The Upcoming Lord of the Rings Board Game - An In-Depth Look


The different gameboards that come with the game.
1. SOME HARD FACTS

The new Lord of the Rings board game is scheduled for release in a German-language edition from Kosmos Spiele Gallerie in early to mid-October, followed by an English-language edition from Hasbro in early spring 2001. Kosmos is a high-quality German publisher with a solid record of producing intelligent, well-designed, beautifully illustrated board games. Hasbro is more closely associated with cheap toy-store products; but since its acquisition last year of Avalon Hill, the classic war-game publisher, it has begun producing a new line of strategy games that have been well received and well reviewed in the gaming community. (The next installments in this line, a Star Wars game called Queen's Gambit and a new edition of the cult classic Cosmic Encounter, are due for release within the next several weeks.)

The actual designs and components of the two editions is expected to be quite similar, especially since both will feature artwork by John Howe. Here are some specifics about the Kosmos version, courtesy of the German webzine Spielbox-Online:

Contents:
1 main game board (60x20 cm)
2 double-sided scenario boards (60x30 cm) showing the four scenarios: Moria, Helm's Deep, Shelob's Lair and Mordor
5 Hobbit miniatures, a Sauron miniature
The One Ring
60 Hobbit cards, 11 Situation cards
several pawns, markers, counters

I couldn't find a retail price, but based on previous Kosmos titles it should be in the range of 60-70 Deutschmarks, or about US$35-40.

The amount of German in the Kosmos edition is said to be minimal, except for the rules. The components themselves generally use either recognizable Tolkien terminology and/or pictorial icons. Many English-speaking gamers are planning to buy the Kosmos edition as soon as it becomes available. A complete English-language version of the rules will almost certainly be provided at the time of purchase by US and UK distributors. Among the US-based mail-order suppliers that will be selling the Kosmos edition are:
www.funagain.com
www.bouldergames.com
www.fairplaygames.com

Finally, a much improved English translation of the game preview, "Der Herr der Ringe," which has provoked much amusement in these parts, can be found on the webzine Brett & Board:
http://brettboard.dk/clmns/trvls/sp00c.htm


2. MUCH SPECULATION

The new Lord of the Rings board game has has been the topic of energetic discussion on the rec.games.board newsgroup for the past several months, since word spread that Reiner Knizia, who lives in the U.K., had been selected to design the game. Knizia is one of the most highly regarded of all contemporary game designers, and has contributed to the renaissance of the "German-style" board game which has come increasingly to dominate the serious gaming scene both in Europe and North America.

Briefly, German-style games are characterized by high-quality components, rules that can be learned quickly but which allow for considerable strategic depth (as is the case, for instance, with Go and Chess) and playing time of 60-90 minutes, more or less. The competitive spirit of these games tends to be markedly less bloodthirsty than traditional American-style games; players are almost never eliminated before the game ends, nor do they often attack one another directly, but rather compete for a common goal.

The choice of Knizia raised a few eyebrows at first. Though this prolific designer has incontestably produced many first-rate games (as witnessed by the fact that several of his designs rank very high on the running Internet Top 100 Games poll, including the longstanding #1 title, Tigris & Euphrat), Knizia has nonetheless been criticized for creating games which are heavy on strategy but relatively light on "theme." To cite a case in point, one of his most recent titles -- Galaxy: the Dark Ages, from GMT Games -- is essentially an SF retooling of an earlier Avalon Hill fantasy product, Titan: the Arena. The monsters became rocket ships; the components were given a fresh paint job; and Voila!

With this criticism in mind, Knizia was reportedly assigned a team of advisers and play-testers drawn from the ranks of hardcore British Tolkien buffs. The accomplished illustrator John Howe was brought in to do the artwork. Much attention was devoted, at all stages of the design process, to ensuring that the "feel" of the game matches closely the mood and spirit of Tolkien's fiction (and, it can only be hoped, Jackson's film).

How well does the about-to-be-published game achieve this goal? An early indication came a little over one week ago, when the Kosmos edition was given a public demo at a gaming convention. Here are two reports recently posted to rec.games.board:

Date: Wed, 06 Sep 2000
From: dfarquhar

Now that the Lord of the Rings Board Game has received a public airing (at GENCON) I can reveal more about the game. I worked on it as developer for Reiner throughout the project, so have seen the whole development process. I only have a few minutes, but will try to give you a quick overview.

The game is completely cooperative, with the players taking the roles of hobbits. Other members of the Fellowship appear as cards and events, as do other characters, items etc. The objective of the players is to destroy the Ring before it corrupts them, or they are overcome by Sauron's power. This is achieved in game terms by playing four 'scenarios' or adventures from the story, with the characters' progress being linked from one to the other.

You start in Bag End, thence to Rivendell. These two parts are mainly quick preparatory episodes. Then it's onto the first adventure board - Moria. Get through that and you have a brief respite in Lorien. Then onto the second adventure board - Helms Deep. Survive that and it's into Shelob's Lair before finally staggering into Mordor. If you can reach Mount Doom in one piece you get the chance to destroy the Ring. And that's a pretty big 'if'.

... I think Reiner has designed a fantastic game, and John Howe's artwork is superb. Can't wait for it to hit the shops.

And the second report:

>Date: Sat, 09 Sep 2000
From: jon

Peter T Davies wrote:

I played a lot of it at GenCon UK enjoying it immensely, different groups of people helping a lot as it is very much an interactive co-operative game. Although I took a couple of photos they are not posted as I feel it is unfair on Hasbro, but as the game as had a public airing I do feel free to comment on it's play.

The players progress along the main board which records location and both the Hobbit's corruption levels and Sauron's march toward them. If the main board has a text box at the location it is played through otherwise a game board is used instead, description of what happens here is next.Each turn the active
player (starting with the ring bearer)turns over event tiles until an activity tile appears, other tiles trigger events - some good but mainly bad. The activity tile pushes a dobber along a track on the board, either the main track to finish the board or secondary tracks in which the hobbits collect three types of token to ward off corruption at the end of the scenario. Shields can also be collected which are used to pay for events or to call Gandalf for help.

Either the main track is completed to finish the scenario or all of the events are triggered (bad!). Once the event tile is played the hobbit may play zero, one, or two cards from hand with some restrictions. If none are played the hobbit may rest and collect two cards or heal one point of corruption. The cards have activity symbols which move the dobbers along the various tracks. At times the hobbits may incur die rolls from activiting points on the tracks or due to events happening, all bar one of the results are unfavourable, in the last case nothing happens. Each of the boards are played sequentially until the party makes Mount Doom or more likely perishes. There are also rule for invoking the Ring and calling Gandalf for help.


That's it for now! I can't wait for my copy to arrive -- and no, I am not planning to wait until next spring to get a (possibly inferior) version of the game in English. I'll report back if more news is forthcoming.

-- kaspian, aka richard grant

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