Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Lord of the Rings - Better Late Than Never

The absolute first "new" game I received was The Lord of the Rings. My nurse at my Texas office got it for me for my fortieth birthday and set off a dire chain of events that now leaves me with several shelves full of colorful games and game related gear. Strangely enough the game itself was only played once. Texas is not a very boardgame conducive state as it combines perfect weather with inexpensive food and drink and thus people are less inclined to stay inside and play. I pulled The Lord of the Rings (LoTR) out last weekend and we gave it another spin. As an aside, I'm going to assume that readers are familiar with the books and characters, otherwise there is little reason to pursue the game.

LoTR is a cooperative game. The players take on the roles of the hobbits and try and get across the perilous map of Middle Earth without being corrupted by the dark force of Sauron. The specific game mechanism is fairly straight forward. Players receive a hand of cards. The cards have one of five symbols on them: feet for travelling, a tree for hiding, crossed weapons for fighting, shaking hands for friendship, and a star which acts as a wild card. At various points in the game players are faced with challenges and have to surmount them by playing the right type of card. For example, when the nazgul appear the players must "hide" by playing cards with trees.

The challenge of the game stems from not always having the cards you need and from finding ways to pool resources and help out the other players. Some special cards may allow you to "save" another players. At other moments you may pass some valuable card to a player in trouble, or even choose to suffer some minor drawback in order to protect another player from something much worse. LoTR really plays up the idea that the players are a fellowship and must work as a group to defeat the dark lord. There is no real individual glory in this game, just a series of close calls and the feeling that without your pal to the left your goose would have been cooked a long time ago.

The cooperative quality is of course of one of LoTR's great strengths. It's terribly satisfying to help the other players and it feels great to have them help you. In this regards LoTR is a pretty ideal family game. Everyone has a chance to help someone, everyone has a chance to be seen as a rescuer. And the whole group feels great if they finish the game and succeed.

The cooperative quality is also a slight flaw to LoTR. There is absolutely a strategic quality to this game. In our group, for example, we were decimated in our first game and in the second did quite nicely, mainly because we learned by doing. At the same time LoTR is as much an experience as a game. You play to share an adventure. I like experience games just fine, Sleeping Queens in another example and it's a terrific product. Mousetrap is another game that strays into experience play. LoTR strives to present a specific story with set encounters and events and that format may be too linear for some players or some moments. We had fun but I don't see playing LoTR with the same intensity we play Race for the Galaxy or Dominion.

I would absolutely recommend Lord of the Rings as a fun family game with a cooperative angle. Our group of gaming beginners had a good time and later asked why we hadn't played it before. I think you need familiarity with the books to get the full experience and it probably works best with ages ten and up. I got my copy years ago but I suspect it's still available in stores or through eBay.

Pros: Cooperative, team building

Cons: Linear, first game could be demoralizing

Beyond the basics: expansions exist, plus you can reread the books


  1. Nice to see another nice actively updated game blog. I played Lord of the Rings recently at a game night and had a blast. If you like casual family co-op games you may want to try Pandemic or Castle Panic too.

  2. I don't know about how updated it is- I just noticed your comment;) But yeah, Castle Panic looks great. I know Pandemic has a great rep but it's just too close to home, I'd feel like I was at work!