“I feel thin, sort of stretched, like butter scraped over too much bread.” -Bilbo Baggins, The Fellowship of the Ring (J.R.R. Tolkien)
Houston, we have a problem. We’ve got too many Hobbits. And no, I’m not talking about the recently announced Middle-Earth menu coming to Denny’s. Nor am I talking about director Peter Jackson’s decision to turn his film adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s beloved novel into not one, not two, but three movies. I’m actually in favor of what he’s trying to accomplish by doing that, but perhaps that’s a conversation for another time. (Or even the comments below. I welcome the discussion.)
What I’m talking about, is too many Hobbit *games*. I mean, I knew we had a problem on our hands, but when Wizkids announced the LORD OF THE RINGS DICE BUILDING GAME a few weeks ago… my response was basically “Ugh. C’mon guys, cut it out!”
Let’s take a bit of inventory shall we? Simply put, there are a lot of game publishers that have a Tolkien license. Now some of these publishers have the license to produce games based on the novels of Tolkien, and some of them have the rights to make stuff based on the movies, but it’s still all Tolkien stuff. Let’s see, there’s Fantasy Flight Games of course, and Wizkids we already mentioned. Games Workshop, Cubicle 7, Crypotozoic, Ares Games… they’ve all got licenses too. Did I miss any? Even if I didn’t, that’s SIX different hobby game companies that make Tolkien games. As bad as that seems, it’s worth remembering that most of them produce multiple games with the license.Now as any regular reader of this column knows, I am a bit of a Tolkien geek. I mean, there are people that read The Lord of the Rings every couple years, and then there are people who read The Lord of the Rings AND The Silmarillion every couple years. Yeah, I’m that guy. I’ve also spoken at length on the inherent problems facing licensed games, multiple times in fact. Because let’s be honest. The fact of the matter is that most of these Tolkien games will suck. It’s true. I know it, you know it, we all know it. But people will blindly buy it cause it’s Tolkien, and in the fullness of time most of these games will be utterly forgotten. I mean, we all have fond memories of Decipher’s attempt at a Lord of the Rings RPG. Oh wait, did I say attempt? I meant aborted abomination that nobody remembers. Wizkids has three Lord of the Rings games out or in the pipeline, and one need only look at their LotR Heroclix to see how well they understand the property. (Sauron himself comes in the starter set. First of all Sauron hasn’t truly had a physical form since the Second Age. What’s that? You say I’m just nerd-raging and being picky? Then let’s put it this way…That’s like putting Galactus in a Marvel Heroclix starter box. Can I get a witness here? But I digress.)
But like the Numenoreans who spoke against the Ban of the Valar, we are about to be deluged under, only this time it will be beneath a tide of Hobbit-related gaming merchandise. Let’s now take inventory of the actual game titles that we’ve got on the shelves or soon debuting. Humor me here, it’s a long list.
From Ares Games: WAR OF THE RING board game
From Cubicle 7: THE ONE RING RPG
From Fantasy Flight: THE LORD OF THE RINGS Living Card Game; MIDDLE EARTH QUEST; THE LORD OF THE RINGS (co-operative board game); THE HOBBIT board game; and THE HOBBIT card game (plus at least another three or four older ones that are in various states of availability.)
From Wizkids: THE LORD OF THE RINGS HEROCLIX (and soon, Hobbit-branded ones); THE LORD OF THE RINGS dice-building game; the NAZGUL board game
From Cryptozoic: Six titles from these lunatics. THE LORD OF THE RINGS THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING deck-building game; THE HOBBIT – AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY deck building game; THE HOBBIT expandable trading card game; THE HOBBIT – AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY board game; THE HOBBIT – THERE AND BACK AGAIN board game; THE HOBBIT – THERE AND BACK AGAIN deck building game. Mind you, this was six titles before Peter Jackson announced he’d be doing three movies instead of two. I expect we’ll see at last eight titles from Cryptozoic before all is said and done.
From Games Workshop: THE WAR OF THE RING miniatures rules set; plus whatever HOBBIT stuff they’ve got up their sleeve and have been teasing for months…
It’s worth noting that I haven’t even listed the non-hobby market games that will be coming out in the next few months. Publisher Bridge Direct, is “the master toy and game licensee” for the Hobbit, so expect a bunch from these guys at your local Toys R Us or whatever.
Are you bored yet?
And I live and breathe this shit. Tolkien is my jam. And I’m bored out of my freakin’ skull. I feel like Hurin, captured by Morgoth, restrained in a high place in Thangorodrim, and forced to watch as all he loves and cares for comes to naught in the world.
Look, I’m not saying there shouldn’t be Hobbit board games. Hell, the Hobbit movies will very likely be responsible for no small number of new customers coming through my shop’s doors over the next few months. But for the love of my old Gaffer, do we really need so many? What the hell is Cryptozoic thinking? Six games?!? With so many games on an already Tolkien-flooded market, even the good ones are going to get lost. There will be Tolkien fatigue. Never mind the fact that we owe our entire hobby to the good Professor’s works, and most of the fantasy hobby’s tropes are ripped whole hog from LotR. I know everybody wants a piece of the pie, but we’re all gonna lose here. I wonder if these companies do their research and find out how many other companies are eating this pie before forking over a check. (I don’t know what the hell Cryptozoic is thinking? They can single-handedly give us all Tolkien fatigue.)
As a Hobby Gaming Store manager, guess what? I’m not gonna stock all of these titles. I will instead do my research and only bring in the ones that, as a Tolkien geek, I can honestly recommend to another Tolkien geek, or at least to a casual fan of the films. And guess what? I’m sorry, but there won’t be a lot of Cryptozoic’s stuff on my shelf, unless I start hearing glowing praise being heaped upon their titles.
OK, rant over.
Want my advice on how to tell good Tolkien games from bad? First of all, anything with Francesco Nepitello’s name on it is golden. The WAR OF THE RING board game and THE ONE RING RPG are shining examples of how to do it right. There are rumblings from his blog that he may be working on a Battle of Five Armies themed game, and I for one, would welcome the hell out of that.
Aside from Francesco, anything from Fantasy Flight Games probably isn’t bad. All of their LotR stuff isn’t great, but there aren’t really any true stinkers (slinkers?) in there. I’m curious to see that Games Workshop has in store. If it’s not just another massive army battle game, they’ll have peaked my interest, but I don’t have high hopes. (C’mon GW, surprise me!)
So, I don’t know about you, I’m gonna get some of that “Seed Cake French Toast” at Denny’s and see how long I have to wait to pre-order my tickets for the Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey premiere.
-Paul Alexander Butler is the store manager of Games and Stuff. [Card.Board.Box.] is his mostly monthly column about games and gaming for gamesandstuffonline.com. Though he’s not sure if it’s the impending release of the Hobbit movie, or his immersion in his new One Ring RPG campaign, but he hasn’t had the taste for any fiction other than Tolkien for the last ten weeks.