1-5 players, Cooperative, Story-Based Adventure, App Driven
Designer: Nathan I. Hajek, Grace Holdinghaus
Publisher: Fantasy Flight Games
Overview of Gameplay
In Journeys in Middle Earth you and up to 4 additional players take part in an exciting romp through the land of Middle Earth from The Lord of the Rings lore. To do this you will be moving your character mini around a tiled map that will propagate as you discover new areas. Over the course of this exploration you will be uncovering new situations such as other NPC’s that you can interact with or enemies to battle amongst many other things.
You will need a free install of a digital app to play the game however. In the app as you move around the physical game tiles you will notate where you are going and what you are doing. The app randomizes the physical tiles you place as well as who or what you might encounter on said tiles. The game is played over a series of “adventures” all pertaining to a specific storyline so you will be slowly uncovering the story as you progress.
There are also particular skills pertaining to each of the playable characters and different kinds of weapons and gear that you can find. Also over time your characters will gain experience and level up, gaining them new and more powerful skill cards they can use going forward. The same can be said for the items and weapons as they also level up into more powerful version on themselves by gaining “lore” during the gameplay.
Also you don’t really “lose” an adventure per say. It’s balanced more like if you do poorly, such as not completing your objective or one of your characters dying, then you won’t gain as many benefits at the end of the adventure AND it could make future adventures more challenging. I have not fully completed the storyline so I cannot speak to the VERY endgame, but from what I’ve seen going through 3 adventures and 2 battle maps this have been pretty standard.
More great components from Fantasy Flight. The minis are detailed and look good although not quite as intricate when compared to the minis from the newest Fallout board game expansion. This could be the color used though as some colors do make the detail pop much better. The tiles used for the map are super excellent. I am actually vastly more impressed with these than I thought I would be. The artwork on them looks outstanding and they are double-sided with one side containing outdoors areas with some wilderness and some with ruins and other neat looking locals. The other side has a ton of indoors places like caves and great halls of restless castles. Not only do they look good but I have had not a single one warp on me yet which is a feat unto itself for tiled based games. They all lay super flat and fit together perfectly. Also they all have a different shape so as you start filling the table out with these you will design a really intricate adventure map that twists and turns all over the place.
There is however a couple of bigger square sized “battle map” boards as well. These are little zoomed in adventures that take place in between the regular journey adventures. Whereas the journey map is a view of the surrounding lands you are exploring, the battle map is of a particular battle or place. It really shakes up the gameplay and thus far I have been pretty impressed. However these boards DO warp as they are much bigger than the regular tiles but a slight bending gets them back to normal.
Welp Fantasy Flight has finally done it. They have completely done away with standard sized cards in a game in favor of those mini cards they love so much. The thing is with this game in particular I think the mini cards work better than standard sized cards and the reason being, table space. You will usually have a ton of these little beasts scattered around each player mat showing all kinds of things such as readied skills, equipment and items, damage and fear and of course your draw deck for skill checks. I can’t even imagine how much of a table hog this game would be with standard sized cards gobbling up all the real estate.
There are also a fat batch of cardboard tokens used for various things in the game such as terrain and npc’s, etc. These are all good quality and get the job done although I could see the “battle map” scenarios really coming alive if you had some actual terrain to use such as some bushes, walls and campfires.
The box is decently large but can still fit in a standard Kallax shelf. It also has the standard Fantasy Flight cardboard insert so you will want to bag everything. This particular insert doesn’t really work at all for this game since most of the components are the oddly shaped board tiles. You WILL have a ton of extra space in this box however if you remove the insert and you will want to find some plastic baggies to separate and store all the different tokens and minis. Not impressed at all with Fantasy Flight’s inserts or storage solutions and in my opinion this is the main thing they as a company needs to work on with their games.
Visual Appeal /Theme
The game looks incredible and if you are a fan of The Lord of the Rings source material or fantasy material in general, you will probably love this one. I already mentioned how good the artwork on the tiles look and it really fits in with the fantasy theme the game portrays. The artwork on the cards also looks great and I have found myself drawing the weakness cards and just eyeballing the picture painted across them as they are all so different and interesting. It’s a shame the cards are so small as the artwork is really good.
I know some people do not like the way Fantasy Flight does their rulebooks as of late but I honestly think they are outstanding. With each new game they release it becomes easier and easier for me to get in and learn the game with the “learn to play” booklet. It’s short and sweet and it does what it says, it teaches you the basics quickly so you can jump in and play. The included Rules Reference book has a ton of little details that arise as you play that you can always jump in and find easily with the index in the back of the book. All in all very good rulebooks with very little confusion. One plus to the App is that I believe that it also helps in the learning of the game as well as it takes many bookkeeping aspects of the game and handles them itself.
Table Talk/Fun Factor
So I have only played the game solo using two characters but I have found myself enthralled by it. Exploring the tiles and there are so many things to interact with really creates a sense of adventure. Each different character has their own strengths and weaknesses and on top of that there are multiple different roles that each character can choose to be. This adds so much to the overall fun and makes you really adapt to every different situation. During my current playthrough I’ve found myself needing a character with high agility numerous times, unfortunately both of the characters I’ve chosen to play as both have low agility. This has really shaped the choices I have made going forward like if I suspect that I am going to have to make an agility check on a particular interaction, I will usually try a different route. I suspect playing with multiple players the table talk would be rather high though as it is a co-op game so you will want to discuss options and what MAY be an optimal path.
Optimal Player Count/Replayability
This is one that I think would be good at just about any player count. The reason I think this even though I have only played solo, is because I have a substantial amount of play time with Mansions of Madness 2nd edition. That game is a blast with 5 players just as it is a blast solo and after playing a few adventures of Journeys in Middle Earth I can say it is VERY similar to Mansions of Madness. The entire team will get involved in decisions and live or die by those decisions, I can see the same being said for Journeys.
Replayability is very good as well. Even though the base game comes with a particular main storyline that you will go through and this won’t change, the layout of the map tiles and interactions you have with NPC’s, enemies, what items you find and where, will all change every time you load up a new game. This is another thing the App actually does really well, it randomizes almost every situation so you will get a unique experience every time you play. They take this a bit further as well with the characters you choose to play as. Let’s say you choose Aragorn, well his main ability is always the same and his basic tactic cards are the same as well BUT you can choose one of many different roles for him. His default is the Captain role which is very adept at scouting (looking ahead in your skill deck) but you could choose to play him as a musician if you wanted. That would make him better at aiding other allies with bonus inspiration tokens and other things. So you can really tailor your character however you want and not only that but you can level up characters with better skill cards as well as their gear.
Positive Final Thoughts
I really, really enjoyed this one. I am already a huge fan of Mansions of Madness 2nd Edition so I kinda knew what I was getting into with this game and I expected to like it. I love the way the maps are played out and the way the skill checks work even better than how the dice works in MoM. The variability between playthroughs and the way the items and gear level up over time is really awesome. And personally I enjoy the app implementation and think it works very well here in conjunction with the physical game. I would say those people that refuse to play this just because it has an app are sorely missing out on something great here.
It has kept me interested for many hours and I have even caught myself thinking about wanting to play it while at work.
Negative Final Thoughts
The overall story hasn’t really grabbed me as tightly as I would have hoped. Even though it’s not “bad”, it’s pretty basic. However I am only 5 scenarios in so it could ramp up later but I would have expected it to grab me already.
The battle map scenarios are kinda hit and miss of the two I’ve played so far. The first one was an actual battle and it boiled down to my characters (both who were not ranged) just standing in one spot taking turns hitting the big baddie until he was dead and vice versa. It was thematic up to that part and then it kinda devolved. However the other one was more of a mystery style detective adventure and that was amazing. I’m excited to see how others will turn out and hopefully there won’t be as many of the fight versions.
One other thing I would say as a negative is sometimes you really don’t know what you need to explore and what you don’t going into adventures. There is an artificial time limit in the form of a Threat meter in the app. Every time you finish a full round the threat rises and if that ever fills up then you lose whatever mission you are trying to complete. So going in you will not ever have enough time to explore EVERYTHING and this creates confusion (at first) on what you really need to do to win. You end up just exploring everything and slowly figuring out what you need to do and hopefully that is before there are too many enemies on the map.
I mean right off this is a better version of Mansions of Madness 2nd edition. It’s like they took everything that game is made of and improved the overall formula and changed the theme. It almost reminds me of the way Clank! was a great game and then Clank in Space! was released and improved upon it. It feels the same way with this. Mansions is a great game and if you really love the Lovecraft theme then that would be the one to get BUT if theme doesn’t really matter to you then I would go with Journeys in Middle Earth as it feels like Mansions only improved.