Lord of the Rings Living Card Game: Three Types of Advantages

July 19, 2013

Since January I’ve been playing a lot of the Lord of the Rings Living Card Game by Fantasy Flight Games. It’s my first foray into a CCG/LCG format since about seventh grade (long ago, I assure you!), and I’ve been enjoying the co-op nature of the game with my wife, Rick, Russ, and others both in real life and online through OCTGN.

This game took me a while to wrap my head around, but after many, many plays, I’ve got some basic strategy thoughts I’d like to share. It’s very simple. There are five things you are trying to accomplish in Lord of the Rings:

  • Willpower: Generating sufficient willpower to quest easily.
  • Defense: Being able to block enemies efficiently.
  • Healing: Regularly getting rid of damage to keep your own characters alive.
  • Attack: Dispatching enemies effectively.
  • Encounter Manipulation: Pulling tricks to deal with locations, treacheries, threat increases, and shadow cards via interrupting events.

When I first started playing, I would focus on these five things in every deck I built…and I would lose badly. After I took a step back and thought about it a bit, I realized that those five things stated above are actually goals, not methods, for winning the game.

What, then, are the methods for success? It gets even more simple:

  • Action Advantage: The ability to have a character act twice or more in a round.
  • Resource Advantage: The ability to generate more resource tokens than usual.
  • Card Advantage: The ability to draw more cards with the added bonus of thinning your deck.

That’s it. Once you’ve got those three working, you’re good to go. However, I would caution players against trying to get all three types of advantages going in one deck. Often that takes up so many card slots that the deck cannot do much else. Instead, consider splitting up the advantage cards between two decks so that you and a partner can play off of each other.

There are obvious cards for each type of advantage. Some examples would be Unexpected Courage for actions, Steward of Gondor for resources, and Beravor for cards. But I would argue that there are more subtle combos that can be played that are actually more powerful. For example, let’s take We Are Not Idle and the Lure of Moria in a dwarf deck. The first card is great because it can gain you both resource and card advantage. However, if you exhaust all your Dwarf characters to get a bunch of resources, you may not be able to gain much because you have no one to quest, attack, or defend. So consider playing We Are Not Idle, exhausting every Dwarf you have, and then playing Lure of Moria. If you have 4 or more dwarf characters out, you still get a net bonus of +1 resource and +1 card.

Another one of my favorite combos is to play the hero Hama in a deck that is focused on the Eagle trait. If you begin play with a copy of The Eagles Are Coming! in hand, you can use Hama’s ability every turn to keep cycling that card back into play. This gives you card advantage because you’re pulling Eagles out of your deck every turn, with the added bonus of thinning your deck so that you’re guaranteed to be pulling good cards out during the resource phase. Throw Horn of Gondor into the mix, and with all those Eagles constantly entering and leaving play, you’ve got resource advantage as well. Or, if your partner is playing Horn of Gondor, you’re giving him resource advantage.

Another great combo is to used the oft-maligned 0-cost card, Cram, in conjunction with Erebor Hammersmith. Play Cram on your partner’s best attacking hero and you’ve granted him action advantage. After he’s discarded it to ready that character, play Erebor Hammersmith to pick up from the discard pile and play it again. The net result? For a cost of two resources, you have gained action advantage twice, and put into play a 3 hit point character.

As the card pool expands, it’s exciting to see more avenues open up to gain these three types of advantages. I’m playing a mono-Leadership sphere Outlands deck right now. In the early iterations of the deck, I was having trouble getting those Outlands allies on the table early. However, by utilizing everyone’s favorite combo, Sneak Attack + Gandalf, in a really weird place in the turn sequence, the refresh phase, I’ve been able to overcome this problem.

Whenever Gandalf enters play, you get to choose one of the following: draw three cards, deal four damage to an enemy in play, or lower your threat by five. In addition, you obviously get to use Gandalf’s 4 willpower, 4 attack, or 4 defense in one phase. But what if you pay one resource to sneak attack him in during the refresh phase? Do you really feel cheated if by spending one resource, you only get one of the first three bonuses? Not if you can also exhaust Gandalf, play A Very Good Tale, and discard the top five cards of your deck for two more Outlands characters to put in play.

I’ve also started looking at action advantage differently. It’s actually not just about having one character act twice or more in a round. It’s also about being able to ignore a particular challenge so that you can save allies for the actions you really want to take. So by using Gandalf to lower threat, say from 30 to 25, I might be able to ignore certain enemies and fly under the radar, so to speak. In doing that, I’m not allowing any character to act a second time, but I am freeing those characters up for questing instead of attacking/defending.

These insights probably seem obvious to any experienced players of CCGs/LCGs, but to me, it’s really been a revelation. The depth offered by this format has been really engaging for me in the past several months.