In case you thought Fantasy Flight ran out of material for more Tolkien games, they released a new game based on The Hobbit. This is not the Hobbit FFG published in 2002, and it is instead a brand new game by Reiner Knizia.
The Hobbit shares much in common with Knizia’s Beowulf game. Instead of playing the titular role, these games ask you to be the main character’s companions as you follow the protagonists to their destiny. It may seem odd to ask players to not be the star, but I think it suits these stories well.
In The Hobbit you play as the Dwarves who have hired Bilbo Baggins to help them recover their stolen treasure from the dragon Smaug. Bilbo moves along a board that starts at the Shire and ends at Smaug’s lair, and other major scenes like the troll lair are also represented along the way. Smaug travels along the board too, and the game is over if he reaches Laketown.
I had a lot of fun playing The Hobbit. It’s easy to play, and it flows so you play a different mini game every few turns. This gives the game a nice rhythm as you bid for bonuses during travel, and then use those bonus when you roll a handful of dice at the major event spaces.
The bidding mechanic can be random because you bid a single card that can have a number between one and sixty. This makes it hard to discern what your opponents might play, but I had no problems with the system in practice. The strategy is at a minimum in The Hobbit, but the game is so fun and fast paced that I didn’t miss it. You can aim for increasing specific stats and make plenty of decisions, but you have to be prepared to not to get what you want sometimes.
All the preparation of the travel spaces is used to increase your abilities when you have to complete challenges on the major events, which are larger spaces with an illustration of a scene from the book. These challenges are passed with successful die rolls, which are aided by your abilities like cunning or strength. The dice use icons instead of numbers, which always makes dice rolling more fun.
The Hobbit has just enough strategy hidden beneath the randomness to call it a decent game, but the theme makes it a great game. I have not read the book since middle school, but the game stirs up plenty of memories because it follows the story so well. All of the event cards feature lines from the books, and it does a great job of telling the story as you play. If you have never read the book, you’ll still get a good grasp of Bilbo’s adventure by the time you finish the game.
The Hobbit isn’t a must buy if you already have other games to scratch your Tolkien itch, but it is a great casual fantasy game. There is some mild competition, but it’s more gloating about your treasure pile than causing harm to other players. This makes the game a great “beer and pretzels” experience when you want to just hang out and play something new. The game plays with two to five players, and I think games with that player range are always useful to have in a collection. “The Hobbit” is also known as “There And Back Again,” which is how I feel about the game. I would like to go there and back again soon.