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Subject: Why I Love The Hobbit Card Game rss

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John Farrell
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This game is a recent acquisition for me, and when I played it I immediately loved it. Then I came to BGG and found a whole lot of hate for it, which is not consistent with my experience. Hence I'm writing this review to say what I really like about the game in the hope that people who want to like it won't be dissuaded by the negativity.

First off, the theme. It's based on the movie of The Hobbit - you can tell because that silly orc is in it. *sigh* So Tolkien purists will need to get past that. I did, you can too.

Secondly, the designer. I have to admit I'm a Martin Wallace fanboi - I *love* London and Runebound, and Acres of Snow wasn't bad either. If you're a Martin Wallace fanboi in the Age of Steam sense, well, we're different you and I. In any case, we can agree that Martin Wallace is a very capable designer who can produce truly great games. One of his recent releases was the Discworld game, and now we have The Hobbit Card Game and the Dr Who Card Game, which has lead some to say Martin Wallace has Sold Out. In the sense that he is able to get work which will pay his bills... I have a lot of respect for designers who are able to get paid for their talents, so whether we call it Selling Out or not, I think this is a wonderful thing for Martin Wallace, and a wonderful thing for gaming in that designer games are being brought to a wider audience.

OK, so being a fan of the book of The Hobbit, and having a great deal of respect for Martin Wallace's design capabilities, I was eager to try this game out. When I saw it for sale for $A12 I grabbed it without a second thought. I then proceded to cart it around the convention for the weekend trying to get people to play with me.

Let's talk about the rules. There are 5 character cards: Bilbo, Smaug, Thorin, Gandalf and Bolg (the silly orc). Each player gets one character. In 4 player, nobody is Bolg; in 3 player, nobody is Gandalf either; and in 2 player someone is both Bilbo AND Thorin. I haven't played 2 player so you can assume anything further I say does not apply to the 2 player game. In any case, Smaug and Bolg are EVIL and Bilbo, Thorin and Gandalf are GOOD, and it's a team game of EVIL vs GOOD.

There's a deck of 60 cards - 5 suits of 12 cards each, numbered 1 to 12. the suits are red, yellow, blue, green and purple. Purple is always trumps. Players are dealt 7 or 8 or 9 cards. When, as happens in the 4 player game, Smaug is outnumbered by the good guys, he gets dealt many more than 7/8/9 cards and has to discard down to 7/8/9 before play starts, so Smaug has a better hand to compensate for all of the small crunchy things opposing him.

Players then play a series of 7/8/9 tricks. Thorin leads the first trick, thereafter whoever won the previous trick leads. Players must follow suit if possible, but if they can't they can play any card. After each player has played a card, the highest trump wins the trick; if there is no trump then the highest card of the suit led. That's very vanilla trick-taking.

Now we diverge from that orthodoxy. The cards from the trick are not then just grabbed and stowed like they are in Tichu or 500 or some boring game like that; they are then assigned by the winner of the trick to the other players. Assigned means that that player gives at most one card to each other player.

At this point we notice that the cards have other symbols on them. Some have a white starburst - the light of a Silmaril or something I suppose. Some have a black orc helmet. Others have a brown pipe, and some have no symbol at all. If a white card is assigned to an EVIL character, that's a point of damage against him. Similarly if a black card is assigned to a GOOD character, that's a point of damage against them. If you have a point of damage against you and are assigned a card with the opposite symbol, that's healing and the two cards cancel each other out. Cards with pipes stay with the character, and cards without symbols are completely useless and do nothing.

If, at the end of the tricks, you have 2 points of damage, you're dead. If everyone is dead, EVIL wins. If all GOOD characters are dead, EVIL wins. Otherwise, the game goes into a second round. At the end of the second round there are various victory conditions depending on the number of players (for example in 4 player, 2 GOOD characters must survive), but if it's not actually possible for that condition to be achieved then the game is called at the end of the first round. And this is where I mention the pipe cards - when cards are dealt for the second round, you get dealt one extra for each pipe card you have but you still need to discard down to the regulated number of cards for the round.

Now the fun bit - there are rules for how you must assign cards when you win a trick. Bilbo, for example, must assign a card to himself (he's a burglar) and one to another player (he's a nice burglar). Gandalf and Smaug can assign 0 or 1 cards of their choice to each player. Bolg just assigns one card to one character (he's not very bright). Thorin shuffles the cards won and assigns them randomly (his lust for the Arkenstone makes him chaotic).

That last point about Thorin is probably the source of most complaints about this game. Randomly! OMG chaos there goes my strategy what a waste of 15 minutes my life is ruined. I consider that rule to be a stroke of genius - at once it brings Thorin's character to life, and shines a light on the fundamental features of the gameplay...

... because this is not a trick-taking game where you either try to win the trick or just dump your lowest card of the required suit. This is trick-taking game where whenever you play a card you need to know who's going to win the trick, and what are they going to do with that card. If you're Bilbo and you think Smaug will win the trick, don't play a card with an orc helmet! If you're Smaug and you think Thorin will win the trick, just throw any black card on it. If you're Smaug and you think Gandalf will win the trick, play a card with no symbol at all. Bad luck or cunning play can easily result in Bilbo's incompetence and naivete or Thorin's avarice or Bolg's stupidity hurting their own team. That's gaming gold, that is!

So, white cards are best for GOOD and black cards are best for EVIL. The pipe cards allow players to refine their hands so that there are more of the cards that are good for their side in play. I've had hands as Smaug where I've discarded low trumps just so I could keep more orc helmets. Gandalf can get rid of orc helmets, but the others might not be able to so I didn't necessarily need to win tricks to achieve my goal. Sure, it's not a complex game, but it's not shallow either. There are decisions to be made and things you can do to help yourself.

For a 15 minute game that costs $12, this is a beauty. It's a very widely appreciated theme, it's easy to teach, it has moments of drama and it has the opportunity for cunning play. For $12, what more can you expect?
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Kevin Outlaw
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Great to see a bit more love for this game - I thought I was the only one defending it!

Not sure what your problem is with Bolg, though. This game is supposed to be based on the book - Bolg isn't even in the first Hobbit movie.
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Mark Chaplin
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RedMonkeyBoy wrote:
Great to see a bit more love for this game - I thought I was the only one defending it!

Not sure what your problem is with Bolg, though. This game is supposed to be based on the book - Bolg isn't even in the first Hobbit movie.


Yeah. Azog was in the first Hobbit film. Bolg led the goblin army in Tolkien's book (Azog is mentioned).


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David
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I hate that people say Martin Wallace has sold out. Even though he's moving to New Zealand, he's a pure Brit and Terry Pratchett and Dr. Who are the embodiment of contemporary cultural England (at least to a geek). Now, if he made Downton Abbey the Board Game, then maybe the sellout argument might have merit.

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Andre Lucato
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dblayton wrote:
I hate that people say Martin Wallace has sold out.



That's the downside of being a really good professional in any niche industry. Whenever you decide to do simpler and fun things (specially with more mass appeal) you are considered to be a sell out, even though keeping the same product quality.
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John Burnson
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This game is a hit in my family too. Small footprint, handsome art, and a round of 8 tricks is the right length for two hands during lunch.

The ill feeling toward Thorin is due partly to his inherent randomness but also to the fact that Thorin's player doesn't get to "do" anything (there is no intellectual glee to distributing the spoils). I recognize the card's role but I think this is a legitimate shortcoming. (Maybe Thorin could take a wound in exchange for dealing out the remaining cards more willfully. Maybe Thorin's ability could have been transferred to Gollum, where the deficiency could be offset by an alternative win condition.)

Other small gripes: The victory conditions are a bit ungainly. For example, in the 4-player game, it's not enough to kill Smaug, two or more good characters must survive. So you can lose even if you kill Smaug.

Also, it's somewhat disappointing that Gandalf and Smaug have the same ability. Relatedly, it's too bad that there are only 5 characters. There seems to be available design space. Maybe Elrond could turn one symbol into a starburst (but only for good)? Maybe Beorn could heal himself? Maybe Bard could play his card last?

These are dwarven grumbles. The Hobbit Card Game is a winning family game.
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Kevin Outlaw
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I don't agree that Thorin doesn't get to "do" anything, but I'm not going to go through that again - I detailed all my thoughts in another thread complaining about Thorin. Thorin provides most of the strategy for the good players, and makes this game pleasingly challenging. Each to their own, of course.

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John Burnson
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You are correct, of course. I agree about Thorin's role as a game element -- it's not as if we've replaced him with Gramma Nutt from Candyland. But players (especially kids) can appreciate Thorin in the abstract while still hoping that someone else gets him.

I would have challenged the designer to keep the element while granting everyone the "spotlight moment" of thoughtfully divvying the trick. Maybe impossible. And it's still a top-10 game for us even with the lunkhead.
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John Farrell
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I'll have to check my orcs to make sure I know which one I'm hating on. I particularly hate the one in the movie who was added to the story to try to turn Tolkien's book into some sort of thriller / action movie.

jburnson, I think Thorin assigning cards *is* a spotlight moment. The good side is being simultaneously rewarded for winning the trick and penalised if they didn't plan that very very carefully. Remember that in the book Thorin is such a pain that he causes the Battle of the Five Armies. The Thorin player needs to embrace the randomness!

It is a bit of a flaw in the design that (a) the victory conditions change depending on the number of players, and (b) it doesn't seem balanced at all numbers of players, but hey, 15 minutes! If fate determines that you're Smaug in a 4 player game, then you're likely to take a beating, but that will just make it all the more glorious if you win.
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Kevin Outlaw
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Friendless wrote:
I'll have to check my orcs to make sure I know which one I'm hating on. I particularly hate the one in the movie who was added to the story to try to turn Tolkien's book into some sort of thriller / action movie.

jburnson, I think Thorin assigning cards *is* a spotlight moment. The good side is being simultaneously rewarded for winning the trick and penalised if they didn't plan that very very carefully. Remember that in the book Thorin is such a pain that he causes the Battle of the Five Armies. The Thorin player needs to embrace the randomness!

It is a bit of a flaw in the design that (a) the victory conditions change depending on the number of players, and (b) it doesn't seem balanced at all numbers of players, but hey, 15 minutes! If fate determines that you're Smaug in a 4 player game, then you're likely to take a beating, but that will just make it all the more glorious if you win.


The orc you are thinking of is Bolg's dad, Azog, who is dead before the start of the book but does get a mention (as Mark already said above). Bolg is the big bad orc in the Hobbit, as he leads the orc/goblin (same thing) contingent in the Battle of the Five Armies. He will be turning up in the second movie for sure.

This game is definitely not based on the movie - you can tell from the stuff shown on the cards which wasn't in the movie, but you can also tell because they didn't use movie images like in the hideous Knizia game that came out.

For the record - I don't hate anything Mr Jackson did with the film. I think he made the Hobbit feel more like an integrated part of the whole story than Tolkien did.
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John Farrell
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Ah yes, it's Azog who pokes his nose into the movie where it doesn't belong; and Bolg who's in the game. Nevertheless, I think he's a kind of poor secondary enemy - when I think of The Hobbit I think of spiders and wood elves and the Great Goblin as being the bad guys.

My ideas for new assignment rules:
* Spiders - pass all cards to Bilbo, who assigns one to each character
* Thranduil - discards all black and white cards then assigns the remainder as he chooses, maximum one to each character
* the Great Goblin - shuffles the cards and assigns them randomly, but white cards are discard instead of being assigned.
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Jack Bennett
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I'm glad you enjoyed it. I've played trick games my whole life, I'm a Hobbit fan (books, movie was..ok), and a Wallace fan, and after about 15 plays of this I just simply do not like it. There is very little about it that worked for me at all. To each their own!

However, regardless of your opinions about this game, calling Tichu boring is simply blasphemous! Everybody gets one...
 
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Mark Chaplin
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Quote:
Ah yes, it's Azog who pokes his nose into the movie where it doesn't belong; and Bolg who's in the game. Nevertheless, I think he's a kind of poor secondary enemy - when I think of The Hobbit I think of spiders and wood elves and the Great Goblin as being the bad guys.


I agree here. The Great Goblin was a bit of a disappointment to me.


 
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pusherman42 wrote:
calling Tichu boring is simply blasphemous


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Derek H
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dblayton wrote:
I hate that people say Martin Wallace has sold out. Now, if he made Downton Abbey the Board Game, then maybe the sellout argument might have merit.

My wife would demand that we buy that game!
 
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