Having found success as a more traditional tabletop card game, the artist formerly known as The Lord of the Rings: Living Card Game has finally made the transition to the world of virtual decks. Having emerged from Early Access on PC, The Lord of the Rings: Adventure Card Game arrives on consoles with cross-play and all the story content that’s been patched over the past few months. But with so many CCGs (Collectable Card Games, in case you were wondering) to choose from on Nintendo Switch, does this Tolkien-flavoured effort prove itself worthy of your fellowship?
While multiplayer support of sorts has been added to the mix in the form of co-op play, The Lord Of The Rings: Adventure Card Game is primarily a PvE experience that doubles down on the rich narrative reservoir of Middle-earth and uses it to craft an experience that looks like a card game but with more of a focus on roleplay. With almost 10 years of card updates and adjustments from its real-life counterpart, The Lord Of The Rings: Adventure Card Game comes pre-loaded with a lot of cards, although the rules and card effects have been simplified somewhat to make it easier to pick up. There’s still room for strategy, but if you’re coming directly from the tabletop game, you might find this digital iteration a little too diluted.
At first glance, The Lord Of The Rings: Adventure Card Game is your usual CCG affair. You’ll create multiple decks of cards, then take one into battle with various AI-controlled beasts, monsters and foes. You’ll unlock new ones as you complete story-driven quests, with each encounter broken down into a series of turns where you’ll manage resources in order to play certain cards. Heroes are the most powerful cards at your disposal, representing well-known characters from Tolkien lore. You can play three Heroes per deck, with Allies (less powerful character cards) Events (one-time cards that are basically just spells) and Attachments (equipment to help support your Heroes and Allies in battle) rounding out your deck.
You can have up to 30 cards in a deck, with four types to choose from: Tactics, Lore, Spirit and Leadership. You can only use cards of a certain type if you have a Hero of that type in your deck (unless you’re using some of the limited ‘neutral’ cards), so you’re given a clear means of building decks suited to certain playstyles. And while the rules have been simplified in places, there’s still a lot of systems to keep track of as you make your way towards your final showdown with Sauron. So far, so CCG.
Games like this often use story elements to tie one battle into another, serving as little more than a loose justification for various encounters. And while The Lord Of The Rings: Adventure Card Game plays fast and loose with Tolkien’s lore (don’t worry, we’ll get to that), there’s been a concerted effort on the part of the developer to give each scripted battle a sense of contextual purpose. The extensive five-part tutorial campaign does a great job of explaining how all of this works, such as how to complete Quests by visiting key locations. From stealing keys to sneaking past parties of orcs, each challenge offers a little extra spice to the usual ‘reduce enemy units to zero’ schtick.
To keep things interesting, The Lord Of The Rings: Adventure Card Game introduces Threat and Fate meters. The latter fills over time and enables you to unleash specific abilities tied to your Heroes, but it’s the former that causes more issues than it solves. This being a Tolkien story set before the events of The Lord Of The Rings, Sauron remains a constant presence, with said meter representing the danger he poses to you and the rest of Middle-earth. Let it fill all the way before your journey’s natural end and it’s game over, so you’re effectively always playing against the clock – a bizarre mechanic when you consider just how long it takes to clear a great number of locations. Painfully protracted encounters aren’t helped by the seemingly random nature of Sauron’s influence, which adds additional resources to your enemies when you’ve spent ages tactically burning through your own.
How compelling and enjoyable you find The Lord Of The Rings: Adventure Card Game's storytelling will come down to just how sensitive you are to changes to lore. Developer Fantasy Flight Interactive has opted to create some new stories that bridge the gap between The Hobbit and its grander, larger sequel, creating new fellowships and quests as you go. The production level is pleasingly high, with full character voice-overs really helping sell the narrative focus of the story. Thing is, Tolkien’s stories are so well known that making changes to key characters and events makes The Lord Of The Rings: Adventure Card Game's enjoyable if occasionally frustrating gameplay feel like nothing more than expensive fan fiction.
The lack of proper multiplayer is also an odd choice. CCGs live and breathe via their ability to attract a community of competitive players, but The Lord Of The Rings: Adventure Card Game is more focused on providing additional stories through planned expansion DLC. You can play cooperatively with another player on Switch, but as fun as it can be to share tactics against the CPU, it’s never going to compare to the pride you get from building a custom deck and using it effectively against an unpredictable human player. There’s also a considerable lack of players currently hosting rooms, so even if you wanted to play with someone else, you might not have the chance.
However, while it does lack any form of online PvP, The Lord Of The Rings: Adventure Card Game does away with the microtransactions we see all too often in CCGs. Every main card in the game can be unlocked through natural play, with those added in via expansions only serving to enhance an already substantial library in the main game. With so many CCGs focused on competitive multiplayer – and the constant allure/pressure of buying new card packs – it’s still a good thing to see gamers who love deck-dealing but don’t want to play competitively have a game that caters to that specific need.
The Lord of the Rings: Adventure Card Game offers up an unusual mixture of cooperative play and narrative-driven battles that flies in the face of more traditional digital CCGs. If you’re looking for a card game more aligned with the rules of a tabletop effort, with more of a role-playing focus, this is definitely going to appeal. The lack of proper support for online PvP is an odd omission considering how popular that feature is in other entries in the genre, but a refreshing lack of suffocating microtransactions does help soothe that wound.