The Lord of The Rings Boardgame
Produced by Parker/Hasbro and Designed By Reiner Knizia
Reviewed by Nigel Buckle, Copyright© 2000
Edited by Suzanne Campbell for The Guild Companion
I played this game at GenCon 2000(UK) and was suitably impressed. According to the box, it's designed for 2-5 players aged 12+, but younger children should be able to play with the help of an adult. Also, as the game pits the players against the system, it could easily be adapted to solo play.
The idea behind the game is that of a party of hobbits (2-5 hobbits, depending on the number of players) who have to progress from BagEnd all the way to Mount Doom to destroy the ring, and not fall prey to its corrupting influence on the way. This is a co-operative game where all the players work together to defeat the game system, although there are optional/variant rules for those who like to "win". This co-operative style means it should appeal to roleplayers.
The game is a card-game at heart. The players move rapidly from BagEnd to Rivendell, get a hand of cards (so the setup of the game is part of the story, a nice touch), then the real adventure starts with Moria. There are 2 double-sided "scenario" boards which depict 4 scenarios the players have to work through: Moria, Helms Deep, Shelob's Lair and Mordor. Each board has a number of marker tracks, and as the game progresses markers are moved along these tracks.
On each board there is a main track that depicts the journey on that board (fighting the orcs through Moria, moving across Mordor, etc) along with a Time Passes track, and some others. At the start of each player's turn a tile is turned over which moves a marker; if the tile is The Shadow Lengthens then time moves on and the whole adventure gets more dangerous, so there is certainly a big incentive to get moving! Each turn a player can play up to 2 cards to move markers, do nothing and heal, or draw more cards. The cards have different symbols (fighting, friendship, stealth, etc) and depending on the card played, that marker is moved on its track.
As the markers are moved, the players collect shields and other symbols, all of which are useful in the game. The idea is to complete the main track on the board, then move onto the next (there is a brief stop at Lorien between Moria and Helms Deep).
However, all is not that straightforward. A separate board marks the progress of the company (which scenario they are on) along with the current corruption totals. At various points in the game a player may have to roll a special die, and the result may give corruption points. As well, the ring bearer may get corruption points through various tiles being revealed. Each hobbit's corruption level is marked on the corruption track (which starts out white and fades to gray then black). At the other end of the track sits Sauron (or a bit closer if players fancy playing a harder game!). At various points in a scenario Sauron may move closer (on a die roll or if the scenario doesn't get completed fast enough). If Sauron meets a hobbit on the corruption track, that hobbit is corrupted and out of the game. If that hobbit was bearing the ring, then it's game over for everyone!
The variable difficulty setting is nice, although the basic game is quite tough in and of itself (both games I played Sauron "won").
The Tolkien theme is evident throughout the game, from the John Howe illustrated box and boards; to the cards, which depict characters and events from the book (such as Boromir, Athelas, etc); and to the ring which gets passed around like a hot potato from player to player (whoever collects the most 'ring' tokens gets the ring next scenario...).
In summary, this game is ideal if you like the idea of a co-operative game. The length of play varies (it can end very quickly if you get too many 'the shadow lengthens' tiles in one go, or if the players do not co-operate), but it shouldn't take more than 2 hours to complete, and on average about 90 minutes. Replay value is questionable; I'm sure you'll want to play until you succeed at the harder difficulty levels, but it may become
repetitive after frequent playing.
Will I buy it? As a Tolkien fan, definitely! As an added bonus, I'm sure I'll be able to get my non-gaming friends to try it.
Release date is sometime in October, 2000.