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.


World of Warcraft Card Game Review

The World of Warcraft Trading Card Game (known among fans as WoW TCG) is a collectible card game based on Blizzard Entertainment’s ridiculously popular MMORPG, World of Warcraft. The card game was announced by Upper Deck Entertainment on August 18, 2005, and first released on October 25, 2006. The game is still in print, a testament to the popularity of the World of Warcraft series and to the quality of the card game.

During the World of Warcraft card game, players can compete head-to-head or cooperatively against bosses, on raids similar to the type found in the popular online game. Raiding cooperatively with another player against WoW bosses like Onyxia and Ragnaros sets this card game apart from most others, in which cooperative play is not a possibility. In 2010, Cryptozoic Entertainment acquired the game’s license from Upper Deck and started releasing their own expansions and card sets, keeping the game alive. As of this writing, at least one more expansion is planned, the Timewalkers: War of the Ancients expansion, set to be released in October of 2012.

How the Game is Played

Each player in the game uses a specific hero card and a backup deck made up of allies and other cards. There are cards for special weapons, abilities, different types of armor and items, and special quest cards as well. Some booster packs also contain legendary Some cards are specially-marked “rare” or “loot” cards, which connects the card game to the WoW online game, giving the card’s bearer a special virtual prize for their online character.

In the head-to-head version of the game, each player starts with one hero, and then plays support cards to make that hero stronger or add characters to that hero’s party. The goal is to damage your opponent to the point that his health hits zero, at which point you win the game.

In the raid, or cooperative version of the WoW card game, special WoW Raid Decks can be used to perform attacks on bosses, where players compete together against a common enemy. This makes this particular CCG more like a tabletop role-playing game, because Raids require a Raid Master to control the game as well as between 3 and 5 players cooperating to defeat their foe.

To date, 19 expansions and deck sets have been released, with another scheduled for release in a few months. That just goes to show you how intense WoW fan’s love of the game is. The card game has been popular, though not as massively popular as the online version, which to date has over 10 million subscription accounts. Still, 20 expansions and supplemental packs shows how much of a following this card game has.

Tournaments & Championships

Multiple tourney events exist for the WoW card game; more proof of the huge cult following the game has gained. Between special Darkmoon Faire events, which are like mini-WoW conventions based around played the card game, and national and international WoW card game tournament events, there is lots of competitive action to be found for this deck-building fantasy game.

To date, five world champions have been named, none of which have repeated. The game’s action is based on variety and deck-building, which is probably why there are no dominant players, as you see with other popular card competition games, such as Magic: The Gathering. Because new decks and new cards are constantly being released, players have to stay on top of their game, constantly adjusting their strategy and deck style to make room for new playing styles. If you are a WoW player or fan, or just a card game player that likes strategy-based, competitive and collectible card games, check out Cryptozoic Entertainment’s World of Warcraft card game.

Pokémon Card Game Review

I’ve been hounded by the Pokémon card game ever since the Christmas season of 1998 when American kids first got their sticky hands on it. Any new card game getting lots of attention will be on my radar, even a kid’s game. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of adults who play this game.

But Pokémon is a kid’s game. Pokémon is a kid’s show that no self-respecting adult fan of fantasy, anime, or anything else that wields a big two-handed sword would ever admit to actually enjoying.

A round of the Pokémon card game is simple enough: the game’s players pretend to be Pokémon trainers, the characters from the show that do battle using these little creatures that live in tiny balls. The game’s players use Pokémon and their specialized attacks to wipe out their opponents using a HP system. Any Pokémon whose HP hits 0 is taken out of the game, and the player who killed it earns a special Prize card. A game is won in one of three ways: collecting 6 prize cards, knocking out all of their opponents’ Pokémon, or if the opponent runs out of cards to draw when required.

Maybe it is the simplistic game play that upset me. Even though most card games are repetitive, there is some hint of a larger story. That’s what makes a card game more mature. In Pokémon , I never got the feeling that there was any point to my playing. That may be because I never played for cards or for money, two things that are surprisingly common among the young Pokémon card game crowd. But I think I’ll stick to more grown-up games in the future.

Pokémon is published by Wizards of the Coast, whose other huge card game, Magic: the Gathering, is another bugaboo.

Pokémon card decks, starter packs and promotional packs for expansion, sell for between $10 and $20 at my game retailer, which is standard for collectible card games. There is a secondary market for Pokémon cards, though not as big as the aftermarket for Magic cards or other rare card games. Individual Pokémon cards are on sale online and in card shops for anywhere from a couple of bucks up to hundreds of dollars. But there’s no reason why you should spend money like that just to play the Pokémon card game. A single starter deck and maybe a couple of expansion packs are all you need to get the game underway.

Wizards of the Coast knows well that a show aimed at kids with a theme song that encourages kids to “catch ‘em all” is a potential cash cow, so there have been endless expansion packs and other promotions designed to get kids to buy more and more Pokémon cards to compete with their friends. It doesn’t seem like that tactic worked well, considering that the number of people who still play Pokémon is limited and most of them aren’t exactly card collectors. Pokémon cards are bought mostly by younger card game fans who actually play the game. And that is something card game fans of any age can appreciate.

Magic the Gathering Card Game Review

Magic: The Gathering, the fantasy card game that spawned a million knock-offs,  has been at the top of the genre’s heap since it first appeared in 1993. Magic: The Gathering is the most frustrating card game I’ve ever played for one reason: I never win. I didn’t just lose most of the time or almost all the time; I lost every single time I tried to play this game.

Magic: The Gathering has enough slobbering fanboys to tell you how awesome the game is. I’m going to concentrate on what frustrated me about Magic: The Gathering eighteen years ago when it was first published, nine years ago when I gave the game another shot, and just last week when I found myself playing with some younger friends.

If you aren’t into fantasy, Dungeons & Dragons, or pictures of scantily-clad women warriors, you won’t like Magic: The Gathering. The cards themselves are the beginning of my frustrations with the game. There are simply too many Magic: The Gathering decks and themes for me to keep it all straight. Magic Antiquities, Magic Scourge, Magic Homelands—who the heck can keep all this stuff straight in their head?

Apparently, nine and ten year old boys. I see more young people playing Magic: The Gathering than any other age group. The world’s best players are barely old enough to vote, to say nothing of buying a round of ale at Ye Olde Castle Tavern or whatever. Young brains are great at memorizing, categorizing, and recalling vast amounts of information and details when they want, a great skill set for a card game with so many playing options as Magic: The Gathering.

The only other thing about Magic: The Gathering that frustrates me is that I can’t win. I tried to play when the game first appeared and promptly quit after losing no less than 20 rounds, one after the other. About a decade ago, I gave the game another chance, this time with some of the expanded edition cards. Still couldn’t win.

Just last week I got together with some younger guys for a night of gaming. Instead of playing Shadowrun like we’d all agreed, the guys pulled out their Magic: the Gathering decks and started wailing on each other’s mana or whatever. I jumped in for a game, and guess what? They all beat me, repeatedly, hand after hand.

Magic: the Gathering cards aren’t all that expensive when you get started. $20 should get you a nice deck to begin playing with. Once you start trying to buy the rare promotional cards, the game gets expensive. It is common to see individual rare Magic cards selling for $10, $20, $50, and even more. Top price for a single Magic card? $20,000 for one single out of print card. It sold a few years ago to a collectible card store in California, and the ironic thing is that the card (Black Lotus) isn’t all that valuable in the game itself. It just happens to be really rare.

I don’t think I’ll ever play Magic: The Gathering again. I just don’t like losing that much. Leave Magic to the math wizards and preteen phenoms who are best at it. There’s always good old traditional D&D for me to play. I’ll leave this intense fantasy card game to people who can take the abuse.