*Disclaimer: Yes, yes, I know, you can’t just expect to publish a Lord of the Rings game without getting permission from the Tolkien estate. This is just for fun, for now. If we can’t get the license, this will go nowhere. No sense asking for the license without a game that’s worthy of it!
Although there have been some great Lord of the Rings games over the last decade (Lord of the Rings, The Confrontation, and War of the Ring among them), I’ve for some time been kicking around ideas for a true multiplayer competitive game. At first this sounds silly; aren’t there really only two sides, after all? Not exactly, because the motivations of the different members of each side drive some of the consequential events in the story; the rivalry between Sauron and Saruman partially enables the quest to slip through the cracks, the concern of Boromir for the preservation of Gondor trumps his allegiance to the quest and ends up bringing about the end of the Fellowship. These asymmetries in motivation are exactly the kind of thing that a game can exploit to create interest. Players on the same side have goals that are compatible but not identical, and this could give rise to friction even among the players who are ostensibly allied. Of course, to get the true richness of the story, it seems like you need room for a lot of parties – certainly, at a minimum, Frodo, Gandalf, Aragorn, Boromir, Sauron, Saruman, Gollum – at least 7 players!
More recently, with the Acts project (which I’ll talk more about at a later time), I’ve been thinking about ways that games could be combined in serial – where several games are played one-after-the-other, and the output of each feeds inputs into the setup of the successive game in the chain. But in the past I’d also thought about games that could be played in parallel, ie, with multiple games going at the same time, and the action at one table affects the action at the other, and/or with some or all players having the ability to go back and forth between tables. There are significant structural challenges to being able to do this, but in the first place, you need some concept of what exactly the action at different tables represents in the game world. It seems like this is ideally suited to a LotR game, because there are really two different stories happening in parallel: the quest of Frodo to destroy the Ring, and the War of the Ring waged between Sauron and the people of Rohan, Gondor, etc. And more importantly, and crucially for this concept, there is fog-of-war that keeps the stories at an arm’s length from each other in the books, and this too seems well-communicated by two games happening on separate tables. At certain points you may catch wind of how your “allies” at the other table are faring, but mostly you’re constrained to hoping and guessing.
This also has some practical advantages; by splitting the game up, it not only avoids the practical issue of needing 6 friends just to play the game (with a smaller group, just play one game or the other), it avoids the downtime issue that inevitably arises when you try to accommodate 7 players in a turn-based game, so overall you can have a big-group game that doesn’t take too much longer than the individual games.
The challenge, of course, is that each game needs to be great in its own right – you can hardly expect people to want to buy and play two games together if they aren’t both excellent!