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A Gnome's Ponderings

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Culling the collection: Saying good bye to the Lord of the Rings

Lowell Kempf
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I have been writing about culling my collection as of late. The autumn is a good time to do some cleaning and rearranging, when it is still warm enough to be able to air out the home and not so hot that you’re working in a sauna even with air conditioning.

And I have written about games, like Modern Art and Railroad Tycoon which I have chosen to hang onto. I may have other auction games but Modern Art is an auction game’s auction game and Railroad Tycoon has great pieces and is from a family of train games that I always enjoy when it manages to hit the table.

However, when you cull, that means actually getting rid of some games.

One game that has not made the cut was Knizia’s Lord of the Rings game and the first two expansions for it.

I am a big Knizia fan and I am a big Tolkien fan as well. Heck, thanks to Rankin/Bass’s Hobbit animated film, I was a Tolkien fan before I could even read big words. The game was one I picked up relatively early in my game exploration and it was also my introduction to modern cooperative games. The game’s significance to the hobby in general and to my personal gaming journey is an easy argument to make.

However, the truth of the matter is that I was pretty darn positive that it was never going to hit the table again and getting rid of it and the expansions would free up some nice space on the shelf.

There’s a number of reasons for that. The most obvious one is that, well, I’m honestly not that found of cooperative games and most of the people I play with really don’t like them that much either. While there are some exceptions to that rule, like Pandemic, in general, it’s not something that hits the table very often.

Another reason is that most of the people who I got to play the Lord of the Rings didn’t like it.

One of the problems had was that it’s a tough nut to crack. Honestly, this game will beat you like a red-headed stepchild. Personally, I think that’s a plus in a cooperative. After all, if it was too easy, why would you ever play the game twice? You want it to be a challenge. However, Lord of the Rings takes long enough to play and can end so disastrously that I can understand how it can be discouraging. More than that, it also features player elimination. In a cooperative, that’s just not fun.

However, being tough to win is not enough to be a make-or-break issue in my book. What made the game even more frustrating to play was that the Lord of the Rings is very abstract and very non-intuitive, combined with often offering very limited choices.

In Pandemic, you understand exactly what you’re doing as you move around the map. In the Lord of the Rings, your actions are abstracted to the point that you are basically trusting the game mechanics that it all makes sense. Most of my friends who do enjoy cooperatives want the game to be an engaging story. Lord of the Rings is one where you are trying to justify the story.

All too often, people spent the game confused and trying to figure out what they were doing. And they weren’t having any fun.

It might sounds like I’m saying that the Lord of the Rings is a badly designed game. It’s not. It’s actually a very cleverly designed game and I honestly believe that many of the cooperative games that followed it would have never existed without it. However, it’s just not a game that I enjoy or my friends enjoy.

Ironically, just above it on the shelf was Balancing Aliens, a so-so dexterity game that is inferior to Lord of the Rings in almost every respect, except one. My friends actually have fun playing it.
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