Tolkien Tabletop #1

Greetings, readers! I apologize again for the lengthy delays between posts here, but as most of you probably are aware (unless you’ve been traveling with the lost blue wizards) the world has quite turned upside down lately. I wanted to take the time, however, to let you know about a new column I’ve had the pleasure of writing in the Tolkien Society’s regular publication Amon Hen. It is called “Tolkien Tabletop” and debuts in the current issue, number 283. I hope that it will introduce a broader range of Tolkien fans to all the great Tolkien-related tabletop gaming out there and help grow our wonderful community even more.

Below is an excerpt from the first article, providing a brief overview of my thoughts on the relationship between Tolkien and gaming as well as describing the regular features of the column. The issue with the full article is available online now for Society members, and the print copy should be following soon behind. Please consider joining the Society and in turn enlarging another great community of Tolkien fans from around the world!

Amon Hen 283

Tolkien Tabletop #1

Tolkien famously wrote to Milton Waldman in 1951,

Do not laugh! But once upon a time (my crest has long since fallen) I had a mind to make a body of more or less connected legend . . . I would draw some of the great tales in fullness, and leave many only placed in the scheme, and sketched. The cycles should be linked to a majestic whole, and yet leave scope for other minds and hands, wielding paint and music and drama. Absurd.

Tolkien didn’t include board games in his list, otherwise he may have afterwards thought his notion to be even more absurd. I would argue, however, that it could be perfectly at home in this list of other mediums of storytelling.

Games come in a variety of forms, ranging from nearly pure chance to pure logical and mathematical skill. Somewhere between the two extremes of casting lots and playing chess exists a whole range of games that are full of thematic content and offer players a structured means of exploring worlds and creating stories. These games don’t just use thematic or narrative content, sometimes even “officially licensed,” to thinly veil an experience that mostly consists of just doing math or rolling dice. Rather, these games usually started out as a story that the game developer wanted to tell, or a world that he or she wanted to explore, and developed or borrowed mechanics to provide a structured framework within which the players could play.

Tolkien-related tabletop games have been produced for over 40 years now, going back at least to the 1977 version of War of the Ring published by Simulations Publications, Inc. (SPI), and provide not just a way for players to explore Middle-earth and its stories but also to spend time in fellowship with others who love Tolkien’s works. Many areas across the world do not have enough Society members to support a Smial, but it may not be as difficult to find a friendly local game store, library, pub, or coffee shop where one can spend time with others over a casual game while discussing Tolkien. Games can also be a great way to introduce your friends and family members to the world of Middle-earth.

Such will be the focus of this new column. Each future issue will feature a brief review or explore an interesting element of a particular game or games, before moving on to provide a summary of recent news about Tolkien-related gaming. With a few justifiable exceptions, the scope of these reviews will be limited specifically to tabletop games, be they board games, card games, miniature games, traditional pen and paper roleplaying games (RPGs), and so on, rather than “video” games. It will also generally avoid games that are simply rebranded with a Middle-earth theme, like The Lord of the Rings Monopoly, or The Hobbit Yahtzee. Finally, a strong preference will be shown towards games based on Tolkien’s books rather than games specifically based on any of the film adaptations.

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