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Braving The Treacherous Forest In The Lord Of The Rings Living Card Game

One ring to rule them all...

Several years ago, the creators of The Lord of the Rings Living Card Game wanted to make a card game that would be continuously updated, but lack the randomisation element. It’s an idea that resonated with players of the game and has now become one of Fantasy Flight’s biggest properties. Turning this into a digital game, they’ve partner up with publisher Asmodee Digital, and given the reputation of randomised DLC, this couldn’t come at a better time.

When the game launches into Early Access early this year, it will have a total of 65 cards, 30 of which will be given when you purchase the founders pack in order to access the game. These include heroes of which you must have three in a party and build a deck around them.

Each hero is put into a certain sphere of influence. These act a little like colours in Magic the Gathering, in that they block off any feasibility of running other colours except for neutral cards, and that they have their own strengths and weaknesses.

Cards fall into many categories, though the most common are allies. Think creatures or minions in other TCGs, but the twist is they may also have a third number in yellow called Willpower. This is for resolving events that crop up, to either move on or resolve cards played by Sauron. There are also traps to spring on foes and cards to play on allies to augment their abilities.

The actual game itself is based around single player or cooperative missions where you face off against Sauron’s deck. A key thing to point out is that Fantasy Flight Interactive have made it so Sauron has his own AI rather than play random cards, meaning he’ll react to things you’ve done.

Games are won by proceeding through stages with your heroes surviving the quest, but Sauron can win by eliminating your heroes or reaching a threat level of 50. Since the heroes you choose in your deck contribute a certain amount of threat and Sauron can play cards to accelerate its growth, games can be surprisingly tense.

We were shown multiple quests in the first adventure, each with branching paths to ensure that there’s a little more variety. It’s certainly an early build, so hover-over text was not present for keywords, making the glossary a godsend for figuring out what’s going on, but as a huge fan of Hearthstone’s Dungeon Runs, this seems like the next logical step in terms of gameplay.

As far as business models go, The Lord of the Rings LCG aims to ape the original tabletop game as much as possible. You can buy hero packs with real money that include a specific hero and a few specific supplementary cards, or individual Valor cards if you want a second copy of the supplementary cards found within the hero packs, purchaseable with real money or in-game currency. It’s a decided step away from the loot crates and random booster packs found in other card games.

When a campaign launches, it will include a number of quests to purchase, but the first of these will always be free to play. While Fantasy Flight couldn’t give specifics on how much this would all cost, the fact that you can buy everything up front is refreshing in a world where loot boxes are such a hot topic.

Where things got confusing for me was the inclusion of Palantír Views. These are seen as an accelerant or a bonus feature, though they could be bought with real money or in-game currency, but also are given upon purchasing Hero Packs and Quests. They give you a randomised free item, whether that’s cosmetic of a random Valor card.

The confusion here is that this seems at odds with the rest of the business model. Sure, you can buy everything upfront in order to play the game effectively, but it wasn’t made clear if any cosmetic items were also available to purchase upfront. If this is the case, then Palantír Views would be a neat bonus feature. If it isn’t, then it can’t really be described as an accelerant.

Provided that Asmodee Digital and Fantasy Flight Interactive clear up any confusion surrounding Palantír Views, this is certainly one to watch if you’re fed up with the culture surrounding loot boxes and randomisation. The gameplay is unique, the business model is generally fair, and with dedicated support it should flourish in the current market. With the Early Access beginning some time in Q1 2018, I’m very much ready to jump into the mines of Moria.

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