Article by: Kristen McCarty
JRR Tolkien’s Middle Earth has inspired writers, artists, actors and even game designers. The Lord of the Rings seems to be a popular theme and I was not surprised when a deck-building game was published.
I was a late bloomer, not discovering the fascinating world of Tolkien until I was in high school and college. After a friend suggested I read “The Hobbit” my eyes were opened and I soon completed all the volumes of Middle Earth. Of course “The Hobbit” will always hold the most special place for me since it was my first read. I also thoroughly enjoyed the movies and have watched the extended editions several times. Therefore the movie tie-in for this game was not the least bit off putting to me.
Components / Set – Up
The Game comes with 226 cards, 7 Hero Cards, and the rulebook. As this is a deck-building game, it’s all about the cards. The cards themselves are nice card stock and seem to be very durable. I really like the card back which shows a map
of Middle Earth. Since you will be seeing the back of the card as much as the front, this is certainly an important point for me. The ugly card back of some other deck builders have given me pause when considering a purchase. I also like the movie photos on the cards as well, but I know some people would prefer a drawing or painting. That said, the pictures are clear and from memorable moments of the movie.
Because there is no board the game is also very portable. A large deck box would be sufficient to carry all the cards if one wishes to travel with the game. Just don’t expect there to be room for the expansions which are sure to be coming soon.
1. Heroes & Starting Decks
At the start of the game each player is dealt a random hero. You could be Frodo, Legolas, Gandalf, Aragorn, or Samwise. Of course you could pick your favorite to play. Those not chosen should be set aside. Each hero has a unique starting card. For example, Arragorn starts with “Aragorn’s Sword.” After receiving their unique starting card, each player should also been given their starting deck of three Despair Cards, and six Courage Cards.
Courage gives players power, which is the currency in the game. Power allows players to buy better cards and improve their decks as the game progresses. Despair is to show the things that cause the member of the Fellowship to falter. These cards don’t do anything for a player and it is advisable to discard them from your deck if possible.
2. Main Deck
116 cards make up the main deck. Most of the cards added to your deck come from these cards. There are different types of cards that may be found in this deck: Locations, Allies, Artifacts, Fortune, Enemy, Maneuver, and enemy with attack and ambush. This deck should be shuffled and placed in the center of the table.
Archenemy, Courage, Despair, Valor, Corruption, and Heroes’ unique starting cards should not be shuffled with this deck.
3. The Archenemy Stack
There are 12 archenemy cards that come with the game. Usually only eight of these enemies are used but if players wish for a longer game they may add extras. The Nazgul and Lurtz are used in every game, representing the first and last enemies encountered. The Nazgul are placed on top of the Archenemy stack and Lurtz on the bottom.
There are four levels of the archenemies. The Nazgul are the only level 1 archenemy. There are five level 2 archenemies, five level 3, and as single level 4, Lurtz.
To create the archenemy stack Lurtz is placed face down on the bottom, and the level 3 cards are shuffled, three are chosen at random and placed face down on Lurtz. Then the level two are shuffled and three randomly selected. These are placed face down on the stack and then the Nazgul are placed on top of the archenemy stack, face-up. As one is defeated the next arch enemy is revealed.
4. The Path
Now, take the top five cards from the main deck and place them on the table face up to form the Path. The Path is where the members of the Fellowship will have encounters. During the first round, the first player will not be affected by any ambush cards that come out and any Fortune cards that start in the Path at the beginning of the game should be put on the bottom of the main deck and replaced.
After creating the Path, place the Valor, Archenemy, and Corruption stack at the end of the Path in everyone’s reach. Valor starts with 16 cards and Corruption with 20, no matter the number of players. Valor and archenemy cards are always available to be bought or defeated but Corruption is only gained by unfriendly card effects.
After set-up players start the game by shuffling their starting deck and drawing five cards. After deciding on the start player, turns are taken in a clock-wise order. Each turn a player may may cards from the path, Valor cards, and / or the top card of the Archenemy deck. Cards you buy or gain are always placed in your discard pile unless card instructions say otherwise. Discard piles are always face-up and are shuffled back into the deck. These new cards are more powerful than the starting cards and build up the effectiveness of your deck, thus the reason it is called a “deck-building” game.
Players may buy any number of available cards with combined cost less than or equal to the amount of Power a player has each turn. For example, Courage cards give a player +1 Power. If four are drawn and no other cards with any Power are drawn the players has a total power of 4. They can buy a single card with 2, 3 or 4 or even two cards with a cost of 2. Valor cards are usually available if the cards in the path are too expensive and a player may buy more than one. Of course a player may pass if they don’t wish to purchase any cards.
Order of Playing Cards
On a players turn they may play their hand cards in an order of their choice. When a card is played the game text resolves immediately. When the player has played all the cards they wish to play, they total up the Power accumulated and buy what they wish to buy from the Path or the face-up stacks. A player is not required to play their entire hand before they start making purchases.
Ending Players Turn
1. Once a player has finished a turn, they place all the cards they played and any cards remaining in their hand into their discard pile. Any unspent Power from the cards played during the turn is lost. Then the player should draw a new hand of five cards and the player on their left should take their turn.
2. If any of the Path slots are empty, draw cards off the main deck and add them to the Path. Remember to not replace any empty slots as soon as a card is gained from the path, only at the end of the turn.
3. If the top card of the Archenemy stack is face down, flip it face up and reveal the next Archenemy.
Additional Rules During Game Play
Attacks and Defenses
Some cards allow a player to attack the other players in the game. When a game with an Attack Ability is played each other player has the opportunity to avoid the attack with a card that has a Defensive ability. A player using a Defense card’s ability negates the attack for only that defending player. A player may also play one Defense card per Attack. Any player who does not avoid the Attack is affected by it. Avoiding an Attack does not negate any other abilities of a card, unless an ability specifically counts the players successfully hit by the Attack.
An Ambush is a type of Attack found on Enemy cards in the main deck. When a card with the word “Ambush” in its text box enters the Path between turns the next player is ambushed at the start of their turn. If a card played during a turn adds new cards to the Path, any Ambushes do not happen.
If a player is ambushed by multiple cards, they may choose the order in which they are resolved. After resolving each Ambush card, your turn continues as normal. Defense cards may be used to avoid Ambushes, but it takes a separate Defense card to avoid each Ambush.
Fortune cards represent the moments of good luck that the Fellowship encounters or other significant story moments. Fortunes have a cost of 0, so even a player with no cards in hand can buy a Fortune during their turn. When a Fortune is bought or gained (by any means), it is immediately played, resolved and then destroyed. If a player gains a Fortune during another player’s turn, it will resolve as normal. However the +3 Power from Raging River is not usable during another players turn. After resolving a Fortune, the current player’s turn continues as normal.
Some Attack and Ambush cards force players to gain Corruption. Usually, unless the cards says otherwise, the player will place the Corruption into their discard pile. These cards have no ability and can be kept in a players hand and discarded at the end of their turn. At the end of the game each Corruption in a player’s deck subtracts 1 Victory Point from their total. If the Corruption Deck runs out, effects that would give a player a Corruption do not do so. A player may still play a Defense card to avoid the attack or Ambush. In Impossible Mode, destroyed Corruption is placed back in the stack instead of being removed from the game.
Shuffling Your Deck
A player does not reshuffle their discard pile into their deck as soon as they run out of cards. However, if at any point during the game if there are no cards in their deck and they need to draw, discard, or reveal a card from the deck, immediately they reshuffle the discard pile to form a new deck.
Location cards go straight to the discard pile when bought or gained, just like any other card. However, when they are drawn and played, the card remains face up and in play in front of you for the rest of the game. Each location has an effect that will happen based on the game text of the card. The word Ongoing is a reminder that this card keeps working for a player turn after turn. A player can have any number of Locations in play at once. Once a location is in play, it no longer counts as a card in your hand.
Some cards have an ability that lets a player destroy a card from their hand, deck, graveyard, or even the Path. When you destroy a card, place it into a face-up pile of destroyed cards anywhere away from the play area. These cards are removed from the game. A player will usually be able to choose which cards they destroy. Destroying Despair and Corruption cards will improve a players deck. If Valor or Corruption cards are destroyed they do not go back to their respective decks.
When a card tells you to gain a particular card or a card of your choice, that card is taken and immediately placed in your discard pile, at no additional cost, unless otherwise directed by the card. If a card tells you to gain a card with a specific name, card type or cost, and there are none available, you simply gain no card.
Resolving Card Abilities
If a card’s ability affects multiple players, and the order matters (for example, an Attack that has each of three opponents gain a Corruption, with only two Corruptions remaining in the stack), resolve that ability for each affected player in clockwise order, starting from the player who played the ability. When you play a card that triggers another effect, like on a location you control, fully resolve the card you are playing before resolving any secondary effects triggered by your card.
When a player has enough Power in a turn, they may choose to defeat an Archenemy. If they do, they take the topmost face-up card from the stack and place it into their discard pile, unless otherwise noted. The next card in the Archenemy stack remains face-down until that player’s turn is over.
After the Nazgul are defeated newly revealed Archenemies will often make a Group Ambush. When revealed on the Archenemy stack, this ambush resolves immediately against each player in the game. Any player with a Defense card may defend against the Group Ambush, unless the card says otherwise. The Ambush will resolve against any player who did not defend themselves. Group Ambushes do no happen during any player’s turn and therefore happen before any regular Ambush occurs. Keep track of regular Ambushes that will happen after the Archenemy’s Group Ambush by moving the Ambushing cards slightly out of the Path. After the Ambushes, line them back up with the rest of the cards.
Archenemy in Your Deck
Like any other card a player acquires the experience gained defeating an Archenemy will aid you in your future turns. When you play an Archenemy card from your hand, the text at the top of the text box is the relevant text. The Group Ambush is no longer applicable. Archenemies are enemy cards; Archenemy is a tile, not a card type, so playing an Archenemy does not count as playing two different card types.
End of Game
The game ends immediately when either of the following two conditions is met:
- The final Archenemy, Lurtz is defeated.
- You are unable to refill all five slots of the Path
Once the game has ended, players total up the Victory Points on cards in their deck. Corruption cards in their deck at the end of the game subtract Victory Points (VP) from your total. The player with the highest VP total is crowned the winner. In case of a tie the player with more Archenemy cards wins.