The Lord of the Rings card game delivers something we don’t have enough of on PC

We don’t have much in the way of cooperative and PvE card games on PC yet, but tabletop players are spoiled for riches in that department. That’ll start to change this summer when The Lord of the Rings: Living Card Game arrives on Steam Early Access on August 28th. Unlike with Hearthstone and Elder Scrolls Legends, The LotR LCG is going to be a PvE focused experience—narrative driven, focused on stories, two player cooperative, and (hopefully) devilishly hard like the tabletop original it’s inspired by. Tim took a look at an early build of the game in January, but at Origins 2018 I got to spend a little more time with a recent build of the game, playing through a mission a couple times to see what’s changed and updated as the game heads towards release.

The basics are familiar to anyone with experience in competitive card games, all about minions fighting minions, trading off with each other while you toss out miscellaneous other card effects to damage enemies or buff your allies. Each turn you take a single action, then Sauron takes one. Once you’ve got no more cards to activate you pass the round, which lets you get more resources, but allows Sauron to increase its power. Cards also have a third stat—Hope—that you can use to progress along and activate powerful abilities on a track that’s dependent on scenario.

Some heroes from the core card set.

Some heroes from the core card set.

The scenario I was in, about exploring upriver from the fords at Cair Andros, saw increasing the hope meter give the ability to find caches of Ithilien ranger supplies and come out ahead on the resource curve. Progressing in a scenario can be about defeating enemies or surviving a fixed number of rounds, but it can also depend on your ability to muster up a few high Hope stats. Objectives can appear in line with enemy minions, and 'attacking' those objectives lowers their counter by a minion’s hope stat. So while Aragorn is a great attacker, Arwen has a hard-hitting Hope stat for pushing the quest forward. That’s important because each round Sauron becomes more powerful, filling his Threat track and unlocking powers of his own. If you take too many rounds and Sauron fills up the Threat track, you lose.

Fantasy Flight Interactive says that the AI is dynamic enough to hold or deploy these abilities based on scenario, and that seemed to be the case in the demo I played. Scenarios are branching, and in the one I played Sauron quickly gained a one-use ability to deploy a bunch of nasty spiders to the battlefield. When I chose one branch Sauron saved that power until I got into the next section, which required defeating all enemies to proceed—I was trapped for overlong in a tough middle section where enemies just kept appearing. While playing again I chose the other branch and Sauron immediately deployed spiders when it got the power—because the second scene on that branch didn’t require me to defeat enemies to proceed.

Gimli looking particularly smug.

Gimli looking particularly smug.

The build available at Origins didn’t include any deck building or more than one scenario, but it did really showcase a more finished version of the game’s visuals and presentation. Much like Tim earlier this year, I was impressed with the quality of the animations and how they’re used. Lord of the Rings is more understated than Hearthstone, with its bespoke visuals and animations for near every card, but the quality of what is there isn’t far off. It's impressive for a relatively new developer and publisher—Fantasy Flight Interactive and Asmodee Digital. I’m excited to get my hands on the full game in a few months, and I’m even more excited to take a spin with cooperative play when that becomes available. 

At early access release the game is intended to have five scenarios with more in the works. It will release at the end of August. It’s listed on Steam right now.