Lord of the Rings: The Card Game

A cooperative card game based on one of the greatest fantasy books of all time!
John Fox - Staff Reviewer

Content at a glance:

Manufacturer's Suggested Ages: 13+

Number of players: 1-2 (1-4 with 2 base sets).

Playing time: 60 minutes.

Lord of the Rings: The Card Game is a fun cooperative game for 1-4 players that is suitable for any fan of the books.

“Yet it is not our part to master all the tides of the world, but to do what is in us for the succour of those years wherein we are set, uprooting the evil in the fields that we know, so that those who live after may have clean earth to till. What weather they shall have is not ours to rule.”
-Gandalf, The Return of the King

Lord of the Rings: The Card Game is a cooperative Living Card Games for 1-2 players (or 1-4 with 2 core sets) of average complexity and published by Fantasy Flight games. It takes place between when Bilbo left the Ring to Frodo in LOTR and Frodo left the Shire. The players control various heroes from the books, such as Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli, who go on various non-cannon, but still thematically correct, quests.

Living Card Games are Fantasy Flight’s line of expandable card games. Unlike CCGs such as Magic the Gathering, the game is expanded not by buying booster packs with random cards in them but with smaller expansions with set cards in them. Though each adventure pack is about the same price as buying booster packs, a 60-card expansion is about $15 MSRP, rarity is not an issue since you know exactly what you are going to get.

The base set includes three totally different adventures as well as many player cards, with some duplicates. The art is great and the other included components are high quality. Each small expansion includes a new adventure as well as a new hero and cards for the player card types. There is also a big box expansion based around Khazad-dûm which starts off a new adventure cycle, as well as two ones based on the Hobbit set for later this year.

The goals of the adventure differ from quest to quest. Each quest has one or more adventure cards which give a thematic overview of the adventure, as well the set up instructions and goals that must be achieved to complete the card. Finish the last card and you win the adventure.

Usually players have to place a specific amount of progress markers to complete the card. This is done by sending heroes and allies on the quest, but by doing so they are unable to do anything else. Each turn one or more cards are drawn from the encounter deck. These can be monsters which the players have to fight, various locations that the player can explore or events that hinders the player. The first two stay on the table and have a specific “threat” they generate. Players must have an equal or greater total amount of “willpower” of the characters sent on the quest; if not each player must increase their threat counter by the negative amount and you can place no progress markers on the quest card. If the player’s threat counter ever gets to 50 or higher he or she has attracted the attention of Sauron and that player loses. Also each player’s starting threat is different depending on what heroes go on the quest and is increases by one each turn, making the game a race against time.

Locations can be cleared by the player by having a hero committing to a quest like quest cards. Monsters can attack heroes or allies. Only characters that are not “tapped” from questing or other special abilities can defend OR attack the creature to defeat it. As you can see players have to strategically decide each turn what to have their heroes do and work together to achieve specific goals.

Some quests can be pretty difficult. While the game does scale somewhat based on the number of players, I do get the feeling that some quests are easier with a specific number of players. For instance, the hardest one I’ve played is the Conflict at the Carrock expansion, which has the players fighting four named trolls at the same time regardless of the number of players. Still I am pretty sure each quest is accomplishable with any number of players.

The difficulty is one reason why teamwork is the key in this game. One player may be designated as the quest person while the other the more battle oriented player, protecting the other while his characters attempt to progress through the quests cards. As each quest is different and players can make their own decks, this leads to a whole number of different options…at least when you’ve bought enough expansions.

That is perhaps my biggest gripe about the game, that there are not enough player cards. Each card type only gets around 40 total in the base set, which is not enough to make a legal deck, and each expansion only includes a few new player cards with some duplicates, making most of the cards dedicated to the bad guys. Without this bias the quests would not feel completely different from each other, so it is more of a double edged sword.


Thankfully the game is squeaky clean content wise. There is nothing in the game that is out of place with the Lord of the Rings world. Players fight monsters such as orcs, giant spiders and the Balrog, and while some of the art may be too scary for very young players, it is never gruesome. All the women are well clothed as well. A few characters are smoking pipes like in the books. While there are the wizards Gandalf and Radagast, and there is only one spell card so far. It allows you to search your deck for a card if you exhaust a wizard. There probably will be more spell cards in the future. Fordo is a hero in an expansion and has the One Ring which may be worn to trade damage against him for threat, but there is no evil or corruption element to it like in the books. Also parents can feel fine introducing their children to the LOTR universe since if they are ready to play the game they should be about the right age to read the books, unlike the Game of Thrones or the Call of Cthulhu card games.

I love the Living Card Game system. It presents a sane way for me to collect cards and not have to worry about the rarity problem of CCGs. Coupled with an excellent game based on the Lord of the Rings universe makes the game a winner for me. It is simple enough that most can learn it but has enough complexity to please card game enthusiasts. Easily recommended to those want a fun game based on one of the greatest fantasy series of all time.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this Spotlight review are those of the reviewer (both ratings and recommendations), and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Eden Communications or the Answers Network.

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