Lord of the Rings: The Card Game (2011 Fantasy Flight) Review

Lord of the Rings Living card game solo play

A game that I thought would be innovative (and thus I really wanted to play) was Lord Of The Rings: The Card Game.

In Lord of the Rings, players can construct a deck of cards and heroes, and then they play cooperatively to attempt to defeat one of several scenarios that are available (each consisting of a different mix of enemies and events that the heroes will face). Each turn the players will collect resources for each of their heroes with which they can then play ally and attachment cards (or wait and play events when they would be most effective or use them for special abilities). Next, they may send some or all of their characters to go on a "quest" (this is the crux of the game - if the players never send anyone on the quest, they will lose). After questing, players can "travel" to a location - which essentially makes questing a bit easier. Next comes encounters and combat; based on how much "threat" each player has, the monsters will be divided up among the different players - and then those monsters attack. Players can choose who to use as a defender (who only serves as a shield), and then from whomever is still not "exhausted" (tapped), they can attack the monsters in front of them. Finally, the players do cleanup - untap, increase threat, assign a new first player. This continues until either the players are all dead (through having their heroes die or gaining too much threat), or until all of the phases of the quest have been completed.

My first pro of the Lord of the Rings card game is that it has found a way around the "a super-bossy person making a cooperative game miserable" problem. Often, in great cooperative games like Pandemic, a single bossy player will essentially tell everyone what to do (while all the other players are thinking of telling him where to go... and I imagine it's not a nice place) and attempt to play the game as if it was one player and he was just taking everyone's turn. However, in the Lord of the Rings card game, each person is holding an ever-changing hand of cards that only he knows. This means that each player is forced to make his own decision of what the best play is at any given time. This really helps the cooperative genre in general, and I hope that future games continue to do something like this to fix the annoying bossy guy problem.

The next pro for the Lord of the Rings card game is two-fold. First, you may construct your own deck before playing; secondly, there are different scenarios. When I first heard about the game, my immediate thought was "once I create a deck that wins, why would I ever bother buying any new expansions or creating anything else?" (Which seemed very short sighted of Fantasy Flight, the kings of the board game expansions sales.) Well, this is where quests come into play. This is the first cooperative game that I know of that has this concept of playing with different win conditions each time. (Though it's not actually win conditions - the win condition is always beat the quest; but the quest does change.) Since there are different quests, with different levels of difficulty, a player may need to construct his deck in a different way for one quest versus another - and, of course, a really dedicated player would try to create a deck that could defeat any of the quests. However, as soon as he does that, the next "adventure pack" will probably come out, consisting of a new quest for him to defeat. This will let him know if his deck really is awesome (as he assumed), or if it still has weaknesses (and the adventure pack should have new cards he could add to his deck to address these). These two concepts fit together masterfully, and I was quite pleasantly surprised by the outcome.

The next thing that I will list as a "pro" (though it's more of something that I think is interesting) is how the characters are used. Each character gets exhausted when he is used on a quest, to defend, or to attack. And, if you don't wind up putting characters in each of these three areas, you will probably lose the game. This causes an interesting balancing act. The specific thing that I think is interesting is that the characters that you use to defend get exhausted by defending and don't have the opportunity to attack. I don't think that I've ever played a game in which my characters could not attack whatever enemy was attacking them - but it adds a very frantic dynamic to the game, as you never feel like you have enough characters (which is good for a cooperative game).

As a neutral point of note before moving on to the cons - the Lord of the Rings card game seems to scale in difficulty with number of players. I have played it a few times with 4 players, and I have played it solo. With 4 players, we actually won a few times, and normally at least made progress on the quests (using the basic, un-constructed decks). I attempted the game solo with a constructed deck (albeit not a "well-constructed deck"), and I got completely obliterated each time (I need to construct the deck better, apparently). I have tried to figure out what makes it so much harder, as the number of monsters and such you see from the encounter deck does scale based on number of players. I think that it is ultimately that you cannot cover all of the different areas of strength without having extra players. (For example, some heroes heal well, others fight, others quest, others defend, etc. With less than four players, one of these areas will be missed at least to a degree.)

My first con for the Lord of the Rings card game is that there are lots of minor things to remember. Once you play it several times (especially with extra people helping keep track), the game flows pretty well. However, after about 5-7 plays, I am yet to be able to play the game without the instructions next to me as a reference guide to step through each stage. Even things that sound basic like an enemy attacking you have extra steps - you play other cards from the encounter deck on top of the attackers before they attack to see if they have a "shadow effect." It makes the game much harder to teach, and also harder to play.

The next thing that annoyed me about the Lord of the Rings card game is that it seemed designed to force you to pay extra money to get the full game. The basic starter set is designed for 1-2 players, but claims to be up to 4 players if two starter sets are combined. The main two reasons that a single starter set is only up to 2 player is that 1) there are only 2 "threat dials" (which you can remedy with a scrap piece of paper) and 2) there aren't enough cards to allow you to make 4 "tournament legal" (50 card) decks. However, if you play with scrap paper and the basic introductory decks, you can support 4 players out of a single starter deck. This really isn't a game play issue at all, but it just seemed disappointing to buy the game to immediately realize I had to buy another copy of it if I wanted to be able to play with a group.

Overall, I give Lord of the Rings: The Card Game a 9.0/10. I really enjoy the game, I appreciate the new elements that they have brought to the cooperative genre, and I look forward to seeing what the new adventure packs bring. If you aren't completely turned off by constructing a deck or by cooperative games, I would recommend trying it out.

For more reading about this game, you can check out this Review of Lord of the Rings LCG from Play Board Games, or another Review of Lord of the Rings LCG from Games With Two. You can also read my review of the Shadows of Mirkwood Expansions for Lord of the Rings, my Game of Thrones living card game review, and my Star Wars living card game review.


  1. I really like the game so far, and want to explore it more. It is definitely a "gamer's game", unless you are more familiar with CCGs (or so my son tells me).

  2. This is a really fun game. The biggest negative is how complex it is. I have little confidence when we finish and win, that we did everything correctly. How well you do is also very dependent on which cards come into play when, like the Hunt for Gollum has a ton of Locations, without the Northern Tracker, that one is near impossible to complete successfully since the combined threat will kill you off.

    A second negative is that we like to play games as a family, since there are 4 of us we can't customize the decks as much as we would like, which is further complicated in that a base set doesn't have three copies of all the cards.

    All that said, we still love to play it and are looking forward to the expansions.

  3. Sounds a lot like our dungeon crawler ECG cooperative. The starter is solitaire, you buy a delve pack to expand for 2 player co-op. Quests can be selected from 12 different ones.

  4. Any suggestions on playing this game solo? I'd really like to be able to play this game solo, and still have it be even possible to win.

  5. Sure, what would you like to know? I regularly play the game solo, and I believe I have beaten all but two of the adventures solo. (One of them is because the scenario annoyed me, and the other is the hard scenario in the base set where you have a hero kidnapped).

    To me, the easiest combinations are green & purple - focus on Steward of Gondor & drawing lots of cards. Also, Sneak Attack with Gandalf is a sweet combo.

    Not sure what all sets you have bought, but I'd recommend getting at least two base sets if you really want to build a solid deck - a lot of the best cards don't have 3 available in the base set (my biggest complaint about the game).

    Hope that helps!

  6. Well unfortunately I only have one base set, because I just started the game not too long ago. I'm going to start getting the Shadows of Mirkwood, and hopefully Khazad Dum after that. But what about the heroes? Is there any good combo you've found?

  7. Hmmm... no hero combos come to mind. You might consider getting the set that comes with "Resourceful" in it. It's one of the latest sets - possibly Watcher in the Water or Long Dark? Don't remember for sure. But, it lets you collect an extra resource per turn.

    Another combo that involves a hero is to use Gimli with the Citadel Plate (I think that was in one of the first expansions). It gives him extra hit points, so that he can be even stronger on attack!

    If you want to message me on Twitter or Facebook, I can send you my deck list when I have time so that you can see what I built - might give you some ideas.

  8. Yeah I like the Citadel Plate. But do you do all heroes from the same color, or do you mix them up?

  9. The deck I've been playing with the longest uses 2 Green Heroes & 1 Purple. Generally, Bilbo, Theoden and the one that lets you draw 2 cards as an action. There are "songs" introduced in the first 4-5 expansions that are neutral cards that let you add a resource type to a hero - it really helps with cross-colored decks.

  10. Oh! Well I don't have them yet. Hopefully I'll get them soon. I really like the red deck, and I didn't do so bad with purple. But blue has that Unexpected Courage and green had the Forest Snares that both are insanely awesome. But I think I'm sticking with red so far.

    1. This is kind of a late reply, but if you need any help w/ this game, Mr, then shoot me an email and I can give you some pointers. Same goes for anyone else new to the game and reading this review.

      Also, if anyone is interested in playing a few games on OCTaGoN some time, hit me up!

      @Josh, great review. I totally agree that the biggest problem w/ the game is it can be really fiddley to teach as it has a lot of little things to remember. Most people I have taught it to have ended up loving it, but it takes a pretty hefty time commitment to learn it.