Mark one off the pile of shame list.
Last night I was finally able to get Fantasy Flight Games, Lord of the Rings Journeys in Middle-Earth to the table.
Those not familiar with LOTR: JIME, the game is a co-op, 1-5 player legacy style game (more on that later) that has players taking the role of one of six characters from the Rings universe. This game also requires the use of a companion app, which available free through Steam, and the Google play and iOS stores. When I first was made aware of this game, it was at GenCon 2019 as it was being demo’d at the FFG booth. I wasn’t able to try out the game that week, as they only had one table running the game, and every time I walked by the table was full. So I made mental note to take another look once the game hit retail.
Fast forward to summer of 2020, with the pandemic in full swing, and I was browsing Amazon one day and noticed the game was on sale, so I decided to pull the trigger. I try my best to always support my FLGS, but this deal was too good to pass up. And at that time, we weren’t going into stores (or anywhere for that matter), so I made the order, and a few days later the game showed up on my doorstep.
My first goal was to get all the miniatures painted up. I am big proponent of painted miniatures, no matter the level of quality is always better than non-painted minis. So after looking around at various examples online, I decided to try my hand with the help of Sorastro’s painting guide for the minis for the game.
After completing my painting, I waited patiently for an opportunity to finally try the game out. Was it worth the wait? Read on to find out.
If you’ve played a Fantasy FIight Game before, you know that one of their hallmarks is the game comes with lots and lots of stuff. LOTR: JIME is no different. The base game comes with over 40 miniatures, a slew of tokens, chits and cards. Not to mention a stack of tiles that players use to create the “maps” used during gameplay.
With all these parts and pieces, the setup wasn’t as bad as I expected. Printed instructions are broken into two books, a “Learn to Play” and a “Rules Index” and both are well laid out, with clear concise language. As well all know, a poorly crafted rule book can make or break titles.
Setup also includes players first interaction with the app. The interface is nice, easy to navigate and just makes sense when using it. During setup, players will tell the app which characters have been selected for play, they then will create a party name (2nd Breakfast Club) and also select roles for each character. The game has default roles for each character, or players can select their own roles if they wish.
There are several decks that have to be built before play begins, players gather their starting gear and once all that is completed, you’re ready to being playing.
Playing the Game
Lord of the Rings use of an app might from the get go turn a lot of board game purists off. Initially, I was one of those. But after playing this game, I’m here to tell you that I now count myself as one of the converted. The app manages a lot of in game things that can sometimes bog a game down and make it feel like you’re wading through a muddy bog.
So while technically LOTR is not a legacy game in the traditional sense, it is in the way that players play through adventures, one at a time. Each adventure makes up a large campaign, which ultimately leads players to final conclusion to the story, one way or the other. With that being the case, replay value is fairly low when it comes to going back and playing through adventures you’ve already completed, regardless if you were successful or not.
The game is played over several rounds, where the rounds are made up of three phases, the Action Phase, Shadow Phase and Rally Phase. In the action phase, players take their turns in any order they like, with the only restriction being that players must fully complete all the actions they wish to take before another player starts their turn. Once the action phase in complete, the shadow phase is where the bad guys active (if they haven’t previously this turn) and general story things are revealed (more bad guys are added to the map, etc…) and the story itself is progressed. The rally phase is where players can reset and get ready for the next round.
Any time you do anything (pretty much), it is tracked in the app, and it responds accordingly, telling players what to do next. We found this to be very helpful for new players, learning the game for the first time.
Characters on their turn can take two actions which include move, explore, search, attack enemies, rest and a few others. Players can take the same action more than once on their turn. Any time a character attempts an action, it may require that player to take a test. Tests are the primary mechanic in LOTR and is how actions are resolved.
To resolve a test, players flip over a number of cards from their skill deck equal to the ability that is being tested (characters have 5 abilities). If they pass the test, good things happen, if not, bad things usually follow. Some tests are binary, some require a certain number of success to be hit, and some tests don’t tell you what you need in terms of number of success until you enter it into the app.
Our group found this system to work well overall and it was a nice change from games of this nature always having dice rolls in order to resolve tests. Granted, the luck factor is still in play with this mechanic, but it was still a nice change of pace.
Finishing the Adventure and Feel
As we made our way through the adventure, we discovered that LOTR is more than just heroes battling baddies. In fact, the more we focused on fighting and the less we did on completing the objective that the app laid out for us, we discovered the other big piece of this game, players are on a clock.
Not a literal clock, that would be weird for the world of LOTR.
A clock in the sense that, as we progressed through rounds, there is a threat level that increases with each successive round and the evil forces continue to bolster their presence, creating fear and dread within the characters. So we had a limited time to complete our objective. At first I wasn’t sure I like this concept, but the more I thought about it, the more it helped create a sense of urgency in the players and also created a feeling of raised stakes. We had to move quickly, lest the forces of Sauron have a chance to get the upper hand.
This threat level mechanic helps re-enforce the very thematic nature of the game and you feel like you’re playing a game truly set in the world of Tolkein. Not a skirmish style game that has the IP slathered on top.
At the end of the day, we did not complete our goal and one of our party was slain by the overwhelming forces that had gathered in the region. Nevertheless, we still were moved on to the second adventure, ready to continue on our quest.
We stopped at that point, saving the game in the app, ready to pickup where we left off next session.
After having time to marinate on the first play of Lord of the Rings Journeys in Middle-Earth, where do I stand? Overall, I enjoyed my experience and look forward to more sessions. FFG has released a fair amount of expansion material in support of the title and the app has some good DLC to give players a good amount of continued adventures for you and your party to enjoy.
This is probably the closest, best example I’ve seen to date where a title has blended the board game with the feel and experience of playing an RPG. Like I said earlier, this game isn’t a true legacy game, but it really is at it’s core. And while some might not agree, I feel like Fantasy Flight got this one right (unlike Warhammer Fantasy 3rd edition) where so many other games have failed.
The only other thing I’ll add is, if you’re a cost conscious gamer (who isn’t), finding this game under MSRP is definitely the way to go if you’re able. I think the game from a value perspective is very strong at certain price levels, but that is a sliding bar as price moves up and down. But like always, your milage may vary…
Where does this all leave me?
Lord of the Rings Journeys in Middle-Earth, is a solid gaming experience that I think most gamers would enjoy. It does a good job of encapsulating the feel of the world in which it’s set and provides a fun time overall.
As always, leave a comment with your thoughts. Until next time, LLAP!