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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How expansions for LOTR:LCG work

Wojtek Wojcik
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Board Game Designer
I very much like designing games but I think I prefer to play them.
Metallum ... game I most proud of.
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What I am about to write here will be obvious to any seasoned LOTR:LCG player. The trick is that if you shift your perspective a little bit it turns out that the releases for this game are highly unusual. In fact I am sure that most of new people WILL be confused and might even buy something that they can't use! I myself was surprised by what came in Massing at Osgiliath when I first got it. Here let me give you the tour:

Deluxe expansions
Examples: Khazad-dûm, Heirs of Númenor, The Voice of Isengard
Contents (around 165 cards in total):
- 2 hero cards
- 11-16 player cards (each in 3 copies)
- 3 scenarios
- Encounter cards (several sets)
Those boxes are required to play adventure packs (see below) from the cycle that follows them directly. Price wise they tend to cost around the same as two adventure packs which if you do the math is very good as far as new scenarios go but so so if you are looking for more player cards.

Adventure packs
Examples: The Hunt for Gollum, The Blood of Gondor, The Redhorn Gate
Contents (around 60 cards in total):
- 1 hero card
- 9 player cards (each in 3 copies)
- 1 scenario and some of the encounter cards for it (the rest of them is found in corresponding Deluxe Box)
Adventure packs (APs) require corresponding (preceding) deluxe box in order to play contained scenario. They are supposed to be released monthly (although this rule is often broken due to other releases for the game) and are linked into so called cycles that consist of 6 adventure packs.

In theory they APs within the cycle are independent of each other but they tend to tell consistent story and the player cards usually have some theme/mechanics that becomes fully developed only when you get all of the expansions from particular cycle. Example: in the Shadows of Mirkwood cycle tactic sphere gets a lot of Eagle allies and boosts for them. Only when you have full cycle the "Eagle deck" becomes a reasonable build.

Saga expansions
Examples: Over Hill and Under Hill, On the Doorstep, The Black Raiders, The Road Darkens
Contents (around 165 cards in total):
- 5 Hero cards (1 is unusable outside of its expansion)*
- 11-14 player cards (1-2 might be unusable outside of its expansion)
- 3 scenarios and encounter cards for it,
- Various number of expansion specific cards (treasures, boon, burdens etc,)
Intended to tell the stories directly from Tolkien's books. Those expansions are in a sense separate from the rest of releases and they are playable (and mostly winnable) when combined with just the core game because of that those can be treated as entry points for the expansions for game. Player and hero cards in those tend to be strongly linked to each and work very well when combined although some of them might be much less useful outside of corresponding scenarios. Saga expansions are priced the same as deluxe expansions and seem to be more cost effective (as you get more hero cards in a saga box than in a deluxe box).

Two series can be distinguished here:
Hobbit - finished, consists of two boxes (OHaUH, OtD).
LOTR - one released, second one announced and few more are supposed to follow to tell the story of Lord of the Rings.

*Note: the content of saga boxes is about to change with release of The Road Darkens that will have only 2 heroes (and one will be unusable outside of its scenarios) and only 9 player cards. If FFG continues this with later releases it will make those boxes much less cost effective.

Print on demand expansions
Examples: The Massing at Osgiliath, Battle of Lake-town, The Stone of Erech
Contents (around 45 cards in total):
- 1 scenario and the encounter cards for it
No player/hero cards. These scenarios are first released as GenCon exclusives and later you can buy them separately as POD. Cardstock and colors are different than regular cards but you do not have to mix them with regular cards so it's not a problem. Usually scenarios in this expansions are very hard! They cost roughly the same as adventure packs (though tend to be more expensive internationally). This makes them cost ineffective.

Nightmare decks
Examples: Nightmare Deck: Journey Along the Anduin, Nightmare Deck: Conflict at the Carrock, Nightmare Deck: Dungeons Deep and Caverns Dim
Contents (around 20 cards in total):
- Nightmare mode card (modifies the rules for the corresponding old scenario)
- Encounter cards
Requires original expansion that introduced the scenario. Those cards are intended to make old scenarios difficult again. Cardstock and colors are different than regular cards and you have to mix them with regular cards encounter cards (sleeving might be required). Two of them cost slightly less than an adventure pack which makes them pricey considering the content and quality (again international buyers might be forced to pay more due to availability).

Game Night Kits
Examples: The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game – Game Night Kit 2013 Season Two, The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game – Game Night Kit 2013 Season One
Contents (around 60 cards in total and various other stuff):
- 3 x Nightmare decks
- Playmat or other accessory
- Rules for organized play
- Poster
Those can't be officially bought (but you may come across them on ebay so I am including them here) and are only for retailers. Cards inside of those can be latter obtained as Nightmare decks (see above) and accessories (while nice) are nothing more than collector items. Tend to be very pricey due to their collectible nature and no official distribution.

EDIT: Adjusted price remarks and added a note about saga boxes content thanks to comments by John85.
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