A well attended evening as Carrie showed up with Dave a few minutes before Dave W and Kern arrived to make 5 for the evening. Dave W and Kern happened to have with them Lord of the Rings as well as the Friends & Foes expansion. As we last played this game during our trip through the alphabet (as a "D" game from the German title), we decided it was time to once again face Sauron.
The Lord of the Rings w/ Friends and Foes
5-player (Dave W (Frodo), Dave (Sam - again), Kern (Pippin), Carrie (Merry), Rich (Fatty))
Time: 2.5 hours (including rules refresher / explanation)
Each player assumes the role of one of the hobbits seeking to carry the ring to Mt. Doom to destroy it. The game is conducted as a series of Scenario's (Moria, Helm's Deep, Shelob's Lair, and Mordor from the base game plus Bree and Isengard from the F&F Expansion). As the game progresses, the hobbits can become more corrupt and move up a corruption scale from white (0) through gray to black (15). At the same time Sauron's influence over the Middle Earth increases meaning that the resistance to Sauron is weakening. This is represented by having Sauron move down the corruption scale from black (15) to white (0). Should a hobbit and Sauron be at the same corruption level, the hobbit succumbs to Sauron's will. Should the ring-bearer and Sauron be at the same corruption level, then Sauron has captured the ring and all the players lose.
As the hobbits move towards Mordor, they will stock up on supplies (cards) and tokens. Both of these items can be spent to ward off bad events or summon Gandalf for assistance. So as a simplification, this is a game of resource management while racing against an uncertain timeline that means defeat for the players.
In addition to adding two new Scenario boards, the Friends and Foes expansion also adds a deck of foe cards representing Sauron's legions. In the original game, certain events triggered card discards (loss of supplies), but these events now bring out foes instead. So while players appear to keep more cards, they will need to use their suppies and tokens to defeat foes for should the foes become too numerous, the game is lost.
Our quest started in good spirits for we had 5 starting on the journey from Bag End. Sauron's influence was quite limited and far, far away at 15. Gandalf had given us all a good supply of provisions which would see us to Rivendell. But Frodo knew the road to be dangerous so urged the group to gain more provisions. This was most helpful for Fatty who gained most of the extra (grey) provisions to balance out his excess of (white) supplies giving Fatty more ability to make 2 card plays per turn (1 grey, 1 white). But Frodo was not used to wearing the ring that Uncle Bilbo had left him and the lure of Sauron wanting the ring back drew Frodo 2 spaces towards corruption.
Our band set-off through Bree, but quickly came upon the Barrow-downs with 3 foes lurking there. Thinking this too many foes so early, Frodo fingered his ring and found Tom Bombadil a willing ally to defeat 2 of the foes. But Sauron's lure again drew Frodo 2 more spaces towards corruption. Events would continue to tempt Frodo as he found hemself inexplicitly drawn towards Sauron's lure and corrupting another step. We continue to travel along the long journey which also gave us a ring token just in time. For Merry brought us to the Prancing Pony Inn where we could now receive Gandalf's letter which was certain to be helpful later in the game. Sam and Fatty moved our team skillfully through the underbushes so we could remain well hidden from our enemies which allowed Pippin to finish the hiding track which would allow us to get Bill the Pony should the Nazgul strike at Bree, which they did. But Fatty's second turn brought us out of Bree and one step closer to Morder. While Sauron's influence had not spread, Frodo was suffering the strain of the journey having moved up to a corruption of 7. Sam was at 3, while the rest of the band were at 1. Feeling the strain, Frodo passed the Ring to Merry.
Having refreshed at Rivendell, we plunged into the mines of Moria. Our first action was to speak friend and enter, Fatty (receiving 2 cards after each scenario) discarded the necessary cards to keep Sauron at bay. Merry immediately drew the Watcher in the Water, from which most hobbits (being small folk) could stay well hidden, so avoid any corruption. But Merry then kicked a Stone in the Well, but had no wild cards to discard, so not only was the Pipe lost, but Sauron started to stir and our band was quickly Trapped. While we did make a modest bit of progress on our Journey, Sam (the next player) heard the distant rumblings as the Orc's Attacked. The band fought valiently, discarding 5 fight cards to keep Sauron at bay. We continued deeper into the mines and as we approached the end, Merry attempted to use the Ring to escape the mines. But the use of such strong magic when in the presence of the Balrog only draws more foes from the foe deck. Events overtook the band in Moria as we hear Gandalf yell Fly You Fools!. As the least corrupted, Fatty sacrificed 3 corruption points to spare the rest of the band a die roll. The enemy had awakened. Sauron was at 12. Frodo had jumped up to 10, Sam was at 6, while the rest of the band was at 4. Lothlorien and a chance to resupply awaited.
After that, Isengard awaited our band. Having travelled well, it was Fatty's turn...but Fatty could only trigger events. While not that dangerous as Fatty had discards to Escape from the Orcs (gaining Treebeard) and then saw White Figures in Fanghorn to get Gandalf the White, the next events needed some of the tracks to be complete. Fatty quickly finished traveling and used the surplus of life tokens received to defeat one of our foes. This let Frodo gain Pipe-weed, but we were not advanced enough to proceed immediately to Shelob's Lair - we would have to travel through Helm's Deep. But we could not look too far ahead for Saruman threatened our band if we did not proceed quickly. Sam (the Ring-bearer) tried to help us out of Isengard, but it was Fatty's card that finished the scenario as Fatty became the ring bearer. While Sauron was still at 12, the corruption had hit our group hard. Frodo stood at 11, Sam at 10. Pippin was at 8, Fatty wast at 7, and Merry at 5. We used the pipe-weed and elessar to heal Frodo and Sam as we faced Helm's Deep.
As we needed to finish the auxiliary tracks to gain the feature cards, we tried to be as balanced as possible. Moving quickly, we did manage to gain the Riders of Rohan as well as be prepared when Orcs attack the gate (gaining 1 card, instead of having Sauron advance). We quickly escaped Helm's deep but the strain was on the band. Sauron remained at 12, but Sam was at 10, Pippin, Frodo, and Fatty at 9, while Merry at 5.
Shelob's Lair was next but events threatened to overtake us there also. Pippin drew Gollum (costing the band 7 shields), Faces of the Dead (costing us a card or more shields) and the Forbidden Pool (costing another 5 shields). Quickly leaving the scenario, we found ourselves at the brink of elimination. Sauron was at 12, Sam was at 10 and would have moved to 12 were it not for Gandalf's intervention. Frodo and Pippin were at 11, Fatty at 10, and Merry at 7. Mordor awaits.
Having seen that Merry would have the least corruption, we had managed in Shelob's Lair to pass the ring to Merry for Mordor. But once we hit the Battle of Pelennor Fields, the long journey began to take its ultimate toll. Players must roll the die and discard 2 cards. Sam, having but a single card, was eliminated. When the Mouth of Sauron appeared, Pippin and Frodo each with a single card, also were eliminated. The band of 5 hobbits was down to 2 - Merry and Fatty. Sauron was at 11, Fatty at 10, Merry at 9. We could not afford any more movement. Worse, we did not have sufficient cards to travel all the way to Doom, but we saw a slim path. We could travel closer until we were but 4 spaces away. At 4 spaces away from Doom, we had the Ring Bearer put on the ring for a final run to Doom. Summoning Gandalf (Integrity), we could place the die on the white side up - allowing us to move the 4 spaces directly to Doom. Now, we needed to survive the roll. The odds were in our favour as Merry was 2 spaces from Sauron. Only a 2 or 3 on the die roll would fail. A blank, 1, Sauron's Eye, or 2 foes would all be survivable by Merry. The roll was made, 2 foes appeared (for a total of 7) and the Ring was destroyed!
The addition of the Friends & Foes expansion increases the challenge in the game. There are 2 more scenarios to travel through as well as alternate ways of losing the game. In our game, the foes didn't seem to be that much of a threat as we entered Mordor with but a single foe showing, revealed 4 more on the way to Doom before revealing a final 2 as we destroyed the ring - for a victory as 7 foes were present. Scanning the rules I discovered another means that foes are revealed - whenever the activity player draws an activity tile (hiding, traveling, friendship, fighting) as the first tile drawn - a foe is revealed. This change means that every active player turn, something bad is bound to happen. Either the event track advances, Sauron (or the Ring Bearer) move, or a foe is revealed. In the base game, players are happy when activity tiles are drawn as that means the turn is relatively benign. But in Friends & Foes, it is just another bit of evil to wrest. But our luck was that we tended to draw a series of sundials, so don't know how many more foes we might have faced (and have to eliminate).
I like the addition of F&F to the base game because it adds more stuff to work through and at logical places. About the only downside will be the added length. The game seems to clock in at about 20 minutes per scenario - so F&F is about 40 minutes longer. Unfortunately, the overview of the changes omitted that one, possibly 2, scenario boards can be omitted if no foes are present at their start (for a cost of course). This option would reduce the F&F length back down to that of the base game (or just a bit longer).
But these complaints aside, I certainly did feel the tension mount as the game progressed. All the hobbits were edging closer to Sauron. Our options and ability to resond was getting weaker and pricier. While the game took 2 hours to play, it didn't feel that way - when we did finally win, it was welcome relief and I had felt that we had conquered evil against ever increasing odds.
At the end of my prior session report, I had stated: as one is playing against a system, one might become too familiar with the game and the initial enjoyment might wear off...but then again, there are the two expansions to the game that probably help to keep the overall experience fresh. An enjoyable game that I hope I can play again perhaps once or twice this year That continues to be my assessment of the game. A nice experience game to play a few times a year to avoid over familiarity with the system and keeping the tension on as the game progresses. The expansions certainly add a nice option to dial in a desired game length (longer with more expansions, shorter with fewer or none) that also helps.
But I have to contrast this experience game with Arkham Horror and Betrayal at House on the Hill. Reading through the events and cards, I found that my enjoyment stems from the fact that I enjoy reading the books and enjoyed the films greatly. In other words, I know the story, so can enjoy the experience as we duplicate it. When we trigger the event Fly You Fools!, I know exactly what is happening and can draw upon that to add to my enjoyment of the game.
I wonder how immersive this game might be to anyone not familiar at all with the LOTR story. Would it take on a more puzzle like feel as it devolves into a game of only hand/card management? I contrast this game with AH and BaHotH as neither need any background to be enjoyed. For AH, I have read no Lovecraft and only knew of the Chthulu Mythos is passing. But given the concept behind AH (great evil monsters from another dimension threaten Earth), I could still drop right into the game and enjoy it. Another key difference is that in both AH and BaHotH, players are actually making choices where to go and what to do - adding to the immersive quality.
That is not to say any of the games is better or worse than the other...just different. Going back to my summary thoughts, I can probably see enjoying LOTR a few times a year while AH is likely to be played a bit more often.