St Ives, Sydney
5 of us tee'd off at the PGA, which enabled us to christen ...
Not once but twice. Our first attempt was so feeble (Sauron starting at 12, the hobbits collectively hitting the dust at 42), there was instant uproar for a second playing to sate our thirst for adventure and revenge. This time Sauron started at 15 and boy did we give it to him. That ring was doomed. A score of 72. My Frodo hit the dust struggling up Mount Doom, and I think Bloodlust Jeff's Merry copped it as the ring soared out over the volcano, but the other hobbits (Andrew, Rick and Kevin) were well away from trouble and Middle Earth was saved.
The co-operative aspect worked much better than I expected. There was a real sense of puzzle solving, with much discussion on how best to proceed, who needed to do what before the upcoming troubles ahead, how do we save someone in trouble, should we run like hell to avoid trouble or fight our way through the bad events and the like. The restriction on passing anything between players increases the difficulty, but also defines the necessity of the collaboration.
The game centres around the moral corruption that the Ring brings. There's a 15 point track - the hobbits start at 0, Sauron starts somewhere between 10 (hard game to win) to 15 (easier). Sauron moves inevitably and ominously down the track, the hobbits move individually up but are capable of backtracking some at a cost. If Sauron and a hobbit meet, kiss that hobbit goodbye but the rest march on. If it was the Ringbearer, game over red rover. Hence there's a constant need to avoid corruption, which means avoiding the troubles that cause corruption.
Whilst corruption is recorded against each hobbit individually, the movement across the boards is done as a group. A player moves the group marker, but the resources that come from the result of the move are kept by that player - no sharing. The decisions are largely to do with whether a player will, given his cards allow him, move the group down which of the three or four tracks (they vary on each of the 4 boards). Each track offers differing and various opportunities to:
1. collect shields (useful for buying special Gandalf cards and also used to avoid some troubles) or
2. collect life tokens (each hobbit should have some to avoid corruption at the end of each scenario) or
3. collect special cards or
4. roll the corruption dice which bring Sauron and the hobbits closer on the corruption scale by a variable amount.
Your move should also hopefully set up the next player to get what they need. There's a main activity track the group can proceed along and if you get to the end, it ends the scenario before you have to face all the troubles. Facing all the troubles also ends the scenario. But its always tempting to go down a subsidiary track and collect useful stuff which isn't on the main track. Hence the conflict between run (down the main track) or fight (the troubles). The troubles themselves are various problems where either the group or a player sacrifice cards, shields or other resources or suffer some (sometimes random) corruption consequences.
The other decision is to not move the group at all - which allows you to move your hobbit back 1 on the corruption scale or to get two new cards. This increases the risk of not completing the scenario quickly enough and having to face each of the possible 6 troubles the scenario has - a dangerous decision. Having the Ringbearer (which generally changes each board) slip on the Ring at a corruption cost to avoid trouble which has arrived can be a key decision, but one that can only be made once each scenario.
The theming is strong and draws you in from the start when you choose who will donate two hiding cards to avoid the Nazgul on the way from Bag End to Rivendell, and then the council convenes in Rivendell. Each player gets one card from the player on their right, which opens up the discussion on what we have, what we need from each other to strengthen ourselves (represented by our card hands), and at the minimum ensuring we each have a friendship card to allow the Fellowship to form (and avoid the first trouble).
From there you run and fight your way through Moria before a welcome replenishment of supplies (extra cards) at Lothlorien. After that, there's no more help as you run and fight your way through Helm's Deep, Shelob's Lair and Mordor.
After two plays, I think we've got a better feeling for how to play better over worse, but I think there's still room for considerable improvement on our decision making and valuations on when to run and when to fight, when to take corruption and when not to. I suspect we should have run more - we seemed to keep getting to the last event. In the last game we left it way too close, leaving our whole game to hinge on the turning of one tile which made it fairly tense - if it had been an event tile we would have perished with Sauron claiming the win. As it was, we were able to proceed the last step up Mt Doom and burn that baby.
In any case, its a great addition to the games cupboard. Its system is markedly different to any other game I have. Fleur has shied away from multi-player games recently due to their competitive nature. Lord Of The Rings now allows us to play a decent game together, and include the in-laws, and have everyone win.
As to replayability, its an easy 10+ game. Definitely enough stuff going on so that the game doesn't become easy, especially if you move Sauron to the hard position - though then I suspect the result may become more random than skill deserves. Good bits, great art-work, it looks nice. We should have role-played it more to get even more fun out of the game, and now we're familiar with the decision making processes, hopefully will in future.
A rating of 8 at this point for "very good game I like to play, will never turn down a game". We had a lot of fun and there was enough puzzle making / decision making to make me a little fried after two games. There was no down-time as there was always an issue we were facing together. It was nice to spend game time working together rather than against each other for a change.