Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Lord of the Rings: The Card Game - Gameplay

Today, I'd like to carry on talking about Lord of the Rings: the Card Game (LotR) and specifically the gameplay.  You can find my first post on the game here, where I've given an overview of the core box game and components.

Three Lore heroes from the starter box, a Threat cost of 30, about average. 

The core mechanic in the game is the concept of Threat, essentially, how serious or risky the situation for the heroes is.  This is used in all areas of the game, from setting the initial difficulty to deciding what enemies will attack you.  It is also, in essence, a resource to manage, if a players individual Threat level gets too high, that player is eliminated from the game.  During set up, each player sets their Threat counter to the total Threat of their three heroes.  In the example above, the player would set their Threat meter to 30 (10 + 12 + 8.)

Player area on the left, Staging area in the middle, Encounter deck on the right.  

The are three areas used in the game, the player area, the staging area and the quest/encounter area.  The object of the game is to move through the deck of quest cards, usually no more than three cards, by earning enough Quest points and meeting any conditions on those cards.  Trying to stop you is the Encounter deck, from which the various Enemy, Location and Treachery cards are drawn into play.  The player area is where the heroes are set out and where any further characters are placed.

LotR plays in a seven phase turn, which sounds long, but is very streamlined once you are familiar with the sequence.  The turn starts with the Resource, followed by the Planning phase.  The two are essentially one big phase, Resource starts with each hero getting one Resource token and each player drawing one additional card into their hand.  So far, so good.  Planning then lets players spend their hero's resource tokens to put cards from their hand into play.  As I mentioned last post, the cards you can play are either Allies, Attachments or Events.  A key choice you make here is whether or not to get more characters into play early in the game or to save your resource tokens for later to afford more expensive cards.

In this Planning phase, players would have to beat a score of 5 Threat

Following is the Planning phase where your heroes and characters make progress on the current quest.  They do this by Exhausting (placing the card on its side) and once all players have decided who to Commit or not, they total up the Wisdom of all these characters.  To make progress, this total has to exceed the Threat total of the Enemy and Location cards in the staging area.  Sounds straightforward right? Well kind of.  Before you calculate the final Threat total from the staging area, one card per player is drawn from the Encounter deck, possibly adding to the Threat total.  Either way, the total Wisdom and Threat is compared and any difference is converted into progress tokens on the quest (higher Wisdom) or added to each players Threat meter (higher Threat.)  Something to remember though is that characters who Quest will not be able to do anything else in the turn (such as attack or defend.)

The next two stages help players remove Threat from the staging area.  The Travel phase lets the players make a Location card the active area, removing its Threat from the staging area. The downside of this is that while there is an Active Location, players won't make any progress on the Quest until it is dealt with.

The Bight Patrol will engage Players with a Threat above 5, which
 would be almost everyone.  The Marsh Adder, Threat 40, will only attack
 the strongest players when things are very serious!

The Encounter phase firstly lets each player choose to Engage an Enemy card in the staging area.  The Enemy card is taken from there and moved to opposite the players area, again removing its Threat from the Planning phase.  Now the Enemy is up in the players face, it will attack in the next phase.  However, things aren't quite as straightforward as that. Each Enemy has an engagement Cost on their card, if a players Threat meter is equal or higher than any Enemy's cost, those enemies will Engage that player as well.

Ah, Faramir, one of my favourite cards.  Helps others Quest with his
ability, good at defending and can take a bit of a beating!

Next up is the Combat phase, where Enemy cards engaged with players will attack and then players can attack in return.  I'm not going into any detail here, as I'll do that in the future. Lastly is the Refresh phase, where all Exhausted cards are readied and each player increases their Threat rating by one.

So there's the game turn in a nutshell.  Hopefully I've conveyed that, above all else, LotR is a risk management game, where every decision you make has an unknown element to it. Have I dedicated enough characters to Quest this turn?  Do I go to this Location or try and progress the Quest?  Do I play lots of Ally cards to get more characters in play or do I play Attachment cards and have a small group of really powerful characters. Making the correct choices is fundamental to success.

There are lots of occasions, however, where you'll be faced with some awful luck, and draw the one card you had hoped to avoid.  One of the mechanics I enjoy most about LotR, is that each phase has a point where players can act, either by playing an Event card or making use of a special ability.  As a result, you always have the opportunity to act or react (assuming you have said card or ability) to an unexpected enemy or effect; too many enemies in play?  Play a snare card to stop them attacking.  Too many location cards? Play a scout character to help explore it.

Don't want to deal with a specific Location card?  Attach this to lower it's threat!

Of course, using these depend on having the correct combination of cards in your deck as much as it does luck, and this is the last core mechanic of the game: deck building.  Now this is a whole other area of the game to explore.  There are a couple of rules to follow in building a deck (max of three heroes, minimum of fifty cards and no more than three copies of each card,) but other than that, you're free to mix and match whatever combination of cards you have.  Of course, buying any of the expansion and adventure packs greatly increases the choice of cards you have available (and those things are like crack, addictive!) I'll talk more about this in the future, if there's any demand, as I am a complete novice when it comes to this kind of game.

Finally, a word or two on the difficulty level.  Common practice at the moment is for designers to make cooperative and solo games as difficult as they possibly can be.  The reasoning being, if difficulty is set too easy, gamers won't stick with the game long term. With LotR, you could be forgiven for thinking that the game is monstrously hard.  Now that is true to an extent, but to understand the game properly, we have to return to an earlier point I made.  The core box set is a great little game in it's own right, but it is, in essence, one long introduction to the full Lord of the Rings card game.  The aim of the core box is to teach you how the different spheres behave and point you in the right direction when building your own deck.

In case you haven't picked up on it yet, I love Lord of the Rings: the Card Game.  The designers have managed to get the balance of risk, choice and luck just right and I enjoy the mental exercise of trying out different combinations of cards.  Next time I'll try and put up a report on an actual playthrough of the game.  I'm trying to come up with a way of doing that without it simply being a long post with lots of pictures with cards.  Until then. . .


  1. Sounds like the game could be fun!

  2. Thanks for the reviews on this. I have the core game, Khazad Dum and all the adventure decks up to The Long Dark but I have to admit I find the game really hard to get into and I suffer the problem when having so many cards to choose from of what to put in the deck.

    Do you try to build a deck that will take on all adventures or do you chop and change to suit the particular adventure? If you didn't mind putting up some deck lists that would be much appreciated!

    1. Thanks! Just to be clear, I am by no way an experienced card gamer, but enjoy the challenge. The game plays quickly enough to try a quest two or three times a session, that gives you a better idea of what works than simply playing through once.

      I try and build one or two decks that work over multiple quests, but haven't gotten to the point where I have a "master" deck that can take on everything the game throws at you.

      Lastly, I try and theme a deck to make use of as many abilities as possible i.e. base a deck on either one or two spheres, or maybe on a Rohan theme. I don't have the Khazad Dum expansion, but there are some great cards in there if you build a Dwarf deck (Dain Ironfoot, Zigil Miner and Grim Resolve looks pretty powerful.)

      I'll get some more details up in the near future. Thanks for the interest!