The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game, Review

Game Overview

Many games have emerged during the last decade with the words “Lord of the Rings” in their name from traditional board games to Monopoly: The Lord of the Rings Trilogy Edition and Risk: The Lord of the Rings. The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game is a Living Card Game (LGG). In Living Card Games, a system invented by Fantasy Flight Games, all cards of the game become available in packets, that contain all the cards published in the set in contrast to Trading Card Games in which expansions become available in small packages, called “booster packs” that contain some random cards from the set. That means that with TCGs one has to buy countless boosters in order to find specific cards and thus spend much money whereas on LCGs you just have to buy the appropriate expansions that contain the cards and that’s all. This system has proven to be quite successful taking into account the economic difficulties many countries have run to the last few years. This review is about the core set of the game which contains four 30-card starter decks and components for two players. Expansions of the game, called “adventure packs” come out every month and so far two cycles of expansions have been published, “Shadows of Mirkwood” and “Dwarrowdelf”, along with a deluxe expansion called “Khazad-dûm”. Adventure packs contain 60 cards that include a new scenario, a new hero, three copies of nine new player cards from all spheres and new encounter cards. But what are heroes, player decks, encounter decks and spheres?

The Lord of the Rings: The Card game is a cooperative game based on the renowned trilogy novel by J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings. One to four players travel through the lands of Middle-Earth trying to complete dangerous quests and defeat the ancient evil Dark Lord, Sauron. Each player controls 1-3 heroes that become available from the start of the game and each has a deck of cards, that can be played by spending resources that belong to a specific sphere. There are four spheres: “Lore” which emphasizes the potential of the hero’s mind, “Tactics” which emphasizes a hero’s martial prowess, “Spirit” which emphasizes the strength of a hero’s will and “Leadership” which emphasizes the charismatic and inspirational influence of a hero. Each sphere provides a unique style of play and you can include in your deck cards belonging to more than one sphere, providing that you use appropriate heroes as well as they are the source of resources. The player decks comprise of Allies that come to aid your heroes, events influencing the course of the adventure, and attachment cards.

At the beginning of the game you decide which of the three scenarios included in the game you are going to play. Each scenario has different difficulty and is represented by quest cards that provide the storyline of the scenario. Each scenario consists of a sequential deck of quest cards and goes along with specific threats (unexplored locations, enemies, treachery and objectives) represented by specific encounter sets. Each scenario requires two or three encounter sets that are shuffled to form the encounter deck.

The game starts by setting the threat level of each player (depends on the heroes used) and by shuffling the player and encounter decks. In the course of the game the threat level will eventually rise and when it reaches level 50, the player is eliminated. The rest of the players continue the adventure and if at least one survives till the end of the quest, the whole group of players is considered to have accomplished the quest. The first quest card is revealed and each player draws 6 cards. Then the game continues in rounds, consisting of the following phases:

Resources are gathered from heroes and one card is drawn from the player deck.
Planning. Each player can use resources and play cards such as Allies and Attachments.
Quest. Each player decides which characters (heroes or Allies) they will send to the quest. Then cards equal to the number of players are revealed from the encounter deck and positioned on the staging area. Total willpower of the heroes is compared to the total threat strength of cards in the staging area and if willpower is greater, players have successfully quested and some progress tokens are placed on the quest card. A specific number of tokens are required in each quest for it to be completed.
Travel. Players may travel as a group to a location on the staging area, making it an active location and no longer contributing with its threat level upon questing. Progress tokens are placed there first after successfully questing until the location is fully explored.
Encounter. Players may engage enemy creatures on the staging area and then engagement checks are made to see if any enemies engage the players. Engaged enemies are moved from the staging area and placed in front of the engaging player.
Combat. Enemies then attack the players first and then players attack enemies. Characters may either commit to a quest, defend or attack enemies. Each of these actions require the character to exhaust (turn sideways). Characters may also exhaust when using an ability that requires them to do so.
Refresh. All exhausted characters become ready (moved to their normal upright position). Each player increases his threat by 1, and the first player passes the first player token to the next player clockwise on his left. That player becomes the new first player. Play then proceeds to the resource phase of the next round.
But enough with gameplay aspects. Now is the moment of truth. Does the game hold up to our expectations?

First Impressions

Upon opening the game box, I realized that it was simply too big for what it contained. Actual contents require only the middle one-third of the box, while the two other thirds are covered with cardboard pieces. Overcoming the initial frustration I began opening the small packages containing cards and the cardboard sheets with tokens and the threat counters. Upon observing the components I realized how much attention to detail was given during design. Fantasy Flight has proven in the course of years that where looks matter, it can make the difference and this game is no exception. All cards are exquisitely beautiful and detailed.

And then comes the rulebook. I have to admit that it seemed pretty intimidating to read through the 32 page manual but taking into account that many pages are example illustrations, things have been a bit easier than anticipated. But let’s go through our usual rating categories:

Components:

As mentioned earlier, cards couldn’t be better designed. Images of all cards are awesome, tokens are sturdy and the threat trackers are just superb. The only complain I had is about the number of players that can play the game. While four 30-card decks are included in the box, allowing four players to play, only 2 threat counters are included. I think that it would be appropriate to give full components for four players as only two threat counters would be required. Of course one can easily track threat in a piece of paper but it still seems a bit awkward. Fantasy Flight preferred profit over efficiency stating in the rulebook that “a one to two player game can be played using only the contents of this core set. (Up to four players can play the game cooperatively with a second copy of the core set.)” 9/10

Gameplay:

Gameplay is well thought of. The game has a lot of depth and allows many different strategies giving players the privilege of adjusting their decks as they please even combining different spheres in them and play according to their style. The game provides absolute immersion, through the beautiful artwork and interesting text on cards, not only quest cards that describe the mission of the party of adventurers but character and enemy cards too. Players are constantly faced with important decisions such as: Which characters should I use to commit to quests, which to defend or attack? Maybe I could use the character’s special ability instead. I was really impressed by the duration of the first few games until all players felt comfortably regarding the rules. The game box states a playing time of 60 minutes but be prepared to play a lot longer in the first games. Everyone who is not intimidated by complex rules and long gameplay and is a fan of the book will simply love this game and never be bored to play it. 8/10

Learning Curve:

All that is required to learn the game is go once through the rules and play the game once. That could take a while though. It is recommended that one of the players who likes to read rules should just do that and then explain the game to the others while playing the first (easier scenario). Merely stating the game rules will be intimidating and won’t serve much as the rules are pretty extensive and will be soon forgotten without the in-game experience. The sequence of phases is shown in the last pages of the rulebook along with the timing when players can take actions which will prove quite useful. 6/10

Theme:

The game quests take place during a timespan of 17 years: from when Bilbo celebrates his 111th birthday (and Frodo’s 33rd) to days just prior to Frodo’s leaving the Shire. However the scenarios are not retelling the story of the books but instead they describe new adventures throughout Middle-Earth history. That may be seen as a positive or negative point to players and is clearly a matter of character. I personally find this idea refreshing and more intriguing. Game artwork along with detailed texting and the appearance of well-known heroes such as Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli makes the theme of the game always present in every action players make. 9/10

Replayability:

Replayability is another strong point of this game. While new adventure packs are released each month, keeping up the interest in the game, even the core set with it’s 3 scenarios is pretty interesting as you will always want to replay scenarios to achieve better scores (lower scores are better!) and accomplish quests in fewer rounds. So replayability is at its best here. 9/10

Fun:

The game is much fun, though not in a way that will amuse you or make you laugh. Most times you will be struggling to make the right decisions about what actions to take or talk to your fellow mates about the right strategy to advance in the game. I think most fun comes out of the fact that this is a cooperative game. This is accomplished with an intuitive way though, allowing enough space for player cooperation and allowing players to make their own decisions too. I had a lot of fun playing this game 8/10

Pros:

Beautiful artwork and high quality material
Each game is different as encounter and player decks are shuffled
Theme is implemented most efficiently
Full deck customization
All cards become available in adventure packs (LCG system)
Cons:

Learning curve is a bit slow (complex rules)
Playing time can be several hours especially for the first game
Components could be included for all 4 players with minimum additions

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Great Single Player Card Games

Card games are a great way to pass the time with a group of friends, but they can also be great fun just by yourself.

First of all I will address what makes single player card games so enjoyable. Single player card games have been around for hundreds of years and are a core part of western society. People enjoy them for a number of reasons, the more basic games, such as Klondike and clock solitaire are simple and accessible for most people, this is what makes them so fun, all you need is yourself, a little time and a deck of cards.

Some people enjoy the challenge placed by the more complex card games, some find playing single player card games relaxing on a cool summers day. The choices are endless and this is what makes them such a good hobby – once you’ve learnt a couple of single player card games they can amuse you for hundreds of hours, simply because each game is always different, no game of solitaire is the same, and with the number of varieties that are out there, single player card games are one of the best hobbies around.

Card games have evolved over the years, today when most people think of solitaire games today, many people would immediately think of the digital versions for computers, and this is a natural occurrence and overall a good thing for single player card games, as times change they need to stay current, however, there are still millions of people who play the “old-fashion way” with a standard deck of cards.

When can I play single player card games? Some single player card games are short (10-15 minutes) while others can range from 30-45 minutes. Once you’ve learnt a number of both complex and simple games, you can choose which to play depending on your time frame.

For example if your on holiday and you’ve got a few minutes before your going to the beach, a quick game of Klondike can be the perfect time killer. Whereas if your on the boat on your way to your holiday, a nice long game of La Belle Lucie may be more suited.

Now I will attach a brief guide of how to play Beehive Solitaire, which a fun, interesting variant of solitaire:

Shuffle the pack. Then, holding the cards face down, count off 10 cards and put them in a pile face up on the table, with only the top card showing. This is the beehive.

Deal off the next 6 cards, placing them in 2 horizontal rows of 3 cards each. This is the flower garden into which you try to get the bees, or cards in the beehive, as well as all the other cards. Hold the remainder of the pack in your hand, face down.

The object is to combine all the 52 cards in sets of 4 of a kind, such as 4 Threes, 4 Jacks, and so on, by grouping them in sets of 4 in the flower garden, and removing each set when it is completed.

Play: With the cards laid out as described, begin to send bees to the garden. If the top card of the beehive is the same in value as any car in the garden, place it on that card. Then the next card in the hive being uncovered may be used if it has the same value as any card in the garden.

No card is ever place on the beehive, since the object is to use up all its cards as quickly as possible. Cards are placed only on the 6 garden cards.

If 2 cards in the garden have the same value, place one on top of the other, and fill the vacant space with the top card of the beehive. When all the cards of the same value, among the cards on the table, have been combined, deal off 3 cards from the pack in your hand, placing them in a pile face up, with only the top card (the third card from the top of the pack) showing.

This will begin a working pile. If the top card has the same value as any card in the garden, place it on the garden card, and use the card it uncovers in the working pile if it, too, has the same value as any in the garden. When you complete a set of 4 cards of the same value in the garden, such as 4 threes, remove it, put it to one side, and fill the vacant space with the top card of the beehive.

When there are no more cards in the beehive, fill a vacant space with the top card of the working pile. Go through the pack 3 cards at a time, placing them face up on the working pile and using as many as you can on cards in the garden, building sets of 4. Then turn over the working pile and go through it again, 3 cards at a time.

To win the game: If you combine all the cards in sets of 4, you win. Then turn over the working pile and go through it again, 3 cards at a time. However, if you have gone through the working pile without being able to use a single card, you lose the game.

Overall single player card games are one of the best hobbies still around today, they stimulate your brain, are excellent for practising your problem solving skills and have been shown to increase your IQ, so give them a try!

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