Lord of the Rings:LCG - reviews and general thoughts

It all started with accepting 100 plays challenge and pledging to comment each play. Soon my thoughts outgrew the BGG comment format and also FFG's forum. I decided to post them in a form of a blog here. In time I got rid of session reports and replaced them with expansions reviews. Enjoy.

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Polish version of LOTR:LCG is no more. What does it mean (if anything) for the game?

Wojtek Wojcik
Poland
Kraków(Cracow)
Malopolska
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Facts
Galakta, Polish publisher of LOTR:LCG decided to discontinue localized version of the game. From their statement it follows that for a while they were losing money of each expansion and they had to make this tough decision as current situation was endangering the company. They are still considering some other various options for continuing PL version but nothing they tried so far seems to be possible.
Board Game: The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game

They will still distribute the English edition of the game.

So what?
This is of course a huge deal for Polish LOTR:LCG community several forums are full of discussions. Let us be honest though - in the larger scope of things Polish market for boardgames is still relatively small (we are on the 9th place as far as visits on BGGs goes, whatever this may mean). Nevertheless is this news something that users outside of Poland should worry about? Is this sign of weakness of the game? What were the main reasons that the game was discontinued? Well I do not know but that does not prevent me from speculating.


1. Sales.
External image

Form Galakta's statements and comments it seems that core set (had 2 or 3 reprints) and first cycle were selling very well but after that each next expansions was less and less popular. This trend was not broken even by the big boxes or saga boxes (at least not significantly).

First thing is not very surprising. Interest in almost every game dwindles over time (with MTG or classic games being only counterexamples). The last bit is a huge deal for me. I was so excited for the Saga expansions that seemed to be great entry points for new players failed to attract their attention in Poland. How it looks internationally (I know that users that keep track their collection here are just a small part of all players of LOTR:LCG but I guess that the trends in the whole community are similar):
BGG Users owning:
LOTR Core set - 12800
Return to Mirkwood - 2745
Khazad-dûm - 3175
The Hobbit: Over Hill and Under Hill - 2098
Shadow and Flame - 1584
Heirs of Númenor - 1482
Morgul Vale - 581
Black Riders - 980


From this data I see two thing:
A. Game is still very healthy.
B. The downward trend is clearly visible. More and more people leave the game and Saga expansions do very little to counteract this.

Maybe this is the publisher fault - they failed to get the message across to the more casual players. Maybe this ours (fans) fault when we missed opportunity to use those expansions to get new blood in. Or maybe there is nothing that can be done, it is LCG format issue (i.e. Trent Hamm was right [blogpost=16034][/blogpost] and I was wrong: LOTR in light of ' A Critical Look at the Idea of a "Living Card Game" ' article

2. Release schedule and number of products
External image

Shear number of products available discourages players from trying the game. On one of the conventions in Poland I introduced a couple to the game. I had a little bit of downtime so decided to help them out (they were learning from the rules). They played the game and enjoyed it greatly, then they went to the stand to possibly buy the game. Seeing the number of expansions they resigned.

[RANT MODE ON] The releases for LOTR are so confusing and so crazy fast that it boggles my mind! You do not believe me? Compare the list of releases for LOTR: LCG (as per BGG entry of the game) to the one for AGOT:LCG (again BGG entry). You know what? AGOT:LCG is running for 6 years now and LOTR:LCG for 3. You would have not guessed that based on the number of products for both games. We had several people on the forums that bought something that they could not use. Some diving into POD right after core set and so on.

As I see it FFG is flooding the market with LOTR:LCG products. I do not know what is the reason for this? Is license going to expire soon so they want to put as much as products are possible before that happens? Or maybe its more the case: look what another cool idea we have. Let us put it out now! This way we have regular releases, saga releases, POD scenarios, Nightmare decks. What's next? POD player card packs? POD alternative versions of "old" heroes? Simarilion core set?

Who has time to play all of those scenarios more than once or twice?
[RANT MODE OFF]

3. Price of the game
External image

I believe that one of the reasons why Polish players were not able to support the game was the price. We are still economically far behind US or Western Europe so it is clear that buying the game was much more challenging for our budgets that it might be for other players in more developed countries. This does not seem to translate directly into the success or failure of English edition ... except of the fact that it is sold all over the world. This is more of an observation than anything - I understand that the game just can't be much cheaper.

Conclusions (sort of):
Hardcore fans are in the golden age of the game. The game is a huge success for FFG and they put out product after product after product. A lot of content is released for the game and there are no immediate signs on the horizon (although end of Polish version is a small warning sign of what my happen with English version in couple of years). If you are more like me i.e. (just) a fan LOTR:LCG the situation is more tricky. We are approaching a breaking point of decision:
- Do we change into hardcore fans (possibly by sacrificing our other interests) and continue to play/buy the game.
- Realize that we are collecting more cards that we can play in years to come and stop buying expansions or shift to only Saga's from now on.
The second choice though means also slow drift away from the community.

As for me I have not decided yet. I am not opposed to mixing ENG and PL so I will not be selling my Polish version (I even hope to be able to buy singles from core set cheaply) ... but when I am done with playing the third cycle (I am 1/3 in) I will open Balck Riders and check how the second saga is for me. I will probably get Voice of Isengard PL (the last expansion in Polish version) and then make my choice.
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Fri Apr 11, 2014 11:33 am
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Keywords and game concepts - LOTR:LCG development in review.

Wojtek Wojcik
Poland
Kraków(Cracow)
Malopolska
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Today let me do something slightly different - I usually tend to look at a specific expansions and try to review them separately. This time I want to make some more "cross section" observations. I decided to look at current development of more important keywords and two of the game concepts. I have to say that I am very curious what other people think about those keywords/concepts - please feel free to comment.

Keywords


Eagles -
Eagles was one of the first keywords explored by FFG. I have to say that I was not impressed when I was unpacking first adventure packs. Tactics was almost a dead sphere in solo at this point ... but now ... Let me tell you eagles are quite strong and despite the fact that synergies are not as great as I would like them this keyword still has some very fun and useful things in stock (Vassal of the Windlord in battle quests turns from ok to GREAT!!!). The only thing that is a bit negative is that we have not seen any eagle development since the first cycle and if this continues ... they might become obsolete.

Rohan -
I am of two minds on Rohan keyword. On one hand it has a great mixture of allies and events that has some nice synergies and we see new Rohan cards from time to time. It also seems that we should be getting more Rohan in the next (Saruman Voice) deluxe expansion. So with all of that, why do I give it only an average rating? It is because for me as a solo player this keyword is just too single purpose: quest and explore locations. This is too limited for solo but great for multiplayer. That said I still have high hopes for Rohan as appearance of Tactics Hamma can signify that we will see more fighting horse lords. This promises a great solo Rohan deck combining great questing with great fighting.

Dwarf -
Can I say anything new about dwarves? No I do don't think so. This keyword has so many great allies, events, attachments and synergies that it dwarves (sorry for a poor pun) every other keyword. My only complaint is that huge amount of "dwarven stuff" slowed development of other keywords.

Noldor/Silvan -
And here for some controversy. The winners for the worst keyword are elves. Mind you, there are some tremendous Noldor/Silvan cards, some of them are up there in top cards ever but the synergies are almost non-existent (one card for Silvan?). What is even worse for elvish folk is that none of the announcements made by FFG suggests much improvement in foreseeable future.


Currently under development so I am not ready to give my rating yet:
Gondor - very promising
There are quite a few heroes/allies with a Gondor trait and there some cards that only work (or are better when played on) Gondor characters. So what this card pool needs is some more cards that will bind the them together (effects for all Gondor characters, cards courting other Gondor chars). I am predicting that once such cards will appear we will see Gondor as strong as Dwarves - this the one to watch! BTW: I do not like citadel custodian card but I like the way his ability is intended I hope to see more chars like this in the future)

Outlands - very interesting
This a tough one to judge. Those cards are all about synergy - i.e. in group they can be crazy powerful and on their own they are laughable. At first I was quite sure that those guys will only work in multi-player but with Hirluin and secrecy ... I saw some people using it with great efficiency but at this point it seems that this deck would be too luck dependent for my taste. Please also observe that this is a smallest set of cards that deserved a space on this list.


Hobbit - not too thrilled about it
This is almost pure speculation at this point but for some reason I see hobbits more as an individuals with very unusual skills (that is why I love Frodo) than a cooperating group. Of course this is just my bias. One thing that I still want hobbits to have - very unique abilities. I just do not want them to have "if you control at least X hobbits" type skills. FFG already did that for dwarves so I want something new.

Game concepts:


Secrecy -
When I was starting to write this article I was about to declare it dead as a game concept. We haven't seen any cards boosting it since the Dwarrowdelf cycle. On paper idea of smaller fellowships gaining some bonuses sounded great but it never materialized completely*. There are some tremendous cards in secrecy mode ... but as a whole it is not quite there because:
- most of the secrecy cards are dead outside secrecy mode i.e. if game pushes you over 20 ... halof of your cards are useless
- only one or two of secrecy cards are worthed the hidden price you have to pay for them i.e. one or two less heroes in your team
So why is not dead yet? See outlands section above.
* One note here. It would be much better if secrecy = you control one (two?) heroes. In this way it would not only be more reliable than 20 threat but also one could imagine very intense climactic game ends when you are down to one hero but due to secrecy power he can really do some awesome things.

Battle/Siege -
This is, in my opinion, the only major game concept introduced since the game was released. Yes, there were quite a few others introduced for particular scenarios and some of them were brilliant (separating players in FoS, Cardahras in Redhorn Gate) but none of them shares amazing simplicity that has tremendous effect on game play with battle/siege. I am waiting for this one to be extended to combat (i.e. enemies that can be only attacked/defended via willpower and/or progress tokens) and explored for expansions to come!

As I said before I am very curious on how do you feel about various new game mechanisms and keyowrds? Did I miss something important in my recap?
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Fri Aug 23, 2013 12:09 pm
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Easy mode - is it too late for it?

Wojtek Wojcik
Poland
Kraków(Cracow)
Malopolska
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Many interesting developments in LOTR:LCG took place during my break from playing it. Two most interesting ones came on the heals of each other: announcement of LOTR Saga expansion and introduction of the Easy mode. We will have plenty of time to discuss the first one when the expansion comes up so let us look at the second one.

Easy mode? What is it?
There are basically two rules that differ easy mode from standard mode i.e.:
- Remove certain encounter cards from the deck before the game
- Your heroes start with resources (i.e. after first resource phase they will each have two resource tokens on their card).
That is it! No fancy conditional approach, no altering of phases. That is the second time (after introduction of battle and siege keywords) that I have to congratulate the designers on simple yet brilliant changes to the rules.

Who it is aimed at?
Simplest answer comes from article itself - thematic players - those that enjoy journeying through Middle-Earth in accordance to Tolkien's lore. I am not a thematic player myself but I am very much impressed by their determination to recreate the source material as much as possible. Since many of the scenarios put so much pressure on players decks that even slightest inefficiencies (especially in solo) in player deck really impact chances to win these players often struggled. Now, the developers claim that those players should have a decent chance to win the games using the decks that they enjoy best.

Another group of players that gets mentioned are casual players. There is not much to expand here. It really took me many many plays to learn how to build half decent decks that can hold their own against certain scenarios. I can imagine how it feels to try to conquer newer scenarios with several games under your belt - endless frustration. Here the easy mode can definitely help but it remains to be seen if this is enough.

What easy mode has to offer for me?
I consider myself a hardcore player even if I do not think that I am that good at the game. With 300+ plays under my belt I can't honestly say I am casual about it any sense of the word. Here are some ideas on how easy mode could be used by more dedicated players and my opinions on them:

1. Extend re-playability - Now I could imagine playing each scenario in 3 variations. First discover it in Easy mode, add to the challenge by playing normal mode after that and finally dig deeper with Nightmare decks. If you are really into deep analysis and exploration of the game (and I am after all: this blog is all about that) this sounds great.
MY OPINION: I am not seeing this. Ultimately standard mode is where the game is being developed, tested and prepared the most. Additionally first playthrough of a scenario is often accompanied by a great sense of real adventure (as I am never sure what to expect) - so I will go with Standard every time to get optimal experience. Then unless I find scenario hopelessly difficult (Dol Goldur could be an example here) I do not see myself going down with difficulty.

2. Test decks - You could test off the wall deck ideas, weird card combination on easy mode. Especially additional resources can help you out with this as you can finally play those hyper-expensive cards and see them in action and decide on their value. I know that there are many players that find enjoyment in this so this might be excellent.
MY OPINION: I test my decks on regular scenarios so this holds little value for me. On the other hand I am not big on trying weird stuff just to see if I can find excellent combos. I am more of simple-yet-reliable-deck-is-better kind of player. Nay for me but maybe yey for you?

3. Campaign mode - I never tried this. My deck building skills were never good enough to construct a deck that is of "one to rule them all" type. I can construct a deck that will handle a given scenarios (most of the time anyway) but creating one that will deal with several of them in a row is beyond my skills. I am very impressed by the people that can do it but I even do not want to have such deck (tweaking my decks is fun). Despite this I am strangely attracted to the concept of campaign play and maybe easy mode is only way for me to tackle it.
MY OPINION: This might hold some value for me. The only problem is that I am still behind current releases. I have so many scenarios to play that I do not see myself doing campaign unless FGG stops printing new stuff.

4. Extended player base - i.e. easy mode=more players (of thematic and casual type)=more profit for FFG=more products for all of us.
MY OPINION: Yeah I know that "equations" above are just theoretical but I am convinced of their relevance. So in this sense I say all the more power to the Easy Mode!

So ultimately only last point seems to be really relevant for me personally but it seems strong enough to make easy mode a decent addition to the system.

Are there any dangers?
None so far. Additionally very first inspection did not allowed me to find any in the future until I've re-read my own sentence above: "standard mode is where the game is being developed, tested and prepared the most". What if FFG turns this on it head i.e. they develop easy mode first and then just add some random, ridiculously punishing encounter cards and create standard mode this way. This would not only damage thematic feel of the game for me but would also make it much more random. I hope it will not come to this. I do not mind that so much if added cards are well tested and integrated but we already saw some examples of ridiculous cards (Sleeping Sentry seems to be a good example here) although so far it were more exceptions than the rule. I remain optimistic though - easy mode will do more good than bad.

Is it too late for introduction of the Easy Mode?
My short answer at this point seems to be yes. FGG was losing casual and thematic players over after released expansion that us hardcore fans were praising for tenseness and difficulty. I read about it in forum posts, sell offers and even my own blog comments. I am not sure if many of those players will return to the game now that they can play on their own level (paraphrasing FFG's title) as they sold their collection and or stopped reading about the game. They might have found the game more to their liking in its current state with this additional mode included but some of them got burned.

I really hope that FFG in any reprints of the game will incorporate easy mode directly on the cards and rules. This way anyone who pickups game from store shelf will see this option right away and may go for it without much digging. The problem is that from what I saw FFG is not quick to include erratas in new print runs so it might not happen any time soon.

It is not all doom and gloom though as FFG timed the easy mode as good as they were able to at this point. LOTR saga announcement is bound to attract thematic/casual player attention and added bonus of easy mode might be just enough to get them sucked in (again in some cases). It requires though (I think) that saga scenarios to be beatable in easy mode using only core and Black Riders player cards. This makes designing these scenario a nightmare as all of us that have full card pool also want something challenging and with dwarven decks being so ridiculously strong ... Well, let us wait if developers find some way to combine this opposing goals.

What are your opinions on Easy Mode? Do you use it or at least plan on using it? Are my concerns valid?
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Fri Jun 21, 2013 6:00 am
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Why I do not play two-handed solo?

Wojtek Wojcik
Poland
Kraków(Cracow)
Malopolska
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I've seen many posts and articles recommending playing two-handed solo games. While I see merits of this approach I do not use it and this post is here to explain why.

First things first
What is two handed solo play - in short the game follows the rules for two players (two sets of heroes, two player decks, two encounter cards per turn etc.) except that one person is controlling both decks. Only major difference between two handed and two player games is that in the first case the player sees both hands of cards and there is "no limit on communication" rule.

So why one would like to play the game this way?
Lower Difficulty
The first mention of two-handed play you will probably encounter is a recommendation from an experienced player to a new player complaining that the game is too difficult in solo mode. One of the answers will undoubtedly be "just play with two decks". I find that this advice is very risky because while it is generally easier to win core scenarios with more players (and hence two handed) it is much harder to play with multiple-players and even harder with multiple decks under your control (due to order of play in multi). Often huge difficulty with starting quests in solo mode are caused by a new player's lack of experience and familiarity with the rules (or his/hers expectations to win every time) and switch to two handed play might often lead to even more problems. So from a new player perspective I highly discourage playing in two handed solo mode unless you are very well versed in expandable card games and just want a very casual experience with LOTR.

For a more experienced players that want an easier time against the scenarios this seems at first as very decent possibility - you do not have to house-rule anything and you can get much higher win percentage. Well ... you do house rule the "limit on communication" rule, while many people find it against co-op spirit of the game or a bit weird, tacked-on etc. it is the rules book and if at some point tournament will start I am sure that FFG will try to enforce it in some way. On the other hand some scenarios become more difficult with more players (Massing at O. comes to mind first) so in general playing two handed will not bail you out. Because of this I find that this reason alone is too weak to warrant playing with two decks.

Optimal experience
One can often see comments from players that this game is optimal with two players. I tend to agree as this often indirectly confirmed by FGG (see some of the list decks published by developers, decks list in Hobbit, tournament rules). Some quests seem to be have never been tested in solo mode (Yes, I am talking about the Escape from Dol Guldur). In general I find this argument flawed in the sense that what is optimal for some players might be suboptimal for others. This is evident from the fact that some players find most quests too easy, too boring, too random while other claim those same scenarios too difficult, exciting and perfectly fine. There is some validity to claim that I want to play the game as it was intended and play tested but again this alone would not push me to two-handed camp.

Full experience
Playing solo makes certain cards (many examples here), keywords (sentinel, ranged), heroes (Barnd son of Bain) useless. At times it makes you do not use certain spheres at all (you can win whole Mirkwood cycle without playing single tactics card) playing as per regular rules. This is the strongest argument for playing two-handed and I have to admit that if anything will ever convince me to try it out it will be this. Yes playing solo makes certain cards more useful (Henemarth Riversong) but this is more of an exception than the rule. You do miss out a lot of strategy (decks synergies) and tactic options if you never play multiplayer or two-handed.

What is the price you pay to play this way?
Quite a lot added complexity
If you think that with more players rules and game flow does not change much it means that you have not played much this way or you prefer to play fast and loose. Order of play has a very profound effects on game play and card abilities (easiest to see is Theodred ability to generate resources - only every other round you can pass those resources to the second player). This game is not the most difficult in the world to play correctly but there are quite a few nuances and many of them come into play only with two or more decks.

Lot of table space
Solo this game can be played on fairly small table space. With two decks it requires double this amount. This is not an issue for most people but as I often take the game with me and play on various tables it is an issue for me.

Playing with two-hands is very fiddly
My deal breaker: By fiddly in this context I mean that is quite hard to keep track of all the effects that should be triggered/applied, could be applied and those that are not allowed to trigger because of other cards. It seems quite clear that processing many effects at the same time will lead to mistakes by missing a things or two. The game can be fiddly in solo mode as well you have ussually at least an event or two in your hand that can be played, 3-4 cards in your area with relevant effects (even more with irrelevant effects that you have to filter out) and at least 1 or 2 encounter cards to deal with this totals to 8 or more things that you need to consider, very close to my limit. In two-handed mode this is doubled (and some effects are more complicated with more players). This requires a very methodical approach of analyzing card by card or a very good filter (gained with experience) to keep things straight.

Other things to consider
Two decks - double the building time
I suffer from limited time available to devote to the game. In solo mode balance between time it takes to build a deck is more or less comparable with a single game (from me 1/2). Deck modifications are very quick in this setting. In two decks mode you need much more time to build two compatible decks while games are not much longer (from my limited experience). This shifts the game balance towards deck building which might be a good or bad thing depending on your preference.


My verdict and recommendation
As you already know from the post title I do not play two handed the benefit of more full game exploration is greatly overshadowed by drawback of having to keep track of so many things. Your mailage will of course vary and in fact this is main reason for writing this post (see questions at the end).

As for two handed recomandation, it is much better to find a friend that will play with you but if you really want "complete" experience while playing solo I recomend this post:
http://talesfromthecards.wordpress.com/2013/02/06/a-guide-to...
that might make your dive into two handed world easier.

How abut you? Do you play two-handed? What is the main reason for (not) doing so? What is annoying in this way of play? How different is two handed play from cooperative play?
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Sat Mar 2, 2013 6:00 am
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LOTR in light of ' A Critical Look at the Idea of a "Living Card Game" ' article

Wojtek Wojcik
Poland
Kraków(Cracow)
Malopolska
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I very much like designing games but I think I prefer to play them.
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INTRODUCTION
Recently Trent Hamm wrote a quite popular blog post [blogpost=16034][/blogpost] in which he presented weaknesses (and how to fix them) of living card games. In his post he treats LOTR:LCG as just another game suffering from same problems but are his arguments valid in the case of this game? I will try to look at his points and try to analyze them in LOTR context.

As an mini-introduction I will point out one thing that should be stressed more often as I think that for some reason people miss it despite the fact it is quite obvious. LOTR:LCG is the first* cooperative collectible/living card game! On the surface this seems like a mode of play change that does not affect the general idea of expandable card game at all. After closer inspection it turns out that it not only is different but in many aspects it flies in the face of what collectible card game stands for. I think that this change is so radical and innovative that one should really distinguish between LOTR and other LCGs/CCGs as many general arguments just brake on this cooperative game.

DISCUSSION
Here are Trent's points of criticism and my view on them in terms of LOTR:

Expansion Overkill
Board Game: The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game


The game is almost two years old so it is not that old but it following expansions out:
- Core set
- 3 deluxe expansions
- 12 Adventure packs (2 cycles)
- 2 Print on Demand scenarios
if you go and sum up the MSRPs on those you will see that you are in for quite some money if you are completist. So on first blush Trent's argument holds for LOTR as for other living card games.

The difference is there though. You do not need the expansions at all if you do not want them. In a regular collectible game once you fall behind current release your deck will become very weak and will loose 90% (completely made up statistic) against people that keep buying new stuff even if your deckbuilding skills are better. In LOTR this is not the case, you still be able to beat every quest you have** with the card pool at your disposal. Basically you can stop buying expansions at any point and your game will be fully playable. With the amount of fan created (custom) scenarios you can even have new experiences and challenges without paying a single additional dollar.

So is there at least a part of argument that holds? Surprisingly the answer is yes - the game turns into very challenging one (and maybe even impossible one in some extreme instances) if you decide to buy newest expansions without having those that came out before them. Say that after buying Core Set you would go for the Heirs of Numenor (newest deluxe), then you are in for a very frustrating/hardcore experience. If you buy in order you should be fine.

VERDICT: Slight problem

Unlevel Playing Field
From gallery of Midaga


What is even better in LOTR is that you can play with a deck constructed from your limited card pool with a guy who has it all and you can both have fun (it will be more challenging but doable in most cases I am familiar with!). From a cooperative nature of this game it follows that you still have all the planing, discussions and thrills of a game with all players having full card pool.

In my opinion it is a great idea for a new format of play!

VERDICT: No problem

Lack of Organized Play
Board Game: The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game


I am quite surprised to see this argument at all (as in Poland the organized play for WH:I which is only one that is released in Polish is very strong) but let us look at it nevertheless. For LOTR:LCG there is no organized play at this point (although a program was announced recently) but the cooperative nature of the game really resist any tournament setting. Yeah, team competitions could make sense (each team plays a scenario and we compare the score) but I do not see it as interesting as head to head. I am sure that some (many?) LOTR players do crave for some form of the tournament scene (there is a whole section of FFG forums devoted to so called Living Tournaments) but at its core this game does not need it.

We shall see how strong Organized Play for LOTR shall be but I am pretty sure that most of the players will not be interested (due to life constraints) in taking part int it as many of us choose this game BECAUSE of the fact that it can be enjoyed despite the lack of organized play community. I am (and many other are) strict solo player and this is what attracted me to the game in a first place - I can play as hardcore or as casual as I want. I've read of many couples enjoying the game together. You do not need many more than that, FFG is your opponent in this game, creating decks for you to beat that you can buy as often or as rare as you want.

VERDICT: Problem for some players (minority IMHO but what do I know?)

Lack of "Limited" Play
Board Game: The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game


This is not a problem for LOTR, limited play (understood that we play only using card up to certain expansion) is very much feasible and often practised (to get "optimal/designed difficulty". As before only drawback is that skipping expansions (to buy newer ones) might not be great idea.

VERDICT: No problem

SUMMARY
This addresses the criticisms points from Trent's blog post. I think that most of them are fairly weak in case of LOTR and I think that he is not that familiar with LOTR (I might be wrong on that) and just assumed that it is just another LCG. Nevertheless I find his post very interesting as it also forced me to rethink those points.

LOTR has its own problems and flaws for sure (new expansions being less and less casual player friendly is in my opinion one that might trun off many players) and I do not want say that the game is perfect. My post was written just to point out the LOTR:LCG is so different that many of the generalizations made abut LCGs do break down here and the game should be treated in many respects separately.

What is your opinion? Is my analysis correct or am I seeing differences where there are none? Is LOTR really just another LCG suffering from the same problems? If not what are its main points of criticism?

*Yeah I've heard that some earlier CCG were trying to implement such an idea but as far as their popularity show they all failed. At this point we can safely say that LOTR is the first one that implemented it successfully.
** With exception being Escape of Dol Guldur solo
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Mon Jan 14, 2013 11:07 am
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LOTR:LCG - A game or a hobby?

Wojtek Wojcik
Poland
Kraków(Cracow)
Malopolska
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The question asked in the title is at the back of my mind for a while now and I decided that easiest way to answer it is to write it down here. I must say that I am curious to see to what conclusion I will arrive by the end. I've started wanting to state some general observation but let me keep it personal. Is LOTR:LCG a hobby for me or just a part of board gaming? If it is a hobby then did it replace board games?

I
Ok, one point is easy to tackle. I still am a board gamer, I play regularly (every two weeks at the least), I read the news, blogs, listen to podcasts - so I say that I can safely say that I did not replace old hobby with a new one.

II
Second point. Is LOTR:LCG a standalone hobby for me? Here I want to go through certain observations:

Interest - It all starts here for me. If I seek information, read about given things then the first signs of a hobby are there. I do read a lot about LOTR:LCG (all FFGs previews, tons of threads, posts and blog articles also listen to podcast(s)). CHECK

Money (or Time see bellow) - I bought the game on a cheep side of things (most stuff used) but still with 2 core sets, Khazad Dum and 9 AP I've spent a lot. CHECK

Accessories - Important part of indication whether interest is becoming a hobby for me is whether I invest in non-essential things that make experience better. Be it magazine subscriptions, comfortable furniture, above average equipment it has to be there. In case of LOTR it is expensive but terrific card sleeves from FFG, deck boxes, printing additional scenarios. CHECK

Time - I played this game almost 200 times at this point. If I assume that it took me on average 1/2 hour to play one game I already invested 100 hours in playing the game. I should also add the time dedicated to building, tweaking and re-tweaking my deck - it is not huge amount but I am sure its significant. Add all the reading, posting, bloging, thinking and you will get a huge number CHECK

There is no denying it LOTR:LCG is a standalone hobby for me.

III
So the most interesting question comes up finally. Did the new hobby pushed back the old one?

Interest - Well I've definitely reduced the number of board game reviews I read but I feel it is mostly due to the fact that there are so many of them that it is not possible to read them all and once you start to be choosy on what to read you discover that there are not so many of them that are actually relevant for you. On other interest fronts (podcasts, forums, BGG) I did not see much decline on the board gaming side of things despite huge increase of interest in LOTR:LCG.
VERDICT: Both hobbies coexist nicely here.

Money & Accessories - I've seen huge decline in my buying of board games before discovering LOTR:LCG. This trend only continued here. On the other hand I've spent quite some money on the living card game and I even sold some of my rarely used games to fund those purchases.
VERDICT: LOTR:LCG seem to have pushed board games back as far as money go even if it was a continuation of a trend.

Time - As you see above I've spent ton of time on LOTR:LCG - was board gaming hit by it? On the first glance: not really. Since I play the living card game excursively solo it did not take away from playing games with others. I never turned down another game to play LOTR. So where did all this time came from? I've stopped watching TV, I read much less now, I greatly reduced time on-line. One note though: I think that board gaming did get hit a bit ... before discovering LOTR:LCG I would often talk my wife into playing a two player game with me every now and then (say once per week on average). Now I am not that persistent as I can play the game.
VERDICT: Yeah, although not by much but LOTR:LCG did push board gaming back here.

Final thoughts:
As you can see from above LOTR:LCG became a hobby of mine. It did pushed general board gaming back a bit but not as much as it would seem if looking at the amount of resources I dedicate to the game.

How about you? Is LOTR:LCG just another game on your shelf? A hobby? If the latter what did it replaced/pushed back?
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Sat Dec 15, 2012 6:00 am
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Random thoughts about the game in general (player cards, player type, second core set)

Wojtek Wojcik
Poland
Kraków(Cracow)
Malopolska
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I very much like designing games but I think I prefer to play them.
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Metallum ... game I most proud of.
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Microbadge: Terraforming MarsMicrobadge: Metallum fanMicrobadge: Podcast listenerMicrobadge: Plays Games With FamilyMicrobadge: 15 Year Geek Veteran
My blog mostly concentrates on session reports and thoughts about the scenarios but from time to time I do make more general observations. I am planning on gathering them in this Editorial sub-series. This first installment collects some of them that appeared through out my comments i promise that in the future I will make those shorter.

So you write about scenarios a lot, how about player cards?

I am curious what other people think but I am starting to think that most of the player cards we get in adventure packs are pretty weak (some frankly useless). This becomes even more of an issue if you are restricted to solo gaming as I am. This is not a huge issue for me as I am more into the new scenarios but still I would like some more interesting cards for underutilized spheres (lore and tactics in my case). I understand that part of an issue comes form the fact that I am only looking to build a single deck that is efficient against a scenario during multiple attempts. Some other players might be more interested just exploring the interactions between their cards and have tons of fun trying various possible combos even if those work only every now and then. Now after typing that I think that maybe the current model is ideal - cards for me (new scenario) and cards for combo players (say that each card means at least one attempt gives 9 attempts which is roughly the same as I am doing). Still I found some post by people that were so disappointed with quality and quantity of new player cards that they've quit playing the game (Khazad Dum contents was a deal breaker for quite a few it seems).

Cards "on paper" might look weaker/stronger then they actually are in a particular deck. Need to try several cards that I consider bad/not worthed and see if they are actually that bad or am I not seeing their full potential.

NOV 2012: This is a main weakness of my exploration of the game. I do not try all new player cards. I concentrate only on the scenarios and most player cards are only seen on paper.

Are you sure that you keep your rules straight?

Discussing the game on Polish message boards I discovered that I was counting my points wrong (starting with round 1 instead of zero and according to the rules you are supposed to tally a round only at its end). I was pretty sure that at this point I had all the rules down and I still discovered something. This is not a big deal as it only affects scoring which is not that important but ... it makes me think. What else am I missing or playing wrong? This is a major drawback of solo game (or if you only play games in the same group) - there is no one to correct you. In other games (CCGs/LCGs especially) you have tournaments, fairly regular plays with different people and that soon enough allows you to discover if you play something incorrectly. There is nothing like that in this game (at least for me) so I am left to hope spotting my mistakes during some discussions at the forums. Mind you I am not interested in the tourneys and even playing this game with others (well I would like to do the former but I don't see me finding time for that) but I think that getting all rules right for this game is important to get the difficulty level planned by the designer. On the positive note - my games are pretty though in most cases so I am satisfied with difficulty anyway even if I am slightly off at some things.

What kind of player am I?

Fantasy Flight prepared a list of players archetypes for this game at some point. They've given them some LOTR names but in short those are:
- Flavor player - builds his deck according to LOTR reality (e.g. will never use Frodo as he was not active/alive during official period of time).
- Combo player - enjoys finding synergies between the cards
- Must win player - enjoys winning and this is most important for him (or goes for the lowest score even at the risk of several losses before getting it).
I find my self in between those categories. I am not a hardcore LOTR fan and I do not care if cards are in accordance to book timeline but I do enjoy the stories that this game tells. I like to find combos and synergies and I am usually quite impressed with them but I do not actively seek/invent them and test them out - I am more of one card at the time guy who is often pleasantly surprised when two cards work in concert. Finally I do construct decks to win but I am more for consistency (high percentage) of wins then about high score or 100% success rate.

Musings on threat.

Threat is an excellent mechanic in this game introducing very hard and interesting choices. Do you go for better heros that will be able to do a lot of cool things latter ... the trade off is that enemies will start pounding at you from the turn one and will most of the time overwhelm you by killing your allies and wounding heroes. Then you are so weakened that treacheries will slowly kill you off unless you are very lucky. On the other hand ... if you choose only weak heroes you will have time to prepare but will lack the strength to take care of the stronger enemies. Of course it all depends on the scenario but as a general observation it seems to be correct.

So is second core set worthed?
Random thoughts:
- Using cards from two core sets gives your ("tournament legal") deck a huge boost.

- I started with merging two sets into a "tournament playable" pool of cards 3 copies of player cards. With two CS I am missing around 12 player (3 or 4 per sphere) cards to complete it. It was nice to obtain more copies of some of my favorite cards (feint, sneak attack come to mind). I felt pretty good getting the game "again" at this point.

- I packed all of the surplus cards, tokens and rules in one of the boxes in order to store them at the bottom of my closet. When I was closing the lid on this second box I saw so many components that I will not get to use and to tell the truth felt disappointed that so many things will be pretty much useless.

- Then the newly constructed card pool went into a "transport" deck box (it should hold close to 200 sleeved cards) followed by encounter cards and tokens (with d10s replacing threat counters). To my great disappointment I discovered that there is no space left in the box. I realized that now my game will not be as portable as it used to be with a single core set and the adventure packs will make it even worse. I am afraid that this will impact amount of plays. I will be hesitant to carry a huge box of cards with me just in case I have some free time to play it (so far it yielded +10 plays so not bad at all).

To sum up I have mixed feelings about the second core set - on one hand I am glad that my card poll increased as it makes deck building more interesting. On the other hand I feel that there is a great waste of space, cards and value here. This solves the problem of the third core set - I will not be getting it.

NOV 2012: After so many more plays I do think about getting missing cards. I will not buy the whole set though (even used) I want to find someone to share it with (preferebly a person who plays with more players and does not care about single cards but does want the extra cards, tokens etc.
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Tue Nov 27, 2012 11:08 am
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Introduction to this blog. Who am I and what is my LOTR:LCG experience so far?

Wojtek Wojcik
Poland
Kraków(Cracow)
Malopolska
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I very much like designing games but I think I prefer to play them.
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Metallum ... game I most proud of.
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Microbadge: Terraforming MarsMicrobadge: Metallum fanMicrobadge: Podcast listenerMicrobadge: Plays Games With FamilyMicrobadge: 15 Year Geek Veteran
NOTE: This post will be occasionally revisited and updated. As I play the game more and more my view on it changes and so changes this blog. I will try to make this post relevant.

First of all let me start by saying 'hello'. IMPORTANT NOTE: I am a gamer from Poland so please excuse many grammatical mistakes that I will surely make in my posts.

Goal
This blog contains mostly reviews and my general thoughts about The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game as per its title. I also try to be helpful for new players so I write articles that are dedicated for those that are just starting with the game. Occasionally I also include some articles that do not fit any of this categories but I keep it relevant for LOTR:LCG.

Because of this I have few tags/categories that you might use to get to the content you might be interested:
New player: /blogcategory/2828/new-player
General thoughts: /blogcategory/1325/general-thoughts
Reviews: /blogcategory/2826/review
Updates & Stuff: /blogcategory/2827/updates-stuff

NOTE: I do not have any kind of regular release schedule for my articles they show up when I have something interesting (at least for myself) to write. If you are interested in what I have to say consider subscribing.

How do I approach the game?
1. I play the game exclusively solo (never simulating two players)
2. I play the game mostly in the order of release (I do skip many of PODs and occasionally will finish a cycle before jumping into Saga that was released in the middle of APs).
3. My personal goal is to play each scenario at least 10 times before moving to the next one.
4. I adhere to the rules to the best of my abilities. Occasionally will allow myself to use a card that I forgot to play (in the same round) provided it wouldn't change anything.

How this blog started?
My deeper look at the game started with the 100 play challenge:
I saw a geeklist on BGG - The 100 Play Challenge: In Support of Deeper Exploration of Games (Update: Now with GeekGold!) - that asked for players to pledge to play a game 100 times and write down thoughts/comments about each play and the chosen game in general. I decided to join the fun with LOTR:LCG as my game of choice. It is quite interesting to me to see how my perspective on the game changes as I play the new scenarios and expand the card pool at my disposal. Posting comments forced me to look at the game experience from a more analytic point of view.

That is why in my first posts you will find session reports detailing my playthrough and thoughts about a particular scenarios and the whole game. In time I found that session reports itself were becoming less and less interesting (even I stopped looking at the old ones). Slowly those were replaced with my reviews of the scenarios and player cards.

I also observed that there is a huge demand for guides for new players that is why I started a series of articles for those that begin their time in LOTR:LCG.

My (analog) gaming background:
- Gamed a lot in my childhood (Chess, Checkers, Polish Monopoly clones, Talisman, Fury of Dracula etc.) mainly with my brother
- Had a long break in tabletop gaming as I went to high school and to college/university
- Got back into it while staying in the Netherlands (mostly eurogames but also A Game of Thrones, Warrior Knights)
- I came back to Poland and expanded my collection, started my own gaming group (which is still meeting bi-weekly and is highly competitive)
- My wife enjoys gaming so we play two player often.

My LOTR:LCG experiences and collection:
- Played LOTR: LCG with a friend at the end of 2011 and was intrigued
- In May 2012 got my own core set and played it more than 50 times. Later I traded for the second core set and two expansions.
- Slowly I was getting more and more expansions.
- I completed 100 plays challenge and the end of October 2012.
- I failed to convince my wife to play the game. She is not very big on fantasy, card games and co-ops so it was not surprising.
- As of today: I have everything that was released except Voice of Isengard and several PODs. At the moment I am playing through the Against the Shadow cycle


Some stats:
1. Currently I've logged almost 400 plays of LOTR:LCG
2. My most popular post: A guide for new LOTR:LCG solo players - almost 100 thumbs, one of the most popular blog posts in 2013 on BGG.
3. I've written almost 50 posts on this blog
4. May 2014 will mark two years with LOTR:LCG for me
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Mon Nov 26, 2012 11:25 am
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