Lord of the Rings: The Duel Mini Review

Lord of the Rings the Duel game in play

A game that sat on my shelf for a long time before finally getting to the table is Lord of the Rings: The Duel.

In Lord of the Rings: The Duel, players relive the duel between Gandalf and the Balrog.  And, since they don't want to be dueling forever, they agree to only duel four times, and whoever has done the best will be declared the winner.  In the first three duels, you draw nine cards and play six of them (putting the rest towards the final duel - in the final duel you actually use all nine cards that you've set aside).  Each card that is played is used both for offense and defense, and this is determined by the gems showing on the sides of the card.  There are four slots for gems, and each one that is filled in counts as an attack against the opponent's adjacent card.  Thus, when playing a card, the left-side of the card attacks your opponent's last played card (attacking the right-side of their card).  In each of the four slots that one player has a gem and the other doesn't, the player without the gem loses a health (because they just got energy punched in the stomach).  Each duel continues until one player has run out of energy or until both players have played all of their cards.  Then, the winning player scores points (moves up on the bridge) based on how badly they defeated their opponent.  After one player goes to the top of the bridge (scores five points) or the players have completed four duels, whoever has the most points (is highest on the bridge) wins the game.

My initial pro for The Duel was that I thought it was interesting and unique how the cards are played.  Each card serving a dual purpose of both attacking and defending is neat, and it is executed in a unique, yet intuitive, way.  I liked how easy it was to determine who was dealt damage, and how much.  However, after I played it for a little while, I realized that it doesn't matter terribly much where the gems are located.  If I play a card with three gems against your card that has one gem, I'm going to have an overall gain of two energy points against you.  This may be that I lose one energy and you lose three, or that you lose two and I don't lose any.  But, ultimately, the difference in number of gems is vastly more important than their location.  The only time that their actual location matters is when one player is very close to running out of energy, and dealing each player damage will push them over (or at least precariously close to) the edge.  But, for the most part, the number of gems is much more relevant than the placement of them.

play cards next to each other in Lord of the Rings the Duel
Line up the gems to see what damage is dealt
The next pro for Lord of the Rings: The Duel is that it is kid friendly.  I think that you could play the game with anyone that can read, and they would understand the game.  (Some of the cards have special abilities, and if your child is old enough to read, they're probably also old enough to understand how those abilities work.)  And, as long as your wee one is at least fairly strategic, I think that they will have a decent chance for victory and that they will probably enjoy it.

And, honestly, I think that it is important that The Duel is kid friendly, because I view it more as an activity than a game.  There aren't tough strategic decisions that pull me in and want me to play it repeatedly and explore what the game has to offer.  I'm sure that there are some strategic elements to the game that I've missed (like when you should try to obliterate your opponent, and when you're better off keeping stronger cards for the final duel), but, honestly, I did not find the game engaging enough to come back and try it out more.  The game is so well balanced (as it needs to be) that it just seems a bit dull, in my opinion.  There are a few special cards, but mostly, the players have the same cards - so if I get a one attack/three defense card now, you will probably get a comparable card later. So, we're probably going to lose roughly the same amount of energy - the strategy is simply determining when to deal this damage (which quite possibly will be dictated by when you draw various cards).

Overall, I give Lord of the Rings: The Duel a 6.0/10.  The game works; I just didn't find it exciting enough to keep coming back to it.

If you're looking for light two-player games, you might check out Jaipur, Mr. Jack, and Atlanteon.

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