After having a little time away with the family, I am back with more insights (or blatantly obvious facts depending on your viewpoint) into gaming. This article is partially related to last week, as it involves the OCTGN platform. But it is more specifically related to one game available upon that system.
About a year or so ago, I joined a board game trading page on Facebook. And within a week or so I had already made my first purchase. It was a co-operative card game, something I had never considered playing before, and it had piqued my curiosity (it was also a staggeringly good deal which helped). Within a week I was the proud owner of The Lord of The Rings Living Card Game by Fantasy Flight Games.
I read The Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit whilst I was younger (and later The Silmarillion and The Children of Hurin as an adult). I was almost instantly hooked on Tolkien’s world and the characters within. I was particularly drawn to the elves and thus began my fantasy gaming obsession of collecting almost everything elven I could (as my war gaming model collection will attest to – as well as nearly every RPG character I played). This was the original tale of a small band braving the wider world and finding a way to defeat an all-powerful evil against all odds.
And I am pleased to say that The Lord Of The Rings Card Game succeeded in matching this theme in almost every way.
My friend Ben (take a bow) and I have recently begun the recreating the Fellowship of the Rings over OCTGN, having played the odd game here or there before. We are already one quest in and we are absolutely hooked. And resolutely committed to cracking it (provided we encounter less Nazgul than the last time around).
The game is comprised of two sets of decks – player decks, which represent the heroes’ allies, equipment and fortuitous events that may befall them; and the encounter deck, which is enemies, locations to explore and unfortunate events that may cause further problems. The players also have between 1-3 hero cards they start with. These are the major figures from Tolkien’s fiction – Aragorn, Legolas or Frodo for example, as well as some others created for the game. There is also a series of quest cards which show the stages that have to be overcome to beat the scenario.
Each turn the players gather resources to pay for cards from their hand, go questing and then deal with any enemies that may appear. The aim is to keep their heroes alive and place enough progress points on the quest to make it to the next step. That is a very basic version of the game, which doesn’t account for the intricacies that may arise through the various combinations of cards.
The game supports both solo and multiplayer play by ensuring that you draw more encounter cards depending on the number of people playing (I would recommend playing with a friend – it is much more fun). So although you will get access to more cards and resources to beat the game, you will also have more problems thrown in your way as you try to do so. It means the game scales up nicely with extra people. But what really gives you the feel of The Lord Of The Rings is the threat mechanic.
Each hero in the game has a threat rating (currently between 5 and 14 depending on the cards) which is an indication of their power. The Hobbits tend to be on the lower side, whilst someone like Gandalf is the most expensive. At the start of the game you total up your heroes and this gives you your starting threat level. It represents how noticeable your hand of heroes is to the forces against you. As enemies appear they have an engagement number. If your threat is lower than that, they will not attack you. With low threat you can avoid unfavourable combats and hide away. It gives the feel of the Hobbits escape from the Shire or Fellowship’s journey.
Of course your threat will not stay low for long – you increase it by one every turn that passes. There are also plenty of other ways to increase it – failing to quest, certain treachery cards and even some player cards. And if your threat ever reaches 50 it is game over. Threat is a wonderfully simple mechanic that keeps the game moving along.
As the game has gone on, the designers have used the encounter and quest cards to change up the feel of the way that the game is played. You can be hunting for Gollum, journeying into the darkest caves or assaulting an Orc fortress, each of which plays differently to the next. There are also quest packs related to the events of The Lord Of The Rings and The Hobbit to recreate the journeys within.
The deck building element of the game can be a strength and but also intimidating. Players can design what they want their deck to do from the collection of cards they have. Anyone who has not had to deal with this sort of game before will probably find this confusing. There are sample lists contained within some of the expansions and some great sites like the Hall of Beorn or Tales from the Cards which offer assistance with this.
With any game with a collectable element, there is a fair expense if you want to buy every single thing. Thankfully the game is collected into cycles, which means that a single “deluxe” expansion (basically more cards) will allow you to play any of the quests from that particular set when you buy them. Also as it is a Living Card Game, you know exactly what cards will be in each set when you buy them, unlike a Collectable Card Game (like Magic The Gathering) which is a random selection in each pack.
I could gush about this game for quite some time and not even begin to scratch the surface of what makes it great. The designers have done an excellent job of recreating the feel of the books and the characters in the cards. It also has some superb artwork (I love the Galadriel hero card – it is practically perfect in every way). You clearly have a team working on this that care deeply about the source material and being as faithful as they can to it, which is all you really can ask from a licensed product.