Hey guys, it’s time for a new series of reviews I’m calling the 100 Club. The prerequisite for these reviews is I have to have played the game 100 times and the only game that currently qualifies is The Lord of the Rings Living Card Game.
First of all, let’s take a look at what I originally wrote about this game not long after it’s release in 2011
I’ve been pretty negative about this game but it does have some good solid mechanics and it does feel like an epic adventure at times and I love the production quality and the art work.
However I feel that the base set is too restrictive in card choices to complete the included quests. I also feel that there simply isn’t enough replayability in the base set because there are only 3 included quests. In a CCG this wouldn’t be a problem, but in an LCG I feel like the base set should be all you need to buy to play casually.
The RRP for LOTR LCG is £30, when compared to a deckbuilding card game like Thunderstone or Dominion (£35) the replayability of the game is simply nowhere near as strong. In fact, for the same money Warhammer Invasion has tons more replayability out of the box.
Overall LOTR LCG feels incomplete, that you will need expansions in order to keep the game interesting and while I realise that is the point I’m not sure it should be counted as a positive in the games favour.
All of this said, I will be buying the first six expansions and reviewing them and discussing how they change the game and if they make the game more like the game I want it to be.
Well… I’m still playing it… LOTR LCG has become my go to solo game, which is why I’ve racked up so many plays in the last three years. The game presents two challenges, the first is deck construction.
Building a successful deck is an art form and not one I have mastered but I keep on trying. Usually I start by selecting which heroes I want to use for the given scenario, often this will be based on the theme of the encounter. For example playing through The Black Riders I chose to theme my decks around hobbits and restricted my choice of heroes and allies to those that appeared in the early half of the Fellowship of the Ring.
Alternatively I might decide to build my deck around a series of combos. For example my Ranger Deck which is a monsphere green deck that focuses on Ranger Allies and Traps.
I always play each scenario blind, i.e. I chose my deck then starting the adventure, having never seen the cards I’m about to face. This means that sometimes the deck I’ve lovingly crafted is totally useless against the chosen adventure. Whatever the case I learn from my failure and I take the deck back to the drawing board where I retool it for the current adventure with the knowledge I now have. Sometimes that just means stripping out useless cards (for example Traps in The Black Riders as most nazgul can’t have attachments.) other times it might mean switching out a hero or two, or it might mean changing spheres entirely. Some adventures call for very specific builds to counter the machinations of the deck, for example treachery heavy encounters might call for “Cancel When Revealed” effects or “Condition Removal” which, thankfully is no longer as rare as it used to be.
The second challenge this game offers is the adventures themselves. Building the right deck will only get you so far, the rest is determined by how you play that deck. Knowing when to spend resources, when to quest hard and when to engage your enemies.
The LOTR LCG currently has 42 Adventures available, with an additional 11 coming this year. That is to say nothing of the nightmare decks that are being produced to “up” the challenge for older scenarios. That is a lot of variety and each quest is unique and fun. I have played 166 games of LOTR and I still have 5 quests I’ve not played and several others that I’ve never beaten.
I tend to play a quest until I beat it, which tells you something about my win ratio for this game. Sometimes the quests can be so difficult that the game stops being fun and becomes a frustration that you want to feed into the shredder. However, finally beating a quest that you’ve been stuck on fills you with a sense of relief and happiness.
If you are the kind of gamer that becomes frustrated by loss, step away from this game now. However if you are the kind of gamer that enjoys a puzzle then this really might be for you. LOTR LCG offers a two part puzzle, the player deck and the adventure. Playing the adventure gives you clues about how to build your deck, which in turn allows you to solve the adventure. After you lose the game horribly (and it can be truly brutal) if you don't go away and look at your deck and fine tune it, then, for me, you’re playing the game wrong.
LOTR LCG is a game I often play co-op, however the other players started to become frustrated with losing the game over and over… Enter Easy Mode.
Easy Mode starts you off with more resources than normal, allowing you to do more with your opening turn. It also removes several of the nastier cards from the Encounter Deck. However, Easy Mode is not a walk in the park. I often play on Easy Mode when playing solo (because it has been acknowledge that solo is the hardest way to play this game!) and I still lose 66%-75% of the games I play.
However Easy Mode does drop the difficulty and removes cards that just “take the fun out of the game” and that, for me, has really helped keep me playing. It enables me to enjoy the unfolding story (the Against the Shadow cycle was great) without removing the challenge entirely.
As the player card pool grows the earlier scenarios become easier. Easy Mode and Nightmare Mode help fix this. When a scenario first drops it might be too tough to beat on Normal, so drop the difficulty to Easy, then when you have a few more cards to play around with go back and play it on normal and if you’re feeling really brave kick it up to nightmare (I wont be doing that!)
Nothing has kept this game alive for me more than expansions. I own everything up to the current cycle with the exception of the latest POD expansion.
Because I tend to play a scenario until I beat it, I tend not to revisit it, except to play it with a different player count, so for me expansions are vital to keep my interest in the game up. Although at this stage I’m sure I could go back and replay all the scenarios again because I’ll have forgotten half of them.
However, it’s not just the additional Adventures that the expansions bring, they add new player cards that offer different and evolving strategies and prompt me to design new and interesting decks.
The Saga expansions hold a lot of promise for me. Replaying the Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings storylines with a “what if” element is something we’ve all wanted to do, right? The saga expansions also make me want to build more thematic decks, rather than relying on tried and tested deck builds. For example building and testing two hobbit themed decks recently gave me a lot of enjoyment as they both defeated the Black Riders scenarios in very different ways.
The Lord of the Rings LCG is likely to remain my most played game for the next year, probably for the next two to three years. Being able to play solo and co-op have helped keep the game alive. The addition of new quests that challenge my ability to build successful decks keeps my interest in the game high. The quality of the products themselves stop me from questioning whether the money spent has been worth while (just take a look at the artwork I’ve dotted through this article) and the continued support for the game from FFG has given me the faith to invest heavily in the system knowing it’ll be around for years to come.
Is it a good game? For me, yes, it allows me to adventure in one of my favourite fantasy realms. It requires problem solving skills, as well as forward planning skills. It forces you to think creatively and work around specific problems. It often asks you to solve two diametrically opposed problems with a single deck, forcing you to play a different way.
Is it a good game for everyone? No, I don't think so. It requires a lot of time and patience, it isn’t the kind of game you just pick up and play, straight out of the box. To really get the most out of it you need to invest a lot of money in the game. For every player with 100+ plays under their belts I think there are probably 5 players with just one.
And that’s it from me for another week. Incidentally, the following games are closest to hitting the 100 Club.
- Thunderstone 92
- Zooloretto 87
- Carcassonne 77
- Pandemic 66
- Toc Toc Woodman 59
- Legendary 57
- Warhammer Invasion 52
Until next time, have fun gaming, Chris