I will say this up front. This game has a terrible reputation and few fans. I had tried to play it years ago with the rules included with the game and failed spectacularly. However, with the correct translation of the rules available on Boardgamegeek, the game became playable. Not great, but at least playable.
The two players start on the Shire tile, placed in the center of the table. The players alternate drawing and placing tiles until an 8x6 cross of tiles is created. Then the game commences. On your turn, you play one tile down to the board from your hand of three tiles. The terrain on the new tile must match terrain on every adjacent tile. If you create a complete, enclosed region, you immediately place an Encounter Chip matching the terrain on that space, some face up, others face down. Mountains are always two tiles while other regions can be huge. If you can't legally place a tile, place one upside down as a sort of "wild" tile.
Once you've placed your terrain tile, you can move your Hobbit to a bordering region. This is where the size of a region becomes important. If you're in a large region, you can go to any of the many bordering regions, while small regions have less options. If there is a Green or Yellow Encounter Chip (representing good characters or items) in the new region, you take it. The chip will provide some assistance to you, either in battle with the Brown chips or through special actions such as extra movement or turns. Brown Encounter Chips (representing enemies) may require you to fight a battle. If you lose a battle, you skip one or two turns, delaying your quest, but if you win, you gain victory points. Blue chips (representing other characters or items, including the One Ring) can only be reached when you have a boat, which can be purchased with two Brown chips in your possession.
And basically, that's it. You wander around, trying to pick up as many chips as you can, defeating as many enemies as you can. You're not really searching for Mount Doom as the last tile placed on the board becomes Mount Doom. If you're closer to it when the game ends and you have the most points from the tiles, get to it and win the game. If you have fewer points, keep collecting chips while your opponent rushes to Mount Doom.
Carol and I went back and forth, collecting chips as above. While large regions give you greater movement options, they reduce the amount of Encounter Chips you can capture. Near the end, I created a bunch of smaller regions to get more chips I could reach. Finally, I turned up the last tile and quickly made my way to Mount Doom and we scored the game. I had thirty to Carol's 22, so I took victory. (Although, since the Ring was destroyed, didn't we both win?)
I like the art on the chips and most of the bits are nice. The terrain tiles are a disaster of clashing colors and weird angles, as you can see. I wouldn't mind playing again to see if there are any other strategies, but I suspect there aren't.
Coming up: Two elks compete to cross a river by hopping on stones in Elk Fest.