Journeys in Middle Earth: Spreading War is the final ‘full’ expansion by FFG. Set before the events depicted in The Fellowship of the Ring and war has come to Rohan and Gondor but do the rulers of those kingdoms realise the threat? You will travel from Fangorn to Osgiliath across 15 all new scenarios, facing down ruthless mercenaries as you attempt to discover the mysterious figure behind the attacks on the kingdoms of men. This exciting addition to the franchise does require the core game and a device (like an iPad) to play it. Journeys in Middle Earth (released in 2019) is already a very popular game; appearing on BGGs Top 100 list for sometime. In this review, we will take a closer look at the Spreading War expansion game play and components. If you are considering buying this expansion you probably already have the core box and enjoy the game so I will only briefly touch on the mechanics of the game and focus more on what changes this expansion brings to the table.
Designed by Philip D. Henry and Grace Holdinghaus (who also worked on the Shadowed Paths Expansion) with more gorgeous art work from Daniel Zrom, the initial impression before opening is that it feels very much a part of the set. It follows the same formula as Shadowed Paths; adding new characters, villains, roles, map tiles, equipment and a unique story.
Journeys in Middle Earth is a co-operative, thematic, adventure employing the key mechanisms of deck building and card drawing, with very light resource management (in the form of inspiration and trinket tokens) and variable player powers. Suitable for 1 to 5 players aged 14+. There’s a lovely, if simple, upgrade path for your equipment and an innovative XP based system for adding and removing cards in your character’s deck. Unlike many co-op campaign crawlers there are no die to be seen! Every interaction, be it combat, speaking with NPCs or avoiding damage/suffering fear is done by taking a test against a particular base stat and then flipping cards to hopefully reveal success symbols. These same cards are also used in the Rally Phase to provide your character with certain abilities or playable bonuses. It’s a very neat, relatively simple system that flows well and can be customised to your hearts content.
Journeys in Middle Earth is very definitely a miniatures based game. FFG have done a wonderful job so far with the sculpts in this franchise and Spreading War does not disappoint on that front - featuring, the impressive oliphaunt, two siege towers and three fell beasts.
Perhaps the most anticipated element of Spreading War, for someone who has played many hours of the previous expansion, core game (and fig packs), was the promise of Level 4 weapon and equipment upgrade cards. This might not sound like a big deal but stick with me, we will cover them in a bit.
The artwork in Journeys in Middle Earth: Spreading War Expansion is stunning. The game's visual design is top-notch, creating an immersive world with a wonderful Middle Earth feel that players can easily get lost in. Especially if you are a big fan of Tolkien and Peter Jackson’s movie adaptations. The artwork on the cards, character sheets, and game board is detailed and well-crafted, adding to the game's overall quality.
This expansion, Spreading War, adds a new game play without increasing complexity. The new enemies and objectives that players must navigate to succeed provided an interesting new challenge. The game also introduces new heroes, each with unique abilities and strengths, adding to the game's replay-ability. The game is considered by most to be ‘mid-weight’ in complexity, the majority of this is due to the way the abilities on the cards work and the iconography used. The actual game play is pretty straight forward and this expansion does nothing to spoil this. The expansion rulebook is well-written and easy to follow, making it accessible to both new and experienced players.
Journeys in Middle Earth: Spreading War Expansion has excellent replay-ability, as does the previous expansion and core game. This expansion features many branching paths, handled by the app, ensuring that each play-through is different. Additionally, the expansion features new enemies, mechanics, and heroes, allowing players to experience new and exciting variations with replaying other campaigns.
The game's player interaction is excellent without being dominating. Players must work together to achieve their goals, making communication and teamwork essential. Specifically, the sharing of inspiration - some characters generate it passively, others from actions. The temptation is to hold on to any earned for the next round but one of the keys to success is knowing when to distribute inspiration to others in your fellowship! However, there are some characters who work better alone some of the time! The game also features combat and skill challenges that require players to work together to overcome obstacles and defeat enemies as these tests utilise each characters own stats. Some are better at strength or agility tests for example and it’s often essential to predict what a particular interaction is going to test you on.
The component quality in Journeys in Middle Earth: Spreading War Expansion is very good. The game features high-quality materials, including detailed miniatures, cards, and game pieces. The game's components are sturdy and well-crafted, making the game durable and long-lasting.
Overall, Journeys in Middle Earth: Spreading War is a great expansion for the game. Is it better than Shadowed Paths? I’m divided on this question. Personally, I think that Shadowed Paths had a better campaign story - I really loved painting and fleeing (you fools) from the Balrog. Plus it included Gandalf as a playable character - arguably the most powerful of all the characters. However, Spreading War definitely adds more to game-play with the enhanced level 4 cards. It also included some really interesting and fun-to-play characters like Beorn, Boromir, Dwalin and Renerien.
If you already own Shadowed Paths, then definitely don’t hesitate to get Spreading War. If you only have the core game and are wandering which to get first, go for Shadowed Paths.