Lord of the Rings: The Card Game, An In-Depth Review

8.7 TCG RATING
Gameplay: 10/10
Player Interactions: 8/10
Visual Design: 9/10

The best cooperative card game in existence. | Challenging scenarios will test your skills.

Punishingly difficult at times.

Tabletop

$30.83 for physical game. - View on Amazon

April 20,2011

English

The shadows of Mordor are stirring. Sauron has awoken to the presence of the One Ring and now rallies his dark armies in search of it. The people of Middle-Earth are wary of what is to come as the darkness approaches. A brave few band together to form a fellowship whose journey will be full of danger.  Will you push back the darkness, or succumb to the armies and allies of Mordor?

Lord of the Rings: The Card Game is a cooperative Living Card Game (LCG) for 1-4 players. Players work together using their constructed decks against a central Encounter Deck that is full of creatures, treachery, and events that will challenge them. With each encounter the threat increases, and the watchful gaze of Sauron draws ever closer to your band of Heroes…

Does this card game have what it takes to drive back the darkness, or will it be forever lost in the shadows? Read on to find out…

Core-contents

Challenge the armies of Mordor with any of the starter decks, or combine spheres of influence for a more tailored deckbuilding experience.

GAMEPLAY

In Lord of the Rings: The Card Game, you can play solo or cooperatively with up to 3 other people. The core set enables play for up to 2 players, and a second purchase of this set will allow 4 people to take on Encounter Decks that will scale in difficulty to the number of players against it. Because this is a cooperative game, the Encounter Deck is self-driven by the game’s incredibly clever A.I. system. The more players in your fellowship, the harder the dark armies of Mordor try to take you down!

The game introduces you to its mechanics with a beginner-level encounter that still poses a threat if poor choices are made during the journey. If you want to get up to speed quickly, you can watch the introduction videos on the game’s official site. Because this is a Fantasy Flight published game, the quality of their tutorial videos is typically astounding and your understanding should be more than adequate to begin the first encounter.

Each player chooses from the available starter decks in the core set, chooses their three Heroes, and takes a Threat dial. The Threat dial represents the level of threat you have taken on during the course of the scenario. Failing at the commitment stage or taking damage from enemy attacks will increase your overall Threat Level as the game progresses. Think of threat as having the Eye of Sauron drawing closer to you and your Heroes.

Deck contents will consist of several card types that are there to aid your progression through the scenarios: Attachments that can be equipped for boosts to stats or to mitigate unfavorable circumstances, Event cards that give you a momentary boost or allow you to evade negative outcomes, and Allies that fight by the side of your Heroes.

Initial-set-up

Your basic setup will look something like this, with the player’s zones mirrored for a two-player game. The Encounter Deck will play itself in the central “Staging Area” and deal out threats according to the number of players taking part.

Gameplay is spread over several phases and this flow helps to create a balance in the gameplay so that it really feels like a journey into the unknown. Before the journey starts, you must choose a scenario that you wish to take on and then follow its setup instructions. From there you progress through the stages of that scenario, and if you complete all stages, you and your fellow adventurers win that campaign. Players can be eliminated from the game by having their Threat Level reach 50, or by having all their Heroes fall in battle.

After you have prepared your Heroes and played cards using the resources available for that turn you progress into the Quest phase. You can commit any number of readied Heroes or Allies to a quest and use their Willpower statistic as a measure of how successful they are at the forthcoming quest. The Encounter Deck deals 1 card per player from itself to the Staging Area and the threat of all cards is measured against the total Willpower committed to the quest. If you beat the total threat you are successful, and any additional Willpower can be used as progress markers on the active location. Failure results in damage to you and your Threat Level increases.

Resolving-combat

During combat the enemies will engage your Heroes if your Threat Level is above their engagement level. All enemies get to attack first. This might seem unfair at first, but who said the armies of Mordor have to play fair?

There is a combat phase that has its own set of mechanics too. Any ready Heroes and Allies can engage with the dark forces that are in the Staging Area. Sometimes your Threat Level will not be high enough to make them engage you directly, so you can choose to leave them in there until you are ready to deal with them. Who wants to sit there battling spiders, trolls, and orcs forever, anyway?

The Encounter Deck is a self-driven game mechanic that unveils new challenges to you each turn. There are enemies allied with Mordor, Treachery cards that aim to slow or damage you, Locations that can or must be explored, and Objective cards that must be cleared, and can carry benefits or hindrances. All of this is propelled by the text on the Adventure Deck and the game’s mechanics. Despite not being driven by any player it really does feel as though the Encounter Deck is trying to harm you and your group of Heroes and Allies.

I love the artwork on the cards and it feels very close to the original lore. People looking for movie adaptations in the artwork will be somewhat disappointed. However, the gameplay will more than make up for that minor disappointment. You can choose famous Heroes from the books such as: Aragorn, Gimli, Legolas, Gloin, Eowyn, and many more. All of the starter decks have their own spheres of influence that complement one another as a cooperative element. The fellowship is maintained with each deck containing Gandalf as an additional ally; he has a powerful effect when he comes out, but he also goes away just as quickly. Typical Gandalf.

Custom-build-decks

Build custom decks using more than one sphere of influence. This will give you many more options when taking on the more difficult scenarios. Beware adding in too many higher cost cards that will eventually fill your hand with unusable cards.

DECKBUILDING AND STRATEGY

Lord of the Rings: The Card Game is a cooperative game and should be played as such when playing with 2 or more players. Although you can score points to be compared at the end, you should never play the game in a solo capacity as doing so will jeopardize the entire group — both victory and failure is absolute.

Resource management is one of the key factors you’ll need to think about when crafting a deck that uses Heroes from more than one sphere of influence. You wouldn’t want to fill your deck with too many high cost cards whose payment you could never reach if you only have one Hero who generates that resource. You will also want to ensure that you have the right balance of card types that can cover most circumstances.

Your Heroes are your main resource of Willpower when committing to a quest. Use this to your advantage and any effects they have that can reduce the incoming threat of the Encounter Deck into Staging Area. Allies should be a priority as they are the ones you should be using for most of the combat scenarios.

Exploring a location or taking on a less than favorable enemy from the Staging Area can be of benefit as it removes them from the Staging Area and their totals will not be added to the Questing phase next turn. Do all you can to reduce the incoming threats and you should take minimal damage as a result. Use everything at your disposal to keep your overall Threat Level below 50. The Eye of Sauron gets a little too close for comfort, sometimes!

Threat-check

Manage your Threat Level to mitigate having to fight too many battles. Picking a fight you cannot win will only increase your Threat Level even further, and that means Sauron’s gaze draws closer. Do you mind, Sauron? A little privacy, please!

EXPANSION AND ADVENTURE PACKS

Lord of the Rings: The Card Game has been around for a while. I was one of the early adopters of the game and as such purchased several of the Adventure Decks and Expansions available. I can tell you that these are a worthwhile investment if you seek to prolong your adventures through Middle-Earth, or even get a gaming group together for a long-term “campaign” through the variety of expansion cycles.

Whether you just want more Heroes for your decks, or a heightened challenge from the fiendishly difficult “Nightmare Decks” – there is bound to be something for everyone. The collection of additional content available is astonishing and extensive.

Adventure Packs are the simplest way to expand your gaming experience — a non-randomized set of cards for a low cost. Each one is graded in its difficulty so you can purchase up to a level you are comfortable with, and as your skill improves you can pick up some of the harder ones. There are no fewer than 30 currently available with each one telling a different part of the story from Lord of the Rings.

I would suggest that these be your first purchase beyond the core set as a tester before purchasing any of the larger packs. You’ll get new scenarios to play through, but each faction will also get new cards for you to build with, so your decks will become more nuanced over time.

Adventure-Packs

Adventure Packs and other expansions add variety to the game. There are plenty to choose from, with no fewer than 30 basic Adventure Packs currently. This is further extended with Nightmare Packs, Saga, and Deluxe Expansion box sets.

Deluxe Expansions add new Heroes and adventures for you to encounter. These are the larger expansions and fit in with the adventure cycles within the game’s lore. Saga Expansions are just a significant as the Deluxe Expansions and again offer more Heroes and decks to play with. Both will contain several copies of the same card for the purpose of deckbuilding. You will often come across new card types that will enhance the Lord of the Rings experience even further.

Standalone Scenarios are special event scenarios that were run as a part of Gen Con and other events. Some were released as print on demand, but eventually got the box treatment. These are similar to the Adventure Packs and have their own challenges for you to overcome. You’ll find an all-new Encounter Deck filled with threats, enemies, treacheries, and also new Scenario cards.

When you’re ready for a real challenge, you can pick up a Nightmare Pack. These are Adventure Packs that replicate previous Scenarios found in any of the game’s content, but are “ramped up” to a nightmarish level and are so difficult that the chances of success are near to zero. It will take you and your friends several attempts to find success, and probably lots of deck-tinkering, to boot! These decks aim to do the maximum amount of damage to your Heroes every turn. You will need to be at your strongest and smartest in order to beat these decks.

Bring-out-Gandalf

Gandalf is on hand to help out our band of Heroes. Playing a large number of Allies will free your Heroes up to be able to commit to quests rather than having to remain ready for battles. Progress markers are like gold dust in this game, and obtaining them will be slow and steady.

FINAL THOUGHTS

The following confession needs no justification – I am a huge Lord of the Rings fan. When a game is released that uses the license, it often goes awry. Lord of the Rings: The Card Game is one game that uses the license to its full potential. It has all the ingredients of a fantastic card game that offers the players one hell of a unique, cooperative experience. Tactical thinking, suspense, intrigue, and anxiety are just some of the ingredients to be found. No game will ever make you feel as stressed or as elated as this one will.

Despite the main adversaries of the game being controlled by the game’s A.I. system, it feels so natural. Most games that have you play against a pseudo-A.I. character rely upon a specific set of rules that determine its actions. In Lord of the Rings: The Card Game, the Encounter Deck can throw anything out at you. The unpredictability of this makes playing against it far more terrifying than any other game using this mechanic. This terror is exaggerated even further when you take on the Nightmare Decks.

No matter what sub-category of fandom you fall into, this is one gaming experience you cannot afford to miss. Lord of the Rings fans are going to love it regardless, as are LCG players (among whom this game has a reputation as being one of, if not the best of them all).

If you are looking for an entry-level experience into LCGs without the fear of a competitive environment or harsh PvP matches, then this is also the game for you! It’s such a unique experience, you’ll have never played anything like it.

For more screenshots, click here.

Did you enjoy this review? Like!  

Zac Phoenix
Author: Zac Phoenix View all posts by

Zac Phoenix graduated with First Class Honors in Philosophy, Religion and Ethics and has been playing strategy card games since childhood. He has a keen interest in the underlying mechanics and player interactions of trading card games, as well as tabletop game design in the digital space. He also designs card games in his spare time.

We Recommend

Bonus Featured Games