J. Jefferson
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Lord of the Rings, designed by Reiner Knizia and released in 2000, was among the first popular collaborative games in which players work together to defeat the game. Ten years ago, this was an unusual idea. The instructions go to great length to get this now-obvious concept across--players don't play against each other, they work together.

Ten years later, collaborative and semi-collaborative games are flourishing. Games like Pandemic, Ghost Stories, Arkham Horror, Shadows Over Camelot, and Space Alert ask players to work together and are well received by gamers.

Tolkien's epic provides a natural theme for a collaborative game. Each player plays one hobbit as the group works its way through Middle Earth and four key scenes from the books (Moria, Helm's Deep, Shelob's Lair, and Mordor,) in their attempt to reach Mordor and destroy the ring. The board art is remarkable. Coupled with the pace of the game and the hazards faced b the hobbits, players really start to get a sense that they are on the central quest of the Lord of the Rings epic. Naturally, the goal is to destroy the ring before Sauron overtakes the hobbits.

The basic mechanic of the game is one of drawing cards and playing them at appropriate times. For each scenario, players must complete a single task by playing a number of cards of a certain type. However, along the way, they must also collect heart, ring, and sun tokens, without which they will lose ground to Sauron at the end of each scenario. Additionally, before each player may take an action on their turn, they must turn over event tiles. Some of these move the hobbits along in positive ways, others cause hazardous events to occur. Each hazardous event that occurs is worse than the previous. This adds an element of urgency to the game. Players must complete the task required by the scenario, collect the resources they need, then move on to the next scenario as quickly as possible.


Lord of the Rings Compared to Pandemic:

Mechanically, LotR and Pandemic share some elements. Both involve collecting cards, at times trading cards so that the right player has the right cards, and playing cards to stop something bad before disaster strikes. Much of what you actually do during each game is look at your cards and potential actions and plan how to use those limited resources to fend off problems. Both games also establish urgency through a card-turning mechanism that could result in a hazard of some type. Both games also include a special card that allows players to look ahead to see how close a disaster is to striking.

Though the card play element is somewhat similar between the two games, they ultimately feel quite different. First, the themes are very different, though I find both appealing. Unlike LotR, Pandemic follows no established story. Instead, it begins simply with a setup in which players are attempting to stop disease from spreading across the world. To the extent that an individual game of Pandemic has a plot, it is driven by the luck of which cards are draw. These cards determine where disease takes root, and what tools you have to combat it. The luck of the draw in where disease is in the beginning of the game can make a large difference in how the game plays out.

In LotR, on the other hand, the setup and the plot of each game is basically the same. This is a tradeoff between the two games. In order to stick to the theme and follow the books, Knizia had to form the game to follow the same basic path each time. Though this may hurt replayability, it does make the game quite immersive.

Pandemic also introduces a spatial element not present in Lord of the Rings. Players must use actions to move about the board. At some points, it is useful for players to be close to each other on the map, for example to transfer cards. At other points, it is necessary to split up in order to allow players to combat disease in different areas of the world.

Both games allow a range of difficulty levels. While the easiest level of LotR is a bit harder than the easiest level of Pandemic, LotR has a steeper learning curve because each game presents the same hazards in the same order.


Lord of the Rings Compared to Ghost Stories:

I have not played as many games of Ghost Stories as I have of either LotR or Pandemic, so the comparisons here will be somewhat more cursory.

Ghost stories has some elements in common with both LotR and Pandemic. It shares the need to collect items (here tokens, not cards) and use them appropriately to combat hazards (ghosts) that appear through the drawing of cards. All three games also allow each player to play as one role or character that has some special ability.

Generally, Ghost Stories is more like Pandemic than it is like LotR. It has no uniform story, and the action is determined by the hazards that come up. The spatial element is simpler than that in Pandemic. In Ghost Stories, players must simply move about a 3 x 3 grid. However, the actions available are more complex. In both LotR and Pandemic, players choose from a very limited set of actions. In LotR on your turn you can move your player away from Sauron, draw two cards, or play two cards. In Pandemic, with four actions, each player may treat disease, cure disease, give cards to another player, build a research station, or move about the board. In Ghost Stories, however, each of the squares comprising the village game board allows a player on that square to take a specific special action. My copy of Ghost Stories came with the Guardhouse expansion, so there are more of these powers than are used in a single game. Each game may have a slightly different set of village tiles that offer a slightly different set of possible actions.

Finally, Ghost Stories incorporates dice rolling as a combat mechanism (for fighting ghosts, of course). This introduces a relatively minor luck element that is different from the luck involved in the other games. All three involve luck in when players must confront a specific hazard, but once a hazard is confronted, Ghost Stories incorporates more luck into whether the players actually defeat that hazard.


Is Lord of the Rings worthwhile if you already own Pandemic and/or Ghost Stories?

Yes. If you are at all attracted to the Lord of the Rings theme, then yes. In terms of pure strategy, Pandemic and Ghost Stories represent progress in the collaborative genre over the past decade. But neither of those games capture (nor do they really aim to capture) the sense of an epic journey present in LotR. Of all the collaborative games I've played, LotR is the only one that lends itself to talking trash to the enemy:

YOU'RE GOIN' DOWN SAURON!

"You're goin' down syphilis" just doesn't have the same power to it, and in Ghost Stories you don't know which manifestation of the end-guy you'll face until you turn over that card.

I've considered LotR in light of Pandemic and Ghost Stories. How does it compare to other collaborative games that I have not discussed? Are there other very plot-based collaborative games?





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Zee Garcia
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Jefforama wrote:


Ghost Stories

It shares the need to collect cards and use them appropriately to combat hazards that appear through the drawing of cards.

There are also more of these powers than are used in a single game, so each game will have a slightly different set of village tiles that offer a slightly different set of possible actions.


As far as I know, Ghost Stories has neither of these two things. I suppose you could be playing with an expansion, which would make the second point (more than 9 tiles) true, but that would seem like a strange thing to do if you're not considering expansions for the other games (which I think you shouldn't for the purposes of this comparison, honestly).
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I own and have been playing all the cooperative games mentioned so far in this thread. And - surprise, surprise - Lord of the Ring still stands out for me as the most tense of all these collaborative games.

Pandemic and Ghost Stories are really good games, but I just never feel the same tension when I am being (frequently) overwhelmed by the game, Arkham Horror is a great funa and a horror story experience, but can be often won pretty easily, Shadows Over Camelot is simply not a very interesting game for me...

So, yes, in terms of creating real tension Lord of the Rings is still number one!
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I've never played Ghost Stories but I have played Pandemic once so I'm not going to compare LOTR to either.

I will say that the base game itself is quite fun and challenging and with any or all of the expansions it is even better.

I don't get to play if very often with more than 2 of us, but even as a solo game I still love it.
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I'm very happy to have all three. Each has its own character, and they provide very different challenges.
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Agreed! All three are good games. For me, I'm with the OP. LOTR never fails to be TENSE and, for me, loads of fun.

After a debacle the last time we played this one (at least 18 months ago), it hasn't hit the table since. soblue I REALLY need to set this one up for our game club soon and play with some other folks. The offending party who created the debacle DOES attend the club meetings, but he'll be playing something else...for him, ANYTHING but LOTR! shake
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zunyer wrote:
Jefforama wrote:


Ghost Stories

It shares the need to collect cards and use them appropriately to combat hazards that appear through the drawing of cards.

There are also more of these powers than are used in a single game, so each game will have a slightly different set of village tiles that offer a slightly different set of possible actions.


As far as I know, Ghost Stories has neither of these two things. I suppose you could be playing with an expansion, which would make the second point (more than 9 tiles) true, but that would seem like a strange thing to do if you're not considering expansions for the other games (which I think you shouldn't for the purposes of this comparison, honestly).


As far as the card collection, I think the OP is referring to collecting the color tokens (can't remember the thematic name for these). As far as the powers, with the base game, the only thing that changes is the special power of the characters not the helpers (perhaps this is what the OP was referring to?).
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Jimmy Okolica
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I own and play all of these (althoguh mostly solo). My personal opinion is:

Most tense: LoTR
Eeasiest to teach: Pandemic
Hardest to Win: Ghost Stories

I've played Ghost Stories many times and have only won once (a solo game where I only used one character). My take on Ghost Stories is it has the most moving parts (placement of helpers, turn order of heros and special power of heros) and with the introduction of the dice makes playing the odds a bit harder and more important. All of these games are hard to win at and very much depend on the order of the cards; however, for me coming up with a winning strategy for Ghost Stories has been the hardest.
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I have LOTR, Pandemic, Ghost Stories, Red November, and Arkham Horror and it has paled a bit in comparison to the others. Some have better rulebooks, some of them use their theme better, et cetera.

I'm still keeping my copy though.
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J. Jefferson
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Quote:
Some have better rulebooks


I didn't cover this in the review, but I completely agree. The LotR rulebook does the job, but I don't find it to be that well organized. Some rules, for example the rule that between boards the new ring bearer draws two cards, can slip right by. It is also a very imposing rulebook for a game that really isn't that complicated. Because of the massive rulebook, this game sat on my shelf for weeks before I finally got around to playing it. But I'm glad that I did.
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Also, several people have pointed out inaccuracies or unclear spots in my discussion of Ghost Stories. Thank you for your attempts to help sort those issues out. As I mentioned, I've only played it a handful of times. I thought that my memory of the game would be sufficient to make a useful comparison. I think my discussion of the general feel of the game still stands, but my comparison of the mechanics clearly had a few problems.

Once I have had a chance to play Ghost Stories a few more times I will edit the review.
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Ed Sherman
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Jefforama wrote:
Quote:
Some have better rulebooks


I didn't cover this in the review, but I completely agree. The LotR rulebook does the job, but I don't find it to be that well organized.


Oh, it's terrible. I've played the game dozens of times over the course of several years and still have to refer to the rulebook for things and I can't find anything. Pandemic's rulebook stands head and shoulders over the other games in terms of rulebook clarity.

I don't understand why it's so impossible to write a decent rulebook for a co-op game. Ghost Stories? Terrible. Arkham Horror? Awful. Red November? Lousy. But LOTR is the worst of them all because I can eventually find the answers I need in the other rulebooks.
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Jefforama wrote:
Some rules, for example the rule that between boards the new ring bearer draws two cards, can slip right by.


surprise Say, what??

blush

20+ games in and I never spotted this . . .
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Jefforama wrote:
Some rules, for example the rule that between boards the new ring bearer draws two cards, can slip right by.

There are several player aids in the files section that are concise and include all the little steps that people can overlook, including:
- LoTR Summary.jpg
- Lord of the Rings - Quick Reference.pdf
- Summary of Play
- LotR_game_flow_chart_v1-1.ppt
- LOTRPlayAid.doc
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For your reading pleasure:

http://freespace.virgin.net/chris.lawson/rk/lotr/faq.htm
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I hope they do eventually reprint this. It's been driving me crazy that they release expansions but don't have the original for purchase (and no I don't EBay).
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J. Jefferson
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Quote:
I hope they do eventually reprint this. It's been driving me crazy that they release expansions but don't have the original for purchase (and no I don't EBay).


Well, 384 users are offering it in trade--some of them must be in Australia. I traded for my copy and have since bought the Friend and Foe expansion new.
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I got my LotR base copy NIB along with the Friends & Foes and Sauron expansions for a decent price on e-bay. Everywhere else I searched there were none in stock (except for the expansions). They sat in the shipping box for about a month and I finally broke it out today and played a solo version (lost at activity line #53). I also own Pandemic and Ghost Stories, which has been my favorite for several months. But LotR might be taking over now that I finally got it out of the box!
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First post!

I was given my copy of the LOTR game NIB back in 2001 and have played it on and off again over the past decade, but never with more than 3 players. Recently I decided to just play it with myself, since I couldn't get any of my friends as interested in it as I, and have found it to be an awesome single player experience no matter how many hobbits you're controlling (2-5).

I actually found out about the expansions just a month or two ago and my jaw dropped! I found a site (HobbyShopOutlet.com) selling all three of them NIB and pointed my family in its direction. Now as of a couple days ago (and thanks to a birthday) I'm the proud owner of all three.

Just played the game with Friends & Foes twice in a row last night (single player, controlling three hobbits) and I can't believe this awesome game gets even better! Sauron got the best of me both times at around space 52 in Mordor. The 2nd time I was only 6 foes away from military victory. Alas!

Anyway, just wanted to share how excited I am. The only other semi-cooperative board game I've played is the Order of the Stick game, where characters CAN attack each other, but they don't need to to win the game. Everyone does get their own score so there's definitely a competitive edge as well.

So I'm no expert in cooperative boardgaming, but as for the fun/challenge factor, the LOTR game holds up wonderfully!
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SagaciousPenguin wrote:
The 2nd time I was only 6 foes away from military victory. Alas!


I know it's a matter of personal taste, but never used the Military Victory even as an option. If you are planning on sticking with it, look of the Black Gate card, at least there is some difficulty (though still not enough IMO) with that card. I just use the Black Gate again and again, each time the 8 Foes would form a new Foe deck (not that I've actually gone though the Foe deck more than once).
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Yeah, I agree military victory is a bit shady. Don't have a black gate card, but I decided to pull the 'Peace' card out of my as-of-yet-unplayed Sauron set to use that as a reward for defeating all the foes rather than military victory.

I had an epic game last night that I ended up winning by a HAIR. Single player, controlling three hobbits.

Couldn't keep the foes down, so ended up playing through FIVE boards and could only skip Shelob's Lair (having kept an iron grip on the book card).

Upon entering Mordor though, only had one foe left to kill. Did so and gave myself the Sauron-expansion 'Peace' card instead of Military Victory. Pressed on through Morder with barely any cards, though a fair amount of shields, and used them up left and right for Gandalf powers.

I cashed in the "Peace" card for those three Sauron spaces but Sam got corrupted anyway. It came down to Pippin's final turn. One event tile away from the BIG EYE. Ring unused. One Gandalf Power left. One traveling card left in Pippin's hand 5 spaces away from Scenario's end. Four tiles left undrawn from the bag: Fighting Symbol, Next Event, 3 Items discard or Event, and Ring Bearer corruption point. (Having kept track of what was already drawn, I was aware of this. The three-items discard would have been acceptable, as Frodo had a yellow card that says you can ignore one of those. The Ring-Bearer corruption would have also been acceptable, as Pippin was pretty far from Sauron. But the Event tile would have been instant loss. I shuffled them like mad, closed my eyes: and pulled out the Fighting symbol!

Pippin uses his last card, moves one space closer to the end of the traveling line. With four spaces left, he uses the ring, and calls on Gandalf's last available power, which lets him set the die with the white side up automatically. 4 spaces are moved. The Ring is set on Mt. Doom. His final die roll to destroy it results in 2 corruption, but its' all good, he's still three away from Sauron.

Victory for everyone but poor Sam! So I finally won Friends and Foes on my third try but it was a DOOZY. I mean technically I would have gotten military victory without all the huff and puff, but that did seem cheap so I pressed on taking that "Peace" (Lasting? Watchful?) card instead. Seems like a fair trade. It was still DAMN close to failure. But going through five boards will probably do that every time. Can't imagine making it through all six! Gah!

Now I'll have to see if I can do it again without cashing in the "Peace" card. Not sure if I could have made it through this time without it. Pippin (Ring-bearer) would have survived without it, but Frodo would have been gone a few turns from the end and that probably would have changed things.

Anyway - LOVE this game!

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Rauli Kettunen
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http://www.convivium.org.uk/kgcoolstuff.htm#

I don't have the BG card myself, I use one of the blank cards that comes with a game as a simulated BG which I stick under the Foe deck when using F & F.
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Jefforama wrote:
Some rules, for example the rule that between boards the new ring bearer draws two cards, can slip right by.


No wonder we freaking lose so often!
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Drew1365 wrote:
I had no idea the game was out of print. It's so ubiquitous.

Anyway, it's still the only co-op game I own. Others in our game group have Pandemic, BSG, Shadows over Camelot, and Arkham Horror on their shelves . . . LotR is the only one I care to own.


When deciding what game to play, a fellow gamer said,"I don't want to play any of this sissy co-op stuff...lets play a real game."

Struck me funny...
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I would like to know people's thoughts about comparing it to Shadows over Camelot. Our friends with whom we play the most just recently played LOTR with us for the first time and they are Camelot junkies. They absolutely loved their first LOTR session (with F&F expansion). I have played LOTR on and off for a couple of years and because I'm a big Tolkien fan I'll get a kick out of it just looking at the incredible art. But I struggled with the rules. The Lawson material does make it easier, especially because the Dutch print has errors (even on the game boards!)
For my take:
- Both have fantastic licenses and art, LOTR just wins that one for me personally on sheer LOTR-geekness and Howe-art-awesomeness.
- Both have great first expansions that up the ante and don't break game mechanics, rules and balance but make those deeper and more challenging. Both introduce "bad guy"-cards and add a similar additional mechanic to bring those into gameplay. Where LOTR adds extra abilities for existing game characters, Camelot introduces new Knights. LOTR trumps Camelot for bringing new gameboards in play. But you also could make a case for the argument that they should have been in the original game in the first place.
- Both are kind of hard to explain to newbies on their first session (especially when new to the co-op thing), but I think LOTR is worse than Camelot becuase it has some confusing and hard to remember exceptions to rules. I learned Camelot quicker than LOTR myself but that's also in part of the ambiguous and incomplete vanilla rulebook of the latter (I only later learned of the officialy sanctioned Chris Lawson expanded ruleset).
- Camelot is more tense throughout the game because of the betrayer option. LOTR mostly gets tense when you get your *ss kicked on the later boards. Then you rue the fact that you already played some powerful asset just to avoid rolling the dice once.....I recently bought the Sauron expansion but haven't played it yet. That may be a more fair comparison instead of the vanilla LOTR or LOTR with F&F. Although you could also say that introducing the playable bad guy takes away from the pure co-op context.
- Co-op is better regulated and structured in Camelot, with a nice mix of solo and co-op quests. Co-op in LOTR is more chaotic but it has it's own charm, especially when things turn dire and hanging by a thread: frantically searching for a way out, scraping assets together and throwing special abilities into the fray! You even could make the case it's actually because of the ambiguous ruleset that fun arises and heated arguments about interpretation ensue.
- Camelot "feels" like it can be played more strategically, while LOTR suffers somewhat from randomness and chance. But it wouldn't surprise me if both were near equally random and it's because of my greater experience with Camelot that I only think I have figured it out... They both have card stacks that are randomized and can lead to a bad string of luck that kills Knights, lose Quests and produce extra black Swords in Camelot, and kills Hobbits and ends gameboards (and thusly the whole game) prematurely in LOTR. LOTR also has a dice.

So who "wins"? I like to think it's a draw, partly to conceal the fact that I can't choose! And luckily I can play both...
Slam23
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