The dark shadow creeps across the land, engulfing Middle-earth in harrowing despair. Not a single hero stands a chance against the terrible might of Sauron. Now the time has come for union. Only together can the heroes of Middle-earth hope to prevail in the coming war against the gathering darkness.

The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game is a card game of heroes, quests, and adventure, all set in the definitive fantasy world of Middle-earth created by J.R.R. Tolkien. Unlike many other card games, The Lord of the Rings is unique in that it is a cooperative experience for players. Together players win or lose against the game itself, combining their efforts to complete dangerous quests.

The first choice a player must make when sitting down for a game of The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game is which hero, or heroes, to play. Each player starts the game controlling 1-3 heroes from the Middle-earth setting, and these heroes form the backbone of that player’s party. With 12 Hero Cards in the core game and more forthcoming in monthly Adventure Pack expansions, players have a variety of options at their disposal when choosing a group of heroes, ranging from beloved fan favorites like Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli to lesser known adventurers who are about to explore Middle-earth for the very first time. The players must take care when choosing heroes, though, as the more powerful a player’s hero selection, the more dangerous the scenarios become for that player.

Once chosen, heroes start the game in play and do a variety of things, such as venturing forth on the quest, attacking or defending enemies, and providing resources that can be used to play Ally, Attachment, and Event cards from a player’s deck. Each hero belongs to one of four spheres of influence (Leadership, Lore, Spirit, or Tactics), and the resources that hero generates can then be used to pay for cards that also belong to that sphere. This means that the choice of heroes also dictates the cards that a player can use in his deck. Playing 3 heroes from the tactics sphere, for instance, will generate a lot of resources to play tactics cards, but playing with a combination of heroes from two or three different spheres provides a player with a broader range of card effects. Check back with us next week for a more detailed look at the four spheres of influence, and how they are represented in the game.

So, you’ve chosen your heroes and put together your first starter decks, right out of the core set. The next step is choosing a scenario. In the core set, there are three scenarios, of varying degrees of difficulty. The introductory scenario “Passage through Mirkwood” involves the players attempting to carry an urgent message from Thranduil’s palace in Mirkwood Forest to Lady Galadriel of Lorien. The second scenario, “Journey Down the Anduin,” continues the players’ journey toward Lorien. The final and most challenging scenario in the core game, “Escape From Dol Guldur,” starts with the party in one of The Necromancer’s dungeons and details their attempt to escape from the dark forest stronghold.

Each of these scenarios is a play experience unto itself, pitting the players against both a fixed Quest Deck and a randomized Encounter Deck. At the heart of the game lies the Quest Phase, during which the players commit heroes and allies to the currently revealed Quest Card. After each player has committed characters to the quest, the Encounter Deck throws enemies, dangerous locations, and Treachery Cards at the players. These obstacles build up in an area known as the staging area, adding the the Encounter Deck’s threat level, which is pitted against the willpower of the questing characters. So while the players can see some of the threats and obstacles in front of them, each time they commit characters to the quest, the game responds by adding an additional encounter card for each player. If the players have committed enough willpower, progress will be made on the quest. But if they did not commit enough, each player is penalized by raising the threat level on his dial. And take heed of this point: if a player’s threat dial reaches 50, that player is eliminated from the game!

(Custom threat dials keep track of each player's current threat level, shown here at 36)

So why would a player not commit all of his heroes and allies to a quest? Because after the Quest Phase come both the Encounter Phase and the Combat Phase. During the encounter phase, players interact with the locations, obstacles, and enemies that the Encounter Deck has been massing in the staging area, with opportunities to travel to various locations and engage the enemies in combat. But it’s not all about the players, either: enemies also track the threat level on each player’s dial, and if a player’s threat level is too high, the enemies will directly engage that player whether he wants to fight them or not! Traveling to a location or engaging an enemy in this manner reduces the threat level that is present in the staging area (which makes it easier to advance along the quest), but the players must then deal directly with the location they have travelled to, and they must fight the enemies they have engaged. And it’s generally a good idea to have some attackers or defenders at the ready, because if all of a player’s heroes are killed by attacking enemies, that player is eliminated from play! At which point, only heroes and allies who were not exhausted during the quest phase are available to participate.

Play continues in this manner, round after round, until the players have either successfully moved through all the stages of the Quest Deck (in which case they have won), or until all players have been eliminated from the game (in which case they have lost). A unique scoring system allows players to gauge the effectiveness of their party and compare how they did from session to session with different deck builds and combinations.

And that is only the start: as the game grows, more heroes and cards for each of the four spheres of influence will be introduced in monthly Adventure Pack expansions, allowing players to customize their decks to suit their style of play. Further, a new quest will be introduced with each Adventure Pack, giving players new challenges to face with their new customized decks!

Stay tuned for more previews of The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game !

The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game is a cooperative card game that puts 1-2 players (or up to four with an additional Core Set) in control of the most powerful characters and artifacts of Middle-earth. Players will select heroes, gather allies, acquire artifacts, and coordinate their efforts to face Middle-earth’s most dangerous fiends. The Living Card Game format allows players to customize their gaming experience with monthly Adventure Pack expansions to the core game.

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