I wrote a review of Lord of the Rings: The Confrontation in Finnish few days ago. Finnish user can go read it (Finnish users are also adviced to take a loot at my main blog, which provides website update information faster.
Here’s an English review of the game:
Lord of the Rings: The Confrontation is the best Tolkien-licensed game I’ve played. Like the Lord of the Rings, it’s designed by Reiner Knizia and illustrated by John Howe — a superb duo of two masters. Two things are thus sure: the game mechanic is well thought of and the illustration is top-notch.
The Confrontation is based on Stratego. Each player has a set of pieces, which are hidden from the opponent’s view. Only when the pieces meet in battle are they revealed. Thus, there’s plenty of bluff and surprise involved. Players represent Good and Dark sides, which both have different tactics and pieces. Dark pieces are generally physically stronger, but Good pieces have perhaps a bit stronger special abilities. Dark player is bound to win more fights, unless Good player has lots of luck.
Good player tries to move Frodo across the board to Mordor, while Dark players tries to move three pieces to the Shire or kill Frodo. Player also loses if they must move but they can’t. Usually it’s Frodo that causes the game to end. I’d say Dark player wins more, but I’ve heard many people claim the opposite; this I understand as balanced game. If you feel the game is unbalanced, worry not — Reiner Knizia has thoughtfully added two handicap cards for each side. Weaker player can use them to gain an advantage.
The Confrontation is a clever game. At times it feels like a puzzle. Especially the battles, since the duelling pieces and the cards played are all public information. Therefore you can easily see, what are your opponent’s options. Sometimes you can deduce a perfect solution, sometimes you realize you can’t win no matter what, sometimes it comes down to a lucky guess. There’s a dose of luck, even though there are no external randomizers. It all stems from the uncertainty of your opponent’s actions.
I find the theme of the game to be rather believable. Your mileage may vary, but I think the map and the pieces evoke the Lord of the Rings atmosphere quite well. Also the tactics: Dark side comes crushing on like a juggernaut, while Good side must be clever and evasive. Unfortunately the rich theme means also some rules that are a bit fiddly. For some reason, it’s rather hard for newbies to understand that you can’t move sideways in the mountains. After few games the rules are no longer a problem and I’d choose the fiddly rules and evocative theme over cleaner rules but poorer theme any day.
The game takes about 10-30 minutes, depending on how slow or fast thinker you are. My games take usually 10-15 minutes. Thus it takes only 30 minutes to play a double match, each player playing both sides once. The length of the game is very good compared to what it offers. Also, I think that repeated playings against the same opponent make the bluffing aspect of the game more interesting.
Lord of the Rings: The Confrontation is highly recommended for anyone who likes a good two-player game and especially for the fans of Lord of the Rings.