Return to Middle-Earth in ‘The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game Revised Core Set’

Gaming GeekDad Approved Reviews Tabletop Games

The Middle-earth created by J.R.R. Tolkien has become the setting for not only the author’s novels, but also other books as well as movies, video games, and tabletop games. The fact that the popularity of Tolkien’s stories and world in general has increased since The Hobbit was released over 80 years ago is a testament to the author’s rich creativity. The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game was originally released in 2011 and allowed players to experience quests similar to those undertaken by their favorite characters. Now eleven years later, a revised core set has been released, offering the opportunity for new players to get into the game. 

What Is The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game?

The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game is a cooperative card-based questing game for 1-4 players, ages 14 and up, and takes about 30 minutes per player to play. It’s currently available from your FLGS or for a suggested retail price of $69.99 for a copy of the core set.

The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game was designed by Nate French and published by Fantasy Flight Games, with graphic design by Nathan Carnahan. The new revised core set includes enough player cards so that four players can play simultaneously as well as new campaign, boon, and burden cards. Since it is a living card game, future expansions will be released and further add to the game. 

The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game Components

Here is what you get in the box:

  • 12 Hero Cards
  • 188 Player Cards
  • 84 Encounter Cards
  • 10 Quest Cards
  • 16 Boon and Burden Cards
  • 3 Campaign Cards
  • 1 First Player Token
  • 66 Damage Tokens
  • 66 Progress Tokens
  • 57 Resource Tokens
  • 4 Threat Dials
  • 1 Learn to Play Booklet
  • 1 Rules Reference Booklet
hero cards
Each player can have 1-3 Hero cards. Image by Michael Knight.

Hero cards represent the main characters a player controls during the game. They start in play and provide resources use to pay for cards and can be used for questing, defending, and attacking. The column of numbers along the left side of the card, from top to bottom, represent the hero’s threat cost, willpower, attack strength, defense strength, and hit points. Some heroes also have abilities listed on them. 

player cards
Some of the player cards. Image by Michael Knight.

Player cards make up the player deck and consist of ally, attachment, and event cards. These can be brought into play during the planning phase or during other phases as dictated on the card. Allies are characters who can be brought into the party, while attachments can be assigned to either heroes or allies. Events represent actions, spells, or other twists that can occur during a game. 

encounter cards
Encounter cards are usually bad for the players. Image by Michael Knight.

Encounter cards make up the encounter deck, which contains enemies, locations, treachery, and objective cards. These are usually working against the players. 

quest cards
Quest cards have A and B sides. Image by Michael Knight.

Quest cards make up the quest deck and represent the objectives of the players who must complete each quest card in the deck in order to win the game. 

campaign cards
The campaign cards provide a 3-part campaign. Image by Michael Knight.

Campaign cards are used to link together scenarios of quests into a campaign game. 

boons and
Boon and Burden cards. Image by Michael Knight.

Boon and Burden cards are used during campaign games and added to either the player or encounter decks in between scenarios as rewards or consequences from previous games within the campaign. 

The various tokens included in the game. Image by Michael Knight.

The game includes tokens to represent damage, progress, and resources as well as the first player. Each player also has a threat dial to keep track of their current threat level. 

How to Play The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game

You can download a copy of the rulebook here.

The Goal

The goal of the game is to complete the last stage of the quest before all players are eliminated from the game. 


For the first game, it is suggested players use one of the four starter decks from the core set. Then select one of the scenarios and collect all of the quest cards for that scenario. Create an encounter deck with cards containing the encounter set icons as shown on the current quest cards. While keeping the hero cards and quest cards separate from the two decks, shuffle the encounter deck and then each of the player decks. Now each player places their hero cards in front of them and add together the threat cost of each hero. Set the threat dial to this number for each player’s starting threat.

Create a token bank with the damage, progress, and resource tokens in separate piles near the encounter deck. Determine who will be the first player and give them the first player token. Now each player draws a starting hand of six cards. If they don’t want to keep them, they can shuffle the six cards back into the deck and draw another hand of six. However, they must keep this second hand. Next place the quest cards for the scenario near the encounter deck. The quest cards are arranged with the stage 1A side on top and cards 2A and 3A below it in order. Finally, read the scenario setup instructions on the 1A quest card, then flip it over to the 1B side. You are now ready to  play. 

A single-player game all setup and ready to play.


The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game is played in rounds and each round consists of seven phases: Resource, Planning, Quest, Travel, Encounter, Combat, and Refresh. Let’s take a look at each phase in turn. 

Resource Phase

During this phase, for each hero still in play, the players draw one resource token from the bank and places it in that hero’s resource pool located under that hero’s card. Next, each player draws one card from their top of their deck and adds it to their hand. There is no hand limit. 

Planning Phase

Starting with the first player and then continuing clockwise, each player may play any number of ally and attachment cards from their hand. In order to play a card, you must pay the cost of the card with resource tokens. Each hero has a resource icon in the bottom left corner of their card. In order to pay the cost of a card, you must take resource tokens from a hero with the same resource icon as the sphere icon shown on the card you want to play. If you are using the starter decks, all of the hero resource icons match the sphere icons in the deck, so you do not need to worry about this. If playing an ally card, it is placed in the play area next to the player’s heroes. Attachment cards are placed attached to a card already in play. The card will describe what types it can be attached to although most will be attached to hero cards. 

purchasing a card
The player acquires the Gondorian Spearmen for 2 resource tokens. Image by Michael Knight.

Quest Phase

In order to finish a quest, you must commit your characters to complete the various stages of the quest. This phase begins with players, starting with the first player, choosing which characters (heroes or allies) to commit to the current quest. This is accomplished by exhausting the character and rotating their card 90 degrees. After characters have been committed, then each player reveals a card from the encounter deck. Each card is reveal one at a time and if a card has a “When Revealed” effect, that effect must be resolved before the next card is drawn. When enemy, location, or objective cards are drawn, they are placed in the staging area near the quest deck. Treachery cards are resolved immediately and then placed in the encounter deck discard pile.

Once all encounter cards have been resolved and/or placed in the staging area, it is time for the quest resolution. To do this, total the value of the committed characters’ willpower and compare it to the total value of the threat values of the cards in the staging area. If the willpower is greater than the threat, then place progress tokens equal to the different of the two values on the current quest card. If there is an active location (explained during the travel phase), then progress tokens must be placed on it first to complete the location and remaining progress tokens are then put on the quest card. If the total willpower is less than the total threat, then the characters are unsuccessful and the difference between the total threat and the total willpower is added to each player’s threat dial. If a player’s threat dial ever reaches 50, then that player is eliminated from the game. If the two values are equal, then nothing happens. 

If the number of progress tokens placed on a quest card is equal to or greater than the number of its quest points, that quest card is completed. Remove it from the game and reveal the next quest card. Excess progress tokens do not carry over and are returned to the bank. Follow the instructions on the A side of the new quest card and then flip it over to the B side. 

Travel Phase

During this phase, players can choose to travel to a location by moving a location card from the staging area to a space next to the revealed quest card. There can only be one active location at a time. Some locations have a travel cost that must be paid in order to activate that location card. By activating a location card, you remove it from the staging area and its threat strength from the quest resolution in future rounds. Active locations can be explored and removed during the quest round. 

Encounter Phase

During the encounter phase, enemies can be engaged during two steps. For the first step, players may choose to engage enemies in the staging area. To do this, a player moves an enemy card from the staging area and place it in a player’s play area near their characters. After each player has had the opportunity to engage an enemy, players take turns making engagement checks. Starting with the first player and continuing clockwise, each player compares their threat level with the engagement cost of each enemy in the staging area. The enemy that has the highest engagement cost that is equal to or lower than the player’s threat level engages that player. Move that enemy card into the play area of that player. Players continue making engagement checks until either there are no more enemies in the staging area or the remaining enemies engagement cost is higher than the players’ threat levels. 

Combat Phase

Once engagement checks are completed, it is time for combat. This phase consists of three steps: deal shadow cards, resolve enemy attacks, and then resolve player attacks. Start off by dealing one encounter card face down to each enemy that is currently engaged. These are called shadow cards. Players may not look at these yet. Shadow cards are dealt by player order with all enemies in the first player’s area receiving cards before those in the next player’s area. If the encounter deck is depleted during this process, do not shuffle the discard pile to make a new deck yet. The remaining enemies do not receive a shadow card. Some encounter cards have a shadow effect that can modify the enemy’s attack. 

After all shadow cards have been dealt, it is time for the enemies to attack. The active player first chooses an enemy in their own play area that has not yet attacked this round. They then may choose one of their ready (not exhausted) characters to be the defender and exhaust that character. You may also choose not to declare any defenders. Next flip over the shadow card and resolve the effect. Now compare the enemy’s attack strength to the character’s defense strength. If the defense strength is greater, the defender suffers no damage. Otherwise subtract the defense strength from the attack strength and apply damage to the character equal to the difference. If no defender was declared, assign the full attack strength to one of the heroes the active player controls without using their defense strength. 

Now that all enemies have attacked, it is time for the characters to attack. Now the active player declares an enemy as the target of an attack and then chooses one or more characters as the attacker. Compare the total attack strength of the character(s) against the defense strength of the enemy. If the attack strength is greater than the defense strength, then deal damage to the enemy equal to the difference of the two values. Otherwise, the enemy receives no damage. 

Legolas is exhausted so he can defend against the Forest Spider. Image by Michael Knight.

Refresh Phase

After all combat has taken place, begin this phase by readying each exhausted card in play. Each player then increases their threat dial by one. Finally the first player token is passed to the next player in clockwise order. You are now ready to begin the next round starting with the resource phase. 

Game End

The game ends when either all players are eliminated from the game due to their threat levels reach 50 or the final quest is completed. If at least one player completes the final quest, then all players win. 

The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game is GeekDad Approved!

Why You Should Play The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game

First off, let me state that I enjoy both card based games as well as cooperative games. So I am already a bit biased. Furthermore, the fact that the game is based on The Lord of the Rings universe created by Tolkien allows it to access a deep and refined library of story and material. While on the topic of theme, The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game provides an engaging experience by putting the player into the role of familiar characters while going on quests. In fact, players feel like they are part of one of the novels or movies though going on quests different from those portrayed in those other mediums. The beautiful artwork on the cards further adds to the experience.

At first, the gameplay can seem a bit challenging, with seven different phases each round. I found myself using the back of the rulebook with its quick reference during my first game to stay on track. However, the phases follow a natural progression and become intuitive after playing for a while. There is a lot of strategy that goes into playing the game, such as how to use your heroes and allies. Do you use them to progress along the quest, save them to defend against enemy attacks, or keep them back to attack and defeat enemies? While a few rounds during a game may not be too difficult, for the rest it seems like your party of heroes are always facing numerous challenges and obstacles hindering their quest. As a result, players are constantly engaged and have to work together. There is very little down time since all players must pay attention to what the active player is doing because their actions will often affect the other players as well. In fact, the gameplay stays intense all the way to the end. 

While the game is cooperative, it can also be played solo. Often games have different rules for solo play or modifications need to be made. That is not true for The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game. In fact, I enjoy playing solo as much as with other players. Since encounters are added each round during each player’s quest phase, more players means the more encounters per round. Therefore, when playing solo, you only have one encounter per round; however, you have to deal with it on your own. For that reason, solo play can be a bit more challenging. It is also a good way to learn the game and become familiar with its mechanics so you can then teach it to other players. 

I like the way The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game Revised Core Set has been created so new players can ease into the system and learn the game. The four different starter decks each play a bit differently and expose players to different play styles and card mechanics. It is a good idea for players to try out each of the four starter decks to learn how to play them and the unique cards each contains. Then as you become familiar with the cards and find those you like using, you can then begin to craft your own deck and customize it for the threats and encounters you face in different quests. However, for those who don’t like creating decks, you can stick with just the starter decks and still really enjoy the game.

The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game that has just been released is a revised version of a previous game. As such, it has had a decade to work out bugs to create a very smooth playing game where previous text on the cards and in the rules have been clarified. This game is considered a living card game that can be expanded. The previous version offered many different expansions and there are already new expansions for the revised core set on the way. While the core set comes with four starter decks, you will soon be able to purchase four new starter decks, which are sold separately: Dwarves of Durin, Elves of Lorien, Defenders of Gondor, and Riders of Rohan. Plus there is also a scenario pack, the Dark of Mirkwood, which includes two new scenarios that can be played on their own or used to add on to the quests in the core set for an even larger campaign. So while you can get a lot of enjoyment out of just the core set, you can keep adding to it as much as you wish. 

I really enjoy playing The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game Revised Core Set. The art and theme really complement the gameplay and mechanics and vice versa to create an experience that takes you right into quests in Middle-earth and lets you create your own stories as you defeat enemies and overcome obstacles. I highly recommend this game for not only fans of The Lord of the Rings universe, but also for players who enjoy a well-designed game. For these reasons The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game Revised Core Set is GeekDad Approved! If you have never played the previous game, now is a great time to start your journey through Middle-earth.

For more information visit the The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game webpage!

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Disclosure: GeekDad received a copy of this game for review purposes.

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