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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.