The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game Review

Decipher, Inc.’s The Lord of the Rings trading card game, known as LotR TCG among fans, was printed between 2001 and 2007, featuring a companion online version that lasted until 2010. Though the game is now out of print, a nine year run is a good accomplishment for any card game  designer, and the fact that you can still find LotR TCG cards online and in comic shops is a good sign that the game still has a few faithful fans.

The game had its official release in November of 2001, and it borrows heavily from Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings movie series as well as the novels by J. R. R. Tolkien that the films were based on. While it was in print, LotR TCG won some major awards – in the year 2002, the game won two Origins Awards, one for Best Trading Card Game of 2001 and another for Best Graphic Presentation of a Card Game.

While Decipher also bought the rights to produce a game based on The Hobbit, the company has yet to announce or release any games or cards based on that character, even though a major movie trilogy is being released over the next few years. Only time will tell if I’ll get a chance to play as part of The Hobbit‘s universe or not.

One of the cool features of this game that set it apart from other fantasy titles is that the images on the cards are almost all pulled straight from the movies, with artists at Wet Workshop working starting in 2004 to add images for characters and objects in the game that aren’t mentioned in the film. For the most part, this collectible game’s pictures will be familiar to fans of the three films in Jackson’s original trilogy.

As for the online companion competition – the game play online was identical to live action play, and the online game had its own economy for the buying, selling, and trading of in-game cards. Unfortunately, the game’s servers shut down for the final time in June of 2010.

More About the LotR Collectible Game Rules

This review of the game‘s basic rule book does an excellent job of explaining how simple this game’s rules really are. Most actions in the game require a single die roll and maybe a modifier or two.

Another thing I like about Fantasy Flight’s Lord of the Rings LCG is that it is an inexpensive hobby to maintain. Used or new-in-packaging cards, from various editions, are available right now at eBay for under $30, with individual cards available for a couple of bucks apiece.

Game Overview

Two or more people can play, but each needs to have their own deck of cards featuring an equal number of Free People and Shadow cards – decks must be no smaller than 30 cards.

During each player’s turn,  their Free People cards are active. The purpose of the game is to move through the landscape and destroy the One Ring using your Free People cards. Every other player in the game becomes an opponent, known as a Shadow Player, who uses cards to prevent the active player’s march toward destroying the Ring by trying to either kill or convert the ring-bearer to the dark side.

The game offers all kinds of ways to slow down your opponment’s path to victory just long enough for your own Fellowship of the Ring to destroy the ring first. The winner of the game is the player whose Free People cards survive the ninth game site. An alternative way to win – corrupt all of the opposing team’s ring-bearers and be the last team standing.

How Cards are Played

This collectible game uses a system called the twilight pool in order for players to lay down their game pieces. Each card in the series has a numerical cost to play–to play Free People cards, players have to add tokens to the pool according to the card’s cost. On the other hand, when acting as Shadow players, opponents can only play as many cards as they have twilight tokens in the pool. The result is that a team’s Fellowship gets stronger the more Free Peoples join the party, since that team’s ability to play Shadow cards increases.

There is an interesting penalty system in this game clearly based on the psychological aspect of Jackson’s films. A team’s Ring-bearer has to fight off the demons and other opponents summoned as Shadow characters as he tries to destroy the Ring, but he also must resists the temptation of the Ring itself. Just like the movie, a team’s Ringer-bearer can give in to the temptation of the ring, which tends to have disastrous consequences.

Every player in the game has a specific resistance stat, which shrinks every time the Ring-Bearer becomes more tempted by its power. Should your Ring-bearer’s resistance score hit zero, you are totally corrupt by the Ring’s power, and you have lost the game.

More About Decipher’s LotR Card Game

All told, nineteen sets of cards and booster packs were created before the game went out of print. That’s good news for those of you that want to try your hand at this title – the cards are easy enough to find and they aren’t particularly expensive. The variety of boosters and additional cards helps make every game different from the one before – it has a lot of replay value, which isn’t always true of licensed fantasy games.

Because it sticks close to Tolkien and Jackson’s visions of Middle-Earth fairly closely, and because the idea of actively battling against each player in the game during your Shadow round means there is no down-time, Decipher’s Lord of the Rings collectible game is one of our favorite fantasy titles in recent years.


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