Gloom of Kilforth: The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game, The Hunt For Gollum Review

Thursday, June 30, 2011

The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game, The Hunt For Gollum Review

Building Decks to Hunt For Gollum

Rant starts here:

The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game is ostensibly a brilliant game, but is does have its foibles.  I’m praying that they’re just teething issues from its inception as the first cooperative ‘living card game’, and that FFG are simply finding their feet with it.  And since I’ve already had tons of fun with it I’m not too bothered about being a guinea pig for FFG’s gaming experimentation either.  The fact that the art is arguably the best in any game yet released, and that it’s Tolkien-based, that it’s cooperative, that it’s entertaining, and that you get to play Aragorn battering orc heads in eases these aforementioned teething issues.

Quick run-down of my problems with the game:

The scaling is off - it’s just easier with more players, no doubt.
You don’t get any ‘legal’ 50 card mono sphere decks in the base game, and the dual deck options are very limited.
You have to buy multiple copies to get the ‘complete’ deck-building experience.

You can play around a bit to try and address these issues though – we certainly did.  First of all, I developed a bunch of quests that were aimed at scaling to the number of players which you can find on this blog.

With one core set you can start mixing decks up and get, say, a 30 card dual sphere deck going, but you won’t have that satisfaction that you’re playing by the rules as intended, even though the rules you are given tell you to start with 30 card mono sphere decks.  So you sort of have to feel your way through to the best style of play that suits you.  That this aspect is completely glossed over by FFG is a let-down, because by telling you that less than 50 cards is not a ‘proper’ deck, and then not supplying you with enough cards to really deck build in earnest, you end up feeling like you’re sandboxing the game to your own design rather than playing by FFG’s provided rules.

The learning curve from the easy first Mirkwood scenario, on to the second more difficult Anduin Journey scenario, right through to the rock hard Dol Guldur scenario is pretty steep.  And by Dol Guldur, solo play is out of the question - yes it is all you ‘choose your own prisoner’ types ;) - unless you plan on using two decks.  Luckily, using two decks still provides a satisfying solo playing experience, it can just feel a bit ‘off’ at first.

After playing the game to death in both multiplayer and solo play modes I burned out a bit on LOTR.  Then I came back to it and did a bit of deck building with ‘unofficial’ 30 card decks, and then deck-building by just combining two decks into one (which you kind of have to do) to get around 50 cards.  Then I got a bit tired of it again.  Created a couple more scenarios and came back to it again.  Basically I can’t seem to stay away from it.

I’m supposed to be trying to finish the design of Fantasy Quest in my free time but I keep getting caught up and telling the wife I’m ‘just playing through one more scenario of LOTR’ instead.  Even if it is 1pm.  On a week night.

After getting annoyed with FFG’s endless previews of mystical expansions that never seemed to materialise I started to feel like a stroppy teenager.  And then yesterday The Hunt For Gollum dropped through my letterbox courtesy of the lovely folks at Maelstrom Games.

Review starts here:

The first of this line’s sprawling breadth of expansions ‘Gollum brings a bunch of new cards to the game and a new scenario that delivers an interesting new angle to the actual gameplay.  Gandalf has sent you off looking for the slippery bugger himself and the new scenario charts your search for ‘Clues’ of Gollum’s trail which are represented by a series of Guarded cards hidden in the new Encounter deck.  The art carries on the high quality torch of the base game and is still top notch.

Initially I was disappointed at only receiving two new cards for each hero sphere deck (3 copies of each card), and my original opinion of the Bilbo hero card was that he would stay in Bag End for the rest of his days.  But you get a ton of new Encounter cards, and I think I actually prefer it this way, as they present the most interesting challenge, and if I really need more hero cards I can always – don’t say it out loud - buy another core set...

To get the best experience I thought I’d try to use as many of the new cards as possible but I still chucked out the fairly useless ‘search for eagle’ and ‘draw 1 card’ cards.  This also meant reluctantly getting Bilbo into action with Glorfindel and Legolas in a Lore/Tactics deck.  This was supported by a Spirit/Leadership deck led by Eowyn, Aragorn and Theodred.

The scenarios seem quite challenging, and pace you well with extra encounter cards sometimes coming at you before and after the questing phase too.  The Clues are a neat little mechanic and you have to really hang onto them or the deck will screw you over.  In fact, if you lose your clues during the third stage you will be sent screaming back to the start of the second stage.

There are a couple of really nasty orc enemies that grow in power with more players, and locations that emulate this effect as well.  In fact, location build up in this scenario can be crippling to deadly depending on how prepared you are to tackle them.

Surprisingly, after early reports at Gollum’s difficulty, I managed to beat the scenario twice through using two decks.  So I scaled back to just using each of the above decks alone in solo play.  First up was Spirit/Leadership, and I pulled off two wins in a row.  Then came solo Lore/Tactics, and again another win.  By this point it was nearly time to go to work so I headed off to bed for 40 winks.

So, 5 wins in 5 games.  Not sure what to think about that.  Seemed pretty challenging and a couple of those victories were close calls too.  Could be that I’ve finally learnt how to play the core set’s dual sphere decks well, or that I just got plain lucky.  But I’d say on balance it’s probably easier than the Anduin Journey, and victory or no – it was very enjoyable.  Furthermore: Bilbo Baggins = flipping hero, I take it all back!  That extra card is massively beneficial.  Especially when combined with the likes of Protector of Lorien to smash through an entire stage in one turn.

Could it be that FFG have actually managed to create a scenario that is EASIER with less players?  Possibly.  If so it’s an interesting reversal of the previous scaling issues of the core set, and means I genuinely don’t know what to expect from the next string of small box expansions.  Which is kind of cool.

It’s also moving you part way towards having those mythical legal 50 card decks mentioned in the rules too.

And of course, you don’t have to buy more than one of this particular expansion set.  So it actually goes a long way towards resolving the three main problems I listed at the top of this missive.  Given that it was also a lot of fun, I’d say this is an extremely promising early step forward in the potentially huge LOTR:LCG campaign.

I’m preaching to the converted here though – if you’ve got the core set and you’re reading this far, you’re already buying The Hunt for Gollum aren’t you!  :laugh:

And for anyone who’s interested you can rest assured that my next custom (6 stage) scenario ‘Branching Paths’ will include the new cards too...  :whistle:

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