In 2011 Fantasy Flight Games first published The Lord of the Rings Living Card Game, a cooperative LCG that allowed players to build decks and fight together against the forces of Sauron. Living Card Games are different from Collectable or Trading Card Games (CCGs/TCGs) in that the card in packs are fixed, so players always knew what cards they were getting. Now, Fantasy Flight Interactive (FFI), the digital department of Fantasy Flight Games, have brought The Lord of the Rings LCG to PCs, and it is currently available on Early Access on Steam.
Players of the original Lord of the Rings LCG will find much of the digital version familiar, with a few changes now that true AI can control Sauron's deck and actions. Those looking for a true tabletop to video game port may be disappointed, as the game feels much simplified from the original and with a currently limited card pool. For those new to the game, they will find an interesting and challenging card game. Currently The Lord of the Rings LCG is solo against the AI, but more players are planned in a full co-op experience against the AI. Games take place through a narrative campaign, which because it's currently in early access, has only a single campaign available with five different multi-part stories for players to work through, unlocking each in turn.
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During the game, players take turns with Sauron in taking actions. Actions include playing cards from your hand, attacking with or using actions from characters in play. Each mission starts with with a selection of set enemies and encounters in play, depending on the scenario and an objective to complete in order to move onto the next stage of the story. For example, in the first stage, in the first story of the campaign, A Journey Begins, the following cards are in play:
- Glint of Steel (6 Strength Encounter)
- Hive Guardian 2 Strength 3 Health enemy with Guard (which means you must defeat them before being able to attack other enemies) and Stalwart (which means they can attack twice in a turn)
- Two Forest Spiders, who are 2 strength and 4 health
- Giant Spider, a 2 strength 6 health enemy with Guard
Hero characters have three stats, Strength, Willpower and Health. When characters and enemies battle, they do their value in strength to their opponents health and when a character or enemy is reduced to 0 health, they are removed from play. Willpower is used to damage Encounters, which are reduced by the Willpower characteristic of the character when it's attacked. When a character is used to attack an enemy or encounter, or use a special ability, it becomes greyed out and can't be used again that turn, unless refreshed with an upgrade or ability. Enemies are the same, and only attack once per turn.
Deck creation begins by selecting three heroes, who are all deployed at the start of the story. Each hero comes from one of four Sphere's of Influence, either Leadership, Lore, Spirit or Tactics. Each of the cards in game also comes from one of the spheres and you can only include cards in your decks from spheres of your chosen heroes, this makes the selection of hero influence your entire deck choice, and not just the character card itself.
Throughout the story, the threat meter on the righthand side of the screen increases, activating various events at set levels. If the threat meter ever reaches 50, the player loses the game.
Each story throughout the campaign has various stages, with quests requirements before players are able to move on to the next stage. In the first stage detailed above, players need to defeat the Glint of Steel quest or all enemies before being able to move on to the next stage. Once all stages are clear, the story is completed and the next story unlocks. The narrative for each part of the campaign comes in the form of a narrated interlude between stories that are well read and feel extremely thematic.
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The stories are reasonably challenging and there are currently a few deck options once you have access to a decent amount of cards, getting that access can be quite the challenge though. We were given access to the Istari Founder's Pack, which provides 30,000 Valour Points, 5 Palantir Views and some bonus cards. Cards can be purchased in 5 card campaign packs or individually in the Vault. Each campaign pack includes a hero and 4 cards and when cards are purchased individually they are purchased with Valour Points.
Valour Points are earned through competing stories in the campaign, and are only given when the entire story is completed, so if it is failed, nothing is earned. When a story is completed, up to 275 Valour Points can be earned depending on performance, along with bonus points for individual heroes.
Cards can also be added to your colletion through Palantir Points, which can be earned through gameplay and campaign packs. These are used to unlock rewards which can be Valour Points, cosmetic features and cards.
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We've had a blast battling through The Lord of the Rings LCG. The stories are challenging yet fun, deck construction currently has a limited, but interesting card pool and the way the game runs is smooth for an Early Access game. Our issues come from the current payment model. In Fantasy Flight Games' Living Card Games, single purchases of expansion packs give players access to all the cards from a set, and we'd expect the same from the Digital Living Card Game, but this is however not the case. The Istari founder's pack does give you access to most of the current set, baring second copies of a few cards, but if you're going in for free to play, there is currently a signification grind. As an example, a Legendary Card costs 3000 Valour Points, completing a story quest nets you 275 Valour points and once completed, is time locked for a period before you can earn rewards from it again. The campaign packs only give you a single copy of the included cards and being able to earn cards through Palantir Points is clearly Loot Cratish.
If it wasn't called a Living Card Game, we wouldn't have any of those issues with the payment model, but as a port of the tabletop version, we'd like that to have carried across as well. Having more cards wrapped up in the Campaign Packs would have felt more LCG-like
We are looking forward to exploring more with The Lord of the Rings LCG, especially as it leaves early access and more of the game's Roadmap unlocks. We're most excited about getting access to more cards, and exploring more and more deck options as the card pool expands.
For those interested, we played through the first story campaign with the following deck.
The heroes in this deck don't have high combat skills, but they make up for it with their other abilities.
- Arwen has a high Willpower, so can take out most encounters is a single attack, and the story encounters in one turn if she has a Star Brooch attached.
- Legolas is a ranged character that automatically deals 1 damage at the start of each turn. If he has a Warrior Sword and a Star Brooch he can tear through enemies each turn.
- Tom Took has a Will Power of 2, but his best use is through his ability that reduces the damage of the first enemy that attacks after activating the ability to 0.
This copy of the Istari Founder's Pack for the Lord of the Rings Digital Living Card Game was provide by Fantasy Flight Interactive for Steam.