Deck-building games are one of my favorite types of games to play. They are usually fun, light, quick, and easy to learn and play. The nuisances of each game bring keeps players coming back; of course the usual expansions help as well. “The Lord of the Rings Deck-Building Game” offers some interesting mechanics that will intrigue both the beginner and the veteran.
The Lord of the Rings Deck-Building Game is a great introduction into deck-building. You have only one currency “Power” to worry about in this game. It is used to both defeat the enemy and gain an ally. In my opinion this makes the game a bit easier since you don’t have to worry about only being able to only defeat an enemy this turn or only buying a card. Players who wish to try a more complex deck-building game may wish to look at Dominion or Sentinels of the Multiverse.
The rules are also very straight forward and the rulebook easy to read with lots of picture references. Yet there are some great features there are a little more complex and add a lot to the game. The first is Ambush / Attack, these are random events and players much watch out for them. The first game I played I kept being the one ambushed and it really hurt me early in the game. I couldn’t get any Defense cards and it seemed every turn I was forced to discard cards or take corruption. I worry that this may happen to other new players and could really turn them off of the game. I was able to weather the attacks and ended up discarding all my Corruption and only narrowly lost the game. Close games also seemed to be the trend in our play sessions as the winner usually only won by a few VP. This, Fortune Cards, and attack cards can make the game more about luck, than about strategy. You could plan the perfect strategy but be undone by multiple ambushes and your opponents getting all the fortune cards. This luck element could be a turn-off to some players.
I also found the Quests included on the cards to be a neat feature. Certain cards allow players to gain victory points for each card of that type they acquire. For example the “Elven Brooch” card gives players 5 VP if they have five or more artifacts in their deck at the end of the game. These are a great way to gain victory and I enjoyed collecting artifacts and allies to gain extra victory points at the end of the game. Of course cards that let me have a more powerful action or destroy cards when I had an ally really encouraged me to take on ally quests. But this is the essence of deck-builders; building a deck of cards that strengthen each other. Of course the fact that Quests were all or nothing may turn some players off of those cards. They won’t want to worry about the side quests as they look at the bigger picture of defeating the Archenemies. Perhaps variable point scores or more copies of certain card types will add a greater purpose and ease to Quests in future expansions.
I have heard complaints about the lack of theme and I agree for the most part. The fact that you can take the DC Comics deck-builder that uses the same system and mix them together proves this. Players are playing one character and receive one unique starting card. These cards can dictate how players build their deck and play the game. It not terribly thematic but it does play to the theme of the game. For example, Boromir gains more power with his unique card the more enemies he kills. So this may lead a player who wouldn’t usually just go after enemies to do so and thus gain attack cards to use against their fellow players.
There is also an impossible mode that is included in the game to offer some mystery and re-playability. There are eight Impossible Mode Archenemies included in a separate secret pack. As these are to be kept secret so players don’t know what lies ahead I won’t say anything specific. Just that they are hard. Corruption is also not destroyed in Impossible Mode.
The Lord of the Rings Deck-Building game also makes it nice for a weeknight game as set-up, rules explanations, and game play can quickly occur. I play mostly two player and it certainly works well two player. Turns are quick and the Ambush and Archenemies keep you on your toes between your turns.
There is nothing absolutely amazing about this game but it does have things to offer to the right person. Players who like Lord of the Rings, enjoyed the movies, are new to deck-builders, and don’t mind the lack of theme will really enjoy this game. Quests, ambushes Archenemies, and the Impossible Mode, make the game unique and add re-playability. Those looking for a deeper and more complex game may want to try another deck-builder. Because of the theme it is also suggested that players be 15 and older. I agree with this because though younger players may grasp the mechanics the theme may not appeal to them as much. Overall I enjoyed The Lord of the Rings Deck Building Game and have enjoyed my gaming experiences. Luck in the draw doesn’t bother me as smart play will mitigate some of the luck. Time will tell if has found a permanent spot in my collection.
Designers: Ben Stoll, Patrick Sullivan (II)
Publishers: Cryptozoic Entertainment
Game Length: 30 minutes
Ages: 15 and up