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There’s an Adventure on the Cards

Authored by “Got News Precious” contributor Martin Burrows.

Sophisticated Games, along with their US partners Fantasy Flight Games, have recently released The Hobbit Card Game. We got hold of a copy to try out and see if it could fill the small footsteps of going on a hobbit adventure – is it worth putting on your shopping list?

The short answer to that is yes, though with a list price of only $9.95 in USA it would have to be a very poor game to not be worth trying if you’re a Tolkien gaming fan. At that price its in the same area as easy access, fast play games such as Zombie Dice or Get Bit and its against such games that it should be judged. Is it a game you’re going to want to play with friends more than once or twice?

Before answering that, first lets take a look at the product itself. The first thing that strikes you is the pleasantly compact size of the packaging – the hugely oversized Lord of the Rings Living Card Game box this is not! The sturdy cardboard box is the size of 2 packs of playing cards and inside are the 65 cards of the game. First impressions of quality are excellent, helped in no small part by all the game artwork being taken from well known Ted Nasmith paintings of Middle-earth. The artwork is well rendered on the cards, bright and inviting you to shuffle through to enjoy all the images. The cards are perhaps made with cardstock that is a little too light, but they’re certainly not low quality. Many high profile trading card games could do with having cards of this quality.

There’s no doubt that the game has a lot of shelf appeal and at that price point will end up being picked up in many game store impulse buys, but when it comes to sitting around the table to play the game is it as successful?

The Hobbit Card Game has fairly simple mechanics. If you’re familiar with trick taking games like Uno then you’ll be familiar with the basics of how to play The Hobbit Card Game. Where it gets more complex is with character cards. The game is for 2 – 5 players (though the 2 player rules are a bit of a fudge at best, the game was clearly designed for 3 – 5 players) and each player has a character card that is either good or evil. Its Bilbo, Thorin and Gandalf versus Smaug and Bolg. Yes, its uneven sides, with an attempt at compensating for that in the rules which is one of the first points at which the game feels….clunky.

By the time you add in card types, which basically break down into damage, healing and bonuses, the game can start to feel too complex for a cheap, quick play game. Whichever character wins the trick hands out the cards they have just won (to give damage or healing) but as each character gives out the cards differently you soon find yourself referring to the rules sheet far more often than should be necessary. You’ll also be checking the rules more than once to work out who has actually won.

The Hobbit Card Game is in no way a bad game. Once you get past that clunky feeling with the rules it can be an entertaining game that is played quite quickly, but what I’m not sure about is if the motivation of playing a card game based around The Hobbit will be enough to get over that hump for people who are more interested in gaming than in Tolkien. Fast games need to have a fast impact and on game night, when folks are reaching for a fast game to get the night going, I’m not sure many will reach for The Hobbit Card Game unless they are real Tolkien fans too.

Should you buy The Hobbit Card Game? If you like Tolkien games – and I’m presuming that if you’ve read this far on this site that you’re a Tolkien fan who likes to play games – then absolutely you should. Its a cheap, well made game with beautiful art that will reward you once you learn its idiosyncrasies. Is it a great Tolkien based game? You’ll have to decide that once you try it. For me, its definitely earned a place on my game shelf. How often it gets taken down from that shelf to be played, however, is another matter entirely.

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