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Digital Subscriptions > Tabletop Gaming > Issue Eleven > AWE OF THE RING


As The Hobbit turns 80, we look back on the tabletop legacy of J.R.R. Tolkien’s fantasy tour de force alongside some of the designers and creators who have brought the world of Middle-earth to life
The cover artwork from Fantasy Flight’s The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game.

On September 21st 1937, Bilbo Baggins left his hole in the Shire and set out to make the world a better place. It was on that day, almost exactly 80 years ago, that J.R.R. Tolkien published The Hobbit, the book that established the realm of Middle-earth, invented orcs and hobbits, and cemented fairytale and mythological races and creatures such as elves, goblins, dwarves and dragons in the fantasy genre lexicon – as well as the public consciousness.

Never out of print since it debuted eight decades ago, The Hobbit served as the forerunner to Tolkien’s grand masterwork The Lord of the Rings, which massively expanded the world and history of Middle-earth. Tolkien’s revolutionary writing style went on to influence and inspire everything from books and films to games and music (as any Led Zeppelin fan will tell you) both inside and outside of fantasy. The trilogy has sold more than 150 million copies since The Fellowship of the Ring first hit shelves 1954, making it one of the most popular novels of all time.

Of course, the tabletop is no exception, with major roleplaying games such as Dungeons & Dragons owing much of their universes to Tolkien’s creations (although D&D co-creator Gary Gyax insisted Lord of the Rings was never a direct influence) and countless board, card and miniature games laying out their fantasy artwork, writing and worlds using the templates formed decades before.

“For so many fans of hobby gaming – myself included – Tolkien’s work is incredibly foundational,” observes Nate French, lead designer for The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game. “I read The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings at a young age, and imagined some of the earliest challenges of my life by thinking about them through the lens of Middle-earth, which helped me to overcome them.

“Even for people who haven’t experienced Tolkien directly, so many aspects of the fantasy genre can be traced back to his influence, so it’s very familiar to people. Gaming is about getting people into a shared communal space, where they are operating from a similar mindset with an implicit agreement about the experience they want to share, and having a familiar context like the Middle-earth setting really connects people in that shared mental space.”

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About Tabletop Gaming

Cover feature: Starfinder: We have an exclusive chat with creative director James Sutter about the huge sci-fi sequel to massively popular fantasy RPG Pathfinder. Featuring exclusive artwork from the upcoming game. Awe of the Ring: As Middle-earth prepares to turn 80, we speak to influential and renowned creators of board games based on The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. UK Games Expo 2017: Picture Special: The unmissable sights and games from the UK’s biggest gaming show. Swords, Sex & Sci-fi: Legendary RPG designer and R. Talsorian founder Mike Pondsmith and his son Cody speak exclusively to us about the legacy of revolutionary game Cyberpunk and their upcoming tabletop adaptation of lauded fantasy video game The Witcher. What War Is Good For: Fans and publishers of miniature wargaming titles tell us how battling on the tabletop has fostered a strong sense of community. Playing With Yourself: Creators of single-player-only games tell us why gaming alone can be just as rewarding. How Analogue Gaming Went Digital: We take a close look at the rise of digital apps in the tabletop world. Rediscovering the Disc: In celebration of next year’s 20th anniversary of Discworld, the creators look back on one of the more unique entries in the genre. The Making of: Hunt a Killer, which uses a subscription box-like format to deliver a mystery game to players over the course of several months. Painting guide: We tackle the eighth edition of Warhammer 40,000. Ten of the Best: Word Games (That aren’t Scrabble). Introduction to: Forbidden Island and its sequel, Forbidden Desert – the kid-friendly Pandemic follow-up. Columns: With Bruno Faidutti, Jeff Tidball, Holly Gramazio and Doctors Paul Wake and Sam Illingworth Played: The latest reviews and exclusive interviews including: Starfinder, Sub Terra and Warhammer 40,000.