Preview: Lord Of The Rings Living Card Game Goes Digital

Fantasy Flight and Asmodee are banking that it's going to take more than one ring to rule all digital card games. 

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Update: This article originally stated that the Palantír would not be available for purchase with real currency. The article has been edited to reflect that you can in fact spend real currency to purchase a Palantír. 

It would be hard for anyone to argue against the significant impact that J.R.R Tolkien's Lord of the Rings series has had on the world of fantasy gaming. Whether you’re talking Dungeons & Dragons, Magic: The Gathering, or anything in-between featuring an elf or a wizard, the cultural impact is there. That’s probably why the tabletop version Lord of the Rings Living Card Game struck such a chord with its audience. Now that the physical version has been met with success, the devs at Fantasy Flight Interactive and their publisher Asmodee Digital are ready to show the world the video game version of the LOTR Living Card Game.

LOTR is an asymmetrical PvE title in which you can take on an AI-controlled Sauron in a series of deck battles either solo or as a co-op team. Each battle takes place within overarching quests, which are themselves part of a larger seasonal campaign. Players will assume control of a 30-card deck and up to three heroes from the world of Tolkien to take down the dark lord.

Every battle has certain objectives that must be reached using the willpower numbers of a players heroes cards to get the willpower number of an objective card down to zero. These will determine the next course of action taken and what battlefield the fight will head to next. Usually, there are multiple options for where to head next. So, for example during my demo we had to kill a giant spider, then choose between heading for higher ground through the hills or trying to follow the river and make it to a town. Players will have to go through a series of battles in order to survive and there’s no auto-heal for heroes from one battle to the next. Choosing where cards are used best in combat in order to make it through each progressively more difficult battle is going to be key to victory.

Sauron, however, is a huge jerk who plays by his own rules and along with throwing out monsters and spells to destroy a player, he can place out new objectives that do things like steal two cards from a player's hand until they've dwindled the objective down to zero. He also has a power meter that grows as a player becomes weaker. Once that power meter reaches 50, or a player’s heroes are defeated the game is over.

Overall, LOTR Living Card Game is extremely similar to its tabletop version. However, there has been one new card added that is definitely bound to shake things up a bit.  The brand new “Sneak Attack” will draw one random hero from the entire game and put it in play on your side of the table for one round, it doesn't even have to be in someone's collection. This card's use became extremely apparent to me during my driven demo when it was used to randomly bring out Gandalf to smack some monsters around one turn before the player driving the demo would’ve died.

Before beginning the real journey, players will have to complete a few training exercises. Once those are complete, they’ll be given the same starter deck and the same four heroes to choose from. Each hero has a skill set that’s indicated by a color coding. 

Aragorn is leadership (purple) and focuses on gaining allies and resources. Arwen is lore (green) and relies on knowledge and self-betterment, many of her skills do things like draw extra cards and heal teammates. Frodo is spirit (blue) and cares about objectives and willpower. Gimli is tactical (red) and has a focus aggressive combat tactic.

In general, strategy is more about making complementary decks rather than focusing on color. For example, you might set up a deck where Arwen heals and Gimli attacks while Frodo focuses on completing an objective. But, as the game progresses and more powerful cards are unlocked, some higher level ones may require two heroes of the same color to use. So there may be a reason to focus on one or two color decks depending on play style and cards in a collection.Visually, I’d be lying if I didn’t say I was reminded of Hearthstone in the game board presentation or UI mechanics, but maybe that’s because there’s only so many ways to present a card game digitally. Despite creatures and characters having similar abilities you’d find in most titles within the genre, there’s enough here gameplay-wise for LOTR to distinguish itself as its own entity. Plus, this isn’t a PvP title like most digital card games, it almost feels like a choose your own adventure book mixed with Hearthstone.

LOTR Living Card Game will be free to play when it launches but wants to keep things as straightforward as possible when it comes to what players can purchase with real money. Players will be able to earn valor points in-game which they can use to buy exclusive valor cards that can only be purchased with the in-game currency. Valor and real-world money may also be used to purchase new hero packs or quest packs as well from the game's marketplace. Hero packs contain a hero card and one card of each rarity. Everyone will be able to see what every card in a pack is before purchasing it. Nothing paid for will be randomized.

That’s not to say there won’t be some random loot. Completing quests or other objectives may give players a chance to gaze into the Palantír for some extra rewards. Palantír loot can only be earned playing the game and can be bought with real currency. The team is doing their best to make sure no content is hidden behind any sort of paywall.

Right now Lord of the Rings Living Card Game is scheduled to go into early access sometime in Q1 2018. Early access will be accessible to fans who purchase founders packs and should last roughly 3-5 months. Unfortunately, the co-op mode will not be available until it goes free-to-play at launch. 

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