TheOneRing.net Boardgame Gift Guide 2010
Boardgames that portray Tolkien’s world have been a part of the hobby since the 1960s. Ranging from easy family games to hard-core wargames, there is something for everyone. Since the merchandising license for such games can be expensive – and boardgames are not a huge mass market – there are only a few quality companies licensed to produce Tolkien-themed games.
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Unfortunately, when most people think of “boardgames”, they think of the mass-market games produced by Hasbro: Monopoly, Risk, perhaps Stratego. While there have been Lord of the Rings themed versions of these games from Hasbro, they are no longer in print and must be obtained at considerable expense from an auction site or through other retailers. The good news is that the boardgame hobby goes well beyond these games. Fantasy Flight Games holds a license for Tolkien-themed boardgames and card games, and has several titles in print. Three of them, designed by prolific game designer Reiner Knizia, are suitable for family play.
Although Fantasy Flight had a previous game of this title in 2001, this is an entirely new game by Knizia, and is intended to be suitable for younger players, or players who are less experienced with more complex games.
According to Fantasy Flight,
The Hobbit is a game of strategic bidding and chance. Taking on the roles of the stoic dwarves, players need to guide Bilbo Baggins from the Shire to the Lonely Mountain and end the game with the most treasure. During their journey they will fight goblins, battle wargs, escape the Mirkwood elves, and eventually reach Laketown. Players must plan their journey wisely, bidding for their turn sequence to move Bilbo Baggins further along the game path. In order to face the challenges that await them, players can increase their stats by using their numbered Dwarf Cards to bid for upgrades. Player stats include Cunning, Strength, and Initiative, and each of these can be raised whenever the active player moves Bilbo onto an appropriate space along the path. But be wary, there are also spaces on the path that will reduce your stats. Bid wisely!
Unfortunately, this game is still apparently on a boat from China, and has not yet appeared in North America, where it is available for pre-order from various online merchants. It is already on store shelves in Australia, and early reviews have been very positive. Hopefully The Hobbit will be available in the U.S. before mid-December. [Pre-Order at Amazon.com]
This Knizia title is a quick (30 minutes or so) battle for two, with some very broad similarities to Hasbro’s Stratego, but with distinctive features that make it a wholly original game.
Players try to outmaneuver (and out-bluff!) their opponents with their 9 characters to capture the ring or get it to Mordor. The 2008 “Deluxe Edition” expands (and replaces) the original small-box 2002 game with more options and a bigger box and play equipment, and artwork by John Howe and others.
This game orignally appeared in 2000 under the Hasbro imprint (in the United States), but is now produced by Fantasy Flight. It was republished in 2010 in a new edition as part of their Silver Line series, retaining all the original John Howe artwork. Yet another Reiner Knizia title, this game is not quite so much of a “family” game as the others in this section. While it can be played with fairly young children, an adult or teen who knows the game well should be there to teach and coach the small fry along. This is possible because this game is a cooperative game in which up to five players (representing five hobbits, including Fatty Bolger) try to get the ring to Mount Doom. There is no individual winner; the players win or lose the game as a group:
Beginning at Bag End, then moving to Rivendell, the group will progress from scenario to scenario across the Master Board. As they reach Moria, Helm’s Deep, Shelob’s Lair, and Mordor, they will complete the scenarios depicted on the individual Scenario Boards. The group receives Hobbit cards at the beginning of their quest, each depicting a different form of activity or strength – Friendship, Traveling, Hiding, and Fighting. As the perils of their quest appear, the group must work together to defeat them by discarding the appropriate cards or by accepting the corruption of the Ring to avoid danger. On their journey, the Hobbits will receive aid from other members of the Fellowship – such as Gandalf and Aragorn – as well as make use of the many gifts given to them along the way, such as the Phial of Galadriel or the ever-nourishing Lembas bread. These special cards will give them the stren
In keeping with the theme of the game, it is often necessary for one or more members of the party to sacrifice themselves to the forces of the Dark Lord in order to ensure the success of the Quest. A session will take on the order of 60-90 minutes, and as is common with moderately complex games such as this, the first game will be a long one, with several trips back to the rulebook. However, for many, their patience will be well rewarded. [Order at Amazon.com]
For those who are already quite experienced in the table gaming hobby, only two products are currently in print.
The British company, Games Workshop, Ltd., markets tabletop miniatures games, in which you field an “army” of small painted sculptures (typically about 28mm high for a human character) and maneuver them according to the game rules, resolving combat (including magic spells and the like) by rolling dice to determine the outcome. Actually, what GW markets is not just games, but an entire hobby. They sell the rulebooks (the rulebook for the LotR battle game is 240 pages long), miniatures, paints and brushes for the miniatures, painting guides, and so on; and also sponsor tournaments and similar activities. Needless to say, it is possible to invest quite a lot of time and money into this hobby; if you know someone who is already well invested in the GW Lord of the Rings product line, it is almost certain that you can find a gift for them that they don’t already have.
In 2005, GW re-worked their entire Lord of the Rings product line and produced the current Strategy Battle Game. One problem they addressed is that the original line did not have a good “hook” product to bring new players into the game. That product is The Mines of Moria, which comes with 34 figures (the Fellowship, some Orcs, and a Cave Troll), dice, some scenery, a starter rule booklet, and a paperback version of the main rule book. At about $67 from Amazon.com (GW’s site lists it at $82), this isn’t cheap – and you have to paint the figures yourself – but it is actually a pretty good value for this sort of product, and seems to be generally well regarded by people who have played it. [Order at Amazon.com]
Fantasy Flight has produced several “big box” games with multiple decks of cards, lots of cardboard counters, large boards, and rather complex rules that take three hours or more to play, typically with big-name franchise titles like World of Warcraft: the Board Game. In 2009, they published Middle-earth Quest, an adventure-type game in which players are represented on a map by single figures that wander about the map facing enemies and searching for things to aid them in their quest:
Middle-Earth Quest is a game of adventure and conflict set in the time leading up to the creation of the Fellowship. One player will adopt the mantle of Sauron and do his best to spread his evil influence across the lands. Up to three players become heroes and will do their best to foil Sauron’s foul plots, and rally the peoples of Middle-earth to their side.
The game has the peculiarity that it takes place between the events of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, and the players are represented by somewhat generic characters – a Dwarf, an Elf, a knight of Rohan, and so on – with new names rather than being “historical” characters from Tolkien. Their goal is to limit Sauron’s influence in preparation for the great events still to come. It is also a semi-cooperative game, in which one player represents Sauron and the others operate as a team to oppose him.
It is long and fairly complicated, and with a lot of cardboard and plastic in the box, it is not cheap ($80 from Fantasy Flight, a bit under $60 from online retailers). But it can be a close and tense contest and falls into the class of games where every session tells a story. [Order at Amazon.com]
This is a separate section because the game is currently out of print and may be difficult to find; a reprint is expected next year. However, this is a big-box wargame that will be appreciated by any hard-core Tolkien gamer (if they don’t own a copy already). War of the Ring is a two-player war game played on a map of Middle-earth; with armies moving from map territory to map territory, it can be loosely described as “Risk on Steroids”, but that doesn’t really describe the style of play. While the Fellowship player seeks to hold back Sauron’s armies while sneaking the Ring-bearer into Mordor, the Shadow player mobilizes his forces in an attempt to gain a military victory by capturing such Free Peoples strongholds as Minas Tirith, Helm’s Deep, and even Rivendell! The game can take on the order of four or five hours, even with experienced players, but is filled with events that effectively evoke the actions in The Lord of the Rings; as with Middle-earth Quest, every game tells a story (not Tolkien’s story, but a story set in an alternative version of his world).
For the truly hardcore, a Collector’s Edition of this game, with a larger redesigned board, painted miniatures, new hardcover rulebook with lavish illustrations, and a huge box painted to look like a large book with the game title in Sindarin (translated by David Salo) was produced by Nexus Games in a limited edition of 2000. Originally sold for about $400, this now is commanding eBay prices of more than twice that. At the time of this writing, Amazon.com is listing a single copy for $1200. Hey, it’s a gift for a collector, right?