It’s not often that we review games that were released eight years ago, but in this case there’s a good reason to revisit The Lord of the Rings Card Game. Asmodee Digital has crafted a digital version of the game (and subtly renamed it “the adventure card game” in the process), so we figured it was time to put both versions to the test.
Even though it’s been about twenty years now since Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy filmed (yes that makes me feel old), the Lord of the Rings license still has massive appeal within gaming. Warner’s “Shadow of War” is still under two years old and Daedalic has announced an upcoming Gollum-inspired title as well.
Fantasy Flight Games released a card game based on the hugely successful franchise back in 2011, and it’s a game that is still going strong today. Part of that has been the availability of expansions – perhaps also why the game is dubbed a “Living Card Game” as well. Besides the basic rules of the game, another strong aspect about it and its expansions has been that it ties into the existing lore. Most prominently, the era in between Bilbo’s birthday and Frodo leaving the Shire for good – pretty much the scope of the movie trilogy.
There’s no formal license tie-in with the New Line Cinema productions, but the thematic choices made certainly gel well with the rest of what’s out there – including a The Hobbit expansion. Expansions like that more literally follow the book’s patterns and scenes, whereas the books serve more like a backdrop for some of the other scenarios you’ll face.
As a round-based card game, a scenario typically has you choosing between an enemy confrontation or the option to quest and progress through the scenario. Obviously there’s a trade-off there, since going on a quest means the enemy has time to go unchallenged and grow stronger. The Lord of the Rings Adventure Card Game is typically played with two players in a cooperative manner (joining forces, Fellowship-style), but additional decks enable four player gameplay and you can elect to play solo as well. I always like it when a solo option is available, but this is a game best enjoyed with others – figuring out what the best decision is for your party together.
The latter’s true for the digital version as well as the physical edition – which is why we’re glad Asmodee has included online multiplayer as an option for their version of the game. It’s worth pointing out that the two versions aren’t identical though – the digital version is still in Early Access on Steam and (because of that?) features a simplified ruleset that doesn’t feature all the (optional) content that’s available for the traditional card game version. On the plus side, the digital version of the game does feature a few nice audiovisual touches to bring the game to life, including voiceovers. If you’re a videogamer and unsure about diving into a card game/battler, the current version on Steam serves as a nice intro with the full physical release providing a richer and more intricate experience.
We’ll see how the digital version develops, but one gripe that people generally have with card games is that you need to keep buying expansions to keep things interesting. Obviously this is of particular concern when you’re dealing with a living card game, but while other games seem to gradually phase out what came in the base set (essentially forcing you to keep investing), I didn’t get that feeling with Lord of the Rings. It’s nice knowing that you can expand if you want, but it’s not a necessity so you’re not looking at Magic The Gathering-types of collect-a-thons.
Instead, the game’s cards are very well balanced, making for an almost infinite number of possible decks even with a relatively small number of cards in your collection. You’re also refreshing your deck and making new choices mid-game, which again makes this a nice experience for two players together. Communication also helps when introducing new players to the game, as Lord of the Rings can be challenging and you might want to hand-pick your scenarios when you first start playing with someone who’s new to the game.
With these digital versions of table top/board/card games, it’s always interesting to see how they bridge the gap between physical and digital. We’ve seen how Asmodee previously did a good job adapting Ticket to Ride to Sony’s PlayLink technology, and their version of The Lord of the Rings card game provides a nice intro to what the physical game offers. If you’re not traditionally a card battler but love the Lord of the Rings franchise then that’s probably your perfect avenue of approach too, since experienced card battlers will likely enjoy the physical edition better. Obviously, this is doubly true if you have a vested interested in the source material!