Monday, August 18, 2014

Once more into Middle-Earth

I'm a big fan of both the books and the films, so a Lord of the Rings game is always going to catch my attention. However, the more games I have that take place in Middle-Earth, the more difficult it gets to talk myself into getting another one. I have to reach a saturation point some time, don't I?

I had been aware of Lord of the Rings: the Duel since its original publication in 2002, but I never picked it up and hadn't seen a copy in years. I thought it had gone out of print until I stumbled across an absurdly discounted, brand-new copy. I had always been curious about it, and it's a two-player game, which we're always on the lookout for.

The game concerns Gandalf's duel with the Balrog on the bridge of Khazad-dum in The Fellowship of the Ring, and consists of two elements: a deck of cards for each player, and a board with a stepped model of the bridge and a scoring track, along with a pawn for each player.

Each player starts with nine cards. The cards have four spaces for symbols down each side, with each symbol indicating either a hit or a miss; the pattern of symbols varies between each card. Players play their cards to the table one at a time, each card along side the last one the opponent played, attempting to match their card's "hit" symbols on the left side of the card with the "hit" symbols on the right side of the opponent's last card played. Every hit that isn't matched loses the player a point. Then, the opponent plays his next card, again trying to match the card's symbols so as to avoid losing points. Some of the cards have special game text that can affect the game in unexpected ways.

The first duel ends when both players have played six of their nine cards; the remaining three are set aside for the final duel. When the first duel ends, the player with the most points remaining moves his pawn forward on the bridge (the number of spaces is determined by the point margin). Then, the score tracks are re-set and a second duel is played, with nine new cards for each player and the winner advancing. This is followed by a third, and then the fourth and final duel.

The final duel is played using the cards the players have set aside during the previous rounds, so a major element of the game's strategy is in deciding what cards to use and what cards to save for the final duel. At the end of the final duel, the player closest to the center of the bridge is the winner.

It's a relatively simple game, but it has some interesting game play. The symbol-matching combat mechanic is similar to the Conan and Highlander collectible card games, and really does feel like the strikes and parries of a sword duel. There is a fair amount of strategic decision making, and all the games we played were pretty close, so it never felt like one player got the upper hand too early and closed the other player out.

Rating: 3 (out of 5) A fairly interesting dueling game, and not really like any of the other Lord of the Rings games out there. The terrific John Howe illustrations certainly don't hurt either.

Date played: July 4, 2014

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