The Lord of the Rings: Adventure Card Game pits the player against Sauron in lengthy tabletop battles that can be both fun and frustrating.
The Lord of the Rings: Adventure Card Game is inspired by a tabletop game that involves forming a deck based on heroes from the history of Middle-earth and pitting them against the forces of Sauron. The Lord of the Rings: Adventure Card Game has a lot of depth and strategic possibilities, but its lack of PvP content and the grueling length of its single-player missions can be off-putting, especially for a genre that is dominated by more popular - and better - titles.
The Lord of the Rings: Adventure Card Game is a card game that takes a different approach than its competitors. The game is inspired by (but is not a direct adaptation of) The Lord of the Rings: Card Game by Fantasy Flight Games, which involves players working together to take on random encounters chosen from a deck of cards. The Lord of the Rings: Adventure Card Game uses a similar format, as the player can only take on a computer-controlled opponent who represents Sauron. It's possible for co-operative multiplayer sessions where several players band together against the computer, but there is currently no competitive online multiplayer modes. The intention with the game is to offer a strong narrative experience for fans of Middle-earth, but that mostly boils down to pages of text describing events involving characters from the series.
The Lord of the Rings: Adventure Card Game is based around Hero cards who represent important figures from Middle-earth, such as Arwen and Bilbo Baggins. Each deck contains three Heroes who are placed on the board at the start of each game and the player loses if all three are defeated. The rest of the deck is composed of thirty cards, which consists of Allies (weaker creatures that fight alongside the Heroes), Attachments (equipment that can strengthen characters), and Events (one-off effects that can change the course of the battle). There are four types of cards that are color-coded and represent their individual themes - Leadership, Lore, Spirit, and Tactics. The player can only add cards to their deck if they have at least one Hero of the same type, and some cards are even limited by the number of Heroes of the same type, such as how the "Bilbo's Cloak" card requires the deck to have at least one Spirit-type Hero. There are also Neutral cards that can be added to any deck, which include characters like Gandalf and Tom Bombadil.
The card games in The Lord of the Rings: Adventure Card Game are based on Quests, broken down by Locations. The Locations contain a goal, such as "Slay five Orcs," and the player needs to complete this in order to reach the next Location. The opponent is always Sauron, who uses unique cards and has access to a Threat Meter that fills up over the course of the Quest. If the Threat Meter fills completely then the player instantly loses the game. There are also Threat Events that activate over the course of the match that can weaken the player. Sauron isn't the only one with access to special powers, as the player has access to a Fate Meter that allows them to access special Fate Events unique to each Quest.
Sauron has access to numerous monsters and can also throw Hazards on the field that either strengthen his forces or weaken the player. The Ally and Hero cards each have an Attack, Health, and Willpower stat. The first two are self-explanatory, but the third is used to fill the Fate Meter and to destroy Hazards. The average Location will feature a mixture of powerful monsters and Hazards, which means that the player will need to utilize every card and character skill at their disposal in order to finish each Quest. It's possible to go for a deck that favors either physical combatants or special effects, but the player will have a much better chance of surviving with a hybrid deck that combines both together.
There is a lot to keep track of in The Lord of the Rings: Adventure Card Game, which is why it has a lengthy five-part Tutorial explaining the numerous different concepts of the game. Gamers who enjoy card games with a lot of depth and strategic options available from a limited number of cards will find a lot to love in The Lord of the Rings: Adventure Card Game, as there are many different ways to resolve each situation and the player cannot brute force their way through Quests by repeating the same strategy over and over again.
One of the issues with The Lord of the Rings: Adventure Card Game is the length of the Quests and the brutal nature of the Locations. The ticking clock of the Threat Meter means that players cannot linger for too long in one Location and bolster their forces, which means that their limited resources are always strained in the face of Sauron's forces. It's not uncommon for a Location at the end of a Quest to throw several powerful enemies on the field straight away, leaving the player with no way to win. The Quests in The Lord of the Rings: Adventure Card Game are endurance rounds and players muse ensure that they have a stacked field before moving on to the next Location, or they might not have a chance at winning. The player will have an easier time on their second shot at a Quest once they know what to expect from each Location, but having victory stolen at the late stage of a lengthy game because Sauron suddenly has access to a wave of resources that he lacked before feels cheap, as if the developers want to extend the length of the limited number of Quests in the base game.
The biggest issue with The Lord of the Rings: Adventure Card Game is the lack of any kind of competitive online multiplayer. The game is staying true to the format of the tabletop game that it's adapted from, but this limits the scope of the game. The main draw of any competitive card game is the chance to play against other people, but the fact that The Lord of the Rings: Adventure Card Game only has computer-controlled opponents will limit its appeal a great deal. It's possible this could change in the future with an overhaul that allows players to create evil decks based on characters like Sauron and Saruman, but that would be a major departure from how the game currently operates.
The Lord of the Rings: Adventure Card Game is a departure from similar digital cards in that the player doesn't buy packs of random cards. The player has access to every card in the base game, though some need to be unlocked with in-game currency that is won from completing Quests, which is also true of the paid expansions. The Lord of the Rings: Adventure Card Game will be monetized through paid expansions that add new cards and single-player missions, which will likely appeal to players who are tired of the monetization practices of titles like Hearthstone and Magic: The Gathering Arena. The game would have benefited from a larger library of cards in the base game, as the type restrictions on Heroes means that the player has limited options when constructing their deck in the current state of the game.
It's rare to see a digital card game go for a single-player approach that focuses on telling a story. The Lord of the Rings: Adventure Card Game has some good ideas and will appeal to fans of deep strategy games, but the focus on single-player content limits the scope of what the game is capable of in this crowded genre, and the limited amount of content at launch makes it a hard sell in its current state. The Lord of the Rings: Adventure Card Game has a lot of potential and it's possible that an expanded library of cards and some new modes will help to elevate it in the future, but the game needs a lot more content if it hopes to be a major player in a marketplace that is dominated by competitors with more to offer.
The Lord of the Rings: Adventure Card Game is available now on Steam and is due to be released for Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One later this year. Screen Rant was provided with a digital copy of the game for the purposes of this review.