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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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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