If I were reviewing The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game (TLotR:TCG) as a whole, I’d give it a 95, with it’s biggest flaw being that it isn’t Arkham Horror: The Card Game (AH:TCG) (the best co-op deck construction game in my opinion). However, this review isn’t for TLotR:TCG as a whole, which has over 10 years worth of back content to explore and support it: this review is just for the Revised Core Set, and the Revised Core Set has some shortcomings.
To head this off early, if you are already into TLotR:TCG and want to know if the Revised Core Set has anything for you, it doesn’t really (unless you purchased only 1 original Core Set). You can safely skip it – and the rest of this review. The biggest changes to the Core Set is that it gives you a full set of 3 of each player card (so you don’t have to buy multiple Core Sets) and adds a Campaign mode for the Core Set scenarios. At the time I am writing this review, you can find all the Core Set Campaign resources (log, print-and-play cards, etc.) on Fantasy Flight Games (FFG) TLotR:TCG site under the “Player Resources”:
Now, for those of you still remaining, you might wonder why I’ve noted how highly I think of TLotR:TCG overall and specified that this review is only covering the Revised Core Set. Deck construction games tend to get exponentially better as you add more cards: a larger card pool available to you means more options and variety when it comes to constructing decks. An unfortunate side effect then tends to be that whatever starter kit a developer puts together just isn’t anywhere near as good as the greater game itself can be. You gotta start somewhere, and that somewhere is just not going to be as great as where you can end up.
The Revised Core Set contains only 3 scenarios (1 very easy, 1 normal, and 1 very hard) and just enough player cards to do the most absolute minimum and basic of deck construction. Much like FFG’s other co-op LCGs, TLotR:TCG’s (Revised) Core Set contains just enough material to get a taste for what the game can offer – which can be frustrating and/or disappointing. You are paying $70 for content that you might get only last you a month – or maybe just a single evening if you are already an avid CCG or LCG player. However, it is worth noting that the third, and hardest, Core Set scenario is often noted as one of the harder scenarios in the entire game – especially with the limited card set available to you if you just have the Core Set. Depending on your skill level, luck, and willingness to play the same scenarios over and over again with the same small pool of cards, you may get more play out of the core scenarios than me.
While I have played TLotR:TCG before, it’s been a few years since I last played. Nevertheless, I managed to play through (and beat) all 3 of the Core Set scenarios (solo) and then through all 3 scenarios again in the Campaign mode (solo) in the course of 2 evenings total. When I played with a partner (who hadn’t played TLotR:TCG before, but had played AH:TCG), we could beat scenarios in a few hours each. Whether solo or with a partner, I did have fun when I played through each scenario. Each scenario presents a unique puzzle that you can craft decks to solve – though, with the limited player card pool of the Core Set, there are only so many different decks you can make. Additionally; if you are a fan of homebrewing, house ruling, or otherwise customizing things; there isn’t a ton of customization that can be done to the scenarios and encounter deck either: there just aren’t that many encounter card sets to play around with in the Core Set.
While the game technically supports 3 or 4 players, I didn’t attempt to play any scenarios with 3 or 4 players. The decks you’d have available based only off the Revised Core Set just aren’t really good, and the deck construction is very limited as the Revised Core Set card pool is fairly small. Though there are technically enough cards in the Revised Core Set to support 3 or 4 players; you’d have to either have to build mono-sphere (color) decks or you’d have to have really, really good communication and synergy when building your decks from the limited cards available. There are exactly 12 heroes (3 for each sphere), 45 non-hero player cards of each sphere, and 8 copies of neutral Gandalf (2 per person in a 4 player game). “Legal” decks need to contain 50 cards. With 4 players, you basically have to forgo the deck construction aspect of the game entirely in most cases. Beyond that, the individual spheres aren’t particularly… robust with just the Core Set cards, so successful decks (and any deck construction) is only really going to happen with 2 or 3 sphere decks (and, for resource management reasons, 2 sphere decks are going to be better than 3 sphere decks, particularly in the Core Set).
That said, the Revised Core Set is definitely a major improvement over the original Core Set. While you had to purchase 3 copies of the original Core Set to get a full set of Core Set player cards, you only have to purchase 1 Revised Core Set to get a full set of Core Set player cards. This is a huge: not only is the overall cost now cheaper ($40 * 3 = $120 vs $70), there’s also far less waste (as you only ever needed 1 set of encounter cards, counters, rules, etc.).
Additionally, the original Core Set didn’t give you a place to store your cards. Meanwhile, the Revised Core Set gives you a handy tray that will give you a place to hold the Revised Core Set plus some additions (assuming you don’t sleeve your cards). It’s definitely good for new players, though certain CCG/LCG veterans might get rid of it. (I keep all my cards in a boring BCW cardboard box.) The included insert works great for unsleeved cards with their rounded corners, but can bend the right angle corners of sleeves.
The campaign is also a welcome addition. I’m going to try to avoid spoilers, so forgive me if some of this sounds a bit vague. While the story of the Core Set scenarios is… only barely there (it’s only a few lines long per scenario)… and the Campaign doesn’t exactly improve on that much; the Campaign does help smooth out the gameplay a bit. The first Core Set scenario is very easy and Campaign mode makes it just a hair more difficult in my opinion. Similarly, the third Core Set scenario is generally regarded as very hard. However, in Campaign mode, due to the way the second Core Set scenario ends and a bonus given at the beginning of the third Core Set scenario, the third Core Set scenario can end up surprisingly manageable. It’s still not easy by any means, but it’s not necessarily anywhere near as difficult or punishing as it is stand alone.
One last and minor complaint I have is the lack of a reference card or sheet for the timing windows. Timing is technically important (if somewhat fudgeable in practice given the co-op nature of the game), and the only place to find the detailed list of the various timing windows is inside the rules reference book. TLotR:TCG isn’t unique in this regard: both of FFG’s other co-op LCGs (AH:TCG and Marvel Champions) have this same omission.
The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game Revised Core Set
While I’d give TLotR:TCG a 95 on the whole AND I believe the Revised Core Set is a major and significant improvement over the original Core Set, TLotR:TCG’s Revised Core Set still has some significant shortcomings. With a limited player card pool and only 3 scenarios, the Revised Core Set is very much just an appetizer for the rest of the game that won’t fill most for long on its own.