It can be pretty difficult for new players to find their way in the jungle of cards and expansions that this game has to offer. There have been occasions where people have bought adventure packs without owning the corresponding Deluxe box when they first came to the game, making it impossible to play the specific scenario. In this article, I will go over all the expansions and other gear players can buy specifically to this game as made by Fantasy Flight Games.
This will just be an overview of the LCG model, not a buying guide. I will direct any new players to this excellent New Player Buying Guide made by Tales from the Cards. It is also important to inform any new players that the expansions are constantly being reprinted by FFG. This means that if an expansion isn’t available at the moment, it will be at the printer awaiting reprinting. This can usually take a couple of months, but then they should be back in stock. In the meantime, you can buy other expansions that are already available. Do NOT (!) buy any expansions off of eBay for prices double that of your FLGS. Your money is better spent on other expansions while you wait for that specific box to be back in print. The only time you might be wanting to use eBay for this game is to get a hold of alternative art cards or Fellowship playing mats if you really want them
This is the first purchase of every player in the game. The Core Set is required to play the game as it provides players with 2 threat trackers, a mountain of tokens, 3 scenarios ranging from easy to brutal difficulty, a rule book, and enough player cards to get started in building some decks. The Core Set features 12 heroes, 3 belonging to each sphere. Right out of the box, players are able to make a couple of decks to bring against the 3 scenarios in the box. Since there are 2 threat trackers, players will be able to enjoy the cooperative nature of this game or just the solo experience for a quick game.
The Core Set is also required to play any of the Shadows of Mirkwood cycle, as the encounter sets in this box are used in those scenarios.The Core Set box also offers a place to store all of your LOTR LCG cards while you don’t have a lot of expansions yet. The old Core Set box is often used to store all cards the players have up until the end of the Dwarrowdelf cycle. After that, the box becomes too small, and players will have to look towards alternative storage solutions.
There are also people who buy multiple copies of this Core Set. Buying 2 Core Sets gives players access to playing this game with 4 players. The players will now have 4 threat trackers and a bigger pile of tokens. Buying a second copy of a Core Set also grants additional copies of some powerful cards that players might want to get a hold off once they are fully committed to this game. I would advise players to first buy a couple of expansions before they buy another Core Set. Buying a second Core Set right off the bat will not improve your card pool tremendously, as each Core Set is identical in terms of player cards. If you are looking to increase the size of your card pool, you will be better off buying some Adventure Packs or Deluxe boxes first. I personally do not recommend buying a third copy of a Core Set, as players will not be able to play this game with 6 players. The only reason players would want to pick up a third Core Set is to get more copies of some staple cards like Gandalf, A Test of Will, and Steward of Gondor.
These bigger boxes will feature 2 new heroes and 11 new player card, belonging to each sphere of influence. These Deluxe boxes all feature 3 new scenarios and will kick off their respective cycle. Owning a Deluxe box is mandatory in order to play the accompanying cycle of Adventure Packs, so it should be your first purchase if you are starting a new cycle. For example, you will need the Heirs of Numenor Deluxe box in order to play any of the Against the Shadow cycle scenarios.
The Deluxes do not have to be bought in a specific order, as they each feature a closed story arc in combination with their respective cycle. There is also a recurring theme in each Deluxe expansion, where the player cards are focussed on a specific trait or archetype. The Khazad-Dum Deluxe expansion focusses heavily on the Dwarf trait, as the story takes place in Moria for the most part. Players can rapidly increase their card pool and make a nice themed deck if they pick up one of these boxes.
Adventure packs are always linked in a cycle of 6. They have a narrative flowing between all 6 of the packs in order to make a complete story. The Adventure packs feature 1 hero per pack and 9 different player cards, with 3 copies of each player card (excluding the hero). These packs all have a set card pool that is always the same. This means you can always know for certain what cards you are going to buy. This is one of the big differences between an LCG and a standard CCG. Besides the player cards, each Adventure Pack offers an encounter deck that will need the encounter sets of the accompanying Deluxe box in order to play the scenario.
The Adventure packs can be bought out of order if some are out of print. However, you will get the best sense of the overarching story if players play these scenarios in order. Players can pick up an entire cycle in one go, open all packs for the player cards, and play through the scenarios in order for the most theme. The release schedule on these packs used to be one pack per month, though the recent cycle has taken much longer to release. The material of the packs themselves has also changed over the years. The newer Adventure packs feature a plastic shell, while the older prints are in a smaller cardboard box. These cardboard boxes are no longer being used, so don’t be alarmed when you receive a plastic Hunt for Gollum Adventure Pack.
For players who find some scenarios easy, there are the Nightmare editions. These packs are quite cheap, usually about half the price of a regular Adventure pack. These packs don’t have any player cards in them, only encounter cards. These encounter cards can be added to the encounter deck to play a scenario in Nightmare mode. This also removes some easier or broken cards. The new Nightmare scenario will be more of a challenge, but also fixes some mechanics that could be exploited in Normal mode.
In order to play Nightmare mode, players will have to own the original Adventure pack, the corresponding Deluxe box, and a Core Set like with everything. Saga and Deluxe scenarios also have Nightmare mode editions, but will still require the original scenario to add the Nightmare cards to. The Nightmare Packs usually lag a little behind the regular release schedule of the game by a year and a half. This is to ensure the developer get enough time to fix any holes the players may have found in order to exploit this scenario. The packs will be released in waves of 3 scenarios per wave. These packs are best to pick up when you have a larger card pool and want to revisit some older scenarios with a bigger challenge.
For a buying guide on these nightmare scenarios check out THIS GUIDE by Tales From the Cards about what Nightmare packs to get, and what to skip.
Of course, players enjoy the non-canon storylines that the developers use for the majority of this game. It is sometimes very well written with little hints to the stories that Tolkien wrote. But nothing can ever compare to the original works. The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings are cult classics and the developers knew they had to redesign the stories into the game eventually. This was the start of the Saga expansions. First up was The Hobbit which got tackled in 2 Deluxe style boxes. Between 6 scenarios players play through events in the book while playing the game. Escaping capture by Trolls, Escaping capture by Goblins, and Escaping capture by Spiders all make for some great scenarios with unique mechanics. You get to play a game of riddles with Gollum, steal treasure from Smaug, and it all comes to an epic conclusion with the Battle of Five Armies. The player cards in these expansions tend to focus a lot on Dwarves, but other traits get some nice cards as well. This is also the introduction to the Baggins sphere and the Treasure cards that players carry over between consecutive scenarios. This style of campaign mode is true to its lore and doesn’t involve a hint to the movies.
The Lord of the Rings was a bigger book to tackle, so the developers split the books into 6 Deluxe style expansions. In total, there are 18 scenarios in these Saga expansions which each handle a different chapter of the books. All of the epic battles are included and even parts that were left out of the original trilogy of movies can be added to the campaign (more on this later). Players can choose to pick one scenario and do a normal playthrough or decide to do a full campaign. This campaign starts the heroes off at Bag End, dodging Black Riders, and ends at the Cracks of Doom where players have to make an important real-life decision (no spoilers). Along the way, the players can encounter helpful Boons or earn dreadful Burdens that stick with the players across multiple scenarios. This style is highly thematic but also not too easy, making players go back to the last “checkpoint” if they are beaten by a scenario. Decisions on what cards to use and what heroes to bring can echo throughout the campaign, making the game an epic playthrough worthy of the franchise. The expansions also feature a Ring-bearer hero and a new Fellowship sphere with accompanying player cards to use in these scenarios.
Each of the Saga expansions can be bought while only having the Core Set. You do not require any other expansions in order to play the scenarios in non-campaign mode. For campaign mode, you will need the previous Saga boxes in order to play through all expansions in the campaign mode. The player cards in these Saga boxes are great, there can be 1-4 heroes per Saga expansion and the player cards can sometimes illustrate characters that joined in the story at that time. The Black Riders box brings Hobbits to the mix and Rohan characters join you during the Battle of Helms Deep. The Saga expansions feature some great player cards that can also be used outside of the Saga scenarios (except for Baggins and Fellowship cards).
Print on Demand scenarios
Finally, we have these stand-alone scenarios that are a part of Fellowship events or conventions. These scenarios tend to be more of a challenge for players and make for some highly thematic plays. If you pick these scenarios up during a convention or event where this is released, you get a limited edition alt art player card and a play mat to play with. These items are highly sought after as they will not be given to players who buy the scenario online months after the event where it was released. It is, therefore, a good idea to catch these scenarios when they are a part of Gen Con or the Fellowship event.]
These scenarios do not feature any other player cards but a stand-alone scenario that does not require any other expansions to be owned by the players. Of course, you will need other expansions to get some decent decks, so these Print on Demand scenario should never be your first buy after the Core Set. These scenarios are meant for players with a larger card pool who would like a tough scenario to sink their teeth in. These scenarios will always be reprinted, so you should be able to find some online. There is a smaller demand for these type of scenarios so it may take a while finding them.
Two of the scenarios The Old Forest and Fog on the Barrow Downs can also be played in campaign mode as chapters of the books. These will feature some chapters that were not able to fit in the Saga expansions but were too important to leave out (take notes PJ!). Completing these scenarios will give the players some extra boons that can be used in later scenarios. The Battle of Lake-town is not a part of The Hobbit campaign mode, but it will allow players to get stomped by a Dragon, so there’s that.
These PoD quests come with a rules sheet that is printed on cards themselves for easy reference about the new mechanics. The material of the cards of these quests is also slightly different than the usual encounter cards, as a different printer and materials were used. This is normal though, all PoD scenarios are like this.
Unfortunately, the game doesn’t get as much attention as other major title created by FFG. Because of this, there is little exclusive gear to be found outside the Fellowship events. Recently the community got access to some new player mats, and when the game first came out, exclusive sleeves were available.
Besides the play mats that FFG hands out with each Fellowship event or during Gen Con, it was recently announced that there will be play mats available for purchase. These mats provide players with some stunning artwork as the background of their playthrough. I would highly recommend players get one of these mats if they don’t have a LoTR mat yet. It really brings extra flavour to your games and is even worth framing on your wall.
When the game was first released, FFG had limited edition packs of card sleeves, featuring art from the game. As of today, these sleeves have not been reprinted since, except for the One Ring art that can be found on the back of every player card. These sleeves are slightly bigger than standard size sleeves and are a bit more expensive than a regular set of sleeves from Ultra Pro or Ultimate Guard. I personally use these sleeves as the outer sleeves on my heroes. The larger size makes the heroes stand out more and fits the cards well, even when you want to double-sleeve them. The other art sleeves can sometimes be found on eBay, but I would suggest players go with standard sleeves from a big company to sleeve their decks. The One Ring sleeves are constantly being reprinted, so you could use them for a special (campaign?) deck or like me for hero cards.
I will keep updating this list whenever there is any more official expansion types or gaming loot to buy. In the meantime, there is also a lot of fan-made material out there. This ranges from custom-made play mats, tokens, and threat trackers to fan-made scenarios and expansions. Perhaps a list for another time.