We traded for this game back in the Spring in a local no-ship math trade. My wife consistently says she likes co-op games, and I like Lord of the Rings. This game has a fairly high rating on this website as well. That was enough to convince me this game was worth getting in a trade to see how we liked it. So is this a game that we shall not pass up or would we rather throw it into the fires of Mount Doom?
In this game players play hobbits and work together to get the one ring into Mount Doom. The main game board shows a track of locations players move to, as well as a corruption track that their hobbits are represented on. A Sauron marker is on the other side.
There are two types of locations players will encounter. The first are Safe Havens. These mostly safe locations give players cards that will be helpful, though each safe haven does a harmful event to resolve. The other locations are combat locations, and each one has a combat board to resolve. Each combat board has three tracks that represent various elements of the story in that section. For example, for the Mines of Moria board one track is the flee through the mine, another is advancing quietly, and the main track is to fight the Balrog. Each track has one of four symbols associated with it.
On a player's turn they will draw a story tile. These tiles will either be an event (bad) or show a symbol matching one of the tracks. The events have a variety of bad effects. Some events move a tracker up on the combat board that resolves specific events for that board. Others cause a die to be rolled that either moves player closer to Sauron or Sauron closer to the players. A player will draw tiles until they get a tile that has a symbol matching one of the board symbols. The player then moves a marker further on the track. When the marker moves forward players get an item. These items are mostly runes that can be spent for help from Gandalf. Other items are life tokens needed at the end of the combat board or special cards. Some spaces force a player to roll the bad die.
After players finish drawing tiles, they may play up to two cards from their hands. These cards also match the symbols, and advance the tracks. Instead of playing cards a player may rest and either draw two new cards or move step away from Sauron on the corruption track.
When the players make it to the end of the main track on the combat board, they must turn in three different types of life tokens. For each token a player is short they must move up on the corruption track. The party then moves to the next location on the main board. If it is a safe haven, they resolve it. If not, the new combat board is played out and players encounter it.
The final combat board is Mount Doom. If players make it to the end of this board and resolve two more bad dice rolls without dying they win. If a hobbit is ever moved onto the same space (or Sauron moved onto the same space as a hobbit) then the hobbit dies. If the ring bearer is killed in this way the players lose. If the final unique event on the last board is reached, then the players lose. If the players succeed at throwing the ring into Mount Doom then they win.
The Game We Played
I played as Frodo and my wife was Sam. We got through the Mines of Moria board fairly easily. However, we struggled on the Helm's Deep board. I was the ring bearer and drew multiple story tiles in a row that were event tiles. Each of these tiles either moved me or Sauron closer. Sam's ability is that he only has to move one space forward when the die is rolled, so my wife made sure to encounter the die symbols on the board. Our bad luck though, is she kept moving Sauron forward.
We moved into Shelob's Lair, Sauron was only three spots away from us. My wife had a special card that could be used to ignore corruption from not having life tokens. After I got the tokens I needed, we used cards to get through the board quickly. We used up too many cards though as we entered Mount Doom. We made a mad dash for the volcano and made it three fourths of the way down the main board, but a story tile moved Sauron forward. This moved him on top of Frodo and caused us to lose the game.
My Rating: 1.5 (do not like)
My Thoughts: I really did not like this game. My biggest problem with the game is just how dry and themeless it is. Matching symbols to move along a track does not convey any sort of narrative arc or excitement. Sneaking through the mines of moria is the same as fighting orcs at Helms Deep, except the needed symbol is different. The lack of a solid narrative or feeling of actually doing anything took all of the excitement out of the game, but left all of the frustration. I really have to wonder how replayable this game would be over the long haul as well. However, that is mostly a rhetorical question because I have little desire to play this again.
Her Rating: 1 (never want to play it again)
Her Thoughts: I just did not find this game fun to play. It was annoying and I did not feel like I was accomplishing anything. I feel like this game could be given any theme and play almost the same way. I really disliked this game.
Combined Rating: 2.5
This game was a huge misstep for us, and it is up there with one of our least liked games. I am really beginning to wonder if we like the ideas of co-op games more than we actually like playing them. I was curious about this and counted it up. Overall at some point my wife and I have played fourteen co-op games together. Of those 14, we only like three of them. In looking at this, I think I have a decent idea about what kind of elements we like in co-op games, so I am cautiously optimistic about our first play together of Arkham Horror which is coming up soon. As for this game, we will be looking to get rid of it as soon as possible.