This is the official board game to accompany last years movie, but with such a wealth of Tolkien games already in circulation is it worth the effort?
The presentation is great: the box shows nice artwork with all the movie characters, the board is sturdy and shiny, but gives the first indication of the games simplicity (if the 6+ age guideline hadn’t tipped you off already). Inside we find 6 decks of cards, 3 of them mini-cards. All are well designed and produced to a high quality, as is expected with a movie tie-in game like this. There is a bag of small copper figurines for the players, but most of the box is taken up with the 4 large challenge characters – the antagonists in the game that each player much defeat. We have a warg rider, a stone troll, the goblin king and two orcs. Each is a silver plastic figure standing about 2” tall. They are very impressive!
The game itself is a very simple roll and move, with the added extra of combat cards, but in fact these do not contribute a great deal to the game, as all the characters and bosses have such similar stats. It is a very simple game, clearly aimed at a younger or more mainstream audience. It is not a gamers game.
The cards are collected as you move around the board and help you boost your stats in the boss fights against the “Challenge Characters.” After the first few combats it is very easy to determine which cards you will need to be able to win in a boss fight, and it does become a simple matter of collecting cards, rolling dice and top trumps. The maths involved may be good for kids, but there really is very little required in terms of tactics, planning or cooperation.
As a very simple movie tie-in I was surprised that it is a straight ‘race to the finish’ competitive game with no element of cooperation at all. The most brief and basic viewing of the movie will show that it is about a group working together towards the same goal. The game captures none of this.
The wording of the cards is often quite ambiguous, and almost always is just flowery superfluous flavour text, ending with something like ‘miss a turn’ or ‘pick up a card’.
It’s not all bad though! Like I said, the game is very pretty, and does have enough to engage a wide range of players. Although this is not one for a group of experienced gamers, it could be a good game for a mixed age or ability group, or for a casual / drunken game night. It doesn’t require too much thought and is fairly quick to play. This could be a good gateway game to get people into ‘proper’ games, like Fantasy Flight’s Lord of the Rings – this is what I plan to do!
During play our criticisms weren’t about game mechanics or complexity – we did enjoy it and will likely play again. The problems we had while playing without analyzing were the oversimplification – it could be a much more tactical game. Biggest complaint was the shoddy playing pieces! It is very difficult to tell the player figures apart, as they are almost all the same height, same colour, and show a similar character wielding similar weapons. A lot of our game time was wasted correcting moves when someone had moved the wrong piece.
The first comment made when we set up the game was “Ahh, Ludo” and sadly that is the case, it is fancy Ludo with flavour text and pretty colours, but saying that, this likely won’t be a game that gathers dust at the back of the shelf. It is quick, fun and very accessible – enjoy it for what it is and don’t expect too much! I think, like a lot of games, you can make this as much fun as you want.
In summary, this is an enjoyable but very basic game, one to be brought out at Christmas with the family or when we have kids round before we start an evening of proper gaming.