Lord of the Rings: Living Card Game

Game review by
Neilie Johnson, Common Sense Media
Lord of the Rings: Living Card Game Game Poster Image
Stingy, hard card game adaptation has high learning curve.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this game.

Positive Messages

Though The Lord of the Rings books are about vanquishing evil, that message takes a back seat to strategic thinking.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Player cards include hero characters, but non-Tolkien fans might not understand the reasons for those characters' hero status.

Ease of Play

Tutorial explains some gameplay elements but fails to fully explain the thinking behind different strategies, so it sets new players up for frustration until they figure things out through trial and error. Game difficulty even for experienced players is high, even on easiest difficulty level.

Violence

Violence is implied by defeated cards being removed from the board. No blood or gore shown.

Sex
Language

Occasional mild language like "damn" or "hell."

Consumerism

Campaigns and cards must be purchased individually or earned by endlessly repeating the same quests.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Lord of the Rings: Living Card Game is a downloadable digital board game for Windows PCs. The game is a digital take on the tabletop strategy game by Fantasy Flight Games. The basic download cost of $7.99 gets you only a basic starter deck and a single quest; further quest content must be purchased separately or bought all at once for $47.99. Collectible cards must also be bought separately or earned through a long reward system that requires repetitive play to earn enough coins for new cards. The game is in early release, so some modes, like co-op play, are currently unavailable. Players unfamiliar with the Tolkien books could be in the dark regarding the characters and overall storyline, and a high level of difficulty and strategic thinking as well as loads of story text could make the game frustrating for younger children. There's occasional mild swearing, like "damn" or "hell," and while violence is implied with cards removed from play, no blood or gore is shown.

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What's it about?

THE LORD OF THE RINGS: LIVING CARD GAME is a digital collectible card game in the vein of Hearthstone or Magic: The Gathering, but it offers a twist on strategic turn-based combat. Each turn, combatants draw two cards and are given a pool of resource points, but rather than execute a series of actions all at once, single actions alternate between combatants until both of their resource pools are gone. In addition to that, players must monitor two rising meters: the Threat meter and the Fate meter. The first must be kept below a certain number to avoid dangerous events, while the second must be filled in order to trigger helpful ones. Players earn Valor points by completing quests, and these can be used to buy additional cards and story quests. Players can also purchase cards and quests for real-world money. Card collecting and deck building is key, and success depends as much on building strong card decks as it does on strategic gameplay.

Is it any good?

Fans of this popular tabletop game could be disappointed in its digital counterpart. The digital version of The Lord of the Rings: Living Card Game looks just as good, and allows for fun additions like animation effects, music, and voice-over. Still, subtle changes have been made to the game rules, and there's no way to play against (or with) an actual human (for now). Worse though, the game fails to explain itself to new players, which makes an already challenging game much harder.

Though the likeliest players of The Lord of the Rings: Living Card Game are fans of the Tolkien book series, newcomers will probably wonder what the heck is going on. It's not for lack of text; there's tons of that -- probably too much. It's because the story's so sprawling and has so many characters, and the game starts in the middle of the tale with its own half-invented narrative. More troublesome than not really knowing who's who is not knowing what's what in the game. The tutorial explains some very basic things like placing cards and identifying the information on them, but fails to help new players understand what kinds of cards they should choose and why. Worse still, it does little to explain the Threat/Fate system. The result of these omissions is a very steep learning curve that puts a real damper on fun. Bringing things down even more is a stingy reward system that makes you replay the same quest a silly number of times or spend lots and lots of money. The good news: The game's still in early release, so these things could be fixed. The bad news: Right now, resentment's a likelier build during play than a winning deck.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the ongoing cost of collectible card games. How does your family determine the right amount to spend?

  • Is it worth spending money on unfinished games? Can games ever be considered "finished" today since they can always be patched and updated?

  • Is your favorite book just as good as its movie or game version? Can a visual medium like a movie, TV show, or game improve upon a book, or could it completely miss what makes the original written format special?

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