I have had a love affair with The Lord of the Rings since I first saw The Hobbit animated movie put out by Rankin/Bass in 1977. I was 5 years old when I saw it and immediately read my brothers’ copy of the book. I then read The Lord of the Rings trilogy in the 7th grade and have since read it again at least three times through.

There are a lot of games out there that use The Lord of the Rings as a theme, and some are definitely better than others. In this post, I want to share with you my thoughts on the games that use this theme the best and have created a thematic play experience that reinforces the feeling and narrative of the trilogy.

3. Lord of the Rings from Fantasy Flight Games (2000)

What better mechanic than co-operative to highlight the first game on this list as the War of the Ring was a coalition of all the races in Middle Earth. Lord of the Rings is a co-operative game where the object is to destroy the One Ring while surviving the corrupting influence of Sauron. Each player plays as one of the Hobbits in the fellowship, each of which has a unique power.

The game is played on a number of boards that represent the different major steps of the journey of the Fellowship including places like Moria, Helm’s Deep, Shelob’s Lair and Mount Doom. The Master board indicates both the physical progress of the fellowship across Middle Earth and the corrupting influence of Sauron on the Hobbits. Progress across the boards is determined by playing cards trying to match various requirements and obtaining different resources used to overcome negative effects (many of which represent the characters and items of Middle Earth), and the effects of corruption are represented by a special die that will move Sauron along the track closer to the Hobbits. The game is lost if the ring-bearer is overcome by Sauron, or won if the ring is destroyed by throwing it into the fires of Mount Doom.

The game is a real challenge and is great fun but also very simple to play. We have found that the mechanics of having to collect resources and make choices about what to do next is akin to having to make these same choices for the characters in the story. Very well done thematic game that captures the essence of the story in the journey. I would highly recommend this game to groups who love a very challenging cooperative. We have played over a dozen times and only won once that I can remember. Great thematic game that immerses players in The Lord of the Rings mythos and story.

2. War of the Ring 2nd Edition from ARES Games

We love wargames here at TPA and initially I thought that would be my experience with War of the Ring. But that is not the case as this game definitely has direct conflict and a victory can be earned with the force of arms but finding the ring or destroying it is also a viable strategy as well. In War of the Ring, one player takes control of the Free Peoples, while the other player controls the Shadow Armies of Sauron. Initially, the Free People Nations are reluctant to take arms against Sauron, so they must be attacked by Sauron or persuaded by Gandalf or other Companions, before they start to fight properly. This part of the game was fantastic and frustrating at the same time that created that feeling of a loose coalition of isolationist cultures that had to be convinced to fight. This struggle to bring all Nations together is represented by the Political Track, which shows if a Nation is ready to fight in the War of the Ring or not.

But the true hope of the Free Peoples lies with the quest of the Ringbearer: while the armies clash across Middle Earth, the Fellowship of the Ring is trying to secretly make their way to Mount Doom to destroy the One Ring. This focus is a real balancing act as the Free People’s can’t hope to spend their resources on both a military conquest and quest to destroy the Ring. But there must be a balance to protect the Ringbearer from harm, against the attempt to raise a proper defense against the armies of the Shadow, so that they do not overrun Middle Earth before the Ringbearer completes his quest. You must get in the mindset of fighting a delaying action giving time to the ring bearers to approach their goal.

Each game turn sees players rolling customized Action Dice with each die corresponding to an action that a player can take during their turn. Depending on the face rolled on each die, different actions are possible including moving armies, characters, recruiting troops, advancing a Political Track or to have the ring bearer to move.

Action dice can also be used to draw or play Event Cards. Event Cards are played to represent specific events from the story (or events that could possibly have happened) that cannot be portrayed through normal game-play. Each Event Card can also create an unexpected turn in the game, allowing special actions or altering the course of a battle.

We really have enjoyed our plays of War of the Ring and it definitely earns this place on the list. We love the minis, the board is a thing of beauty and huge and the cards are just awesome. Some will question why it is not number 1 but I have saved that spot for one of my favorite games to play period, regardless of the theme.

1. The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game from Fantasy Flight Games (2011)

The first point I’ll make about this game is the art. It is simply fantastic and truly sets the tone for this game by immersing the players in the world of Middle Earth. I actually love looking at the cards almost as much as the game play.

The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game is a cooperative adventure card game in which the players attempt to complete a scenario, each with three heroes of their choice and a deck of allies, events and attachments to support them. Each round, players send their heroes and allies to quest or hold back to fight with enemies that engage them. However, as the heroes and allies exhaust after questing, defending, or attacking, the players’ options are typically insufficient to deal with everything at once and the game boils down to choices.

Players will need to determine whether it is more urgent to quest and make progress in the scenario while the enemy forces gain power, or to take down enemies that are stacking up while making no progress, not knowing what will come next.

This game is just so good. It’s challenging, beautiful, and the stories that each scenario tell, as well as the rich flavour text on each card, really make this game come to life. So many cooperative games are procedural and routine, and this one to me doesn’t feel like that. My only concern with the game is that it is a Living Card Game and they release new scenarios every few months. It can be very expensive to keep up. But you can rest assured that after you do play, you will want to buy even some of the small adventure decks to simply get more! If you do play this game, read all of the flavour text on each card and try to immerse yourself in the story of the mission, it can really change the mood of the table and makes the tension more palpable.

There you have it. The Best 3 Games (in my humble opinion) with The Lord of the Rings. What do you think of my list? Are there games you have played that you would have added?