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Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Lord of the Rings: The Card Game Overview

Introduction
Recently, I've been smitten by Fantasy Flight's Cooperative living card game (LCG) The Lord of the Rings. I was looking for a fun card game after playing the Decipher Star Wars CCG with Jon, and initially picked up FFG's Star Wars LCG. After playing through a few times, I decided the game wasn't for me, as it just didn't feel like Star Wars. I was ready to give up on my quest to find a fun card game when this twitter exchange happened:
While I definitely plan to jump into Netrunner soon, a new voice rose from the shadows:
Now, with just that offhanded remark from PIflamesofwar, my interest was piqued! I did a bit of research, and ordered the core set. I was a bit hesitant about jumping into a "living" card game, as I'd been down the CCG road a few times before. The nice thing about LCGs (More on FFG's LCG here) is that you know exactly what you're getting in every pack of cards, yet new cards are always coming out keeping the game exciting. It's a very good approach that reduces randomness, but still ensures you're parting with your money on the regular.

Next, I was off to watch FFG's excellent tutorial videos to learn the basics: http://www.fantasyflightgames.com./ffg_content/lotr-lcg/tutorial/lotrlcg_player.html but for those of you who don't wish to sit through them, I will do my best to summarize below, but understand this article is not exhaustive!

Game Basics
Aragorn's starting threat is 12
(blue number in the top left)
Overview
I was initially drawn to the game because it is Cooperative (or solitaire!). One or more players each construct decks of 50ish cards and between one and three heroes who hail from 4 spheres:

  • Leadership with a focus on influential figures who inspire their comrades to great deeds.
  • Tactics which focuses on martial prowess on the battlefield.
  • Spirit that emphasizes strength of will, which aids the allies along their quest
  • Lore which represents a heroes wisdom and intellectual prowess
The core set decks are separated by sphere, but players will quickly wish to advance to building their own decks of two or even three different spheres to maximize their capabilities.

Threat
One major effort the players undertake each turn is keeping their "threat level" to a minimum. Your starting threat is equal to the sum of all of your heroes' threat level. Typically, the better your hero is, the higher their starting threat. At the end of each turn your threat level advances by one; unsuccessfully questing and treachery cards (more on this later) are additional sources of increased threat. If a players' threat reaches 50, he is immediately removed from the game.

Card Types
Hero decks are made up of 3 card types (not including heroes, which start in play):
  • Allies who, along with heroes, form your characters that make up your questing party
  • Events which can boost your allies, hinder your foes, and do all sorts of fun things
  • Attachments such as weapons, mounts, blessings, etc that can be attached to your characters or enemies.
Allies as well as heroes have 4 primary stats: willpower (how good they are at questing) and attack/defense/hit points. They also have action/or ability text that differentiates them.

Events are typically one-use cards played as either a Response to another action taking place, or are played during player actions.

Attachments as well as allies can only be played during a player's planning phase.

All three type of player cards have a cost associated with them, representing how difficult it is to bring it into play (more on this later!)

Encounter Cards form the enemy's deck, and are also comprised of three different types of cards: Lands which the heroes must explore, Enemies which the heroes must fight, and Treachery which often directly impact the players in a negative way. Occasionally encounter cards also include neutral allies and objectives the heroes must obtain. Lands and enemies both feature a "threat" number which represents how they are making the heroes' quest harder even when not directly engaged.

Some Encounter cards also have a "Shadow effect" which will impact combat- more on this later. In the Eastern Crows example on the left, he has an engagement value of 30 (more on this as well!) a threat of 1, an attack of 1, a defense of 0, and 1 hit point. He also has a shadow effect. The symbol on the right (the eye of mordor) is used to construct unique encounter decks, based on the scenario.

Scenarios are also made up of one or more two sided Scenario/Quest cards that set out the problem the heroes must solve.
Basic Play
Pre-game Setup
At the start of the game, players set their heroes in front of them and then shuffle their decks. Next, they setup the scenario by reading the "setup" instructions on card 1 (side A) of their chosen scenario. This will instruct the players how to setup the "staging area" (the area where enemy cards reside before being engaged/explored by players). On the right side of card 1A, symbols tell the player which decks to use to construct the encounter deck. In this example, the characters have stumbled upon the treacherous Spiders in Mirkwood, and so are instructed to create their encounter deck from 3 of the 7 encounter sets from the core box: "passage through mirkwood", "spiders of mirkwood", and "Dol Guldur Orcs". Those decks are shuffled together to create a thematic enemy deck.

Once the scenario is setup, the top card of the quest deck is flipped to side B. Note the "8" in the bottom left- that is how many quest tokens must be placed on this quest card to proceed to the next phase of the quest.

Once the scenario has been setup, and the staging area prepped, the players may draw 6 cards. Either player may take one mulligan to hope for a better starting hand, but no more than one. After this, the players decide who the "First Player" will be for the round, and then get started!

Resource
For each living Hero a player controls, one resource token is placed on that hero's card. These resources are used to play cards from your hand. Note that there must be a "resource" match within the sphere. If I wanted to play a Spirit card that cost 2 resources, I must spend 2 spirit resources on that card. So if I have 2 Spirit heroes, and 1 tactics hero, I am effectively generated 2 spirit and 1 tactics resource per turn. That means it may take multiple turns for me to play high-cost tactics cards, since I only have the one tactics hero.

Planning
Each player, starting with the first player, may now play ally and attachment cards from their hand. Certain actions may also be triggered at this phase.

Quest Phase
Next, players must choose what characters to commit to the Quest. Questing is essential to move the party forward in the scenario, however, committing a character to a quest leaves that character "exhausted" and thus unable to attack or defend in subsequent phases. 

After the players mutually decide what characters are committed to the Quest, 1 card per player is drawn from the Encounter Deck and immediately resolved. Lands and enemies are immediately placed in the staging area, while treachery cards are resolved immediately.

Banks of the Anduin has a threat of 1
and requires 3 quest points to explore
Once the Encounter cards have been played, the threat level of all lands and enemy cards in the staging area is added up and compared to the sum of the willpower of all characters committed to the quest. If the total willpower is higher than the sum of the threat from enemies and lands in the staging area, the heroes have quested successfully. For every point of willpower over the threat level, a quest token is placed on the active quest card. If there are ever tokens equal to or higher than the number required to complete a quest, that quest is automatically completed and the next quest card is drawn. If the quest is failed, however, then for every point UNDER the total threat the combined willpowers are, each player raises their threat by one.

Travel
Immediately following the resolution of the quest phase, players decide as a group if they'd like to travel to a location currently in the staging area. Should they do so, that location becomes the active location, and is removed from the staging area (and thus no longer contributing it's threat level for future questing), however it now acts as a buffer for the quest card- all quest tokens that would normally be placed on the quest card are now placed on the active location. Locations have a value specifying how many tokens need to be added to "explore" the location. Anytime a location has enough quest tokens on it to be explored, it is immediately discarded. The active location can only be removed by successful questing.

Encounter
Misty Mountain Goblins has an
engagement value of 15
During the Encounter phase, monsters can engage the players and enter in martial combat! The first part of the Encounter phase allows the players (starting with the first player) to optionally engage one enemy in the staging area. This could be useful if, say, one player has a lot of combat-ready heroes while the other player does not. In either case, each player may only optionally engage ONE enemy.

Next, starting with the first player, enemies in the staging area make engagement checks. To perform an engagement check, start at the enemy in the staging area with the highest engagement value and compare it to the first player's threat level. If the enemy's engagement value is equal to or less than the player's threat level, that enemy immediately engages the player. Now, alternating players, you continue this process until there are no enemies left in the staging area who could engage players. Essentially, this means that while the players' threat level is low, many of the larger enemies will remain in the staging area unless optionally engaged. 


Remember that enemies and lands in the staging area contribute threat during the quest phase, while enemies that are engaged with players and lands that have been traveled to do not.

Combat- defending
Let this be the hour we draw swords together! Starting with the first player, every enemy that is engaged with
a player is dealt a card from the encounter deck, face down on top of it. This is called the "Shadow Card". Next, beginning with the first player, each enemy's attack is resolved. Each attack follows these steps:

  • Choose an enemy
  • Declare a character (hero or ally) as the defender. The card must exhaust to defend.
  • Reveal the encounter/shadow card and resolve its effects. If the card has no shadow effect, simply discard it (See the Misty Mountai Goblins card above for an example of a shadow effect, always separated from the main text by the skull/shadow symbol divider).
  • Compare the enemy's attack value to the defender's defense value. If the attack value is higher than the defense value, a number of wounds are taken on the character equal to the difference. Obviously, if a character ever has as many wounds as hitpoints, that character is immediately removed from play along with all attachments.
If an attack occurs without a defending character, it is called an undefended attack. This can happen if all characters are already exhausted, or sometimes you may even choose to leave an attack defended- perhaps you'd like to leave your characters ready (unexhausted) so they can attack! In either case, when an undefended attack occurs, the FULL value of the enemy's attack must be immediately taken on a HERO, ignoring their armor value. 

Combat- attacking
Now that all enemy attacks have been resolved, the good guys finally have a chance to swing back. Starting with the first player
  • Choose an enemy you are engaged with as the target of your attack.
  • Declare and exhaust one or more characters who will attack that enemy.
  • Total all of the attacking characters' attack value and compare it with the enemy's defense value.
  • As before, place wounds for every attack point over the defense value on the enemy, and if that enemy's wounds are greater than its hit points, it's destroyed.
Note: characters with RANGED may be declared as an attacker against enemies engaged with another player, while characters with SENTINEL may be declared as a defender against enemies engaged with another player.

Note 2: As you can see, managing your characters' readiness is very important. Commit too much to the quest (and thus exhausting characters) and you may not have enough left to defend. Commit too heavily to defense, and you won't have anyone left to kill the bad guys!

Refresh
Finally, all exhausted cards refresh, Each player raises their threat by 1, and the first player token is passed to the left.

Closing 
That sums up the very basics of the game. I've really quite enjoyed the game- the mechanics FEEL like Lord of the Rings. Cooperative play brings the Fellowship of the Ring to mind, as the good guys join forces in a desperate fight against evil. The mechanics similarly feel very much in-line with the theme, while still allowing for fun and powerful card combos. Deck building is addictive, especially as the card pool is now fairly expansive.

In continuing articles, I will explore the game a bit more in depth, and maybe even do a few quest writeups. Please sound off on our forums and let me know what you think!

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