There was a bit of a palavar actually getting the game. Nowhere locally had the core box in stock, so I had to order if from Maelstrom Games (with a nice discount.) Suddenly, it was unavailable there too, leading me to get it from Amazon, but, as we were close to leaving on holiday, I ended up forking out for next day delivery! Still, it arrived the day before we left, so it all worked out fine.
FFG market LotR as a Living Card Game. The core box set has everything you need to play some enjoyable games and there is plenty of variation and replayability on offer. The "living" part of the games comes from the model FFG use to expand the range. After the core box comes a "cycle" of six adventure packs, each containing a fixed selection of cards to add to the original game. After the first cycle, comes an expansion, then another cycle of six and so on. From what I understand of other games, for instance, Magic: The Gathering, the difference here is that the contents of each pack are not random, so you're not at risk of dropping some cash only to get duplicate or useless rare cards. Instead, you can pretty much choose if you want to buy a pack or not with no real detriment to your game.
The game contains four starter player decks, one each from the four spheres of influence in the game. Each sphere has its own strengths and drawbacks; for instance, the Tactics sphere has cards that excel in combat and dealing damage to enemies, but struggle when it comes completing quests. Ultimately, LotR is a deck building game, and the real meat of the game in the long term involves building a set of cards that complement the heroes you've chosen and your preferred style of play. Each adventure and expansion pack increases the amount of player cards you can choose from and you'll find there are lots of ways to go about creating your own decks. Another quirk of this model is that FFG can add different mechanics to the game without requiring extensive rule changes. The first cycle of adventure packs add "Song" cards that fit seamlessly into the game. Quite appropriate, as in the books, you can't read five straight pages without someone bursting into song - it's worse than Glee (ok, not really.)
FFG have made some interesting choices in where and when they have set the game. Obviously the game is set in Tolkien's Middle Earth, but the game takes place in interegnum between the Hobbit and the Fellowship of the Ring novels. As a result, you are not slavishly following the plot of any one book (with all the continuity problems of getting a "wrong" outcome,) but charting a different journey with different heroes through the same Middle Earth.
Having played about a dozen games or so, I'm comfortable enough with the game mechanics to start to see potential combinations and, ugh, synergies (I hate that word.)
Next time, I'll go on to talk about the actual gameplay and then I'll try and find a way of posting up a report on a game. In the meantime, FFG have made a video overview of the game, complete with "American Voiceover Guy" check it out here.