This week amidst the release of The Lord Of The Rings Online’s Minas Morgul expansion another game based on The Lord Of The Rings (LoTR) IP was also released. Publisher Asmodee Digital and developer Virtuos released their The Lord Of The Rings: Adventure Card Game on consoles including Playstation 4, Xbox One and the Nintendo Switch. Being a modest fan of LoTRO I dug into my pocket to secure a copy of the Nintendo Switch version. Our editor, Joe, being a big LoTRO fan, thought it’d be cool to share my first impressions with you on this console port.
The Lord Of The Rings: Adventure Card Game (LoTR: ACG) has been around since August of 2019 on Steam PC. As I understand things it was even free for a while at some point in time.
This week we saw it come to the three major consoles for a buy-in of $24.99. There is some good news for Xbox Game Pass subscribers where this game is currently included in your Game Pass subscription.
Slightly Different Than Other Card Games
Having dabbled in other digital card games like Hearthstone, Elder Scrolls Legends and Gwent I was caught off-guard when I saw I had to pay to play this card game, unlike the others I mentioned. I’m hoping there are good reasons for that. I’ve heard from around the internet though that this game is NOT a digital port of The Lord Of The Rings Card Game sometimes referred to as “The Living Card Game”.
First and foremost, LoTR: ACG is an adventure based questing card game where cards are attained, not from real money transaction-based card packets, but from planned game/campaign expansions and updates coming further down the road.
As you load up the game for the first time, you’re met with a LoTR: ACG overview of Mordor told in story fashion by a professional sounding voice actor. Your best course of action at this point is to play through the complex and beneficial tutorial campaigns. Even the tutorial is incorporated into a wonderful LoTR prologue story of who is Bilbo Baggins, what is he doing and why does he need our help.
This is one of the most wonderful things about this card game. Card battles are integrated into well thought out pieces of LoTR story and lore. The story pieces are displayed in text format alongside visually appealing hand drawn illustrations and all of it is presented before and after a card battle. Even the card battles themselves are woven into the story as the cards you face are relevant to a mission that is applicable to the continuing story. For example, you need to “defeat three spider guards in your path to continue your trek through the woods”. All of it is presented with voice overs and told by multiple actors akin to an audiobook fashion. For LoTR lore masters this should be a big draw for playing this game.
From the startup/landing screen (see above) you can see that the game has a single player campaign experience as well as multiplayer support (which I did attempt to enter but did not get a chance to try). The multiplayer support is co-op play as opposed to being a versus mode. You enter a campaign from the overhead map and can either “find a game” or “host game”.
“Expansions” takes you to the Nintendo Switch eShop but currently there are no add-ons. It’s nice to know that future campaigns are planned.
“Vault” takes you to where you can unlock custom frames, additional avatars, specific voiced emotes (used in multiplayer, e.g. “Thanks” in Gandalf’s voice), different card backs, etc.
These are all bought with gold earned in game by completing quests. You can even earn additional coin by completing specific mission “objectives”. Mission objectives are line items like “complete the quest (card battle) with Bilbo at full health”. Bottom line, there are no micro-transactions or spending or real money (other than expansions one day)!
“Decks” of course takes you to a traditional deck builder where custom decks contain up to 30 cards. Each deck consists of three heroes. Since you start with four heroes you can see how some customization can start taking place.
There is that auspicious empty, unmarked space at the top. Whether anything will appear there one day, either by advancing further in the game or over time, is a tale waiting to be told.
Game Mechanics, Basically
This impressions piece is all based on the single player tutorial and campaigns. The card game itself has a lot of cool systems designed in. There’s a lot inside but not to the point of being frustrating. Here are some of the basics.
From the map screen you select a tutorial, campaign or encounter. Encounters are more advanced field boss battles. Campaigns are broken up into chapters, if you will, where each chapter is a card battle. Each chapter has a quest objective that needs to be met to declare victory as well as “Quest Challenges” which is a way to earn additional coin.
When you enter a sub-quest (battle) in a campaign you choose one of three playstyles. “Narrative” is equivalent to easy, “Adventure” is normal, and “Challenge” is hard.
Battles take place in “rounds”. It’s your team of heroes against Sauron’s deck. You make a move / play and Sauron may or may not reciprocate. When a card is “used” it’s exhausted for the rest of that round. When all cards have been exhausted by both sides that round is over. Each round starts with an “Upkeep” phase, akin to preliminary moves.
The game has leadership, spirit and healer classes and heroes. You of course build up play points to use cards like equipment cards, guard (i.e. taunt) cards, etc. Some cards require your deck have several cards of a certain type to use.
Card battles also have a cool set of features around threat level and fate points. You can sacrifice a card’s fate points (yellow diamond number) during a round to fill a Fate meter. At certain points on this meter you can trigger an event which results in a buff, boon, etc.
Correspondingly, Sauron has his own version of this in a Threat meter. Threat is the totality of that number in flames on your hero cards, added to a meter at the end of a round. Once that meter hits certain levels it’ll trigger an event that won’t be good for you and your party. This adds a sense of urgency to finishing the current encounter in a hurry and traveling to the next encounter, of which all stats carry over into.
Not All Is Golden
From a Nintendo Switch perspective, the game played well whether in docked or undocked mode. There were times where the game would stutter when I made a move. I’m not certain if some mild performance tuning is needed or I was suffering a server connection issue, yes you heard me right. Even in single player mode the game seems to need to be connected to a game server. On a few occasions I’d lose that connection, once resulting in quest progress being lost.
In undocked mode some of the “event card” text was challenging to read. Unfortunately, undocked mode did not seem to support touch controls which was a big letdown for me personally.
Playing the game with a controller was simple and straightforward. Move a highlighted “select border” around, use a button, e.g. “A” to attack, move your highlight to the target, push “A” again, done.
Going into The Lord Of The Rings: Adventure Card Game I was expecting a card game similar to the others I had tried. What hooked me right away was the story / quest content and how eloquently it’s presented.
It was thrilling to see characters like Arwen, Bilbo, Legalos and Aragorn show up right away. These are names even a moderate Lord Of The Rings fan is familiar with. While they might be represented visually a little differently than the movies or MMO they are represented by some beautiful artwork.
Even beyond the artistry the card game itself has plenty of mechanics and strategy to keep one’s interest.
It’ll be interesting to see where Asmodee Digital and Virtuos go in terms of frequency, cost and content with future expansions. Personally, I look forward to the possibilities and I would make this game a strong recommendation to any The Lord Of The Rings fan.