The arrows hiss above us. The heavy iron tips of the arrows pierce deep into the trees, which give us cover. But the force is too great. More and more orcs are coming towards us. We will not be able withstand much longer here. It is time for the reinforcements to arrive. It is very unusual that the Rangers have not yet arrived, it is not their kind. Let’s just hope they haven’t fallen into a trap set by the orcs. That would be too bitter, now just before we can face our foes. One last rebellion is needed, one last time we must gather our strength to face the dark threat in Middle-earth.
Lord of the Rings – Journeys in Middle-Earth is the first miniature campaign board game to appear in the Lord of the Rings universe. The board game by Nathan Hajek and Grace Holdinghaus, published by Fantasy Flight Games, was on our board game table. Whether it was worthwhile to take the elven cloaks out of the closet and put them on and why a cave troll can even make experienced adventurers flee, you can read about in our game review.
The adventurous journey in Middle-Earth
I can anticipate one thing: We did not save Middle-Earth. We held our ground bravely to the end, but unfortunately we were simply not good enough. Of course, such a thing is not very uplifting if after 12 missions the whole thing is not done. We felt quite down, but that wasn’t the game, it was just us. By now we know what went wrong and hopefully we can make the second campaign, which is still running, into a positive end experience.
But no matter how the campaign ends, the gaming experience we had was breathtaking. At first we were a little skeptical when Lord of the Rings – Journeys in Middle-Earth was announced. At least I have to admit, I’m not a big Lord of the Rings fan. The movies were entertaining for me and I read the books too, but I was not really captivated by them. And I didn’t play other Lord of the Rings board games for these reasons.
For some people it might be a daunting fact that the game is only playable with an app. But we are not afraid of this at all. If it is well implemented, it’s no problem for us. So we faced the board game and started our unique journey in Middle Earth.
I was a little surprised after the campaign ended that I really enjoyed playing and experiencing the Lord of the Rings – Journeys in Middle-Earth campaign. Sure, not everything was super optimal, especially the app tweaked from time to time, but all in all I left our campaign with a very positive feeling.
A magical board game
The board game managed to make me identify more and more with my hero with every mission. In our second campaign, I played Bilbo. But this Bilbo had nothing to do with the Bilbo you know from the other media, because this Bilbo became my Bilbo. He was a little master thief, who grew more and more closer to my heart during the game. I was happy when we passed a test together and I was annoyed when I didn’t draw the card we needed.
There are many points that contribute to the fact that the board game Lord of the Rings – Journeys in Middle-Earth has become one of my 2019 highlights.
The Lord of the Rings – Journeys in Middle-Earth plays itself very fluid. The few rules are quickly learned and are really only a basic framework. The focus here is clearly on the experience. Successes are not generated by dice, but by your own deck of cards and you can modify this, at least as far as your role is involved. The cards also have another purpose. They can be prepared and give you some very powerful abilities that you need to survive in Middle-earth. So my little Bilbo learned how to avoid enemies without getting attacked by them. He’s small and he can sneak through anything.
Too bad that he has to prepare this card before it is ready for use and to prepare it I have to draw it first. Well, and since every round the deck is reshuffled, it can happen that in a mission exactly this card was not drawn even though I knew it was in the deck. But even that leads to an emotional gaming experience. If I say to my fellow players when I draw the cards: “I need exactly this one card and if I draw it, everything will be fine and we can complete the mission successfully”, of course, the card that was drawn is never the one that was needed.
One app to bind them all
But Lord of the Rings – Journeys in Middle-Earth also has its little problems. All too often there are simply problems of understanding when the map text is not quite clear. In this case, browsing through the extensive reference handbook helps, but in some places the problem is too specific or timing problems. Then only eyes closed and played by instinct will help. – Or of course in such a way that it was the better result for us players. – But the biggest problems are in the app. It has to be considered that many things can still be fixed afterwards.
Once we had the case that the app did not show where an opponent should be placed. This is annoying of course, especially because the enemies are no longer visible at a certain location after placing them in the app.
We were also annoyed that apparently simple things were not implemented. So we would have liked to have activation tokens or the possibility to indicate in the app whether a character already had his turn or not. Because especially in the course of the game, some actions, even in the game of 2, can become so complex that we often lost the overview. But also in our 4-game this happened to us relatively early. Here I look into the future with a bit of fear and maybe I’ll just have to take out the tokens of Imperial Assault. But as I said, for me these are only small problems that didn’t really hinder us.
What we liked very much was the voice output. So the texts didn’t have to be read out by a player and pulled us even deeper into the world of Middle-earth.
Simple rules for more game fun
What is not so easy to update are the cards and rules that make up the game. But they don’t have to be. Because basically Lord of the Rings – Journeys in Middle-Earth is the essence of all previous Fantasy Flight Games games. The app support is, except for the small things mentioned above, the consistent further development of the already known apps from Imperial Assault and Mansions of Madness. Also the modular gameplay has already appeared in other board games. Even the mechanism by which the successes in Lord of the Rings are determined was found in another game of Fantasy Flight Games. Because similar to the Arkham Horror LCG, you draw a number of cards during a probe that is specified by your basic values. For example, if you have a strength of three. So, when you draw three cards from your deck during a probe, see if you have as many Achievement Symbols as the probe requires. The more successes you have, the better. Similar to Imperial Assault, you can split these achievements among your weapons or abilities to deal more damage or to complete a test with confidence. And the Fallout Quest Card Deck can also be found in Lord of the Rings – Journeys in Middle-Earth. Not a physical deck, but a digital deck within the app.
With many tests you just don’t know how many successes you need. The app only asks you to do a certain test. And after you have entered your successes, the app tells you whether you were successful or not. This reminds me a lot of times in the past when I was the game master and demanded something like this from my fellow players. And that’s what makes Lord of the Rings so special, those very moments when you have to decide if your successes are enough or not. Depending on the situation, you can also convert destiny tokens into successes, but such destiny tokens don’t grow on trees and you have to be careful with them. Or you might want to consider using one of the prepared cards. In total, you can prepare one card from your deck per turn for use later in the game. You can’t choose a particular card, but again, this is left to chance.
And so Lord of the Rings – Journeys in Middle-Earth lets you make decisions all the time. Some will get you further, some will not.
In terms of production quality, the board game Lord of the Rings – Journeys in Middle-Earth is on a very high level. The included miniatures are well made and painting the heroes is just fun. Whereby the selection of heroes is not addressed to the Lord of the Rings fan. Because we know from the movies that Bilbo, Aragorn, Gimli and Legolas met each other only later. But I can easily overlook that, because these are the characters that you know from books and movies. In my opinion, this simply widens the spectrum of people who can find an access to Lord of the Rings – Journeys in Middle-Earth. If you had only used unknown heroes from the Lord of the Rings merchandise, it might have been true to the story of Middle-earth, but the recognition value would have been much lower.
Also the modular card parts are wonderfully designed on both sides. They bring me the wide lands of Middle-earth wonderfully over. Unfortunately, the battle plan game pieces are not so exciting. Because from time to time you change from travelling through Middle-earth to a special place where you have to complete a mission. And here the battle plan game pieces are more practical. You place tokens in different places to simulate obstacles or local conditions, but what looks quite atmospheric in the app because of 3D objects, is more sober as 2D map items on the board game table. What is also not so well solved is the placement of the travel map parts. The individual fields are hex fields and the individual modules must be placed in different positions to each other. So also the puzzling is trained. But in my opinion this is not a weak point, because it is always fun when we put the pieces together and always have to check each other if the pieces are positioned correctly.
For me, it didn’t work out so well either, how the upcoming travel map parts are presented in the app. Although there is a kind of “Fog of War”, which shows you where further parts will be placed in the future, there are also parts placed which are not represented by the fog. For me personally, it would have been more convenient if the app would simply show you how the parts are placed and then grayed them out. That way you wouldn’t have to move a big field afterwards if a part is added.
A happy ending for players?
The bottom line is that Lord of the Rings – Journeys in Middle-Earth has been a little surprise. It was simply fun for us to travel through the world and stand up against the evil. And we’re also happy when the big game round continues with a new campaign, in which we’ll experience the same main quest again, but which will be a little different due to all the random side quests. What Fantasy Flight Games has created with Lord of the Rings – Journeys in Middle-Earth is for me the best combination of app and board game. Sure, there are still a few little things to be sorted out, but the fun of the game is not affected. And maybe it was just the loose connection to the world of Tolkien, which made it such an experience for me as a non-hardcore fan. Even my wife, who was quite skeptical at first, is looking forward to new adventures in the distant world of Middle-Earth.