I was thinking about writing reviews, again, and came up with this kind of format. What do you think?
The game: The Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring Deck-building Game by Ben Stoll and Patrick Sullivan, published by Cryptozoic in 2013.
Elevator pitch: A deck-building game with Lord of the Rings movie theme. Based on the Cerberus engine shared by DC Comics Deck-building Game, so more like Ascension than Dominion.
What’s in the box? 200+ colourful cards, with stills from the Fellowship of the Ring movie. The game looks nice, but not stunning. No major complaints about the components.
What do you do in the game? Play cards from hand, do what they say, count your power and then buy cards from the display. Usually there’s a choice of what to buy, and while often you just buy the most expensive card you can get, sometimes buying couple of cheaper cards makes more sense and sometimes choosing the card to buy is not that obvious.
Lucky or skillful? There are major luck elements in the game that introduce big swings of luck. While there clearly is some skill to it as well, you will see games that are decided by the lucky swings, as one lucky or unlucky turn will make the player do better or worse in the future. Players allergic to arbitrary luck elements will not enjoy this game.
Abstract or thematic? The cards and card combos make sense within the theme, but the game doesn’t have much in the shape of thematic narrative. Why are the players competing and attacking each other, if they all are members of the Fellowship? So, it’s kind of halfway there. Lord of the Rings fans can enjoy the theme, but some may find it a bit silly or meaningless (I’m looking at you, Elendil card). If you’re not interested in Lord of the Rings at all, the game will probably leave you cold.
Solitaire or interactive? You do your own thing, but there are attack cards as well. Those generally target all players equally, so no picking who to attack. The game also attacks players, so better stock up with those Defense cards, even if your opponents are pacifists. Many attack cards are actually pretty good otherwise, so there’s some incentive to pick them up, which increases their use. Generally, however, the game is low on interaction.
Players: 2–5. Works with 2–5, best with 3–4. Some cards work better with more than two players. With five players, downtime and the amount of random chaotic punishment from the enemy cards is pretty high.
Who can play? Age recommendation on the box says 15+, but that’s way off. Clever kids who can read can play with adults. This is a family game for families that play serious games, or lighter fun for gamers. The game is fairly simple, but non-gamers who are not familiar with the concept of deck-building games will probably find it a bit confusing at first. Lord of the Rings fans (movie fans, particularly) willing to give the game some time should enjoy this game, however.
Length: About 30–45 minutes. The game has a decent arc to it, and doesn’t overstay its welcome. In most games you don’t actually see half of the draw deck, which brings replay value and variability.
What’s to like: Simple rules, quick setup, the Lord of the Rings theme makes some sense, the feeling when everything clicks and you get a really good turn, there’s more of this on the way as you can integrate this game with the Two Towers and Return of the King games.
What’s not to like: Arbitrary luck elements, the turns when all you can do is to draw a new hand, getting attacked repeatedly between your turns, the lack of sense in the theme, downtime with five players, the fact that the game is based on the movie and not on the books, the fact that this is only based on the first movie and thus is missing lots of stuff.
My verdict: I bought this based on recommendations from friends, mostly because my son is a huge Lord of the Rings fan. He’s seven years old and while he reads, he doesn’t understand English. I had to translate the game in Finnish for him. It was worth it: he loves the game and thinks it’s the best Lord of the Rings game (better than the Knizia co-op or The Confrontation).
I was surprised myself: I’ve played Ascension on iPad and found it lacking, but while this game clearly has roots in Ascension, it’s much better. Despite the heavy luck element, this game is simply fun to play. There’s enough meaningful decisions and building a deck that includes good card combos is fun and rewarding.
On the scale of Enthusiastic, Suggest, Indifferent or Avoid, The Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring Deck-building Game gets Suggest, bordering on Enthusiastic.