On a scale of one to “I Dress Like Frodo at Work Holiday Parties”, I’m probably a two on the imaginary Hardcore Lord of the Rings Fan Club scale.
I saw all three The Lord of the Rings films helmed by director Peter Jackson; later, I watched all of Jackson’s Hobbit films (2012-2014). Frankly, I was exhausted by the end; I had reached peak Hobbit by that point, and three-hour spectacles were becoming difficult to stomach. Haven’t read any of the books, nor have I watched the series on Amazon.
But I have a good familiarity with the IP. When our partners at Ravensburger offered to send a copy of their newest “Adventure Book”, The Lord of the Rings Adventure Book Game (ABG), I was intrigued. It was a great chance to jump back into the pool with a family-friendly adventure game that is completely contained in a storybook that doubles as the game and the rules for each chapter of an eight-episode adventure.
“I Can’t Carry It for You, but I Can Carry…You”
The Lord of the Rings ABG compresses eight sequences from the three-film trilogy into a hardcover “board book”, each of which plays in about 20 minutes. At its heart, this is a cooperative, set collection puzzle game. Each chapter gives 1-4 players the chance to move miniatures around a small map, completing challenges before a 15-card Plot deck is exhausted. In most cases, this means that each chapter features 12-15 turns.
Players work together to do things from the movies. In one chapter, you’ll move Frodo and his fellow hobbit friends from the Hearth to the Prancing Pony to Weathertop. Later, you’ll be asked to face off against the Balrog on the Bridge of Khazad-Dûm, or fight Orcs near the Seat of Seeing. No matter the scenario, players will be discarding cards matching one of the six suits from their hand to defeat monsters or complete challenges.
It’s important to note here that the game is set up to be played cooperatively while also sharing the pieces in play. That means that no one is playing as Aragorn or Pippin. They are just miniatures on the board that can be manipulated by any of the players. I’m calling this out here because some kids—wink wink, MINE—will want to play as Legolas or Gimli as their character.
No dice, kids. Everyone is playing as everyone, and on a turn, the active player typically does the thing that everyone else agrees is the best course of action, usually based on that player’s cards. Turns are a breeze—move any combination of characters two spaces, then do a mix of discarding cards to complete actions or swapping a card with another player. After that, draw two new cards (hand limit of six), then draw the next Plot card to see what the AI will do with the bad guys in play.
In my experience, The Lord of the Rings ABG is best suited for solo play. That way, there’s no “quarterbacking” (when one player provides advice for all players at the table) and you get to trade a card each turn with a dummy hand of six cards that is sitting off to one side of your gaming area. That also speeds up play; I worked through the entire book of eight scenarios, and I was usually doing two games at a time in about 30 minutes.
This is more vital when it comes to losing scenarios. While this game is not difficult, it is highly dependent on the random combination of top-decking new cards (and hoping for the right suit to show up) and the Plot deck draw. Some Plot deck events are friendly (sometimes, a card literally plays as “Nothing Happens”), while others advance the game clock. When this causes a loss condition, it’s easy to fire up another game quickly when you are running solo.
The other best-case scenario? Play this with one of your children, with a light amount of quarterbacking to ensure kids are making plays that help the cause. This will also ensure that everyone gets to take a good number of turns each chapter; that really hurts the four-player experience, because in a full game each player might only take 3-4 turns at the full player count.
“One Does Not Simply Walk Into Mordor”
The Lord of the Rings ABG is the kind of production I see most from publishers like Funko Games: a very fair price point, handsome packaging, decent miniatures, easy-to-absorb rules, and a reminder of why I loved the intellectual property in the first place.
While I don’t think of this game as the killer thematic application that Middle-Earth fans are looking for, it is absolutely a series of fun activities for fans. One element worth noting here—this is a great introduction for kids ages 8-12 who may be too young for the films, which are rated PG-13 and more violent than you remember. For parents, this game is a nice way to show the kids something that doesn’t spill over into large battle sequences.
A special shout out to the artwork; this is hard to explain, but most of the stills in this game look like they were ripped from the movies, but drawn instead of filmed. This gives everything a slick, more timeless look than if the actual film stills were used here. I would have preferred the stills, as a movie junkie myself, but I like what’s on display here.
The use of chapter-specific tokens are nice touches, and I’m guessing this also helped keep the price reasonable.
After finishing all eight of the chapters, I really didn’t see a reason to come back to this game, and I think most players will land in the same camp. While not technically a legacy game, The Lord of the Rings ABG is just “campaign-y” enough to celebrate a run through the puzzle once before moving on.
Not a fan of Lord of the Rings? I think this game would be a hard pass. There’s nothing about the gameplay that shines in a way that would bring players in who aren’t pre-sold on the world of Middle-Earth.
The “Adventure Book Game” format, though, is fantastic. Looking forward to trying other properties in this series!