The Lord of the Rings: Adventure Card Game Review11 Sep 2019 0
The Lord of the Rings: Adventure Card Game Review
Released 29 Aug 2019
Adaptation can be a difficult process. Turning a book into a movie, for example, takes a keen directorial eye, knowledge of the source material, and great casting to get the story to come to life. Then there is the difficulty of managing expectations caused by other adaptations. Let's take The Lord of the Rings: Adventure Card Game as an example (and because that’s what this review is about anyway).
LotR: Adventure Card Game sets up a new story in Middle Earth which begins with the ‘famous’ Bilbo Baggins heading off to meet Gloin, who is travelling to Beorn’s house but is late. On the road, Baggins gets kidnapped by spiders and so Aragon, Arwen, and Gimli set off to rescue him, and this is where the whole adaptation thing starts to grind me. I love The Hobbit book and I love the Peter Jackson movies (although, ironically, not The Hobbit trilogy). So to have the story feature so many known characters that, as far as I’m aware, shouldn’t even know each other yet just rankles. Bilbo is clearly meant to be older but it’s heavily implied that he heads back to The Shire and lives a quiet little life until the start of The Fellowship of the Ring. Which, in my books, puts the game’s narrative on level with fan fiction.
Many of you are probably wondering why I’m harping on about the story, and that’s because LotR: Adventure Card Game is narrative heavy. Each quest must be tackled in the right order and must be completed before you can progress. Each battle has objectives that must be completed and mechanics in place to access location-specific special abilities. All of these factors work in tandem to tie a narrative to the game... even if that narrative is a bit lackluster with its bored voice-overs and wildly different character interpretations.
But let's take the writer’s hat off and look at the gameplay.
It does a few new things.
The core part of the game is putting down heroes (Gloin, Bilbo, Gandalf, etc) and allies (non-named characters) and trying to complete certain objectives. Sometimes these objectives are simple card game fare: Kill the big slug before it eats you. Sometimes they’re timed: Survive four rounds. And sometimes they’re nice narrative pieces that help to contextualise what you’re doing: Pickpocket the guard, open the cell door, clear the obstruction. The difficulty is that after each action, Sauron gets an action. Place an axe wielding dwarf, Sauron might summon a swarm of bats. Try to use a Sneak Attack effect card only to find that Sauron has placed a Treachery card which allows him to cancel it. The constant back and forth causes fights to feel more engaging than say Magic: The Gathering (in my own heathen opinion that is).
Usually you’ll find in Quests that it’s preferable to try and complete objectives as quickly as possible, often ignoring enemies in the process. With each round that passes, Sauron’s attention meter is growing, unlocking new abilities at certain milestones and ending the Quest if it reaches the top. This is the most frustrating thing to have happen at the very end of a Quest. Some cards have the ability to boost Sauron’s meter and some of yours have the ability to lower it as well (though in the starting deck, these are few and far between).
The other mechanic that makes LotR: Adventure Card Game feel different is the Fate meter. Instead of attacking with a unit, you can instead cash in their Fate value and, much like Sauron’s attention meter, you can get some nifty prizes. These can be location-specific advantages like a couple of Honeycomb cards which can heal your heroes, or deal extra damage to all damaged orcs, or more general boons such as extra points to spend on cards or un-exhausting your heroes.
The gameplay is engaging and while rushing through the Quests with the biggest group of ally cards you can field seems to be the best tactic, it still holds a lot of challenge. Even in the early Quests I found myself failing thanks to neglecting the attention meter and getting swarmed or making some bad calls and losing important heroes. Each stat, attack/fate/health is important and even non-attackers can be immensely useful.
Unfortunately I haven’t been able to experience the multiplayer as anytime I’ve tried to find a game it tells me the world is apparently devoid of players. There are no rooms. Which is a shame, as instead of PvP as most card games are wont to do, LotR:ACG instead goes for a co-op system. Which is something, with the economical each-action system with Sauron, I’d be curious to see. However, when I went back to give it one last try while writing this review, I was greeted with a new issue: Failed to Login. Please check network connection and restart.
The only issue is that my network connection is fine…
Oh, and you can’t play the single player if your network connection goes down. Lord of the Rings: Adventure Card Game pulls the old “always online” schtick. They’ll claim its to “ensure balance and that no one’s cheating” but no, don’t hide the game behind an always-online wall that locks it away once the server’s inevitably shut down.
Personal bias aside, with all the influence coming from The Lord of the Rings: Living Card Game and the fact that the cards are essentially permanent, you would be as well just buying a deck and playing at your friendly local game store. The only real advantage to the video game version is the story and the ability to change card art by unlocking it with points - which is a nice change from paying for it though the groundwork is there for microtransactions to seep in eventually.
However, if you want more stories about Middle Earth, then I guess it’s worth it for that. Just, maybe mute the game whenever Smeagol is involved.