best lord of the rings board games

Best Lord of the Rings Board Games – Top 6

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Tolkien’s stories do not need a special introduction. A saga that started in the middle of the 20th century, reached its popularity peak with the trilogy movies, and later (and to a lesser extent) with The Hobbit movies. It’s no wonder that the father of modern fantasy has received numerous board game versions through the years. This is a list of what are currently the best Lord of the Rings board games available.

Just to clear things up, this is not a complete list, but rather a personal selection. Some games (in particular Hunt for the Ring and some older titles) didn’t make the list, because they lack in gameplay and frankly, I prefer not to include games that don’t deliver fully. I believe there are enough great games available, that we don’t have to settle for second best.

You will notice that many games on the list are strictly for 2 players. I believe this restriction appears in Lord of the Rings naturally, as such is the story – there are two confronting sides after all. It’s something to keep in mind if you normally play in a larger group.

Click here for an article about 12 best board games for couples

The two exceptions are Risk and Journeys; both are directed slightly more towards casual players and player number restrictions reflect that – they are more suited for family plays.

Table of Contents

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Risk: The Lord of the Rings Trilogy Edition

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BGG link

Players: 2-4, best with 4.

Playing time: 180 minutes per game.

Ages (complexity): 10+

Setting and objectives

I’m sure you’re familiar with Risk. It’s as basic wargame as they come: you’ve got your map of the world with provinces and you move troops around it, combating others. Combat is resolved by comparing dice throws and objectives are simple as well, like holding certain continents.

Let’s move the whole thing into the Lord of the Rings universe. Your map is now Middle-earth, with regions like Gondor, Mordor, Rohan, Andor, Rovanion and others, replacing continents and further divided down into provinces for a total of 64 of them.

On top of that, there are some new game mechanics, like leaders, power sites and strongholds, that add more twists to it.

There is also the Fellowship present. It moves along its path into Mordor and acts as a timer, that marks the end of the game. Points are then added up, determining a winner.

LOTR Risk

How is it played?

The Risk game mechanics are all in play, but with couple of new additions:

  • You begin your turn calculating reinforcements. These are based on number of provinces with added region bonus and bonus from province cards.
  • Now you have the option to attack, with combat being solved by a simple dice throw. Attacker can attack with a maximum of three dice, while the defender can defend with a maximum of two dice, providing both have enough battalions to do that. Dice are then compared and battalions removed – ties go to defender.
  • If you conquered at least one territory, you get to draw a province card. If you conquered a Site of Power with your Leader, you draw an Adventure card, either containing Events, Missions or Powers.
  • After the turn, you move the Fellowship one province along its path.

On top of those, there are additional features:

  • If a territory has a Stronghold (like Mines of Moria, Isengard, Helm’s Deep, Minas Tirith etc.) it adds +1 to the highest die roll of the defender.
  • If you capture a Site of Power (e.g. Hobbiton, Lothlorien, Weathertop, Osgiliath, Mount Doom etc.) with your Leader, you get to draw an Adventure card.
  • Leaders are placed on the map alongside regular battalions. They give +1 to the highest die roll, both when defending and attacking. This can be combined with Strongholds, giving +2 when defending.

When the Fellowship reaches Mount Doom and the Ring is destroyed, game ends. Points are given for territories, strongholds, played adventure cards and regions held.

The game is best played with a player count of 4. This gives you the option to play in Teams – 2 good players vs. 2 evil players. It alters the victory conditions slightly, making them more in-line with LotR story:

  • A new mechanic, Find the Ring is introduced. Whenever a ring (moving alongside the Fellowship path as before) is in a territory controlled by the evil forces, they get to throw dice, trying to find it. If they succeed, they win immediately.
  • If the Ring reaches the end of the path and is thrown into Mount Doom, the good team wins.

This mode is easily the highlight of Risk: The Lord of the Rings Trilogy Edition. This is how this game is meant to be played, as players try to escort the Fellowship or stop it.

Main features:

  • Well-known Risk gameplay enhanced with Lord of The Rings elements.
  • Added gameplay mechanics like the Fellowship and Find the Ring mini game give it a LotR feel.
  • It’s still Risk (with all its pros and cons).

Should you buy it?

Although Risk is hated by elitist board gamers by its simplicity, its one of the most popular board games around. There is no shame playing it – I’ve had dozens of hours of fun with it. And with the Lord of the Rings theme added to it, this makes one of the best Risk editions available.

Even though there are some more features added, the basics are the same and dice play a large part of it. You know best yourself if you hate or love Risk.

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Lord of the Rings: The Confrontation

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BGG link

Players: 2

Playing time: 30 minutes per duel.

Ages (complexity): 8+

Setting and objectives

Lord of the Rings: The Confrontation is a two player only game, played on a simplified board of Middle-earth. Like a version of Stratego or even chess, if you like that comparison. Pieces move on the board and fight each other. Each piece is a Lord of the Rings character and has a strength factor and extra abilities.

Goal of the “good” side is to bring the Ring (either with Frodo or Sam) into Mordor, while the “bad” side tries to occupy the Shire.

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How is it played?

Game is played on a square board. In one corner Mordor, in the other the Shire. In between them are locations from Middle-earth: Arthedain, Cardolan, Enedwaith, Eregion and Rhudaur on the Shire’s side. On Mordor’s side there are Gondor, Dagorlad, Fangorn, Mirkwood and Rohan.

Separating the two sides are the four mountain regions with limited movement (no sideways movement). Fellowship side can avoid them by using the Tunnel of Moria, but if the Balrog catches them, they are in trouble. They can also use the River of Anduin for sideways movement on the Sauron’s side of the map.

Each of the regions has a character limit and at the beginning of the game each player lays out his characters as he pleases. They are turned towards him, so only he knows the hidden identity of them. The other player will try to figure out the identities during the game.

Players then take turns to move their characters (taking into account their special abilities) and combat is resolved when they clash. Extra combat cards are then played by players – they are either text cards or strength cards. Text is resolved first. If that doesn’t give the winner, then the strengths of characters and strength cards are compared. Weaker one is removed from the game (if tie, both die).

Game is played until the victory conditions are met:

  • Fellowship wins if Frodo moves into Mordor (even if Sauron’s characters are still there).
  • Sauron wins if he gets three of his characters into the Shire or kills Frodo. (In some scenarios Sam can take over the Ring.)

Confrontation is a game that revolves heavily around its characters and their abilities (their abilities are relevant – i.e. Boromir sacrifices himself). Each of them is unique and it takes some time to understand how they work with each other and how best to implement them to your strategy. Each side has its own strengths and weaknesses and requires a different approach.

This is further complicated by the fact, that you don’t know who exactly you’re facing. In early turns you’ll probe the enemy, trying to get a feel of how he set up his army and where certain characters are. This inherently brings a factor of luck to the game – sometimes you’ll stumble upon characters you didn’t want.

When you’re familiar with basics, you can play the Variant game. Just turn over character cards to use their alternate abilities. If even that is not enough, you can use mixed skills (standard + variant), so there’s no fear of running out of options.

Main features:

  • Asymmetric strategic duel with imprecise information and bluffing.
  • Theme is well implemented, both artistically and gameplay wise.
  • Can be hard to find for a reasonable price.

Should you buy it?

Lord of the Rings: The Confrontation is a great two player game. It may look like the pieces are just fighting, but there is a strong LotR theme included (getting Frodo to Mordor) and it works great in combination with game mechanics. Game mechanics themselves offer an asymmetric battle between two well-balanced sides.

I think this is a great game for Lord of the Rings fans, looking for a short, but challenging duel.

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The Lord of the Rings: Journeys in Middle-earth

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BGG link

Players: 1-4, good with all numbers.

Playing time: 60-120 minutes per campaign chapter.

Ages (complexity): 10+

Setting and objectives

Journeys in the Middle-earth is one of the best games of 2019 and a signpost of what board games might look in the future. It is designed around an accompanying app, which is essential to the gameplay.

In its core, its a cooperative adventure game. Players will take on roles of LotR characters (Bilbo, Legolas, Gimli, Aragorn, Elena, and Beravor) and embark on a campaign structured journey. Each chapter of that campaign will offer a different set of map tiles, enemies and objectives.

As players complete each of the chapters, they will unravel the big story and discover what their true purpose is. Game is set somewhere after the events in Hobbit and before the events of the Trilogy.

How is it played?

Every round of the game has three phases:

  1. Action phase
  2. Shadow phase
  3. Rally phase

During action phase, players perform two actions. They can choose from Travel, Attack and Interact and same action can be performed twice.

Many of these actions require a test to be performed. Target number is given by the app and players draw cards from their decks, trying to fulfill it. Number of drawn cards is determined by the characters skills and items also affect this. Odds can be further turned in player’s favor by using collected Inspiration tokens and building his deck during the game.

Shadow phase is the time for the app to move enemies and attack with them, inflicting damage and fear to heroes. The Threat bar also increases in this phase – players lose if it fills up before the objectives are completed. This works like an internal timer, making sure players are under some pressure and don’t take forever to fulfill their objectives.

Final phase of a round is the Rally phase, where players reshuffle their decks and scout the first two cards of the deck, giving options to prepare one of them face-up.

Campaign must be played from start to finish – you can’t select specific scenarios. You advance even if you don’t complete the objectives, and the consequences of your actions affect subsequent scenarios. In between scenarios, you can upgrade items and purchase new skills.

The app itself is a great tool that not only controls the enemy, but also provides the narrative for the campaign, adapting it to your actions. But its not without its flaws: i.e. there is no undo button and in some cases it depends too heavy on it, making you feel more like you’re playing a video game and disconnecting with the board.

Main features:

  • Fully app-driven board game makes pick-up, set-up, gameplay and narrative a breeze.
  • Player’s skill deck is a great alternative to dice.
  • Evolving (story and characters) campaign.

Should you buy it?

Whether you like it or not, apps and board games are something that is the future. How to implement an app, is what will be crucial. You want the app to compliment the board, not substitute it. Out of all (i.e. Mansions of Madness Second Edition) I think The Lord of the Rings: Journeys in Middle-earth has done the best job so far.

But don’t forget its not just about the app – its a great adventure game set in a Lord of the Rings universe as well.

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The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game

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BGG link

Players: 1-2

Playing time: 30-60 minutes

Ages (complexity): 12+

Setting and objectives

Next on the list is a living card game. Story-wise, its also set after events from Hobbit and before Frodo’s adventure.

It’s a cooperative game against the game. You can play alone or in a pair – you need another base game for that. In both cases, you’ll attempt to complete a scenario (3 included in the base game), drawing obstacles (enemies and locations) from the encounter deck and beating them on the way.

Scenarios are, of course, Lord of the Rings flavored with all its iconic glories: from narrative to heroes like Aragorn or Gimli, allies like Gandalf, locations like Mirkwood, enemies like orcs or Nazgul. Atmosphere along with art is very immersive and you’ll feel the Middle-earth coming alive around you.

As is usual with a living card game, plenty of new scenarios and decks are available as expansions.

How is it played?

Setup consists of preparing three decks:

  1. Quest deck is the one you have to complete with progress tokens. It contains narrative and determines the contents of the second deck.
  2. Encounter deck is made of elements that stand in the way of players and the quest, mainly enemies and locations. It’s determined by the quest deck, so that it makes sense, story-wise.
  3. Player deck are the cards you play with. It consists of your heroes and things that help them: allies, items, tactical maneuvers and spells. Heroes are in play automatically, while other cards must be paid for with resources to put into play.

The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game is played in rounds, and each round has 7 phases:

  1. Each hero gets a resource token, and you draw a new card into a row of cards you can then purchase.
  2. In the next phase you get a chance to buy some of those cards (providing you have enough resources) and put them into play next to your heroes (or attach them if its an item).
  3. In Quest phase, players select which of their heroes will they commit to completing the quest. Then a new encounter card is drawn to the staging area and the willpower of selected heroes is compared to combined threat of encounter cards in the staging area. Any extra willpower is added to the quest card (or to an active location, if there is one) as progress tokens.
  4. Travel phase allows players to remove one of the locations from the staging area to the active one (if that spot is empty).
  5. Encounter is a phase where you can choose to engage enemies and the game checks which enemies engage you automatically.
  6. In the next phase, combat is resolved. You decide which hero will engage which enemy and, by comparing their attack values, defense values and hit points, you can wound the enemy or the enemy can wound you. As a randomizing factor, each enemy draws an encounter cards, which can alter his abilities a bit. Collect wounds on an enemy (or your hero) equal to their hit point pool, and the character is dead. If not, combat continues in the next round.
  7. Exhausted cards are refreshed and you prepare for the next round.

Short version: Cards (either enemies or locations) are drawn to the staging area -> enemies must be defeated in combat, locations must be cleared with progress tokens -> extra progress tokens are placed on the main quest.

Game is won when all the main quest cards are completed (filled with progress tokens) and at least one player is alive.

Main features:

  • A living card game, perfectly set in a LotR world. Great narrative, great artwork.
  • Combining your cards in order to beat the enemies or locations offers a very challenging puzzle, which reminded me a lot of Mage Knight.
  • Works excellent in solo mode.
  • With all the scenarios and decks available to purchase, building your decks is a game of its own. This comes at a price, of course.

Should you buy it?

There are several high profile living card games available, like Marvel Champions or Arkham Horror: The Card Game. I’m putting The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game right there beside them. If you’re looking for a living card game, make your pick based on the theme. Gameplay wise, they’re all excellent.

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The Battle of Five Armies

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BGG link

Players: 2

Playing time: 90-240 minutes

Ages (complexity): 12+

Setting and objectives

Battle of the five armies (Elves, Humans and Dwarves against Orcs and Wargs) is one of the major military events in The Hobbit. But contrary to the title, this is a strictly two player wargame, designed by the same guys as War of the Ring.

Objectives for winning the clash under the Lonely Mountain are different for each side. Shadow Armies must control 10 victory points worth of settlements, while Free People must endure long enough for the Fate track to run out.

This translates in an asymmetrical game, with one side (mainly) on the offense and the other side defending itself. Free people get more hero characters, while Shadow Armies have the numbers advantage.

How is it played?

Every round of the game goes through six phases:

  1. In Recovery players draw cards from their story deck and shared event deck.
  2. Free People have options to activate their four generals and place leadership tokens. They have special powers, but they come at a price …
  3. The Fate phase is next. As a Free People player, your goal is to reach 15 on the Fate progress track. Shadow Armies player’s aim is to slow down the progress as much as possible. In this phase, he will draw a token, that will move the marker either 1, 2 or 3 spaces. The more generals the Free People activated, the more tokens will be drawn, giving more chance for the 1 space token to be drawn – which gives Shadow player maximum time.
  4. Shadow player places his leadership tokens.
  5. Action phase is the bulk of the gameplay (see below).
  6. Last phase is just to check if victory conditions for any side have been meet and to clean up the dice from previous phase.

In Action phase, players roll all of their action dice and then take turns to perform actions on them. Six symbols (as the dice are six sided) are possible:

  • Army: can move or attack with your armies.
  • Character: can move a character or attack with n character-led army.
  • Event: draw or play cards.
  • Muster: Place troops or heal them.
  • Will of the West / Lidless Eye are faction specific symbols. Former is a wild card symbol for the Free people, while the latter allows Shadow Armies to recruit or use Goblin armies.
  • Muster/Army Combo

In, combat several elements are taken into considerations. Both sides can play cards to give them a special ability. Then the maximum of 5 dice are rolled for each army, according to the army strength. Every 5 or 6 is a hit and a damage token is placed on an army for each hit. If you get more damage tokens than there are units in your army, you must remove some (1 unit for every 2 tokens of damage).

On top of that, dice can be re-rolled based on the leadership score (those leadership tokens that we placed earlier).

Main features:

  • Asymmetric wargame with two, very well-balanced sides.
  • Very thematic, feels just like reading the Hobbit book.
  • Even though its a long game, the gameplay is fast and flowing.

Should you buy it?

There is no way around comparing The Battle of Five Armies with its predecessor, War of the Ring. It features very similar game mechanics and both are excellent two player wargames.

Where they differ (beside the theme) is that War of the Ring is slightly more complex and quite a bit cheaper. The Hobbit or the Trilogy? What do you prefer?

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War of the Ring (Second Edition)

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BGG link

Players: 2

Playing time: 150-180 minutes

Ages (complexity): 14+

Setting and objectives

War of the Ring is the largest game on our list, when it comes to theme. It covers the entire trilogy on a grand level: commanding and combating armies on the map of Middle-earth, while at the same time trying to escort the Fellowship to Mount Doom.

There are two ways to win this War of the Ring:

  1. Military victory, fighting with units on the map.
  2. Bringing the Ring to Mount Doom or corrupting the Fellowship to prevent that.

The two sides are highly asymmetrical, meaning that for Shadow Armies, the first goal will be more attainable, while Free People will normally try the Fellowship route, while using armies as a distraction. Just like the story went.

War of the Ring 2

How is it played?

Core game mechanics are very similar to Battle of the Five Armies: the phases are almost identical, as is action and combat system, powered by dice.

But there are several unique elements:

  • The nations the sides control are not all automatically at war at the beginning of the game. Instead, there is a political track that marks what their current status is. You can push them to war by using appropriate dice or with certain moves. Dark side’s nations are easier to put to war, while on the Free side, only Elves start with at-war status.
  • Fellowship track marks how far the Fellowship is on their journey and its corruption level. It’s a hidden movement mini-game in itself, with the Fellowship trying to sneak into Mordor, while the dark player tries to locate them and cause corruption. Composition of the Fellowship also changes as certain milestones are reached, parallel to the story.

Game requires you to balance your resources. As Free People, you will juggle between planning an effective Fellowship’s route to Mordor and allocating forces to distract the enemy.

Shadow Armies, on the other hand, are much stronger military speaking, but they must divert a certain number of Nazguls to prevent the Fellowship in its task.

Main features:

  • Ultimate Lord of the Rings board game.
  • Complex game with a lot of strategic options – with great theme implementation, art and miniatures.
  • Setting up and playing takes a lot of time, space and dedication.
  • Made with 2 players in mind.

Should you buy it?

If your’e looking for one game to rule them all, then this is it. It’s the best possible Lord of the Rings board game experience. But just like the books are vast, so is this game. It’s not something you bring out after family dinner. This one is for a pair of true hard core Lord of the Rings fans.

Click here to check out the price of War of the Ring (Second Edition) on Amazon

Conclusion

In Lord of the Rings, combat and adventure go hand-in-hand. You will experience the story (or at least a spin-off) in all the games above. But there are some that are more focused on certain elements or catered towards certain audience. To recap:

  • War of the Ring (Second Edition) is hands down the best Lord of the Rings board game, strong both in combat and narrative. But it’s not for the casual player.
  • It’s younger brother, The Battle of Five Armies is slightly simpler, but much harder to find for a reasonable price.
  • The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game is excellent in all aspects – if you’re looking for LotR living card game.
  • The Lord of the Rings: Journeys in Middle-earth with its strong app is a signpost of things to come. Great adventure and many players can play, but may offer to little for advanced players.
  • Lord of the Rings: The Confrontation is a great two player game, but also hard to find for a reasonable price.
  • Risk: The Lord of the Rings Trilogy Edition has no major weak points, but its – Risk.

So, if your’re more of a casual player, look into Risk or Journeys. For a serious board gamer, there is only one answer: War of the Ring. Card game is also a sound option, especially for solo play. If you have a hard time deciding, I’d say you won’t go wrong with Journeys.

Click here to check out the price of The Lord of the Rings: Journeys in Middle-earth on Amazon

I hope you found something for yourself. For me, I’m just glad I don’t have to type those extra long titles anymore. 🙂

If you have any questions, post them below.

Vasilij

2 thoughts on “Best Lord of the Rings Board Games – Top 6”

  1. This is an amazing article. As a child I am a fan of Lord of the Rings series. I searched the Internet for many games and I think I finally found what I like.
    My favorite is War of the Ring. This strategy game helps you a lot to develop your imagination and creativity as a player. I like how the fellowship is trying to hide and sneak into Mordor.

    Reply

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