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Written Review – The Lord of the Rings Dice Building Game

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Being a fan of deck-building games and having the occasional love-affair with dice, I was intrigued with the announcement of WizKid’s Lord of the Rings Dice Building Game. Having heard its mechanics worked similarly to Quarriors, I delayed picking it up, because despite my love for dice, I had not played Quarriors. Published in 2013, Middle Earth joined the dice-building world forcing players to make tough decisions in regards to the best allies to recruit, all while leaving the fate of the dice rolls and corruptible heroes to chance. Supporting 2-4 players, build your forces to defeat Sauron and save Middle Earth!

Out of the Box

Inside the box, you will find the many dice promised by the cover, a rulebook, 4 glory point cubes, 4 dice bags, 4 player mats, 1 Sauron mat, Corruption Tokens, 1 One Ring token, 6 double sided Hero cards, 3 Basic Cards, and 4 each of Heirloom, Elven Gift, and Weapon cards (known as Artifacts). The dice appeared to be well made, as were the dice bags.

One of my favorite things upon opening the box was a plastic insert that is placed over the dice tray. This keeps the dice from flying all over the box when transporting and storing the game, and my inner neat-freak squealed just a little bit. The one thing that comes in the box that seems out of place is the rulebook. Printed on plain white paper, and not to mention confusing, the rulebook didn’t provide much information and was rather disjointed. The rules were later clarified with an updated downloadable set of rules, which I will link to at the end of the review.

Before we get into game play, we will discuss some of the symbols that you will see on various dice and what they mean.

When a Bill the Pony symbol appears, you draw X dice to roll from your bag (X being the number on the Pony) to add to your active pool.
The second dice shown here is a Re-roll symbol. When this is rolled, you may roll this and one other dice of your choice, but must accept the outcome of the re-roll.
The third is a variant of a combination of symbols. The dice shown here means that this die may be used as 3 Fellowship Points, OR a Re-roll. The division line between the two means you must choose one or the other, though there are dice that will show two symbols and no division line, meaning you may use both.
The fourth and seventh dice shown are Artifacts. One has a burst symbol (the asterisk at the bottom left), and one does not. These burst symbols activate different abilities described on their cards.Then, the fifth and sixth dice here are examples of Unit dice. The number in the upper left corner is the Unit’s level (also indicating how many Fellowship points must be spent to Muster or Prepare this Unit), the upper right corner is that Unit’s attack value, and the lower right is the Unit’s defense. Some Units have special burst effects, depending on the number of burst symbols located in this corner which can be determined by looking at the corresponding card.

Playing The Game

First things first, players choose their color. They take that color’s dice bag and a player mat. Someone sets out Sauron’s mat, and the glory score tracker next to it. Each player takes the cube matching their color and places it next to the score tracker to represent that they are at “0” glory. The three Basic cards are laid out in a row in the center of the table (known as The Wilds), consisting of Frodo Baggins, Samwise Gamgee, and Bill the Pony. The Location cards are placed in order face down on Sauron’s mat, and the first location, “The Shire”, is placed face up. Each player takes 8 Frodo dice (forest green) and 2 Samwise dice (olive green) and place them in their dice bags. Two additional dice are placed next to Samwise’s card, and the 4 brown Bill the Pony dice are set next to Bill’s card.

As you progress through the game, each Location card will instruct players when dice are exchanged out, what the Eye of Sauron on enemy dice do, and when to set out cards. The shortest player begins the game with The One Ring token as first player, and in case of a tie, the player with the hairiest feet.

Player’s Turn

On a player’s turn, there are 5 Phases.

In Phase 1, the active player scores their units. Any units that have survived a previous round add to the player’s glory score. Each unit’s glory value is located in the upper right star on the dice’s corresponding card. If a unit that has been mustered is corrupted by Sauron before your Score phase, you will still score that unit. Players may go above 20 glory by starting the points back up at “1” with a note that they are at +20. Once scored, these mustered units are moved to the Used Pile on your mat. This includes any attached Artifacts. Any unattached Artifacts may remain mustered. All units still in the Prepared Area then move to the Used Pile without scoring Glory.

Phase 2 begins and it is time to roll some dice. Five dice are removed from the dice bag (at random!), and rolled. These dice are placed in your active pool. Some die (such as Bill the Pony, Elven Rope, etc) have Immediate effects. These effects must be taken but can occur in any order that the player chooses. Once these dice are used, they are moved to the Spent Pile. Also, any dice rolled that are Corrupted count as blank dice on all sides and are placed in the Spent Pile as well. In order to Muster or Prepare any Units rolled, you must pay Fellowship points equal to that Unit’s level (located in the upper left corner of the die).

In Phase 3, battle begins. Mustered Units are used to attack and defend against those of Sauron. Prepared Units are for other players to use if needed. The Prepared Area is also where Frodo dice are placed to negate effects of the Eye of Sauron if they are rolled. Once Units have been Prepared or Mustered, all remaining Fellowship dice remain in the Active Pool for the Recruit/Restore Phase. The total attack value available in your Muster area are then focused towards Sauron’s Units. If available, you may also use Units in other players’ Prepared Areas, and you must use all the Units in this players’ space. The attacking player then chooses which Enemy Unit defends. If your attack total is lower than the Enemy’s defense, nothing happens and the attack ends. If the total is equal to or greater than the Enemy’s defense, that die is moved to Sauron’s Destroyed Unit Area, and its defense is subtracted from your attack total. If the attack total remains above 0, another Enemy is chosen to defend, and the same rules are followed. If there are no more Units left to defend, your attack ends. When done carefully, one player has the potential to wipe out a full Mustered area in one attack phase.

Your Mustered Units remain in the Muster Area. However, any Prepared Units from other players mats that were used in the attack are moved to that player’s Used Pile, and the owners of those Units gain 1 glory per Unit scored (not the printed Glory).

Phase 4 allows you to expand your resources or remove corruption. Until players reach the Mines of Moria (Location 5), the only Units available for recruiting are the Basic three starting cards. In this phase, you may spend Fellowship points in your Active Pool equal to the Fellowship cost of a card in The Wilds, which is located at the upper left corner of these cards. Only one die may be recruited per turn, and if done, the recruited die is placed in that player’s Used Pile, the Fellowship points are moved to the Spent Pile. Alternatively, you may choose to Restore a card by removing a Corruption marker. To do this, you sacrifice your recruitment to pay the Fellowship cost of a card to remove a Corruption token from it. IMPORTANT NOTE : When a player recruits a dice from The Wilds, consequences can follow. If there are any dice on Sauron’s Enemy cards in the same row as the Unit or Artifact that was recruited, a die from that card is added to Sauron’s Mustered Area. A Corruption marker is placed on top of this die to indicate that its attack will not count in Sauron’s attack phase, but it will count for Sauron’s score phase.

Phase 5 is your clean up in which all dice are moved from the Spent Pile and Active Pool to the Used Pile. Artifacts that are not attached to a Unit or have not yet been used may remain in the Muster area for future use. The turn then passes to the player on the left. When the last player in this rotation has finished their turn, it is Sauron’s turn.

Sauron’s Turn

Sauron’s Phase 1 is similar to players’ Phase 1, in which he scores Units. Each die in Sauron’s Muster Area (including Eye of Sauron dice and ones with corruption tokens) gives him 1 Corruption point to be used later in his turn.

In Phase 2, Sauron attacks the players. If there are no dice in his Muster Area, skip this step. The attack values of Sauron’s Units (except for those with corruption markers on them) are added together, and his attack begins with the player to the left of the Ringbearer. The defending player may defend with Units in his Mustered area only. This works similarly to the players attack phase. If Sauron’s attack is less than the Player’s Unit’s defense, nothing happens, and Sauron moves on to the next player. Similarly, if Sauron’s attack is greater or equal to that Unit’s defense, it is moved to the Player’s Used Area, with its defense subtracted from Sauron’s attack value. This continues with this player’s remaining Units, or moves on to the next player if the first player attacked has no more Mustered Units.

When the attack reaches the Ringbearer, this player has a chance to use the One Ring, but at a price. If they so choose, they may place the One Ring token on a Frodo die in the Muster Area, and this makes all that player’s Units impervious to attack. This may only be used if a Frodo die is in the Muster area, and will cause Sauron to gain 1 Corruption token per die protected.

Sauron’s Phase 3 puts the players’ strategies at risk, as he spreads Corruption that he has earned. If possible, Sauron must corrupt a card in The Wilds, and must corrupt the most expensive card possible. When there is a tie in cost, the Ringbearer chooses which card is corrupted. However, the Ringbearer may sacrifice Glory points to reduce the number of Corruption points that Sauron can spread. To corrupt a card, one corruption token is placed on the corresponding card, and all future rolls with this card’s dice are rendered useless unless the corruption is removed. The only card immune to this is Frodo. IMPORTANT NOTE : Sauron will win the game if there are 4 corrupted cards in a 4 player game, 5 corrupted cards in a 3 player game, or 6 cards in a 2 player game.

Any remaining corruption points that Sauron has are discarded, and he moves to the next phase.

Phase 4 allows players to move on to the next location if there are no more active Enemy Units in Sauron’s Muster Area. If there are dice in this area with corruption markers on them, they do not count as active Units, and players may advance to the next location. The instructions are followed on these cards, and the will tell players what happens when it is revealed. When Enemy cards are placed in The Wilds, they only get 3 dice, but there are 5 of each type in the box. Any time a location cards tells players to add or replace Sauron’s Enemy dice, they are always exchanged from these extras in the box. Enemy Dice in The Wilds are only moved when players recruit from the rows that these cards are in. All of Sauron’s dice from all areas on his mat are moved to the Active Pool.

In Sauron’s last Phase, he rolls all dice in the Muster and Active areas on his mat. All corruption markers are removed from the mat at this time. All dice that are rolled move to the Muster area, including Eye of Sauron dice. Each enemy card will tell players what each die face represents. NOTE : If a player has a Frodo dice in the Prepared Area, they may move that dice to the Used Pile to negate the effects of an Eye of Sauron. This die remains in the Mustered Area of Sauron’s mat, but the effects disappear. Unless noted otherwise, all of Sauron’s Destroyed Enemy Dice remain destroyed until the next location is reached.

If the players travel through all 8 locations, they have won!

Final Thoughts

Though built for 2-4 players, I believe that The Lord of the Rings Dice Building Game is best played with 4 players. More players does incite more dice for Sauron to have at his disposal, but you also have more fighting power on your side, so it balances out in the end. Once able to get a solid grasp on the rules thanks to the updated rules posted online from WizKids, the game progressed quickly and became fairly straightforward. The updated rules also provides Variant Rules for players to change up the way the game plays, though I would highly recommend playing the game on a normal mode for the first round or two. It even includes key differences between The Lord of the Rings DBG and Quarriors for players used to the Quarriors system.

My only complaints about the game as I received it was, as already noted, the unclear rulebook, which has been amended with the updated file. I did find a few dice that had some unclear printing on them, but as a whole I was very pleased with the quality of the contents and its interior organization. The Lord of the Rings Dice Building Game can be found anywhere from $35-$45, and I would recommend picking this up for the lower end of that if you have any doubts. Otherwise, I feel that most LotR fans will enjoy this game, as will their friends.