REVIEW: WizKids The Hobbit Journey To The Lonely Mountain Strategy Game
A Big Adventure For A Little Hobbit...
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Alongside long-running games like HeroClix and other products like miniature figures, dice games, puzzle games, and more, WizKids Games continues to make a name for itself in the board game world. We here at Figures.com have greatly enjoyed their previous efforts like the Batman Gotham City Strategy Game and Trains and Stations, so we were very excited when they announced a tie in with the current Hobbit films in The Hobbit Journey To The Lonely Mountain Strategy Game! While only the first movie is out we know the basic storyline from the book, so for some people this would count as spoilers (though itís hard to call it that since Tolkienís masterpiece came out in 1937). Anyway, the game follows Bilboís journeys to the titular Lonely Mountain, and is semi-cooperative as player controlling various evil forces seek to stop him and accomplish their own specific goals. Thereís a nice mix of strategic movement, token stacking, combat, and other familiar mechanics that make it both fast-paced and fun. Just watch out for those goblins!
Checking out Journey to the Lonely Mountain, the first thing to note is, of course, the box. Especially if youíre perusing the products at your local game store, presentation is a big factor in deciding what to buy. The Hobbit Strategy Game makes ample use of elements from the films starting with the front cover of the box where youíll find a huge widescreen image of Thorin Oakenshield and his company of dwarves plus Bilbo and Gandalf. Other than that, thereís not much except for the gameís title and company logos. Flip the box around to get a whole bunch of info including a description of the game, photos of the contents in action, and more images from the films (the Shire, Bilbo, and Gandalf). Inside the box is a typical plastic tray holding the bi-fold game board, rulebook, character sheets, sheet of tokens, dice, cards, and five figures featuring SwitchClix dials that can also be played in HeroClix. As with the packing all of the game elements use lots of photos and images from the films, mostly of the characters and typography.
Journey to the Lonely Mountain is a ďsemi-cooperativeĒ game for 2, 3, or 4 players. Itís very interesting in that one player takes on the role of Bilbo Baggins (and the Company) while all others are forces of evil (Goblin King, Gollum, and Azog). Bilbo is out to win, and the others try to stop him. Once Bilbo is defeated the enemy forces win... unless one of them accomplishes his specific game-winning scenario first and thus steals the victory! These range from killing Bilbo in combat to racking up six hero kills to controlling a large number of locations.
While the game is not simple to play, set up is straightforward and pretty quick. Lay out the game board that represents the different Locations and their Regions from the Hobbit and apply the tokens as noted in the rulebook depending on how many players there are. Each player gets the sheet for his or her particular character (the choices are determined by number of players) plus a set of one of each Standard Action cards, three random character-specific Special Action cards, and Power tokens. Each figure in the game is placed in its specific starting location, while you have options for placing character tokens (goblins, dwarves, wargs, etc.). Remaining character tokens are placed by your sheet and become your Reserves. Set out the common Special Action cards and deal out four next to the board for the draw pool. Finally, grab the dice and play!
The game is played in rounds, with specific phases in which things happen as reflected on the game board of locations within regions in Middle-earth. It utilizes a unique configuration in which each player selects from a hand of cards what he or she will do in each round, setting them aside and then revealing them as the different phases come about. The six Standard Action cards in your hand let you participate in the Advance, Reinforce, Combat, Regroup, and Rest phases, and the last lets you duplicate any of one of those once per game (for example, initiating two Combats in a single Combat phase). In Advance players move one or more of their characters on the board; Bilbo and Company traverse left to right from the Shire toward the Lonely Mountain while enemies generally move the other way (special characters like Gandalf and the enemy figures can move in either direction). Tokens moving into a location with others already there pin them and contest control, while a maximum of four tokens can exist in one location. Next up is the Reinforce phase in which you can send more of your character tokens out into the world, specifically in regions near your main character.
Combat is very interesting in the Strategy Game, with its own phase. If you played the Combat card you can initiate one battle at one location where you and an opponent have character figures and/or tokens. Each combatant rolls a die and compares to its attack value (on the token or in its combat dial); tie or exceed that number and youíve scored a hit! A single wound eliminates a token, while a hit on a figure turns its dial one click. Note that in Combat you can spend Power tokens to re-roll. Next up is the Regroup phase, which if chosen allows you to collect one or more Power tokens (though you can never have more than three at a time). Finally thereís the Rest phase when you can accumulate more Special Action cards.
That covers the basic rules and mechanics, but thereís lots more. For several of the actions in those phases you can do even more if you control certain symbols on the map like Fortresses that give you additional Reinforcements or Lookouts that let you Advance more characters. Similarly some locations trigger specific effects; for example, Bilbo unlocks more powerful character tokens as he progresses but gets lost in the Goblin Cave and must find his way out (gaining the One Ring in the process). And while the Special Action cards let you do all sorts of cool things like give you additional uses of actions during phases, preventing wounds, playing more cards, and much more, each main character has its own specific cards AND abilities on its character sheet. These are all very cool and thematic to the game, like Bilboís deck of dwarves and ability to call on Gandalf to Azogís viciousness in combat and fast movement, the Goblin Kingís seemingly endless hordes of minions, and Gollumís tricks.
Thereís a lot to do in Journey to the Lonely Mountain, and it takes a while to get the hang of choosing in which phases you want to act. All too often you want to do them all, though of course thatís the point in it being a game; you have to focus on what you need to do, strategize how to get there, and hope that your opponent doesnít trip up your plan. In two player games especially it feels like youíre always just one card short of being able to move your plan forward, but in larger games thatís mitigated for the enemies by their options for working together. The Bilbo player in a sense has the easier time of things, as heís mainly focused on racing the Hobbit through the regions to get to the Lonely Mountain. Of course he also has to make sure his selected dwarves survive that long, and keeping Gandalf nearby will help with any combat. Enemies really split their time between sending out minions and moving them, trying to trap Bilbo and the dwarves and fight them. Of course, gaining Power tokens and Special Action cards help everyone, so donít forget about the Regroup and Rest phases!
As noted above, everything in the game is emblazoned with photos, CG images, and fonts from the Hobbit films, so the game immediately feels familiar in a way that a generically fantasy version might not have. As with all WizKids products all of the materials here are very high quality with sturdy cardboard and plastic, and there are just enough tokens to give you a lot of things to move around without bogging you down with too much to make it a chore. If thereís one thing thatís a little disappointing itís the game board. While itís laid out in a very clear manner with notations and specific circles for placement, I feel like they could have done that with a more interesting map rather than simple columns and rows. On the other hand, many players appreciate this new style of smaller, more compact board game surfaces that can be played without requiring a massive playing surface.
Of course, the figures in the game are high quality plastic miniatures and share sculpts with the Hobbit HeroClix game! Just as youíd expect with this variety of characters the figures are unique and very different from each other, from the tiny lurking Gollum to the enormous and corpulent Goblin King. In scale with one another, the figures capture each characterís likeness and attitude as seen in the first film, if not those beyond it. Bilbo summons up his courage and creeps forward tentatively, holding his newly acquired Sting before him. Gandalf stands tall and stately in his wizardís robes, staff in one hand and Glamdring resting at his hip. Azog the white orc stands atop a rock, posed dramatically with a wicked mace held high and his claw-hand outstretched. Each figure is sculpted and painted with a lot of attention to detail and they add a nice physical element to the board game thatís otherwise so many tokens. And while their board game clix bases turn as they take wounds (or lose luck in Bilboís case), the game also comes with SwitchClix HeroClix dials for them!
Thatís right, simply pop a figure off of its standard base and snap it onto the other and itís ready to join your HeroClix games. Each figure comes with both bases as well as a standard HeroClix card, and theyíre fully compatible with the main game which includes many previously released Lord of the Rings and Hobbit figures. The characters appropriately vary in power level, though they all feature neat point costs to make team building easier. At the lower end youíll find Bilbo and Gollum, both 50 points. The main Hobbit has a great trait helping him pick up relics (like the One Ring), and features a sneaky dial with Stealth and Leap/Climb, special Super Senses that he can share with friends, and more. Gollum shares some of those same powers and comes with traits locking down opponents, evading damage, and hiding at the beginning of the game! From there itís a big jump to the 120 point Goblin King, a giant that can ignore damage by hurting his friends via a trait, and lots of great close combat powers. Azog is 125 (or one click less for 100) of viciousness with extreme mobility, a full dial of damage reducers, and excellent damage. Finally thereís Gandalf, playable at 175 or 125. He has the Mystics TA, a 7 range, Indomitable, and a fantastic suite of powers and solid stats that will make him a star on your White Council, Maiar, Ringbearer, or Thorin & Company teams!
The Hobbit Journey to the Lonely Mountain Strategy Game is an immersive, fast-paced game of outwitting your opponents through a variety of tactics and options. Itís also uniquely scalable, providing very different experiences whether youíre playing one on one (Bilbo vs. Goblin King) or with three others for the full effect. The game is a perfect gift this holiday season for any fan of the Hobbit, book or films, and if he or she is also a HeroClix player then itís a slam dunk. The Strategy Game is currently available in game stores near you with an MSRP around $49.99.
Review and Photos by Scott Rubin
Review Sample Courtesy of WizKids Games