In War of the Ring there are five major areas in which the battles of the War of the Ring are fought. These are Gondor to the south, Eriador to the northwest, the DEW-line to the northeast (Dale, Erebor, and the Woodland Realm), the Misty Mountains and Rohan in the center. Both the Shadow and the Free Peoples have different options available to them in these areas and in this article I will take a closer look at what offensive strategies are available to the Shadow and what defensive strategies the Free Peoples can utilize in the different areas and which Event cards that can be useful in their endeavors.
War of the Ring: Theaters of War
In the south, there are five victory points located within the borders of Gondor. These are all prime targets for the Shadow since taking these not only gives the Shadow the victory points; it also prevents the Free Peoples player from turning Strider into Aragorn if captured quickly. To strike here the Shadow must coordinate the armies from Mordor and Harad in an effort to lay siege to the Strongholds of Dol Amroth and Minas Tirith quickly. In addition to the two Strongholds, the city of Pelargir must be captured and this is often the wisest place to begin the attack on Gondor. By sending the armies from Harad here you can quickly divide the Gondor forces into two parts, one in Minas Tirith and one in Dol Amroth, and the defenses of Pelargir are weak. If the Shadow's forces attack before Gondor has had a chance to muster any defenders Pelargir will probably fall quickly. After Pelargir has fallen the Shadow must move quickly to lay siege to both Dol Amroth and Minas Tirith so the Gondor reinforcements stay off the board.
The event cards that allow the Shadow to move his armies and muster in advanced positions can give a real boost in the assault on Gondor but the most useful one is probably "Corsairs of Umbar," which will allow the Southrons to launch an assault on Dol Amroth all the way from Umbar. This card is rightly feared by the Free Peoples player and by amassing an army in Umbar it is possible to sometimes fool the Free Peoples player into believing that you hold the card. This bluff can sometimes net the Shadow some nice points somewhere else while the Free Peoples player musters defenders in Dol Amroth.
The Free Peoples
As the Free Peoples player, you have the unpleasant task of avoiding losing any victory points in Gondor if the Shadow targets this area. Pelargir is extremely difficult to hang on to if the Shadow launches the first attack here, but both Dol Amroth and Minas Tirith can be defended if needed. To defend Minas Tirith, the fortification of Osgiliath should be reinforced before the Shadow strikes and you should have enough time to muster at least once in Dol Amroth if Gondor comes under attack (unless it is from the card "Corsairs of Umbar").
At your disposal are several nice event cards that can make your defenses a lot easier. With cards such as "Guards of the Citadel", "Imrahil of Dol Amroth", "Faramir's Rangers", "House of the Stewards" and "Dead Men of Dunharrow" you can quickly strengthen the defenses and create some really difficult situations for the Shadow.
To the northeast the Shadow can claim five victory points from the Strongholds of Erebor and the Woodland Realm and the city of Dale. Dale is often an easy target for the Easterlings from Rhûn, but if you plan to take Erebor, Woodland Realm, or both you will probably need to muster some reinforcements in Rhûn and/or bring the Dol Guldur garrison into the fray. The big risk for the Shadow around the DEW-line is that if the Free Peoples nations are brought to War they can quickly reinforce each other and make you regret you chose the DEW-line as a target. To avoid this, the Shadow should strike quickly before they are activated or suddenly at the same time as he also strikes somewhere else, since he should be able to move in two different theatres of war while the Free Peoples player only can defend in one.
If you are lucky enough to draw the card "Horde From the East" early the DEW-line should be a given target. The Easterling army created by combining this card with the beginning forces in Rhûn should be more than sufficient to take Dale and one of the two Free Peoples Strongholds in the area. The other S&E muster events could also be used for this purpose but no other is as powerful as "Horde From the East".
The Free Peoples
The closeness of Dale, Erebor and the Woodland Realm is both as blessing and a curse to the Free Peoples player. If activated early and brought to war they can form a formidable defense against the forces of Sauron but if attacked one by one by the Shadow player before you can muster defenders they become easy victory points for the Shadow. The most important thing you can do in your defense of the DEW-line is to move the army in Carrock to the Old Forest Road from where it can reach both the Woodland Realm and Dale. Even better is if you manage to play the card "Grimbeorn the Old, Son of Beorn" before leaving Carrock. Another thing you might consider is moving Gandalf the White to the DEW-line (the easiest way to do this is to resurrect him in the Woodland Realm). If you aren't using him to rouse the Ents his ability to negate Nazgûl leadership can prove vital in the defenses of the DEW-line.
The cards "Dain Ironfoot's Guard", "Thranduil's Archers" and "King Brand's Men" are all good muster events if played before the Shadow's attack has begun but the most powerful event is probably "Book of Mazarbul," since this will bring the dwarves into the war immediately. Often you will find that if you manage to get the dwarves to war quickly and muster an elite or two the Shadow will forego the DEW-line and try to find easier pickings elsewhere. "Fire! Fear! Foes!" is also quite useful since this will allow you to instantly move the North nation to war and this will also affect Eriador.
In Rohan there are three victory points, two of which can be reached in the second turn of the game if Isengard is sent to war in the first turn. If the Shadow decides to attack Rohan the best strategy is to first take Helm's Deep and then head on to Edoras quickly. If the Free Peoples player is allowed to muster in Edoras he can often create quite a powerful army which combined with some Ent cards can either retake helm's Deep or even launch an attack upon Isengard itself. Here lies the difficulty for Saruman and his Uruks. How do you capture the Rohan settlements without risking losing either one of the captured settlements or Isengard if the Free Peoples player releases the Ents? To manage the risks the Ents pose you will have to either strike fast, before Gandalf the White shows up or wait until he is committed elsewhere before beginning the attack.
With the proper cards you can finish of Rohan quite early in the game, "Wormtongue" is especially nice since it will allow you to take the Fords of Isen and attack Helm's Deep before Rohan is activated. If you manage to get "Rage of the Dunlendings" you can quickly muster reinforcements in the Gap of Rohan if you need to garrison Isengard against the Ents or if you need to reinforce the army in Rohan and with "A New Power is Rising" you also get some heavy reinforcements either to garrison Isengard or to send into Rohan.
The Free Peoples
To properly defend Rohan you have to get some units into Helm's Deep quickly. If you manage this, Saruman's forces can be stalled for quite some time, especially if you have an Ent card or two to play in the combats. If the Shadow manages to quickly capture Helm's Deep you should muster heavily in Edoras, preferably through the many muster cards, from where you can launch a counter attack on Helm's Deep or head south to assist your allies in Gondor, perhaps through the "Paths of the Woses".
The three most important cards for you in Rohan are the three Ent cards. These cards can win you some important combats or even take out Orthanc and Saruman if you manage to play them at the right time. The drawback is that in order to play them as events you must have Gandalf the White in Rohan or Fangorn, something not always possible since he might be better used somewhere else or he might not even be in play when you need him. Aside from the Ent cards there are several very good muster cards that allow you muster the Rohirrim quickly. "Eomer, Son of Eomund", "Riders of Theoden" and "The Red Arrow" will all allow you to muster one Rohan unit and one Rohan Leader. If the Shadow doesn't capture all your Settlements you should be able to muster an army with which to respond to the enemy's moves.
The Misty Mountains
Along the Misty Mountains lie the Elven sanctuaries of Rivendell and Lorien. Lorien should be a prime target if the Shadow is focusing on finding the Ring, since this will rob the Fellowship of its most obvious resting place. Lorien can be attacked from both Dol Guldur and Moria, just remember that if the Dol Guldur garrison heads west it cannot also head north towards the DEW-line unless you muster a new army in Dol Guldur. The Moria army needs some heavy reinforcements before it can handle Lorien on its own, but if done properly it should be able to take the Golden Woods.
Rivendell is farther away and not an as obvious target as Lorien but this can quickly change if the card "Monsters Roused" is played. This card can, with reinforcements either from the northern Sauron Settlements or from Moria, quickly dispatch the valiant defenders of Rivendell. All cards that allow mustering in the Misty Mountains can be used in preparation for a strike at Lorien or Rivendell and the card "Return to Valinor" can be particularly nasty if you manage to roll high enough.
The Free Peoples
Defending the Elven sanctuaries of Rivendell and Lorien isn't easy. You only have a limited number of Elven reinforcements to recruit and they are not enough to cover all the Elven Strongholds. You must try to discern where the Shadow is most likely to strike and muster your defenders there. All the Elven muster cards ("Kindred of Glorfindel" and "Celeborn's Galadhrim" for Rivendell and Lorien respectively) are good but you shouldn't use them if they target a Stronghold you believe the Shadow is leaving alone. One of the Shadow's possible strategies is to seem to be headed towards one Elven Stronghold and then after you have mustered some defenders there, he simply heads to another Stronghold in which you now lack the ability to muster adequate defenses.
Lorien in particular is important to hang on to if you plan to have the Fellowship resting and healing there. Often the Shadow targets Lorien simply to deny Frodo this safe haven on the way to Mordor. To avoid this you could place Gandalf the White there as fast as possible to negate all that irritating Nazgûl Leadership or you could simply try to get the Elves to war quickly and use some of your precious reinforcements there. Your best defense is, however, the powerful yet fragile card "A Power Too Great".
In the northwest both the Shire and the Grey Havens can provide you, as the Shadow player, with some much needed victory points. The Shire can easily be taken from either Angmar or North Dunland and with the proper cards ("Rage of the Dunlendings" and/or "Return of the Witch-King") the scouring of the Shire should only be a few dice rolls away.
The Grey Havens are another story. This Stronghold is far of from your own muster points and if your initial assault fails, it will take ages to bring up reinforcements. If you opt for the Grey Havens as a target make sure you bring an army capable of finishing off Cirdan and his Elves without needing any reinforcements. Here it is essential that you make good use of combat cards and especially of your Nazgûl to get as many re-rolls in the combat as possible.
The Free Peoples
To protect the Shire you will need both luck and cunning. Some players prefer to gather the North units from Bree and the North Downs in the Shire in order to fend off a possible attack from the Shadow. This is most often not worth the dice it costs since the Shadow might as easily disregard the Shire altogether and then your army movements were for nothing. The best option is probably to try to react to the Shadow and if he sends units towards the Shire you should be able to bring in the other North units. If this fails you can probably survive the loss of the lone victory point from the Shire.
The greater risk here is if the army that conquers the Shire is big enough to attack the Grey Havens. In this case you have to muster defenders in the Elven Stronghold and have faith in your troops. If you manage to repel the attack the enemy has a long way to bring up any reinforcements. Your greatest defense in Eriador are the cards "The Power of Tom Bombadil" and "A Power Too Great". Next in line is "Fire! Fear! Foes!" since this will allow you to instantly move the North nation to war and this will affect the DEW-line as well. "Swords in Eriador" is also useful as it allows you to muster two units and draw a Strategy card.
This brings us to the Dwarves in Ered Luin, a very overlooked unit. It isn't very often this unit sees any action but if the Dwarven nation manages to get to war it can be used in the defenses of the Grey Havens and since the Elven ability to muster is limited this can prove vital in that odd game.