Matthias Pseudonym
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Here I am, sitting at my laptop, sipping some whiskey, and asking myself the question:

Am I *frustrated* with this game?

It's hard to tell for me, actually. There certainly are quite a few *aspects* of this game I am frustrated with, but frustrated with the game as such? I am far too eager to try out the newest cycle (which still hasn't hit Germany yet, as far as I can tell) to be considered frustrated with the game itself.

But first things first, I guess.

It all started out quite harmlessly. Isn't that the way it always starts? The guys at your game store sing the praises of this game, you buy it, you play it, and then things go south. Because after a while, you know, you start to *see* all those little character flaws you all too willingly ignored in the beginning; and because, despite the recognition of these flaws, you want *more*. Dammit, I'm rambling.

I take another sip of whiskey. Get to the point, stupid!

In the core set, you get four player decks, each with 30 player cards and 3 hero cards. The heroes are in play from the beginning and let you gather resources with which you pay for the player cards in your deck. Those player cards come in different colours, matching the heroes' colours, and in different kinds: There are one-time effects, there are allies you can play who stay with you until they get killed or lost or something, and there are attachments which you can play onto an ally or hero.

This is a cooperative game. I guess I should mention that now. Players don't go at each other with their decks, they're up against a quest deck and an encounter deck.

You see, Lord of the Rings - The Card Game is not one big epic game, but rather a collection of short scenarios, each of which have different setups, each of which have different things happening after you pushed past a certain point in the scenario. This stuff is done via the quest cards which tell you the story, kind of like these old choose your own adventure books, only with a linear narrative and lots of fighting and doing other stuff in between chapters.

The encounter deck throws enemies at you, enemies you usuall should kill; it also spews forth locations you have to explore, and treacheries, which, well, are really bad news, usually.

And what is there you can do to deal with all this?

You want to put progress markers on quest cards. Each hero and ally has a stat of how much progress he or she can do in a round. However, between you and progress lies often an active location, and always the staging area. Enemies and locations go there, and each round, each player adds another card from the encounter deck to this area. Maybe more, if the encounter card says so, or the current quest card says so. So you send your characters on the quest, see what happens in the staging area, and hope that you make progress on the quest card or at least get rid of the active location. If there is more stuff in the staging area than you can handle, there's a timer that's pushed closer to the end of the game.

Then, enemies might leave the staging area to fight with you; you have to deal with their attacks, which include so-called "shadow cards" from the encounter deck, and then you may start your counter attack with characters that didn't quest or defend or attack another enemy.

That is the action part of the game, the rest is mostly accounting work.

It does sound like it's a pretty cool game, doesn't it? And it is. Oh yes, it is a damn fine game. Sometimes ...

Pouring myself another whiskey, I decide that I blame the way locations work in the game. By regular means, you can get only one location out of the staging area in a round of the game. If the encounter deck decides to throw more than one location a round at you for two or three rounds, you are in trouble.

You need to do some tricks, you have to stop doing things straight forward. Which, actually, means that you have to have the right cards, and the right resources to play them. And cards that deal with non-active locations are rather rare, which means you need to be *lucky* to get them when you need them. And which also means that you're freedom to design your deck is reduced by the need to include those few cards, just to deal with a possible location lock.

Not that the enemies are anything to be taken lightly, either. So, every time you send characters questing, you need to decide which ones to hold back to use them against potentially upcoming enemies, if any. Having wasted characters who could have quested and then gotten rid of an active location because they were ready for enemies that didn't show up is frustrating, and a pretty common occurence.

Gambling on the number of enemies to appear. That's what you do, each round, whether you want to or not. I prefer to be able to consciously *choose* when to take a risk in a cooperative game. I take another sip of whiskey.

This concept of dealing with the unknown without much possibility to circumvent bad luck also means that it's very challenging to design "good" scenarios, and "good" encounter cards. If you have a "damned if you do, damned if you don't" mechanic when it comes to going questing, making the scenario too tight means you will get a lot of frustrated outcries of "how was I supposed to know *that*?" Make it not tight enough, and "hoping to get lucky" becomes a viable strategy.

And even the tightness of the scenario is very dependent of what encounter cards are drawn, and when. Having a card in your encounter deck that is devastating if added early to the staging area but harmless if dealt as a shadow card means that it's impossible to know whether this card will be a real threat or not, anytime you play. You can say how this card will affect the difficulty of the scenario *on average*, but in an actual game, it's a somewhat disappointing toss of the coin with potentially huge consequences.

Few scenarios have dealt with these problems in a satisfactory manner. Very few.

And then, you see, there are keywords, restrictions, special abilities, unclear synergies, errata - it's a mess. A glorious mess, at times. But a mess.

And that's just gameplay with the core set and the included decks. "Starter decks", they call them. You are free to design your own decks, they say, in which case they have to include at least 50 cards. With a single core set, that is tough.

There are 29 cards of each colour, and there are 4 neutral cards than can be payed for with resources of any colour. If you want to design two decks, for two players, well, there aren't that many cards you can leave out of your decks. There are also issues with balancing the number of cards of one colour in a deck with the number of heroes of that colour you are using. If you want to build your own deck, you need more cards.

More cards. That's one of the basic design concepts in this game. Introduce cool new mechanics and synergies that you always need more cards for to make them work properly. There are people having bought several core sets, just to have more of the really good cards in the set. It's a great way to make money, but it leaves a bitter taste in my mouth.

You want to build a deck consisitng only of cards of a single colour? You need lots of expansions to be able to have even a legal deck, never mind a useful one. You want to build a deck with cards of more than one colour? You probably will want to have "songs" in your deck that allow heroes to use their resources for cards of another colour, and these songs are spread over four different expansions, which time and again are out of print.

Right now, I am at a point where I enjoy most of the scenarios. But it took me a lot of expansions to get there, and I still feel grumpy about getting some expansions I skipped just to get that one card that lets you efficiently deal with some things other scenarios throw at you.

I'm sounding negative, ain't I? Maybe it's just ... maybe it would have been better had I known what I was getting into when I got into this game. I have had a lot of fun with many of the scenarios, there were nights I spent playing "The Siege of Cair Andros" in the "Heirs of Numenor" expansion, trying to optimize my deck, fighting against hordes of orcs, and having plain simple fun! But there are times, again and again and again, when this game will show you another face, when it is not only hard on you, but actually *unfair* to you.

The game will always provide you with new ways to overcome adversity, and it will always come up with new ways to turn all your planning and strategizing to naught, with new ways to neuter your most potent cards. It is a game, or rather a gaming system, that is never quite finished, in good ways as well as in bad ways. If that sounds cool to you, go ahead and get into this game. If you're more hesitant ... well, in that case other games may be more to your liking.

PS: You also should stay away from the German edition of this, as it is riddled with translation errors. "Number of characters" turns into "number of players", "engages" turns into "attacks", "engagement cost" turns into "attack strength" etc. Seriously, whenever I come across an encounter card that does something out of the ordinary, I always have the impulse to check on the internet whether the original card says the same.

Dear Heidelberger Spieleverlag, please fix this issue soon or hire *me* as a proofreader/translater. Then I might not need as much whiskey when thinking about this game anymore. Thanks!
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John Davis
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Thanks for taking the time to post such a long and informative review. While I agree with much of what you write, I would make a couple of points in the game's defence:

1) Don't worry about the 50 card limit. Really. Thats a *tournament* rule.
Play weith 30-40 card decks until you find the game too easy, then give 50 card decks a try.

2) Songs are not essential. I only rarely play them even now, and even then usually only 1 or 2 in a deck (which often don't even come out). Sure, they are very helpful for some decks, but that's true of most of the expansion set cards.

3) No matter how good your deck, no matter how well you play, sometimes you will get unlucky and lose. The game is designed that way. Learn to enjoy your losses - they will tell you what to change in your deck, and help you become a more skillful player. And give you epic stories to tell your friends later!
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Matthias Pseudonym
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I appreciate your defense, I really do. However, there are some howevers to each of your points:

1.) Yes, BUT: If you want to experience the game the way it is meant to be experienced beyond the starter decks, you do want to play with a 50 cards deck. I'm not a big fan of making the players do the balancing work for a cooperative game by letting them tweak rules; give different difficulty levels for differently skilled people in the rule book! (Which, apparently, they're doing now with Easy Mode, which I haven't tried yet.)

2.) My experience is different. True, I don't use songs that much anymore either, but that's because I found bliss and joy in monosphere decks. Which I was able to find because I finally have enough cards for each sphere. However, I distinctly remember when Conflict at the Carrock got back in print and I was finally able to use another song than just the song of battle - it was then that I thought to myself, ah, so that's how it's supposed to work. Gameplay was that much smoother, it was a revelation.

3.) Yes, the game is designed that way, but, sorry, I consider this to be a pretty big flaw. Because your losses do emphatically *not* tell you how you could design your deck in a better way. Losing for the first time doesn't tell whether your loss was due to bad card draws from the player decks, or unlucky draws from the encounter deck, or bad playing on your part. Or a bad deck design. It's hard to tell whether you are *supposed* to deal with an increase of 6 threat to the staging area each round, or whether that was just bad luck. There are scenarios that get around this, but many are just too random with what comes your way.

And typically, your losses do *not* give you epic stories to tell to your friends. Getting stuck in locations is unepic. Getting destroyed by an effect that cannot be neutralized is not educational. Getting engaged to three low-engagement cost enemies the first turn and losing a hero isn't a story, it's an auto-reboot. Getting dozens of orcs you slaughtered back into the staging area - okay, that's a pretty epic way to go down, but there is only one scenario where this can happen, while many other scenarios kill you by turning the game into a drag.
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Matthew Roskam
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Nice writing style- and a good, honest impression of the game. I also have been drawn into this LCG...and aside from a few scenarios that I think were badly designed, the overall experience has been great.

It seems the overall difficulty is consistent with the theme (middle earth seems a very unforgiving place) but for people that like a challenge, and like to be rewarded for building decks carefully and playing smartly, it really is a great experience.

Anyway, great write up! Thanks for taking the time to contribute your thoughts!

PS: it does seem locations are effecting you more than they should- Try focusing on quest buffing cards a little more, rather than just trying to keep the staging area completely clear of locations- 2 or 3 locations shouldn't be unmanageable- more than that, and it can get bad quickly- especially without Northern Tracker coming off your deck.
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Matthias Pseudonym
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Well, maybe I should have put a disclaimer into my review, stating that I started writing this review after deciding that Peril in Pelargir just wasn't worth the effort, and that scenario probably *is* far more evil with locations than most other quests. Locations that surge, treacheries that force you to put more locations into play - yuck! I was able to easily handle about twice as many enemies than actually came out, but no, it was bad location after bad location after location that was immune to player card effects after bad location that forced me to travel there if possible.

That was really an extreme example, and i guess I *am* more likely to focus on dealing with enemies than in dealing with locations when designing (that word is used in the widest sense here, of course) my decks, but I really don't like it that locations can become so troublesome just through bad luck of the draw.

And now I'm off to deal with Into Ithilien, which I have made far better experiences with!
 
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Phillip Edwards
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You've written a very good review. It is far more coherent than an "article" I could write while sipping whiskey.
 
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Ed T
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MattFromGermany wrote:

3.) Yes, the game is designed that way, but, sorry, I consider this to be a pretty big flaw. Because your losses do emphatically *not* tell you how you could design your deck in a better way. Losing for the first time doesn't tell whether your loss was due to bad card draws from the player decks, or unlucky draws from the encounter deck, or bad playing on your part. Or a bad deck design. It's hard to tell whether you are *supposed* to deal with an increase of 6 threat to the staging area each round, or whether that was just bad luck. There are scenarios that get around this, but many are just too random with what comes your way.


I emphatically disagree with this statement here. I don't typically have that much trouble figuring out after a loss what steps I need to do in both deck construction and strategy (because you can definitely have a well constructed deck and play it poorly and lose a scenario, as well as have a less than optimal deck and play it extremely well and win).
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Marko Dobranic
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MattFromGermany wrote:
I appreciate your defense, I really do. However, there are some howevers to each of your points:

1.) Yes, BUT: If you want to experience the game the way it is meant to be experienced beyond the starter decks, you do want to play with a 50 cards deck. I'm not a big fan of making the players do the balancing work for a cooperative game by letting them tweak rules; give different difficulty levels for differently skilled people in the rule book! (Which, apparently, they're doing now with Easy Mode, which I haven't tried yet.).


Not playing with 50 cards in deck is not tweaking rules.
Official rules state that you need at least 50 cards for tournament deck and 99.9999% people play this game not on tournaments. Page 27 of rules says: A tournament deck must contain a minimum of 50 cards.
LOTR:LCG has only 2 rules regarding players cards and deck-building:
1. You cannot have more than 3 heroes.
2. You cannot have more than 3 identical cards in your deck.

That's it. Everything else is allowed. You can actually play with all cards in you deck or just 10-20 of them. You can try with just 1 or 2 heroes.

Most people play with less (30-40 cards) or more (60-70). It's not fun to just count cards. It doesn't matter if you have exactly 50 cards or not. If you want to play thematic decks (Dwarfs, Rohan, Eagles, Gondor, Noldor, etc) it is impossible to have exactly 50 cards in your deck.
So stop counting and star enjoying this great game

Also you have different difficulty levels in the rule book. You can play without Shadow Effect. I played my first 20-30 plays that way.

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Matthias Pseudonym
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Okay, sounds like I'm getting some heat here, which indicates that I probably sounded like a pompous donkey in my comments above. If so, I'm sorry for that.

Maybe it is my playing style, maybe it is my extraordinary resistance to learning from my mistakes, but if I get destroyed in the first or second round, then that tells me very little about how well my deck would have worked in the longer run. I might reconsider the heroes I'm using, sure, but getting killed early on, *in my experience*, feels like it's being due to bad card draw, and not necessarily a badly designed deck.

If a first questing phase has your heroes wounded, your threat levels increased and leaves you to deal with more enemies than you are ready for because of some nasty treacheries (yeah, I'm pretty much talking about Blocing Wargs and Hradrim Support here), do you see that as a clear sign to include Eleanor in your hero line up and always mulligan for test of will? Or do you rather try again to see what your deck is capable of if the first turn goes "normal"?

About the deck size ... I guess I would have been happier if there had been an officially recommended deck size for people who own only one core set in the rule book? A recommendation that doesn't make it sound like it's a variant for newbies until they get somewhat good at the game (and have gotten more cards)?

I don't know, something just makes me feel like it's a (tiny) bit "cheating" to play with smaller decks; but probably, that's just me :-)
 
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No No No Sheep
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i dont mind negative reviews, in fact when i research a new game i always look for negative reviews. so in light of all that i thank OP for adding negative review for LOTR:LCG. (a game with no negative reviews are suspect imho)

though i rather see you clean up your original post into structured review , not like a continuous rambling like that. Note that this criticism apply to your formatting not your review content which i welcome.
 
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MattFromGermany wrote:
About the deck size ... I guess I would have been happier if there had been an officially recommended deck size for people who own only one core set in the rule book?


you can make a dual sphere deck from the core set cards that combine best of 2 sphere. or make a triple sphere deck.. im sure it will reach 50 card.

for me, i wish ffg offer more deck building examples in their core set just like those examples in Saga expansions. not everyone is a knowledgable deck builder.. personally im bad at deckbuilding and all i did was siphon off other people's deck from cardgamedb forums.
 
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John Davis
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MattFromGermany wrote:
Okay, sounds like I'm getting some heat here, which indicates that I probably sounded like a pompous donkey in my comments above. If so, I'm sorry for that.

Certainly not! Your fine review expressed your dissatisfaction with some aspects of the gme design and the published quests, which is perfectly valid and helpful. But some other posters disagree with some of your points, and are choosing to offer a different perspective.

From a personal perspective, I haven't purchased Heirs of Numenor because its quests seems to be much harder than the earlier quests, and I haven't particularly enjoyed the games I played with a friend's set due to the difficulty. But I wouldn't criticize the designers for this - one of the strengths of the game is the wide variety of quest difficulties.
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Tomek Szymanski
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I think it's that kind of game where you benefit greatly from more experienced players' contribution. Your point of view is understandable for me since some scenarios used to give me absolute fits (and still sometimes do) that led to utter frustration - Into The Pit and Into Ithilien being primary examples. That's why I started to read (especially Beano's blog) and watch (COTR Progression Series) - that gave me the necessary theoretical background for greatly improving my deckbuilding.
 
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jon beall
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I really liked this review. Great writing style, and I'm not worried about whether I agree with every point or not -- the review is your opinion, and I take it as such.

Thanks for posting. It is fun to read particularly since you got fairly deep into the game.

Again, nice work!
 
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