The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game was originally released by Fantasy Flight Games in 2011, and upon release very quickly became one of my favourite games.
I and my son Josh are big Lord of the Rings fans, and so we played this game a lot over the next couple of years. Then with one thing and another, we didn’t play for a while, and then the game got packed away, and hasn’t seen the light of day, as it turns out for several years. (Lets be honest here. I have a lot of expansions for this game already. It’s a big, heavy box and takes up a lot of room.)
Josh has been bugging me all year that it’s about time that we played this game again, and since we got together this past weekend for a ‘Lad & Dad’ gaming weekend, it seemed like the ideal opportunity to get it back on the table, and in doing so we rediscovered just how great a game it is.
I tweeted about our games over the weekend, and one of my followers, Lukeyboy, asked me the question:
The answer doesn’t really fit into 140 characters, but from the star rating at the top of this review, I think I’ve already started to answer this question. But what is Lord of the Rings: The Card Game (LOTR:LCG)?
LOTR:LCG is an adventure game which takes place, in the timeline of the novels of J.R.R. Tolkien, between the events of The Hobbit and Fellowship of the Ring. The game is designed for between 1 and 4 players (though there are only enough components in the base game for 2 players). Each player has a ‘party’ of 3 heroes – characters taken mainly from the novels, but also created from the vast amount of supplementary material surrounding them – and also a deck of cards. These cards contain a mix of allies, attachments and events that can be used to aid in the heroes chosen quest.
In each game of LOTR:LCG, players are attempting to complete a quest, such as making a journey, attempting to defeat an enemy or maybe find an item. This quest is outlined on a number of Quest Cards, which have tasks on them which have to be completed in turn.
The quest also has an associated Encounter Deck, which is constructed from a set number of cards. This deck contains creatures that the heroes will have to defeat, locations that the party may need to travel to, and events that occur which could threaten the heroes.
Essentially, think of each game of LOTR:LCG as a something akin to an RPG session in the Lord of the Rings universe, where everything that happens is managed and moderated by card play – there is no need for any sort of Games Master, as the enemies and events that the heroes have to overcome are generated from a card deck.
To prevent each adventure running for an unlimited time, each player has a ‘Threat Dial’. This is essentially a game timer. The initial Threat a player starts with is dependent upon the heroes they choose – the more powerful the heroes, the higher the players starting Threat level. The Threat Level of each player gradually increases during the game, and one way a player is knocked out of the game is if their Threat Level reaches 50 – the players have basically ran out of time to complete the adventure.
During the game, players gain resources, which can then be used to play cards from their hand. These cards can be used to give extra equipment or abilities to the heroes, recruit allies for our heroes party, help to avoid bad events that happen in the game, or even reduce a player’s Threat Level (thus giving them more time to complete the adventure).
To (perhaps) complicate things further, heroes belong to different spheres of influence: Leadership, Lore, Spirit and Tactics. Each of these spheres have their own deck of cards to choose from, and need their own resource type to play. Each sphere is good at different things. To explain very simply – Tactics is good at fighting, Spirit is good at managing threat and dealing with random events, Lore is good for providing extra resources and healing, whilst leadership provides extra allies and helps with abilities. That is a very simple guide and each sphere has a much more complex set of interactions.
As I said, these spheres are important as the sphere a hero belongs to determines what resource they gather, and thus what cards these resources can be used to play.
Does this sound more complex than it actually is? Possibly. However, if anyone has ever played any sort of CCG, such as Magic: The Gathering, they will immediately understand many of the mechanisms used in this game.
What is more, the game follows a very set pattern of play, which is fully laid out in the rule book. Whilst, like any card game, rules and wording on the cards are important, combine this with a methodical approach to playing the game, and it’s actually not that difficult (honest!)
Where part of the complexity of the game lies is in the ‘Meta’ of the game. As I said, each player can play a party of three different Heroes. each Hero belongs to a particular Sphere of Influence, and each Sphere has its own deck of cards which provide different allies, events and resources which can aid the player in completing their quest. Before a game starts, a player has to decide which heroes they are playing, and then build their deck of cards from those available in such a way as that will help the player complete the adventure that they are going to pursue. Do you build a party of heroes all from one sphere of influence, or from several different ones? Using a single sphere of influence means that you can player every card in your hand, but it also limits the type of actions you can perform. Decisions, decisions, decisions…
As the game has expanded over the years, more and more cards have been added to the game. The game has been developed in a series of ‘cycles’. Each cycle contains a ‘Deluxe’ expansion, which contains some new characters, new player cards, and a host of new encounter decks. These decks are then used to create new scenarios. There are usually 3 new scenarios in each deluxe box. A number of adventure packs are then released, which relate to the ‘Deluxe’ box set.
These Adventure packs each give a new scenario, a new hero, a specifically created encounter deck, and extra player cards. Whilst this means that each adventure is different, and provides a different combination of monsters and events for players to overcome, the Players also get an ever-increasing range of Heroes and cards from which they can choose to build their decks. Considering that the game now contains something like 6 deluxe box expansions (the latest deluxe box has just been released), and 36 extra adventure packs, the sheer number of Heroes and player cards in the game is now somewhat mind-boggling.
By the way – the artwork throughout this game on all the cards is fabulous – just thought I’d throw that out there…
However, you don’t have to collect everything. You can have just as good a game with the base set and a few extra adventure packs – yes, your options are more limited, as are the number of scenarios you play, but there is replay value in choosing different heroes and support card combinations in order to play. Oh, and if you ever think that a scenario you have been playing is now too easy, FFG have also released a ‘Nightmare Deck’ expansion for each Adventure pack, which makes them even harder – just so you won’t get bored!
I mentioned that the game takes place using adventures based around the main events of the Lord of the Rings novels, but not involving the story itself.
FFG have also released another series of expansions for the game, called Saga Expansions.
These expansions are designed to work as ‘stand-alone’ games, in that the cards in each box are not designed to be used in the main game (although you can use heroes and cards from the man game to play these expansions).
These expansions put the Players directly in the events of The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings, and each scenario is part of the storyline of the original book. The Hobbit is contained in two expansions: Over Hill and Under Hill and On The Doorstep. Each expansion contains 3 scenarios, and playing all six will allow Players to complete the story of The Hobbit. Similarly, there are six expansions for the Lord of the Rings (although only 5 are currently published) These work in a similar way: for example The Treason of Saruman and The Land of Shadow cover the events contained in The Two Towers.
The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game has grown over the last five years into a huge game. However, rather than thinking that you have to own everything, think of it as a base game plus a series of added adventures. Each cycle gives you an extra 8 heroes and 9 scenarios to play, but you don’t have to own a previous cycle in order to play later ones. Alternatively, you can just choose to play the events of the books, in which case the number of expansions you need are much reduced.
Each set of scenarios provides hours of entertainment – many of the scenarios are pretty hard, so it’s unlikely you will defeat them on your first attempt (or even your second, third, fourth or fifth…) It’s a challenging game with which you can have a lot of fun, and each game provides a narrative all of its own.
Whilst I might be biased due to the fact I love the LOTR setting, I think this is an excellent game. Yes, it has some fairly complex mechanisms, but as I said, it’s methodical to play so give yourself a couple of games and you will soon get used to it – plus, given the fact that it’s now been around for several years (and is widely popular) and there are a number of online websites, blogs and even podcasts that can help get you started. As an added bonus, this gives just as good a game as a solo game as it does with two, three or four players. If you are struggling to find other people to play games with, but are a fan of adventure games, this game really is a must.
I’m really glad that I played this game again. As I said, it reminded me of just how great a game it is, and left me wondering why I left it so long before I played it again. I’m making sure that I keep the box and all the adventures in an easily accessible place in future.