Lord of the Rings: Journeys in Middle Earth is yet another board game by Fantasy Flight Games (FFG) that I have been addicted to. I played the entire campaign solo in about two weeks. I also took it upon myself to paint every included miniature. The gameplay is not revolutionary, in fact it will remind you of their own games like Mansions of Madness with the app driven campaign, the dungeon crawling of Descent, the art of the LotR card game, or the skill check system of just about every other game in their catalogue. Journeys feels like a best-of hits collection, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it leaves little room for innovation.
The app drives this game and has a great UI, It lets you easily upgrade cards and switch out hero classes if you want before each scenario. The app provides a great ambiance and is very responsive. This is my first app driven game and I must say that it did not feel gimmicky at all.
Most of Journeys mechanics revolve around exploring the map, completing a card based skill test and finishing the scenario before time is up. I understand there needs to be a sense of urgency to complete the given scenario, but having an inevitable “game over” visual on the app looming over me. This instilled a sense of dread made me make some very bad decisions, more on that later. I suppose if there wasn’t a Clank-esque timer for each scenario most adventurers would overstay their welcome trying to get all the XP they can.
Mini cards, this game uses A LOT of FFG mini cards and they are shuffled at the end of every phase making sleeves almost mandatory. Mini cards are used for everything, from the main character cards to weaknesses and armor cards. Each player will have a pool of cards made of basic, class and hero cards. Players will do some deck building as they level up. At the start of every round players will be able to scout two cards. This means they can look at the top two card of their deck. They can choose to either place them on the top, bottom or in play as an ability. This ties into skill checking, whenever a character interacts with anything, or wishes to fight, they will most likely have to perform a skill check. You win a skill check if you draw successes equal to the amount whichever skill you are testing. You also acquire inspiration tokens from abilities or exploring. Some cards have 1-2 inspiration icons instead of a success icon and can be counted as a success IF you have acquired inspiration tokens on your character sheet.
The art on the cards is great, and I really enjoy the full card art of the weaknesses. However, it’s always unfortunate when you draw one of these cards because that means you aren’t pulling a needed success. The quality of the miniatures and card stock are standard FFG quality and perfectly acceptable. There is no insert and I ended up purchasing a Plano and Broken Token card insert to help set up. With these two items set up only took about 5 minutes because there is usually only a few map tiles to put out at the start. Tear down took longer, because by the end of the game your map tiles are sprawling.
Earlier I mentioned that I made some bad decisions, without spoiling anything if you fail a scenario (I failed three total) you can still proceed with the campaign. However, because I was about to run out of time in a scenario I made a hasty decision and sided with the wrong faction, later backstabbing me and made it impossible for my group to defeat everyone on the final scenario. So yes, I lost everything, Middle Earth is in despair because of me and I still enjoyed this game.
I did enjoy this game and will probably play through it again when my villains expansion pack arrives, but I can’t help but feeling like this game could have been more. Again, it comes down to being more of the same from FFG. The mechanics are stale, the story is just acceptable and it feels like an updated re-skin of Descent, or Imperial Assault or…Mansions of Madness, it could have done so much more with the epic Lord of the Rings story and characters/