Limited Collector’s Edition

A month or so ago, my Limited Collector’s Edition came in the mail. Meant as a cross-promotion between the physical and digital editions of the Lord of the Rings Card Game, as well as a collector’s piece for hardcore fans of the physical game, this product tries to do a lot of things at once.

It’s a limited edition product, so it probably won’t be reprinted once it runs out of stock—but as I write this, it’s still available directly from FFG’s website, so it’s worth taking a closer look. Was it worth the hefty $100 (plus shipping) pricetag?

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Here’s what you get

The Collector’s Edition is a bundle with lots of different components:

  • The outer box pictured above
  • A playmat depicting the map of Middle Earth
  • A metal replica of The One Ring
  • Four postcard-sized art prints
  • A code for the soundtrack from the digital card game
  • A physical Two Player Limited Edition Starter, which itself is composed of:
    • Two prerelease Heroes that will appear in future products
    • Two preconstructed player decks that use a different card layout with full-bleed art
    • Two new quests that also use a different card layout with full-bleed art
    • The new-style smaller threat trackers and tokens
  • A code for the Mithril Pack of the the digital game

There’s quite a bit in here! If you add up the total theoretical MSRP for each of these individual pieces, it probably would come out to at least $100. It certainly seems like a good deal.

However, just because it’s worth the price tag on paper doesn’t mean it’s actually worth that much to any given individual. If I wouldn’t have normally purchased all of the constituent parts of the bundle on their own, then the only value I actually extract from it is the sum of the parts I would have paid for had they been sold separately.

So let’s go over each of the parts of the bundle one by one to see if we can separate the gold from that which merely glitters, shall we?

The box

It’s a little weird to talk about a product’s packaging, but in this case it’s actually a really nice feature. The box itself is simply decorated, but lovely, and even contains a stylized depiction of the trees of Valinor for extra theme points.

Before I received the product, I was hoping to craft an insert that would allow me to use the box to store encounter cards. Upon its arrival, however, I discovered that the box is a little too short to fit cards without storing them at a harsh angle—it just wasn’t going to work for that purpose. Fortunately, I found another use for the box: as a place to store my many accumulated playmats.

PlaymatsInBox

Would I have bought it if sold separately?

Probably not. I didn’t really need a storage solution for my playmats—and honestly they take up more space now than they did rolled up and stuffed into the shelf next to my cards. But it sure is pretty, and now that I have found some use for it I’m reluctant to get rid of it.

Playmat map of Middle Earth

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The included playmat is similar to last year’s Fellowship event playmat in that it depicts a map of Middle Earth. There are a few differences between the two: this one is deeper gold, with darker colors, has a thicker banner along the bottom (it uses the logo from the digital game rather than the physical one) and it’s a little more zoomed in than the other map.

Playmat_Comparison

I slightly prefer the Fellowship Event version, I think. The Collector’s Edition one feels just a little cramped at the top and bottom, and the footer has too much dead space in it. Both are nice, though, and nothing beats using a map playmat when I’m sharing the game with others so that I can point out where we are, grounding the experience even more in the lore of Middle Earth.

Would I have bought it if sold separately?

No, because it’s not different enough from the playmat I already had. However, if I didn’t already have a playmat depicting the map of Middle Earth, this one would certainly be worth owning.

The One Ring

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I’ll be frank: the One Ring replica is cheap. It has a little heft to it, which is nice—but there are a number of problems with it.

For one, there’s a big ugly copyright symbol printed at the end of the text (pictured above) which really breaks the immersion. Even worse, the text is printed really close to the edge of the ring, making it look off-center and even cut off in places. Finally, the circumference of the ring is so large that a big portion of the band is just blank.

Ring_Hand

Would I have bought it if sold separately?

No. I have often considered buying a replica One Ring in the past to use as a first player token, but still haven’t pulled the trigger on it after all these years. If I did, I’m sure I could easily find something higher quality for a reasonable price.

The art prints

Art_Prints.jpg

These four prints are of the four Heroes who used to be the Starter Set Heroes from the digital game, before Frodo was replaced by an invented character named Tom Took. The prints are on cardstock and are roughly postcard-sized, but the backs are blank.

Would I have bought it if sold separately?

No. I have no idea what I am going to use these for.

The soundtrack

Album_Cover

I gave the full soundtrack a listen when I first started writing this article. It’s mostly unassuming background music. A few of the tracks grated, since I’ve spent too much time with them already in the digital game (that darn shop screen music), but overall it’s a fine soundtrack. It’s a little forgettable, perhaps, but that’s often a good quality for video game music to have—otherwise it gets annoying.

I could see myself adding some of these tracks to a Lord of the Rings playlist as a little background music for playing the physical game or Cubicle 7’s The One Ring or Adventures in Middle Earth.

Would I have bought it if sold separately?

Probably not. I might as well use the tracks since I have them, but it’s certainly not something I would have gone out of my way to purchase.

The Two-Player Limited Edition Starter

two_player_starter.jpg

Let’s face it—most of that other stuff is just the pretty packaging around this—the real draw of the product. Let’s take a look at what’s inside!

Prerelease Heroes

There are two new Heroes included in this box that aren’t yet available elsewhere: Tactics Thorin Stonehelm and Leadership Gildor Inglorion. Both Heroes are pretty simple; Thorin aids the Dwarf mining archetype a bit and spreads some direct damage around, while Gildor provides some Noldor presence in the Leadership sphere and grants it some much needed card draw.

Neither Hero is going to set the world on fire, but they’re both welcome additions to the card pool.

I don’t really like it when promo cards directly affect the meta by including new game text, but at least these two are slated for general release in regular products later. These Heroes certainly don’t make the Two-Player Starter worth it all on their own, but a pair of prerelease characters is at least a nice touch for a Collector’s Edition.

Alternate layout player decks

Included in the box are two dual-sphere player decks constructed from pre-existing cards drawn from various expansions across the product’s life.

These decks contain extra copies of a few Core Set staples—most notably two of Unexpected Courage. If sold on their own, these decks could be a good way to fill in a single-Core collection without paying a premium for more Core sets. It’s worth noting, however, that they don’t 100% fill in the gaps, so if you’re a hard-core completionist you’d need to pick up an extra two Core Sets anyway.

The decks themselves are more like sampler platters than full-course meals; they sit somewhere near the middle of the power curve. You can check out the decklists here.

Most notably, these player cards have an all-new layout unique to this product, meant to show off the card art:

I do like that the HP stat has been moved closer to the art, since that’s where I actually put my damage tokens. It’s also nice that the sphere icon is in the same place across all card types.

But beyond that, I don’t like new layout. For most of the cards (except Attachments, for some reason) the text box runs all the way to the right edge of the card with no border, making it look more like a printing mistake than an art decision. Events have their names printed sideways in a way that extends far above the text box, and it looks really strange. Most of the cards feel off-center and lopsided in one way or another as a result of these changes.

Even worse, a lot of the art itself is cropped in really strange ways. Some of the cards are zoomed in so close that the art gets cut off and looks sloppy:

Other cards are visually unbalanced, with the characters feeling crowded by empty space:

Still others have had key details cropped out, leaving it somewhat unclear what exactly it is we’re looking at. Particularly bad is Nori, whose mug of ale has gone mysteriously missing. Now, he just looks like he’s drooling because he was just hit in the back of the head with a shovel:

To be fair, a small number of cards actually look nicer in the new format. The best example of this is Unexpected Courage, which reveals several interesting details that get a little lost in the original card:

But, with a small number of exceptions, most of the player card art is either lateral move from the originals, or looks worse than it did in the standard layout. There are probably a number of reasons for this. For one, the original art simply wasn’t commissioned with this particular layout in mind, so when they extended it to the edges of the card they had to sacrifice large swathes of the piece to make it fit. I also have my suspicions that, given that this product was expected to have limited appeal, FFG may not have wanted to spend too much time on layout.

Whatever the reason, the new player cards feel cramped and unprofessional, which is a huge disappointment for a premium product.

Two new quests

In addition to the player cards, the box also contains two new quests (split across three encounter sets) that, to date, cannot be found in any other product. These quests are made up of a mix of preexisting encounter cards pulled from various expansions, with a few new cards thrown in as well.

These cards also have new layouts that make use of full-bleed artwork:

Unlike the player cards, however, I feel like the extended artwork works well here. I still don’t like the layout choice of cropped-off text boxes, but the zoomed-in art itself looks great. The same layout choices that make the player cards feel sloppy make the encounter cards feel immersive. This is, I think, due to a difference in function: it’s okay if the images of goblins, spiders, and other nasties are cramped, in-your-face, and unsettling. It reflects the evil nature of the servants of Mordor.

The quests themselves are straightforward, well designed, and enjoyable. The first quest, The Oath, is pretty easy and has become my go-to quest for teaching new players the game since I much prefer it to the sometimes-swingy Passage Through Mirkwood. The second quest, The Caves of Nibin-dûm, is a little tougher and plays through several interesting story beats—I’ll probably use it as a deck-tester in the future.

It feels a little cheap that there are so many recycled encounter cards in these quests, but at the same time the quests themselves are well-designed, and contain enough fresh content to make them unique and interesting. It’s even kind of fun to see the return of some old “friends” like Watchful Eyes, Caught in a Web, and the Cave Torch.

Would I have bought it if sold separately?

Probably, yes. That’s largely due to the fact that I’m such a completionist. In reality, the only components I really would have wanted would be the beautiful new encounter cards and quests. The included mini trackers, phase aid card, and prerelease Heroes are all nice perks, I suppose, but I don’t think the alternate layout player cards will see any use at my table.

To someone less dead-set on getting everything this game has to offer, this box would be an optional purchase, heavily dependent on its price tag.

The Mithril Pack for the digital game

The other major component of the Collector’s Edition, the box also contains a code for the Mithril Founder’s Pack, the most expensive entry point into the digital card game (confusingly titled Lord of the Rings: The Living Card Game). There are several different price points that allow you to play the early access version of the game, with the cheapest pack being $8 and this one costing $48. The difference between the packs is in the number of cosmetic items (card backs, avatars), valor cards (unlockable player cards), and valor points (the in-game currency) that you start with.

The game used to have this whole complicated free-to-play economy, but Fantasy Flight Interactive recently announced that they’re doing away with it in favor of a more traditional pay-for-content model. It’s a welcome change, as far as I’m concerned, although we still don’t know exactly how much the retail game will cost once it leaves Early Access.

As for the game itself, it’s fun enough, I suppose—the voice acting is impressive (but not perfect) and the storytelling is fun, if a bit cheesy at times. It’s a decent reimagining of the physical game for a new medium, with some compelling new mechanics to streamline the experience. Now that they’re fixing the economy, my biggest complaint is the game’s lack of balance. It’s fairly trivial to get a perfect score on hard mode once you’ve learned how the scoring system works. I’ve been able to do this with various sphere combinations and with the starter deck, too—so the problem runs deeper than there just being a few overpowered cards.

PerfectScore

I also wish that the deckbuilding were more interesting. With the physical card game, I’m constantly dreaming of new and interesting ways to combine card effects and produce synergies. In the digital game, card effects seem simpler and there’s less to dream about. It feels like some level of important complexity was lost in the translation.

Hopefully they’ll be able to continue to tweak and tune the balance issues throughout the Early Access period, though, and turn this compelling first try into something really fun. FFI has already shown that they’re quite responsive to feedback, which is awesome!

Would I have bought it if sold separately?

Before the Collector’s Edition came out, I was already planning to go all-in on the Mithril Pack of the digital game. This was primarily because I wanted to bypass the confusing free-to-play economic model they had set out for the game at the time.

Now that I’ve played the game, I don’t feel like I’m getting $48-worth of entertainment out of it. A large part of that is the nature of Early Access—after all, the game is far from finished. But there’s also a part of me that feels curmudgeonly about paying money to do what is essentially QA testing—something people usually get paid to do, rather than the other way around. Maybe I just don’t like the Early Access business model altogether.

Even so, the game is getting better with each passing week. Maybe one day it will be worth the price I paid for it. I guess I just have to wait and see.

All that glitters is not gold

So, in the end, of all the multifarious bits and bobs that came with the Collector’s Edition set, the only part of it that I really enjoyed was the Two-Player Limited Edition Starter—and of that, only the encounter cards. So even though the whole package came with over $100 worth of physical and digital goods, I only got a couple of quests for my money.

Ultimately, this is my biggest problem with bundled products; unless you actually want everything in the bundle, you end up spending significantly more than the value you extract from it.

Taken as a whole, I found the Collector’s Edition to be a significant let-down. It feels like a hastily designed product—much of which simply repackages existing content. An uncharitable person might even call it an attempt to squeeze easy money out of a loyal fanbase. I honestly can’t say that I would recommend it to anyone other than completionists with a lot of money to burn.

This particular blog post has been stuck in my queue for a while. That’s partly due to external life stuff: my job got busy, I moved further North, and I attended Con of the Rings. But another reason is that, at the end of the day, I didn’t like this product—in a way I don’t think I’ve disliked an LotR LCG product before. It’s been a bit of a downer to work through, to be honest, and I’m looking forward to getting back to writing about all of the amazing stuff this game has to offer that I actually enjoy.

If you’re one of the many folks who said they liked the Collector’s Edition, then I’m happy for you! Enjoy your purchase. But for my own part, I think it’s time to drop the alt-layout cards into a dark deckbox somewhere and move on.

After all, new adventures await!


Next on Darkling Door…

I’ll be returning to my Path Less Traveled series to play The Withered Heath in minimum-purchase mode! It will be the first time I tackle an Adventure Pack (rather than a Deluxe Expansion) for the series; I’m looking forward to seeing how it goes!

4 thoughts on “Limited Collector’s Edition

  1. Nice to see you back. Looking forward to The Withered Heath. I cannot decide whether to pursue The Dreamcatcher cycle while it is still in stock or switch to Ered as it seems super fun.

    Liked by 1 person

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