Into the Dark - Lord or the Rings: Nazgul review

The LotR story told from the other side of the fence - the Nazgul, henchmen of Sauron, working together to wreak havoc and naughtiness.

There just aren’t enough games where you get to play the bad guys. It seems rather unfair to the black hats out there. Sure, there’s the Bioterrorist in Pandemic and (depending on your viewpoint) the various denizens of Vlaada Chvatil’s Dungeon Lords and Petz, but most of the time you’re on the side of good. Saving the world gets boring. Sometimes I just want to do bad stuff for the fun of it.

You may be aware that I’m not the biggest fan of The Lord of the Rings series. Colour me a heretic but I reckon the books are a bit pompous and the films outstay their welcome. As for those bloody hobbits, I’d happily see them chucked into that Mount Doom place. And now, satisfying my quest for the representation of a dark side in board gaming and a desire to beat up hairy toed midgets, a copy of Lord of the Rings: Nazgul sits on my table, welcoming me into its lair.

Between three and five players can get involved, but be warned: this game can take a while – at least a couple of hours. If you’re learning, stick to a lower number just so you can get your bearings and make sure that you’ve got at least one person who knows what they’re doing totally down before settling in for a session. Also, for early games, stick to the EASY difficulty level, especially if playing with a lower amount of players. There’s little more annoying than getting hammered when you’re also trying to wrap your head around a new game, and Nazgul is pretty unforgiving.

The game is broken into turns that comprise of phases. First up, you’re looking to work through the Favour Phase which involves getting your hands on Favour, sorting out useful side quests and then spending that ill-gotten Favour. This is done secretly behind a screen, keeping information from other players – after all, there is meant to be a single winner – and is divided up into six different areas. If you’re looking for a full rules run through, they’re available online, but all you need to know now is that you’re essentially bidding on different boons and bonuses, including powering up your Nazgul’s Clix.


Yes, this is a Clix game. Not like any Clix offering you may have played previously, of course, but one that uses the same clicky bases to keep track of how powerful your character is in each turn. It’s a bit curious using them in a cube pushing game, but you’ll come to the conclusion that it actually works pretty quickly.

Right. Moving on. Once you’re done with the Favour Phase, it’s time for the Campaign Phase. This is all about deploying your Nazgul in various places around the board, then conquering locations and completing quests through a process called “resolution”. You also go into battle during this phase, committing forces to the fight against good by… well, chucking cubes into a pot then taking them out again. I’m pretty sure that’s not how they did it in the movies.


There’s other stuff to do as well. There are Heroes and Free people to contend with who would like nothing better than to chuck a spanner in the works as you traipse through the Rohan, Gondor and Ring Bearer missions, and if you’re not quick enough it’ll be game over. You’ve got nine turns to complete everything, so get a move on!


As now seems to be the case with The All New Wizkids schedule of releases, they’ve gone to town on making certain aspects of
Nazgul as lovely as possible while letting other areas slide. A nod must be given to the frankly awesome looking Clix figures that represent your in-game avatars, but that’s balanced out with the board being one of the ugliest things I’ve seen in a long time. Sure, it’s functional and all the information you may need is represented well, but it’s the same thing that happened with another licenced product, The Hunger Games District 12 Board Game; neither of them are actually that appealing to look at but hide a reasonably entertaining effort. Cards depict the exact details you require and are a bit fwippy (you know what I mean, not entirely flimsy but they’ll inevitably need sleeving), and from a design standpoint they just don’t compare to the LotR Living Card Game from Fantasy Flight.


Yes, I realise that despite being based on the same world these are essentially two separate properties, but that doesn’t mean you can’t make things look pretty. The two are like chalk and a particularly fine cheese.

Also, the rulebook is unnecessarily complex. This is ostensibly a pretty simple game – talk with the other players about what you’ll all do at the start of the round, then do it in the hope that luck goes your way – but the rules to get you through that process are a bit a mess. Thankfully there’s a turn breakdown on the back of your screen that serves as a decent reminder, but if you want a bit of extra information from the book, good luck.


Having had the game hit the table a few times now, I’m still not entirely sure what to think about it. It’s solid enough, but there’s a couple of things still don’t make sense. I get that Wizkids wanted there to be a single winner, but surely the Nazgul are meant to be this all-powerful team of horrors that are essentially little more than mindless ghouls? That’s what I understood anyway, so why on earth would there be infighting amongst them to see who’s best at being bad? And why would you try and screw over your fellow players when that’s the easiest way to mess up a victory that’s hard enough to achieve anyway?


All in all, Nazgul is to be damned with faint praise. It’s alright. It’s a decent enough way to pass a couple of hours but lacks that compelling aspect that will make you want to break it out again and again. The fact that you can tell about halfway through whether you’re likely to succeed or not doesn’t help matters, but there’s enough decent stuff in the game to warrant at least giving it a try, especially if you’re bang into the LotR Universe. And after all, don’t the bad guys deserve their moment in the spotlight at least once in a while?
 

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MerricB

Eternal Optimist
Nazgul is pretty awful. Semi-cooperative games (that is, games where everyone can lose but there's only one winner) are very, very difficult to design, and this is nowhere in the ballpark of good design. There's a co-operative mode, but the game just isn't interesting enough.
 

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