Lord of the Rings Review
Another cooperative game that I have played recently has been Lord of the Rings.
In Lord of the Rings, each of the players takes on the role of one of the hobbits (as a note, this is based off of the books, not the movies, so it is up to 5 player, and the 5th hobbit is "Fatty"). The object of the game is to destroy the ring before the ring bearer becomes captured by Sauron. To do this, each turn a player will flip Event Tiles (some good some evil) until you they flip over an event tile that is not evil. After flipping Event Tiles, the player will have the option of playing cards (thus advancing the hobbits in their quest), drawing new cards, or healing their hobbit (moving them further away from Sauron). Once the current scenario has reached a certain point, then the hobbits will advance to the next scenario (there are 4 scenarios, each of which has a different board that is used). Upon the completion of a scenario, you will also perform some cleanup such as determining the new ring bearer, but also determining if any of the hobbits take damage (from not having earned enough "Life Tokens" during the completed scenario). There are also powerful "Gandalf" cards that a player can use to their advantage at the ideal time during the game.
The obvious first thing to note about the game is the subject material. Fans of Lord of the Rings will obviously enjoy the game more than players who are disinterested in or unfamiliar with the Lord of the Rings story.
With that said, Lord of the Rings has some pro's. First, the cooperative nature of the game works well. It is important during the game to determine when it is best to perform each action - sometimes it will be better to not complete a scenario too quickly so that more hobbits will be able to collect their life tokens, and sometimes it will be important to rush through a scenario so that less evil actions occur. It is also important to determine when to best use Gandalf cards, and ultimately, it is more important to protect the Ring Bearer than it is to protect any of the other hobbits - thus forcing players to sometimes hurt their own character for the good of the team.
A second aspect of the game that Lord of the Rings includes that is important in cooperative games is an adjustable difficulty. The hobbits are all placed on a track with all of the hobbits on one side and Sauron on the other. If someone were to play Lord of the Rings often, they would be able to increase the difficulty of the game by moving Sauron closer to the hobbits to start the game, which would help keep the game fresh.
Another aspect that I like about Lord of the Rings is how the "evil actions" work. Whereas in Shadows Over Camelot and Pandemic (feel free to read my reviews on both of these games as well) a player will take an evil action every turn (in Shadows the player gets to pick the action whereas in Pandemic they only perform the action), in Lord of the Rings, there may or may not be an evil action to occur on any given turn. How this balance works is that there is a pile of "Event Tiles". These tiles are shuffled to start each scenario and are then flipped over at the beginning of each player's turn. If a good tile is flipped, then the good action is performed and the player continues their turn. If an evil tile is flipped, then the evil action is performed and another tile is flipped until a good tile occurs. I enjoy this mechanic because it means you can never be too comfortable with what your hobbits' position on the board, because at any time several evil things could occur at once.
Another aspect of the game that works both for and against the game is the scenarios. The scenarios are all based on the subject matter, so the hobbits will go through Helm's Deep, Shelob's Lair, etc. Whereas this adds some interesting flavor to the game, it is also predefined, thus reducing the replayability of the game. Each time through, all of the hobbits will be going through the same scenarios in the same order and with the same events and so the variety is somewhat minimal.
The only other aspect of Lord of the Rings that I will discuss is something that is fairly common in cooperative games (I do not consider this a pro or a con - just a point of note). Because the difficulty of the game is in having the players work together to a common goal, the actual mechanics of the game are somewhat simple. With that said, I feel these mechanics are implemented well in Lord of the Rings. Essentially what happens is that there will be 3-4 tracks on each scenario that signified by a different symbol (translating to Fighting, Hiding, Traveling, and Friendship). In order to move your hobbits along one of these tracks, you must play a card that matches that symbol. Overall, however, this mechanic has about the same level of complexity as I have seen in other cooperative games.
Overall, I give Lord of the Rings an 8.0/10. I highly recommend this game to Lord of the Rings fans, but I also recommend that everyone else try the game. The only real reason that the game did not get a higher score was because of the replayability issues based in playing in preset stages. However, with that said, this is a good game to have in your collection to pull out every few months and play through again.