The Lord of the Rings: Journeys In Middle-Earth

GenCon 2019 was immense and amazing, but has now wrapped up, closed her doors and bid us “adieu”. I was inspired to chime in with a couple picks from the show that really stood out for me among the crowd.

One of the best euro games of 2016 was the exceptional Lorenzo il Magnifico from Cranio Creations and designers Flaminia Brasini, Virginio Gigli, and Simone Luciani. I was able to see a demo for the upcoming card game based on this gem, Masters of the Renaissance by Simone Luciani and Nestore Mangone. In Masters, players still collect resources to buy cards from different tower “levels”, like the original, but now all cards have production ability: in other words, when production is initiated, players collect resources from all of their cards. Additionally, a “market” comprised of a 3×4 grid of colored marbles gives another, easier, source of resources. Players choose any row or column of marbles, and every marble in that line generates its own resource based on its color. After players gain their loot, they push a new marble into the line, bumping al old one from the back. Two things make this market both clever and diabolical: First, clear marbles exist that give no resources at all, clogging up the rows. Second, the resources generated at the market go to a separate storage area, which is severely limited in capacity. This card game version of one of my favorite board games retained the look and feel of the original, added unique mechanisms, but still felt elegant and simplified. Masters of the Renaissance is due to be released at Essen Spiel 2019, this October.

image from BGG

I was particularly impressed by Time of Legends: Destinies by designers Michał Gołębiowski and Filip Miłuński, a joint effort between Lucky Duck Games (Chronicles of Crime) and Mythic Games (Joan of Arc). Destinies is an app-driven fantasy exploration game for 1-3 people which takes place in the same universe as Mythic’s magnum opus Time of Legends: Joan of Arc, and even uses many of the same small scale miniatures as its big sister. In Destinies, players take on the roles of villagers living around the epic stories and battles from Joan. Each player is trying to be the first to fulfill their character’s hidden destiny. The cards in the game, including the character cards, have QR codes in the corner (those black and white checkerboard scanner boxes we see all the time), and scanning a card into the game app leads to context sensitive progression in the game – scanning an item uses it, scanning a character interacts with it, and scanning a weapon fights with it. This system is what made Lucky Duck’s Chronicles of Crime such a fantastic and intuitive story telling game. The game app additionally controls the map, made up of a grid of square cards, in a way reminiscent of the recent blockbuster Journeys in Middle Earth. If that wasn’t enough to make this a magnificent game, Destinies uses an elegant dice system I haven’t seen before for challenges, wounds, and level progression. Three colored stat tracks are on the player board – Knowledge, Strength and Agility, and wooden disks are placed on values along these tracks. To run a test, fight a creature, or even interact with characters, players roll dice, and count how many of these disk values they pass with the roll – this is the number of successes the character achieves. Items can add disks to the tracks, wounds can move the disks to higher, more difficult positions, and experience allows player to buy more disks. Time of Legends: Destinies is scheduled to have a Kickstarter campaign in September 2019.

Fantasy Flight Games have announced a new board game, based on tales from The Lord of the Rings, called Journeys in Middle-Earth. It’s a fully cooperative, app-supported board game for 1-5 players, aged 14+. Players take on the roles of Middle-Earth’s heroes such as Gimli the dwarf, and Frodo the hobbit, as they embark across Middle-Earth on grand adventures and fight against Sauron’s oppression.

“Shadows creep through the lands of Middle-earth, as whispers of new evils in Mirkwood and Mordor spread among the Free Peoples of Elves, Dwarves, and Men. As the shadow rises with festering evil and corruption, new heroes are needed to protect Middle-earth.” [source]

Individual games, which last roughly an hour, serve as standalone adventures in an overarching campaign across the wilderness. Players choose from 6 different heroes who have their own abilities and use special skill cards (instead of dice) while exploring, encountering threats, attacking enemies, and interacting with the people of Middle-earth. In addition to hero specific skill cards, there are also role specific skill cards which can be added to the deck. So, if Frodo takes on the role of a Pathfinder in one adventure, he could take on the role of a Hunter in another adventure and play very differently because of the cards in his deck.

As players travel across the map, tiles and encounters are revealed through the companion app, and matching tokens are placed on the physical tiles which represent the board. While many adventures take place on the bigger map, some scenarios will lead to combat situations which use a smaller board to represent an Orc camp or a musty cave. All enemies, represented by 25 miniatures, are controlled by the companion app. The campaign also features branching narratives and side quests to unlock so each play-through provides a different experience.

The Lord of the Rings: Journeys In Middle-Earth is designed by Nathan Hajek (known for Fallout, and Descent: Journeys in the Dark 2nd Ed – Road to Legend), and Grace Holdinghaus (known for the Mansions of Madness 2nd Ed: Streets of Arkham expansion). It will be released in the 2nd quarter of 2019, and Fantasy Flight Games are already taking pre-orders which includes deluxe player mats.