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Brian Workman

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Middle Earth Quest

36 out of 37 gamers thought this was helpful

This is meant to be a general review covering the basics of the game. This is not meant to be a comprehensive review of all the game mechanics.

This is a 2-4 player asymmetric area control / hand management game. One player will take on the role of Sauron while the remaining players will play the heroes of Middle Earth. Sauron will use his influence and near-endless supply of monsters and minions in a race against the clock to advance his plots before the free people’s win the game.

The objective of the game for both players is to have their story marker(s) advance up the story track and whoevers marker reaches the end first is the winner.

The heroes have one marker that is advanced 2 spaces at the end of every turn. So for the heroes to win they simply have to hang in the game long enough and they will win by default. The Sauron player has 3 markers and they advance according to the plot cards that he currently has in play. If any one of Sauron’s markers reaches the end of the story track before the heroes (or if all 3 reach a certain position about 2/3 up the story track) then Sauron wins the game.

The core game for the heroes is to traverse the map doing quests and gaining favor in order to discard Sauron’s plot cards.

The core game for Sauron is to keep his plot cards in play by controlling the map using his influence and monsters/minions.

This is definitely a game that is worth all of its asking price. The sculpts for the minions and heroes are incredibly detailed, the markers and tokens (all 235 of them) are all double-sided and made of thick cardboard, and the cards (all 475 of them!) are all sturdy and should easily survive many playthroughs.

The only complaint I have about the game’s components is that the board is split into two halves. To some it may not be a big issue, but personally I found it a bit annoying as sometimes the two halves would shift a bit and the map would not look matched up. Again, not a HUGE issue, but one worth nothing.

At its core the game is very simple. The sauron player has a limited number of actions each turn and may do one of three things.

He may place influence on the map which is used to make locations perilous (Hero draws bad cards when they visit them), and allows him to summon monsters on those locations with his influence.

He may draw shadow cards and plot cards. Shadow cards are just event cards that Sauron can play given he meets their trigger conditions, and plot cards are the cards he plays to move his markers up the story track.

He may also choose an action which allows him to summon monsters, move monsters or minions, or heal minions. Sauron starts the game with 2 minions and unlocks 3 additional minions automatically once a marker has reached a certain place on the story track.

The hero players will draw cards each turn and will use those cards for both travelling and combat.

Each path in the game between any two locations has both an icon and a card cost. The icons (forest, mountain, etc) mean that the hero may discard one card of that type to travel that path, or if the hero chooses he may discard any number of cards equal to the cost and travel along that path.

The heroes discard cards to move, they discard cards to fight, and they discard cards when they take damage. In order to regain the cards they’ve lost they must rest which enables Sauron to automatically move the token that has moved the least up the story track one space up the story track.

For the heroes the game revolves around hand management. Knowing when it is best to fight (almost never), and how to travel the map most efficiently given the cards in their hand.

Combat is simple and involves no dice. Both sides will have a hand of cards and both players will choose a card and put it facedown. Both players then turn their cards faceup and both sides take damage equal to their opponents card’s attack value vs. their card’s defense value. There are also special abilities on most of the cards that may cancel opponent cards, deal extra damage, make the hero play their next card revealed, etc.

This is a big deal about games for me so I try to make special note to mention it when I talk about games. This game can suffer greatly from analysis paralysis especially given a new Sauron player. The heroes play is mostly reactionary, just handling the things that Sauron throws at them, with just a dash of preventative measures thrown in. The Sauron player has to make the choice given their current hand of plot cards how to setup the map to best protect them throughout the game. This can sometimes makes the Sauron players turn drag on, and if you are playing with 4 people then there is a lot of downtime between turns for the Sauron player as he has to wait for 3 whole player turns before he can move. If any of these turns involve combat the downtime is increased.

Given a group of experienced players the turns will go FAST. Even combat can be breezed through once both sides have a grasp of the mechanics and strategies. If downtime is a big issue for your group then play the game with 2 or 3.

Summary (Why is it fun?)
This game to me is an amazing mix of strategy, variable player powers, tactics, and just good old fashion luck. Both players have an incredible amount of decision making to do throughout the game, and most games are VERY close. The ending can sometimes be a bit anti-climactic, but the journey itself is a fascinating one. If you’re into highly thematic, strategy, or area control games then this should definitely be in your collection.

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