Author: Peter Neugebauer

Publisher: Kosmos 2001

Awards: none



With the release of the first part of the new Lord of the Rings movie drawing closer, the games industry is starting to try to cover a predictably increasing demand for new games based on J.R.R. Tolkien's epic work. After the release of the Lord of the Rings boardgame by Kosmos / Hasbro in Fall 2001 Kosmos now has decided to add a Tolkien boardgame also to its line of 2-player games. The result of Kosmos' effords is Der Herr der Ringe - Die Suche (The Search).

In this game, the players take up the roles of Frodo and Sam which both have set out in order to search for Mount Doom to take The One Ring there and destroy it. They will find the Mountain only in the final phase of the game, and on their way there they can collect valuable friends and artefacts, but they also have to face deadly enemies.

The gameboard itself is mostly created during the game, and in the end it will consist of 48 square terrain pieces. These terrain pieces may show up to 4 different types of terrain: Woods, Fields, Mountains and Water. However, sometimes there are not 4 different terrains on a piece but less, resulting one or the other type of terrain taking up more than 1 quarter of the terrain piece.

At the beginning, one special piece showing the Shire and all 4 different types of terrains is placed at the middle of the table. Placing one terrain piece at a time, the players now add terrain pieces until a cross of 8 × 6 pieces has been formed, keeping the Shire always at the crossing junction. (This cross fixes the dimensions of the gameboard for the rest of the game. In the end, it will have an rectangular shape.) However the pieces may not be placed simply as a player likes. A player may only add a terrain piece if it fits with the type of terrain shown on that side of the particular terrain piece where he wants to add a terrain.

Once the cross of terrain pieces has been created, the real game will begin. Each player has a stock of three terrain pieces on his hand, and he has to start his turn by adding one of these pieces to the terrain pieces already on the table. Once again he has to observe the terrain-types for placing his new terrain piece, and he may only place a new piece next to at least 2 already placed pieces. Once a piece is placed, a player refills his hand with a 3rd piece which is randomly drawn from a terrain-pile. Next, a player may move his Hobbit figure. Both players start at the Shire, and they may move their hobbits for 1 landscape. A landscape is created by placing terrain pieces next to each other to form larger, unbroken areas of certain types of terrain. Thus, for example, good placement of terrain pieces may result in the creation of a wood which covers parts of 3 or more terrain pieces. Such a larger mass of terrain of a certain type is called a landscape. A player's Hobbit may move from one landscape to a neighbouring landscape one per turn.

If the placement of terrain pieces has created a landscape which has exactly the size of two terrain pieces, this terrain becomes an event space. Depending on the type of terrain, a random event marker is placed there. On fields and woods, the marker is placed face up, and while woods contain markers with other characters like Gandalf, Aragon etc, fields contain markers with useful artefacts like Sting, Mithril Armour etc. A Hobbit may simply take the counter once he has reached the particular event space. In Mountains, the event markers are placed face down, and here the event markers quite often simply show an empty cave, but sometimes it may also be monsters like Orcs, Trolls or the Balrog. When a Hobbit reaches such a space, he ha to fight that monster, and, depending on the size of the monster, he has to lose 1 or 2 turns until the fight is over. Afterwards, he may take the event marker and place it with the rest of his markers. However, a player may chose to reveal some of his allies and artefacts. If he does so, his loss of turns will not happen, but he may lose points at the end of the game.

A special kind of terrain is the Water. A player may only enter a Water-landscape once he decides to spend two of the mountain-event-markers which he has collected during the game in order to acquire a boat. On Water, once again a player may find face down event markers, and these ow may show the Lord of the Eagles, an Ent, Gollum or The One Ring. A Lord of the Eagles marker may be used by the player once during the game to enhance his movement, allowing him to skip several landscapes. An Ent may be spent by the player to take another turn directly after he has played a turn. Gollum and the One Ring are simply kept until the end.

The more terrain-pieces have been placed, the more difficult it will become to find pieces which will still fit to the board. If a piece does not fit at all, a player may place it backside-up, using it is a joker. It is divided into four quarters, thus ending neighbouring landscapes the usual way. However, a landscape consisting of a joker-piece may never become an event-space. Once the final terrain-piece has been placed, Mount Doom is placed at that piece. Bother players then will have to rush to Mount Doom, and once a player has reached it the game is over.

In the end, each player has to calculate his score: A player gets points for unused Water chips, for Allies and Artefacts, for defeated Monsters, for being the first to reach Mount Doom and for reaching Mount Doom with the One Ring and with Gollum. Conversely, a player loses points if he had revealed allies or artefacts in a battle with a monster and if he possesses Gollum unless he reaches Mount Doom in possession of the One Ring. The player with most points has won the game.

Being in the fortunate position of knowing quite a few Tolkien based boardgames, I must confess that this game somewhat disappoints me. For a game which takes on the pretentious aim of trying to capture the flavour of Tolkien's famous books, Die Suche remains a game which is outclassed by many other titles which have been released over the past decades.

The most positive aspect of the game certainly is the artwork and graphics, leaving apart the somewhat strange look of the finished map which has been randomly created. However, and this is by far of more importance, the rules of the game lack a coherent and well-structured playing mechanism which captures the players and the spirit of the story alike. The way the players collect points during the game - by the collection of event markers - introduces a high element of luck to the game which is by no means counterbalanced by the strategic choices which are left to the players. True, there is some degree of strategy in the game, but to my mind it is simply not high enough to offer a challenging and interesting pastime. This weakness of the rules is coupled with a particular disregard concerning the story itself. To my mind, it looks like some few elements from the story have been squeezed into a game to make it appear like a true Lord of the Rings game, but on closer scrutiny players will discover that this choice of story elements is not reflected by corresponding rules. One example is the use of certain event markers on Water: What do Gollum, the One Ring or an Ent have to do with a voyage on Water? The next point is that the game does not reflect the team-spirit between the Hobbits, but instead sets them into some kind of competition. True, there have been games which also did set players of the Fellowship into a competition (i.e. the old Lord of the Rings Adventure Game by MB), but these games at least fully carried through with the notion of contest by allowing the players different possibilities to interact with each other (through cardplay etc). The only major influence a player can take on the other in this game is by the placement of terrain tiles.

To sum it up, I think that the Tolkien-elements in Die Suche have not been used in a way which offers the players a possibility to experience even some of the atmosphere of The Lord of the Rings. The game certainly had possibilities, but lacking identification with Tolkien's works on side of the author has resulted in a very immature product.

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Copyright © 2006 Frank Schulte-Kulkmann, Essen, Germany