Lord of the Rings: The Duel
English language edition
List Price: $24.95
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Gandalf encounters the Balrog in the under mountain Caves of Moria. The result is a fantastic duel of their magical powers on a small bridge over a deep chasm. Here, players replay that duel with the help of cards, which have magical symbols on the left and right, representing the strength of the adversaries. The symbols on the cards represent the offensive (right) and defensive (left) strengths of the adversaries: each unblocked symbol is lost energy for that player.
we have been playing quite a lot of this lately and the more we play the better it becomes. why do you have to play a few times before judging the game? to get used to the cards and their interaction, the appropiate cards to save (you are dealt nine but 3 will be saved for the last round), when to use magic etc. make no mistake, the game is no heavyweight by any means. it is one of those games where you must learn when dealt a bad hand how to keep it close and not necessarily try for the win in every duel,learn what is a hand to play defensively or offensively. right now are games are very close and tense right to the end, while the first few resulted in some blowouts. DO NOT pay attention to the gameplay in the last review as the gamer has mistakenly been playing the game totally wrong, from how many cards are held in hand to which side of the card is attack and which is defense among others. for a great write up go to Kulkmans Gamebox, where the game is reviewed under its german name, 'Der Herr der Ringe - Das Duell'
With the several stupendous games with the Lrod of the Rings name, one should know better than to expect gold each time. Lord of the Rings (with or without the expansions) by Reiner Knizia rates as one of the most unique and interesting and enjoyable play experiences I ever have, and Lord of the Rings: the Confrontation still stands as one of the most thematic and challenging two-player games I have ever played. But there are some real lame ducks too. Lord of the Rings: The Duel is not only dull but has Sam and Frodo competing against each other to find Mt. Doom, and another Lord of the Rings cardgame by Reiner Knizia was a boring numbers game (feh) with photo artwork from the movie (ick feh). Lord of the Rings falls somewhere in between, but closer to mediocrity than greatness.
Players have 4 rounds to advance their figure (Balrog or Gandalf respectively) up the bridge. The figure furthest advanced on the bridge after round 4 wins. (Not exactly how the books recorded the encounter, but I digress.) Player draw a hand of 9 cards each round from their own decks, playing 6 cards the first 3 rounds, and pitching the remainders to their final pile which will be used in Round 4.
The Gandlaf deck and the Balrog deck vary from each other, but essentially balance. Both decks conatin many 'fight' cards, and a smattering of special cards that also have fight abilities. One thing I will give the game is a unique mechanic -- not fun necessarily, but unique. Each cards has four dots on each side of the card. Some dots are 'lit', other blank. A lit dot is an attack, that is defended by more lit dots. Gameplay consists of alternating turns, so for example, Gandalf lays down a card with the right side 2 top dots lit ( ooxx ); now Balrog lays down a card with left side all dots lit ( oooo ). Gandalf and Balrog match on the top 2 dots, inflicting no damage, but Balrog has 2 additional lits on the bottom that Gandlaf did not block, inflicting two damage -- Gandalf's energy on the energy track goes down two spaces. Continuing the example, if that card the Balrog laid down has RIGHT side top and bottom dots lit ( oxxo ), and Ganddalf then plays a card with left side 2 lit, 1 blank, 1 lit ( ooxo ), then the first space is a block, the second is a hit on the Balrog, and the fourth dot match is a block. And on and on it goes. Unique, but also quite simple, highly tactical...and pretty unpredictable.
Some spice in the game comes from action cards which DO have left and right side values, but add a special rule or effect into the mix (free movement on bridge if certain conditions are met; force cards from a player's hand, etc.). This adds a bit of flavor to the game, but can't redeem the nearly complete unpredictability of the game. Certainly learning the distribution of the cards helps a bit, but it is still difficult to 'play well', as you really can't know if it is ever the best time to play a card -- then play it simply because, at that moment, it creates some space on the enrgy track (which can allows you to look at your opponent's value, increasing the strategy of the game.)
What makes the game kind of cool is the components: the game actually comes with a (nearly useless) cardboard bridge, as well as a (nearly as useless) board to place the bridge on. They sure do look nice. However the figures are odd. Gandalf looks like a chess bishop, and Balrog looks like an unholy Jamiroquai logo.
Bottom line though, the game will play similarly nearly every time, and the mechanics though not with a unique charm, aren't as engaging as they might seem at first. The theme is pretty useless, and the game is much clunkier than the much more elegant duelling game (appropriately titled) 'Duell'. Still, suckers for Lord of the Rings games probably will find something to like here, and that is it's saving grace: it doesn't stink, and it isn't broken. It is fairly simple, requires not too much brain power, and looks great.
Apparently Lord of the Rings game needs a colon, and then a cool description. So far, we had LOTR: The Confrontation, LOTR: The Search, and now LOTR: The Duel (Kosmos and Rio Grande, 2002 Peter Neugebauer). When I heard about the game, I was torn wondering whether it would be a good game, or another travesty like LOTR: The Search which had the same designer. However, my love for all things LOTR, and my unshaken faith in the Kosmos two-player line won out, and I was glad to give this game a whirl.
And my verdict was better than I thought. The theme is plastered on, but the mechanics dont work against the theme, like in The Search. While not one of my favorite games from the Kosmos two-player line, I still enjoyed the game quite a bit, and we found that strategy, while not exactly evident in the first playing of the game was enough to make game play quite fun.
A thin board is set up between the two players, and a bridge placed between them. The bridge has six steps on each side (including the first one on the board), and each player places their token (Gandalf or the Balrog) on the first step. Each player places an energy marker of their color on the fifteenth space of the energy track. They then take the deck of cards (twenty-seven) that corresponds to their character, shuffle them, and make a deck. There are four rounds in the game: three preliminary duels, and one final duel. For the first three duels, the players draw the top three cards from their decks forming their hands. Gandalf goes first, and then play alternates between the players.
The first player places any of their cards face down on the table. Each card has four symbols on each side some of them filled in, and others empty. There is also the possibility of special text on the card. After the first card is played, the next player places a card on the right of the first card, so that the symbols match up. Each set of symbols is compared. If both symbols are full, or both are empty nothing happens. However, if one symbol is full, and the other is not, the player whose symbol is empty must move their energy marker one space on the energy track. The next player places a card next to this card, and so on, and so on. Some cards have a high attack symbols filled on the left, while others have a high defense symbols filled on the right. If any special text is on the card, it occurs after the energy markers are moved.
This continues until each player has placed six cards. The other three cards are placed aside, and will be used in the final duel. After the duel is over, the player whose energy marker is lower (some exceptions are made if the markers are on the same space but I havent seen that happen) moves his figure up on the bridge. He moves a certain number of steps, depending on how far apart the markers are. The next duel then begins with the players drawing cards, and the other person going first this time. After the three preliminary duels, the final duel occurs. This time, the players use the nine cards they set aside during the first three duels and play all nine cards. After moving the figure at the conclusion of this duel, the person whose figure is higher on the bridge is the winner! If either players figure reaches the top of the bridge at any time during the duel, they win; and the game is over at that point.
Some comments on the game
1.) Components: The box for LOTR: the Duel is thicker than most of the Kosmos line, which is because of the very nice bridge that is included with the game a bridge formed of firm cardboard tiles. The bridge, which is the centerpiece of the game, and yea verily, the theme, is most certainly not necessary, but it does really make the game look nice and add theme to a game where no theme dare go. The cards are very nice, and extremely distinguishable from each other. My only minor quibble here was that on some cards, the Balrog, being the big flaming guy that he is, was a little difficult to tell which side of him was up. Of course, the small symbols on the sides of the card help, but this could be a little confusing. Great artwork, though, and the cards look fantastic! The wooden pawns are nice, even though the energy tokens are very, very small wooden blocks. Everything fits wonderfully in the box, which again is masterfully illustrated.
2.) Rules: The rules for the game are very straightforward, printed on a six-page color foldout, with illustrations and pictures. The rules could have been clearer, but were not really that difficult. There were two pages dedicated to explaining all the special cards, which I thought were fairly self-explanatory, but still were nice. The game is extremely easy to teach, except perhaps to a die-hard LOTR fan, who perhaps couldnt get over the theme
3.) Theme: This is definitely a case of theme plastered on game. The game could easily have worked with a tug of war theme (oh wait, we already have Heave Ho!), a sword duel, etc. Yet the LOTR license is so financially rewarding that one cannot blame Kosmos for choosing it. Yet if you come to the game, looking for the feel of LOTR, look elsewhere. In the movie, the duel on the bridge was short, and in the book even shorter. In this game, the duel is rather long and drawn out. Still, the bridge really helps put a theme back into the game regardless.
4.) Strategy: At first glance, and at first playing, it may seem obvious when to play which cards. I have found that the best strategy and tactics to use in the game revolve around when the special cards are played. Playing the right card at the right time using the special text to their advantage can cause a player to win the game, although it might cause them a temporary loss of a preliminary duel. Players must carefully hoard good cards for the final duel, but yet take care not to lose the game in the early rounds. Its a neat dance, trying to stay right on the edge.
5.) Contestants: In the games Ive played, both Gandalf and the Balrog have come out pretty much even. Balrogs cards are naturally stronger, but Gandalf has better special cards. Considering how simple the game is, there is not a huge difference between the two decks, but there is some.
6.) Kosmos Scale: Compared to other Kosmos two-player games, I would rank this one about in the middle. It does not match the fun and excitement of Balloon Cup, Lost Cities, or Odins Ravens, but also doesnt reach the dredges of LOTR: the Search and Crocodile Pool Party. I bring it out on occasion, but its usually not our first choice.
7.) Fun Factor: The cool bridge adds a little to the fun factor, and the cards help but the game doesnt really rock our world. Its fun, but in a passive, mild sort of way.
Therefore, I would recommend this game if you must own all the Kosmos two-player games, and play them all often. There was no shining mechanic here that really stood out, but yet the game was fairly enjoyable. I liked the theme, but for the themes sake (mostly the bridge) and not the game play. It seems like luck was lower than other games, but still highly prevalent. It is an enjoyable game, just not one necessary for most folk to buy.