Again, not Hearthstone.

Speak, friend, and enter. The digital Lord of the Rings LCG has opened its doors

PC/Mac •

It was over 3 years ago, when Asmodee Digital was just revving up, when we overheard Fantasy Flight was working on a digital version of their popular Lord of the Rings Living Card Game (LCG). We also quickly learned we weren’t supposed to overhear such things and let it drop with the hope that an official confirmation would be coming soon. It took them a couple years, but confirmation came in 2017 with the announcement of a new in-house developing arm of FFG, Fantasy Flight Interactive. Today, their first foray into the world of board game (card game?) ports has gone live. You can now pick up an Early Access version of Lord of the Rings LCG for PC/Mac.

If you only look at the LotR LCG screenshots you’d assume that what we’ve gotten is a Hearthstone clone rather than a full-fledged port of the card game. You’d only be half right. It’s not a one-for-one port of the card game, but it definitely isn’t Hearthstone.

I said it’s not Hearthstone.

Before you flip out over the differences between this and the tabletop version, know that the core–beating “quests” to move forward in the campaign–remains. Cardplay is a little different, but it still feels like the tabletop game. At least it has through my limited experience with the app. The digital version is definitely more streamlined and less complicated than the physical version which, sad to say, I always need to go watch a how-to-play video whenever I pull it down from my game room shelf.

I’m going to talk about the tabletop version as if you’ve played before. If not, I’m sorry, but I don’t really want to waste everyone’s time explaining the tabletop rules, so I’ll just highlight the differences I’ve noticed thus far. I’m also far from an expert on the tabletop version, so I’m sure there are things here that I’m missing and/or only remember as differing but don’t. In other words, take what I’m laying out here with a grain of salt.

Also, know that I suck at the tabletop version, so my opinion here is about as valuable as my opinion on anything else.

First of all, the concept of Spheres of Influence exist in the digital game, but resources come in only one flavor. That is, you earn resources each turn regardless of your heroes and those resources can be spent on any cards in your hand. You can only buy cards from your hand that match the Spheres of your heroes, however. They’ve removed the concept of phases, too. In the tabletop game there were seven phases each turn, which has been simplified down to only a couple. Here you’ll get resources and draw cards, but you’ll skip the Mustering phase in which players could load up their heroes with equipment or play allies. Instead, once resources and cards are drawn the player and Sauron (AI) take turns doing bad stuff to each other.

I was going to say that the engagement and combat are different, but I’m not really sure that they are. You attack and exhaust your heroes much as in the tabletop game. I’d have to play the tabletop version again to really suss out the differences, but they feel close and the digital version removes all the confusion of who engages with who and whatnot.

There are locations and quests on the digital tabletop and adding enough willpower to remove them and travel to the next area, continuing your quest, is the heart of the game. This feels very similar to the tabletop version and differentiates it from Hearthstone and other 1v1 CCGs out there.

For voice over they found the very good Not-Cate Blanchett

So, if you’re a big fan of the tabletop version of LotR LCG you might be disappointed. I know that, in my heart, I want a one-for-one port of the card game. That said, I’m really digging the digital version thus far. It reminds me a bit of the solo adventures in Hearthstone, albeit less puzzly. You aren’t sure what’s coming at you each and every adventure like you were in those, making LotR very replayable. It has a good deck-builder, too, so you can mix and match heroes and take along a different set even on quests you’ve already beat. The graphics and voice acting are top notch (although, the voice acting between quests can be a bit over-the-top) and everything about the game screams polish.

Please get into the game if only so I can netdeck. I’m rubbish at deckbuilding.

Of course, there’s the whole concept of the LCG that we haven’t even touched on. Like most (all?) digital card games, you’ll have to spend either real money or in-game currency if you want new cards. In cardboard, LotR is an LCG which means you get a full 60-card pack every month or so which builds on past decks allowing the campaign to continue. Now, most of those decks would be cards for the built-in AI, Sauron, and would be shuffled and drawn as adversaries or roadblocks. Others would be new quest cards, building on the story. The remaining cards would be a new hero and some other helpful cards that you could use when building your own decks. The digital version is much the same but you don’t get to see all the Sauron cards. Instead they offer “hero packs” with a new hero and a handful of cards to add to your collection. Unlike Hearthstone and other CCGs, this isn’t a booster. Instead, you know exactly what cards you’re buying before you hit the Purchase button. You can also buy new quests which, when added together, build a full campaign. All of these can be bought with Valor, which is the game’s in-house currency. I’ve not yet determined how quickly you can replenish your Valor supplies, but I’m sure you can buy more with cash. I bought everything there was to buy, however, and didn’t spend a dime.

Whatever you do, don’t bring up Boromir around this guy. He’s still a bit sensitive.

I’m already seeing a bevy of crap piled on the game over at Steam due to the way card and quest purchases are handled. First of all, this is day 1 of a new game that’s still in Early Access. What we’re getting now and what we’ll get when we reach version 1.0 could be vastly different both in gameplay and in microtransactions. Secondly, who reads Steam reviews.

All I can tell you is that I’ve been enjoying it thus far and I expect it to keep getting better as the Early Access period continues. The current game is solo play only, but they have hooks for 2-player cooperative play as well. The current release is for PC/Mac but mobile version of the game are expected after the Steam version comes out of Early Access. No idea how long that might take.

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Notable Replies

  1. I’m waiting on the iOS release but it’s good to hear that the game is progressing.

  2. Didn’t feel like there was enough meat on the bones for me when I tried it last night. Another reviewer mentioned it just feels like two sides taking turns attacking, whether you’re attacking an enemy with weapons or attacking an “event” with “willpower”, and that summed it up for me.

    Maybe that’s something they can improve over the course of Early Access, but it seems like a fundamental design decision. I refunded.

  3. All the happy and optimistic people over at BBG aren’t too excited about this. I’m certainly looking forward to checking it out and I usually take others’ views with a grain of salt, but my optimism is crumbling a little bit.

  4. I think they made a bad decision when they decided to not stick to porting the card game. FFG has never directly ported any of their games (except Hey, That’s My Fish) to digital. Elder Sign: Omens removed the Allies and, I think some other cards as well. Yet it kept everything else and still played just like the board game. Same with their take on BattleLore. It wasn’t the board game, but it had a different campaign and most of what made the board game cool (including the mechanisms).

    This is such a big departure from the card game that I’m not sure what they were thinking. The cynic in me assumes they were thinking “if we make this digitally, sales of the cardboard version will drop”. Also, it is a very complex game on the tabletop, so they’re trying to lure LotR fans who aren’t necessarily heavy gamers as well.

    The problem is, their core market – heavy gamers and fans of the LCG, are being alienated by getting something they didn’t want. Considering the game plays wonderfully solo, they could have easily ported the card game 1-for-1 without adding any “AI” and saved money on the development side. The problem, I suppose is making money off a niche audience who, as BGG comments frequently show, are cheap as hell and would balk at spending $10/pack of digital cards when the physical ones cost $15.

    I think that, unless they make it less “light” and start to shift more toward the tabletop version, we’ll see a lot of backlash as people will go in assuming it sucks because it isn’t what they wanted.

    I’d much prefer a version of the card game that I could just play solo. I’d buy all the packs. Currently, I don’t buy any LOTR cards (I stopped a couple years ago…I think when Arkham Horror LCG came out), so they’d be getting money from me that they currently aren’t. The game, as is, isn’t bad. I’ve been playing a bit since the weekend and have enjoyed it. I don’t see myself still playing it in a month, however, unless it veers into tabletop territory. There just isn’t enough there right now to hold my interest whereas the tabletop game is good enough that I will rerun adventure paths that I’ve already completed over and over again.

    I’m not sure what the difference is…it might be the transparency into the Sauron cards in the physical version and the feeling that this is a huge, variable puzzle that I need to solve. The digital version doesn’t feel like that.

    I’m rambling and will stop now.

  5. I’m also in the camp where I would pay quite a bit for a good LCG model. I’ve bought everything in Sentinels of the Multiverse (for those of you playing at home, yes, I’ve said I don’t care for the game, but I’m still trying…) and in Pathfinder Adventures (well, I’ve bought all character and scenario content; I avoid IAP and in-game currencies like the plague). I’d do the same for an LCG. I know, without a doubt, that if they had ported the tabletop game and charged, say, 30% of the price for the digital version, I’d probably have bought everything, if not at first, but as I reached that current adventure. I’m sure I’ll give this game a try when it comes to iOS, but my fears are certainly being realized with all the posts. I don’t bother much about what they say over at BGG, but I do trust @Neumannium, and if he’s expressing trepidation, I know there are some lingering concerns.

  6. My trepidation is solely coming as a fan of the tabletop game who’s sad that it’s not what we’re getting on digital. I’m trying to separate that and forget it when I play, as the game as-is might be totally fine. I’m just having issues doing it.

  7. Understood, but that will probably be my primary source of disappointment. I don’t really need another CCG-style card game (even if it isn’t actually collectible) and was looking forward to something much more similar to the tabletop co-op LCG. I’m a LotR fan and will likely enjoy the game, but I’m already sad that it isn’t the game I wanted when we were oh so close to getting it.

  8. I am exactly the same on sentinels and pathfinder.

    Love that style

  9. A user over at BGG commented that they are already making some changes to what is available with purchase and the monitozation scheme.

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