Triggy's Lord of the Rings Risk Tactica Articles
Here I am assuming that you are playing with standard LotR Risk deployment rules where cards are distributed evenly to Good and Evil players with neutral cards spread between all players. This ensures that there is a fair degree of unpredictability in how the territories are distributed but definite areas of the board end up more in Evil hands and other areas end up in the hands of the Good players. This makes the first and possibly most important point to be made that your strategy cannot be the same from game to game and must adapt to the distribution of territories that you happen to receive for the current game. This is not to say that you can't have a favorite strategy for deployment but you may need to adapt this strategy to your allocated territories. I shall be analyzing basic strategies as they are applicable to deployment but I shall make a more in depth look at tactics and strategies in later articles.
Once you have your cards and both you and your opponent have deployed a single battalion on each territory you start to get a real feel for the layout of the board. Each player will be likely to have particular areas where his territories have been grouped together, and areas where he has virtually no presence whatsoever. What you need to determine is where you have an opportunity to prosper and where you will be in danger. Sometimes you can prosper, starting from only a single territory in an area, due to the relative paucity of opposition but in other games you may have a group of territories and face massive armies immediately and face an uphill challenge.
Now I'll have a look at the specifics. When you look at your territories you will normally start with at least one and possibly more strongholds. These are real centers of strength; not only for their defensive bonus but in the US editions they generate a bonus army each turn as well. This makes them lynchpins around any defensive strategy you decide on. Often you can use them to secure a border (e.g. in Mordor with Udun Vale and/or Cirith Ungol or either side of the Misty Mountains with Moria) and work away in relative safety on the other side of the stronghold. If you can combine this with a few territories on the “safe” side of the stronghold then you end up with a fairly sensible place to deploy some/all of your units. Where you may run into difficulties is if you have two or more strongholds spread far and wide across the map (e.g. Minas Tirith and Annuminas). You face a decision about whether to defend both regions or effectively to abandon one of them if an opponent attacks with a concerted effort. This really depends on how many battalions you have to spare and whether you have any plans other than defending the stronghold. Most players automatically fortify every stronghold they receive quite heavily and in my opinion this is a mistake. You can waste a lot of time and resources trying this and you really need to look at why you are fortifying any given area. If part of your plan is to disrupt the enemy deep in his territory then this alone can be sufficient reason to hold onto a stronghold. However, if you are not planning on supporting the territory then you may as well abandon it early and use the armies elsewhere, rather than fight a losing battle. Finally on the topic of strongholds; if you can link together an area between two strongholds, using each one as an anchor point for your domain then this is often worth going for. This reduces the possibility of attack from enemies and also enhances your potential for counter-attack if any of your territories fall to the enemy.
An important aspect of the early game is to work out where you want to be strong and in particular where/if you want to attempt capturing an entire region. Regions are obviously important as holding them gives you a significant bonus in terms of reinforcements over your opponents. The downside is that holding a region often makes you a larger target and you are far more likely to be attacked. This is the tradeoff that you need to weigh up before deciding whether to make the attempt or not. Of course, you can use a region to capture the majority of the territories but not all of them and use the area as a power base but you will lose out on the potential benefits of not going that last step. This tends to be more a tactic in Rhovanion, Arnor and Gondor, whereas good regions to try and take in their entirety early in the game are Haradwaith, Mordor, Rhun and Eriador. Either way, if you are going for a region then you need to organize your forces so that they can support each other and not be too spread out.
Inextricably linked with deciding both where to attack and whether to go for capturing a region or not is looking at where your opponents are likely to be strong. As I have mentioned, Mordor can be a good region to chase after in the early game due to it having not too many territories to capture and being very easy to defend (with a stronghold at each border). The only problem with this attraction is that more than one player may wish to attempt conquering the region. If you are one of two or more players with a presence in Mordor (particularly if you don't have two of the three strongholds) then be very wary of making an early play for Mordor. This same general principle holds true, in particular for the regions perceived as “easy to hold” (this perception may vary considerably from one group of players to another). Of course, by placing your armies in a single area you may intimidate your opponents into leaving you more alone than otherwise would have been the case. On the other hand you may force their hand and leave them no option but to come out all guns blazing and attack you before you attack him. This is a judgment call you'll have to make at the time based upon the personality of your opponents, relative territory spread and the disposition of your forces.
The flip side of going for entire regions is going for individual territories instead. This is where you look for weakly guarded (by opponents) or easily defended (by yourself) territories and aim to conquer as many as possible to stay generally strong and gain as much of a reinforcement bonus as possible purely from owning many territories. This also has the advantage of not attracting too many enemies and you can often build up favorable relations with your neighbors, a valuable commodity in the early part of the game. This tactic is easier to effect as you can often go for unfashionable regions like Rohan, Rhovanion, Arnor, Haradwaith (depending on your group's preferences), etc. If you are a little gutsier or your opponents are a little more timid however, using this strategy may not give you as many benefits as an aggressive deployment may give. Also, don't forget that most opponents will want some sort of a buffer zone around their territories and unless you heavily fortify certain areas, they may fall to a determined opponent.
Commonly, players only attack weak territories in the early game as they strive to seek a safe foundation without risking too much in a big attack. This means that if you form a core of territories that provides little immediate threat, you can be relatively safe from attack. Armed with this knowledge you can take the territorial approach (as opposed to going for regions) one step further and fortify every territory that you own. This really dissuades opponents from attacking you anywhere and even isolated territories remain relatively safe (unless they sit directly in the line of fire). Such territories include Anfalas, Khand, Rhun Hills, Harlindon, Forlindon, etc. and are pretty secure even with only two or three battalions there, unsupported.
Following on from this thought is the general principle of how many battalions to place in each territory. Some players prefer to have at least two battalions in each and every territory to take maximum advantage of rolling two defensive dice, whereas others prefer to have only a few territories with real numbers in and leave the majority of their territories with only a single battalion. Both of these approaches can work and although some adaptation is required for the current game conditions, opponents and distribution of territories, most players tend to find a style that suits them and stick to it. This seems to generally be the best approach as it allows your general plans to develop rather than being forced into a strategy that is unfamiliar to the player. If grouping your armies then groups of at least five and probably up to ten battalions are reasonable and even if spreading the battalions more thinly, strongholds ought to be defended with at least four-five battalions.
In addition to placing your battalions, you have to place your leader(s) (depending on what version of game you are playing you may have either one or two leaders to deploy). Leaders are absolutely vital in Lord of the Rings Risk for the offensive bonus they give and to a slightly lesser degree the defensive bonus they give as well. Each player needs to work out where they are likely to be attacking and where they are likely to be attacked in the game. Many players make the mistake of placing their leader in a fortress to help defend it, not thinking that the fortress is very unlikely to be attacked by any opponent (particularly if heavily fortified). Instead he could place the leader in a much more aggressive position with a force of battalions or help to block a route into his area, so long as the leader is accompanied by enough battalions. If using two leaders then it is more important to consider the defensive implications of your leader as the first leader lost is not regained so each player needs to be doubly careful not to deploy his leader in an exposed location. A final, less important consideration is deploying your leader so that it has access to sites of power nearby that it can conquer and thus gain additional Adventure cards. In some locations this can be difficult and rarely should the safety of the leader be sacrificed for the opportunity to gain Adventure cards.
Although attacking and defending are not part of deployment, they need to be considered during this phase so that you can maximize your attacking opportunities and minimize your opponents' opportunities to attack you. To this end you need to consider how to close your borders in the early stages of the game. This generally involves grouping your areas of strength and using terrain to limit the number of territories that the enemy can attack you from (e.g. when capturing Eriador alone the enemy can attack four territories – Mithlond, The Shire, Lune Hills and Evendim Hills. If you conquered Borderlands as well then only three territories would be liable to attack as Borderlands covers both Lune Hills and Evendim Hills). This means that you have fewer territories to defend on your border and therefore can deploy more men to these areas. On the attacking side of things you need to consider where the enemy is likely to be weak and where you wish to expand. However, this can often be hard to determine in deployment so you need to create flexibility in your plans. Therefore deploying large forces in territories with many options over where to attack (e.g. Moria, Fangorn, Mithlond, Minhiriath) allows you to make up your mind and take the opportunities presented to you once you can see where your opponents have deployed as well. You may have noticed that a couple of the examples of territories with good access to other areas are ports. These are important in deployment as they allow both you and your opponents the opportunity to redeploy very quickly at any point in the game (they are even more important in the UK edition as all ports are linked to each other).
This game is unlike standard Risk in that the distribution of territory cards is far from random. There are Good and Evil players and 15/16 (depending on your version) territories are solely Good and 15/16 territories that are solely Evil for the purposes of deployment. This tends to separate the board into an Evil eastern Middle Earth and a Good western Middle Earth. This will dictate not only where you are on the board but also what strategies are available to you. If you are lucky enough to gain control of Mordor or Eriador almost straight off the bat then you can consider yourself lucky. If not then many options are still available to you and all you need to do is apply the general principles already mentioned here. Where the game really does change is if you are playing a team Good vs. Evil game. Then the board commonly divides into a northern Good player, southern Good player, northern Evil player and southern Evil player. This normally happens so that each Good/Evil player avoids stepping on the other player's toes and also allows each player a better chance to take entire regions rather than sharing them between teammates. Otherwise general tactics often tend to be similar to (although not identical to) a two player game. When deploying all of these factors need to be considered and often territories will be left undefended so that a teammate can conquer them easily and territories may even be left that contain a site of power so that each player has easy access to an Adventure card each turn.
All of these tactics and strategies mentioned will be influenced by the number of players involved in the game. If you are playing a two player game it is a lot easier to hold larger regions than if you are playing a six player game. Also, the fewer players there are, the harder it becomes to avoid major attack from your opponents. If your are playing with four or more players often people are reticent to attack in any great force for fear of offending the player being attacked and also weakening himself and leaving himself open to attack from others. All of these are important considerations and in general, the fewer players that are involved, the more ambitious you can not only afford to be, but probably have to be to win the game.
I'll leave you now with a final thought that is useful to think at the start of any game:
What do I mean to achieve from this deployment and how can I achieve it?
I hope you enjoyed this article, the first in a line of Lord of the Rings Risk Tactica articles. Any and all comments are welcomed and please don't take these opinions as gospel – they are intended to provoke debate and discussion rather than be the last word on the topic!
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