Sunday, 8 May 2011

The Lord of the Rings LCG Review



I've been waiting for this game since Fantasy Flight announced it last year and I finally sat down and played my first game last night. The Lord of the Rings LCG is an incredibly fun game with elegant mechanics and the high quality production value that everyone's come to expect from Fantasy Flight- although it does suffer from some balance issues at the moment.

First off, for those of you who aren't familiar with Fantasy Flight's range of Living Card Games or LCGs, of which there are a few including Call of Cthulhu, Game of Thrones and Warhammer: Invasion; are a lot like Collectable Card Games a la Magic The Gathering, but instead of having random boosters, card expansions are released in set packs. The reasoning for this is sound - rather than sinking hundreds of whatever currency you're using into randomized cards in hope of snagging those rares, LCGs give you the deck building experience but with non-randomized expansions. Not only that, these monthly releases also continue to tell a story in that game's universe - hence the 'living' part.

Now that's done, lets bite straight into the juicy meat of the matter. The Lord of the Rings LCG is a co-operative game, in which players join forces to combat the agents of Sauron and complete a series of quests. One brilliant aspect of the game is that, because the quests are 'programmed' and the encounters random, you're able to play this solo very nicely - although it's a tad tougher that way.

There are four deck types that correspond to 'Spheres of Influence': Lore, Tactics, Spirit and Leadership. Each player controls one of these decks and three heroes that go with them. The decks play differently to one another and use varying strategies for victory. I used Leadership, which is a resource powerhouse, allowing you to spend lots to play cards - but I've heard that Tactics is a difficult deck to play at the moment, so they're going to have to sort out these balancing issues in future expansions. You can also use decks with multiple spheres, which will be something that will happen much more in tournament play I imagine.

The way to win the game is to progress through a series of quests, represented by quest cards. You do this by committing heroes and allies to the quest to try and add enough progress counters to the quest card in order to complete it. Of course, life isn't that simple as you'll also be fending off Spiders, Orcs and other evil creatures, as well as detrimental events and exploring threatening locations. The main mechanic behind the game is Threat. You get  a nifty Threat Tracker, which displays the current threat level of the game. Each round the threat increases, which makes it more likely that an enemy will automatically engage you in combat rather than letting you wander around unnoticed. If the threat level reaches 50 the player loses the game. You can also lose by having all your heroes die. These two losing factors make for a tense and strategic game - since you have to decide whether you should commit your heroes to questing in order to progress, or wait to see if a big bad monster shows up so they can fight it - questing heroes and allies can't fight in combat as well.

Combat resolution is really simple, but also quite unpredictable. While the game goes for the classic 'try beat its defence with your attack' the addition of Shadow Cards make combat more dynamic and fun. How Shadow works is when an enemy engages you, you take the top card of the encounter deck and attach it to the enemy. Once you have selected a hero or ally to defend you flip the attached card over and see if it has the 'Shadow' text. This will often boost the enemy's attack, or do damage to other heroes. Either way, they can be deadly.

There are three scenarios included in the rules, each with ranging difficulties. I played the first scenario, which is difficulty 1, which kept me playing for around two hours, but scenarios range up to difficulty 7! Eek!

With four player decks and three scenarios, The Lord of the Rings LCG has enough to keep you playing for a long time, even before the expansions are released. The counters included are high quality, although the cards themselves feel a little flimsy. Overall the game is a joy to play and I'll definitely be investing in future sets.