Before we get to anything else, this game must be acknowledged as an aesthetic achievement. Look at that screenshot! Simple lines and colours, a long view of a rugged landscape, Art Nouveau font. ‘Tolkienesque’ games breed like aphids, but I can think of no other game (or film, especially not the Jackson adaptations) that is aesthetically Tolkienesque. Mike Singleton described his creation as ‘epic’, and he certainly nailed the combination of austerity and whimsy that runs through a lot of old British fantasy in general and Tolkien in particular.
Speaking of which: Tolkien is the influence inevitably referenced when someone describes this game, but other influences shine through strongly. Lords of Midnight is in some ways more reminiscent of the work of Lord Dunsany and, especially, E.R. Eddison. ‘Luxor the Moonprince’ is the kind of carelessly grandiose name that would have given Tolkien conniptions, but would be right at home in The Worm Ouroborous or The King of Elfland’s Daughter. The game’s focus on godlike aristocrats and their heroic exploits is also distinctly Eddisonesque.
Lords of Midnight, then, is bit of a monotreme aesthetically. It’s also mechanically odd. The player’s view is bound to the perspective of various heroes. New lords are recruited by face-to-face meeting as you move your heroes about the map. Regular readers will know that I’m fascinated by the way games represent information and control; this is another of those rare instances in which the player is not an omniscient Sauron. It serves the theme well: marching lords across a snowy wilderness in order to find assistance and do battle against the encroaching armies of darkness feels more appropriate to a fantasy setting than the cheap plastic murderfests of LotR spinoff games.