Dale Yu: Review of The Lord of the Rings: Adventure to Mount Doom

The Lord of the Rings: Adventure to Mount Doom

  • Designer: Michael Rieneck
  • Publisher: Kosmos
  • Players: 1-4
  • Age: 10+
  • Time: 30-45 minutes
  • Played with review copy provided by Thames&Kosmos

The quick pitch: In The Lord of the Rings: Adventure to Mount Doom, players follow the story of Frodo’s perilous journey to destroy the One Ring in the fires of Mount Doom. He is accompanied by his familiar fellowship, who are charged with protecting him from the dangers he will face along the way. The players control the fortunes of this company together by moving the individual figures across the game board on a journey through many well-known places from the beloved Lord of the Rings novels. It is important to beware of the Nazgul while at the same time making sure that Frodo does not lose his confidence and freeze in despair. When Frodo reaches Mount Doom, the players have all won together.

The game is played over a series of six stages, each with its own deck of 7 encounter cards.  Prepare the decks by sorting and shuffling them, then take the first deck (Lothlorien) and place 6 of the cards at the bottom of the board – putting cards facedown in slots 1 and 6, and face up in the rest.  The seventh card will not be used and will be discarded to the box unseen.   The Boromir card and one of the five Gandalf cards is placed face up on the table.  Some bad guys are set up near the board; the 5 Uruk-Hai warriors and the eight Nazgul.  The five good guys (orange Frodo&Sam, green Legolas, red Gimli, blue Aragorn and purple Merry&Pippin) all start in Rivendell.   The One Ring token is placed on the designated starting space on the Courage track found on the left of the board.

The game will played in a number of rounds until the game is won (the Orange ring-bearer figure gets to Mt. Doom) or the game is lost (the One Ring moves to the bottom-most space on the Courage track OR the 8th Nazgul is placed on the board).  In each round, there are two phases – rolling and selecting dice and then the action phase where the chosen dice are resolved.  One player is designated as the active player each round, and this moves clockwise around the table with each successive turn.

In the rolling phase, you’ll use the 5 colored dice (one each for the five companions) and the two black dice.  The active player chooses any two of the Fellowship dice and both of the black dice and rolls all four.  Then, he must choose one of the colored dice and one of the black dice, placing them on the left side of the dice board.  Next, the active player takes one of the unrolled Fellowship dice, adds them to the two unchosen dice from the first roll, and rolls those three.  One black die and one of the Fellowship dice are chosen and placed on the right side of the dice board.   The rules make it clear that while there is room for discussion and debate amongst the group on picking which dice to roll as well as which dice to place on the board; the final decision rests with the active player.

In the resolution phase, the chosen dice are resolved from top to bottom, left to right.  So, the first die is a black encounter die.  You look at the slot on the board matching the number on that black die and resolve the encounter card that matches it.  If the card is facedown (cards 1 and 6 always start facedown), you flip it over to reveal it.  Most of the cards are adversary cards, denoted by red icons in the corners, and will lead to a fight. Occasionally, you will find a friend card, with green icons, which you can keep in front of you and then use their one-time ability when it suits you.  Even less frequently, the slot will be open (as some of the encounter cards are one time use only and are discarded after resolved) – if so, simply activate the icons seen on the empty space – 5 out of 6 of these are good and allow you to move a fellowship figure forward on the board.

If the adversary card calls for a fight, you’ll have to roll the battle die.  The battle die has one face for each of the four non Frodo Fellowship members, a Gandalf face and a Sauron face.  You check to see which Fellowship members are able to support the Ringbearer; which means they are on the same space or further in the current segment.  If the face of that supporting member is rolled, you win the fight.  If Gandalf is rolled, if you choose to discard a Gandalf card, you win; otherwise you lose.  As you might suspect, if you roll Sauron, you lose automatically.   When you lose, the Ringbearer will lose courage as shown on the adversary card.

After resolving encounter, you go to the next die, and you move the figure with the matching base color. You must move the number of spaces shown on the die (with one Frodo exception).  If you land on a pre-printed event space, you will lose courage or have to place a Nazgul as depicted.  If a Fellowship figure moves exactly to the end space of the stage, you gain a courage.  If you overshoot, that figure moves out of the current stage and onto the next (and will no longer be able to support the Ringbearer in battle).  The orange Ringbearer will automatically stop when he reaches the end space of the stage.  If he reaches it on an exact move, he will be able to draw a Gandalf card and will be able to use that card on a future turn.  If the die exceeds the final space, Frodo still stops there, and the top Gandalf card from the deck is discarded to the box.

Whenever the ringbearer reaches the stage end space, there is a bit of upkeep.  You remove the encounter cards from the current stage and replace it with the cards for the next stage.  All the characters stay in their current positions. You keep playing like this until you lose or until you reach the final stage, Mount Doom.  The rules are a bit different for this final stage, so there is a special section in the rules for that final stage.

So, in this final stage, the Ringbearer travels alone. You now only roll a single black Encounter die and then you are obligated to resolve the event on said card.  If you survive, move the Ringbearer ahead a single step and repeat.  

What is missing is that the setup for this stage includes this crucial rule: Before you start this final stage, see how many of your Fellowship figures were able to reach Minas Morgul with an exact roll.  For each one, advance the Ringbearer one step towards Mount Doom before starting this final stage.  You have the possibility of reducing the final stage from 7 steps to a minimum 3 steps…  That’s pretty juicy knowledge, and if you followed the suggestion in the rulebook, you wouldn’t even know about it until you started the stage?  Madness!

Anyways, play the final stage and see whether Frodo can make it to the final space and you win.  Otherwise, you lose.

My thoughts on the game

Cooperative games have certainly grown in complexity and prevalence since they arrived on the scene.  There are plenty of different styles, and I have certainly found that people prefer some types better than others.  Before we get any further, I want to categorize this game in the class of “essentially a solo game which is played by a group of players”.  If this isn’t your type of coop, you now need to know everything you want about the game… Or you can plan to play this solo.

Here, nothing changes based on the number of human players in the game – well, other than the number of people that get to argue over which die to pick or roll.  None of the Fellowship figures are “owned” by any particular human player; the player whose turn it is only gets the special ability to be the final tiebreaker in decision making.  Otherwise, the game pretty much plays the same with one player as four, or heck as with twenty players.  

As you go through the quest, you will have the constant fight between how far to advance the Ringbearer versus keeping the Fellowship companions ahead of him so that they can help fight.  There are 8 steps between starting and stopping points (in all but the final stage), and it’s really tempting to pick an orange 6 early on and just try to rush a stage to completion.  Of course, if you do this, you are at high risk of losing a battle with no supporting characters to help.   Furthermore, your Fellowship members still have to catch up to you eventually or else they will remain useless to you in fights.   More typically, we’ve been trying to keep two or three people in step with the Ringbearer and then taking advantage of good rolls when they arise.  

The dice selection mechanism is interesting; I like the way that the players have the agency to choose which dice they want to roll, and then they have some latitude in which dice to pick once they see the rolls.  It definitely allows you to try to craft a movement strategy that suits your group; and the luck of the roll keeps things on edge until the stage is complete.  But don’t get me wrong, in the end, it’s going to be a lot of luck that decides what happens.  While there are a few Friend/Gandalf cards that let you re-roll things; on each second roll of a turn, you’re pretty much at the mercy of Fate as to which Encounter card you’re going to have to resolve.  Also, sometimes the game works against you.  We had a couple of occasions where we couldn’t even use an ability to remove an Encounter card, because a “Place a Nazgul” card was lying over the pre-printed Nazgul space!  What bad luck!

The rulebook is decent, except curiously, the rules actually tell you that you can stop reading before you finish the rules, and just to start playing. I CANNOT TELL YOU HOW MUCH I DISAGREE WITH THIS, AND I’M A BIT SURPRISED THAT THIS MADE IT INTO THE ACTUAL PRINTED RULEBOOK.  Seriously, how can you be expected to play the game and not know how it ends?  How do you make appropriate decisions in the first part of the game?  It’s literally only one column more in the rules to finish it all out.  Sure, the rules tell you when to come back and finish reading, but seriously who doesn’t want to know all the rules to a game before it starts.  Yes, I suppose there is an argument that the players will read them when they get to the next to last stage and will know in time; but from my standpoint, they are newbies to the game.  Are they going to remember this?  Why count on the gamers to know this?  Why set up even the possibility of a bad endgame outcome because players didn’t know all the rules?  Anyways, rant over (I’ve also been told by other Opinionated Gamers that I am making a bigger deal of it than it is – so YMMV).  All the rules are in the book, and please, just read to the end of the not overly long 3.5 pages of actual gameplay rules in the rulebook before starting.  That way, you’ll be prepared for the higher number of fights in the final stage and can try to plan accordingly.

So far, the difficulty level has felt right in the middle to maybe slightly above average.  After the first learning game, my games have been competitive and fairly close – I’m usually on the final ascent to Mount Doom if I lose (and obviously to Mount Doom if I win).  Though the overall story/path each game is similar, the randomness of the die rolls changes which encounters you might resolve.  Also, of course, the random die rolls will also change how things go.  Thus each game presents you with the challenge of how to tactically respond to the cards; trying to manage movement as well as mitigating dice luck where possible.  LOTR Adventure to Mount Doom doesn’t have the constant sense of doom that some other cooperative games have; though you will certainly feel the pressure to change the course of the game if you get close to the bottom of the Courage track or if you have almost all the Nazgul on the board.  

The rules are easy (even if you read all of them in a single sitting) – and the game itself is quite simple.  I have found that the decisions are more straightforward than not.  It’s usually pretty easy to tell which Encounter card would be the “easier” or “better” when we get to choose.  And most times, I’ve found it makes most sense to move one of the Fellowship characters that is closer to the back of the line.  The lack of tough decisions meant that this game didn’t have a lot of holding power with the regular gaming group; but I think it will be enjoyed more by a casual gamer, perhaps one drawn into the game because they’ve seen the movies or read the book.

Interestingly, when I first read about the game (and even when I saw it at GenCon), my brain somehow thought this was going to be a campaign game.  (Maybe I was conflating it with Andor?!)    It most definitely is not – it’s a nice self-contained single adventure that will play somewhat differently based on the cards randomly chosen in each stage AND the variable dice rolls that trigger certain cards.  It’s a quick and snappy game, and I like the choices that player(s) have to make in which dice to roll and which results to choose.    Our games are definitely coming in shorter than the length on the box.  When I play by myself, the games are closer to 30 mins (presumably because I don’t argue with myself that much).  At this point, playing this game by myself is my preferred format; as again, the game doesn’t scale or appreciably change based on player count.  It’s been a nice puzzle to try a few times on a rainy weekend, but LOTR: Adventure to Mount Doom isn’t going to replace Pandemic, Ghost Stories or Legends of Andor for the times when my gaming group is looking for a cooperative challenge.

Until your next appointment

The Gaming Doctor

About Dale Yu

Dale Yu is the Editor of the Opinionated Gamers. He can occasionally be found working as a volunteer administrator for BoardGameGeek, and he previously wrote for BoardGame News.
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