With several people heading for Gathering of Friends, and even more going to the local GameStorm convention in town, I was expecting fewer people tonight, and I was right - we only had nine. I really need a new house.
Patrick, Mike, Chuck, and Rita pulled out Aladdin's Dragons on the card table, while KC, Laurent, Alex, Liz, and I tried out the Battlefields expansion for Knizia's Lord of the Rings cooperative game. I really don't know why I keep buying these expansions, as we rarely play even the base game, and Friends and Sauron each got exactly one play each. Sadly, I think Battlefields will meet the same fate.
Battlefields will work with either Friends and Foes or with just the base game, and the latter is how we played to avoid extra complexity and my head exploding (I was coming down with a chest cold at the time). There are a few cards added to Rivendell and Lothlorien, most of which interact directly with the expansion. How it works is thus: every space on the main track of each scenario gets a special battlefield tile, as does every one of the events along the side of the scenario board. The last event now gets about six battlefield tiles, making it so that you *really* don't want to end the scenario in that fashion if you can avoid it.
When a player triggers an event, or moves along the main track, they collect these face down tiles, then reveal and execute them at the end of their turn. Each tile has one or more colored swords on it, along with a number from one to four. The swords correspond to one of five scenario-specific evil characters that are ostensibly linked with some sort of fight going on at the same time as the scenario. For example, the Moria scenario battlefield is that big fight that happens right after one of the hobbits knocks the goblin skeleton down the well in Dorin's tomb.
If a baddie gets activated, he gets placed on the matching battle board for that scenario on the number given on the tile. If there is a baddie on that number, then they cycle through until an open number is found. If the baddie is already on the board, they move along the red arrow leading from their space, unless blocked by one of the five heroes (the rest of the fellowship). Each hero has slightly different reactions to various baddies, but I'm not going to spend time on that here. Suffice it to say that if the path is blocked, the baddie then goes along the secondary white arrow path unless that is blocked as well. If, however, the baddie moves onto a space that isn't blocked, he is either defeated by the hero if one is there (not all heroes block all baddies, you see), or does whatever the space says to do otherwise. It is possible for the baddies to move several times during a turn, as some tiles have multiple swords of the same color, and in any event there can be several tiles drawn in a turn should many events occur or the main track be traversed.
The heroes are placed in a couple of ways - either they can be "bought" using fight or joker cards, or placed in lieu of playing cards/drawing cards/removing corruption. They go on specific spaces on the battlefield, so they can immediately be placed to block particularly offensive baddies such as the Balrog, who does whatever actions he lands on twice. The overall effect is that the fellowship feels like it's fighting even more losing battles. The fact that triggering the final event on the scenario also pulls six battlefield tiles means that it's even harsher than usual. As proof of this, we made it about half-way through Shelob in our game with five, which usually is a cakewalk even starting the Bad Kitty a few spaces down the corruption track. Not so with us, we managed to watch Fatty run hungrily to the Dark Lord as if he were waving Krispy Kremes around, dragging the ring with him as he went. Which, actually, was a bit of a relief as this expansion has Problems.
First Problem: The game should have been called LotR: Flowcharts. I'm not sure how we're supposed to buy into the expanded theme when there is zero text on the battlefield boards, just a bunch of diamonds, squares, circles, numbers, and icons. You have little idea what the various baddies are supposed to represent, with a few exceptions here and there (such as the Balrog). As such, there's no flavor added at all.
Second Problem: While each board is different, they didn't *feel* different, and a particularly bad set of tile draws during a player's turn early in a scenario (such as triggering several events ending with a main track type draw) and result in a lot of bad things happening before anyone can react. While there are a few cards added in, in a five player game that means exactly 1.165 cards more for each player. Whoohoo! That makes up for having to play extra cards and/or skip turns just to get heroes onto the battlefield board.
Third Problem, alluded to above: Ending a scenario because the last event happens was bad in the original game. Now, it will pretty much kill you unless you've arleady dispatched most of the baddies on the board or blocked them safely in. Sure, you can get all five heroes on the board, but considering that it doesn't take extra cycles to get the baddies on, this is a huge hindrance. There are tough decisions, and then there's deciding between eating the first mate or fighting off your shipmates with an oar. Battlefields turns this game into Shipwreck Survivor, as none of the choices feel like they're going to get you through the game.
I hear that Friends & Foes makes the game easier, perhaps that's worth trying. Still, the whole idea of having to use another expansion to make this one really work feels a bit like maybe this game was rushed through development. In fact, my understanding is that many many many shortcuts were made in order to get the expansion into print (such as one edition for the English, German, and French markets, with cards for all three in one box). There were also several situations that weren't really covered well in the rules. For example, in the original if you trigger the last event on a scenario the turn immediately ends. In the expansion, you are clearly supposed to execute all of the battle tiles, but that doesn't make sense if the turn ends immediately. So does that mean that the player can take an action to place a hero, draw cards, or de-corrupt? No clue. We assumed you did, as there was so little that really gave you anything for your trouble (other than defeating an enemy, but the worst ones gave little, so you had to choose between taking damage or boons).
Fourth Problem: Estimated play time is 2-4 hours. AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!! If F&F adds that much time to the game, it won't help. 2 hours is way too long for the base game, much less with all of the extra foofah. Run. Run now.
Maybe it was my impending chest cold, but I was relieved when this one went off the rails, and I apologize to those I inflicted this dog of an expansion on. I'd only recommend this if you like sleeping with nettles in your bed, it is not for the faint of heart.
KC to the rescue with a new game he's working on. This was a nice, clean game loosely based on Carcassone, but more elegant and with a very clever mechanism that flipped the triangular tiles once a region scored. The whole thing fit in a baggie and only needed a scoring track and a draw bag. Note to KC as to potential titles: What does the early bird get? This one was a winner, and not just because I squeaked by Laurent by a point for the win. KC, oddly, had a lot more trouble getting points early, although he made a pretty good run at the end. Laurent had an extremely clever move in midgame, but not clever enough. Take *that*, Monseiur!
Meanwhile, the other table played Hey, That's My Fish (which I have yet to play) as well as Ingenious. They apparently had fun, almost certainly more than we did, at least for the first two hours.
Thanks to all for coming and suffering through my latest purchase. I'm really very sorry.