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If you’re interested in cooperative games, Lord of the Rings: LCG is an involving card-based game designed for 2 players, but also playable solo or with up to four. This core set includes all you need for two players to get started, with three adventures of increasing difficulty for the players to overcome. The term ‘living card game’ basically means that the story continues in various expansion sets, so this game has plenty of longevity if you enjoy it.
For those not familiar with this type of game, the fundamentals are fairly simple. Each player chooses up to 3 heroes to play with from a selection, and builds themselves a deck out of the appropriate cards (preset decks are suggested for the first time out). During the game, the heroes generate ‘resources’ with which to pay for bringing cards from their decks into the game, such as extra allies to fight with, weapons and armour for their heroes, or beneficial event cards. Meanwhile, the adventure also comprises a deck of cards, which contains enemies for the heroes to fight, locations for them to explore, and nasty events which can bring tears to their eyes. In each round, players may gain resources, pay for cards from their hands, tackle the adventure, travel to a new location, parry attacks from enemies, and retaliate.
Deciding the who/when/where/what of all of this leads to plenty of decision-making for the players, and is where this cooperative element really shines. One of the biggest pitfalls of a lot of cooperative games is that one person becomes the conductor and the others follow his baton: perhaps that person is the most experienced or simply the most vociferous, but either way the other players end up feeling they’re simply watching him play the game solitaire. With Lord of the Rings, each player should keep their hand of cards secret, and although they can discuss strategy, there shouldn’t be any opportunity for one player to dominate proceedings, leaving for a far more satisfying cooperative experience.
Whilst definitely a step up in difficulty from other more famous cooperative games like Pandemic, the rulebook is well written, with plenty of examples, and once you’ve played a few rounds and got used to the different phases, it’s not overtly complicated. Nevertheless, this game is extremely versatile, with many cards having special powers which bend or even negate the basic rules. The advantage of this is that no two games play out the same way, and the adventure packs introduce interesting mechanics that inject some freshness into the game each time. Sometimes you’ll be out to kill a dangerous creature, other times you need to free a prisoner, or perhaps escort yet another to safety. However, this versatility can be as much a blessing as a curse, and poses some problems of its own. Firstly, as a lot of the cards alter the rules slightly, it can sometimes be hard to keep track of them all, and you may find yourselves like us having to retrace your steps a little when you notice you’ve skipped a special rule. Secondly, it often happens that players come across a situation in which the rule can have a number of interpretations and they aren’t sure what to do. We’ve found that in these situations its best to simply make up a house rule on the spot, and if it’s really important, check on the internet in places like BoardGameGeek.com or in the official FAQ, where you will find definitive rulings to most of those odd cases.
Aside from the odd rules question, there are a few problems with this game which will mean it’s not for everyone. For starters, this core set feels a little incomplete for what you get for your money. That’s not to say it’s overly expensive, but it is fairly limited in scope unless you’re willing to buy some of the adventure packs and expand the game. There are (only) three adventures in the box, and the difficulty curve is steep; the first adventure (difficulty rating 1) only took us a few goes to defeat, the second (rated 4) however had us scratching our heads for a long time, whilst the third (rated 7) we found nigh-on impossible and only managed with a lot of luck.
This is obviously a deliberate ploy on the part of the publishers to try to encourage players to buy some expansion packs to strengthen their decks and get more playtime out of the game. Whilst you might be annoyed at their perfidy for forcing you to buy more, I think the expansions are in general very good value for money: for around £10 you get a scenario which, if it takes you 2-3 attempts to complete, could provide 5 hours of entertainment, and doesn’t preclude you trying it again with different cards or different people.
A more minor point, but the way the contents are presented leaves a lot to be desired. Whilst the box is adequate for holding the starter set, once you start buying adventure packs the number of cards soon becomes unwieldy and the box is pretty inept. Many players have posted their self-made solutions on the internet. Aside from that, given that you end up shuffling the cards a lot and sliding them across the table, you might find it worthwhile to invest in protective sleeves for the cards: for example those from Fantasy Flight Games, or the rather cheaper alternatives from Mayday Games.
Who this game is for:
- Players after a rich, detailed cooperative experience.
- Players who don’t mind spending extra money to extend the lifespan of the game.
- Two players (especially couples). Solo is also fun, but much more challenging.
Who this game is not for:
- Players who don’t like losing. The game is very challenging, so expect to lose most scenarios at least a few times before you succeed.
- Players who hate games with luck. Even if you’re well prepared, sometimes a bad card combination will appear which ruins even the best-laid schemes.
- Players who hate the deck-building aspect. This is a key element to the game and part of the fun, which you could skip entirely, but it would only make the game even more difficult to play.
In summary, this is a great card game for two set in the Middle Earth universe. The rules can get a little sticky but are on the whole fairly easy once you’ve played a round or two, and the adventures are challenging enough that they will take some good planning on the part of the players, and a soupçon of luck, to defeat them. If you enjoy this base game, you can easily expand it with the well priced adventure packs, which each add their own flavours and nuances to the experience.