First of all, welcome to this wonderful game! Maybe you were lured here by the new Revised Core Set you found in a shop, or you watched a video of someone unboxing or playing the game. Perhaps you were even trapped into buying the game because a friend brought you along on an adventure with his decks. Regardless, you are here now, and I welcome you to the game and its community.
You may have a lot of questions diving into such an expansive game. It can be difficult to know You may have a lot of questions diving into such an expansive game. It can be difficult to know where to start with more than 10 years’ worth of content and over 100 expansions to the game. And even once you find your bearings in the jungle of content, you might at first struggle with the game and are tempted to give up. I urge you to continue bashing your head against the brick wall that this game can sometimes be, and you will eventually be rewarded with the experience that will hook you to the game.
In this article, I will try to explain some of the steps that you could take to make the introduction to the game a little easier. This includes how to build decks, what expansions to buy, and where to look for help if the instruction manual doesn’t give you your answers. Should you have more questions after this article, I will also instruct you on where to best post those questions so that the amazing community can help you out.
What is this game?
This is a cooperative card game that takes place in the world of JRR Tolkien’s books The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings. The game explores different locales in Middle-Earth that the books do not even visit, filling in more of the map for you. There is also a way to go through the events of both books with the Saga expansions, allowing you to relive the story through the game.
It should be noted that this game does not take inspiration from the Peter Jackson movies, but instead has the art direction follow the character descriptions from the books or the artist’s interpretation. This means that you can have an Aragorn that does not look like Viggo Mortenson, and have a black-haired Legolas in your Core Set.
As I mentioned, the game is completely cooperative and can be played solo or up to four players at once. The game scales with the number of players, and some scenarios can be made more difficult with more players, while others are easier if you bring friends.
The game is a Living Card Game (LCG), which means that there is a set number of expansions, from which all the cards are known in advance. You can use card search engines like Hall of Beorn or RingsDB to discover what cards are in what expansion. This is different from a CCG or TCG format, in which you buy boosters with random cards, risking getting multiple copies of the same card. That is not the case with an LCG. You get 3 copies of each player card in each expansion, and do not have to be afraid you get stuck with 20+ copies of the same common card. Because of this format, you will see almost no secondary market for individual cards or scalpers for very rare cards, because all cards have the same rarity. If you really want a specific card, you can just order that expansion, and know for sure that the card you want is in there.
What to buy?
Let’s start at the very beginning; how do you buy into this game? You have likely already crossed this threshold, but it is still wise to know what you actually bought. You will start with the Core Set, which is a large box that holds three scenarios and a bunch of player cards to start your deckbuilding experience with. In January 2022 (when this article was written), a revision of the Core Set was released, which improves upon the classic red box that the Core Set was for the last 10 years. This revised Core Set holds 3 of each player card (except for heroes and Gandalf) and has some additional cards for a campaign experience in the box. This was missing from the original set.
Once you grow tired of the same three scenarios or want to increase your card pool, you have to look at other products to buy in order to give you new experiences. Luckily, this game is a Living Card Game, which means you know exactly which cards come in which pack, and you can review them beforehand. But with so many expansions out there and not all of them in stock at the same time, you might need a buying guide. Most of these were made before the announcement of the revised Core Set, but they still hold up today.
- Article from this site, going into detail on some purchases. This will be kept up to date with recent releases and announcements: https://visionofthepalantir.com/2022/06/03/new-player-buying-guide/
- Video explanation by CardTalk, going over the various expansions: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GUn1t45GL5c
- An older guide by TalesftCards, which reviews every old expansion and ranks them: https://talesfromthecards.wordpress.com/2013/09/13/new-player-buying-guide/
- Cardboard of the Rings, a podcast for the game, has done various episodes for newer players, see for example episodes 188 and 189: https://cardboardoftherings.com/2021/11/15/episode-188-help/
If you want a shorter version of these guides, I would suggest buying some of the early Saga expansions, like Black Riders or the two Hobbit boxes. These give you a lot of player cards and scenarios from the books. You can also buy the Dark of Mirkwood expansion, which should tie into the narrative of your Core Set campaign. This one will be released in Q1 2022 and should be high on your list. If you have a larger budget, I suggest looking up a few groups for the game and seeing if anyone is selling a second-hand collection. That is a cheap way for you to get a lot of products at once, after which you can find whatever you are missing. I will list a few possible groups later on.
It is important to note that FFG has announced that they will be repackaging some of the cycles into larger boxes at some point. There will be two boxes per cycle, one for player cards and one for scenarios. This replaces the normal Deluxe+cycle of Adventure Packs structure that the game had until now. We currently do not know which cycles will get this treatment, but I think the first cycle will be getting it first. So because of that, I would not buy the APs for the Shadows of Mirkwood cycle if I were you unless you really cannot wait. If you want to make sure that you are not going to regret your purchases in a few months, get some of the older cycles. Dream-chaser and Ered Mithrin offer a lot of great content for you and will take a while to get big boxes for as they are relatively newer expansions.
How to build decks?
If this is your first real deckbuilding game, then you might be unfamiliar with the tricks on how to build a solid deck that can allow you to beat different scenarios. If you have the Revised Core Set, try the two starter decks that are described in the manual. These use two spheres each, giving you a taste of what each sphere has to offer. These decks are designed for two players, but if you are alone, you can still pilot both decks at the same time. You just need a bigger table and some more time. Alternatively, you can try this decklist that uses cards from just the Core Set in order to build one deck that can take on the quests in that box with the best chances of succeeding. Victory is not guaranteed though, and you still may need several attempts.
Once the four pre-made decks are released by FFG, you can also purchase those for a more thematic experience. The Core Set gives you a little bit of every trait, but these decks focus on that trait, giving the deck a much better synergy around discarding cards, having more Dwarves in play, having a high threat, etc. You can also learn from these decks what to look for when building decks yourself.
If you are expanding your collection and still are not comfortable with your decks, I will suggest looking up some decks on RingsDB. This is a deckbuilding site where people post their decks and how to play them. You can select your owned expansions there, so you filter out the cards you do not yet have. You then have an easy-to-follow decklist for building a deck with the cards you own, and you may get to experience combos that you haven’t yet thought of. Try, for instance, to play Sneak Attack with Gandalf to get his amazing ability and stats for a discounted price for a phase!
You can also have a look at some deckbuilding videos on Youtube where people go through their deckbuilding process. There are some streams of people building decks live or people describing how their deck came to be. This will likely include cards you do not yet own, but the ideas still carry through to how you should make your decks as well. I hope that helps you to get started!
How to play?
Read through the instruction manual and maybe play a mock game following how the different phases of a round work. If you still are not sure how a round plays out, go through some videos for newer players where this is laid out. This video by Cardboard of the Rings shows a veteran guiding two new players through the first scenario, which will be very instructive for you.
After you have grasped how to game works, you may start your struggle against the first scenario. It is likely the easiest scenario out there, so you will likely beat it within 5 attempts with some of the decks I shared earlier. If you are not winning, look at what is causing you to lose and try to improve your deck in that regard. The game is in part luck-based, so you can still run into unfortunate combos in this first scenario.
The second scenario increases the difficulty and is often seen as a rite of passage into the game for newer players. This scenario demands more of your deck, but if you are playing with more than 1 player, you will likely eventually get through the quest. There are many guides for this quest in particular, since veteran players like returning to this quest to test decks or enjoy the simpler times of the Core Set.
The third scenario of the Core Set is pretty unfair for new players, so I will suggest playing this either with a few friends or skipping this scenario until you have better decks to work with. The pre-made decks by FFG will stand a better chance against the quest but will still need a few attempts to beat it, most likely. Play some other quests that you may have purchased beyond the Core Set to grow your experience and confidence with the game, and one day you can return to this quest and finally beat it! I would advise the Dark of Mirkwood quests to be played next since they are not too difficult but do introduce some new mechanics that will be challenging to you.
If you are finding yourself having trouble with a particular scenario, look up a playthrough online of that quest. If you are more into a detailed, written analysis of the scenario, then this blog has plenty of content for you. Just look for your scenario in this list, and you will have enough to read to understand how to tackle the quest, hopefully. The articles do mention some cards and techniques that you may not yet have access to, but I am sure you will learn at least something about the quest from the articles!
I will also suggest you take a look at the Beorn’s Path series on this link. In it, the host walks you through the various scenarios of the first cycle and the Dwarrowdelf Deluxe box. With detailed analyses of the quests from a new player’s perspective, I think it will be a useful tool for you to get through the first cycle, or at least the Core Set!
What community content is out there?
With a game as old as LOTR LCG, there has been a ton of content released for the game made by the community. Several blogs, podcasts, video channels, groups, and more have been made to entertain you with the game when you aren’t playing it. A list of these can be found here. I also recommend joining some of the groups for the game, as that will help develop your understanding of how big the game actually is. You do not necessarily have to post anything in the group, but you can just watch the discussions, look at pictures of people’s setups, and hear about new ideas that people may have.
There is also a lot of content being made for the game by groups of people looking to make new scenarios or new player cards for the game. These are fantastic for us veterans, but I would suggest keeping to official content for now. These fan-made expansions tend to be more suited for people who have a complete collection and are looking for something new to play. The quality of this content is fantastic, and I encourage you to at least take a look at it.
Finally, I will also suggest you take a look at DragnCards. This is a fan-made program created in 2021 that will allow players to play the game online without having to download anything. You can just play in your browser and can upload decks directly from RingsDB. It is an easy way to test your deck with cards you are considering buying or play scenarios that you do not yet own. It is also a great way to play some multiplayer games with other players if you are looking for more of a 1-on-1 instruction on how to play the game with a veteran. There are also mods for TTS and OCTGN if you want to play the game there, but the majority of people these days play on DragnCards.
Where do I go for questions?
After this article, I don’t blame you if you still have questions. The game can be confusing at the start, and you may have questions that I did not cover here. In that case, you can just leave a comment on this article, and I will try and answer as best as I can. However, for a more engaging response from the hivemind of the community, I would suggest posting your questions on the various groups for the game. The game’s subreddit is helpful if you are used to the format of the site. You can also join the “LOTR LCG Players” group on Facebook. Just search for it, and you’ll likely find it. It is home to nearly 5.000 players, new and veteran, and there are many discussions there about various topics like storage, rules answering, and much more.
From those two groups, you can then branch off to smaller groups. Maybe there is a group of players in your area that has a separate group to meet up and play the game. There are also several Discord groups to which you can request access. These are usually linked to a region or a content creator but can be very instructive and a good opportunity to engage more with the player base.
I hope this article has helped you with your entry to the game. I am looking forward to seeing more people join the game and experience the same adventures that hooked me over 7 years ago. Remember that the most important thing is to have fun here and that making mistakes is a part of the gameplay experience.
Hope to see you out there soon!
Durin’s Father and the rest of the LOTR LCG Community
Thumbnail by Free Men of the North: Group photo at Con of the Rings 2019!