TableTopTakes: The Hobbit
There are times when you stumble across a game on sale and you don’t know anything about it. But because of the theme or a look of the game, and how big the sale is, it is worth checking out. This was the case with The Hobbit game, I got it on a winter inventory clear out sale at a FLGS (Friendly Local Game Store).
The Hobbit is a semi-cooperative game where players are bidding with dwarf cards to see how far they move on a board, but it’s done at the same time, each spot has a different skill or ability that you can raise the level of, so that when you reach locations in the Hobbit story. There you need to complete challenges, and the person who is doing the best gets first crack at them, but those challenges can be difficult and do you want to push your luck further into the pile to get more treasure early or hope to gain it late. At the same time, as a group you need to complete these challenges otherwise Smaug will advance towards Esgaroth (Laketown). You have to work together to make sure everyone is building up their skills, but you can’t discuss how you’re bidding. This leads to people getting something they don’t need at times or someone being under powered, so you have to be careful with that. But in the end, the dwarf with the most gems wins.
This game is interesting because it’s not that complex. You are playing a card, moving on a board, and getting skills. But the semi-cooperative nature adds in some depth to it. You want to get your skills high fast so that you’re able to collect more gems that’ll win you the game. However, if you do that at the expense of others, then Smaug is going to move more and that can cut short the game. So if someone hogs all the skills early in the game, they can get early gems but those might be worth less than later challenges which would give more gems so even in a short game trying to push the end you could still end up losing. For some people, this semi-cooperative nature isn’t going to work, but for me, and the times that we’ve played it, it’s been fun. Everyone can see what everyone else needs so you’re trying to be strategic getting the skills that you need, but not getting it too out of balance, and inevitably it does with someone being extremely cunning but having no power, and that makes it hard to beat some of the challenges. This semi-cooperative nature can be enhance by adding in the rule that if Smaug reaches Laketown the game is over and everyone loses.
A downside to the game is that it can be a little bit simple. I think the rule that everyone loses if Smaug reaches Laketown is almost needed in the game. Otherwise it can have someone rush to get as much treasure as possible and it’s possible that they will end up winning just because they are the only ones with enough skills. There is still luck with that, though, because to defeat these encounters, you are rolling dice and then supplementing with the skills that you have. I’ve pulled off a win by passing on all the smaller treasure encounters and only grabbing the big ones, and I’ve seen that cause people to lose as well if they get a really poor roll while going for those bigger treasures. I think that first blush the game can be a bit simple and the die rolls a bit too random for some people, but there is more strategy hiding in the game than one might expect.
Let’s talk about the theme a little bit. I think that the semi-cooperative nature works for The Hobbit because while Bilbo isn’t after anything more than an adventures, the dwarves want to get as much as they can and to take back the mountain for the riches that are in there. The greed is what is driving them, and that’s what drives the players in the game. You are trying to get the most gems, because that’s how you’re going to win. For that reason I’d say that it’s fairly thematic, but there’s also just this abstract push your luck piece to it as well. It’s a game that you can bring the theme into it, but one that won’t feel like it has as much theme as it might compared to some other Lord of the Rings/Middle Earth themed games.
Finally, let’s talk about the components. The artwork on the game is really nice. It’s very much art that was done before the movie, so if you’re expecting to see something that’s similar to that, it’s not going to tick that check box for you, but it’s classic Hobbit/Middle Earth art. But the game has plastic little gems which is what really makes it shine on the table. They are very cute and actually very thematic because as players, you want to have the games just to play around with. It’s the same mold that’s being used for other games, like Century: Golem Edition. Beyond that, it’s just a well done production of a game.
Overall, this is a fun game. It’s a light game, as much as I liked to talk about how there is more depth than it first seems, it never has a ton of depth to it. Can you workout where you want to be and get that certain ability or land in a certain spot to make your dwarf better? There’s both luck of the dwarf cards that are dealt to you, which you use to bid, and luck as to what everyone else plays. But the game says it only takes 30-45 minutes, which seems right to me, and so for a lighter game, it doesn’t overstay it’s welcome. I’d recommend this game to people who like Lord of the Rings/Hobbit/Middle Earth, as it has a decent thematic feel to it, and even if they aren’t gamers, it’s pretty easy to understand.
Overall Grade: B-
Gamer Grade: C+
Casual Grade: B
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