Wednesday, May 14, 2014

A clear case of good vs. evil

Most of the more successful collectible card games (and the non-collectible "living card games" which are taking their place) rely heavily on the idea of a game world populated by different factions vying for power. Magic: the Gathering has its five colors, Legend of the Five Rings has its warring clans (which command a near-fanatical loyalty from its players), Star Trek has its various spacefaring Federations and empires, and so on. Different factions tend to have different play styles, and give players a starting point when building decks.

This works well in settings that are populated by many such factions, but The Lord of the Rings, while taking place in an extremely well-developed and diverse world, is nonetheless a tale about good fighting against evil, plain and simple. Sure, you have Elves, Dwarves, Men of Gondor and Rohan, even Hobbits on one side, and goblins, orcs, Uruk-Hai and Nazgul on the other, but they're all still on one side or the other. A game where it is possible for the Hobbits to rise up and attack Gondor just wouldn't be in the spirit of Tolkien's book (although it might be amusing in its own right).

The many Star Wars CCGs over the years have dealt with this by simply having players choose whether to play good or evil, and giving each side its own distinct card pool. This has worked fairly well, but unless you only have one opponent and you both agree on which side you're going to play, you're going to need two decks, one for good and one for evil.

The clever designers of Lord of the Rings: the Card Game got around this problem in a very innovative way: they made it a cooperative game. All the players build decks based on the forces of good, while the game itself represents Sauron and his evil minions. Players work together against a pre-constructed encounter deck consisting of enemies, locations and treachery cards that represent story-based events. The make-up of the encounter deck depends on the scenario being played, many of which are intended to be played in a specific sequence, allowing a story to unfold and giving the game an epic feeling that is entirely consistent with the books it's based on.

Since the game is based on the books rather than the film series, there is a lot more material to draw from. The game's main story thread takes place in between The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings and details events only hinted at in the books, such as Gandalf's search for Gollum, or an expedition to find out what happened to the Dwarven colony in Moria.

Rather than dividing into obvious factions such as Elves, Dwarves and Hobbits, the game innovates again by splitting the cards up into four spheres of influence: Leadership, Tactics, Lore and Spirit, with each offering its own strategies and play style while supporting the others. Part of the fun of deck building is putting together different combinations of spheres and seeing what works best against the particular scenario you are trying to beat.

Like most good cooperative games, this one is fiendishly difficult. It often takes several attempts to beat a particular scenario, with much rebuilding of decks in between games.

Rating: 5 (out of 5) An incredibly compelling and challenging game, and the artwork on the cards is consistently gorgeous.

Date played: March 15, 2014

No comments:

Post a Comment