Full disclosure: A review copy of EXIT: The Lord of the Rings – Shadows Over Middle-Earth was provided by KOSMOS.
We’re back! Continuing on a proud tradition of Reviewing All the EXIT Games, we’ve got some new ones to check out! Another standard EXIT, a puzzle, and a big surprise for the holidays. More on that last one later; we’re nowhere near done. But it’s an exciting time! I’ve been trying to get through more of the escape room and puzzle and mystery games around the house, and it’s been a lot, but a fun lot. As you might have guessed, this next one was particularly exciting (for my housemate; I don’t care about Lord of the Rings at all, sadly), but we’re trying out EXIT: The Lord of the Rings – Shadows Over Middle-Earth! Let’s dive right in!
In EXIT: The Lord of the Rings – Shadows Over Middle-Earth, a great crisis is brewing! You’ve been tasked by Gandalf to help out some local hobbits who are on jewelry disposal duty or something. You’re not sure why you’re being bothered, but, hey, when a wizard asks for a favor, maybe you’ll get something cool in return. So journey alongside (but, critically, not as a part of) some fellowship as they attempt to get rid of a deeply cursed object. Will you make sure that they succeed in their quest? Or will you inevitably get lost along the way?
Player Count Differences
Occasionally I recommend EXIT games with more than two players, and this is probably one of them. Though, being real, it’s a bit more for pragmatism than it is for puzzle-solving utility. There are a lot of moving parts in this one; tons of things to push, pull, and assemble, and having more players is pretty handy. Granted, we also misread one particular puzzle that ended up causing us some consternation, so having more people to potentially avoid that problem in the future is probably wise, as well. This one is one of the linear EXIT games, so there aren’t any ways to sort the puzzles so that multiple players can do them in parallel, so beyond having some folks to helps with puzzle assembly, I still tend to like a two-player strategy. One player solves, the other player helps, and then the helper works the dial while the solver finds the right Answer Card. It’s gotten us this far with no major issues, so I tend to stick with it.
- Save yourselves from our fate and make sure you closely read all the cards. We really goofed up a puzzle because we didn’t read one of the cards closely enough. Could it have been clearer? Probably. Is that on us? Probably, as much as I hate to admit it. But reading all the Riddle and Answer cards is pretty key to success, so make sure that you actually … do that.
- More generally, it helps to look at everything that you’ve given as part of the game. The Brands are tricksy. The EXIT games can occasionally give you a lot to consider all at once, so take a look at everything so that you get a good sense of what you’re being asked to do or solve or look for. There’s usually something, but it might not be where or what you expected.
- Also, don’t make assumptions! As I mentioned, sometimes things aren’t necessarily what you expected, or information or riddles aren’t actually in the format that you think they’re going to be. Be sure to occasionally check your assumptions to make sure you’re even going about the puzzle in the right way. The Hint Cards can help a lot with that.
- If you’re not sure, ask Gandalf for help! He is Grey or White, depending on the puzzle. He’s usually pretty helpful, albeit sometimes cryptic, as Hint Cards tend to be. If you find yourself burning time on a particular puzzle, it may be time to go for a Hint.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- Honestly, if you had asked me who should have done the art for a Lord of the Rings-themed EXIT game, I was going to say “The Mico”, and here we are. It’s a very good fit for Mihajlo Dimitrievski’s skill set, and it looks perfectly in place as you progress through it. I really like it! It also does the nice and challenging job of being reminiscent of the Lord of the Rings series without relying on specific visuals from the movies. I appreciate that, and having a particularly specific talent like The Mico on this task makes sure that the game looks great and has its own specific aesthetic. It helps that his art is so recognizable.
- I do think it’s funny that the plot of the game essentially casts you as unnamed Hobbits making sure all the key points of the series actually happen. My housemate refers to them as Frodo’s stagehands, which is both a bit mean and entirely accurate. You’re not involved in the actual Lord of the Rings plot, you’re just part of the plot to make sure that the Lord of the Rings plot happens. It’s an entertaining metanarrative.
- I think Lord of the Rings fans will really enjoy a few of these puzzles and just the whole general thing that this has going on. This is one of those things I’d probably get for my Lord of the Rings-loving friends. It’s a nice gift that lets players play around in a space that they’re thematically very into, with many of the big players making their appearance, including your favorite large spider. I appreciate some of the puzzles and what they try to involve! I’d love to see EXIT start doing a few more of these IPs as puzzle boxes.
- There are a few puzzles in here that I really enjoyed, which is always nice to see. Either the construction, the execution, or just the components that composed the puzzle all ended up being extremely fun.
- I appreciate the simplicity of EXIT’s hint system. There’s a setup hint, a progress hint, and a solution. I do love the more complex and thorough hint systems, but there’s something nice about knowing exactly what card you need to check for what you’re looking for. Plus, I think it’s a hoot that Gandalf is your Hint Cards, and he goes from Gandalf the Grey to Gandalf the White over the course of the game.
- I also enjoy that EXIT games are pretty consistently in the 1 – 2 hour range, which is nice. I pretty much always know how long an EXIT games is going to take me, and it’s never too far outside of that expectation, which is nice. I like having a good sense of how long the game is going to take, and it doesn’t vary much.
- I’ll be real: I still don’t really think the difficulty rating means all that much, in my experience. Maybe we were just rusty. I legitimately wonder how they calculate what the difficulty rating for an EXIT game is. Is it the type of puzzles? The count? Is there some secret Brand System for Rating Puzzle Complexity? I’m compelled, now. But more seriously, we found this a bit more challenging than other EXITs we’ve done in the past on a few of the puzzles. It’s been a hot minute since we’ve done an EXIT, though, so we may have just been out of practice.
- I chuckled a bit at the $5 MSRP increase, but, as someone who doesn’t typically comment too much on the price of the game, I assume that licenses are expensive to get. That’s economics or the Tolkien estate or something, I imagine, but just keep an eye out that this one does cost $5 more than the standard EXIT fare. Still cheaper than the puzzles and the Advent Calendar, but, you know.
- There was one puzzle that was a pretty big miss for us; we generally don’t love perspective puzzles, but this one in particular just frustrated us. Part of it was that we missed a decently critical point of clarification, but beyond that, we just found it mildly tedious. They can’t all be my favorite puzzle, after all.
Overall: 8.25 / 10
Overall, I think EXIT: The Lord of the Rings – Shadows Over Middle-Earth is another solid entry in the series! The name is a bit of a doozy, but, at a certain point, what can you do. I worry a bit about games that are based on some IP, because there’s always the temptation to just use stills from the property, which feels kind of … hokey? On the other hand, there are myriad examples of games that try to do their own art and it turns out … looking pretty bad. In a surprising twist, they went with an artist who has such a distinctive, recognizable art style that it’s hard to imagine them using any other artist for the game. Complimenting a great art style, you’ve got some rock-solid puzzles that, as always, consistently impress me as to the depth and skill of the Brands when it comes to puzzle construction. I haven’t played a bad EXIT, and this is probably one of the better ones, even as someone who really doesn’t care that much about Lord of the Rings. If you do care about Lord of the Rings (or like someone who does), this would likely make a fantastic gift for them. It’s interactive, a great way to spend an evening, and the puzzles are relatively approachable (save for one fairly frustrating one). I’m never quite as fond of the totally linear EXIT games, but I find there are other escape room games that do a better job than the EXIT series of making the puzzles nonlinear (and allowing different players to work on different things). It’s an evolving genre, but EXIT continues to evolve with it, which I’m very excited about. If you’re a Lord of the Rings fan, you’re just a die-hard EXIT fan, or you’re looking for a fun escape room game for an evening, I’d solidly recommend EXIT: The Lord of the Rings – Shadows Over Middle-Earth! We had a great time with it.
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