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Lord of the Rings: TCG

Reviewed by Phillip Gladney©2002

Edited by Suzanne Campbell for The Guild Companion


Developed by Decipher, one of the premier Collectible Card Game companies, the Lord of the Rings TCG is the newest addition to the plethora of collectible card games already on the market.  Released in early November, the game is based on (guess what?) the Lord of the Rings, specifically the movies.  They do not have the rights to develop anything outside the realm of the three movies that will make up the trilogy.  This limitation may seem restricting; however there will be more than enough resource material to develop many expansion sets.  Currently there are plans for nine different sets.  The first was the premier set.  Next will come the Mines of Moria in early March followed by the Realms of the Elf Lords in July.  The Two Towers set will be released right before the next movie is due out.  

To expand gamer interest, as well as creating a community of LOTR players, Decipher has created a league for their TCG game.  This will consist of players becoming members of the league and then going to tournaments to complete certain "requirements".  Completion of these goals will result in higher ranking in the league as well as special cards that will only be available to league players.  Some of the things league players will be required to do will be to bring a friend to a tournament, help someone else out with creating a deck, defeat an opponent in under 20 minutes, or defeat an opponent by corrupting his Ring-bearer. 

The game is based on a linear progression of one players' "fellowship" to the spot in the movie where Frodo and Sam separated from the company.  All players (multi-player rules allow many players to play one another at the same time) have a fellowship that they are attempting to move to the last site.  There are nine sites that will be played during the game.  Each site has different attributes that can affect the game play positively or negatively for each player.  In addition, there are different card choices for each site and each player will pick and choose between the various cards to find the nine best for his deck.  For example, one of the Site 1 choices is The Prancing Pony.  This card allows the player (each player) to go and get Aragorn out of his deck and play him.  Another Site 1 choice is The Green Dragon Inn, which allows each player to go and get Sam.  Depending upon your site preference, you may choose either one to put into your Adventure Deck.  This deck consists solely of your choice for the nine sites, however you may not be able to play your choice.  Your opponent might be playing his sites instead and therein lies some of the strategy of this game.  More on this will be detailed later in the review.  

 Your Adventure Deck consists of everything that can be played during the game.  Your Adventure Deck must contain an equal number of fellowship and minion cards and it must be at least 30 each (a total of 60 cards), however, there is no limit to the size except for the rule that states you can only put four of any one card/persona into your deck.  Frodo and the One Ring do not count into the total but all other cards except for sites do. 

There are many ways to win in this game.  The most common is being the first to make it to Site 9 and survive any attacks that may occur there.  Another is to kill your opponents' Frodo on his way there.  The last is to corrupt Frodo by placing 10 or more "burdens" on him.  Burdens represent the urge to put the Ring on and give in to Sauron's will.  This method of winning is the most rare and happens very infrequently, however we may see cards in the near future that will assist in this endeavor.   

Each player starts the game with a Frodo card and a One Ring card.  Each player then "bids" to go first like a silent auction.  The bids are actually burdens that Frodo will place on himself before the game begins.  Since going first can be very helpful, Decipher created a means of making the decision of who will go first fairer. Whoever wins the bid chooses whether he will go first or second but will have a disadvantage in that he will have burdens from the start.  Unfortunately for the loser, he must still put the number of burdens in his bid on his Ring-bearer too.  The number of burdens is up to the player so there is no chance for "luck" to be a determining factor.  Some players always choose zero burdens while some can go as high as four burdens.  Going first or last (there is strategy involved in each way and will described in detail later) can be important for certain decks. 

After determining who wins the bid, that player places his Site 1 card on the table and each player places a marker on that site denoting their fellowship party.  After the first site has been revealed, each player gets to play a certain number of extra characters (in addition to Frodo who always starts the game in play) of their choice free.  Each character has a "cost" in the upper left hand of the card.  Powerful characters such as Gandalf and Aragorn can be expensive while weaker characters are quite cheap.  Aragorn and Gandalf cost four "twilight" each (explained later) while Merry and Pippin only cost one each.  The number of characters that may be played at the beginning must be four or less.  For example, you could start the game with Frodo and Aragorn (4) or Frodo, Legolas (2) and Arwen (2).  After placing your starting fellowship on the table, both players then pick up eight cards from the top of their play deck.   

The game play consists of different "Phases".  Each player will go through each phase during his turn and then his opponent will do so.  This will rotate back and forth throughout the game.  The phases are:  Fellowship, Movement, Shadow, Maneuver, Archery, Skirmish, Regroup.

During the Fellowship phase one player plays fellowship cards from his hand.  This happens only during that players turn, not during his opponents.  Examples of fellowship cards might be Boromir, his Sword of Gondor, Athelas or even Aragorn himself.  There is a cost to play most of these cards payable in "Twilight Tokens".  These are glass beads placed in the middle of the playing area after a player places a card into play requiring it.  Some cards are free and require no twilight cost.  All cards will have their cost stated in the top left of the card even if it is zero.  After that player has finished playing any fellowship card he chooses to, that player begins moving to the next site.   

During the Move phase one players' fellowship moves to the next site.  His opponent then gets to place his version of the next site on the table.  Whichever player moves to a site not already played on the table, his opponent has the right to use his card as that site card. This is the advantage of going last.  You get to place your sites throughout the entire game, however, there are cards which allow the player moving to choose his own site such as Thror's Map and Pathfinder.  The advantage of going first is that you will probably reach the last site first.  Whenever moving to another site, you must add twilight tokens equal to the number of characters in your fellowship into the pool.  Each site card also has a twilight cost in the upper right hand side of the card and you must add that cost to the pool also.  For example, if a group of 4 characters moves to site 5 (The Bridge of Khazad-dum-twilight cost 6) then you would add 10 twilight tokens to the pool in addition to any that were placed there during the Fellowship phase.  After moving to the next site and paying any related costs you move to the Shadow Phase. 

During the Shadow Phase the opponent gets to play his minion cards in an attempt to slow down or kill your party members.  The twilight tokens accumulated earlier in the turn (by playing fellowship cards and moving) are the "budget" the opponent has to work with.  Each minion card has a twilight cost similar to fellowship cards.   When you play a minion you take that number of twilight tokens out of the pool.  You can play as many minions as the twilight pool and the cards in your hand will allow.  For example, if party has accumulated 13 twilight tokens during the fellowship and move phases then the opponent could play a Lurtz (7), an Uruk Fighter (3) and an Uruk Shaman (3) before the twilight tokens would run out.  Sometimes you run out of cards and there will still be an amount of unused twilight tokens in the pool.  After an opponent places any cards he chooses (and can pay for!) you move to the Maneuver Phase. 

The Maneuver Phase is not used every turn.  It is a phase that allows players to play certain cards or use special abilities that may help them later.  It is only used if a player has a card that allows it.  Many times this Phase is skipped entirely, however, some of the most powerful cards and special abilities are keyed to this phase, such as the ever-popular A Ranger's Versatility and the fearsome Hate

During the Archery Phase characters and minions who are archers (have the keyword archer on their card) are able to deal damage to their foes.  Adding all of the archers for each side will give the total amount of damage done to the opponent.  In addition, cards and special abilities allow actions to take place during this phase.   

The Skirmish Phase is when the minions placed on the table during the Shadow Phase are matched up against the Fellowship characters.  The characters and minions will then fight one another and total the damage done.  There are many additional rules for this phase but in essence, some minions will probably die as well as some characters.  Surviving characters and minions have the option to go to the next site and this will be discussed in the next paragraph. 

The Regroup Phase allows the fellowship player to decide whether or not he will move again this turn.  Each player can move twice per turn (some cards allow more moves/turn), however, moving twice in a turn is always risky.  If the player decides not to move again or has already moved his limit for the turn then he picks up a number of cards to bring his hand back up to 8.  If he has more cards than eight in his hand he must discard to get back to 8.  This does not happen very often.  When he has completed this, the opponent discards any of his surviving minions, brings his hand back to 8 and proceeds to begin his own turn.  If the fellowship player decides to move again, he cannot regroup his hand.  The opponent then gets to regroup his hand and, after adding the necessary twilight tokens to the pool from the move itself, may play more minions from his newly regrouped hand.  Any surviving minions also remain in play and may attack the fellowship characters again.  Needless to say this is very dangerous, especially if there were any minions surviving from the previous site.  

There are many rules in the Lord of the Rings TCG that were not touched upon here.  They add flavor and fortunately are not overbearing or too complex to pick up.  This game is quite easy for early teens to learn, even though some of the harder strategies that have come out so far might be a little too complicated for them.  Another great facet of this game is that you don't need hundreds of rare cards to make a good deck.  You can make a very decent deck without any Rares at all.  All in all, this is a well-designed game that can be addictive if you don't watch out!  If you are interested in learning the game completely, buy a starter deck and head to your local tournament.  Most players there would be more than happy to teach you since it will bring another player into their LOTR community and more players is always good.  You can find the nearest tournament by going to Decipher's website at  Choose the Tournaments menu and then choose tournament locator.  It's simple and fast and gives you specific information about each particular tournament. 

Have fun!

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