Outside the Box: Review of "The Lord of the Rings: Quest to Mount Doom" for PopNerdTV

It's been a bit since I reviews something for PopNerdTV that wasn't a Games Workshop product, or game I actively play, so I thought this would be a good opportunity to have a look at the new Lord of the Rings game. As I started looking over the rules and materials I found that the game is actually made by Games Workshop through their Lord of the Rings/Hobbit License. So much for trying to branch out!

Right away I am going to admit some bias, I am not a fan of Lord of the Rings. While I respect the work that Tolkien did which laid the way for, in my opinion, much more interesting worlds I don't find him to be a strong author. While this game is not a book it is directly based on Tolkien's work which, as I said, I am not a fan of. With that admitted let's dive in.

 The Game
 For me games are all about the rules and mechanics, even the most physically polished product isn't fun if the nuts and bolts of what you're playing aren't up to snuff. Quest to Mount Doom (as I'll refer to the game from now on) is an incredibly simple board game, maybe the most simple I've personally seen outside of Checkers. Play is designed for 2-5 Players, each taking on the role of an iconic character from the LotR Universe. The options are all four Hobbits, Gandalf the Grey, Gimli, Legolas, Boromir, and Aragorn with each character having a unique ability and miniature. Players are tasked with finding the One Ring and taking it to Mount Doom while preventing the other players from doing the same and avoiding Sauron's watchful gaze.

Setup is quite simple, you choose characters and shuffle two decks of cards, one is for Sauron and the other is random events that take place during play. The final deck is made up of Items, each Item is placed face down under one of the locations that the game takes place in, of which there are over 40. When a character ends their turn in a location they obtain the item that resides there and add it to their hand.

At the start of the game the location of the One Ring is unknown, or at least the rules allude to the fact that it should be (more on that later). Turns are very simple, first you draw a card which details where Sauron moves to. Contacting Sauron forces a player to lose items and return to either Hobbiton or Rivendell so there is an element of luck there. Next the player rolls a six-sided die and may move that many "spaces" as each location on the game board costs a certain amount of movement to get to. Finally the player draws an Event Card and adds it to their hand, these Event Cards can be used against other players, to negate negative effects, move around, and so on.

This turn process repeats until someone wins as the game has no built-in failure state although there are optional rules for one. When a player finds the One Ring they need only end their turn in Mount Doom to win and they're not obligated to reveal ownership of the One Ring. While this may seem like game over once someone obtains it the last major mechanic to the game is "Stealing", if you end your turn in the same location as another player you may take one of their cards at random from their hand, made up of Events and Items. Make it too obvious in your direct path to Mount Doom and it's likely you'll have the rest of the Fellowship descend on you.

The Play Materials

True to most board games Quest to Mount Doom includes the usual fare: 3 decks of cards, various models including a cardboard Sauron and plastic Fellowship, the game board itself, a plastic token for the One Ring, and a single six-sided die. There's very little to write home about here as everything is bog-standard except the plastic models. These are well-sculpted, which I'd expect from Games Workshop, and easily assembled with only two pieces each and very obvious contact points. The models are also push fit although I'd use some glue for peace of mind.

Everything fits into a slightly smaller than standard box which is handy for taking the game to and fro. Each model has its own space in the plastic mold that holds all the game pieces and there's a minimalist but decorated piece of cardboard to keep things from flying around.

The inclusion of only one six-sided die is disappointing, most games come with at least five when heavy use is required. Some additional touch would have been appreciated, such as a small glue tube to put the models on their bases or a tool to remove them from their sprue. Generally I dislike when a game requires additional tools to assemble and Quest to Mount Doom may require the most of that I've ever seen.

Overall Impressions

As I mentioned already, Quest to Mount Doom is not a complex or deep game. Most interactions revolve around trying to find the One Ring by traversing the world while avoiding Sauron and other players. Almost all the Event and Item cards are extremely straight-forward which leaves the game feeling like it plays at a breakneck pace but without much else going on.

I have a major issue with this being a versus game instead of cooperative play as it makes no sense given the setting. Other games such as Arkhum Horror, a favorite of mine, pit the players against a large threat which is exactly what all of Tolkien's work is about. Sadly this game feels like the license Games Workshop owns was just imprinted on top of a game that they already had laying around and comes off feeling like a cash grab.

The rules are also poorly written and contradict themselves in parts, which is impressive for a 6 Page rule book where each page is half pictures. It's unclear if the One Ring starts in a fixed location or is hidden and it's unclear is contact Sauron forces a player to discard Items or any card in their hand. These are small problems that can be quickly house-ruled but it just adds another impression of laziness on the part of the writers.

Unless you're a die-hard LotR fan I would avoid Quest for Mount Doom. There are many, many other LotR and Hobbit games out there for purchase that do the "simple game" genre better and are closer to the source material than this offering. If you don't care about the setting then there are even more, better, games to choose from. If this had been released around the same time as the movies I could see some appeal to children and younger teenagers but LotR has been passed over in main-stream popularity which leaves me scratching my head as to who the game is for. Not an insulting product from Games Workshop but not one I would recommend outside of extremely loyal Tolkien fans or possibly those who want the miniatures for use in the LotR Tabletop Game.

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