A little over a month ago, lead game designer Caleb Grace announced on the Cardboard of the Rings podcast that he had some “big news” for Lord of the Rings LCG fans, and that we’d be hearing that news soon. Of course, in typical Fantasy Flight Games fashion, the date of the announcement slipped from early November to December 9th, leaving the community with plenty of time to conjecture about the nature of the news.
Well, that day has come and gone, and we finally know what Caleb and the gang have been up to. Fantasy Flight Interactive (the new digital games wing of Fantasy Flight Games) has unveiled their new project to the world: A digital adaptation of the Lord of the Rings Living Card Game.
Far from being a straight digitization of the game, the mechanics of the game have been re-imagined from the ground up, with major changes to the number of phases of the game, the way resources work, the way combat works, and more. The word “streamlined” is getting thrown around a lot, and while the two games share the same art, theme, card names, and basic principles, mechanically speaking the two games look to have diverged quite a bit.
There’s a lot of information scattered around the internet about this new game already, so I though it might be useful to pull it all into one place and summarize some of what we know. The official information so far can be found here:
- The recording of the official announcement livestream
- The announce article on FFG’s website (with commentary from Caleb Grace)
- The announce article on FFI’s website (with some info on why FFI chose LotR as their first major title)
- “Into a New Age” from FFI (with some info on the game’s business model)
- The game’s Steam Page
So what do we know?
We don’t know everything, but from the sources above we do have a surprising amount of information about the game. Here’s what stuck out to me:
The game uses a free-to-play model. It has an in-game currency called Valor, used to purchase Valor cards—which, as far as I can tell, is just another name for player cards. New Heroes are also available for purchase along with four marquee cards to support them, in Hero Packs. There also appear to be powerful one-time use cards called Favor cards. It’s not yet clear which of these cards are purchasable using Valor versus real money.
The game still has a scoring system. In the livestream, Luke Walaszek mentions trying to win with “the lowest possible threat and the highest possible score.”
The resource system is now just a deckbuilding restriction. Heroes no longer collect resources—you just get 3 resources per turn. Instead, each card has a Level which dictates the number of Heroes of that sphere that you have to have in order to include a card in your deck. For instance, in order to include a Level 2 Tactics card, you have to have 2 Tactics Heroes.
The cards have been changed a lot. As you can see in the screenshot above, many of the new cards share the same name as cards in the physical game: Escort from Édoras, Gaining Strength, Feint, Favor of the Lady, and Advance Warning are all recognizable. But there are a bunch of major changes, too. The art for Dwarven Shield was used for a new card called Round Shield, and it looks like they’ve mixed up all of the spheres. Sneak Attack plays a random Ally now (rather than one of your choice) and Arwen is now the marquee Lore Hero from the core set of cards.
Locations, quests, and questing work differently. Cards retain the willpower stat, but now there are only two phases—Planning and Adventure. During the Planning phase, you play cards down, and during the Adventure phase you use them. Your attack stat is used to attack Enemies, while your willpower is used to overcome Objectives. You’re only ever at one Location at a time, and each Location has a main Objective, with Sauron potentially playing down several side Objectives as well.
Combat works more like in Hearthstone. When one character attacks another, they do damage to each other at the same time rather than having separate attack and defense actions. The definitions of Ranged and Sentinel had to change, too, with Sentinel characters having to be targeted first, and Ranged characters being able to attack exhausted Enemies without getting hit back.
The art style is more like Hearthstone too. I can’t help but feel like the beautiful painted art of the Lord of the Rings Living Card Game clashes a bit with the bubbly, bright UI elements. It might be better when we actually get to see the animations, but I feel like they hewed a little too close to safety, trying to go with something they knew already worked for video games like this rather than using the (more beautiful) style they already had for the physical card game.
Multiplayer is only up to 2 player co-op for now. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if they started with just the Single Player experience and added multiplayer on a little later. It’s also interesting to note that the uniqueness rules seem to have been abandoned (or greatly altered) since each player has a Gimli in play in the screenshot above.
It’s going to be released Q1 of 2018 on Steam Early Access. There was some brief talk of a mobile version (and I have heard that the release poster indeed mentions something of the sort) but for now they’re starting with just Windows and Mac versions of the game.
The tabletop version of the game is not dead. The twitch stream made it clear that they want to explore different spaces with the two versions of the game, with the physical game doing things the digital one can’t and vice versa. While Caleb has been closely involved in the development of the digital game up to this point, it sounds like he’s going to be less and less involved in it as time goes on. The purpose of the digital version seems to be an attempt to appeal to a wider audience, and perhaps to have the physical and digital games cross-promote one another.
I’m cautiously excited
I love the tactile nature of card games—and I fully intend to keep playing with my physical cards regardless of how good the video game is—but I also enjoy the things that digital media can do that you can’t get with physical games. When this comes out, I’ll definitely be grabbing a copy and giving it a test spin. I might even decide to stream some of my games for you. I’m very interested to see where they take this!
That said, free-to-play games have a tendency to be built in a predatory manner—many of them end up as little more than a skinner box wrapped around your wallet—so I’m going into it with a note of caution. Hopefully they’re respectful with their business model here; only time will tell.
What are your opinions on the new announcement? Interested? Not interested? Let me know in the comments below!