Will Pell
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I have yet to actually play this game against other people, but after playing a quick 2-player solitaire of it with a borrowed copy, I was HOOKED! I'm not even that big of a Lord of the Rings guy, but the game does at least some justice to its source material, and more to the point it's extremely fun; I've thus played it three times solo within the subsequent week (doing 3, 4, and 5-"player" games), and I can tell this will be one of my perrenial favorites.

(In case my long-winded blathering in and of itself doesn't appeal to you, players who already know the game's basic functions and don't want to hear it compared to another, similar game can skip ahead to the "My Opinions" section, where I give some actual observations about how to play that you might find useful.)

GAME OVERVIEW

Easily the most enjoyable Deck-Building game I've yet played, this is basically 80% the same game as publisher Cryptozoic's earlier offering, the DC Heroes DBG, but improved in nearly every way over its predecessor. I was introduced to DC Heroes and the more complex Marvel-based DBG "Legendary" at about the same time, and so I inevitably compare them to each other; Legendary gives a much better "superhero experience" IMO, and so I considered DC Heroes' only advantage to be its much quicker setup time and the greater ease with which it can be taught and learned. So discovering that there was a nearly identical game which I found had several advantages over DC Heroes, I took the plunge with great eagerness, and have not regretted it since.

The Fellowship of the Ring DBG (henceforth referred to as LOTR1, since there's a Two Towers sequel out there which I haven't played...I'm not sure if it's even on sale yet) has a lot in common with DC Heroes - you start the game with a deck of 10 cards, 3 of which are blank (called Despair in LOTR1's case) and the other 7 of which give you "Power" that enables you to purchase cards for their "Cost" from a central Deck. 5 of these cards are available each turn (they are not refilled until the turn's end, unlike in some DBGs where the available cards are instantly replaced with a new card which you could also buy that same turn), along with a generic card (Valor) which costs 3 Power to add to your deck and gives 2 Power each time you play it (16 of these cards are available for purchase over the course of the game, and each one is worth 1 Victory Point at the end of the game). Finally there is a stack of "boss monsters" (the LOTR1 versions are Archenemies), with costs that start at 8 and more or less go up from there (randomization means you may occasionally have an 12 followed by a 10 or thereabouts, but mostly it's a curve).

So, to start the game, you draw 5 of your ten cards, which will give you at least 2 power (with the worst possible hand) but usually averages 3 or 4, and you use this to either buy one or two cards from the random 5 (the "Path") and/or a Valor, discard any cards you can't usefully use (such as Despairs), and draw the rest of your starting deck. On your next turn, you repeat the process, reshuffling your discard pile (including the cards you bought) and drawing a new hand of 5 from the resulting new deck, and this continues throughout the game as players build up their power with stronger and more expensive cards. Eventually, players can manage to take out the current Archenemy, adding it to their deck (all have powerful effects, though a few of the weaker ones are not quite as good as the best of the cards from the Path, or at least are situational in their use; more to the point, they are worth immense amounts of VP compared to normal cards, so taking them is virtually necessary to win the game), and revealing a new Archenemy, which "attacks" the players; this continues until the last one is taken or the central deck runs out, at which point each player totals the VP value of all the cards in their deck (the cards they started with are never worth any VP), and the highest total is the winner.

Remember how I said the new Archenemies "attack" the players? It's also possible for the players to "attack" each other by playing certain cards which have such nasty effects, and thus it's wise for each player to acquire some cards which have a "Defense" ability, enabling him to stop such Attacks (which may come from either other players' cards or the Archenemy, as well as from "Ambush" abilities, which I'll get to below). During the game, players may also find it useful to "destroy" (permanently remove from their deck) the weaker cards, including their Despairs, as well as penalty cards (Corruption) which they may acquire as a result of Attacks or other effects, and reduce their VP total if they remain in the deck at end-of-game. Besides getting rid of Corruption, the ability to Destroy unwanted cards lets you burn through your deck faster; highly successful players may want to Destroy their starter cards or even low-VP-value cards which they purchased early in the game, in order that each of their draws is filled with nothing but powerful cards. Finally, it's always useful to draw more cards during your turn, giving you more power and more options. A deck is more likely to succeed if it pursues a certain theme, such as focusing on one or two of the card types, as card abilities often count the number of cards of one type (or, alternately, of different types) you play in a turn, or look for those cards in your discard pile or on top of your deck.

COMPARISONS WITH DC HEROES

As I said before, while I liked DC Heroes somewhat, it compared poorly to Legendary; it had a good mechanical core for a game, but didn't really feel "superheroey" enough for me. The same general set of mechanics are present in LOTR1, but several improvements are made. One of the largest of these is the presence of "Ambush" abilities on Enemy cards (slightly more than 1/5 of the deck consists of Enemies; similarly represented are the other card types Ally, Artifact, and Maneuver, while the last few cards include Locations and Fortunes, both of which are exceptions to the usual rule of playing each card once and discarding it at the end of the turn, to redraw and replay later). Unlike in DC Heroes, LOTR1's Enemies can actually Attack you just by appearing in the Path, meaning that you "fight" the game itself instead of just the Archenemies (this was a major thematic lack in DCH to me; capturing a "Villain" in that game was no different than buying any other card from the central deck).

The other main improvement in LOTR1 is the addition of a tiny number (5 out of a central deck of 116) of "Fortune" cards, which are one-time random effects that a single player can gain at no cost. These add unpredictability to the game, enabling you to overcome an obstacle or catch up from a weak start; they can occasionally feel cheap, or prove less than useful in a situation, but mostly they're just a way to shake up the formula and create excitement. LOTR1 also innovates a little with the Location cards, which were present in DC Heroes but always did only one thing there, letting you draw an extra card each turn under certain conditions. LOTR1 has a couple Locations like that, but a few do unique things that are worthy of a continuing effect in what is otherwise a highly dynamic game, such as letting you Destroy a card every single turn or offering you a Defense whenever you need one. The game could have stood to have more Fortunes and Locations, but overall its slightly repetitive nature is not much of a problem, given the wide variety of card effects and the constant cycling through your deck; it's definitely less predictable than DCH because of the Fortunes and extra Locations.

One more upgrade in this design is the introduction of Archenemy Levels. In DCH, the "Super Villain" cards which fulfilled this role were all interchangeable, except for the one which was always first; this could result in unsatisfying game endings, where the last Villain to go down was weaker than its predecessors. LOTR1's Archenemies are ranked from 1 (the 8-cost Nazgul, who is always first) through 4 (Lurtz, the Orc whose legion kills Boromir and scatters the Fellowship, who weighs in at a staggering cost of 14 that's very hard to attain with just five cards), with ten of the twelve being either Level 2 (such as the Watcher in the Water and a Cave Troll) or Level 3 (most of the story's most famous foes, including a Balrog, Saruman, and the Witch-King). The rulebook suggests eight Archenemies for a game of average length, so you'll randomly keep three of the Level 2 and three of the Level 3 AEs, saving the rest for a later game. (I do plan to eventually try a full-length game using all twelve AEs, although such a game is more likely to end with the center deck running out than with Lurz being defeated.) The tougher AEs are worth fewer VP (the Nazgul is only 1 VP above the single most valuable card in the center deck, while the player who slays Lurtz claims as great a trophy as someone who takes out two of the three Lvl. 2 AEs), and their abilities are likewise proportionate to their rank, so the game is slightly less "win-more" than DCH. (LOTR1 also includes an "expert mode" not present in DCH, with beefed-up versions of all the AEs, although I haven't tried that one; it's meant to come as a surprise the first time you play it, and so I won't be wasting it on solitaire. The game's manufacturers goofed slightly by stacking these "Impossible Mode" AEs backwards, so that inside the sealed packet I can see what the final boss Lurz is like in this version, but will have to wait to see what the Impossible Nazgul can do until I actually try him out.)

But perhaps the biggest advantage in this game compared to DC Heroes, and one of the things that makes it such a masterwork of design in general, is the fact that it offers you a lot of opportunities to play politics in a game with more than two players; my solitare sessions notwithstanding, games are a social activity for the most part, and in DC Heroes, you couldn't really interact with other players. You might launch an occasional Attack, but these hit all your opponents individually; you were largely powerless to have any particular influence on a player who wasn't immediately downstream from you in the turn order. LOTR1 fixes that in a big way; cards like "These are For You", "That Was Close", and "It Comes in Pints?" let you pick and choose which of your opponents to help or hurt, irrespective of where anyone is sitting at the table, and thus you can try to help out players who seem to have been screwed by the whims of in-game Fate, while withholding aid from opponents who are doing better than you. There is simply no overstating how much this adds to the gaming experience compared to the earlier Cryptozoic title, which offered no such opportunities.

The one step backward in this design, IMO, comes at the very start of the game, when you select (randomly or by choice) which of the seven Heroes (all the members of the Fellowship except Merry and Pippin) you will play. In DCH, each of the Super Heroes you could take had a special ability, giving them very different playstyles, and that would have worked fine in this game as well. But instead, each LOTR1 Hero differs from each of the others only in having a single unique card in their deck, and those cards aren't extremely different (more on them below); by the middle of the game, when the starter card is lost within a 20- or 30-card deck or may even have been Destroyed for lack of utility, the players could probably swap their decks by accident and not even notice the change for a turn or two. On the upside, the unique cards do sometimes give you more than 1 power, so the first two turns of the game are less boring than in DCH; in that game you always had precisely 7 Power across your first two turns, but in this one several players have the potential to get 8 over the same time span, potentially allowing a purchase of a 6-cost card on the first turn (not counting the effects of a lucky early Fortune). This shakes up those early turns a lot, and that's a positive, but I still think a continuing ability would have been better, so that playing Aragorn would always feel different from being Boromir, even when neither one had drawn their Sword card.

MY OPINIONS ON LOTR1 OVERALL

You can probably tell by now that I really like the game, so I'll put a stop to my ravings and move on to some practical advice on how to play your first couple of games. First, about selecting which Hero to play, and how to play him (yes, they're all males, though a promotional Arwen card was available when the game first came out). Since the only difference between heroes is their unique card, I'll focus heavily upon that, exagerrating how important it actually tends to be; don't slavishly commit yourself to the strategy I describe, as it's just meant to offer you a starting point while you get used to how the game flows.

First thing I will say is this: if you can possibly avoid it, do not play the game two-player. As I said before, several cards let you play politics, and these are partly or completely wasted in a one-on-one duel where all your targeting decisions are made for you. "That was Close!" goes from being one of the game's best cards to the single worst Defense option, because it spares your opponent from a Group Ambush that you might well have triggered yourself by capturing the previous Archenemy; "My Captain, My King" is even worse, since it will usually help your opponent exactly as much as it helps you, but is coming out of your hand. You might simply remove those cards from the deck in order to play two-player, but that could throw off the balance of the center deck and cause it to run out faster, and it's just a chore you'd probably rather avoid. If you have two people who are free to play LOTR1, try to rustle up a third however you can; it's easily one of the best games I've experienced for three players (many games, when played with 3, turn into "you and me vs. him" in a very unfair way, but a DBG self-balances nicely to prevent such alliances from lasting too long). And four or five would work just as well; sadly, not enough Courage and Despair cards are included to let you try and deal in a sixth player (or keep the starting decks made-up between games, unless you just leave two characters out).

A bit of an aside here....bizarrely, the out-of-the-box game comes with 1 more Despair card and 1 more Courage card than are needed to make up five starter decks; I've converted these extras into proxies for Arwen and her Maneuver, but perhaps if you have a wider circle of friends than me, you might see if you could get together five players who all own the game, pool these leftover cards, scratch out two of the Despairs and write "Courage: +1 Power" on them, and make up a sixth starter deck. Actually playing the game with six players might go a little pear-shaped, since it was balanced by the designers with the assumption that it only went up to 5, but it could be a fun experiment. Or, if your FLGS has enough players that it wants to keep a store copy on hand, perhaps it could collect a full two extra sets of starter cards (with some leftover Despairs to use as bookmarks or something) and keep the decks made up at all times, making it even faster to sit down and start playing than the game normally is.

Anyway, we'll move along to actually useful comments....

Thinking about which of the characters was weakest, I had to come to the surprising conclusion that it was Gandalf (don't ask me why his name has to be italicized; several of the names have a trademark bug, but only Gandalf gets diagonal letters on two of the four cards his name is printed on, and is even written in ALLCAPS in the Rulebook). He does have a unique ability which no other player enjoys, as his Staff can destroy cards in the Path and prevent Ambushes on the replacement card; the bottom line, however, is that this added flexibility doesn't make up for being the only Hero whose special card is always worth only +1 Power, leaving him completely incapable of buying a card that costs more than 5 on his first turn, and slowing his development all throughout the early game. (This is thematically fitting, since Gandalf is just a guide and advisor to the Fellowship throughout the book's early chapters; it doesn't make it any less troublesome to play him, however.)

Being unable to afford expensive cards, Gandalf is likely to end up playing somewhat more strategically and tending toward a thicker deck full of cheap cards; he should thus try a little harder than other players to acquire card-drawing. He has slightly less need of Defenses because his Staff can occasionally stop an Ambush (though never one that was very likely to have hit *him*), but his tendency to have less Powers suggests that he should definitely pack some Destruction, to get rid of his Despairs and Corruptions so that he gets the most mileage out of what cards he does manage to acquire. Lastly, the ability to remove a card from the Lineup and immediately replace it is found nowhere else in the game; only Gandalf's Staff can achieve this feat, and thus Gandalf can make better use of a handful of cards (including, appropriately, "Gandalf's Fireworks", as well as the game's first Archenemy, the "Nazgul") which look for cards of a specific sort in the Path - if no targets are available, you can procure a sixth card which might fit.

Moving on, the next character I'll pick on is Boromir, who is the game's most "workhorse" character, and thus a pretty good choice for first-time players (though the difference is slight, for the aforementioned reasons). Boromir's Sword is a very straightforward card; it's worth Power equal to the Level of the next-to-be-taken-out Archenemy. Thusly, while the Nazgul reigns unchallenged in the early game, the Sword is just +1 like your Courages, and you're even weaker than Gandalf. But the Sword gets stronger as the Archenemies are knocked off, and when Lurz shows his ugly mug as the last surviving foe, Boromir will only need to come up with 10 power with his other four cards, as his Sword will contribute a full 4 toward defeating Lurtz - or taking some other powerful card to help finish the job later. (In one of my sample games, I greatly enjoyed a turn where a late-game Attack had discarded all but three of Boromir's cards, but one of them was a "Draw a card" ability, and I topdecked Boromir's Sword with Lurtz out, nearly doubling my power for that otherwise miserable turn.) With this slow but steady buildup of his solitary advantage, Boromir is very easy to play, but he probably doesn't gain power fast enough to keep pace with Aragorn or Samwise (see below); he's a safe investment, but deckbuilding games in general tend to reward "high rollers" who take risks and might win big if they pay off, since the constant refreshing of your deck means you have lots of chances to get lucky. Otherwise, there's no strategic advice which applies specially to Boromir; his is the default playstyle and requires no more planning than is necessary to perform well with any random character.

The last of the characters who can't produce more than 7 power across the first two turns (barring someone other than Boromir killing the Nazgul earlier than is normally possible, due to help from other players or a well-timed Fortune card) is the game's other sword-wielding Human, Aragorn. He's one of the strangest characters, which combined with his initial weakness makes him probably the single worst choice for a new player; Aragorn's sword produces Power equal to the number of different costs among cards you play in one turn, which is of course always 1 while you're playing nothing but 0-cost starter cards. Only one card in the game has a cost of 1, and nothing in the main deck exceeds 7, so a typical five-card hand might ideally contain 0, 2, 3, 4, and 5, with a couple card-draw effects that can get you your 6 and your 7. Of course, most often your draw won't be that cooperative, but in order to best exploit Aragorn's Sword, you should try to diversify your deck, which can of course produce highly unpredictable results. Valor is an easy 3, but only a relative handful of 2's exist, and it's not hard for unpurchaseable 6s and 7s to clog up the Path in the early game, so it can take some real work to get Aragorn's sword to produce more than 2 or 3 power.

If you really want Aragorn to come into his full potential, it's extra-important for him to try and take down Archenemies early (this means that the Gimli ally card is one of the best buys in the game for him); prior to that, he should also usually try to take a single high-cost card each turn, rather than multiple lower-cost ones, since he risks being stuck with a weak turn later on and having to duplicate costs of any cheap cards he purchased "in bulk" earlier. Card-drawing is god for Aragorn, since it increases his selection of costs and can make his Sword extremely strong, as well as making him re-draw the Sword more often. Destruction is a bit less important for him than other characters since he craves variety, though he should still at least get rid of his Despairs; Courages don't add anything to the Sword, but he might still hang onto them a bit longer than other players, to add a certain consistency to his erratic draws. Once you get Aragorn rolling, he is extremely strong, but getting him to that point is difficult enough to make him a poor choice for novice players.

Three of the game's characters have a unique item which is worth 2 power at all times; of these, Legolas gets the relative booby prize, the Bow of the Galadrhim. For the game's first five or six turns at least, this will almost certainly be nothing but "+2 Power", and Gimli will laugh at your silly elven butt while he comes this close to slaying the Nazgul on his first turn. In order for the Bow to be anything special, you need to have ten cards in your discard pile, which takes quite a while to start happening. Once you build up your deck, you can start occasionally drawing a card when you play the Bow - but this requires significant luck, since there are few ways to guarantee that you don't draw the Bow right after you've reshuffled your deck (or in the subsequent turn; it's extremely difficult to burn through five extra cards besides your initial hand).

Because he would kind of rather not reshuffle his deck, Legolas tends to prefer buying large numbers of cheap cards rather than a few expensive ones (though Archenemies should of course be an exception to this policy). Card-drawing is a mixed blessing for Legolas; it can speed him toward the point when the Bow starts working well, but it can also lead to him reshuffling sooner than he'd prefer and thus sabotaging the Bow...so he should either have little card draw so that he can suffer through two turns when the Bow would be weak, and hope that it appears thereafter, trying to make the resulting window of opportunity last, or else have a huge amount of drawing power, in the hopes that he can empty his deck, reshuffle DURING his turn (rather than after discarding and redrawing at the end of the turn, since that would leave him with an empty discard pile, even if he was short only one card). Because he wants his discard pile to fill up fast, Legolas is a rare example of a character who might intentionally suffer an Attack even if he has a Defense handy (especially in a multi-player game, where more opportunities to use that Defense will later exist in the same round), if the Attack might put that critical tenth card into his discard pile sooner (such as "choose and discard two cards" - two Despairs in your hand aren't doing you any good otherwise, so you'd actually enjoy "suffering" that Attack in this specific case). Another useful option for Legolas is to delay the moment when he must play the Bow, such as by using Seeing Stones to put it back onto his deck and draw it the next turn, after discarding his current hand. (Unfortunately not very many cards exist which can play into this highly unusual playstyle; moments when Legolas is actually different from other characters are a fairly rare treat.)

The need to count cards and manage their flow can make Legolas a nuisance to play (unless you're the kind of player who actively enjoys such busy-work; such players do exist), and the payoff of drawing a single extra card is hardly worth it. However, it can lead to a few interesting and unique situations - while a strict reading of the rules indicates that you have to buy all the cards you spend Power *after* playing all the cards which give you Power, you can potentially *gain* cards from a card effect without spending Power, and then play Legolas's Bow to draw a card - if your deck was empty, this would cause you to reshuffle including the just-drawn card, and you might (10% chance at best) then immediately draw that card. While not really justifying the effort, this kind of incident does make the game more fun. (I've now lead myself to the conclusion that LOTR1 is actually based not on Lord of the Rings so much as on DM of the Rings, a legendary webcomic which reimagines Tolkien's mythos as a roleplaying campaign and the Fellowship as typical gamers. The DMOTR version of Legolas is a stereotypical "adrenaline gamer" kid, and he would probably enjoy playing the LOTR1 version of Legolas as well, assuming his attention span held out long enough.)

Whew, moving along at last. The last character who doesn't get a flat +2 power on his card is Samwise, whose unique card is the only one that isn't an Artifact (excluding the promo Arwen's also-promo "Ride with the Wind"). This card is a Maneuver named Samwise's Bravery, and its payoff is highly variable, potentially being extremely powerful on rare occasions (very fitting for Samwise, who briefly displaces Frodo as the hero of the quest in book 3). Every five cards in your discard pile - and thus, for most purposes, every turn that has passed since you last reshuffled - is worth +1 power to Samwise's Bravery; unlike Boromir and less even than Aragorn, Samwise has no real upper limit on how powerful his card can become, and getting it up to 5 or 6 power is not especially difficult, even if he just keeps plugging away with ordinary cards (Aragorn can only exceed 5 by gaining at least one card-draw, and Boromir of course never gets above 4).

Artifacts are the most self-referential card type in the game, with cards like Flaming Brand and Shards of Narsil counting other Artifacts in a way that Maneuvers never count each other; because he doesn't have a starting Artifact in his deck, Sam has less reason to specialize in them than any other character (though of course whether any character does specialize so will depend on whether they get a chance to purchase such cards). Sam can pursue all the same strategies as Legolas in order to pad his discard pile - card-drawing, multiple cheap purchases, and even intentionally suffering Attacks - but unlike Legolas who eventually hits a point of diminishing returns, Sam has no reason not to go "up to eleven" with such methods; he has the most interest in playing a very thick deck, and the least need to destroy unwanted cards (he would like to at least discard them, such as with Merry's Ally card or the Group Ambush of the Witch-King, so he can play useful ones instead). Of course, the thicker his deck is, the least likely he is to draw the Bravery, which is why I say he's only occasionally powerful. No other character would rather stumble upon the Eagle Escape fortune, which lets you fish the Bravery out of a well-stocked discard pile and play it to extreme effect, but alas there is no real way to actually help make this happen, past just emptying a lot of slots in the Path (generally a good strategy anyway, since it might result in the next player after you getting Ambushed a lot) and hoping that you get lucky at just the right moment.

The game's other Hobbit character, Frodo is definitely the most unique of the bunch; he is the only Hero whose starting deck includes a Defense card (again, excluding Arwen, since not everyone owns her), in the form of the card which is probably single-handedly responsible for the designers' decision to use special cards instead of innate abilities for the characters: the One Ring. But the One Ring doesn't just offer +2 power or let you avoid Attacks; it also has a risk of Corrupting you as a result. (Unlike in DC Heroes, where the villain "Bizarro" can turn your -1 VP "Weakness" cards into an asset, LOTR1 offers no potential upside for Corruptions; they are always bad and always to be avoided if possible, at least outside of Impossible Mode.) Besides potentially clogging your deck with blank cards and reducing your final score, the One Ring is also a poor-quality defense, because it is the one Defense doesn't draw you any cards when discarded to stop an attack (a few of them let you destroy cards instead of drawing them, but the One Ring is unique in having no upside beyond the Defense itself, apart from the Prancing Pony which gets to sit in play until it's needed and thus doesn't clog up your hand). Thusly, slipping on the One Ring costs you a card in hand, depriving you of 2 power for the next turn, and might corrupt you besides - it's a definite sacrifice.

Frodo has absolutely the most unique playstyle because of the dual role that the Ring can play, being either +2 Power or a Defense, but never both. With the potential to Corrupt you, the Ring positively demands that you must place an especially high premium on Destruction effects. You have one Defense handy, so you needn't try quite as hard as other players to procure more, but of course any other Defense is better than the Ring, so you still wouldn't mind picking up a You Shall Not Pass or a hope Remains (the best choice, of course, is Put It Out You Fools, which is both a defense and a destruction effect, and thus one of the most useful cards in the game across the board). Samwise's Ally card explicitly destroys Corruption, and thus Frodo would certainly love to acquire it; if he can manage that, he should also consider acquiring Seduced By The Ring, which is otherwise a card he would want less than anyone else. Finally, as a point of largely academic interest: for purely flavor reasons, the One Ring card can never be Destroyed, and so while no player is really terribly likely to Destroy their special card, Frodo is the one Hero who absolutely cannot rid his deck entirely of 0-VP cards (not that any player is likely to manage such a feat, even if they want to, hence why I say this datum is a mere curiosity).

Last but definitely not least - and no that's not a short joke, you're taller than the hobbits and I don't hear them complaining, so stick a beard in it - we come to Gimli. Put bluntly, Gimli is the best character in the game hands-down, because his Axe contributes a full +2 Power and lets you shave 2 off the cost of the Archenemy that turn. You have to discard a card in order to do this, which makes it impossible to take out the Nazgul on turn 1 (unless an opponent foolishly lets you draw a card), as you'd have to draw four Courages and the Axe to total 6 power, and would have to give one of the Courages up in order to trigger the Axe's discount to reduce the Nazgul to 6. However, even if the trick doesn't work on turn 1 or 2, it certainly can prove highly impressive on turn 3 with a little luck, and will be nearly guaranteed to come in handy at least once in a game if your play is not utterly cursed (as Gimli's was during both of my sample games with his, so my claim that he's the strongest character is purely theoretical, but I still stand by it). For the early part of the game, you'll nearly always have a Despair that you can toss to sharpen the Axe, and the +2 power alone helps you to acquire high-value cards like Haldir, Flaming Brand or It Comes In Pints, which combined with the Axe and three other cards could easily total the price of a level 2 Archenemy. The Axe remains useful when it comes time to fell Lurtz and possibly Saruman before him, as the double-digit costs of these foes require serious effort to equal; Corruptions might make for decent late-game pitch-fodder for the Axe, and of course any card draw effect is always useful as well. Beyond this, Gimli doesn't need much in the way of strategy; he simply has a leg up on the competition (okay, that was a short joke).

IN CONCLUSION

Well, I'd say I've probably prattled on about this game long enough for one evening, even if it is fully deserving of much discussion. One last thing I'll mention: besides the lack of individual hero powers that are "always on", my one complaint about LOTR1, both in the abstract and specifically in comparison to DC Heroes, is that it lacks seriously in rules clarifity. Both Cryptozoic titles have a fairly minimalist rulebook, relying on you to get the hang of how the game works without much explication; nowhere does it specifically break down the exact sequence of the turn beyond "play cards, buy cards, discard and redraw your hand, refill the path, pass the turn", and so a few situations can be ambiguous at first glance. But in DC Heroes, nearly every Super Villian card and several of the more complex cards from the center deck had an FAQ entry specifying just how they work, and almost none of these are found in LOTR1.

I'm working on gathering a stock of thumb-rules and house-errata which will make the game easier to master with confidence, as murky interpretations are never beneficial; I'm writing these items (I've got 5 so far, as of this post, both having resulted from games before the one I played tonight, in which I had no serious issues) in on the Notes pages at the back of the rulebook (which I'm fairly confident DC Heroes didn't contain), and will eventually post them here as well, after I've poked around for existing info and made sure I'm not re-inventing the wheel. Until I get together a compilation, the spot-rule is simply to call each situation in whatever way seems to make sense to the most players in the current group (this is another reason why the game is better with more than two players; an argument where one guy says "yea" and the other insists "nay" seldom goes anywhere productive, but even if peer pressure isn't an ideal method of resolving conflicts, at least it's a such method, letting you put the matter to rest and get on with your fun).
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Christian @BoardGameMonster
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In my opinion this is one of the best deck building games that I've played.

It has a real sense of progression (as the arch enemies get tougher) and you feel like you're 'getting somewhere'. I love Ascension, Dominion, Thunderstone, etc as well but, IMHO, this one is better than all of them and deserves more credit than it gets. It's quick to set up, easy to learn and presents lots of interesting combos you can work towards. (As an aside, I also have the DC DBG and Marvel Legendary and personally think this one is better than both of those.)

What's even better is that everyone in my circle loves it too. The hard core Tuesday night brigade love it as a quick filler before or after something epic. And Mrs Monster often suggests LOTR unprompted of an evening, which is quite different to the usual need to coerce her into a game of something!

I'm looking forward to the Two Towers (and eventually Return of the King) expansions and hope these make it an even better and richer experience!

P.S. I think having a card for the hero powers rather than something that's 'always on' works much better!
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Will Pell
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A correction to my earlier description - Frodo does NOT discard the One Ring when using it as a defense, he simply reveals it from his hand and checks for Corruption. This makes a big difference.
 
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Will Pell
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Well now this makes for an interesting time capsule; I am now *completely* bored with this first LOTR deckbuilder, and did not even remember having once loved it so enthusiastically. The Two Towers and the Return of the King are both much more sophisticated executions of the deckbuilding-game concept, and the only thing Fellowship has going for it is being easier to play, which to my mind effectively ghettoes it into being strictly a teaching game for new players, those who don't yet understand the deckbuilding concept well enough to try either of the later games.
 
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