The the Lord of the Rings the movies are well-established masterpieces. They wouldn’t skimp on the official the Lord of the Rings board games. Right?
Imagine yourself in 2004. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King The epic film has just been released, bringing the Lord of the Rings trilogy to a close. It’s amazing, visually stunning, has great storytelling, and brought a whole new group of people into the Tolkien universe of Middle-earth.
You buy the DVDs, posters, figurines and video games and you think you have everything the Lord of the Rings merchandise. But then one day, walking through your local game store, you see this beautiful masterpiece of box art.
Straight from the movie, the box art looks dramatic and exciting. Not only that, the whole trilogy is here! It has the official stamp of New Line Cinema, so it must be legit!
Without a second thought, you grab all three games and rush home to set up the game. Immediately you are amazed at the game components.
You ride this hype train to Barad-dûr, which also looks amazing!
You are so excited to play. You put the movies on the TV, put the soundtrack in the background, make the Lembas snacks, call a group of friends and tell them to buckle up because you’re gonna have the best the Lord of the Rings game night ever!
You know how it ends
The game is awful. Terrible. Horrible. Atrocious. Thesaurus.
So much wasted potential.
Gambling is literally nothing more than a “roll and hope you win” type of game. You ride to get around, you ride for encounters, you ride to score, and you ride for everything. So let’s dive into the Lord of the Rings board games and find out why they are so terrible.
the Lord of the Rings board games
Although each game is thematically different, they are, in very literal terms, the same game.
The game tells you which player builders to place during setup. The markers represent the characters from the movies: Frodo, Sam, Gandalf, Aragorn, etc… But also for the Ringwraiths and some other villains. They also come with character cards that show their stats.
Speed is used to determine how far a character travels when moved. The player rolls a die and adds his Speed then moves that many squares. And already, let’s stop and take a closer look at all this.
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- During a player’s turn, he moves any characters. Any of their choice. You don’t play as Legolas, everyone else does. You all work together to get the characters to the end, but it’s not a cooperative game. Yes. It’s as strange as it sounds.
- Despite its appearance, the game board is a single path. There is no choice for movement. You are just following the sequence of events that unfold in the story. This leads to…
- Each time a character lands on a square with a numbered ring, they stop and have that corresponding numbered encounter. These spaces are so frequent (seriously, scroll up and look at the chart. They are all 4 spaces), that rolling a die to move makes no sense. On EIGHT you can add to your movement roll if you are Legolas.
Power, wisdom and magic are used in encounters.
Again, it’s just a matter of randomly rolling dice and seeing what happens. Additionally, most events require rolling odd or even numbers to determine their outcome. So having a +8 in Power is mathematically as good as a +0. So all these statistics are useless! Like everything else in this damn game!
You may notice that events mention adding good and evil points. What is it, you wonder? Well, that’s the victory condition!
The admittedly pretty cool marker is another confusing mess added to this waste of time and space. Each player starts their score on 67. I don’t know why. If anyone knows why the score starts at 67 or goes from 62 to 89, please let me know in the comment below. I am at a loss.
As you go through these events, your score will adjust 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 dice and step back that many spaces toward the middle of the track. So…. if you get too bad, you get slightly less bad. But also, you can’t be too good either. Also, if you want the highest score, you have to land exactly at 87, then earn 2 points, then never earn points again.
The whole system is not only stupid but unnecessarily complicated. Who invented this?! How?! Why?! I have so many questions!
There are other things I could talk about to explain why these the Lord of the Rings board games are so awful, but honestly, that’s more trouble than it’s worth.
The rules don’t explain how the villains move around the board. They don’t explain how the small handful of items actually work. The few items that exist are either literally useless or offer a risk/reward ratio that is never worth the risk. For example, the 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 awesome, and it’s a real shame that it’s so terrible. While researching this game, I found a lot of fan-made rulesets for the game that hopefully improve on this base. Which, admittedly, isn’t difficult given the source material.
So to anyone still considering buying this game, even after reading all of this, all I can say is…
If you like LotR games, check out the much better game, “The War of the Ring”.
Matt has loved games of all kinds all his life: board, video, war, role-playing. 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 several of his own games.