I like this game very much after the first play. It took little time to learn. Because of learning the game mechanics I didn't have time to enjoy the flavor text, which is more than fine, I can save that for later plays.
This game has a little of everything which makes games fun. Bidding out other players, conserving/saving resources and spending them wisely, choice, tokens, trackers, character improvements, die-rolling, nice game components, and is tightly woven with the novel. What would've been even better is giving the dwarf cards quotes or building more of the dwarves' names into it. Although, one could easily customize each player board with a dwarf name and single power, such as "Dwalin starts his axe track at +1". Bombur starts at "+2 Axe and -1 Cunning", etc.
My 5 year-old and 7.5 year old, with some guidance, were able to play it easily enough, and I've toyed with the idea now of starting to read the story to them at night.
Some questions did come up:
1) If a dragon tile calls for losing provisions, but you don't have any provisions, what happens, if anything?
2) What happens if you run out of jewels? We still had two adventure 4 cards left in the deck. It seems to me that the game comes about 20 gems short of what is needed. The dice could make players victorious every time. I'm going to buy more, so that we can do the optional play as well.
3) I took it for granted that when the dwarf cards run out you reshuffle the deck. But what about making the characters play out the rest of their "hands" before reshuffling?
4) If there are only 4 stages of the journey in cards, why are there 5 stages of the journey on the board? In other words, what cards would one use to get past Lake Town? Why do the spaces past Laketown have strength, cunning, and initiative on them? I just noticed that maybe Lake-town is not an "Adventure" area, and that normal play continues beyond it.
Please email me if you respond to my questions at email@example.com. Thanks.