Roberto Di Meglio is a game publisher and game designer. Despite an educational background in computer science, Roberto has been working professionally in the tabletop game industry since 1991, mostly as a publisher of game magazines, role-playing games and board games. His game design credits include complex games such as War of the Ring and Age of Conan, and simple family games like Rattlesnake.
The following interview is about the board game War of the Ring, a game he co-designed with Marco Maggi and Francesco Nepitello.
Jason (GameGobble): War of the Ring revolves around The Lord of the Rings story by J. R. R. Tolkien. What was your approach in developing a game whose theme has such a huge and loyal fan base?
Roberto: I must admit that I actually came to the design of this specific game as a fan before I was a game designer. As a fan, I was unhappy about The Lord of the Rings game available at the time. As a game designer, I jumped on the opportunity to create one myself (together with Francesco and Marco). All the designers had a very good knowledge of the source material, and we wanted to create something which was strongly thematic, first and foremost. I don’t think we could have achieved what we did if we were not big fans ourselves. We simply created the game we wanted to play.
Jason: Highlight some of the game mechanics that enabled War of the Ring to stay true to The Lord of the Rings story.
Roberto: May I answer “all of them”? 🙂
The game was designed with the goal in mind of recreating the story. Some of them, however, definitely have more importance than other ones. First and foremost among them, I would place the dualism between placing an effort on destroying (or hunting) the Ring, or placing an effort on the War itself, is central. This is reflected by the action dice system, and the players are faced with constant dilemma of using their actions to pursue one path or another.
Another important element is the political track: the fact that the participation of the various Free Peoples nations to the War of the Ring cannot be taken for granted, and that the Free Peoples player must put an effort to get them to join.
Third, I would place the inclusion of highly detailed, strongly thematic event cards – it would be impossible to capture all the intricacies of the story only with the mechanics. But there are many, many other little things which add to the theme – the effect of moving through a Shadow stronghold, the way siege combat works, the Hunt mechanics…
Jason: Why did you release a 2nd edition of War of the Ring, and what do you consider to be the major improvements?
Roberto: There are two main areas we wanted to improve.
First of all, usability – the 1st edition cards and game board had several problems as a “user interface,” and we wanted to fix those issues. Font size, game board space… not a big deal, apparently, but if your eyesight gets in the way between you and enjoying the game, it’s an issue.
Second, game balance. Not that first edition was significantly unbalanced, but there were some strategies which were too strong and not very thematic that we wanted to restrict; and on the other end, there were some strategies (such as choosing to have Gandalf alive rather than dead!) which were not good enough to be pursued. The 2nd edition fixes all these issues.
Jason: There’s a non-trivial investment of time to set War of the Ring up, learn the rules, and play the game. What kind of experience can gamers expect in return?
Roberto: They can expect to get the feeling of being immersed in an alternate, but fully believable, re-enactment of the entire Trilogy, full of interesting “what-ifs” and unexpected twists. Yes, playing the game through may take 3-4 hours– but we condensed more than 1000 pages of books and more than 10 hours of movies, so I don’t think we did that bad!
Jason: What is one thing you want gamers to know about War of the Ring?
Roberto: While War of the Ring may not be the simplest game you will ever play, if you can get through the initial complexity it can play surprisingly fast with very little downtime; and it can provide an experience to The Lord of the Rings fans, which I don’t think any other game inspired by Tolkien’s trilogy can equal. It’s a labor of love from the initial concept to the final production, and I think it shows.