Jason Rider
United States
New York
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Score: 2/ 10

I consider myself an avid gamer and have always enjoyed both the fantasy theme and The Lord of the Rings Universe so it was only natural to be attracted to RoseArt’s trilogy of games (one that corresponded to each of the Peter Jackson motion pictures). The sad thing is that had I taken seriously the abundant negative reviews available on the subject, I could have saved myself some loot, several evenings and a lot of frustration!

I purchased the third game (Return of the King) but then discovered that all three of the games are essentially the same, the differences being the events on each of the action cards and the rough outline of the game board so that each game relived events from the individual films. The funny thing is that the weakest area of the whole experience (the game play mechanics) is identical regardless of which of the three you’ve purchased! Further illustrating this fact is that RoseArt designed the titles to form one massive 3-hour quest by linking all three of the games together. Side note- if anyone on this planet had the patience, will and determination to play through the entire trilogy in one sitting, please drop a line because you should be nominated for an award.

The games are quite nice to look at, I cannot deny this (in fact that’s 98% of what made me cave in despite the terrible reviews and give it a try). The fairly detailed game board isn’t one massive unit but rather a collection of 15 puzzle-like pieces that lock together to make the world seemingly expand as the game plays on. Sure this is a common technique in role playing games like Descent but unfortunately, it’s little more than a novelty act here. Literally the first roll of the die forces the player to begin connecting additional board pieces so after several minutes of trying to locate and attach the next piece, even the most patient player is going to find himself wondering why he didn’t just start with the first four or maybe five map pieces right off the bat.

That leads directly to my next complaint- you have never encountered games with more setup time than these (and that includes hard core role players). Each map contains several 3-D pieces (still constructed out of cardboard unfortunately) that demand incredible origami skill to properly assemble. Worse still is that these pieces need to be disassembled after each session if there’s any hope of returning them to the box. As you might expect, thin card stock and repeated assembly/ disassembly means little shelf life but in the grand scheme of things, this is perhaps the least of these games’ problems.

A bigger issue starts right with the rulebook. As I said before, I’m a very avid gamer and (pride myself on having mastered and enjoyed complex titles like Runebound, A Game of Thrones, Descent and so on) even still found myself reading then rereading the enclosed 4 page rule sheet several times over. There is no doubt that whoever was charged with the task of writing this thing was instructed to do all he (or she) could to make these games sound compelling and strategic.

The wording is such that you might believe there is something here worth devoting your attention to, that there is promise of family game nights spent slashing orcs and trying to return the ring to the fires of Mount Doom. What the rulebook doesn’t elaborate on is the simple reality that this isn’t a game at all but rather a dice-driven opportunity to hear about moments from each of the film via small cards. Everything, and I mean EVERYTHING comes down to the roll of a die. You roll to move a character pawn but don’t get excited about that either. Unlike most games, the player(s) here don’t get to be one of their favorite characters from the films but rather play as any of the characters on the board at any given time. So much for devoting yourself to guiding your character through to the end.

So as I was saying, you roll the die to determine how many spaces any one of the dozen pawns on the board can move. The funny thing is each character has a stat sheet that makes rolling nearly useless (like Gandalf’s Speed stat at +9). Roll a 1, don’t worry, add 9 to that and he goes ten spaces. Roll a six and it’s off to the races, advance a whopping 15 spaces. Here’s the snag, every character has to stop at the spaces marked with a ring on them- which is about every third or fourth space to do what the corresponding card tells them to do. So in case you’re not getting my drift, the roll of the die is pretty much a waste of time, as you will always simply be advancing to the next ring space. It’s all but inevitable.

Now about those ring spaces and corresponding cards (tasks). Initially you may be fooled into believing this element is a solid one in an otherwise meaningless waste of time but after two or three of these exercises, you realize that this is but another waste of time disguised as interaction. The cards will typically say something directly from the films like "You fool of a Took! Roll the die. If you roll an even number add one evil point to your score. If you roll an odd number add one good point to your score." Never mind that once again you’re doing nothing more than rolling the darn die, the bigger issue here is that the scoring system is absolute garbage as well.

See you get this cool-looking counter that has notches cut out above each denomination for which to slide a cheap plastic replica of the One Ring. It’s like a LOTR-themed version of the foosball table score keeper except here’s the kicker- the numbers mean nothing, zip, zilch, notta. You start at 67 and as the example above indicates, add or remove points (spots on the counter) based entirely on rolls of the die. Okay, fair enough except there’s an S on either end of the counter that stands for Sauron. Hit either end of the point scale (yes, even if you’re piling up good points) you come to the S mark which means you roll the die again to find out how many spaces to move the counter in the opposite direction. Say what?! Yeah apparently it’s the same consequence at either end of the scale. Get too many evil points, roll again and move your score marker toward the good side. Too many good? Roll again and start heading toward evil. If this wasn’t poor enough, the game’s writers then add the line "whoever has the most points at the end is the winner". How in the world does that work?! The entire points structure is sheer random nonsense in which throws of the dice have you keeping track of nothing of importance.

So with this completely meaningless scoring system, the player simply moves from ring space to ring space to throw the die once more so that they can move their ring slider in one direction or the other. There is no interaction whatsoever for 99% of the game.

Every once in a while, however, you’ll encounter a challenge: Outsmart an enemy, outrun a spider, sneak by a guard, something to that effect. Sounds good, right? Oh it isn’t. Once again it’s just a roll of the die. The card will say something like "Aragorn needs 13 or more points to meet this challenge." You roll a four, uh oh- challenge failed right? Nope, the stat card says that Aragorn’s Power is always +10. You nailed the challenge with flying colors (4 + 10 = 14). So in other words, the only way to lose would be to roll a two. Hmm one in six, pretty darn good odds. But let’s just say you get really unlucky and roll that two, what now? Ah move back 2 spaces, take an evil point on your counter, and try again next time and the time after that until you roll something higher than the two. Then it’s off to roll again so that you can reach the next ring space to face another incredibly simplistic challenge.

I kid you not when I say that this is the entire scope of interaction in the game. Roll the die; roll again, next person’s turn. How the game’s creators can even pretend that there is some sort of strategic element here is beyond me.

Another good idea gone terribly wrong would have to be the enemy army tokens. The outcome of battles is determined, how else, by a roll of the die. Let’s for a moment pretend that this fact in and of itself doesn’t drive us crazy and discuss the real problem here. The enemy army tokens are controlled only by certain ring cards, which will say something to the effect of "They Come! Move 5 Evil Army Tokens 10 Spaces". Okay, so after a few of these cards you start to wonder where you’re supposed to be moving all of these enemy army tokens. The board is broken up so that you can’t even move them 10 spaces from their start point and even if you could, how long before you would have a massive stack of tokens on the same board space (if you keep going out 10 spaces from their start point). It is never made clear if you have to engage enemies in battle each and every time you encounter one or only if they happen to land on ring spaces before you do. The rule sheet can’t possibly be more vague about this, the only potentially interesting part to the whole game!

Bottom line, you can’t lose, nobody can (well technically you’ve lost just by buying this thing, but you know what I mean). The idea of the game is nothing more than the painfully slow advancement of some of the film’s moments. What little interaction there is comes completely in the form of chance and in the end, even the score is utterly meaningless. Winning the game is another completely arbitrary endeavor and clearly an afterthought to the poor design so that players would feel like there is some sort of objective to achieve through the hours of mundane die rolling.

If, like me, you hunger for an interesting board game based on the rich Lord of the Rings Universe, I highly recommend looking into Fantasy Flight’s fantastic titles like War of the Ring or the Middle Earth Quest.

In the meantime, avoid these RoseArt versions at all cost! Should you have the misfortune of actually owning one or more of these dreadful exercises in tedium, drop a line and I’ll email you the patch I’ve written (which has been posted here; Battle of Middle Earth) to make the game playable free of charge.
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Sean Shaw
United States
Idaho
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Thanks for the review. Never actually considered buying any of them before, but believe it or not, you make it sound a lot more interesting than I had even thought they were. I thought it was basically like candyland with a dice roll instead of a color card draw.

Sounds like something that may be entertaining to play with the kids...but it sounds also that it's basically entirely luck based, with you just along for the ride as the dice determine the game.
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David Witzany
United States
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Thanks for subjecting yourself to all of this to give us a report. Hopefully you've spared others from having to endure such agony.

JasonRider wrote:
Every once in a while, however, you’ll encounter a challenge: Outsmart an enemy, outrun a spider, sneak by a guard, something to that effect. Sounds good, right? Oh it isn’t. Once again it’s just a roll of the die. The card will say something like "Aragorn needs 13 or more points to meet this challenge." You roll a four, uh oh- challenge failed right? Nope, the stat card says that Aragorn’s Power is always +10. You nailed the challenge with flying colors (4 + 10 = 14). So in other words, the only way to lose would be to roll a two. Hmm one in six, pretty darn good odds.
Aragorn would fail this challenge on either a one or a two, yes? So, a one in three chance to fail?
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Jason Rider
United States
New York
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Sean:

Thanks for the feedback- Believe it or not, there is one scenario where these games may have actually had some redeeming value: Since they were released before the films, fans eager for a sneak preview of some of the key moments of the upcoming motion picture would probably have enjoyed the game's dynamic- at least until they saw the movie.

The trouble for me, and probably for 99% of LotR fans out there, is that we all know the films inside and out so drawing cards that loosely mimic key moments of the films just isn't cutting it. That and indeed, the player is no more than a dice rolling, card reader.

Thanks again for the feedback- if curiosity ever gets the best of you (as it did me), there are some great deals out there to be had. I think I got this one for around $5 brand new. At least the pieces look nice!

 
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Jason Rider
United States
New York
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David:

Thanks for the feedback- yes, you are correct in that there is a 1 in 3 chance he could fail in that scenario. Trouble is, failing just means that you try again in your next turn until you succeed. There are really no victories or defeats while playing and no way to win or lose in the end either.

It's really just an exercise in rolling the dice and reading the cards.

I'll have to amend my review to reflect the mathematical error. I blame it on frustration of having just finished playing the game!
 
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Georg von Lemberg
Canada
Toronto
Ontario
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crap wish I had read your review before I spent 5.00 on this thing! if it is as bad as everyone says, then this will likely rank up in the Top 5 worse purchases I have made game-wise.
 
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Jason Rider
United States
New York
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Georg:
I've been meaning to get the variant I wrote posted that makes the game somewhat more enjoyable but in the mean time if you wish, drop a line with your email address and I'll gladly submit the rules as an attachment.
 
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Georg von Lemberg
Canada
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Jason, did I ever send you my email? I can't remember now if I did or not.
 
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Jason Rider
United States
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Yes you did Georg, but I fear it is my response that must not have made it okay. If not- drop me a line directly: jasonrider@myway.com
and I'll gladly get the rules out to you right away.
 
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Devin
Canada
Kitchener
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Picked this up in shrink at value village like 3 years ago, realized how bad it was from reviews like this and others. Threw it online to sell and only today did I finally get rid of it for $3. Yeah I'm stubborn, but I was sure as hell going to get something for it for all the space it has taken up for 3 long years.
 
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