Part of Ravensburger's adventure book series of games, this is a set of eight linked cooperative games that mirror scenes from the Lord of the Rings books and movies. The format is a storybook where each discrete game is played on a heavy-card double-page spread that provides both the playing board and a clear display of the players' objectives. Gameplay itself uses miniatures and a deck of cards. Tho' each of the adventures can be played on its own, the intention is that players will treat the Adventure Book as a campaign game and move from one chapter to the next.
The design by Jay Little, Ryan Miller and Marcus Ross succeeds in delivering a light, easy-to-play but challenging game that especially appeals to the legion of Tolkien fans. It's a fully cooperative game and it's playable solitaire and by up to four players, but it's probably at its best as a two-player game. As a two-player cooperative game you'll enjoy the opportunity to discuss tactics and to benefit from the permission the game gives players to swap cards. When we upped the count to three or four adult players, the game felt too light. That said, we could certainly see it working with younger players keen to relive and re-enact key scenes from the movies. In our plays at Board's Eye View we did find we had a few queries that we had to house rule as we couldn't find the answers in the rules FAQ. We were also confused by the simple instruction in Chapter 1 to move the Black Riders clockwise. We initially assumed, wrongly, that they moved via the dotted line paths on the map without noticing that there's a faint 'black smoke' path that traces their own separate circuit of movement.
Each chapter/adventure takes about 20 minutes, so this is a game that plays quickly - provided of course you solve each chapter's inherent puzzle and avoid the instant fail conditions... It's even possible to work your way through all eight chapters in a single sitting. If you do want to work your way through the book as a campaign, either all at once or over time, success in each chapter rewards players with extra cards that you add to your draw deck for future chapters. This adds to the game's thematic immersion.
But be warned that tho' the Lord of The Rings Adventure Book is light, it's not a pushover. You can find you can suddenly lose a chapter because there are some instant fail conditions. These can be triggered by Plot cards that get turned over at the end of each turn, so you need to anticipate potential pitfalls. If your experience matches ours, you may well find you have to learn from your mishap, re-set and try the chapter again. Among the cards players have at their disposal are Ring cards. These can be used as wild cards substituting for any other card that may be required so they are powerfully versatile but, like the One Ring, their use is not without risk: every time you use a Ring card you advance a marker on a corruption track, and if the marker gets to the end, it's Game Over!
For adults, the Lord of The Rings Adventure Book is something you'll play through once and probably won't want to return to to replay but we can certainly see children wanting to return to the Adventure Book for repeat plays. Maybe one for this year's Christmas stocking...