Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Less than the sum of its parts

Both officially and unofficially, The Lord of the Rings has inspired countless table top games with its somber elves, greedy dwarves, sprawling forests and underground tunnels.. It's a great story and a fantastically detailed setting.

Wizkids Games came up with a fairly innovative game with Quarriors in 2011. Dubbed a "dice building game" it combines the build as you play strategies of deck building games (popularized by Dominion) with custom dice. It's a great game, but its goofy, cartoonish setting is a bit of a turn-off for me.

So The Lord of the Rings Dice Building Game (also by Wizkids) should have knocked it out of the park, combining the game play and nifty dice of Quarriors with Tolkien's tried and true characters and setting. Alas, no.

Like many Lord of the Rings games, this one is cooperative, with players working together to defeat the forces of Sauron, here represented by custom dice which come into play gradually over the course of the game. Borrowing a concept from Decipher's Lord of the Rings Trading Card Game, the quantity of Sauron dice that enter play depends on the number of dice the players add to their pools. Additionally, the Ring spreads corruption, rendering certain dice unusable.

The game's length is determined by a deck of location cards, simulating the journey through Middle-earth that is central to the Lord of the Rings story. As each new card is flipped over, more dice become available for the players to use, but more are added to Sauron's pool of dice as well.

On their turns, each player must decide whether to use their dice to clear away corrupted dice (which helps everyone), assist the other players in fighting Sauron's forces, or score points for themselves. It's a mostly cooperative game, and if Sauron gets too far ahead everyone loses, but there is still an individual winner based on points scored.

So far it's a lot like Quarriors, but with Lord of the Rings characters and the added complication of Sauron, who acts as a kind of extra player, controlled by the game and out to ruin everyone's day. Unfortunately, this is where the game falls apart. Sauron's minions have to be defeated before players can advance to the next location, but this can take a long time and will usually drag the game out, making it take far too long to play for the amount of interest it holds.

Adding the Sauron dice and the cooperative element to the core Quarriors game mechanic was an interesting and very thematic idea, but it just doesn't bear out, and I think the game suffers from trying to be too familiar and too different at the same time.

Rating: 2 (out of 5) Other than the Lord of the Rings theme, this game fails to improve on Quarriors, and takes too long to play without adding any meaningful interest or complexity.

Date played: March 17, 2014

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