It has always struck me as odd that a story that is fundamentally about cooperation has been turned into a competitive game. Presumably, for a kids’ game, it’s easier to produce a roll & move (or spin) game than a cooperative one that’s simple enough for kids to understand. Still, the inconsistency has bugged me enough that we’ve tried to come up with a cooperative version of the game for quite a while. I think we’ve finally succeeded!
We came up with this version before reading the other coop variant here, and it’s got a different flavor. Instead of trying to reach Mount Doom before the ring-bearer’s life force drains away, this is more of a race in which the ring-bearer must reach Mount Doom before the Nazgul reach the Shire. There’s no reason they couldn’t both be combined into one mega-variant!
This is still a mostly luck, roll & spin game, but it adds some additional decisions, a lot of tension & it works with the theme by getting everyone to join forces to win. Most of the game is played the same as the regular game (Basic or Advanced rules), with the following additions:
The object is to get to Mount Doom & defeat Sauron before either the hobbits are all eliminated, or the Nazgul get to Hobbiton.
• The Nazgul move every time a Nazgul is rolled on the die, and every time a Nazgul shows up on the spinner during combat.
• Move one Nazgul each time, from one circular location to the next.
• Rotate which Nazgul is moved each time.
• The path the Nazgul take is determined randomly, using the spinner. On their first move from Mount Doom, note that there are four possible paths. Assign each path to a section of the spinner and then spin to determine which way the Nazgul goes. On the other locations, there are also usually four paths, but occasionally three or five. If five, choose one path to ignore. If three, choose one path to have two sections of the spinner associated with it. (We’ve been playing in a way that increases the pressure; that is, choosing options that are move likely to move the Nazgul towards Hobbiton.)
• Any hobbits & their collected friends on the path that the Nazgul takes are eliminated from the game. Hobbits on a space next to a location, but on the far side from the Nazgul’s approach are fine. (Note that if there is a Nazgul on Mount Doom when the party reaches it, they’ll need to defeat it before that Nazgul next moves, or it will sweep them all away!)
Defeating dark enemies
• Once the hobbits reach the Dark Lands and confront either Shelob or the Witch King (or later, Sauron, or any other replacement enemies), they must be with a group of at least six friendly characters. The characters can be any mix of hobbits & friend tiles that have been won. The major enemies cannot be attacked without a large group—if a hobbit reaches a major enemy without enough friends, they must stay and wait for help, rolling the die on their turn.
• Friend cards may be transferred between hobbits when they are on the same space.
Should hobbits each try to collect several friends on their own & move to Mount Doom on several paths? Should they meet up with other hobbits & friends to jointly overcome obstacles? Should some be left behind to block the Nazgul?
Variations on the variant
Some other variations we’ve tried:
• having the Nazgul always move forwards, with the Nazgul the furthest behind being the one to move next; and
• instead of battling the Nazgul, they simply block movement of the hobbits, and the hobbits block movement of the Nazgul (see details below).
Some variations we haven’t tried, but I’ve thought about:
• Should there be some other way to use the friend tiles, other than just gathering a large group? Could they help in battles? For example, if you have three or more friends, add a cube to each spin.
• During the assault on the Dark Lands, if a hobbit’s turn ends before completely defeating an enemy, a friend could be lost, requiring the party to decide whether to gather lots of extra friends in advance, or to go for it with the minimum.
• Should the Balrog be in Moria at the beginning (and the third friend placed in the second row)?
Alternate Nazgul movement (forward only)
• The Nazgul move towards the Shire every time a Nazgul is rolled on the die, and every time a Nazgul shows up on the spinner during combat.
• Move one Nazgul each time, from one circular location to the next, always moving towards Hobbiton.
• The one exception to always moving forward is when a Nazgul is one step away from Hobbiton on either High Pass or Barrow-Downs, in which case choose between the two paths: towards Hobbiton & towards Moria.
• The Nazgul furthest behind moves first. If there is more than one Nazgul the same distance away, move the one that has moved least recently.
• The path the Nazgul take is determined randomly, using the spinner. On their first move from Mount Doom, note that there are four possible paths. Assign each path to a section of the spinner and then spin to determine which way the Nazgul goes. On all other locations, there will be two forward paths. Assign one path to the one & two cube sections, and one path to the three cube & eye sections, then spin, and move the Nazgul to the next location.
• Any hobbits on the path that the Nazgul takes are eliminated from the game. Hobbits on a space next to a location, but on the far side from the Nazgul’s approach are fine, and in fact, block the Nazgul from moving any further.
These variants add a few decisions to the mix, as well as incorporating a cooperative flavor. Although it’s still roll & spin, it’s more fun when you’re all rooting on the outcome. The tension builds as the hobbits slowly climb their way up Mount Doom while the Nazgul are knocking on the door of Bag End!
We’ve played this three times so far, and each game has come down to the wire:
• a narrow win using two hobbits, only because the Nazgul couldn’t get the final spin they needed three times in a row;
• a harrowing win using two hobbits, one of whom was dispatched by a Nazgul early on, but the other carried on valiantly to the end;
• a disappointing loss using four hobbits, two of whom were swept away in quick succession, forcing the remaining two to gather several more friends for the final assault, which took too long, and the Nazgul scoured the Shire just before the hobbits reached Mount Doom.
Let us know how you do!