Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The Labyrinth: Frodo of the nine fingers and the ring of doooom!

One game of cards to rule them all!
One box in which to find it,
One co-operative hug to bring us all,
and during Minotaur's games night try it!

What do you want from me?
I'm no Shakespeare...I'm not even a monkey with a typewriter.
Not like Tolkien's rhyming was much better -_-
But it gives me great joy to talk about a Lord of the Rings title!
*queue sappy flashback music*
When I was a wee boy my father read me tales of the hobbits, orcs, elves and Nazgûl; and by the age of about 3 or 4 i was struggling along to read through Tolkien's works myself. Then, years later, along came the movies.

Peter Jackson, while delivering a more hollywoodish version of the tale than some would have liked, delivered a a visual cinematic without compare. The sight of rolling New Zealand's...i mean Middle-earth's, scenery was so gorgeous that it took my breath away. Much of the trilogy was exactly how I had always pictured it. The dark oppressive halls of Moria, the vast expanse of Khazad-dûm, the glistening boughs of Rivendale, the magic of Lothlórien, and the pearly white ships that would collect the heroes from the Grey Havens. Simply spellbinding!

But now without further ado the new card game!

LOTR the card game is a solo or 2 player game that runs about 30mins to an hour I'd say, though the box does say that some could last as long as 90 minutes o.O
This new release in some ways is just an ordinary game...but much of the magic that the Lord of the Rings imparts through its written text and through the movies can be found hidden beneath the card stacks. Right off the start the art work is stunning. If you're already a fan of the 2-5 player fantasy flight board game this card game is going to be one of your all time favorites. Which also guessed it!
Co-operation time!

So if you have a slightly dingy boot room in your house, a gnarled staff and pipe, and a white beared friend with an affinity for wearing pointy hats...
Then grab a chair and lets play!

Game review inc.. Pro vs Cons!
Lets see the breakdown...

The game plays in many respects like magic the gathering, with familiar terms like exhausting a hero or ally card after it performs an action. (IE: tapping the card by putting it on it's side) Things that might exhaust your character cards are actions such as aiding in the current quest or engaging a monster as well as in order to fulfill the cost of certain event cards. Some of these event cards can be played at any time, regardless of what phase of play you are in, while others can be played when a certain requirement is met, such as when you defeat a monster or when you draw resources. As such these event cards are very much like your 'instant' or 'sorcery' spells from magic. Item's can be attached to you heroes to buff them up which are very similar to equipment in MTG and to top things off there are 4 schools of player cards to choose from when constructing your decks. These schools are called spheres of influence and each has its own distinct flavor and identity as well as its own unique icon and color.
Hmmmm....I'm getting a strong deja vu feeling, something's changed in the matrix!
*Pats the brick wall behind him in fear*


Be wery wery quiet we're mimicking popular game elements!

While there are many similarities it's good to keep in mind that there are several distinct differences as well that make it a semi-unique experience. The main appeal to add the game to a home collection, in my mind, lies in LOTR's cooperative game mechanics. It feels a little more satisfying to team up with a partner in a bid at tackling the forces of Mordor together. Success isn't guaranteed, similar to a run through of pandemic on hard difficulty or a good game of Shadows Over Camelot. Only through good teamwork, strategy and a little bit of luck can you both triumph over Sauron. When you compare this new system to the alternative, (listening to bragging and bickering sweaty teenage magic players discuss who has the more expensive tournament deck) it should be considered a refreshing change of pace.

The game has many layers of complexity to it, in the sense that it can be as simple or as diverse as you need it to be when picking what deck to construct and how it will synergize with your ally's selections. The basic game suggests that you remove the shadow mechanic from the combat phases and start with three heroes all in the same sphere of influence. These two quick alterations to typical game play makes it easy to try out the 1st scenario with less fear of unknown attacks killing a hero and it completely eliminates the chance to have dead cards in hand.

The first scenario is the passage through Mirkwood and should be an easy first challenge for new comers to the game! All the scenarios have plenty of cool imagery on the event cards that really makes you feel like you are treading upon JRR Tolkien's world. I was also impressed to see that the first quest card featured a quote directly from the pages of the novel The Hobbit. Kudos fantasy flight...kudos. The artwork on all the cards is gorgeous as mentioned earlier and so to me that was another saving grace for LOTR the card game. Had they been drab and unappealing I think it would have been impossible to motivate myself to connect with the new card game mechanics which are, at times, a bit clunky.

Things to look forward to in the near future are a vast array of expansion decks already coming out to support the fledgling game. The nice thing is that it can easily be expanded already if you desire to play with 3 or 4 players by buying a 2nd copy of the base game. But the new expansions will provide new quest areas since there are only 3 inside the core set as well as new heroes, monsters, items and events. The last thing that i thought of when sizing this bad boy up was how much i would need to spend to make this enjoyable versus TCG's. These core boxes and expansions are going to be very much like Dominion, in that once you buy them you have the spending sprees required to try to collect a handful of rare cards like in MTG... no dealing in cards in the city's back 80 bucks a pop!
"pssst hey buddy...need some jace's?"

But it's rating time!
All in all...good. It's flashy but it's not novel or groundbreaking but it is a good game.
I really think it's one that the more you play the more enjoyable it becomes.
a solid 7 out of 10 and one that I'm eager to try now with a non-basic deck.
I want to hand-pick the cream of the crop when it comes to heroes and try tromping down the Anduin river.

This has been the Labyrinth and I'm Henry McCulloch. Game on!

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