I love games, but my favorites are miniature games. Of my top 3, the third is the Lord of the Rings Trading Minis Game.
LotR TMG was released in 2003 by Sabertooth Games, during the height of the collectible miniatures craze kicked off by heroclix. Unfortunately it was released as the the third Lord of the Rings film approached theaters, meaning Tolkien’s works were passing their cultural peak and the game had trouble finding an audience like the card game enjoyed.
The figures of the game stood on hexes which displayed their health, ability points (AP), general stats, and special abilities. Figures were also divided by the color of hex they stood on. The dark green bases represented the leaders of Middle-earth, while the light green bases represented the generic troops and soldiers. The number of the latter you could field was limited by the former.
What was most appealing about the game – especially at the time – was how clear the rules and movements were. For many game mats at the time, players could end up in heated debates over what counted as which types of terrain. In this game, the lines were very clearly drawn and a hex grid kept things relatively balanced in terms of distance. It also cared about the direction characters faced leading to a lot of fascinating tactical decisions.
It was also a good game for simulating the feel of wielding an army without having to purchase books and tape measures. Instead of limited actions, every turn all troops moved (or shoot if they had range), then fought in melee. Both players acted during a turn, only alternating which one got to act first. The melee fighting rather than being one on one involved “damage chains.” If enough characters had each other in their kill zones, instead of rolling the dice for an Aragorn vs Witch-King fight, you rolled the dice for Aragorn + soldier + archer + soldier + soldier + elf… vs Witch-King + goblin + orc + goblin + orc + Nazgul… It really gave players a sense of everybody clashing together in a big conflict like wars of old.
Something else I really loved about it was that while it had a point value factor for army construction like most miniature games, things still had to be “paid for” within the game proper. Too many games worry only about the cost of figures and don’t worry too much about the balance. This leads very frequently to players dedicating most of their army to a single, powerful figure with incredible stats and abilities which can sweep away a much larger army with cheaper figures. In LotR TMG, while powerful figures did cost a lot of points, they still came with “ability points” (AP) which you could spend to either change a 1 into a 6 on dice, or to activate most special abilities on that figure. Gimli may be able to sweep away a half dozen goblins, but he couldn’t do it all game, which means overwhelming swarm strategies could have a chance.
The AP feature also gave every figure value to your force, no matter how cheap and worthless. As I said above, you could spend AP in the game to convert 1s into 6s when you rolled your dice. (It cost 1 AP to change a “to hit” value, and 2 AP to change a damage value.) This meant that even the crappiest goblin in your army could still spend his meager AP to change your dice rolls, leaving your more important characters free to spend their AP on their special abilities.
Why is this game one of my favorites? The game was simple enough that you could get to playing it instead of reading rules, yet had far more tactical depth than one might expect at a glance. Yes the miniatures weren’t always of the highest quality (Arwyn was, ironically, one of the ugliest figures ever produced) but it was still good enough. The design also made it reasonable as a randomized collectible since the commons in a pack were usually the generic soldiers you needed to round out an army (so getting more of those wasn’t a problem). It’s really a bit of a disappointment that I can’t find anything about someone else picking up the game engine and making something new with it. I don’t know if randomized blind boosters will still work in this economy, but even visible, fixed sets would be great.
In the end, I still have not played this game enough to be sated.
Plus the game just had the best figure ever. Frodo, wearing the One Ring.
(yes, it was real, you got it in the starter)