I started extremely biased with this title: the ingredients for a big game were there but the lean mechanics, the graphics not excellent and the absence of previews for several weeks left me so much bitter in my mouth. So as not to waste time trying it at Modena Play, I saw the gameplay videos of the FFG and I started sifting through the information available.
A premise: I love it Imperial Assault, I have it all, I have played all the campaigns with Master and those with App (App I know very well). Already from the previews we notice one thing: this Travel in Middle-earth takes all the positives from previous app campaigns and streamlines them, there are no dice, no thousand skills to remember, no enemy deployment cards. Everything is inside the app (I know the assault cards by heart, but every time I have to go and review the health of a deployment card, I waste 10 minutes looking for it). In this title it's all in the deck: the growth of the character does not involve knowing and looking at various skills, but only inserting them in the deck. Furthermore, what initially perplexed me, that is the map, actually has a great advantage: it is immediate and easy to position, you don't waste minutes and minutes looking for that tile that is missing.
With these thoughts in mind, I sat down in the first round of play on Friday morning at Modena Play, in a stand Asmodee besieged: little is done in an hour, but it was enough to understand some details that were missing. The narrative part is there: there is a mystery with which we start and, in the only round played, we breathe a bit of Tolkien, thanks to one of the characters played, I had Bilbo, explore a place and sing, YES, sing! One of the orcs comes from Mount Gram, an ancient stronghold in the mountains of Angmar and, at the table, the rivalry between Legolas e Gimli you feel (thanks to the group I was in).
The materials, if I have to be honest, also confirmed later by my travel companions during the day, are better than what you see in the preview: the quality is what the FFG it has accustomed us over the years, not to the levels of model houses, but pleasant to play and paint. I get up from the table and look at the other 3 tables: different maps, in one no enemy, in another the 5 companions are surrounded by Warg and men of Eriador, in short, the feeling of already seeing a different story after a shift, at least apparently, is there. Hard to say if, as confirmed by the FFG, there will be many narrative branches that will chase each other game after game, but whoever gets off to a good start is half the battle.
In short, I go home with the box and read the rules and compendium. The game is lean and clean: too much, some will surely say, few choices to make, others will say. I believe both statements to be true: this is not a board game in the true sense of the word. It reminds me a lot of the game books of the nineties: everything is concentrated in the narrative part. The aim is to really travel in the Middle-earth, shaping a new story and everything is based on this: movement, combat, interaction, growth through deckbuilding have the aim of reducing the "mechanical" part to the bone to give space completely to the "narrative" .
There will be plenty of expansions: there is the core set symbol (which is distinguished from "subsequent expansions") and an ability to Gimli refers to another dwarf hero - not (yet) present.
Many other considerations could be made: how impactful will the choice of uncovering cards be to put them in your playing area or leave them in the deck to get more successes? How sensible will it be to switch hero classes to attempt different deckbuilding? How much will the campaign change after playing it once? We'll see.
In conclusion: is it a game to be taken for sure because it has innovative and revolutionary mechanics? NO.
In some ways it's not even a game… but if you like it Middle-earth and you want to experience adventures by completely immersing yourself in the world of Tolkien, then the high cost will probably justify the promised hours (at least 20 per campaign) of fun. Then if the group you play with will have the same desire as you to explore the Wildland, to follow footprints in the ground and free the Middle-earth from the growing darkness .. then YES, which is a game to be taken absolutely.
On the other hand, as an old man said Hobbit during the Third Age ... Not all that is gold shines. I will let you know at the end of the trip, if it was worth it.