Licensed games can be really great. They give fans of particular properties to play around in the setting. Of my top 50 games last year, 7 featured licensed properties. Some of my favourite licensed board games are the Battlestar Galactica board game, Star Wars: Rebellion, the DC Comics Deckbuilding Game, Discworld: Ankh Morpork, Forbidden Stars and A Game of Thrones: The Board Game. I also have some licensed RPGs, such as The Dresden Files, Warhammer 40,000: Rogue Trader, and Star Wars: Edge of the Empire.
A license can be a big selling point for a game, as a publisher can try to tap into a pre-existing audience. It’s a running joke on my beloved Game Classy podcast that there are people who “only play Star Wars games” and, although this is mostly in jest, I reckon there’s a bit of truth there, too.
The thing is, as successful as some licensed games are, longevity is not guaranteed. Fantasy Flight Games/Asmodee holds the Star Wars license just now, but others, such as Hasbro, have held it in the past. Fantasy Flight once had the Warcraft and Starcraft licenses, but they no longer do and these games had to go out of print. Fantasy Flight used to have various Games Workshop licenses as well, but they no longer do and you can now buy Relic and Fury of Dracula from Wizkids and their Warhammer 40,000 RPGs from Pegasus Spiel.
The roleplaying game license for The Lord of the Rings is held by Sophisticated Games. They, in turn, have been working with Cubicle 7 Games. In 2008, they released The One Ring Roleplaying Game, which met with considerable success. More interesting to me was their 2016 title, Adventures in Middle-Earth.
Adventures in Middle-Earth used the ruleset from Dungeons & Dragons 5th edition. The rules were tweaked to better fit the Middle-Earth setting, allowing players to immerse themselves in the world that Tolkien created. The system has met with real success and has also furthered the growing ubiquity of the 5E ruleset.
The thing is, Cubicle 7 has decided to end its publishing relationship with Sophisticated Games. ICV2 covered the end of Cubicle 7’s involvement in Middle Earth in their article, Dispute Ends Cubicle 7’s ‘The One Ring’ Publishing Agreement:
Cubicle 7 will cease the publication of The One Ring and Adventures in Middle-earth roleplaying games in the first half of 2020 over contractual differences with the current holder of The Lord of Rings RPG license, Sophisticated Games (see “‘One Ring’ RPG Seeks to Lure Tolkien Fans”).
Cubicle 7 partnered with Sophisticated Games in 2010 to publish the first edition of The One Ring, and was all set to release a second edition of the game in November until a dispute arose between the two publishers (see “Cubicle 7 Unveils ‘The One Ring’ Collector’s Edition”). The new edition was already written and edited when Cubicle 7 decided to end the agreement, and cancel the release because they felt that they were unable to support the new edition further.
With the pending release cancelled, Cubicle 7 is facing an extensive refunding process for preorders, a potential loss on the game, and the possibility of disappointing their fan base. Cubicle 7 attempted to mitigate the damage by offering customers 125% of the value of their order in Cubicle 7 store credit.
I’m not going to get into the back and forth between the two companies. Sophisticated Games posted a response that expressed surprise at Cubicle 7’s decision and it’s all very “He said, she said”. I don’t care. That’s not the point.
People are understandably upset at this development, as Cubicle 7 has done pretty damn well with this property. Things appeared to be good and there was a lot of buzz for Adventures in Middle-Earth. Now, Cubicle 7 will stop the development and publishing of these games.
Of course, for big fans of the series, this isn’t actually a huge problem. I’m sure they’d want more content, but it’s not like someone is going to come along and take your books, pausing only to chuck your dice into a wood chipper. You can still use your books or PDFs. You can still play your precious game for as long as you care to do so. There just won’t be any further development. Hey, at least it will be easier to keep a complete set! I’d go buy any missing titles as soon as possible, though.
And hey, that leads up to one of the current offers are Humble Bundle, where they are promoting a “Final Encore” bundle of Adventures in Middle Earth PDFs! The bundle is split into three tiers at increasing price points. When you pick up a tier, you also get all of the content from the previous tiers. Let’s take a look at the first tier, which will set you back a princely $1:
The Player’s Guide is clearly an important purchase. it’s the core book for the game and will be needed by all players. The book is full of really beautiful artwork and, for the many fans of the 5th edition of Dungeons & Dragons, a pretty familiar set of rules. The Eaves of Mirkwood gives a good introductory adventure and the Rhovanion Region Guide is a setting sourcebook with lots of information about the Mirkwood, the Misty Mountains and more.
In addition to the above content, the $8 you spend on the second tier of the bundle will get you a further four titles:
I actually really like this tier. It seems very well balanced with four very different books that each offer something completely different. In The Road Goes Ever On you have a sourcebook for journies. The Mirkwood Campaign gives you a long-form framework for a good-sized roleplaying campaign. The Wilderland Adventures gives you a handful of shorter adventures for one-shots or shorter campaigns. The Loremaster’s Guide is the last title in this tier and is the equivalent to the DM or GM handbook for other titles. This tier is a lot of fun.
Finally, the third tier costs $15, contains every items listed so far, and gets you another 5 titles:
There are a few more region guides here, giving yet more detail about the world that Tolkien created. I think the Lonely Mountain Region Guide sounds the most interesting of the three to me. Between the Erebor and Eriador Adventures books there are also a further 12 ready-to-play adventures in this tier. I think this tier is really good for GMs looking for worldbuilding content and adventure hooks.
The whole bundle represents really great value and is also an opportunity for fans to show their appreciation to Cubicle 7 and grab lots of great content in the process. As usual, some of the proceeds will also go to charity. In this case, your shekels will go to Worldbuilders, a charity with the wonderful slogan, “geeks doing good”. If you’re interested in picking up the bundle whilst it’s still available (12 days left at the time of writing), you can click here to visit the bundle page and make your purchase. I think I’d probably go for all three tiers on this one, but if you’re sure that you’re only going to be a player and never the GM, the first tier represents pretty amazing value.