The LORD of the RINGS story has been told and played and viewed so many times that although it is a fantastic, wonderful enduring tale, it is becoming a little passé in the board games market.
That is why it is so refreshing to find this Fantasy Flight game is set in the period of the story less spoken about - the time when Bilbo is away from the Shire and Frodo has yet to even hear of his epic journey.
One thing that is common in the majority of Lord of the Rings based games is the fact that one player gets to control Sauron and play against all the other players.
In this case Sauron has an army of cards and tricks to thwart the others, whereas his opposition comes in the shape of not the regular or expected heroes but a group of virtually unknowns.
Up to 3 players can select from:-
Eometh, the gallant horseman from Rohan, Argalad the Woodland Elf, Eleanor of Gondor, the Dwarf Thálin and Beravor, a Ranger of the North.
Basically the main quest is biding time until Gandalf is ready to set the Ring on its path of destiny. The tasks and quests that come before this are the ones that will set them up with what they need for Gandalf to succeed. They are aided in their tasks and quest, by some of the most influential, powerful and best known of the Lord of the Rings characters: -
Aragorn, Boromir, Denethor etc.
The Sauron player has Plot cards which they need to get into play as quickly as possible. The players have to travel around the board to where the plots are unfolding and use whatever they can, guile, force, favour, to prevent whatever it is Sauron has cooked up for them.
The Heroes (player characters) each have their own deck of cards. These cards are advantageous to moving, fighting etc. Using them too fast or irrelevantly and their options will be cut and Sauron will gain the upper hand.
Generally LOTR games favour Sauron which is quite weird seeing how the book ends. MEQ is better balanced as a challenge for all.