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The Lord of the Rings - Journeys in Middle-earth Game Overview

The Lord of the Rings - Journeys in Middle-earth Game Overview

The Lord of the Rings - Journeys in Middle-earth Game Overview

Welcome to our Overview of The Lord of the Rings – Journeys in Middle-earth!  

In our overview you will find a spoiler-free description of the game along with details of the components and game play.  Our Game Overviews strive to be informative and impartial.  If you are interested in our opinion check out our review: The Lord of the Rings – Journeys in Middle-earth – Game Review.

“It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out of your door,” he used to say. “You step into the Road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there is no knowing where you might be swept off to.”

– J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

The Game – The Lord of the Rings – Journeys in Middle-earth

The Lord of the Rings – Journeys in Middle-earth is a fully-cooperative game for 1- 5 players published by Fantasy Flight Games.  It is recommended for players ages 14 and up.  Each game has an approximate playtime of 60 minutes. 

The game is set in J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle-earth in the time between adventures described in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy. It is a campaign style, adventure game where players form a Fellowship and set off on a grand adventure. The game is highly thematic and story driven.  A potentially divisive aspect of this game is that it is app-supported.  We will talk more about the app later – but love ‘em or hate ‘em in your board games the app is a fundamental component of this game. 

Game Components

The Lord of the Rings – Journeys in Middle-earth is a BIG box game – you get plenty of high quality components in the box.

  • Rules – 48 pages consisting of one Rules Book and one Learn to Play Guide.
  • Board – 22 double-sided board tiles that will make up your journey maps, 2 double-sided battle boards that will make up your battle maps, 30 assorted terrain tokens to be added to your battle maps, 84 assorted game effects tokens used on all the maps.
  • Miniatures – 31 total miniatures – 6 Hero plastic miniatures and 25 Enemy plastic miniatures, 12 enemies banners with plastic bases. 
  • Cards – over 300 cards!  Made up of 6 Hero Character Cards, 30 Basic Skill cards, 30 Hero Skill cards, 72 Role Skill cards, 20 Weakness cards, 83 Item cards, 15 Advantage cards, 21 Title cards, 10 Terrain cards and 28 damage cards.

There is no built in storage for all those components.  There are some great storage and organizing solutions out there – we love the Broken Token Untold Journeys Organizer.  It is really well designed to hold everything and make setting up and packing away quicker and easier.  And an added bonus we love is the beautiful themed artwork on it.   

Game Play

The Lord of the Rings – Journeys in Middle-earth game plays over a series of rounds, the specific number of rounds is determined by the scenario and how well you play.  In each round the heroes will travel across a modular journey map or a much smaller battle map to complete the overall objective of the scenario. The Heroes are tasked with a series of objectives that lead up to the overall objective, that will become more difficult as the scenario progresses. At their disposal, the heroes will have weapons, special skill cards and an assortment of trinkets to help them through.

Setup

There are two types of setup in this game.  Campaign Setup when you begin a campaign and prepare your Heroes, we will describe this below.  Scenario Setup happens between games in your campaign where you set your fellowship up to embark on their next adventure.  We’ll explain this later in this article.

Campaign Setup

This setup is done once at the beginning of a new Campaign and takes about 10 minutes.  Each player chooses a hero to play through the rest of the campaign.  They take the Hero’s Character Card, containing the hero’s stats and hero miniature.  Then they setup their skill deck.  A Skill deck at the beginning of the campaign contains 15 cards.  6 basic cards, 5 hero specific cards, 3 role skill cards and 1 weakness card. 

The 3 role skill cards come from a Specialty Role the hero chooses. Each hero has a specialty role by default, Bilbo – Burglar for example, that they are best suited for.  However the game allows the players to swap that specialty for another, either at the beginning of the campaign or between scenarios.

The single weakness card  is a zero value card in the heroes deck.  The type of card that has a habit of coming out just when you need it the least! 

How these cards are used and work will be explained later in this article.

Next the players go into The Lord of the Rings – Journeys in Middle-earth companion app and select the campaign they want to start and then select a difficulty level.  There are three levels of difficulty Adventure, Normal or Hard.  Then you add your heroes and any changes to the standard weapon or armor choices.  Then you name your fellowship.  The app then gives a narrated introduction to the campaign and embark on your adventure!

Board Types

Depending on the Scenario, you will be instructed to use one of the two different board types, either a Journey Map or a Battle Map.

Journey Map

Journey Map tiles are used when the scenario’s story is focused on a wide expansive area. For instance, if you are trekking through the forest or you come across a stream or need to travel to a distant town. These features of the landscape are represented by tiles of different shapes and sizes that fit together like puzzle pieces. The app instructs you where to place each tile. A tile consists of between one and four spaces, the artwork can represent anything in Middle-earth from caves to forests and ruins to towns.

example of a journey map
Battle Map

Battle Map tiles are used when the scenario calls for a much smaller area. If you are in a clearing and you have to achieve some goal in that area only. There are two double-sided battle maps in the box. Once dies is grass and the other is cobblestone. There is a huge variety of interactive features that gets added to this maps during play using the terrain tokens. The app will show you how to lay out the battle maps and where the relevant terrain tokens should be placed. There can be bushes you can hide behind or walls you have to go around. Some of these terrain features may also be given special interact actions during the game. When you find yourself on a Battle Map you know you are in for some close combat or a detailed search type scenario.

an example of a battle map

 

Rounds

The game is played in a series of rounds. Each round has three phases, the Action phase, the Enemy phase and the Rally phase.    

Action Phase

During this phase, each hero is allowed to take at most two actions.  Players can take their turns in any order and can change order as the circumstances of the game dictate.  There are three possible actions – Travel, Interact, or Attack. 

Travel Action

Allows a hero to move up to two spaces on the board. They can also move a single space and perform another action and then complete their travel action afterwards. If they move into a board tile that has not been explored by anyone, the player clicks on the explore icon in the app.  The app will unveil that space and connecting unexplored maps tiles will be placed.  The freshly explored space will have tokens, people or enemies placed on it.  The hero doing the exploring will also receive an “Inspiration” token. These tokens can assist you in testing later. 

Interact Action 

If the hero is in a space with a token, they can interact with it. There are three types of tokens, Search, Threat and Person. These interactions are triggered in the companion app by clicking on them.  For Search and Threat interactions the app will identify what is represented by the token.  It could be anything from “Music and laughter emanate from a cheerful looking pub” or “There are a group of thieves sitting around a campfire”.  You will be given the choice to Interact or Cancel. When a player chooses to Interact, more story will be revealed.  Often this results in the need to Test a skill to determine success or failure (see Testing below).  Similarly, for a person token, the app is used to a short description of who the person is and 2-3 choices of what you can choose to say to them.  The app will indicate with an arrow symbol if the choices count as actions or if they are free.  

Attack Action

The attack action allows you to attack an enemy on the board. There are two ways to attack an enemy. Get right in close and hit them, or if you have a ranged weapon (a bow, sling or throwing hatchet for example) hit them from afar.  When the hero attacks, they will perform a Test (see Testing below) to determine how many hits they score on the enemy. The companion app tracks enemy health and you use it to apply hits.  Selecting the enemy portrait from the bottom of the screen opens up a window that shows the current damage level of each enemy in that group.  Some enemies attack in groups, in this case you will knock hits off of each enemy in the group consecutively, but there is a way to change this. 

As well as determining how many hits they can apply, in some cases the players weapon can allow a modifier to be applied. These Modifiers are Pierce, Smite, Stun, Sunder, Lethal and Cleave. When you apply these it changes how your hits get applied making your attacks stronger.

Once the player applies their hits, the app will ask if the enemy can counterattack, if the hero are in the same space the answer is yes, if not, it will depend if the enemy can also attack from afar, if so, they can counterattack. Counterattacking brings up a window which shows how much damage or fear they can do to the hero and it gives you an opportunity to Test to negate those.

End of Action Phase

Once all players have taken their two actions. The Action Phase ends and the game moves to the Enemy Phase

Enemy Phase

During this phase, the forces of Mordor will try to move against you. Multiple things happen here.  The threat meter will increase with potential consequences.  The enemies will move and attack the heroes.  Heroes in Darkness will feel its impact.

Threat Meter

This is along the top of the app and tracks your progress through each adventure.  Each scenario has a total amount of threat the heroes can take.  At the start of the scenario, the meter is at zero and the heroes must complete the scenario before you reach the total amount of threat.  Each round, in this phase, the threat meter increases by a number of points determined by current game conditions.   

The Threat Meter displays some ominous numbers as you play – indicating that when you reach this level some game changing event will trigger. This could be more enemies appearing on the board or something much darker, progressing the story of the scenario you are playing.

the app with the threat meter showing
Enemy Movement and Attacking

Next active enemy on the board is moved by the app towards a target hero. The app instructs movement of a specific enemy group “2 spaces toward Aragon (or nearest hero)” for example.  Players move the enemy on the board and indication in the app that the enemy will “Attack” when in range of a hero or “No Target” when the enemy cannot be in attacking range. 

Attack plays out exactly as it did with the counterattack above. The heroes will be told how much damage or fear to take (read Taking Damage or Fear and Last Stand below for how to apply these) and a chance to Test to negate (see Testing below). If there is “No Target”, the app will give the player new instructions for the enemy, which most often is to make an additional move without an attack.

Darkness

Darkness comes into play in the enemy phase.  Tiles on the board can naturally have “Darkness”, caves and thick forests are examples of this, or another game condition can cause “Darkness”.  Any hero in a space with Darkness will need to Test their Spirit skill against the darkness.  If they flail the test, they will take Fear as a consequence. 

Darkness ends the Enemy Phase and the Rally Phase begins.

Rally Phase

This is the chance for the heroes to catch their breath and prepare for the next round.  During the rally phase Heros re-set their skill deck by shuffling any cards revealed while Testing back into their deck. Players will also Scout a few cards off of their deck. (explained further below)

Then the game proceeds to the next round beginning again with the Action Phase.

Skill Deck

The skill deck is possibly the most important aspect of this game.  Each hero has a skills deck consisting of 15 cards initially, but this can grow as the campaign progresses.  The skill deck performs two main functions using different aspects of the cards.  Each card has a named skill with an effect that can be prepared and used as that skill during gameplay.  The cards also has icons indicating if the card would be a success, a success if an inspiration token is spent or no value in a test.  Players use Scouting and Preparing cards to try to set themselves up in the best position to succeed in each round.   

Scouting and Preparing Cards

When the game tells the heroes to Scout cards, they are being asked to view number of cards from their deck and choose one to put in your play area for future use as the named skill. The rest of the cards can then be placed either on the top of their deck or bottom to help with Testing during the next round. Usually a hero can have only four prepared cards at any one time, but certain characters and cards can change that amount. Each card has text on it describing the skill and how it can help the hero. 

For example, “Undying Might” allows a hero to apply the card as a success to a Might skill test or the skill might be “Keen Eyes” that lets Legolas attack from 2 spaces away instead of 1 with his bow and arrow. Skill cards are a mix of basic skills each hero has, skills specific to that character and skills specific to the character’s speciality role.

Testing

The second purpose of the cards is to Test the heroes skills. On the heroes character card are 5 abilities and the character’s stats for those abilities.  Might, Wisdom, Agility, Spirit and Wit each have a number next to them indicating how many skill cards are used for each ability. When the app or the hero’s weapon cards shows the icon next to the ability, the hero tests using that number of skill cards.

The player reveals the number of cards from their skill deck and counts the successes indicated on the upper left corner of the card.  If they reveal the “leaf” icon, this can be converted to a success if the player has inspiration tokens to spend.  If cards with no icon are revealed, they have no value in your test. 

card fan

Piece of advice:  when you scout cards and you decide to return cards to your deck, put your successes back on top as they are guaranteed success in the next round.  No success cards should definitely go on the bottom of your deck, as far away as possible from cards you’ll use this round. This increases your odds of success.  For the leaves – you need to decided based on how much inspiration you have and what you think is in the rest of your deck.

There are four types of tests in the game:

Interact Test with known Threshold

In this type of test, the app will show the skill icon and a number.  Like this – Might 2.  This means Test Might and score two successes to pass.  Pass or fail are indicated in the app by clicking the relevant button.    

Interact Test with an unknown Threshold 

For this type of test, the app shows a skill icon and a number picker.  These tests are designed to be tougher and often take more than one try to reach the unknown threshold for success. The hero performs the test and inputs the number of successes into the app.  Only when the unknown threshold is reached will the app trigger the outcome of the interaction.  These types of tests are often used for scenario milestones and are designed to be quite difficult to complete.

Attack an Enemy Test

When a hero decides to attack an enemy, they determine which of their weapons they will use, and if the weapon has multiple abilities indicated on them, which ability they will use for the test.  They then perform a test, with the number of successes used to determine how to convert these to the damage dealt by their weapon.  A weapon may have hits and modifiers that can be applied.  The hits and modifiers are applied to the enemy in the app where you can watch the impact on the enemies health.

Test to negate Enemy Damage or Fear

Finally, in most situation when a hero is about to suffer Damage or Fear, they will be presented with a “ability icon – negates” message in the app. Here they test that ability and for each success they can take one less damage or fear. 

Taking Damage or Fear and Last Stand

Throughout The Lord of the Rings – Journeys in Middle-earth the hero will be attacked or will lose a skill test and they will be shown a dialog box with Damage and/or Fear that they suffer as a result.  To take these, the hero will draw the appropriate number of cards from the Damage or Fear decks.  Each of these cards has an effect that must be resolved, some cards cause more Damage or Fear.  Some cards will stay face up and have an ongoing effect. Others will be turned face down after resolving their effect.  Both face up and facedown Damage and Fear cards count towards your total Damage and Fear that is applied to your hero.  Each hero has a limit of Damage and Fear that they can take shown on their Character card. 

If the hero ever meets or exceeds the number of Damage or Fear shown on their Character card, they must perform a Last Stand test.  Last Stands are managed by the app.  Select the hero portrait and which type of last stand, either Damage or Fear.  The app will then present a skill test.  If the hero passes, they will survive and they can remove all the facedown Damage or Fear cards for the type of Last Stand.  If the don’t pass, the hero is defeated and is removed from play.

If this happens, all other heroes need to finish the scenario before the next enemy phase begins otherwise the scenario ends and the heroes have failed.  This is why it is important to remember that this is a cooperative game and look out for your fellow heroes, work together as a group and sometime protect each other.

Game End

Each game of The Lord of the Rings – Journeys in Middle-earth can end in one of two ways: Objective Achieved or Objective Failed

Objective achieved

The heroes successfully achieve the objective.  The app presents them with a game end story conclusion.  This may include a choice of which scenario to do next, sometimes these branching paths allow you to complete the other choice later, sometimes they do not.  The app will award experience points to each character and it will move you to the next chapter screen which describes the upcoming adventure.

Objective failed

This can happen in one of two ways, one of the heroes is defeated before the end of the scenario, or if the Threat Meter reaches the end before they have completed the objective.

In each of these cases, the game will award a lower level of experience points and move the fellowship onto the next scenario sometimes offering a choice of adventures.  Unfortunately though the app will remember the heroes did not succeed and future adventures will be affected.  Some games begin with a message that explains that “If you don’t succeed at the next adventure, the Campaign will end.” 

Between Chapters Setup

The Lord of the Rings: Journeys in Middle-earth is designed to be completed in multiple gaming sessions and between scenarios, the heroes have an opportunity to rest and grow their skills at the campsite. The campsite is a place in the app, you will see before each adventure. Here you will be able to spend your gained experience points to “buy” better cards in your from your reserve specialty role skills. These cards add benefits including additional success cards to your deck along with more advance skills specific to the heroes specialty. Also you can decide to swap specialties for the upcoming scenario, this requires you to return the first three cards you get during campaign setup and take the new specialties first three cards. 

upgrading your skills between scenarios

Also at camp, you will upgrade your weapons and armor and trinkets. Each of these is based on the lore count of the entire party which you get points towards during your adventure. Each heroes weapons armor and trinkets have three tiers. Each tier offering better items at the heroes disposal.

weapon and cloak upgrades

Campaign End

The campaign will end when your Fellowship either completes the last adventure in the series, pass or fail, or you fail an adventure where the app has told you that failing will end your Campaign.   The app will present a campaign ending conclusion.  

Then you reset and get ready for your next Journey in Middle-earth!