Plenty of the reviews and commentary this game gets remark a great deal about “theme”. Most agree that Nate French, Caleb Grace, Matt Newman, and the rest of the contributing Fantasy Flight team have done a fine job of keeping this game snug within the feel of its source text. I say “feel” because that is really what it amounts to: do the cards and quests and art and mechanics feel like The Lord of the Rings? Most agree they do, that they produce a similar response to reading the text. Saying things like “spirit of the books” or “lore” is one thing, but it all adds up to intuition. Even though Mirlonde is not included in the lore one bit she still feels right in the game.
The Black Riders expansion has felt the most right to me. It may be the fact that it’s still shiny and new, but setting up campaign mode and exiting the Shire and seeing the Prancing Pony and the rest left me with a very happy, satisfied feeling, like I’d just taken an alternate view of the books. To add to the experience, I am recommending some tunes to listen to here. I am referring you to many songs from the Tolkien Ensemble. This is a European supergroup that has taken the songs and poems from the texts and translated them into musical arrangements. They are almost always spot on, and they are officially endorsed by the Tolkien estate. This may or may not become a new feature, but I was just too excited by the songs to not throw up an article here for you to enjoy as you tackle the campaign.
While Setting Up Shadow of the Past: The Old Walking Song (I)
This is the song Bilbo sings as he leaves the Shire for the (second-to) last time. It’s a modified arrangement from the song he sings in The Hobbit on his return journey from Erebor. Let this get you ready for the journey ahead. For added effect, the next track in the playlist is Christopher Lee reading the verse of the Ring. Let that one play after you attach The One Ring.
Once Bag End Leave Play: A Walking Song
I love this song because it feels so very hobbit-y. You can just imagine Sam, Pippin, and Frodo making there way into the Green Hill Country, singing all the way. It is also a nice setup for when a jolly walk from Bag End to Crickhollow becomes a dangerous pursuit.
When a Black Rider Engages You: Nazgûl, from The Fellowship fo the Ring film soundtrack
This is, obviously, not taken from the books, but you’ve got to have some dangerous music playing at some point.
When Gildor Shows Up: Elven Hymn to Elebereth Gilthoniel (I)
I find that, even though I’ve read The Lord of the Rings upwards of ten times and The Silmarillion at least three times, the Elves are still mysterious folk. They are high and above us mere Hobbits and Men, especially as they are the only ones to sing such “hymns” to the Valar. The elvish songs arranged by the Tolkien Ensemble capture some of this. As a rock/punk/metal guy, more operatic stuff takes time to grow on me and it’s the same with this song. But, it is a beautiful song and provides a little bit of elvishness to brighten the dark when Gildor pops out of the encounter deck.
When You Cross Buckleberry Ferry and complete A Shadow of the Past: Farewell Song of Merry and Pippin
You’ve just survived an invasion of black riders! There’s no time for song! Okay, just one more. Don’t forget that in the books there are no violent encounters with Nazgul, whatever the game or films would have you believe. So even though the hobbits are shaken, at the point in time when they sing this song it’s just been revealed that their “conspiracy” knows all about Frodo’s journey and that they will be joining Mr. Baggins (er, Underhill) on his quest. So it’s a fair time to celebrate!
While You’re Setting Up A Knife in the Dark: There is an Inn, a Merry Old Inn
While the time we spend at the Prancing Pony in this quest in brief, it’s nice to be reminded that it is, in fact, a merry old inn. There, the hobbits manage to find a bit of comfort, at least for a few hours, before they are forced off again.
After You Clear Stage 2B: The Fall of Gil-Galad
Sam recites this song while they are on the road to Weathertop. The Tolkien Ensemble have done a nice interpretation of this sad song and, while the “Lay of Beren and Lúthien” that Aragorn recites is a bit more iconic, it’s a little too long for our purposes and the Tolkien Ensembles arrangement is almost too much for my taste.
As You Setup Flight to the Ford: Tolkien sings, “Sam’s Rhyme of the Troll”
You’ve been through some stressful moments, and need a bit of respite. Just as master Samwise sang The Fall of Gil-galad, he provides a nice relief with his own rhyme of the troll. This is a real treat with Tolkien himself not just reading, but singing the song! Brace yourself for there is a race ahead.
When Quest Stage 2B Enters Play: The Lord of the Rings Online Sountrack – “War Pipes”
There seems to be a bit of divide between MMO players and tabletop gamers, but there is no riff amongst Tolkien fans! This game has a great soundtrack and I like tempo and feel of this song as I think of Frodo being chased down by the Nazgûl. It’s heroic and dangerous at the same time.
While You Pack Up Your Cards: Song of Eärendil
Finally, you’ve made it to Rivendell! And there Bilbo is waiting in the Hall of Fire to sort out his Song of Eärendil for the listening enjoyment of all. As you celebrate your victory and put those many, many cards away, relax and have a listen. And take your time; the song is 10 minutes long!
How about you? What do you listen to when you play the game? Do you keep it restricted to Tolkien-esque or medieval music, or do you prefer something else? Let me know in the comments.