Lord of the Rings: Journeys in Middle Earth - Review

Well met, hobbits!  Like many of you, I’ve been stuck at home these past several weeks in what seems to be a Groundhog Day-fueled hellscape of waking, sitting at my desk, juggling parental responsibilities and attempting to find a modicum of escapism in this bizarre apocalyptic future we’ve found ourselves in.  As such, I’ve been turning to my own shelves for signs of adventure and they did not disappoint!  So grab your pipe weed, put something in your pocketses and let’s head into the vast, darkly beautiful world of Lord of the Rings: Journeys in Middle Earth!

I’m Going On An Adventure!

This app driven cooperative adventure game from Fantasy Flight Games (FFG) allows 1-5 players to take on the roles of various personalities from Tolkien literature to embark on their own epic quests to keep the darkness in the land from rising.  This is a campaign-style adventure, which means the choices made in one scenario have consequences that will affect future sessions.

The game is intended to be played as a sequential series of games and different adventures transition back and forth from overland adventures of exploration on beautifully illustrated modular tiles representing the lands and locations of Middle Earth to skirmish heavy scenarios that take place on more ‘zoomed in’ battlefields.  Characters will gain experience, levelling up and gaining new powers, upgrading their equipment, and encountering progressively greater threats and challenges as the story advances.  Failure in one scenario is retained and may come back to haunt the players at a later time.

 

I Can’t Carry It For You, But I Can Carry You!

As with other app assisted games from FFG, Lord of the Rings: Journeys in Middle Earth hands over the bulk of the dull administrative duties to the free app, which informs players which tiles to place, where to put enemies and points of interest and helps keep track of a host of information, such as battles, experience points, threat level and more. 

I’ve tried many of these app assisted games over the years and I feel that Journeys in Middle Earth has one of the best implementations of the technology to date.  It manages to find the tricksy balance between physical and digital game play, while keeping the focus on the table before you. The dialogue is professionally voice acted and ambient music helps set the tone with echoes of Howard Shore’s famous film scores being played tribute throughout.

 

The Board Is Set, The Pieces Are Moving. We Come To It At Last, The Great Battle Of Our Time.

The game features highly detailed miniatures and cards and components depicting glorious, haunting illustrations of the people, creatures and places of Middle Earth.  The core game comes with six heroes to choose from including fan favourites such as Aragorn, Bilbo, Gimli and Legolas, as well as two new characters created by FFG, Elena and Berevor, providing options for female characters. One of my favourite aspects of Lord of the Rings: Journeys in Middle Earth is the card based system. 

Rather than rolling dice, each character has their own unique deck of cards made up from a combination of common basic cards, character specific cards, role cards and a weakness card.  When tasked with a skill check or attempting to attack an enemy, players draw the number of cards indicated on their character sheets for that skill.  For example an agility skill check allows a character with an agility rating of 3 to draw that number of cards.  The cards will depict either a success or inspiration symbol in the top right hand corner or remain blank.  Successes count towards the skill check, inspiration can be converted to a success by spending an inspiration token if the character has any and blank cards count for nothing.

This system relies much less heavily on luck than dice based systems and the ability to gain new cards, change roles between game sessions and stack the deck to a limited degree by “scouting” means players have a lot more control over their actions.  Cards also depict skills providing advantages to skill checks, bonus damage and more.  A character may have up to four of these cards readied in his play area and use them at the appropriate time.  This mini deck building system provides a great deal of flexibility to character development and has quickly become one of my favourite skill systems of any game I’ve played.

 

All We Have To Decide Is What To Do With The Time That Is Given Us.

Players have two actions each turn which can be used to perform two separate actions or the same action twice.  While this is not uncommon in modern games, what I appreciate here is that movement can be split up during a player’s turn, for instance with your first action you could move one space, then use your second action to interact with an object, then complete your first move action. This makes the game feel much less restrictive than others where you must stop moving to interact with anything and lose your remaining movement.  Each character has a unique ability some of which can aid other players, for example, Aragorn allows any player within range to scout an extra card on their turn.

In a system where knowing what cards are coming next is a superpower unto itself, this skill proves powerful. The game features a ticking clock by way of the threat track, maintained by the app.  At the end of each round, this track progresses based on a number of factors related to the game state, so the more enemies on the board or the more unexplored encountered tokens there are, the more the threat counter will advance.  When the track reaches a milestone an event may occur such as more enemies appearing or a trap being sprung.  Each of these events seeks to weaken your fellowship, so time is a factor.  Dally about too long and you’ll find yourself out of time resulting in that scenario being lost, your objectives unfulfilled.

 

Likes

  • The card based character skill system is excellent.  I love the choices it provides to customise your character and mitigate luck.

  • The story is compelling and motivates me to press forward, eager to see what awaits in the next session.

  • Making the decision to explore everything or proceed to the objective as the clock ticks in the background raises tension and increases the stakes.

  • Fantastic artwork, miniatures and components consistent with FFG’s other titles.

  • Great app integration, coupled with uncomplicated rules make it a breeze to learn and teach.

  • Expandable, so you have the option to add even more of everything to your game.

  • Great as a solo game as well!

 

Dislikes

  • The campaign system doesn’t allow characters to drop in or out between sessions, so if you play with a different group or on your own, you’ll need to start a separate game from the beginning on a different save slot.

  • Not much variety to the enemies in the core game.



And He Lived Happily Ever After, Unto The End Of His Days.

While I recognise I’m a bit late to the party here, I’m happy to say Lord of the Rings: Journeys in Middle Earth is one of my favourite games I’ve played this past year.  I immediately felt hooked from the first moments of the game and experienced excitement and satisfaction whenever I successfully completed a quest or levelled up a character.  The inability to change characters between games feels a little restrictive, but I understand that it would have been difficult to implement while keeping the campaign consistent.  Journeys in Middle Earth offers the opportunity to explore one of the greatest fictional worlds ever created on my own terms and for that alone it’s secured a permanent place on my shelves.  If you’re a fan of Tolkien, the movies, or just enjoy great adventure games then I hope you’ll take the time to explore all that Lord of the Rings: Journeys in Middle Earth has to offer, you may have yet to experience your favourite game.


Thanks for joining me in my little blog corner this week. I hope you’ve enjoyed this week’s content and as always if you have suggestions for future blogs you’d like to see, please let me know in the comments below.  Remember to head over to our Game Kings Gamers group and share in the fun with our amazing community as well.  In the meantime, enjoy the long weekend, take care and I hope soon we’ll all be able to wander out our front doors in search of adventure. 

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