Published on June 5th, 2013 | by Nicole Jekich
First Impressions: Lord of the Rings LCG
From Weather Top to Khazadun, the Lord of the Rings LCG lets YOU join the Fellowship!
I first fell in the love with the richness of Middle Earth and the Lord of the Rings series through the movies, and I have since been gobbling up all licensed materials related to the franchise. Continuing my quest through Lord of the Ring-themed games, I recently participated in the popular Lord of the Rings LCG for the first time. Lembas bread, anyone? I heard this game takes a while.
For those new to card games, a Living Card Game or LCG is a card game business model that does away with the randomized booster pack and constant collection of new cards that Collectible Card Games or CCGs follow. LCGs start with a complete game known as a core set that allows players full access to the starting game. After the core set, expansions are released to improve, diversify and allow players to customize the base game with new challenges, characters and items. The Lord of the Rings LCG is made by Fantasy Flight: a company known for creating tons of LCGs based on numerous franchises and genres. This game currently has a handful of mini expansions that add onto the base set including The Halls of Kazad-dum, The Sons of Numenor and The Hobbit.
I had heard that this game was complex and very, very difficult, so I enlisted the help of a couple veteran players. Kyle and Luke, both contributors to Across the Board Games, have played multiple scenarios and created custom decks. The core set comes with pre-made decks, but most players create custom decks after becoming familiar with the various scenarios. A deck consists of 60 cards and 3 heroes. The three “heroes” start and serve as the main force of a player’s deck. I was set up with a dwarf-heavy deck with Durin, Gloin and Aragorn as my 3 heroes. For my first adventure, we chose a beginner-friendly scenario with a 4/10 difficulty: to find Gollum and retrieve information about the One Ring. Time to begin!
The base set to the game takes place in between the stories of the Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings. Gollum is said to be located between the charming Misty Mountains and Mirkwood Forest. These places are both absolutely crawling with monsters! Thankfully, my army of dwarf allies create an awesome Leadership deck which draws monster aggression with my high threat count and soaks up attacks from enemies. We must complete three quests, which bring us closer to Gollum and to complete each quest we must survive the journey across Middle Earth. Players start with six cards in hand and use resource tokens to bring out more characters, equipment, blessings, etc to make the heroes more formidable along the journey. Once each player places cards, the next phase begins and cards are drawn from the encounter deck. The encounter deck contains all the challenges the team meets along the way. Monsters, unlucky events and hindrances are all possibilities that could pop up at any moment. After cards are revealed, players work as a team to defeat enemies and dedicate characters to completing the current quest.
As each turn passes, the game becomes more difficult as increased threat and overwhelming challenges can thwart the whole game. I noticed that my group of characters worked better at blocking large enemies while Kyle and his massive strike team attacked the monsters. Luke’s deck was mostly elves which are better suited for questing and healing wounded characters. I like the different roles each deck covered and made working as a team easier because we weren’t divided over responsibilities. I found that this game was like playing a more complicated cooperative game like Shadows Over Camelot, but the LCG gives more responsibility to individual players.
The game continued and we were on track to completing the final quest to find Gollum. Those are common last words in this game, or so I found out. While our three heroes were very much alive at the end of the game, both Kyle and I were forced to leave the quest as our threat was too high. Luke was left alone, but managed to complete the final quest and helped us win the game. So after two hours, my first game came to a close. The LotR LCG definitely lives up to the rumor of difficult challenges and complex play.
After one session I already have some issues with the game. The players are responsible for keeping track of an enemies health, travel tokens and other complications driven by the encounter deck. Often times players forget an action or lose track of the number of encounter cards flipped over. Even the slightest misstep could mean defeat or victory! If the encounter deck were actually run by another person almost like a Dungeon Master then there would be less hang-ups and forgetfulness. A Dungeon Master would also serve a physical voice of evil instead of the nameless, random encounter deck.
I also couldn’t help but notice that a “poor shuffle” was often a reason for the game’s mounting difficulty and seemingly impossibly challenges. I’ve played plenty of games requiring a good solid shuffle, but have never experienced this kind of bad luck in a game before. For example, there are only a handful of clue cards in the encounter deck which were needed for the final leg of the last quest. I never received a clue card as only two came up before the final quest and those two went to the optimized questing players. I think this game could benefit from the slightly less random encounter deck, so after a randomly shuffled ten cards, there would be a clue up for grabs for players. Players would still have the chance to lose the card, but at least there would be an opportunity unlike the current setup.
Overall, The Lord of the Rings LCG is definitely for gamers who have had a little more gaming experience and familiarity with card games. The complexity was not easy to pick up on and requires a few more play-throughs before I’ll be comfortable with the gameplay. Since the strategizing was left to more advanced players, I feel the first couple attempts would need quarterbacking: where more advanced players tell newbies what they believe is the most optimal move. The LotR LCG is the next step of challenging cooperative play after common cooperative games become stale; however, those looking for similar cooperative gameplay from a card game but with less complexity should try out Sentinels of the Multiverse first, which Andrew wrote a review for a couple weeks ago. I am looking forward to playing again and slowly working my way through the expansion content, so expect a full review in a few weeks!