It started as an evolving yet simple card game in which you confronted a game master through a story or missions. Over the years, however, expansions have been added, making it an increasingly interesting proposition. Now a digital version is on the way, developed by the new setup Fantasy Flight Interactive and published by Asmodee Digital. We had the chance to sit down with Fantasy Flight director Timothy Gerritsen, at the studio's Paris-based office. We'll soon post the interview, but it was also a good opportunity to take a look at the beta version of the game.
Before going any further, note that this game is not to be considered as your standard TGC (trading card game), as just like in the original version, we will face a scripted campaign and the focus is very much on PVE. The competitive aspect is completely absent from this adaptation. In short, it shouldn't be compared to Hearthstone or Gwent; it's closer to something like Hand of Fate.
The narrative is the cornerstone of The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game, and it adapts according to the gameplay decisions made by the player in-game. The action takes place in a period close to the first entry in the famous fantasy trilogy, although that's also something the studio prefers to remain flexible about in order to have more freedom in terms of narrative.
The first campaign, entitled Lost in Mirkwood Forest, will take you to the north of Mordor. The mission - Escape the Spider Colony - is aptly named, since here the goal is to flee the eight-legged servants of the Lord of Darkness without lingering too long. Possible pathways appear as tokens on the board, and when you shoot a token, you take that path. However, enemies will follow you. Progress unlocks content, goals, routes to take, monsters that block or force you to change direction; everything is done to try to make each section feel unique.
Graphically, without being exceptional, it's pretty good looking, especially for a deck of digital cards. However, there are no cinematics, no voice acting beyond the rallying calls during play, and no visual aspect to enrich the narrative or to bring more immersion to the experience. Players will have to be content with some lines of text during the loading screens or the menus. It is expected, however, that adjustments will be made by the time we get to the final version, the timing of which is still unknown.
We're also not sure how the AI is going to hold up. Indeed, it's not uncommon in games of this type to see AI-controlled characters make a series of choices that put themselves in trouble. During our preview of the beta, our opponent - Sauron himself - didn't seem particularly vicious nor devious, although he's not subject to the same rules as the player, which could make things interesting unless players find a way to easily exploit any weaknesses in his game.