Saturday, September 29, 2012

Bad game design

From The Whitest Kids U'Know.  I think a few of my early designs might have shared this flaw.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

LOTR: The Fellowship of the Ring

Picture by Tony Mastrangeli,
DarkJedi on
The kids and I just played a game I'd had lying around the house for a long time - Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring.  We've only played once, so I guess I shouldn't call this a full review, but the game follows a mostly predetermined plotline, so it would be essentially the same every time.  It's an odd game, with some interesting parts, but it really failed as any kind of rewarding strategic experience.

The good:

  • The modular board - fun to put together; fun to reveal different tracks and people as it goes.
  • The structural parts - the ramp spaces up the mountain are very neat
  • The group storytelling - it really recreates the movie pretty well, with major plot points thrown and enacted by the players
  • The pieces - the rings and the scoring racks are cool; the cards are very attractive, and the pawns with full-color pictures and art are really neat
The bad:

  • Choice - There's very little meaningful choice for the players.  You can pick a different character to activate each turn, and this tells different parts of the story, but all the parts will happen eventually, and there are way more characters than there need to be.  They have different statistics, and they can pick up items along the way, but these hardly ever matter much.  If you face a challenge that you have trouble with, you just keep rolling until you win, or you bring around another character with higher statistics.
  • No replay value - the game will turn out the same virtually every time you play it.  There's an elaborate set of 70+ events, but they happen in mostly the same order, and they don't interact much at all except to move people around the board.  None change the overall course of the game, which is destined to follow the movie's story.  There can be trivial differences in path or scoring based on die rolls, but the game will vary hardly at all from one play to the next.
  • Rules - the rules are very short, and they don't really explain all of how the game works.  We figured it out, but there were some events right off the bat that used terms (e.g. ring bearer) that were not defined, and there were other times when we weren't sure how to use various pieces and had to figure it out from cards.  We still don't know how to resolve Nazgul attacks.
  • Scoring - the scoring is a good vs. evil rating that you gain from events on your turn.  Most of the good or evil that you earn comes automatically from drawing an event or is randomly generated via die roll.  It is very difficult to gain very much evil score.  By the end of the game, you will have exceeded the scoring scale in the good direction, and this triggers a crude balancing mechanism - you lose 1-6 points when you come to the end of the track.  So, the player whose score gets reset last, or who rolls highest when losing points, will lose the game pretty much every time.  This is all essentially random, and takes an hour or more of play to get to.
So, relatively good production values and neat pieces for a game that's really not very good. I enjoyed playing with my kids this once, but it was such a trivial experience that I can't imagine doing it again.  The Lord of the Rings Adventure Game is so much better, and I hear Reiner Knizia's similarly-themed game is good too.  I'd recommend either of those over this one.