Lord of the Rings

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Unless you’ve lived under a very large rock for the past few years, the title alone should give you some idea of what this game is based on. But just in case you actually did live under a very large rock for the past few years I will explain.

It seems this really evil guy, we’ll call him Sauron, hatched this really evil plan to enslave just about everybody on the planet by giving them jewelry. I don’t mean just any kind of jewelry, I mean really evil jewelry and the keystone to this really evil plan involving really evil jewelry is a certain ring, we shall call it … THE ring.

Unfortunately for him, but to the delight of almost everyone else, he lost it. You see, that’s the inherent flaw of really evil jewelry, it’s just too darn hard to keep track of. Now lucky for us, somebody slightly less evil, we’ll call him Gollum for lack of a better term, found it… but he lost it too, but not to worry, because like all things small and shiny, it gets found again, this time by a good guy. Yeah sure he’s a burglar, but he’s not a very good burglar so that kind of balances out the old karma wheel a tad.

Now this burglar, we’ll call him Bilbo, wants to retire from his tedious grind of sitting in the sun, on his front porch, drinking tea and smoking his pipe. He’s all packed and ready to head out to find a more relaxing environment when an old friend, we’ll call him Gandalf, stops by and demands that he leave that really evil piece of jewelry with someone that he can trust. So he does. He leaves it with his favorite relative, and in keeping with the silly names routine… we’ll call him Frodo.

At this point, Gandalf, seeing that Frodo lacks gainful employment, gives him a job.

“Take this really evil ring, made by the really evil guy, for his really evil plan someplace really hot and chuck it in. Yeah! That’ll show him. By the way, take a few friends with you. You might get bored on the road… and pack a lunch.”

Thus begins our adventure.

In a welcome breakaway from the usual “me versus you” mode of most board games, Lord of the Rings is played cooperatively. It’s you and your fellow hobbits against the game itself. (read, Sauron, the really evil guy with a penchant for jewelry I mentioned earlier).

By using scenario boards, each depicting the trilogies various locations, and another board that represents Saurons corrupting influence on you and your partners you make your way from the warm and cozy comforts of Bag End to the much warmer and far less cozy heart of Mt. Doom. The most important locations all seem to be present as are the characters from the trilogy. I would have preferred that the original fellowship have been used, instead of a full cast of hobbits, but it still works for me.

Starting with a carefully scripted introduction (this tends to become rather repetitive after a few plays) the “game proper” starts. Each player (represented by one of the hobbits) armed only with a handful of cards, a sense of adventure and the infamous ring embarks on their dangerous journey.

The cards are used to progress through the scenario boards. Each board will have 3 to 4 different paths that the players must advance on to receive various shields, items and tokens. The tokens are important as they keep you from advancing toward Sauron on the corruption line. If a hobbit advances to the same square as Sauron or goes past him on the line, that player is removed from the game (a.k.a. your dead), if that hobbit happens to be the ring bearer, then the evil Sauron has retrieved his ring, the fellowship has failed and you lose the game.

The game mechanics are straightforward and easily remembered. Draw a tile and do what it tells you to do then do one of the following; draw new cards, play one or two travel cards or move back on the corruption line one space. The real trick is to find the right balance of board advancement. Do you charge straight through to complete the main path (and the board) or do you take your time to gather those much needed shields, items and tokens? Shields are important as you can trade them in for spells that will help you on your journey, the tokens keep you and Sauron as far apart as possible and the items add a bit of panache to the game.

The cooperative play aspect is nice and the game does a good job of recreating the feel of the trilogy. But be careful, the temptation to “cheat” by interpreting the rules in your favor or “redoing” an action is pretty high. These kinds of actions will make the game a bit easier, but takes a lot away from the spirit and challenge of the game. Unfortunately, I believe that its linear game play will seriously impact its replay value over time. An expansion to this game adds two more boards and allows someone to play Sauron. It’s a nice twist but I believe the game stands on its own two feet, as is.

Complexity: 2         Strategy: 3         Luck: 3         Overall: 3

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