The Lord of the Rings Living Card Game (or LCG for short) was built on the business model that nobody wishes to buy booster packs to only find inside of them that they already have multiple copies of the same card, rather than the card they want.
With the likes of Hearthstone dominating the trading card game market in the digital world, it makes sense for Fantasy Flight Interactive – developers of the digital version, and its publisher Asmodee Digital, to bring this successful business model to the digital table. I recently sat down with Tim Gerritsen – Head of Studio at Fantasy Flight Interactive, to discuss bringing the game to Steam and the changes that have been made.
TSA: For those who don’t know what The Lord of the Rings Living Card game is, can you give a brief description of what it is?
Tim Gerritsen: Sure, so The Lord of the Rings Living Card game is inspired by the tabletop version of the same game from Fantasy Flight Games. The digital version is quite different though, being a cooperative or single player focused narrative card game. It’s also a deck builder, in that you build decks to take on the forces of Sauron and explore around Middle-earth.
TSA: There’s been a lot of talk about card games, particularly those in mobile and PC markets – the likes of Hearthstone for example, and their business models. The Lord of the Rings LCG is billed as a “Living Card Game”, so can you explain the difference?
Tim: “Living Card Game” is something that’s continually supported, something we bring out new materials for. It’s not just the initial release and then we forget about it, it’s going to be something where we continually put out new cards for, new adventures, new quests for people to go out on.
It’s also has the economic model of the tabletop style of game, which is that you only buy the cards you want to get. There isn’t a randomisation, you don’t get stacks and stacks of random cards that you have to pick out individual cards to build a deck from. Instead, you get specific packs with specific cards and you buy those packs to basically fill out your deck. You can also buy individual cards beyond those packs, and create the deck you want, rather than spend lots and lots of money on cards you’re just going to throw away afterwards.
TSA: I have seen the base game from Fantasy Flight Games, where the cards are sold as sets…
Tim: So there are different types of sets: There are adventure packs which are smaller packs are sold as sets, there are boxed editions which have much larger quests with new heroes and characters, and then there’s different types of expansions that have come out for the tabletop game. But yes, they are sold as packs or larger box sets.
We are varying a little bit in that we are selling mainly individual packs and new quests as part of campaigns that will be coming out every quarter, so the players will have a fixed understanding of what’s coming. Down the road, we’ll want to experiment with new features and new styles of play, but that’s stuff we’ll roll out as part of the expansion of the game.
TSA: What you’ll be able to see in the video above is some gameplay footage that we recorded earlier. It’s very different from a lot of other CCGs, so for those who may not quite understand what’s going on, can you explain for us please?
Tim: Sure, so you create Fellowships of three heroes to start the game, those three heroes come from different types of spheres of influence. They represent different types of cards, there’s tactics cards, leadership cards, spirit cards, and lore cards. Each one has a different type of card to bring to the table. You create these fellowships either by varying the types of spheres or you can double up or triple up, using heroes from the same sphere.
Then you play those cards, play their allies, play threats, and play events to turn the table on Sauron. It is different from a lot of the games out there, because it is single player focused; it is you against Sauron trying to stop him. It’s asymmetrical in that Sauron has his own types of cards that he can play in his own decks. He has his own AI trying to stop you, which is a big change from the tabletop to digital game as the tabletop was randomly generated, you’d build the deck and draw from the top.
In this game, Sauron can play his deck, play his strengths against your strengths, see what you’re playing and try to react to what you are doing. But there’s quite a bit of depth to the deck building in the game, so because of how the spheres work there’s a lot of tactical choice that happens on any given turn. The quest people are seeing is very combat focused, but some quests are more exploratory focused, so there’s different types of quests in the game – we try to mix it up and give you a new experience every time you dive into a new quest.
TSA: So you are entering Early Access relatively soon, and it comes with the first quest if I recall correctly?
Tim: Yes, so the first campaign will come out with Early Access, you always get the first quest in a campaign for free, there are five quests in a single campaign and each one is made up of between three and six individual locations. Within a game, you move onto a new location once you defeat the current location, which is another difference from games that feature a single player mode in that you’re not just on the same stage, but moving between stages.
TSA: One of the interesting things I saw about that is that not only do you keep your hand and the characters present on the battlefield at the time, but if there are any enemies with a particular keyword, I think it is pursuit, they come with you, which adds to the complexity. It’s very unique in that respect. So how closely does it follow the tabletop game in terms of mechanics?
Tim: I think that players of the tabletop game will see a lot of similarities and have a lot of meat from the tabletop game that carries over, but it is a very different game. We’re not trying to make a 1-2-1 conversion. We are essentially trying to take advantage of the digital media and do something unique and different from the tabletop game. We are also taking away a lot of the book keeping, a lot of the tedium of what goes where and sorting out the decks; that happens automatically for you.
So for players who have never played the tabletop game before, I think there’s a lot of gameplay here and we’re trying to make it accessible for them. It’s similar enough in that I think players will enjoy it if they’ve been exposed to the tabletop game before, but it’s different enough that they’ll find new things and challenges to play.
TSA: Something I mentioned as the game was being demonstrated was that everything was work in progress at this point, including what’s being seen in the video footage. Can you expand on what’s left to add to The Lord of the Rings LCG before Early Access launch?
Tim: Before we go into Early Access, we’re still working on the art, we’re working on sound effects and visual effects, those will be changing pretty significantly. We’re adding the Favor Card system in which is something we didn’t talk about yet, which is a feature not in the tabletop game. Essentially those are bonus cards that you get to add on top of your deck. You essentially get one per quest and it gives you a bonus that you can pull at any time to save your bacon if a character is in trouble.
TSA: Are those Favor Cards ones that appear once per season?
Tim: So there will be three available per season. You get to choose from them at the beginning of every quest, we don’t charge for them, you just get them when you play. If you play on Easy Mode, you get two, Medium you get one, and if you play on Hard mode, you don’t get any.
TSA: With deck building you choose three heroes to start of with. I’m used to deck building games like Magic the Gathering where you have to use certain colours of magic in order to optimise your deck. But here you are restricted in what you play by what spheres your heroes go in. You also mentioned something about “Levelling up”, can you go further into that?
Tim: Yes, so another change from the tabletop game is that we have levels of cards. The way it works is that if I have multiple heroes from the same sphere, if I have two of them, I can unlock Level 2 cards, and if I have all three, I can unlock Level 3 cards from that same sphere. So you have to choose as a player if you want diversity from the number of spheres, or double up or triple up to have new opportunities for higher level cards. So I think that adds nuance and tactical choice with the deck building process.
TSA: So The Lord of the Rings LCG enters Early Access on Steam in Q1, with full release later in the year?
Tim: Full release later in the year, we haven’t decided specifically when, but we don’t want to be in Early Access for a terribly long time. We want to be in Early Access long enough to interact with fans. The initial game will be single player only, we’ll unleash Coop at some point during Early Access. Once we have Coop fully up and running, we’ll be coming up to full release.
TSA: Just a couple more questions left. Firstly if someone really likes the look of The Lord of the Rings LCG and really wants to learn more, where can they find the information?
Tim: There’s a few places, you can go to here which will give you information on the game itself, as well as news on upcoming updates. You can also go to Asmodee Digital’s site which is our publisher who have information there as well, as well the Steam page which has a community thread where people can start talking about the game.
TSA: Finally, if you were to sum up in a sentence why someone should play The Lord of the Rings Living Card Game, what would you say?
Tim: I think it gives you a unique take on the world of Middle-earth and creates a sense of adventure and narrative within a card game I think is unique among card games out there. But really I think the biggest reason is that it gives you a way to explore the lore and locations from Middle-earth in a new and unique way.
Thanks once again to Tim Gerritsen for taking the time to speak to us, as well as Asmodee Digital and Fantasy Flight Interactive for granting us an early peak at the game. We’ll certainly be keeping a good track on this new and exciting project when it hits Early Access on PC via Steam in Q1 2018.