Friday, 22 June 2012

Lord of the Rings: The Card Game

For my birthday this year, I decided to treat myself to a new game and, after a lot of deliberation, I jumped for the Lord of the Rings: The Card Game by Fantasy Flight Games. This is a bit of a departure for me, not having played many card games in my time.  A couple months ago, Adam at the club ran me through the Game of Thrones card game and I really enjoyed the experience.  I was tempted to just get my own copy of that, but the fact that LotR can be played either co-op or solo swung the decision for me.

The game as it looks with one player.

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 player area, complete with three heroes and two allies.

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.)

The Staging area with one active Location, two Enemies and another Location

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.

Ally, Event and Attachment cards from the Player deck.

And ultimately you are on a journey.  The base box gives you three quests; Passage Through Mirkwood, Journey Down The Anduin & Escape From Dol Guldur, and each can be played individually or as one large linked quest.  The adventure pack cycles follow the same pattern with a range of thematically linked scenarios.  The first adventure pack cycle, Shadows of Mirkwood, sees a group of heroes trying to track and capture Gollum, on the way fighting Trolls, helping the odd eagle and getting lost in some eerie ruins, all very familiar.

Three of the twelve heroes in the core box.

So what do you get in the box?  Well its an FFG game, so you get two big sheets of tokens, a well written rulebook (decent index and an excellent reference page) and 226 playing cards.  The cards are divided into three general catagories; quest cards, player cards and encounter cards.  The quest cards give you details of what the quest you are on actually involves, how to complete it and any special rules or effects that take place.  Player cards include the heroes you play the game with, allies who assist them, attachments like weapons and armour you can give them and event cards that help them or hinder their enemies.  The encounter cards consist of enemies (including grunts and some named enemies,) locations the heroes need to explore and treachery cards that hinder the heroes progress.

Enemy, Location and Treachery cards from the Encounter deck.

As I've come to expect from FFG, production value is pretty high, the cards have a nice finish to them (although I'll probably buy some protective sleves) and the tokens are the made from the usual FFG card.  The text is very clear to read and the design and layout of the different card types is pretty logical. A word or two has to go to the artwork used in LotR, all original artwork (I think) and all very appropriate and characterful.  Most player cards also have a sentance or quote from one of Tolkien's novels, it's a little thing, but they are all apt for their card and add just a little extra flavour to the game (especially if you read the full text every time you play the card!)  I love all these little touches littered throughout the game, you can tell that the designers not only know their Middle Earth, but are genuine Tolkien fans.

Three of the named Enemies from the core box.

There's very little in the game I feel able to criticise, which is pretty unusual.  If pushed, I could mention that the sphere of influence logo on the player cards is on the wrong side for a right hander, making sorting through the cards a little awkward.  The wording on a couple cards could be clearer too, but I believe the FAQ covers all the ones I've noticed. All in all, this is a great purchase and I'm really glad I opted for something a bit different.

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.


  1. I was torn between this and Game of Thrones, me and Ray went for Game of Thrones but we may go for this later.

    1. Lots of similar mechanics and tactics between the two games - the fact this is co-op is what swung it for me.