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The Lord of the Rings, The Card Game: Rules and Core Set Review

Updated on July 18, 2015

Concept of The Lord of The Rings, The Card Game

Based on the enduring story of The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien, this is a cooperative card game for 2 players.A cooperative game is one in which players work together to reach a final objective rather than competing against each other. Up to 4 players can play by using two Core Sets together. However, those who prefer to do things on their own can also play this as a solitaire game.

The Living Card Game® concept applies, meaning that expansion packs will be released at regular intervals to keep things fresh. Adventure Packs will give new options, heroes, strategies and scenarios, while Quest Packs will extend to new regions of Middle Earth. All the packs on sale have the same contents and thus are not used for trading.

The objectives, or quests in the LOTR card game are not simply a rehash of the stories from the book. Instead, new adventures and new quests are provided within the known settings of Middle Earth. The action is set within a 17-year period, starting just after Bilbo’s eleventy-first (111st) birthday and finishing just before Frodo takes his leave of the Shire to start the Ring Quest.

Core Set Pack Contents

The game pack consists of 226 cards, which feature the most gorgeous artwork. The cards are divided into a quest deck, hero cards, player decks and an encounter deck. The pack also contains threat trackers, tokens and the rule book.

Quest Deck

Ten cards, illustrated on both sides, lead the game through the selected scenario and define what is needed to win the game (which can vary even in the same scenario, depending on how the game proceeds). The Core Set includes 3 scenarios: Passage through Mirkwood (easy), Journey down the Anduin (moderate) and Escape from Dol Guldur (difficult).

Hero Cards

The 12 hero cards show the characters that will be played actively in the game. Each hero is associated with one of four spheres: leadership, lore, spirit or tactics. The hero's sphere determines which player cards can be used.

The heroes are:
Leadership: Aragorn, Glóin, Théodred
Lore: Glorfindel, Denethor, Beravor
Spirit: Éowyn, Dunhere, Eleanor
Tactics: Legolas, Gimli, Thalin

Player Decks

The Player Decks are made up from 116 cards from the four spheres mentioned above, plus 4 neutral cards that do not belong to any sphere. The Core Set presents these cards as four starter decks, each containing 30 cards, of which one is a neutral card. They can be used directly as they are in order to introduce the game to new players. It is also possible to combine them in different ways and add cards from Adventure Packs (expansion sets) to make 50-card decks for tournament play. Each player receives one Player Deck.

The cards in the Player Decks show Allies (other non-hero characters who can help in the quest), Attachments (weapons, armour, other objects and equipment, as well as skills) and Events (spells, tactics and other one-off actions with an instant effect).

Encounter Deck

The 84 cards in the Encounter Deck are the obstacles the players have to overcome in order to succeed in their quest. They include “Enemies”, namely monsters, evil characters and their servants and other dangerous creatures or individuals, which have to be defeated. “Locations” are dangerous places that have to be explored and overcome. “Treacheries” are evil spells, traps and other one-off detrimental effects with an instant effect). There are also a number of “Objectives” cards in the Encounter Deck, which serve to add some unpredictability to the game.

Other Components

Threat Trackers
The threat trackers are dials, which are used to show each player’s “threat level”, namely the amount of risk faced by the heroes controlled by the player. Each hero starts with a baseline threat level, which is then influenced by the course of the game. In turn, the course of the game can be influenced by changes in threat levels. When a player’s combined threat threshold reaches a certain level, the player has to drop out of the game.

Damage tokens: indicate the amount of injury sustained by characters and their enemies.
Progress tokens: show how much progress has been made in a quest.
Resource tokens: used to pay for helpful items and effects.
First Player token: shows who starts each new round of the game.

Buy The Lord of the Rings The Card Game Core Set online in the UK.

Game Play


Each player selects one, two or three hero cards to control. It is suggested that beginners choose a hero or heroes from just one sphere and play with the 30-card starter player deck associated with that sphere.

More advanced players can mix heroes from different spheres and/or play with customised player decks. Customised tournament should include at least 50 cards and can use cards from Adventure Pack expansion sets. Full instructions on customisation are provided in the game rules included with each Core Set.

At the advanced level, the baseline threat levels of the different heroes come into play, since starting with three strong heroes makes the player more vulnerable to being knocked out of the game. In addition, the way in which a high threat level will influence the game is a further reason why it is not necessarily more advantageous to focus on hero strength when selecting characters.

A scenario is selected and the quest and the encounter cards for that scenario are brought into the game. Advanced players can choose to play two or all three scenarios. Expansion packs will provide further scenarios for the game.


The game is played in rounds. Each round consists of seven phases, some being played by each player in turn and others by all players at once.

The phases are:

i. Resources: collection of resource tokens to pay for helpful items and effects.

ii. Planning: activating ally and attachment cards from the player decks, which may require payment in resource tokens.

iii. Quest: (a) characters are committed to the quest card currently in play; (b) one encounter card is drawn per player (known as staging); (c) the combined willpower score of the committed characters is matched against the combined threat score of the staged cards; (d) if the character score is higher, the players progress in the quest, if not, the players’ threat score is increased.

iv. Travel: if the current location has been explored, players can choose to travel to one of the other locations drawn at the start of the game.

v. Encounter: in this phase, the enemies present on encounter cards in the staging area are assigned to each player for combat.

vi. Combat: the enemies attack the players, hit and damage points are calculated, and then the players can declare attacks against remaining enemies. In this phase, encounter cards are drawn for each enemy. The shadow points on the drawn encounter cards come into play, to introduce an element of surprise and unpredictability. Characters can be killed during combat, which means their cards have to be withdrawn from the game.

vii. Refresh: Each player has to increase his threat score by 1. Cards exhausted during the last round are brought back into play and the first player token passes to the next player who starts the next round.

End of game

Players have to drop out of the game when all their heroes have been killed or when their threat score passes the permitted maximum. Provided at least one player remains in the game to complete the scenario and succeed in the quest, the game is a win for all players.

The rule book also describes a scoring system, which can be used to compare the scores of a particular group of players or a single player over time, and to compare different deck combinations.

Review of The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game Core Set

The Core Set is a beautifully illustrated deck that brings to life the world of Middle Earth. The illustrations make the deck collectible in its own right, even by non-players.

By providing new scenarios rather than simply rehashing the original plot, the story is kept alive and fresh. Moreover,no two plays are ever the same. The introduction of expansion packs will add a further constantly growing pool of possibilities.

Versatility is increased by the fact that it can be played by a single person, a small group or on a tournament basis between a number of groups or individuals.

The cooperative nature adds to a positive player experience, since winning means everyone is a winner and has contributed in some way to the gaining the quest. The game could thus be used as part of group bonding or team building activities.

Since the contents of all packs are identical, there is no trading aspects and no need to keep buying more just in the hope of getting a rare card.

The downside is that at least two Core Sets are required if the game is to be played by three or four players. This doubles the price if buying the game for family play. Obviously, players coming together specifically to play can all bring their own sets and combine them. One self-confessed hard-line gamer goes so far as to say that three Core Sets are needed, even by solitaire players, in order to get the full range of tournament deck construction options.

The release of expansion packs also means that players who become hooked on the game will be subjected to regular expenditure.

Nevertheless, The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game Core Set is a wonderful new prospect for lovers of cooperative card games and lovers of Middle Earth everywhere.

How do/would you play this game, solo or with others?

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    • Esperanta profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Rhondda Fawr, Cymru

      Thank you, Sir! :)

    • Financial Help profile image

      Financial Help 

      7 years ago from Florida

      Great hub, I might just go get the game! Voted up!


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