The gaming industry is getting increasingly saturated with digital card games, with Magic The Gathering paving the way for genre giant Hearthstone and the relatively new card game experiences such as Gwent: The Witcher Card Game, Artifact and The Elder Scrolls: Legends. Now, a new game has entered this competitive space, but it differs quite a bit from its competitors. The main reason for this is the game's lack of PvP, meaning players can't battle it out against each other at all. This fact makes it hard to compare it to its main competitor Hearthstone, even though the general play style resembles it. In fact, we'd say it's fairer to compare it to the Gwent spin-off Thronebreaker, as that also doesn't offer any competitive multiplayer elements.
The Lord of the Rings: Adventure Card Game is inspired by the physical card game, The Lord of the Rings: Card Game, also developed by Fantasy Flight, and it shows as the game can be played alongside a co-op player (or players) and has you fight evil forces together, much like in the physical game. As the game doesn't offer a competitive multiplayer mode, all of its focus lies on the campaign, its narrative and its characters.
When picking a mission to tackle from the world map, you'll get to pick a team of heroes. These heroes will, for those with Lord of the Rings knowledge, be recognised from both the books and the movies and include characters like Legolas, Gimli, Arwen, Bilbo and Glóin. Following this, you'll be able to jump in and begin your quest and, as you enter a mission, a story will be read to you, describing your traversal to the location and what lies ahead, which is a nice touch.
Heroes are the core cards that will be played automatically once you enter a battle and if all heroes are removed from the board, you'll fail the quest. This can get frustrating as some quests can be rather lengthy, even stretching out over multiple matches, keeping your cards (or cameos as they're called here) in play from the previous match when starting a new one, even if they're carrying some damage. The heroes do have some cards up their sleeves though (pun intended) as each has an ability and many have the option to put a guard up around them. Arwen, for example, healed one cameo on the board each upkeep, which is the setup phase before the action phase, or battle begins.
Each battle has a different objective to complete in order to proceed in the story, which is rather well-written, and there are plenty of mechanics at play too. The cards played are called cameos and they represent the various heroes and villains you'll encounter and play as you venture through Middle-Earth. Each character has three numbered card attributes: attack value, willpower and health. Your attack value tells you how many health points you'll deprive an enemy of should you attack them, willpower (which are essentially objective points) are used in the same way, but are only used to complete an objective, and health points tell you how many hits you can take before a specific cameo gets sent to the trash deck.
You'll be able to examine cards on both sides, which you'll want to do to gain a tactical advantage. For example, if a cameo card has guard, you'll have to attack the guard first as it has an aggro-type function. When attacking a guarded cameo, you'll take some damage should you use a regular card. If you use a ranged cameo or a guarded one, however, you'll either just discard your guard or dismiss the enemy guard by attacking from above. Flying enemies can only be attacked by using ranged cameos or by forcing the flying enemy to attack first, which makes it tumble to the ground when exhausted. You can have 7 cards in play on the board at one given time while Sauron can have up to eight.
What you can do each round depends on how many resources you have at hand. You're granted three points each round, which you can then spend to play the cards in your deck that aren't heroes, be they ally cards or buff cards. The cameos you have on the board can be used until exhausted (i.e. used once) and won't cost you resources to use, you can however only use one card per turn. A round ends when you and Sauron are either both out of available actions or if both of you choose to press the 'end phase' button, which has you move on to the next round.
The Dark Lord Sauron is your only adversary, which is rather comedic considering the game's objectives range from killing bees to acquire some honey to taking down his menacing armies. One of those objectives fits Sauron's profile while the other doesn't, at least in our eyes, and despite the intense, dark tone of the overall story the game is based on, we'd say it leans more towards the comedic aspects of the series, which isn't necessarily a bad thing, but some sequences seem to stray a bit too far into the comedy spectrum.
Apart from general hero, ally or buff cards, there are more game-altering cards at play as well. Event cards affect your or Sauron's characters in some way, Allies (which are essentially lesser heroes) help you on your journey, Objectives will grant you passage or help you in battle upon completion, and Hazard cards are similar to objective cards but instead trigger negative effects until solved (and solving the hazards is done through completing various side objectives). Some of the latter cards act like a enemy cards that are unable to directly fight back and instead buff your opponents or debuff your allies (by, for example, either boosting Sauron's resource points each round or exhausting your allies, negating their upcoming actions), while other hazards require you to go through quite the bit of trouble to get through things alive.
There are two meters on each side of the board, one showing the Threat Level and the other showing the Fate Meter. These, when filled, will trigger events. The Threat level weakens you while the Fate events boost you in some way.
The battles are rather straight-forward if you make a habit out of examining the cards on the board as you go, but the game does get rather challenging simply because of the length of some of the missions. Not only do you not get healed fully upon completing a base objective, but some missions also seem to go on for a bit too long and some even send increasingly difficult adversaries your way in the last round.
The lack of multiplayer, however, is most likely what will put a lot of digital card game fans off, even though single-player inclined players will enjoy this fact. Apart from a lack of multiplayer, the game is also rather clunky to play with a controller, but it's not worth crying too much about as it does work, it just takes some getting used to.
The Lord of the Rings: Adventure Card Game will surely appeal to those wanting to beat Sauron and his minions in solo or co-op, but with the lack of a multiplayer mode, it's hard to see the game compete with the giants of the genre in the long-term. However, the narrative is fun to follow, the game plays well and there are plenty of fun mechanics at play, it just doesn't go all the way.
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