Last Updated on July 30, 2022
Journeys in the Middle-Earth sets you on an epic adventure through Middle-Earth as one of the well-known characters from the books. You’ll have to face many enemies, difficult changes and make important decisions throughout the overarching story. So play the LotR soundtrack in the background as we take a look at this board game! Check out our full Lord of the Rings: Journeys in Middle-Earth board game review below.
Brief Overview of Journeys in Middle-Earth
With a title long enough to fit into The Silmarillion, in the following sections I’ll refer to the game as Journeys in Middle-Earth, or just Journeys. At its core, Journeys is a deck-building cooperative board game with the main campaign split into two types of scenarios: Battle maps, and Journey maps.
The game can be played in solo mode or with as many as 5 players. The community opinion is that a 2 player game is the most enjoyable. Sessions can take up to 2 hours, although an unfortunate series of events can cut it short.
Those familiar with the publisher, Fantasy Flight Games already suspect a flood of expansions, and for a 2019 game, Journeys in Middle-Earth already has five, although only one is currently available.
Versions & Expansions
Shadowed Paths Expansion
Shadowed Paths is a full-fledged expansion with a new 13-scenario campaign that takes you from Mirkwood all the way to Moria. More heroes, enemies, terrain, and items are made available to you for an enhanced experience.
Unboxing Journeys in Middle-Earth
The box contains:
- 1 Rules Reference
- 22 Journey Map Tiles
- 2 Battle Map Tiles
- 31 Plastic Figures
- 337 Play Cards
- 6 Hero Cards
- 30 Terrain Tiles
- 84 Tokens
- 12 Enemy Banners and Plastic Stands
- Game App*
Using Tolkien’s Middle-Earth as the main theme for the game comes with the benefit of having a pre-existing fanbase, one of the best fantasy worlds to work with, and plenty of iconic characters.
The downside is that the fan expectations have to be met, and many game companies tried and failed to do the theme justice, especially those that want to make an easy buck.
From the components’ perspective, Journeys in Middle-Earth does a great job of satisfying the theme. The artwork sells the game, with beautiful map tiles that have that distinct Middle-Earth feel to them.
Item, boon, skill, and other playing cards are mini-sized, but despite that, the text is clear and readable. It’s a shame when it comes to the illustrations, as the fine details can’t be appreciated.
Figures are unpainted, but the base color between heroes and monsters is made different to let you jump into the game as soon as you buy it. The level of detail is quite high, especially when it comes to the monsters.
The last thing I would like to address is the game application, made available on phones, tablets, and PCs. Using apps for board games has been a divisive topic for a lot of gamers, but we’ll leave that aside and look at it as another game component.
It’s heavily involved in the gameplay, and best described as a Civilization video game without the map. All the menus, prompts, and actions are there, but instead of looking at the screen, you’re looking at the pieces on the table.
The main problems that come up are the lack of an undo button and no scenario select option. If you make a wrong entry or misclick, the app won’t let you reverse the action, so you’ll have to live with it. I’ll discuss the app in more detail in the Pros & Cons section.
How to Play Journeys in Middle-Earth
Because the application and board game are tied so heavily, Journeys in Middle-Earth is going to play out differently than a standard game. Let’s take a look at how it works!
To prepare for the grand adventure, you’ll have to open the app first, start a new game, choose the campaign and difficulty. You’re now presented with a choice between 6 heroes: Bilbo, Elena, Gimli, Legolas, Aragorn, and Beravor.
Select up to five to create a party. The game doesn’t mind how many actual players there are — you can split and mix them up between players however you like.
Take the hero, basic ability, and hero-specific ability cards for every hero you’ve selected in the application. Then, select the starting items for each of the characters in the app, and enter your party’s name.
Similar to video game loading screens, you’ll get a scroll of text and a voiceover explaining the lore and story. There are 6 unique professions for heroes to take, each of them coming with a set of physical cards that are added to the hero deck, along with 1 random weakness.
The app will tell you which map tile to place on the board, followed by hero placement and possibly a skill check or command. Continue following the instructions from the app as it randomly generates a map with some mandatory elements.
The game is played over a series of rounds, with each round consisting of three phases:
- Action Phase
- Shadow Phase
- Rally Phase
The order in which heroes act is left to players to decide and can be changed from round to round. During a turn, a hero can perform two different actions, or the same action twice.
Travel action lets the hero move between the subsections of a map tile. Players can choose to move twice immediately before taking the second action or attack or interact between moving.
To attack, the player picks a weapon that has a stat marker in the top left corner, then selects the group of enemies to attack. The player is tested and based on their success, the damage is dealt to the enemy.
Interact action can be used to encounter points of interest, marked with threat, person, or search token.
During the shadow phase, monsters and other enemies act against the heroes in an attempt to stop their process or kill them outright. Enemies will move towards heroes until they’re in range, then attacks the hero to inflict damage and fear, their two life resources.
The threat is a bar that increases as the scenario progresses, and can unleash new challenges for the heroes.
Once the monsters have done their part, heroes get a brief respite to plan their next move. Skill decks are shuffled and prepared for the next round based on a set of detailed rules.
Completing an Adventure
Adventures have a set of objectives for heroes to complete, with the current objective displayed in the app. Players navigate from objective to objective and if they succeed in completing them before the threat bar fills up, they win the adventure!
To make the how-to section as coherent as possible, I’ve not mentioned the app through the explanation of phases. It’s involved in every action and decision you make, so you’ll have to constantly switch between the two.
Your First Game of Journeys in Middle-Earth
The best advice I can give you for your first game of Journeys is to not feel intimidated by the app. Even if you’re completely unfamiliar with the concept of app integration, you’ll quickly realize that it’s nothing more than a video game within a board game.
If you’re playing with a group of experienced players, pick Aragorn or Legolas as they are more versatile and powerful than the rest. For professions, pathfinder and captain are near must-haves, so if your party skips out on one, take it, and you’ll learn through the game why it’s useful.
Despite all the battles they’ve been through, the Fellowship of the Ring tried their best to avoid combat and get through their journey with minimal risks. Consider this when playing Journeys in Middle-Earth, as it’s a game focused on clearing objectives rather than killing enemies.
The threat is a big deal in any adventure and as unexplored map tiles are added to the board, it increases more quickly. Try to reach them as fast as possible while clearing any threat events along the way, to minimize the amount of threat generated, and give yourself more time on the map.
Lore is a crucial resource in the game, as it allows you to upgrade the gear of your hero. Get as much of it, as quickly as you can by collecting side quests, but don’t lose track of the threat level or the main objective.
Pros & Cons
- Unique Board Game Experience
- Procedural Generation
- Beautiful Artwork
If you’re looking for a game with a different approach to how it’s played, Journeys in Middle-Earth might be worth looking into. The strong and constant connection between the app and the game pieces is certainly an experience you haven’t had before.
The procedural generation has been invented with the goal of surprising the player. In board games it can only go so far, as randomizing too much can ruin the balance of the game. Journeys takes the concept as far as it can go within the medium, as anything non-essential to the adventure is mixed up with new campaigns.
This gives the game some replay value beyond the one-off experience that most grand-campaign games have. Shadow Paths expands the game in almost every way, with new heroes and a campaign being the most important for more replayability.
- App Issues
- Underutilized Theme
- Character Rooster
The app is going to make or break the purchase for a lot of people. It does add a lot, but there are two problems with it: No undo button, and no adventure (chapter) select. Those seem like obvious additions, but we can hope they get added in, as updating the app shouldn’t be a challenging task.
I’ve said in the unboxing section how the components fit nicely in the theme of the Lord of the Rings. However, the same can’t be said about its utilization within the game itself. Sure, you’re going through Middle-Earth, but where are all of the famous buildings and locations, or at the very least characters to make you go ‘Oh, it’s that guy!’.
Characters / Roles
The lack of characters is present in the roster itself. You’ve got the iconic trio in Aragorn, Gimli, and Legolas, overused but necessary. Then there’s Bilbo, which makes me wonder why not just go with Frodo.
But then you get Beravor and Elena, two unique characters by Fantasy Flight Games. Instead of picking characters that really need love outside of the books and the trilogy, like Faramir, Eomer, or Haldir, they made random characters that people have no attachment to.
If it was a case of adding more female characters, then why not go with Eowyn, Arwen, and Galadriel and exhaust the well-known characters before moving on to creating new ones? But with the Shadow Paths bringing Arwen and Gandalf, I’m sure that the quest for the ideal fellowship is going to be a very expensive one.
Journeys in Middle-Earth Review (TL;DR)
The Lord of the Rings: Journeys in Middle-Earth offers a unique experience to players, for better or for worse. If you’re open-minded about trying new ways of playing board games, then the addition of the app is going to be refreshing, but if you prefer the traditional approach, you’re going to hate its intrusions.
If you’ve read a few of my reviews, you know that I try to take a positive approach to board games. New genres and mechanics, innovative themes, I’m all for it, but when I got Journeys in Middle-Earth, I thought ‘Okay, back to the roots’.
Instead, I’ve found myself wondering why this game exists as a board game in the first place. Don’t get me wrong, I see the value of playing something like this in a live setting with your friends, but when the game so heavily relies on the app, it makes me wonder why it wasn’t made into a video game, to begin with.
When I think of an alternative to Journeys in Middle-Earth, I don’t think of Gloomhaven, I think of Divinity: Original Sin and how I could easily play that with a friend and enjoy the more in-depth dialogue, skill checks, and combat.
The saving grace of Journeys is the fact that there’s nothing quite like it, both as a board game and as a Lord of the Rings experience. I’m sure there’s a crowd that can appreciate the mix of mechanics and likes it more than an online video game, but for me, that just isn’t the case.
Have you tried The Lord of the Rings: Journeys in Middle-Earth? We’d love to hear your thoughts on this immersive game. Drop a comment below!