POPULAR BOARD GAMES INSPIRED BY THE WORKS OF J.R.R. TOLKIEN
The works of J.R.R. Tolkien have influenced many people over the years, and the creators of board games were also inspired by his works, so they created some of the most popular board games set in the world we all know and love. There are many board games that are thematically connected to Tolkien’s works, but sadly some of them have been out of print for decades, and some of them can only be bought as used copies from private sellers. Keeping that in mind, I will present to you the most popular board games that are set in Middle-earth, and if you would like a full list of all the games that ever existed in this setting, you can find the list on BoardGameGeek (https://boardgamegeek.com/boardgamefamily/4263/authors-jrr-tolkien ). NOTE: some of the games on this list are merely expansions for various base games.
I was introduced to the hobby of board gaming during the pandemic, just like many other people. Spending all those days indoors was much easier when I discovered that I can combine my new hobby with one of my greatest loves, Tolkien. All these games enable players to explore the world of Middle-earth in their own way, and they let you participate in some of the events that you are all familiar with, such as Frodo and Sam’s journey to Mount Doom, various battles etc. Join me on our journey to discover new ways of enjoying Tolkien!
- War of the Ring: Second Edition (2011)
Playing time: 150-180 minutes
Complexity: 4.20/5 (BoardGameGeek community rating)
The highest ranking game following this theme on BoardGameGeek is the second edition of a famous strategy board game named War of the Ring, published by Ares Games. In this game, players assume the roles of the Free Peoples or the Shadow Armies in the events of the War of the Ring. However, the game offers more complexity than just mere battles. The Free Peoples are aware of Sauron’s strength, and they are reluctant to engage in battle with his armies, so they must be persuaded to do so by various characters, which is noted by the Political Track. Players can win the game if either side conquers the other side’s strongholds, but victory can also be achieved behind-the-scenes, so to say. By advancing the quest of the Ringbearer, that is secretly taking Frodo and Sam to Mount Doom to destroy the Ring, the Free Peoples can claim their victory. But be careful, sometimes it is hard for the Free Peoples to defend their lands while simultaneously aiding Frodo, so a proper strategy must be made. The game has several mechanics that aid both players in achieving their goals. Rolling the Action Dice enables the players to do certain actions on their turn, depending on the result of the roll (moving armies, recruiting troops, advancing on the Political Track etc.), and it also enables the players to draw and use Event Cards. Event Cards represent specific events in the story (or some that possibly could have happened), and those events affect the players’ strategies, or sometimes they create an unexpected turn of events. The game itself is complex, and it takes some time to remember all the rules, but once you remember them, the game flows smoothly. It is a very interesting and engaging game, since you get the feeling that you actually participate in the events of the War of the Ring and that the fate of Middle-earth is in your hands. The game comes with over 200 miniatures of various armies and characters. There are also several expansions for the base game, and every expansion introduces new characters or armies, and their corresponding miniatures, and new events that can be incorporated into the base game.
- The Lord of the Rings: Journeys in Middle-earth (2019)
Playing time: 60-120 minutes
The next high ranking board game on our list is The Lord of the Rings: Journeys in Middle-earth, published by Fantasy Flight Games. In this game, the players participate in a campaign to explore Middle-earth and while doing so, they must occasionally fight the forces of evil. The game is fully co-operative and somewhat resembles classic tabletop role-playing games (such as Dungeons and Dragons, the One Ring etc.), in the sense that each game you play represents a small adventure in a larger campaign. However, this game introduces an innovation for the players, there is a free companion app (available both on PC and mobile) that serves as the guide for the game. Unlike the mentioned classic role-playing games, here there is no need for one of the players to guide, you can all play! The app guides you through Middle-earth, helping you explore vast areas, or sometimes perilous areas where you have to fight off certain enemies. The game consists of cards, game board tiles, miniatures and other components, and offers expansions that add new characters to the game, again with their corresponding game pieces and cards. If you ever wanted to explore Middle-earth in a unique way, then this is the game for you!
- The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game (2011)
Players: 1-2 (up to 4 with expansions)
Playing time: 30-60 minutes
If you are a fan of deck-building games and battling your opponents one on one, then this game is right up your alley. Another game by Fantasy Flight Games brings us the world of Tolkien in its own way, with the release of the revised core set in 2022. The base game comes with 3 scenarios, 12 characters and 4 pre-made decks of cards. The additions for the game, called adventure packs, are released monthly, which offer new characters and cards to boost your existing deck. The interesting part about this game is that it is not set during any of the events of the books, namely the heroes are set in the time period of 17 years between Bilbo’s 111th birthday and Frodo’s departure from the Shire. This allows the players to create their own adventures in Middle-earth without certain limitations. However, if you are more interested in adventuring during the events of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, the Saga expansion offers you that exact experience. In this game, the heroes attempt to complete a certain scenario using their heroes and the allies in their deck, which the players can construct on their own or use the pre-made decks. This game offers the players to create and experience their own adventures in Middle-earth and involves a certain amount of strategy mechanics, since the players have to determine their paths in order to benefit their cause the most. Certainly an interesting and popular game that engages players all around the world.
- The Battle of the Five Armies (2014)
Playing time: 90-240 minutes
If you like the concept of the game War of the Ring, but prefer the setting of The Hobbit, this is the game for you. Also published by Ares Games, The Battle of the Five Armies is a strategic board game involving the armies described in The Hobbit. Just like its predecessor, this game involves Event Cards, Action Dice, and miniatures representing the forces fighting in the Battle of the Five Armies. The mechanics of the game are similar to the ones of the War of the Ring, with some modifies rules, since this game represents just one battle, not an entire war. Several expansions for the game have been announced, depicting various battles from the Third Age in Middle-earth, such as the Siege of Gondor, Saruman’s assault against Rohan etc., but the release date of the expansions is yet unknown. Much like the game War of the Ring, The Battle of the Five Armies is well liked among players, even though the rules are somewhat complex.
- Lord of the Rings (2000)
Playing time: 60-90 minutes
Lord of the Rings is a co-operative board game, published by Fantasy Flight Games, in which the players each play a Hobbit with a unique power, as they attempt to destroy the One Ring in Mount Doom, while resisting the corruption of Sauron. There are four conflict boards, each representing a key conflict in the quest to destroy the One Ring: Moria, Helm’s Deep, Shelob’s Lair and finally Mount Doom. The player use their hand of cards to move their heroes across the board, while using some special abilities from the cards and collecting tokens and rewards along the way. The goal is to reach the end of the Mount Doom conflict before the corruptive influence of Sauron reaches a certain point, and to destroy the Ring in the fires of Mount Doom. In this game, the players rely heavily on each other, and aid one another in their quest. A really fun co-operative game in the full sense of the word. If you think your team can finish the quest and resist Sauron’s influence, it is time for you to set out on the quest of your life!
- War of the Ring: The Card Game (2022)
Playing time: 90-120 minutes
After the success of their strategy board games, Ares Games decided to develop a card game, named War of the Ring: The Card Game. Once again, the conflict between the Free Peoples and the Shadow Armies arises, except this time in a different form. Players take control of their armies, and battle each other using their card decks, each with its own strengths and abilities. They fight on various battleground and paths, with certain limitations, as presented on the cards. The game offers three possible scenarios of play, the Trilogy scenario which is designed for two teams of players, each with 2 players; the Two-Player Duel scenario, for 2 players; and the Fellowship of the Ring scenario, as a short two-player game, great for shorter games or while learning the rules. The players take turn taking their actions, combating their enemies or travelling across Middle-earth. This game offers a great deal of interesting mechanics, but the components of the game offer a different experience altogether. Over 100 illustrations from the greatest Tolkienian artist of the world, such as John and Fataneh Howe, make this game so much more than it originally seems, a collection of beautiful artworks that let the players glimpse into the world imagined by Tolkien. Truly a beautiful game!
- Hunt for the Ring (2017)
Playing time: 90-180 minutes
Another Lord of the Rings themed board game from Ares Games is Hunt for the Ring. This game is a hidden movement game, played in two separate chapters, using the appropriate board. On the first board, the player playing as Frodo must get from the Shire to Bree, and while doing so, avoid being detected by the Nazgûl, played by the other player/s. If Frodo reaches Bree safely, and in a certain number of turns, you can choose to record the game and continue with the other chapter at another time, or play the second chapter immediately. During the second chapter, Frodo player must reach Rivendell, starting from Bree. However, there is a slight change in gameplay in relation to the first chapter. The Frodo player does not determine the path to Rivendell, the path is determined by the drawn cards from the Journey Deck. If you are a fan of cat-and-mouse games, or hidden movement, this game should definitely be in your collection. It is an intriguing game, with many components and gameplay mechanics that make this game as fun as it is. Also, the tension that rises with each movement, or when the Frodo player gains corruption, will certainly entertain you and your player group for some time. The game also offers an expansion introducing four new playable characters from the beginning chapters of the book.
- The Lord of the Rings: Journey to Mordor (2015)
Playing time: 20 minutes
If you were wondering whether there is a simpler and shorter Lord of the Rings themed board game, you will be delighted to know that KOSMOS has released a game called The Lord of the Rings: Journey to Mordor. This game makes you roll the dice and choose certain dice to use in your turn, with some restrictions, of course. You can use the dice to move your characters on the board or to move the Nazgûl. The final objective is, you guessed it, bring the Hobbits to Mount Doom and destroy the Ring before Sauron can take it from you. This is such a simple game, but yet it is so entertaining that I believe it will often be set up during board game nights. If you are not always in the mood for a lengthy strategic game, this game is short enough, but still makes you come up with a certain strategy. However, your strategy may be completely useless if the rolled dice point you in another direction, which is what makes this game fun and replayable.
- The Hobbit: An Unexpected Party (2020)
Playing time: 40-60 minutes
I believe we all remember the song sung by the Dwarves while they were making a mess at poor Bilbo’s house, but can you sing all the lines correctly? If you want to win in this game, you better learn the lyrics! In this game, published by Weta Workshop, the players assume the roles of the Dwarves that arrived in Bag End and earn points by correctly performing the lines of the song ‘Blunt the Knives’. There are other mechanics in the game that make you move around the place, and make a mess of it while singing the song. The game ends when all the 15 lines of the song are sung, or when the leader of the company, Thorin Oakenshield, appears at the door. This is a fast, action-based game that lets the players spend some time in Bag End and have fun, all under the watchful eye of Gandalf.
- The Lord of the Rings Adventure Book Game (2023)
Playing time: 20-160 minutes (depending on how many chapters are played)
This is a newly released game with the theme we all know and love, escaping Sauron to destroy the One Ring. Released by Ravensburger, this game encourages the players to work together during their adventure to destroy the Ring and save Middle-earth. The game is divided into 8 chapters, each played on a different board game page. The players work their way through the chapters, solving puzzles and overcoming challenges that they come across. The game offers flexibility, so it can be played in solo or co-op mode, and each chapter takes approximately 20 minutes to play. Work together to save Middle-earth in this simple, yet intense game!
The Lord of the Rings: Adventure to Mount Doom (2023)
Along with all the mentioned games, and some not yet mentioned, KOSMOS announced a new Lord of the Rings themed board game to be released this year. This game, according to the publisher, will be a co-operative game, once again set during the quest to destroy the One Ring. However, the movements and actions of the company are determined by rolling the colored dice, and choosing the best strategy. But beware, there is a black die that must be rolled every time, and triggers threats and encounters that might make the players alter their strategy altogether. When Frodo reaches Mount Doom, the players have all won together. Seems like a fun co-operative game that I personally look forward to playing, because I can never have enough games where I get the chance to beat Sauron!
Since the Lord of the Rings is a very popular theme among board game publishers, it is no surprise that many classic titles had a Lord of the Rings version. For example, there have been two editions of Monopoly: Lord of the Rings, and the game Risk also had its Lord of the Rings version, along with expansions. There is also a Lord of the Rings version of the game Labyrinth, and several versions of Trivial Pursuit and similar games to test your knowledge on the world of Tolkien. Most of these games have been out of print for some time, so it is sometimes hard to acquire a copy. However, the game series Exit made a Lord of the Rings themed game (one time adventure/puzzle), which is still available for purchase.
I hope you enjoyed reading through this list, although, as I mentioned before, these are just some of the board games that are inspired by the works of J.R.R. Tolkien. All the games on this list are still in print and can be purchased, which is the main reason why some of the games never made it on to this list. It is always fun to see how many different board games there are out there, seemingly the same because of their theme, but differing greatly in their mechanics and gameplay tactics. Playing board games is another way to explore the world of Middle-earth, the world we all know and love, and I hope this list helps you choose the board game best suited for your Middle-earth adventure.
Good luck adventurers!