Kulkmann's G@mebox - www.boardgame.de



Author: Reiner Knizia

Publisher: Kosmos 2000

G@mebox Star



With the new Lord of the Rings movie dawning to be released in fall 2001, the inevitable merchandising operation connected with the film is now started with the release of the new Lord of the Rings boardgame. I must confess that I did rarely await a testing of a game with a higher degree of expectation, since the new game will have to prove itself worthy on a number of criteria.

Foremost, it has always been hard to satisfy Tolkien-fans who are looking for true adaptations of their favourite books. The Lord of the Rings is an epic story which is nearly impossible to shorten, and for that reason the task alone of developing a game capturing most of the spirit from the books seems to be quite demanding. However, over the years several good adaptions of the Lord of the Rings into different boardgames have been made (ICE's Fellowship of the Ring, SPI's War in Middle Earth and some others). The new game will inevitably be compared in quality with these old titles. Last, it will be interesting to see in how far the game's author, Reiner Knizia, was able to leave his usual background of designing highly tactical games. To my mind, most of Reiner Knizia's games are of a very good playing capability, but they lack one characteristic: atmosphere. Looking on games like Euphrat & Tigris, Durch die Wüste or Titan - The arena, the story-backgound against which these games are settled can be exchanged indefinately. These games do not depend on their background, but instead on clever paying mechanisms. While it is true that such mechanisms aree needed, a Lord of the Rings adaption definately demands more: it must reflect the story.


Having set out these demanding standards for a good Tolkien-game, the tests of the game showed that it actually more than satisfies these standards.

In the game, 2 to 5 players take up the roles of different Hobbits (Frodo & Sam, Pippin, Merry and Dick Bolger). All these Hobbits will set out on their way to reach Mount Doom to destroy the One Ring. At the beginning of the game, Frodo will be the Ringbearer, but this might change during the game.

The most important items of the game are the different gameboards. One of these is the main-gameboard, featuring a global progress marker with the following locations: Shire, Rivendell, Moria, Lorien, Helm's Deep, Shelob's Lair and Mordor. A figure will be moved forwards from location to location, depending on the group's progress. Furthermore, the main-board also features the Darkness-track. On this track, each of the Hobbits has his own figure and also Sauron is present (about 12 spaces away from the Hobbits, on the dark side of the track). Basically, this track indicates Sauron's strength and the willpower of the Hobbits to resist any temptations of the One Ring. During the game, Sauron may move towards the Hobbits (getting stronger) and also the Hobbits may move towards Sauron (being tempted by the Ring or losing willpower). Basically, each Hobbit who comes onto the same space as Sauron will be out of the game, and if this happens to the Ringbearer the game is over and Sauron wins.

As indicated by the roles taken by the players, the game basically is a co-operative game for all the players. Nobody plays Sauron, but instead all must try together to get the group (or at least the Ringbearer) to Mount Doom and destroy the One Ring. Of course, such co-operation will force hard choices upon the players, possibly sacrificing their character to further the common goal.

At the beginning of the game in the Shire, each player receives a basic equipment of several Hobbit cards. These cards show different symbols like Hideout, Fight, Friendship, Travel and a Star (joker). After receiving these basic cards and discarding a Hideout (because the Nazgul have reached the Shire), the players get some additional cards at Rivendell. Here they are allowed to draw from a deck of special cards, containing mainly of the items and characters available in Rivendell in the story ( so players can draw Aragon, Gimli, Gandalf, Sting, Anduril etc.). Most of these cards also bear the symbols available on the standard Hobbit-cards, although there may be multiple symbols on a card, making such a card more valuable. Furthermore, some cards are special cards, allowing the owing player to act out of the normal turn sequence and to perform some special action. When the cards at Rivendell have been distributed and all players have exchanged cards at Elrond's Council, the players will move into Moria. For the first time in the game, one of the four additional adventure-gameboards will be needed.


On an adventure-gameboard basically different tracks corresponding to some or all the symbols shown on the Hobbit cards will be displayed. One of these tracks is the main track, while others are supplementary. At the beginning of each adventure, the indicators at each of these tracks are at their starting positions. By playing cards in turn, the players now have the possibility to move forwards the indicator on the track corresponding to the symbol shown on the card played. It's basically the aim of the players to move the indicator on the main-track as fast as possible to its end, thus ending the adventure and moving to the next-location on the main-board. However, despite the number of cards held by the players at the beginning of the game being quite reassuring, the cards held by each player are dwindling quite fast during the game, so that the players usually are faced with a constant lack of cards (this applies especially in games with only 2 or 3 players). Still, moving only the indicator on the main track usually is not enough to ensure success of the players. Several factors need to be considered when deciding which indicator should be moved: most importantly, each turn a player has to turn over random event markers. Often, these will only mean that one of the indicators on one of the tracks will be moved, but each adventure also features a number of special events which will happen one after the other and which can be triggered by event markers. Most of the events available mean bad consequences for the players, starting with a loss of cards up to moving Sauron or the Hobbits closer to each other on the Darkness track. The players will try to avoid these events if possible, and here the importance of the supplementary tracks becomes clear. On the one hand, players may acquire special cards by progressing on these tracks (so the Friendship track in Helm's Deep, for example, features King Theoden, Shadowfax and Eomer, allowing players reaching these spaces to collect these special cards.). Furthermore, progress on the track can also indicate certain other events (at Helm's Deep the Ents can arrive) and also the players will get the possibility to acquire certain symbol-markers. By making use of these different cards, events ad symbols, the players will possibly by able to counter some of the bad events, and this makes progress on the supplementary track really important. Furthermore, players may also acquire extra points on certain spaces, and when a player has acquired 5 of these points he can opt to call for the help of Gandalf, and five times during the game Gandalf can intervene to assist the players with different spells.

When the players have succeeded on reaching the end of the main-track, an adventure ends and the group moves to the next location on the main-board. After Moria follows Lorien, and here the player once again will receive certain special cards for equipment. However, once the players have left Lorien, the game will become much more difficult since they will not again get to a place where they can refresh themselves and draw a few special cards (apart from the occasional possibility to draw special cards during the following adventures). After Lorien, the players have to survive three more adventure boards: Helm's Deep, Shelob's Lair and Mordor. If they should reach the final space in the Mordor-adventure, the Ring-Bearer will make a test (by rolling a certain dice) and if he passes the players will win the game.

On first sight, the rules of the game might be considered quite confusing because of the existing multitude of cards, special cards, events, event markers, symbols, indicators and so on. However, once the first game has been played the players will not only understand the mechanics of the game easily but also the big advantage of the game become clearly visible: by making use of these cleverly interlocking mechanisms, Reiner Knizia actually succeeded in creating an atmosphere which brings the players closely to experiencing the story of Lord of the Rings as their own adventure. Many characters and events from the books have their appearance in the game, thus strengthening the overall goal to keep alive the spirit of the books. Of great value is also the artwork. While the adventure-boards may be considered as being somewhat unimaginative (only showing a panoramic view of the scene which they are dealing with), the artwork on the cards is really beautiful. The drawings of all the different characters are very well done, greatly enhancing the atmosphere of the game as a whole.

The outstanding feature of the game, however, is that it accomplished a feat which most of the other Tolkien-games which have been released over the last decades could only barely satisfy: the game makes it possible to experience the fascination of the Lord of the Rings in the duration of a normal boardgame, keeping playing time to 75 minutes. Within such a relatively short game, Reiner Knizia succeeded to create a deeper atmosphere of tension than I would have suspected. Also, he succeeded in leaving a bit the area of purely strategic games which are typical of him - and the introduction of an element of luck serves the purpose of keeping the game interesting quite well.

To sum it up, I think that the new Herr der Ringe game deserves highest praise. Fans of Tolkien's works will love this game, and I can recommend it without reservations.

A note concerning the international release of the game: An English version of the game is manufactured by Hasbro / Fantasy Flight Games, and it will be for sale nearly all over the world.


an expansion from 2001


This expansion features two new gameboards, for Bree and for Isengard. Thus, the voyage of the Fellowship becomes much longer and new cards with friends and helpful items can be found. However, a major change to the rules has been introduced by the new use of enemy-cards. The players now may be forced to draw cards showing many different kinds of Sauron's Monsters. They can be defeated by cardplay, but if there are to many of them the Fellowship is overwhelmed and the game is lost. On the other hand, if all enemies are beaten at the end of a gameboard, the Fellowship may be allowed to skip certain placed and sneak ahead.

To my mind, this expansion makes a good game better. The new cards and rules enhance the game and give more options to the players, but it does not become more difficult. Since the high style of artwork is kept, the games leaves an overall good impression.

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Copyright © 2012 Frank Schulte-Kulkmann, Essen, Germany