Posted by: markfender | January 26, 2016

Lord of the Rings The Card Game

Fantasy Flight Games has many fine products (I’m assuming). One of them is The Lord of the Rings Card Game.

lotrlcgLotR is unusual in the card game space because it’s multiplayer. There aren’t enough CCG-type games that offer support for more than 2 people at a time, so, for a group like mine that likes customizable card games but also wants to play with the entire group, it and the Game of Thrones LCG are about it for good multiplayer.

But you can also play it solo. Which is really unusual. It’s also cooperative, making it ideal for groups that don’t necessarily get along with the cutthroat nature of competitive card play. It’s an odd beast in the card game field and one that I wish had more competition in that space.

In LotR, you are playing some of the characters from the books, going on adventures. Each card pack contains a new adventure that’s made up of some quest cards and an encounter deck containing locations that must be explored, monsters that must be fought, and events that must be overcome. The methods of resolving each quest are the same, but the rules and flavor text make each one a unique experience.

In order to do all that, you’ll need a deck. You have three heroes that start in play. Besides being your heavy hitters that you’re probably familiar with from the books, they also generate resources each turn in one of four spheres. There’s the Tactics sphere, which obviously deals with killing things, the Leadership sphere, which boosts allies, the Spirit sphere that excels at questing, and Lore, which offers several utility abilities like healing and card draw. Finding the right balance between the spheres is critical for completing quests and it’ll require coordination between all the players to bring the right sort of decks to complete each quest, especially when you start factoring in the special keywords that allow your fellow players to defend or attack enemies engaged with you.

You play allies, attachments, and events from your card deck as is pretty standard. In the game itself, you’ll need to exhaust (tap/kneel/bow – whatever the terminology is) allies and heroes to send questing (which helps you complete the quest cards), defend against enemies (which keeps your people alive), and attacking (which obviously kills those rude enemies who were attacking you earlier). Managing which of those three things you do with each of your heroes and allies is where the tactics lie. And you’ll be making some hard choices about these every turn, as it’s pretty easy to get overwhelmed.

The clever bit that makes the varying number of players work and the random nature of card games is Threat. Each enemy played to the staging area (the area where all the things you need to overcome in the game live before they swarm you) has a Threat rating. If their Threat rating is less than yours, they won’t come down and attack you and you can (mostly) safely ignore them until your Threat rises to the level of theirs. Your Threat rating is determined by your starting heroes (the balancing mechanic for deck building- you’re much more of a Threat to the bad guys if your Heroes consist of Aragorn, Gandalf, and Boromir vs. a couple of innocuous hobbits) as well as how well you’re completing quests. Because the encounter cards are just randomly drawn, its possible to, say, draw the big bad leader of the orcs in the first turn, a time before you’ve got the proper cards and resources in play to deal with him. But, because his Threat will be higher, you can safely ignore him for a few turns until you’ve built up your allies. It’s a clever way to still have the randomness of a card game, making every playthrough different, while also making sure that the game has a building progression.

Since it’s LotR, you already know the world and characters. And it’s the typical FFG flavor for those things…the characters and their special abilities “feel” appropriate. For instance, Frodo can take damage as Threat, raising the chance that more enemies will swarm you while at the same time keeping Frodo alive, which seems just like that first book where Frodo spent most of the time being a burden on the rest of the party due to his injuries. And with the rich lore of Tolkien behind it, there’s a lot of excellent rules flavor baked right in.

As this is a living card game, it also gets regular expansions. Each of these card packs includes a new adventure, as well as new cards for your decks. So, if you get bored of the main box’s adventures (which I’m sure you will), you can get new quests. FFG also publishes bigger expansions that include more quests and character cards. The Saga expansions, in particular, mirror the books, letting your players see how they’d fare in Moria.

LotR is a fun game. It’s got a good blend of tactics and nail-biting choices. Some of the quests are hard and will challenge both your tactical acumen and your deckbuilding abilities. The fact that you can play solo, as well as bring your friends along, makes it a unique experience in the card game space. But it’s not perfect (stay tuned)…

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