Games Talks: September 2015

For the month of September. Let’s have a closer look at a “Top 5” Lord of the Rings Games.

Lord of the Rings is a powerful license. There was always some demand for games that are Lord of the Rings related and pursuit of these games spurred interest in fantasy wargames like Warhammer and tabletop roleplaying games like D&D. Now that there has been a major blockbuster trilogy for Lord of the Rings, with the Hobbit trilogy coming out as we speak, there is an absolute glut of Lord of the Rings merchandise on the market.

Maybe this is what Christopher Tolkien was thinking of when he said he hated what his father’s work had become? I’m certain that if Christopher played some of the games not on the list, he’d agree that they are terribly bad. Don’t lose hope though! There are some great Lord of the Rings games out there too. Here’s a run down of the best of the Lord of the Rings games on the market.

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#5- Lords Of The Ring

This is one of the more well known Lord of the Rings games on the market, and one of the only Eurogames with a Lord of the Rings theme that I am aware of. In English this game is known just as Lord of the Rings and it was published in 2000 in Germany under the book license, as the Jackson movies still hadn’t been released. The game is very abstract, and while it is ostensibly about throwing the One Ring into the fires of Mount Doom to Save The World, I personally feel like the theme is kind of bizarrely added onto the mechanics. This is the German Art Film of Lord of the Rings games, but it’s interesting so don’t pass up a chance to play it just because it’s weird.

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#4- Lord of the Rings Heroclix

HeroClix have been around for a long time now, and while I’m not a huge fan of collectible minis or the games that tend to go with them, the Lord of the Rings series has been pretty solid. Based on the Jackson movies, the Clix do battles in Middle Earth surprisingly well. If you skip the boosters and just buy a starter pack (there are currently Lord of the Rings and Hobbit starters) then you get a decent selection of minis, a bunch of tokens, some maps, a rule book and scenarios. The Lord of the Rings starter came with a scenario for defending Balin’s Tomb from the Fellowship of the Ring (Hobbit spoiler? Nah, you probably hadn’t noticed the name anyways). The scenarios are fun and the way that Clix games use special abilities, the hobbit characters are not liabilities even though they are not heavy hitters. Overall the game and the theme fits very well together, which surprised me.

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#3- Middle Earth Quest

This big-box game is likely to stir the blood of anybody who has ever learned to write in elvish or let loose a dwarven battle-cry while wielding a plastic axe. The game plays a lot like a co-operative game, with players working together, moving pieces around a board trying to manage the evil leaking from Mordor and other havens of evil. The twist is that one player is playing the evil forces of Sauron and is actively trying to screw the rest of the players out of victory. this evil player is not a toaster or a secret traitor like other games of this type, but is openly antagonizing the scattered forces of good. It’s huge, it has tons of pieces, takes hours and is amazingly fun. Perfect for the kind of person who likes games that take an entire Saturday to play.

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#2- Lord of The Rings Deckbuilding Game

Cryptozoic has hit on a really solid formula. The second in their recent line of licensed deck-building games, the Lord of the Rings version uses mechanics very similar to those of the DC Comics game while staying different in actual play. The mechanics of the game are changed slightly to fit the idea that no one is directly fighting each other and the mood turns more into something akin to the Gimli/Legolas rivalry to hit the most orcs in the head with pointy metal. The base game includes material from the Fellowship of the Ring movie and the first expansion adds material from the Two Towers movie, with Return of the King and Hobbit expansions implied. Not only a good Lord of the rings game, Cryptozoic made a really good game, period.

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#1- Lord of the Rings LCG

I have never before seen such a perfect blend of theme and mechanics in a game. I did not have high hopes when I heard of this game. Another Lord of the Rings card game? A Living Card Game from Fantasy Flight? I was sure that this would be some Call of Cthulu knock off or worse, a reprinting of the old Middle Earth CCG in non-collectible form. My initial worries were so wrong. What Fantasy Flight has done is take the core concept of both the Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings tales and distill that down into a simple idea with a lot of strategic space to play around in.

Each player makes a deck as you would for any CCG, but players work together to defeat bad guys, travel through harsh lands and work the cause of right. The deck the players are fighting involves missions and mission-specific cards, which means that every game has a story, an objective and the mechanics to support both. It’s set between the Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings and many of the quest lines are sometimes subtle references to parts of the books, such as the Hunt for Gollum which is mentioned briefly in the Council of Elrond in the novel. There is also a new set of quest paths out that runs through the entire Hobbit story line with unique mechanics to support a more linear quest chain than was previously implied in the Lord of the Rings base set. FFG really hit the ball out of the park with this one.

How to Eat a Game

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Open box, remove contents. Discard plastic bags.

Soak board in water with a touch of lemon juice.

Put pawns and wooden cubes in a lightly greased pan, sprinkle with coriander, and bake in oven at 400 degrees for one hour.

Heat canola oil in large frying pan. Shuffle cards, cut into 1/2-inch strips. Dip the strips into raw egg and bread crumbs, deep-fry for twenty minutes.

When board is thoroughly soaked, carefully remove paper from board. Scrape all glue into mixing bowl. Discard paper.

Tear up rules. Soak bits in sherry and diced chives and roll into balls.

Assemble cube tower. Tenderize with hammer.

Add the fried cards, rule balls and roast pawns to the mixing bowl and stir. Shave cubes with sharp knife, add to mixture to taste.

Cover mixing bowl with aluminum foil.

Get in car, drive to zoo, strangle kangaroo. Extract juice from pineal gland with a sturdy syringe. Hide evidence of foul play in pouch.

Return home, remove aluminum foil, squirt kangaroo extract liberally onto mixture.

Stuff the mixture into the cube tower with spatula, roll tower in softened board.

Broil for two hours.

When done, garnish with dice and serve with tossed tiles.

Bon appetit!

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Shadowrun Crossfire Expansion !

Shadowrun Crossfire is one of my favorite deckbuilding game. Published by Catalist Game Labs they posted a picture on Instagram announcing the a full expansion called High Caliber Ops ! A stack of boxes was visible at PAX Prime.

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Now why would you want to play this game ? A few thoughts ..

1 – It is cooperative. That is a big difference right there. I have not played another coop deck builder.

2 – The game is kicking you where it hurts from the beginning. Due to it being a coop, there isn’t a need for the “buy cards then buy points” feel I get from Dominion, EmDo, and, to a lesser extent, Ascension.

3 – The deck building is relatively minor. Sure you have deck building, but you start with 7 cards and you might, MIGHT, buy 8-10 cards in a game. Usually that number will be lower in the 4-6 range. This is the reason I included Rococo. The games are completely different, but that very slight hand building in Rococo is similar to SR:CF’s deck building (or deck modifying).

4 – It plays fast. A lot of deck builders play fast. Some, like Dominion, are dependent on the cards available as to how fast the game goes. SR:CF keeps cards moving either by wiping them out of the black market, people buying them, or you are dead and starting a new game.

5 – Is it thematic? As much as the next deck builder. It isn’t dripping with the Shadowrun theme like a tactical miniatures game could be, but I don’t need it to be. If I really want Shadowrun, I have the RPG & recent computer games to turn to. I do feel like the Extraction mission is the most thematic of the two base set missions I have played. Having to keep the client alive is a real challenge.
6 – Is it supported? Not as much as its fans would like, that is for sure. The new expansion is the first for the game and almost doubles the amount of available official scenarios from 6 (3 in box, 2 on website, 1 demo scenario on website) to 11, with new black market cards, new role cards (different starting decks) and new abilities to spend your karma points on.

Note: There have been two character expansion packs released but these are more of “reload packs” than anything else. They give you new character cards and new sticker sheets for a fraction of the price of rebuying the expansion or the base game. CEP #1 gives you more sticker sheets identical to those in the base game. CEP #2 give you more sticker sheets identical to those in the new expansion.

7 – It is legacy-ish. No it is not and by anyhow it is not something you see in most deck builders is the ability to gain new abilities, albeit slowly and probably not every 1-2 plays like Risk Legacy. The game state is, for the most part, static across a series of plays before you earn enough karma to buy that upgrade you have had your eye on.

8 – You can play it solo. Like many coops and unlike many deck builders I have played, SR:CF can be played solo. The Crossfire scenario is a two character minimum, so you will need to run two decks and all that, but the Extraction scenario scales from 1-4 and is, like I said before, the more thematic scenario of the two, IMO.

Not convinced ? Join the Boardgame Monkeys and request to play the game to give it a try 🙂 I’ll be happy to host a table.

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