when we play rpgs it was a natural fit that I would play Sauron most of the time, too. And though I hate to admit it, some of my friends are usually better at (pure) strategy games than I am.

Still, the player I consider to be the best at playing strategy games wasn't particularly successful when playing Sauron the first time.



#10 jhaelen

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Posted 11 May 2010 - 08:44 AM

Here's a summary of our 25 games so far:

- 13 games won by the Heroes (8 of them by completing their misson); 12 games won by Sauron (8 of them by completing the mission)

- Two-player games: 3 won by Heroes (all by mission); 2 won by Sauron (1 by mission)

- Three-player games: 6 won by Heroes (2 by mission); 4 won by Sauron (2 by mission)

- Four-player games: 4 won by Heroes (3 by mission); 6 won by Sauron (all by mission)

So, apparently, in two-player games the Hero player has a slight advantage while in four-player games Sauron has the advantage.

Also interesting: Most games won by the Heroes included Eometh, imho the best Hero. Second most included is Eleanor, also one of my favorites. Thalin, on the other hand was included in most games won by Sauron who is the weakest hero, in my experience.

The results also indicate that the difficulty of the missions varies quite a bit:

# of games won by Sauron ordered by missions: red marker (3+1) > black marker (2+2) > yellow marker (2+0) > plots (1+0) > shire (0+2)

# of games won by Heroes ordered by missions: favor (3+0) > corruption (2+1) > quests (2+0) > monsters (1+2) > minions (0+1)

All in all, the results indicate the game may be better balanced than my subjective impression. However, there's also a significant luck factor involved, because you cannot pick your mission. If your opponent(s) figure(s) out too early what the mission is, you're often screwed and can only win by combat.

Average play time was 3 hours for a two-player game and about 4 hours for three- or four-player games, btw.






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