19th Sep2018

‘Hunt For The Ring’ Board Game Review

by Matthew Smail

hunt-ring-box

Hidden movement (or hide and seek, if you prefer) games have been around for a while, yet there are still relatively few of them to choose from. Letters from Whitechapel and Fury of Dracula are perhaps the two that most people will have heard of, but last year, Italian publisher Ares Games saw fit to introduce the concept to one of the most popular licenses in the world. Rather than having four or five “good guys” chasing down a villain like Jack the Ripper or Dracula, the majority of players will act as Rimgwraiths, seeking Frodo and his party in order to claw back The One Ring.

At first glance, I felt that Hunt for the Ring must be a much older game. It is luxuriously illustrated by renowned fantasy artist John Howe which gives a very classical, slightly reserved appearance. As my time with the game went on, I began to appreciate it more and more, although it never moves beyond what I would call a somber disposition. There’s a lot of detail among the cards, tokens and supporting paraphernalia and all of it feels Tolkienesque. This is a game to be enjoyed on a dark wooden table, beneath the dim flicker of candlelight, ideally with a steel tankard of strong ale.

My personal fantasies aside, Hunt for the Ring is a fairly heavy game that actually takes place in two phases, each of which has a side of the board dedicated to it. In the first half of the game (which can be considered a standalone experience if you wish) Frodo and his companions will race across The Shire to Bree. On the second side of the board (which can only be setup based on outcomes from the first game) the hobbits are led by Strider and/or Gandalf, whilst The Witch King of Angmar joins the Nazgul side. Handily, Hunt for the Ring actually comes with everything needed to create a save state in between each game, so it’s possible to enjoy the full experience over two, roughly two hour sessions, rather than a single mammoth sitting.

I think it’s quite likely that the majority of players will focus on the initial journey to Bree, but I did try both games and I can say that the difference between the two is actually… Significant. In the first half of the journey, players control Frodo’s party directly by marking the spaces they want to travel to on a secret board that is hidden from the Nazgul players. In the second journey, the party actually moves on its own via a preprogrammed route that is shown on one of many journey cards, whilst the “good” player acts as Gandalf to undermine the ringwraiths and aid the party.

These differences do therefore make Hunt for the Ring feel like a real game of two halves – which can be very satisfying to play right through. If you do choose to play only the first half, however, I dare say that the majority of players will feel fairly satisfied with the sense of closure. If you recall how the final moments of Frodo’s journey into Bree end in Peter Jackson’s movie, then you can imagine a similar sense of desperate success (or failure) is conjured in Hunt for the Ring. That said, there is a bit more excitement to be had if you just flip the board and keep playing right away.

In terms of actual gameplay, each day is split into three phases; morning, afternoon and night. In the morning and the afternoon, Frodo will mark a new location on his secret map (which is beautifully ensconced in a very nicely made screen to keep it hidden.) This location can be an adjacent numbered space, or a dot that is adjacent to the last number, but either way, Frodo is considered to be “at” the last numbered location on the board for the purposes of searching. In the night phase, Frodo may take an additional move or he can rest, but if he moves, he’ll take extra corruption. It’s also possible for Frodo to play cards on his turn, some of which are companions that will block the ringwraiths, whilst others simply convey their stated benefit.

On the Nazgul turn, each of the ringwraiths will move (up to three spaces, if on a main road) and perform a free action such as searching – which simply means that they can ask the Frodo player if they have ever been in that spot. They can also use dice from a shared pool that is rolled every turn. These dice allow more powerful hunt actions (among others) that can increase the chance of finding Frodo. When he is located, he’ll take corruption as he slips on the ring and makes good his escape. If the corruption track is ever filled, he is lost to the evil of the ring, presumably to face a Gollum-like fate.

With five ringwraiths in the game (no matter how many players there are) you might think that capturing Frodo is easy, but thanks to his evasiveness, his allies and the companion cards he has access to, it’s not as easy as it might seem. Should Frodo somehow manage to slip through the Nazgul lines, then tracking him can become a real pain in the backside. I really enjoyed the “racing across a map” nature of both modes of the game – the objective that Frodo must reach is known to everyone from the outset. This means that the tactics on offer to the Nazgul do include casting a wide net and advancing quickly or having one player hang back and act as a sweeper are both viable, as are several other strategies.

I was also pleased to see that the manual includes some fairly detailed instructions for how to handle one side or the other persistently winning. I think this lends itself really well to the kind of recurring family game night that Lord of the Rings licensed products probably align to. For example if you play with your children often, then perhaps you’ll want to give them an advantage as the Ringwraith side, or vice versa if it’s them that keep beating you. Whilst I’m talking about the manual, to give credit where it’s due, Hunt for the Ring has a lengthy instruction book, but it’s deep and detailed, with lots of examples and additional commentary. It might be slightly overlong, but nonetheless it’s well written and clear.

With its attractive, classical looks and deep, engaging gameplay, Hunt for the Ring is a very enjoyable entry point into hidden movement games. I am a big fan of the fact that it can be played as a long, short or split game without any real loss of quality in any situation and I do like the variation from one half of the game to the next – even though I prefer the first half. The miniatures are very nicely done and each is large and well sculpted, with a threatening kind of look that suits the Nazgul to a tee. The Frodo player screen is lovely and very helpful, whilst the game itself almost always remains right and tense from very early on right until the finish.

**** 4/5

A copy of Hunt for the Ring was provided by Ares Games for review.

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