Lord of the Rings is easily the most definitive piece of fantasy literature in the Western canon, and after Peter Jackson’s incredible film series brought the books to the global stage in a whole new way there’s no doubt that interest in all things ”LotR” quadrupled. Well, that excitement and interest expanded into the realm of board games, with a whole slew of LotR-inspired creations coming to a tabletop near you.
One of the most famous of these LotR boardgames is the War of the Ring, an epic wargame that pits two players against each other in a recreation of the classic story from the central LotR trilogy. The player controlling the Free People’s can either militarily outmatch the forces of Sauron’s Shadow Armies, or can complete the quest of the One Ring and defeat the Dark Lord that way.
One collectible to rule them all
The base game is a blast and a half for sure, but the Collector’s Edition goes even farther. The War Of The Rings Collector's Edition includes factions, new characters and events, and new updates to the original game rules that increase the strategies that can be fielded by both players. Within the game’s authentic wooden box, carved to look like an ancient tome, velvet-lined compartments house the game’s huge collection of miniature and high quality art cards, making it a sheer joy to look at let alone play.
Designed by German artist and game maker Thomas Fackler this is as much true art as it is game. Designed to be breathtaking beautiful collectibles that inspire players to partake in a shared imaginative journey, Abtei is an inspired game.
A classic theme created with breathtaking artistry
One player who controls the Abbot writes down a word then distributes parts of that word across several books. Then the secondary players, taking on the role of monks who must hunt down these books and reconstruct the original word before time runs out. Everything comprising this game is exactly what it appears: leather is leather, wood is wood, ceramic is ceramic, and the parchment is exactly the kind used by monks in the Middle Ages! Because of its handcrafted nature, every single set is utterly and completely unique.
Another game where the expansions matter (but also drive up the final price), Shadows of Brimstone is an epic cooperative adventure game in the dungeon crawl style. Set in an 1880s Old West environment and mixing it with eldritch horror vibes, players explore the mines around the town of Brimstone, fight horrific monsters from beyond the ken of mortal minds, and generally have a blast.
A board game with RPG elements
Shadows of Brimstone incorporates the RPG elements like story-driven encounters, loot, but brings it to life in a tactics-focused way through the use of miniatures on the board. Simpler to play for a new player than an RPG like D&D but more complex than many board games, Shadows of Brimstone wins me out because of its intentional cooperative aspect. Any game that encourages players to work together at building their story is a good one in my book.
A board game often likened to the video game Dark Souls due to its extremely grueling play and steep learning curve, Kingdom Death: Monster has nevertheless created a vast and vibrant following of players who are drawn to its complexity, its graphically grotesque and erotic art style, and it’s sheer depth (with an average estimated playtime of 60 hours, not including expansions).
A true boutique game
The base game runs at $400, but adding on the expansions quickly drives the price through the roof, and dedicated players for Kingdom Death: Monster are almost certain to buy into those. Kingdom Death: Monster was, during its 2016 Kickstarter campaign, the highest-raising product of its class, garnering more than $5 million from supporters.
Baseball has long been considered the “ Great American Sport” and has inspired generations of avid fans who collect all manner of memorabilia related to their favorite players and historic games. Baseball’s presence has become synonymous with “American” to the point where it’s hard to separate the two — even science fiction series like Star Trek have dived into the fandom leading to the very real consideration of what the game will look like when, someday, it’s played in zero-gee.
Trading cards for the ages
In 2010 an auction for a complete set of classic baseball cards issued from Swift Meats as a special mail order only item were sold for $2,644. The cards were in mint condition and unpunched, though they were intended to be punched and assembled to create 3D figurines of several famous players (Hank Aaron, Nellie Fox, Frank Robinson, Richie Ashburn, and Rocky Colavito). The mail-order set also included a special game board on which the players could be placed.
Described by the Avalon Hill Game Company as their “crowning achievement” and “the ultimate wargame”, Advanced Squad Leader (or ASL) is truly one of the most complex and epic tabletop war simulations in existence. Players can start off with core modules and starter kits, but the game’s full presence is felt through the steady collection of new modules to play. These modules expand the game’s capability and limits, constantly challenging players in new ways. It’s the collection of those expansions that drives up the cost, and a true addict of this game will absolutely want more.
Without a doubt, ASL is a superb wargame. The game modules concentrate on historically-based scenarios where players, utilizing counters that represent squads, half-squads, crews, leaders, and vehicles, can play out extremely vast and complex wargames. What’s more, players can design their own maps and fit them into the game, utilizing the massive collection of historical data that the designers gamified into a massive collection of rules and available counters.
Anthony E. Pratt spent the years during World War 2 playing music for country hotels where the evening’s entertainment often took the form of parlor murder mystery games with the guests. Pratt loved murder mysteries, especially those of Raymond Chandler and Agatha Christie, and the parlor games sparked this side of his imagination. Cluedo (or Clue, in the United States) was born! Elva, Pratt’s wife, designed the original artwork for the game and by 1944 it was patented and well on its way to becoming a worldwide experience.
An elegant game hearkening to a different age
Geoffrey Parker Games is considered to be the top English game maker, specializing in luxury, handcrafted, versions of classic games. Since 1958, they have continued their long tradition of handcrafting the board games that they sell, ensuring that every game is unique to its owner, a true one-of-a-kind heirloom item that will stand the test of time.
I’ve written before about Go, one of the oldest and most beautiful board games in existence. The Kiseido Imports company makes specialty traditional Go boards and equipment in the classic style, using only the finest components.
A fine-grained game
Traditional boards are made from the wood of the kaya tree (torreya nucifera) or katsura (Japanese Judas tree) because the hardness and overall resilience create a board that will survive for generations of play, while also maintaining a lustrous shine that lives up to the luxury price. A full Go set costs over $10,000 dollars, but for a true fan of the game, it’s worth it.
First created in 1992 by Imperial games, Outrage! is a game about stealing the British Crown Jewels from the Tower of London. Two to six players are challenged to enter the Tower of London, steal the jewels, and escape. But the game is more than just a classic. A specialty version of the game can be purchased that includes replica Crown Jewels made from actual precious stones and metals. It sells for over $15,000, making it one of the most expensive games around. Luckily, the normal version runs for a more palatable $40-$80 bucks.
The real steal?
The only modern attempt to steal the Jewels was in 1671 when Thomas Blood and his accomplices formed an intricate plot to heist them from the secure tower. By ingratiating himself to the Jewel keepers, who lived in the tower, Blood and his accomplices made a dastardly attempt to steal the Jewels (in part by using a mallet to flatten out St. Edward’s Crown and a file to cut the Sceptre with the Cross in two). Luckily, the son of the Jewel keeper came home that evening from military service and interrupted.
Upon being captured, Blood insisted he would speak only to the King, and was brought to King Charles in chains. When asked “What if I give you your life?” by the King, Blood said, “I would endeavor to deserve it, Sire!” Much to the revolutionary Blood’s chagrin, the King then pardoned him and gave him land in Ireland worth five hundred pounds a year.
In 1892, Daniel Swarovski, the son of a Bohemian glass cutter, invented a technique that revolutionized the industry. His patented electric cutting machine, which utilized hydroelectricity, allowed crystals to be cut far more precisely than could be managed by hand. These crystals, because of their brilliance and exceptional quality, have become a priceless commodity in today’s jewelry market… but in this case, the crystals have found a home in a more unusual creation: Hasbro’s 60th anniversary Scrabble board.
Crystals for a cause
There are plenty of luxury versions of normal board games in existence out there, most of them made for the love of pure excess. In this case, at least, the $20,000 copy of Scrabble is going to support a good cause. Once auctioned off, proceeds will all be donated to St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital. It’s a sad day when a children’s hospital needs donations to do its work, but food on Hasbro for putting their 60th anniversary to doing some good in the world.
Chess is one of the world’s most widespread board games, with variations found across the globe from the Mediterranean to Asia. Little wonder, then, that a sense of extreme fascination with this ancient and beloved game would lead so many luxury designers to create masterful and exquisite Chess sets made from precious metals and jewels.
Victor F. Scharstein’s dream
The artist behind this set, Victor F. Scharstein, apparently created this chess set for no special reason beyond an internal instinct and an obvious passion for Sun Tzu’s _ The Art of War_, after which the set’s aesthetic was crafted.
In the late 1800s one book was so popular that it outsold everything else in the United States except for the Bible. Progress and Poverty by Henry George was (and remains) a powerful exploration of economic reforms intended to limit the disastrous consequences of unchecked capitalism, and helped pave the way for some of the major laws that limited the power of tycoons and corporate entities during the early half of the 20th century.
One woman, Elizabeth Magie, was so deeply inspired by George’s theory that she devised two versions of a game called The Landlord Game to help illustrate how his model of economics functioned. One was “anti-monopolist” and, during play, all players were rewarded whenever wealth was created. The other game was “monopolist” and rewarded only the players who crushed the others. Her dualistic design was meant to showcase that, ultimately, monopolist capitalism is not only disastrous, but it’s also not even fun.
Do not pass go
Sadly, Magie’s role as creator of the original base for what we now know as Monopoly was largely (and quite intentionally) obscured by the Hasbro toy company and others who held a vested interest in upholding a false version of its creation. The false story went that a man named Charles Darrow invented the game and, in selling it, became a millionaire — with the only problem being that his “invention” occurred decades after Magie had originally created the game.
Now, copies of any early set of Monopoly sell for a large amount in auctions, with one in 2011 going for $120,000. Considering that Magie’s repeated legal efforts to recapture the rights to her legitimate creation failed, it’s a tough blow to see Darrow’s false creation selling so high. Then again, Magie’s original point stands, and her true game remains a powerful lesson in how monopolist practices damage society.
Another from the Charles Hollander Collection, this chess set is made from 14-carat white gold, set with approximately 9,900 black and white diamonds, in what is one of the most excessive displays of luxury gaming in existence.
A glittering display
Thirty artisans spent over 4,500 hours creating this chess set which contains 9,900 black and white diamonds. Imagine pulling this one out for a cozy game night! It’s probably not the Chess set you’d bring with you to play with against strangers in New York’s Central Park at any rate.
Bernard Maquin is more than just a jeweler, he’s an artist and craftsperson whose skill has been honed by decades of intensive study and practice. His work for the Charles Hollander Collection took ordinary games and transformed them into objects of precious value, their component elements recreated using gold, silver, and priceless jewels.
10,000 hours of work
Valued at over $1.5 Million and representing over 10,000 hours of work, this is easily the most expensive set of Backgammon on the face of the planet.
It seems fitting that a game that became the poster child for capitalist excess should be turned into a luxury item priced at $2 million dollars. The entire board and figurines are all made from gold. The numbers on the dice are diamond studs and the Monopoly money is made from gold paper, making your Monopoly money finally worth more than ordinary cash (even if it still doesn’t exactly count as legal tender).
Artist and designer Sidney Mobell is famous for taking everyday artifacts and recreating them in priceless form. Monopoly is not even the first game he’s turned into gold (that honor going to his Chess set), though he’s also gone in for a more metaphorically charged creation with a golden toilet.