The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game Review

Designer: Nate French  

Number of Players: 1-2
Playtime: 45-60 minutes
Price (approx.): 35 Euro 
You find yourself in the world of J.R.R. Tolkien, the world of Lord of the Rings, the world of the Hobbit. The story takes places in a time between these two stories. You lead a party of heroes, you will travel to places far, far away, fight the scariest creatures and have adventures beyond your imagination.  
Overview:
 
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What you get for your money:
226 cards, 2 threat trackers, 40 damage tokens, 30 resource tokens, 26 progress tokens, a first player token and the rules.
How do you play the game:
I will not go into the rules in too much detail, but I’ll try to give you an idea of how the game plays. 
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This game is about a party of heroes going on a quest.  There are 12 heroes in four different spheres, namely Tactics, Spirits, Lore and Leadership. Aragorn belongs to the Leadership sphere for instance and Gimli to the Tactics one. Every sphere has a starting deck of cards with attachment, event and Ally cards that you play during the game. 
You will take a starting deck and three heroes (or build your own deck) and you will go on a quest. This Quest is represented by a quest deck: a couple of cards that will tell you what you must accomplish (fight certain enemies, travel a certain distance) to go to the next stage of the quest.  
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During this journey, you will fight enemies, go to several locations and will face all kinds of misfortune duringthis adventure. These encounters are represented by an deck of cards belonging to the quest (scenario) you have chosen to take. 
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Depending on the heroes you start a quest with a certain threat level and depending how well you are doing this level will rise and fall. The higher the threat the more evil (relatively) the enemies will be that attack you.
In a turn every one of your heroes gets a resource token and you can spend these on attachments (swords, shield, anything really), to call allies or to trigger events during the game.
You will, during your turn, send one or more people one a quest. After that, cards will be revealed from the encounter deck. You will defend against or attack orcs or other filth that has the same or a lower threat level then you have.
In this way you go through your deck and the encounter deck. You will win the game if you have met the quest requirements. You will lose if all your heroes are mortally wounded or if your threat level is too high.
There are many rules in this game and I can’t tell you everything about them without the review becoming too long. So if you want to know in more (or any) detail how to play this game, then YouTube will give you all you need. There are many fans that posted ‘How to play’ videos and even dedicated whole channels to this game. Therefore giving you many hours of viewing pleasure.
Review:
-When you read this review, keep in mind that I’ve played this game solo (3 heroes, one deck). I have a feeling that the game experience is totally different when you play it with two players or solo with 6 heroes and two decks.-
Theme
This game is dripping with theme. The heroes are all familiar, some more than others, to most people. The events, the locations, the quest you’ll undertake; they are all part of a big story. You really feel like you are traveling through Middle Earth, going into a dark and dangerous forest encountering all sorts of evil, calling your elven friends to aid you in a fight between you and your enemies.
During the whole game there is this epic battle going on between good and evil. Sometimes the good have the upper hand, but one card can shift the balance of power dramatically and orcs crawl out of the darkness. No chance to stop them. 
The only non-thematic aspect is that evil almost always prevails. Or is that just a lack of skill…?
Gameplay
This game is not an easy game to learn and play. When I first read the rules, I did not understand a word (this is a exaggeration).I had to play the game a couple of times with the rules close at hand to understand the concepts and the different keywords that were written on several cards.
While I’ve played the game many times now, I still sometimes have to look back into the rulebook to check if I’m doing everything right.
And you have to do everything right or otherwise the game will kick your butt.
But all in all, the game plays fairly smoothly. There is a sequence you have to go trough and if you do that, theoretically, nothing can go wrong.
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Unless you overlook a keyword or a ‘when revealed’ or ‘forced’ effect. 

The basic fighting system is very straightforward: if someone has more axes/swords than the other has shields, the defender gets wounded. These ‘when revealed’ or ‘forced’ effects that are written on the location and enemy cards make this game interesting, less predictable. They give an enemy extra fighting power or maybe you cannot use one of your heroes this turn.

If an enemy engages you, they are also dealt a shadow card. This is a secret card effect. You only get to see it when you already appointed a defender. This effect can ruin your plans and makes the game even less predictable.
On the one hand, I really like the concept of the threat level. The willpower of all the heroes and allies that go on a quest must be higher than the combined threat strength of the enemies or locations in front of you to quest successfully, otherwise the threat-level will go up. In addition to that, only enemies with an equal or lower engagement cost (stronger enemies have a higher cost) than your threat level will attack you automatically. If you are able to keep your level low, you can sneak past them.
The downside of this threat level and the way this level is guiding the game in a certain direction is that one encounter card can change everything.The first couple of turn are a walk in the park, but then one card with a high threat strength, the threat level goes up one point, five enemies are automatically engage you and it’s a total rampage. This game is constantly taking U-turns.When you think you have everything sorted out, one U-turn and the game is your worst enemy. I always felt that I was one step behind.  
That brings me to the next issue that I have. Because of the fact that one card, drawn at random from the encounter deck, can change the game dramatically, this game feels very luck based. Most of the times, win or lose, I felt that my own strategy did not really matter that much. Many times the game felt just too easy or too hard. Very few times it was a close call and my decisions were the decisive factor that brought me the win or the loss. I don’t like that.
If you want to buy LotR:LCG, you have to like building you own deck. You can play with the basic (pre-built) decks, consisting of only one sphere, in the easy scenarios, but you will get into trouble when you try to tackle to more difficult ones.
Especially when you play the game solo, like I do, with 3 heroes and one deck. 

Every sphere, kind of, focuses on one aspect of the game, they have a specialism (attack, defence, willpower). If you focus too much on attack and/or defence strength, you lack the willpower to quest efficiently.  

If you play a two player game (or solo with two decks), you might be able to work your way around that issue, if one player focuses on fighting (tactics) and the other on questing (spirit) (or something like that).
But if you play with one deck, you need more variety to stand a chance. Especially in the difficult scenarios. You need to customize your deck. Think of a strategy. That takes time and effort. Do you want that?
The reason I haven’t played solo with two decks very often is, I think the game becomes too laborious that way. More cards, tokens and threat levels to manage. It does not appeal to me.
All the game concepts are very interesting and well thought of, but when you play this game solo, the gameplay feels too swingy. It feels as if the game is taking me on a bumpy ride and I just need to cling on as long as possible.
Looks
This game looks stunning. It is a card game, yes, but it feels a bit epic when your heroes and all those orcs, spiders and other beasts are opposite each other on the battlefield. 
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The art, on the cards and tokens, is very well done. It adds a lot to the flavour of the game. And the threat dial is a fine addition to it all. Very nice.
The game is not inspired by the movies, but some of the artwork clearly is.
Quality of the components
The cardboard parts are of good quality. The dial works fine. The card quality could be better. They are very thin and I think they might damage easily, when the cards are often shuffled. I sleeved mine right away, so it wasn’t a problem for me. But it was an extra expense on my part and that should not be necessary.
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Fun
I’m on the fence here. Fun or no fun. 
No fun. I don’t like the swingy and random nature of the LotR:LCG as a solo game Plus, at times it is/ feels impossible to win the game.
Not sure. Sometimes I want to invest time in building a deck. On other occasions, I just want to open the box and play right away. That is not always possible. The difficulty level of the game increases a lot when you play it solo and therefore your card deck needs customization.
Fun. The game concepts and ideas are quite nice. The special abilities on the cards are very interesting, fun and thematic. 
What constantly draws me back is the theme. I like to go through the cards and imagine myself in this giant, epic world created by J.R.R. Tolkien. I like the characters, the story, everything.

Why don’t I just read the books then?

Probably, because it is quite fun to create or choose your own adventure. 

 
 
The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game isn’t really suitable as a very fun solo game, at least not the way I’ve played it so far. The ideas and concepts are very interesting, but in a solo game they aren’t used to their best advantage. I’ve tried many deck configurations, but I still get a beating more often than I like to and the game feels a bit too random.  
 
The theme makes it all bearable. The game, as a whole, is still enjoyable, because of it.
I really think the game would be much better as a two player co-op game. More balanced. I’m just guessing here, I haven’t played it that way.
So, in conclusion, I do like the theme and the ideas enough to say it’s a nice game. Not a great game, but a nice one. For now.
-I will update this review once I manage to find a willing opponent and play a couple of two player games (or if I ever decide to play with two decks)-
 !UPDATE!

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