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Matt Thrower
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Risk. The word seems to conjure up shudders of revulsion in the majority of the boardgaming hobby community and for the longest time I had absolutely no idea why. I used to love playing risk and I still wouldn’t call it a bad game – it’s got lightweight strategy and a fun negotiation element. Then I discovered that the version I’d been playing, with missions, was completely different to the US version most geeks are familiar with and everything clicked into place because that rule set for the game is, frankly, terrible. So that’s the background – I like Risk and I also like Lord of the Rings – when some friends of mine got this game for Christmas I was really looking forward to giving it a try.

Rules

I’m not going to waste my time giving too much of a rules breakdown. Go read them yourself- they’re based on Risk (which everyone must know) and they’re neither long nor complex.

In a nutshell the differences between this and the standard game are threefold. In the first place there are leader pieces and stronghold spaces, which both add +1 to your highest dice in combat and add a pleasing yet simple extra dimension to your deployment. The second is that the missions have been replaced by adventures, randomly drawn goals, which if completed, offer you a small bonus. The third is that the game end is determined by the movement of the fellowship piece – this advances along a special track on the board one space per turn with some spaces requiring a dice roll to move onward, including the last space on the board.

It’s worth noting that the board only encompasses half of middle-earth. There is an expansion that covers the remains of the territory. I have never played this expansion so I really can’t say how it impacts on the game.

Pieces

I don’t normally have much to say about game components – nice bits are, well, nice, but in the end it’s the play that determines the quality of the game.

Here I have to make an exception. There are two sets of pieces in the game – two lots of “good” pieces and two lots of “evil” pieces. Curiously the good pieces are moulded out of red and black plastic, which aren’t the colours one normally associates with sweetness and light. The evil pieces really take the biscuit though – they come in bilious shades of green and yellow and are made of shiny gloss plastic and remind me of nothing so much as snot and pus. While these substances do, in a sense, convey a sort of evil, it’s the evil of being huddled under a duvet with a mug of lemsip rather than the terrible majesty of the shadow. Besides, they look so revolting I don’t really want to touch them. Whatever designer came up with this idea should either be fired or be relegated to working on kids’ games about bodily fluids for the rest of this professional life.

The pieces go on the board, obviously, which presumably was done by the same colour-blind graphic artist who did the pieces. There are regions on the board that correspond in function to the continents in original risk, and all six of them are done in strikingly dark, turgid and earthy tones which look very map-like but which serve in practice to make the areas virtually indistinguishable from one another. The map-like nature of the board design also has the amazing effect of making it very hard to distinguish which areas actually border onto other areas and onto the rivers and mountains both of which have a play effect. Several times we ended up arguing over whether pieces in a certain area could, or could not actually attack a target space.

Theme

I'm a bit of a Tolkien nerd and I'm still waiting for the game that can really scratch that middle-earth itch for me. Is this it?

In a word, no.

Beyond the fact that is is played on a stylised map of middle earth with quest and stronghold sites in roughly the right places this game completely fails to evoke any sense of Lord of the Rings at all. For starters the game can be played with two competing sets of good troops - and I don't recall any suggestion in the original novel that there were rival factions straining to tear out each others' throats. There's also the small issue of allowing initial troop deployment wherever the player wants - we can start with dragons in the Shire and eagles in the mountain passes of Mordor. The respective "value" of the various areas in the game bears no relation to the vague understanding of the economics of middle-earth that can be gleaned from the books at all. The one area where the game could have been made to tie-in a bit with the story - the adventure cards - is let down by a badly planned deck full of events and quests that have nothing to do with the book and by the fact that where there are parallels to be drawn "good" quests can be played by "evil" players and vice-versa. There's a pathetic attempt to ameliorate this through different rewards for good and evil players but it still feels flat, lifeless and artificial.

In fact if I wasn't a wide-eyed, trusting innocent without an ounce of poisonous cynicism in my pure heart I'd say that this was starting to look like a rapidly developed cash-in by a major publisher combining a popular film title with a popular game title.

Gameplay

This is risk, right? Although the leaders and strongholds and such do add an bit of an extra dimension to play, we all know the basics of risk, so lets step over that and go on to the areas of play which I feel are of particular interest.

Firstly we’ll deal with the adventure cards. Now for those not familiar with mission risk the idea is that each player has a secret mission – like conquer Asia and Australia say – which when fulfilled wins them the game. The adventure cards tend to take the form of “get an leader to area X”. The original risk board is fairly open – no matter where you have troops to start there’s usually not too long a route to fight through to get them to the desired continent to complete your mission. The LotR Risk board however is not at all open – troops in the north are never going to make it to areas in the south. To add insult to injury you’re dealt your initial three cards after you’ve deployed troops. Both factors contribute to a situation where the benefits of adventure cards are determined almost entirely by whether you’re lucky enough to draw cards that correspond to where you have troops and leaders deployed. In effect they add a large dose of further luck in an already luck-heavy game.

In original Risk the high luck factor could be ameliorated to some extent by cunning diplomacy. You had the opportunity to try and convince your neighbour of your peaceful intentions before wiping him off the map. Because this version of Risk has difficult to traverse map in which many areas border multiple others and a timer-based game end the establishment of strongholds followed by diplomacy pattern of the original game cannot occur. So you really are down to little more than the luck of the dice to govern whether or not you win your chosen combats.

That timer-endgame is another major change to play over the original Risk. Once the fellowship completes it’s journey across the board the game finishes and the winner is determined based on the amount of territory they control, with bonuses for regions. If you cast your mind back to the game of risk – and this applies to both world domination and mission versions – you’ll recall that the game usually ends with the active player cashing in a hand full of Risk cards and rampaging across the board until the victory conditions are met. You’ll also recall that the player who has just finished the turn often has an edge in conquered territory because he’s the one who’s just had a chance to add to his dominions. Think about this carefully – progress down the fellowship track is partially random and includes the final space needing a die roll to end the game, with the winner being determined by amount of territory held. Combine this with a system in which the player who has just been often has a significant edge in the number of spaces he controls. What do you have? That’s right – a game in which the result is almost always determined by who got lucky enough to have the last turn when the game ended.

House Rules

One of the few saving graces of this game is the fact that the problems discussed above have, for the most part, relatively easy fixes. For the adventure cards just deal them out before people deploy troops for the first time. For the game end problem I’d suggest pinching a mechanism from Risk 2012 and having a first player auction each turn, combined with having a fixed number of full turns to the game (6-8 would be appropriate). The players could auction a combination of victory points gained from completed adventures and re-enforcements for that turn, although determining the precise “value” of a trooper as opposed to a victory point might take a bit of testing.

That said I deplore games that require house rules to make them playable. While there’s nothing wrong with the idea of house rules in themselves, publishers and designers really ought to take the time to get things right in the first place. The fact that the fixes seem obvious in this case just rubs salt into the wound.

Conclusion

To quote the mighty Tom Baker, my little puddings of delight, we’ll beat about the bush no longer. This is an absolutely dire game that takes the original Risk and subtly removes every single thing about it that made it tolerable. Victory almost always comes down to the result of a single die determining the last turn, so if you’re minded to play this you can save yourselves two hours and a goodly sum of money by just sitting in a circle and rolling a die to see who’s turn the game ends on. They’d have won anyway. Now go and play the original instead.

Rating? It would be wrong to describe the game as broken but it would be a greater offence to pretend there’s anything worthwhile in this turkey: a two. If you fancy a useful epic quest, grab a copy from your local game store and go throw it into Mount Doom, thereby saving some other poor soul from the hateful experience of buying and owning this.
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Jay Bruce
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Thanks for the review, I'll be skipping yet another risk variant

A few notes to add if you don't mind:
1. Designers have no input in color coordination of game peices and board art when working for giant companies. there are a legion of people who have no interest in gameplay that make such decisions, even beyond the graphic artist. What plastic dies are cheapest on the market right now...what dies do we have in the warehouse...did that chinese casting firm substitute snot green for swamp green...and so on. The final product is supposed to be slick, complete, and coordinated. who's judgement on this is anyone's guess.

2. We have mission risk here in the US, but this option is most often ignored since the majority of people who will play risk are either sharks (know to start in Australia or S. America) or newbies. Other versions such as castle risk have failed here because, well, having one risk is having all risk.

Just as an aside, Risk is an entry level boardgame like Stratego. I think for them to roll it out with themed variations is a good thing that will eventually bring Sci-fi and Fantasy enthusiast into the boardgaming/miniature gaming fold of games with more substance.

Nice review.

Jay
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tim allen
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I must disagree with this review...I have played the Lord of the Rings version and enjoyed it quite a bit.

I like the mechanism of the fellowship and the random game ending precisely *Because* I always hated the way Risk usually ended; with one guy turning a card set, building a monster army and gobbling up the entire board. Now as the fellow ship gets to the end, each player is tempted to take more chances. Sure, the guy who is last has an advantage...but you cant know who that is. So you might take a lot of territory and leave yourself open to invasion with the hope that you can then roll well and end the game. But if you are unlucky, you'll be crushed and the next guy then has the choice of going for the big points or playing safe.

Yes, this is a Risk game with tacked on theme, but it works for me. It also plays much faster than Risk:2210.

I havent tried it, but there are optional rules that divide the 4 players into 2 Fellowship and 2 Dark forces, with the objective to either capture or help the fellowship to cross the board (I'm sorry but I cant remember the details of this variant.) It sounded cool, and I'd like to try it the next time I can get 3 more people to play.

Oh, and BTW, I have the version which has the map of all of Middle Earth. It sounds like the reviewer was playing with the first version, which left out much of the southern part of the map. Just thought I would mention it.
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Collin
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MattDP wrote:
I'm a bit of a Tolkien nerd and I'm still waiting for the game that can really scratch that middle-earth itch for me. Is this it?

In a word, no.

Have you played War of the Ring?

I enjoyed LotR Risk (trilogy edition) when it was all that I knew (during my pre-War-of-the-Ring era), but since getting War of the Ring I haven't played it once and don't expect that I ever will again as it has become completely obsolete in comparison. War of the Ring pretty much fixes all of the problems that you have cited with LotR Risk and captures the theme perfectly. I highly recommend it.
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tim allen
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Collin:

Is that the one by Fantasy Flight? It certainly looks nice. I havent had a chance to play it.
 
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Matt Thrower
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CUTHALI0N wrote:

I enjoyed LotR Risk (trilogy edition) when it was all that I knew (during my pre-War-of-the-Ring era), but since getting War of the Ring I haven't played it once and don't expect that I ever will again as it has become completely obsolete in comparison. War of the Ring pretty much fixes all of the problems that you have cited with LotR Risk and captures the theme perfectly. I highly recommend it.


No. Everyone keeps telling me I should play this game but I haven't because:

1) I find it difficult finding opponents for 2 player games (if one person shows up to game, usually several do!)

2) I'm becoming increasingly less tolerant of complexity as I get older and this looks about on the limit for what I'll accept.

3) I've got avast backlog of unplayed games that I have sworn to play before I buy any more.

BTW do I recall your username vaguely from Celtic myth, or am I imagining things?
 
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Collin
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TimAllen wrote:
Collin:
Is that the one by Fantasy Flight? It certainly looks nice.

Yes it is, and yes it is quite wonderful.

MattDP wrote:

1) I find it difficult finding opponents for 2 player games (if one person shows up to game, usually several do!)

Can't you just call one person and tell them it's a 2-player game so don't call anyone else? That said, it's a 2-4 player game, though I haven't played with more than 2 so I can't say much about it.

MattDP wrote:

2) I'm becoming increasingly less tolerant of complexity as I get older and this looks about on the limit for what I'll accept.

That's certainly understandable, though let me assure you that it will be well worth it in this case. I don't know if you will get your "middle earth itch" sufficiently scratched, as you put it, without a certain amount of complexity.

MattDP wrote:

BTW do I recall your username vaguely from Celtic myth, or am I imagining things?

I suppose it is possible, but I got it from Tolkien's work.
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Aaron Tubb
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It’s worth noting that the board only encompasses half of middle-earth. There is an expansion that covers the remains of the territory. I have never played this expansion so I really can’t say how it impacts on the game.

In my opinion, the expansion completes the theme, but makes the game itself even worse. The Southern end of the board has several weird dead ends, especially in Mordor and the Harad area. The expansion also adds a lot more spaces to the board, which spreads everyone's armies thin all over and makes the game take a lot longer (more spaces for the fellowship to travel). Also, with the areas or Mordor and the Southerlings, it seems to me like the evil players have a decided advantage in the "trilogy edition" (Mordor is difficult to conquer, and it has 3 strongholds in it).

Quote:
Curiously the good pieces are moulded out of red and black plastic, which aren’t the colours one normally associates with sweetness and light. The evil pieces really take the biscuit though – they come in bilious shades of green and yellow and are made of shiny gloss plastic and remind me of nothing so much as snot and pus.

This is really weird that your copy has these colors; the colors should be switched.

Quote:
There's also the small issue of allowing initial troop deployment wherever the player wants - we can start with dragons in the Shire and eagles in the mountain passes of Mordor.

This is not possible; there are no dragons in this game. But also, only 'good' troops can start the game in good spaces and only 'evil' can start in evil spaces. You're supposed to deal out the cards for the good and evil territories at the beginning to the corresponding players to figure out who deploys in what space.

Quote:
That timer-endgame is another major change to play over the original Risk. ...What do you have? That’s right – a game in which the result is almost always determined by who got lucky enough to have the last turn when the game ended.

But at least the game's over, right?


I do agree, the theme is not well integrated into this game. I like this game about as much as Risk, and I like the 'Trilogy edition' even less. I'm not sure how 'whoever has the most territory when the one ring is destroyed is the ruler of Middle-Earth' fits into Lord of the Rings at all. There is a variant included with the game, where the evil player only wins if they find the ring, and the good player wins if the ring gets to Mt. Doom. I haven't played this variant, but it sounds like it would make more sense thematically, and solve the "whoever gets lucky enough to go last, wins" problem. For the most part I agree with this review. For my LotR needs, I play War of the Ring.
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tim allen
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Here is that variant rule:

--Team Risk - for 4 players - same rules as before except its the 2 Good armies vs. the 2 Bad armies. Allies canNOT give each other territories, fortify though each other, or share cards. To setup the board, the Evil player who controls more strongholds in Mordor places last and goes last. The person to his/her left places first and goes first. Good wins if both Evil players are eliminated or The One Ring is thrown into Mount Doom. Evil wins if both Good players are eliminated or The One Ring is found by an Evil player. To find The One Ring, just before moving the Fellowship, check to see if The One Ring is in a territory controlled by Evil. If so, the Evil player who controls the territory rolls two dice. If that Evil player controls the entire region, add 1 to the dice roll. If that Evil players leader is in the territory, add 1 to the dice roll. Leader + entire region = +2 to the dice roll. If the total of the dice roll and any bonuses is higher than 11, The One Ring is found and Evil instantly wins.
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Andreas Johansson
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I spent 200 GG and all I got was this lousy overtext!
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Quote:
It’s worth noting that the board only encompasses half of middle-earth. There is an expansion that covers the remains of the territory.

Actually, judging from the pictures gallery, the expanded map covers about the northern two thirds of the original LotR map*, which in turn only covers a portion of Middle-earth.


* Later editions of the book typically substitute a later map by Christopher Tolkien, that also drops much of the south.
 
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Benjamin Maggi
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MattDP wrote:
There are two sets of pieces in the game – two lots of “good” pieces and two lots of “evil” pieces. Curiously the good pieces are moulded out of red and black plastic, which aren’t the colours one normally associates with sweetness and light. The evil pieces really take the biscuit though – they come in bilious shades of green and yellow and are made of shiny gloss plastic and remind me of nothing so much as snot and pus.


I think you made a mistake and switched the colors around. All of the games I have seen feature evil being red/black and good being mustard/dayglo green. If yours are truly different you should add a picture of them to the database as a "variant/misprint."
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Was George Orwell an Optimist?
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Benjamin Maggi wrote:
I think you made a mistake and switched the colors around. All of the games I have seen feature evil being red/black and good being mustard/dayglo green. If yours are truly different you should add a picture of them to the database as a "variant/misprint."


I very much doubt he made a mistake about his own copy. Sounds like a manufacturing error, probably never seen in the U.S.
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