semi-aquatic egg-laying mammal of action
I solemnly swear I'm up to no good
I suppose I was 13 or so when I first played this game with a group of friends. A friend of a friend of mine had purchased an early version from the designer himself. The board was made of thin poster board and the oversized cards with questionable artwork were a little worn and torn…but I wouldn’t have had it any other way. Looking back, I had some of my most enjoyable and memorable gaming experiences with this game. Part of it, I’m sure, is sentimental. But a large part was the game itself. Many more years than I’d like admit later….I found and purchased the ICE version of the game on Ebay. That’s the only version that I’ve ever seen available, so that’s the version I’ll review.
1) The Game Components. If you’re lucky enough to get the entire set, you’ll find one full colored, mounted, puzzle-cut board (6 pieces), one set of rules, one set of advanced rules, eight plastic playing pieces, 96 playing cards, and one six-sided die. The board is very hearty and well-made. The cards are undersized (about two by three inches). I usually play with them sleeved with magic-card backings so that they’re easier to handle.
2) Mechanics. I won’t go over the rules too much because they’re online on this site. But I did want to touch on the mechanics and what makes the game enjoyable. To begin the game each player chooses one of eight characters. There are four Hobbits (Frodo, Sam, Merry, and Pippin) and four Black Riders (cleverly named Black Rider 1-4). Depending on the number of players, my group will either select characters, or draw them randomly. I’ll explain that in a bit. The idea of the game is simple. Acquire the Ring card, make it to a designated space on the board, and sit for a turn. Since my group never had the official rules, we’d always sit for three turns…which could make for a pretty long game. You can only have 10 cards in your hand at any time, so you must choose them carefully. Your hand hits the limit pretty quickly. There are various cards that give you insight into other players’ hands, allow you to travel to various places on the map, draw more cards (or take your opponents’ cards), and/or give you “Battle” points to use during altercations. Interesting dynamics start to play out between the Hobbit and Black Rider characters during gameplay. You can attack any character that is adjacent to you or on your space. If you are a Black Rider and are attacking a Hobbit, you always attack with Evil army cards and the Hobbit defends with Good army cards and vice versa. However, if you are attacking a character of like-kind, you always use the opposite type of battle card to attack. The other player still uses his native cards to defend. So throughout the game, you may find yourself assisting your like-minded “friends”, but when there can truly be only one winner, there comes a time to turncoat. It makes it very difficult to play with all Hobbits or all Black Riders because each player would need to collect evil and good battle points…which would use up valuable space in your hand. And it’s much easier in a 3+ player game to be the only hobbit or the only Black Rider. It isn’t necessarily easier to win, just easier to play. So, for 3 player games, the group will randomly select from two like-kinds and one opposite. For 4-player games, we’ll agree to use 2 from each side. Nearly every round involves some type of interesting player interaction. Whether it’s trying to get a peek at someone’s hand or using the Gollum card to steal the Ring, this game is chockfull of entertaining interactions among the players. I think that’s the real draw for me…which leads me to…
3) Fun Factor. I think my opinion of this game is 1 part nostalgia, 1 part actual. There are truly very few games that I’ve enjoyed over the years as much as this one. What makes the game so fun? The premise is simple. The cards are simple. There’s very little strategy involved. But there is a ton of player interaction. And I think if you can accept the game as being light in the strategy and depth department, and focus on the player interaction, you’ll understand what this game is all about at its heart and can enjoy it for what it is.
Fun Factor: 9/10