the Lord of the Rings the movies are well-established masterpieces. They wouldn’t skimp on the official Lord of the Rings table games. Right?
Imagine yourself in 2004. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King The epic movie has just been released, bringing the Lord of the Rings trilogy to a close. It’s amazing, visually stunning, has excellent storytelling, and brought a new set of people into the Tolkien universe of Middle-earth.
You buy the DVDs, the posters, the figures and the video games and you think you have every piece of Lord of the Rings goods. But then one day, walking through his local game store, he sees this stunning masterpiece of box art.
Straight from the movie, the box art looks dramatic and exciting. Not only that, the entire trilogy is there! It has the official stamp of New Line Cinema, so it has to be legit!
Without a second thought, you grab all three games and rush home to set up the game. You are immediately struck by the components of the game.
You’re riding this hype train all the way to Barad-dûr, which looks amazing too!
You are so excited to play. You put the movies on the TV, put the soundtrack in the background, prepare the Lembas snacks, call a group of friends and tell them to buckle up because you are going to have the best Lord of the Rings game night ever!
You know how this ends
The game is horrible. Horrible. Terrible. Atrocious. Thesaurus.
So much wasted potential.
The game is literally nothing more than a “roll and hope you win” type of game. You roll to move, you roll for encounters, you roll to determine your score, and you roll for everything. So let’s dive in Lord of the Rings board games and find out why they are so terrible.
Lord of the Rings Table games
While each game is thematically different, they are, in very literal terms, the same game.
The game tells you which player creators to place during setup. The markers represent the characters from the movies: Frodo, Sam, Gandalf, Aragorn, etc… But also Ringwraiths and some other villains. They also come with character cards that show their stats.
Speed is used to determine how far a character moves when moving. The player rolls a die and adds their Speed, then moves that many spaces. And now, let’s stop and take a closer look at all this.
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- During a player’s turn, he moves none of the characters Any of your choice. You’re not playing as Legolas, everyone is. Everyone is working together to get the characters to the end, but it’s not a cooperative game. Yes. It’s as strange as it sounds.
- Despite what it may seem, the game board is a single path. There are no options for movement. You are simply following the sequence of events that take place within the story. This leads to…
- Every time a character lands on a space with a numbered ring, they stop and have the corresponding numbered encounter. These spaces are so frequent (seriously, scroll up and look at the board. They are every 4 spaces), that rolling a die to move makes no sense. at the top of the EIGHT you can add to your movement roll if you are Legolas.
Power, wisdom, and magic are used during encounters.
Again, it’s just randomly rolling the dice and seeing what happens. Also, most events require odd or even numbers to determine their outcome. So having +8 to Power is mathematically as good as +0. So all these stats are meaningless! Just like everything else in this damn game!
You may notice that the events mention adding good and bad points. What is that, you ask? Well, it’s the win condition!
The admittedly great scorer is another confusing mess added to this waste of time and space. Each player starts their score at 67. I don’t know why. If anyone reading knows why the score starts at 67 or goes from 62 to 89, please let me know in the comment below. I’m lost.
As you progress through these events, your score will be adjusted based on the outcome. At the end of the game, the player with the highest score wins!
However, if your score reaches an ‘S’ (which stands for Sauron, obviously), you roll a die and move that many spaces towards the center of the track. So…. if you get too evil, you get a little less evil. But also, you can’t be too good either. Also, if you want to get the highest score, you have to get to exactly 87, then get 2 points, then never get any more points.
The whole system is not only stupid but unnecessarily complicated. ¿Who came up with this? How?! Why?! I have many questions!
There are more things I could talk about to explain why these Lord of the Rings Board games are so horrible, but honestly, they’re more trouble than they’re worth.
The rules don’t explain how bad guys move around the board. They don’t explain how the small handful of items actually work. The few items that do exist are either literally worthless or offer a risk versus reward that is never worth the risk. For example, One Ring allows you to avoid any encounter by gaining 2 Evil points. But each encounter gives at most 2 evil points, so there is no reason to use the ring.
The game looks great, and it really is a shame that it’s so terrible. In researching this game, I found many fan-made rulesets for the game that hopefully improve on this foundation. Which is certainly not difficult given the source material.
So for all of you who are still considering buying this game, even after reading all of this, all I can say is…
If you like LotR games, check out the best game, ‘War of the Ring’.
Matt has loved games of all kinds his whole life: board, video, war, RPGs. He has worked as a writer for BoLS since 2017. He has worked as a freelance editor for board game rulebooks and has also designed many of his own games.