Ever since I first heard about Amazon Prime’s upcoming TV series, I’ve been cautiously optimistic. There is so much potential for it to be great, but as anybody who has watched The Hobbit movies will know, it could also go horribly, horribly wrong. This week, the first synopsis of the TV series was released. I have a few general thoughts about the setting and timing of the series, but when I was considering what I might write, I started to wonder, “What does Amazon’s Lord of the Rings series mean for tabletop games?”
In case you haven’t seen it, you can find the initial press release statement here; I also read this article on Den of Geek which might help whet your speculative juices.
It seems that the series is to be set thousands of years before the events of the Lord of the Rings, during the Second Age. This makes a lot of sense. It’s an era fairly clear of Tolkien’s storytelling; there’s a broad canvas upon which to lay down some stories. Tabletop gaming had inadvertently informed my own preconceptions here; I had expected the series to take place in the build-up to the War of the Ring era, probably because I’ve been playing FFG’s Journeys in Middle Earth. The idea of stories set amongst the rising shadows felt like an obvious choice.
Switching to the Second Age removes the problem of not messing with Tolkien’s main narrative, and allows for more shades of grey than one usually finds in Tolkien’s novels. 30 years ago I probably could have told you everything there was to know about the Second Age. These days my knowledge is a little rusty, but it’s the era in which Sauron walks Middle Earth and the Rings of Power are forged. The magnificent island of Numenor is still in existence with the ancestors of Aragorn sitting on its throne.
The press release mentions a “reemergence of evil.” I assume this is Sauron arriving to stir up trouble, starting the events that will culminate in the War of the Ring centuries later. Sauron in this incarnation is far more silver of tongue than his Third Age persona, affording the opportunity for some more interesting character interactions. In the Second Age, he will deceive the maker of the rings, enslave the 9 human kings, forge the One Ring, and convince the Numenoreans to sail to the Undying Lands. There is plenty of opportunity for mischief, war, and to foreshadow the original storylines. If there’s anything modern televisual storytelling has taught me, it’s that people love their stories to interconnect. Hopefully, this Middle Earth series will use the Mandolarian template rather than the one used in The Rise of Skywalker.
As well as bringing in Sauron, this age still allows the inclusion of Galadriel and Elrond, perhaps Elendil and Isildur, as well as any number of other long-living elves; I expect we’ll see Gil-galad and maybe Glorfindel. The series can also introduce lots of fabulous looking Numenoreans, and, I dare say, all sorts of other Middle-Earth denizens too. I’m not sure how long Ents live, but I don’t imagine we’ll get through five seasons of TV without seeing them.
But what about games?
One feels some of the heavyweights of the gaming industry must be waiting with bated breath to see if they can claim the rights to base games on the new stories. I’m sure negotiations are already well underway. Games Workshop has supported its Middle Earth Strategy Game since the films were first released, but arguably they’re struggling for inspiration. In 2020 they introduced Barliman Butterbur as a playable model, which suggests they may be at the bottom of the hobbit-filled barrel.
The game is a smallish scale wargame, somewhere between a skirmish game and a full-on tabletop wargame. It’s biggest draw is probably the brilliantly realized miniatures of the films’ characters. The opportunity to bring new characters, units, settings, and even whole new armies to the game must feel like the ultimate second breakfast. I haven’t ever bought into the Middle Earth Strategy game, but a reinvigoration via a successful new series might be enough for me to take the plunge.
On a smaller scale, there’s Journeys in Middle Earth, Fantasy Flight Games’ app-driven adventure game for 1-5 players. This game is about the smaller character-driven quest aspects of Middle Earth—a small party of heroes trying to hold back the impending shadow. Whilst the latter stages of The Lord of the Rings, particularly on the big screen, can feel like one eternal battle, I think it is at its best when the storytelling focuses on one tight group of friends.
The Flight from Hobbiton, Weathertop, and Moria are the parts of the books that stand out for me, and these are the types of moments that Journeys in Middle Earth aims to recreate. I imagine that the new TV series will be filled with character-driven quests, generating lots of material for Journeys games. Being app-driven, it would be fairly easy for the design team to react to changes in the storyline once the assembled miniatures cast was in place.
Remember also, that FFG has only recently brought their LOTR Living Card Game to a close. It’s finished for now, but new stories, new characters, and new locations might be enough for the company to resurrect it. Again, any strong narratives coming out of the TV series would be comparatively easy to replicate. FFG has a strong track record with their Living Card Games, so this would be a great readdition.
Unspecified CMON game (that’s a bit like Song of Ice and Fire)
It’s impossible to contemplate miniatures games without considering CMON and their million-dollar Kickstarters. They love to bring countless miniatures to the table AND they have previous experience with TV-inspired wargames with their Song of Ice and Fire game. I’m sure they’d love a piece of the 2nd Age pie.
What do you think?
That’s just 3 or 4 ideas about games that could be set in the new Middle Earth setting. (I left out the inevitable Monopoly spin-off.) As ever, I’m cautiously optimistic about the TV series, and probably more optimistic about some decent gaming opportunities. However things turn out, I think gamers can look forward to some very good Tolkein-inspired miniature sculpts and for this, the hobbyist in me rejoices.
What other game systems have I missed that might lend themselves to games set in the Second Age? Are there any other miniatures rulesets that should be afforded a bit of the Tolkien treatment? Middle Earth Frostgrave could be great. Let us know in the comments below!