Thursday, June 4, 2015

New adventures in Tolkien's world

I have little doubt that Middle-Earth Quest started out as a Lord of the Rings version of Arkham Horror. It's a largely cooperative game in which each player controls a character, traveling around the board to put a stop to the evil Sauron's schemes, and exploring the world of Middle-Earth via encounters with monsters, evil minions, and helpful supporting characters, much as the intrepid investigators do in Arkham Horror.

While there is a goal the players are trying to achieve, and a somewhat urgent time frame in which they need to achieve it, the game's emphasis is solidly on exploration and story more than on merely winning. Where Arkham Horror combines elements from dozens of stories by Lovecraft, Chambers, Howard and others to ensure that each game is different from the last, Middle-Earth Quest sets its action in the  17 years between Bilbo Baggins' journey in The Hobbit and his nephew Frodo's epic quest in The Lord of the Rings, and players control original characters rather than the familiar personalities from the books, all of which keeps the game from seeming like simply a re-enactment of events we've already seen.

Middle-Earth Quest differs from Arkham Horror in a few important respects. The most obvious difference is the addition of a Sauron player, who works openly against the other players by controlling the forces of Mordor. The Sauron player acts almost as a game master, driving the plot forward by playing cards representing Sauron's nefarious schemes and moving monsters and minions around the board in a strategic manner. As a result, the game feels less random than Arkham Horror, and more challenging without necessarily being more difficult.

Another important game element that makes Middle-Earth Quest seem more strategic and less random is the complete absence of dice in the game. Cards still provide an element of chance that keeps the game from being the same every time, but conflicts rely on choosing the right card to play in order to outwit the Sauron player, rather than an arbitrary roll of the dice.

The world Tolkien describes in The Lord of the Rings is vast, and a comparatively small amount of it is actually seen in the books. Middle-Earth Quest gives players a chance to explore that world in more depth and detail, while providing an immersive story about the fight against Sauron.

Sadly, this game recently went out of print.

Rating: 4 (out of 5) Not quite as smooth or expansive as similar games such as Arkham Horror or Mansions of Madness, but an excellent Tolkien-themed adventure game.

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