Review: Lord Of The Rings

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Game Versions

Let’s roll back in time for a moment; In 1937, work was begun on what would become one of the greatest and most influential fantasy epics in literary history. It’s between 1954 and 1955 that 3 novels were produced as part of a longer story that chronicled the struggles of men and others against the darkness that threatened to overtake the world. The work has inspired other fantasy works, movies, comics, and yes, games (including the excellent MMO version). If you like to know more about what’s out there on LOTR, check out this website full of resources.We had over the table yesterday the boardgame version that made us travel through the various locations of the first novel/movie into Mordor.

What you should know is that there are several versions of the game. Rob Robinson on a Boardgamegeek blogpost from January 2014 made a set of pic’s showing the differences between the Original Hasbro and Fantasy Flight Edition of Knizias Lord of the Rings:

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Game Objective

Did you know that this board game dates from 2000 (yes, before the Peter Jackson movies !) and is designed by the talented Reiner Knizia. As a group, since this is a fully cooperative game, we’ll try to leave the Shire to get the Ring of Power to Mordor and Mount Doom to destroy it.

The overall flow of the game will follow the chapters of the novel, with a tension created between the friendly encounters (in safe areas/towns) and the adventure path facing dark forces of evil along the road (played on a separated secondary board). You begin in Bag End, and from there move to Rivendell, Moria, Lothlorien, Helm’s Deep, Shelob’s Lair, and finally to Mordor.

BGG image by user hotrodqt

At the bottom of this board you’ll find the Corruption Line, your hobbits will progress from the light side (left) towards the dark side (right) as you’ll mark how corrupted the Ring has made your hobbits through the course of the game.  At the other end of the line is Sauron (position 15 at far end if you’re a beginner or position 13 if you played the game before), and if your hobbits ever meet him (= you’re on the same tile), your hobbit die and you lose the game (the community can still continue playing though, but without your help).

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Game Setup

On the first pages of the rulebook, you will have a 3 page explanation on how to do the game setup. With a graphical representation you will see how to set the board, tokens and cards to neately fit together.

  • We talked about the adventure path under which you will place the first Moria scenario board. You have (white) markers that goes on the event track, and the others go at the start of each activity line.
  • Six shield tokens (valued 1, 2, and 3) get mixed up and placed face down next to the board.  The other shields, as well as the Heart, Sun, and Ring tokens, get placed face up next to the board.
  • The event tiles get shuffled.  Sort the Feature cards, and place them face up next to their locations on the board.
  • Arrange the Gandalf cards face up.

You’re now all set to kick off your adventure with Frodo who begins the game as the Ring-bearer. He has the golden ring that can be passed on to another player with the switch of each scenario.

Sneaky little hobbitses. Wicked, tricksy, false!... (and the others)

Either you choose or pick randomly a character (watch out: specific rules apply for less than 5 players). You’ll see on the character cards that each of them has a special ability.

  • Frodo can use any white cards as wild cards.
  • Sam can only ever suffer one damage from rolling the die.
  • Pippin is allowed to play two cards of the same color on his turn.
  • Merry only needs 2 of the 3 life tokens at the end of the scenario.
  • Blodger can take two cards at the end of the scenario if he isn’t the Ring-bearer.  If he is, he gets four.

Each scenario gets set up as Moria did initially with the difference that there are several tracks on each board; a event track you can take by having the right symbol on cards or tiles you’re playing (fighting, travel,  hiding and friendship).

You always have 2 actions on a players turn; a player will reveal an event tile, then play cards. The player will always have to play his 1st action but he can pass his 2nd action (playing cards. In that case, if you choose to not play a card, you draw two new cards OR move your hobbit back one step, which may be helpful.

BGG images by user verive

Along your journey, you will take several paths and the progression markers will move along on each of the tracks of a scenario, then take the corresponding token shown on that space:

  • Landing on a shield space allows you to take a shield of value one. Note:  Landing on a big shield allows you to randomly draw one of the face down shields you laid out in the beginning. At any time, you can discard five shields and use a Gandalf card to help you out.
  • Landing on a ring, heart, or sun icon allows you to take a corresponding token.  Without those tokens (3 different once per player except for Pippin who needs only 2 – that’s his special ability), at the end of the scenario you will move forward on the corruption track one space for each token you’re missing.
  • Landing on the spaces that have a black square, means you’ll have to roll the die and take damage as shown on it.

If the tile you draw does not show one of those activity symbols, you’ll have to resolve the tile you drew and keep drawing until you get an activity symbol.  If you draw a tile that shows a symbol not on the board (such as friendship on the Moria board) or a symbol that has been completed, you can advance any track that you wish.

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Once per scenario board, the Ring-bearer can put on the ring.  He has then to roll the die and suffer the consequences shown.  However, the benefit is that the group can move forward on any activity line a total of four minus the number of symbols on the die.  So, if you roll the blank side, you can move four spaces.  If you roll the three, you only move forward 1.  Since you’re invisible, you don’t take any actions on any spaces you land on or pass – take no tokens, roll no dice.

Once you’ve reached the latest step on the main track, you’ll review what’s the status of the group and prepare the next scenario board. The player with the most Ring tokens is now the Ring-bearer (this player receives two new cards).  In case of a tie, the Ring goes to the player sitting closest to the current Ring-bearer in a clockwise direction.

 

Game Ending:

  • If any hobbit and Sauron meet on the corruption track, they are eliminated from the game.  However, if the Ring-bearer meets Sauron, the game ends in defeat.
  • All other scenarios end if the event track reaches the last space.  However, the final track in Mordor features the Big Eye.  Get there, and the game ends in defeat.
  • Destroy the Ring and the game ends in victory.

 

Group Feedback & Comments:

  • Cooperation is present at every instant during this game. We’re little hobbits together in this adventure to defeat Sauron and his evil, The illustrations are quite simple but therefore also very clear on what to use or what to do when a tile or card comes up.
  • No picture but hand-made board illustrations from the ‘Lord of the Rings’-illustrator John Howe.People who read the books or saw the movies will be immediately transported into the theme of the game within Middle Earth.
  • If you have the 2nd version of the game, you probably want to update your rules book with a tangible FAQ available on the website of Chris Lawson who made some excellent work (reviewed & approved by Knizia himself !) on drafting some additional explanation.
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