Review – EXIT: The Game – The Lord of the Rings: Shadows Over Middle-earth

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Designer Inka Brand, Markus Brand

Artist Mihajlo Dimitrievski

Publisher KOSMOS

Category Escape Room

Length 1-2 hours

Release Date 2022

Player Count 1-4

The latest installment of the EXIT series takes place not in an abandoned cabin or a secret lab, not in a pharaoh’s tomb or a forbidden castle. It takes place in Middle-earth (!), alongside Frodo and friends. Let’s see what those tricksy hobbitses are up to!

Review

Having played at least a dozen EXIT games, I keep thinking that that series must have run its course by now, that there can’t possibly be any new ideas left. And I keep being proven wrong. In EXIT – Shadows Over Middle-Earth, players tread the path of the Fellowship, journeying from the Shire to Moria to Shelob’s Lair and beyond.

The game follows the now-classic EXIT formula, using the traditional game book, card decks, and decoder wheel. Players begin in Hobbiton and advance to new locations with each puzzle they solve. Now obviously, I want to keep this review as spoiler-free as possible, so I won’t go into specific detail about the puzzles, but here are some high-level things that stood out to me:

  • A couple of the challenges include 3D elements, which is something I had not seen in other EXITs I’ve played.
  • Each puzzle includes a section of narrative text that helps to bring out the theme and make the game feel like a continuous, cohesive story rather than a random sequence of puzzles.
  • Given that the Lord of the Rings theme will likely draw in folks who have not played other EXIT games, the challenges here feel like the right difficulty for new players. A few puzzles are easy, a few are more challenging, but none of them felt unfair or overly cryptic to me.
  • The Lord of the Rings IP wasn’t really necessary—the puzzles would have been just fine under a different theme—but it works well nonetheless.
  • It is fun to encounter recognizable characters like Strider, Gollum, and Galadriel.
  • This game includes the usual meta-shenanigans that people have come to love about this series. (If you’ve played any EXITs, you know what I’m talking about.)

Looking back on all the EXIT games I have played (probably about half of the ones that have been released), this one ranks among my favorites. That’s not because of the theme—I care very little about Lord of the Rings—but simply having a strong narrative behind the puzzles enhances the play experience. The other entries in this series have loosely implemented themes like a spooky roller-coaster or an uncanny mansion, but they tend to feel generic and light on story. This isn’t a problem, of course, as the puzzles, not the story, are at the forefront of any EXIT game, but simply having a story gives the game another layer.

Fans of both the EXIT and Lord of the Rings series will find things to like here. I’m quite interested to see if other IP’s will find their way into this game series, and if so, how they might be used. It’s impressive to me that I have not grown tired of this series; it’s still great fun to see the surprises that lie within each EXIT box. As long as the designers keep putting out fresh content, I’ll be here for it.

A review copy was provided by KOSMOS.

The Bottom Line

Shadows Over Middle-earth is among my favorite installments of the EXIT series. For new players, it's a great jumping-on point, and for experienced players, it provides a fun batch of the puzzles that make this series so popular.

 

8.0

Stephen Hall

My geek roots run deep. I have been a gamer and comic book reader since I was a kid, but tabletop games are my #1 hobby.