19 January 2018
Hobbits and hidden movement make for a perfect pair
Hunt for the Ring is the latest Tolkien adaptation from two of the masters of capturing the author’s epic fantasy world of Middle-earth on the tabletop: War of the Ring co-creators Francesco Nepitello and Marco Maggi. This time, the pair has teamed up with hidden movement expert Gabriele Mari, best known for Jack the Ripper favourites Letters from Whitechapel and Whitehall Mystery, and scaled down their scope from simulating the entirety of the Lord of the Rings trilogy to focusing on just the opening of Fellowship of the Ring as Frodo and his hobbit companions attempt to flee the pursuing Nazgûl and reach Bree before moving on to Rivendell.
Hunt for the Ring feels very much like the meeting of minds behind its designers’ signature games. The tense pursuit and claustrophobic escapes of the Ripper games are here, combined with the dice drafting, thematic powers and dedication to Middle-earth lore seen in War of the Ring. In fact, Hunt for the Ring can be played as a prelude to War of the Ring, with the outcome of the game handing either the Free People or Shadow a starting advantage. That may sound like a hell of a commitment, but Hunt is nowhere near the length or weight of War – even if you complete both of its two separate chapters in a single sitting. (A way to save your progress between the halves is included.)
What Hunt does have in common with War is that it feels distinctly like you’re living through the events of Tolkien’s novels. As they search for ‘Baggins’, the Nazgûl are able to gather information to narrow down Frodo's potential location from a section of the map to a more specific area, before searching individual locations to pick up his trail – and key information can increase their power, enabling extra abilities and potentially unleashing the fearsome Lord of the Nazgûl. To help Frodo, each of his companions has a helpful talent, supplemented by ally cards and tokens that present the chance to distract, block and resist the corruption of the Ringwraiths and the One Ring.
There’s a lot of variety in the powers and decisions going on, and it all feels true to the world of Middle-earth. The Nazgûl travel faster on roads and at night, while Frodo must rest at the end of a day – or can choose to press on, but risks being discovered by his hunters. The core gameplay is quick to pick up, and being found as Frodo doesn’t mean an instant loss, making it a relatively easy game to get into – like the best in the genre, the complexity is left to what decisions you can make, rather than how they are performed.
Uniquely, Hunt for the Ring is two hidden movement games in one. If Frodo reaches Bree, the outcome sets up a second half where the hidden player switches control to Gandalf, while Frodo’s movement becomes an automated journey to Rivendell defined by a deck of route cards. Gandalf serves as a sort of escort needing to mislead the Nazgûl for long enough to allow Frodo to get through and gains some slightly different powers, but the gameplay otherwise remains largely the same – there’s no need to relearn every aspect. The second chapter isn’t quite as engaging for the ‘good’ player as the first given the inability to choose Frodo’s path, but it does make for a fun and interesting variant on the idea of hidden movement.
Hunt for the Ring isn’t a revolutionary entry in the hidden movement genre, but that doesn’t stop it being an impeccably well-crafted game – especially for those wanting to spend more time immersed in Middle-earth. If you can't get enough of the fantasy world, this is the perfect excuse to dive right back in.
Hunt for the Ring absolutely nails its Middle-earth theme by capturing the same tension and drama of Tolkien’s novel with excellent use of its characters and lore. The gameplay isn’t necessarily world-changing, but it’s still a fantastic hidden movement experience with plenty to enjoy – especially if you love Lord of the Rings.
Designer: Marco Maggi, Gabriele Mari, Francesco Nepitello
Artist: John Howe, Francesco Mattioli
Time: 90+ minutes
This review originally appeared in the January 2018 issue of Tabletop Gaming. Pick up the latest issue of the UK's fastest-growing gaming magazine in print or digital here – or subscribe to make sure you never miss another issue.
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