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The Lords of the Rings Boardgame,
A Revisited Review

Copyright Nigel Buckle ©2000

Edited by Suzanne Campbell for The Guild Companion

This article revisits The Lord of the Rings Boardgame (see my review in the November 2000 issue). At that time I was not sure if the game had much replay value. In this article I will first discuss the replay value, then a few simple changes to the game that I believe improves it. Finally I'll offer my insights into how best to play the game to win.

Replay Value

Having played this game over a dozen times now, I'll mention that there is a danger that the game will get repetitive. The problem lies with the Feature card (you always get the same cards at Moria, Rivendell, etc) and there are only five basic types of Hobbit cards (fighting, hiding, walking, friendship and wild). The boards are tackled in the same order each time (Moria, Helms Deep, Shelob's Lair, Mordor) so after a number of games you've seen it all before. Varying the number of players does make the game slightly different (certainly more players increase the difficulty level as there is more competition for the same number of life tokens. In turn, that will result in more hobbits moving towards Sauron at the end of each Scenario as there are not enough tokens to go around to avoid corruption). It is, however, somewhat like having an RPG where the players have to play the same scenario over and over again, with just the random encounters for variation.

Until the players have learned the best strategy to beat the game system the game stays fresh (Conversely if players never hit on the best method it becomes frustrating!), but once you've worked out the optimum techniques then failure usually comes down to the luck of the tiles (get enough "Sundials" in a row and the fellowship is doomed.)

The competitive optional game is not that good in my opinion. It feels like a last minute add-on to appeal to the gamers that dislike co-operative games. Certainly the players I've tried it with have preferred the standard game.

So in summary (as far as replay value goes), this is a game that won't get played every week in my house, but will see the occasional play, especially if we get a new player or the number of players varies.

Improvements

I have two suggestions for improving (or modifying) the game.

The first suggestion deals with the tiles. I've found it is too difficult to thoroughly mix them, which means the same combinations keep occurring in a game. That is a big problem if the Sundial tiles "clump" together. Also players seem to dislike the mechanic of turning a tile; they feel there is no control and that the game system is driving the game.

The way to "fix" this is to put the tiles in a cloth bag (or the game box lid if you haven't got a suitable bag) and draw a tile without looking. This solves the problem of the tile order as you're randomly pulling a tile from the bag. As well, players feel they have some control over what tile is picked (of course they don't, but at least when you pull that "bad" tile the other players can complain it is your fault...).

One minor difficulty this fix creates is with the Gandalf card that lets you re-arrange the order of the next 3 tiles (Foresight). If this card is used then draw 3 tiles from the bag and decide what order they are placed in.

The second suggestion alters the game and certainly moves it away from recreating the book. Shuffle the Rivendell and Lorien Feature cards together at the start of the game, then deal 12 cards as the Rivendell Feature cards and 12 as the Lorien ones. This stops the standard choices of cards in Moria (before the fellowship visits Lorien).

Strategy Hints

Caution! Only read this if you want my insights into how I beat the game system!! Part of the enjoyment of the game (for me) is working out how to win. Reading this could detract from your gaming experience with The Lord of the Rings Boardgame. Thus said, if you are having real trouble beating the system, even on the beginner level (with Sauron starting on 15) perhaps the following may help.

Number of Players: Three players seems to be the optimum number to beat the system. With three you get the full complement of feature cards and there is little pressure for the life tokens (rings, suns, hearts).

Ring Bearer: Try to arrange it so SAM is bearing the ring in Mordor as his bonus to the die roll is not to be under-rated (Sam only has to discard a single card if the discard 2 cards is rolled too).

Cards: Save the feature cards with double walking for Mordor. The easiest way to beat the game is to play multiple walking cards and get to the last space (number 60) as soon as possible. Wasting turns healing, drawing cards or moving on the other tracks just increases the likelihood of the event tiles forcing a Sauron win.

Shields: Save these for Shelob's Lair; with a bad draw of "Sundial" event tiles the fellowship can use a huge number of shields. Any shields left over after this board can be used to call Gandalf in Mordor.

Athelas: For one scenario board one hobbit can forgo collecting life tokens. Use this before reaching Mordor for maximum benefit.

Belt: Save this for the roll to destroy the ring at the end; the result is an automatic victory.

Miruvor : Save this card to play when a hobbit is eliminated. That player can then pass a useful card (e.g. Belt) to a player remaining in the game.

Mithril: Similar to Belt

Phial: Use this when the next event tile could end the game (or the scenario with a Sundial).

Putting on the ring: As the ringbearer suffers the effect of the die-roll it is best to save this until the situation is critical, or there are several spaces the fellowship need to skip over. A good example is in Moria: Towards the end of the fighting (main) track there are 2 die-roll spaces. As squares moved over-as well as the square you finish on-are ignored when using the ring, Frodo can put on the ring to try to avoid them both.

If you have any questions about the rules, or just want to view the components of the game I suggest you check out Chris Lawson's excellent site: http://freespace.virgin.net/chris.lawson/rk/lotr/index.htm

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