Back in 2020, Ravensburger Games released a fun little title called The Princess Bride Adventure Book Game. As a huge fan of the movie, I really enjoyed this one (even if it did have its issues). Little did I know that it was going to become the start of a series. The next offering was one based on The Wizard of Oz (which I haven’t played). But this year brought us the third in the lineup, one based on the beloved Lord of the Rings.
So have your second breakfast and strap on your dagger as we see how The Lord of the Rings Adventure Book Game holds up.
If you have played one of the previous adventure book games, you’ll be right at home here. This cooperative game will have you working through the major plot points of The Lord of the Rings story/movies. Starting in The Shire, you’ll need to guide your fellowship through familiar areas such as the Mines of Moria, Rivendell, Shelob’s Lair before finally ending in Mordor to destroy the One Ring.
During the game, everything is controlled by the group. So no one takes on the role of Frodo or Gandalf, but the active player gets to move the bits and make the decisions. On a player’s turn they have a few steps:
1. Move: Move 1 character two spaces, or two characters 1 space.
2. Storytelling: The main thing to do here is move a character additional spaces (by discarding cards) or complete challenges. These usually require having specific characters in specific locations and/or discarding cards of a certain suit. Players may also trade a card with another player one time during this phase.
3. Draw 2 cards back into your hand.
4. Reveal the top card of the plot deck. This is a numbered deck that will have various effects based on the scenario. Usually, they are bad for the players, but not always.
The other thing of note is that there are One Ring cards in the deck that can not only be used as a wild, but also be discarded for a chapter-specific power. The downside, of course, is gaining corruption. Every time you use or discard a one ring card, you move up a space on the corruption track. If you get to 15 corruption, it’s game over.
Each chapter has its own win/loss condition. Failing a chapter requires you to restart it (but not reset your corruption level). Winning the chapter lets you move on to the next one. Chapter 8 is the final battle in Mordor. Beat that chapter and you win the game.
Despite some quibbles, I enjoyed the Princess Bride Adventure Book Game. I never tried the Wizard of Oz one (not a huge fan of the IP), but I was really looking forward to trying out The Lord of the Rings one. While there is no shortage (at all) of games based on this IP, it’s always nice when a game embraces its source material instead of pasting on the theme to simply appeal to fans.
And, for the most part, The Lord of the Rings Adventure Book Game delivered that thematic experience. It does a great job of taking players through the plot points of the movies and somewhat telling the story along the way. Each chapter is themed around specific parts of the quest and is broken down into challenges that further reinforce the source material. For example, the Last March of the Ents chapter has three challenges: A gathering, release the river, and the battle of Isengard. That’s pretty much what you’d expect from that plot arc of the book.
The gameplay is also mostly based on The Princess Bride engine. While I enjoyed that game at the time, I think my appetite for it has waned some. The Lord of the Rings game started feeling somewhat repetitive by the end of the adventure. There was a lot of move here and discard these cards objectives and some chapters seemed to drag on a bit too long. By the end, I was itching to be finished with the busy work.
I also feel like the challenge has been scaled up from previous games. Some chapters, notably Moria, took me 5-6 tries to beat. This is a heavily luck-dependent game thanks to having two card decks to draw from that drives all the action. Sometimes I really needed a sword card but didn’t draw one for 3-4 rounds. With nothing else to do, I was just burning precious time. I really wish there was another way around that other than wasting turns. Having to “top deck” to try and win is not satisfying at all.
Now the One Ring card does let you get around that, but that’s a double-edged sword. You can only play or discard a ring card about 15 times over the course of the game, or about two times each chapter. Needless to say, that’s a crutch you really can’t rely on too much. I struggled with corruption in most of my games because of just trying to complete challenges by having the right cards.
I do want to say that this game scales a little better than The Princess Bride did. Now that players can trade cards, it makes the hand management aspect a little better. And solo, my preferred way to play, has a six-card tableau that you can use as a trade bank. This was nice because it allowed you to trade, but you didn’t have to worry about quarterbacking other players. And when you fail a scenario, you can decide if you have enough energy to try again without others getting involved.
The Lord of the Rings Adventure Book Game is a solid offering for fans of the IP. I also think its gameplay leans heavily on a love of Tolkien’s work, so if you are not a fan of his worlds, I’d probably give this one a pass. The gameplay mechanics are definitely not much of a hook to keep playing this game if you don’t love the story. I also am not sure how much replay value this one has. Once I beat the campaign, I didn’t have much desire to try again. The chapters don’t have much in the way of variety so you’ll basically be doing the same things over and over. If that’s okay with you, and if you are a fan of the IP, this one is worth checking out.
Final Score: 3.5 Stars – A thematic romp through middle earth that’s accessible to just about anyone, but repetitive mechanics and luck-based difficulty hold this one back somewhat.
• Luck based gameplay can be frustrating at times
• Challenges start to feel repetitive